About Elaine-iaK's Travels

As a graduate of Recreation Administration, from San Diego State University, I have made recreation and travels my career and life’s passion. After graduation, I traveled solo for one year throughout the South Pacific, doing travel photography in a wide variety of settings. Upon my return, many of my photographs became the subjects of my newly created line of handcrafted photographic greeting cards, "Exquisite! By, Elaine", a business I have had since 1986. Check them out at: http://ExquisiteCards.fototime.com . In 1983, I began teaming up with my mom, Goldie, teaching arts & crafts to cruise ship passengers, aboard Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean. In addition, I lectured on travel photography, as well as Australia and New Zealand history, aboard Princess Cruises. In 2004, I formed a new teaching team with my recently retired husband, Bruce, who serves as my "humble assistant" until 2010 when the cruise lines shifted the arts and crafts program to mostly being taught by their own staff. Currently, our favorite mode of travel is by river boat. Along the way, we enjoy poking around small European towns, meeting the people, seeking out interesting photo subjects, and always stopping at every chocolatier to make a purchase. Adding to my chocolate label and wrapper collection is a bonus! And, as a U.S. Masters swimmer, if I can find a pool to get in a swim with the locals, all the better! Cheers! Elaine-iaK ~ Believing in your dreams can be far more rewarding than living by your limitations~ -Karla Peterson







Our final morning in Zagreb was beautiful, so we got an early start and squeezed in a final walk into Old Town to shoot pictures and poke around the farmer’s market.





One of our favorite things to do when we travel is to visit the markets of each place.  It’s a great way to observe the culture, see and sample the local foods, pick up a local handicraft to take home, and enjoy all of the bright colors of the produce and flower displays.  Vibrant colors are what inspire me to put my camera into action, and markets never disappoint!






After returning to the hotel, our group checked out, boarded our bus, and headed out through the mountains towards the Adriatic Coast.  Along the way, we stopped at the Kezele Family Estate in the village of Sumecani for a tour and another wonderful al fresco lunch.



The Kezeles were an interesting family!  Janko gave us a tour of the winery, his parents’ museum, and his mom’s ceramics studio.  She is quite a talented potter, and her massive collection was proudly displayed.

Both parents collect all sorts of things, so they are organized in a small museum they share with their guests.  We got to see their collections of antique irons, grinders, lanterns—you name it.  It was an eclectic mix!

Meanwhile, the chef was heating up his huge metal pot to prepare our lunch.  On the menu was, Kotlovina, an ancient traditional Croatian dish consisting of chicken, onions, tri-colored bell peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, beans, and mushrooms in a white wine and red pepper sauce.  It was, of course, enjoyed with some Kezele wine.  Delicious!

Janko was a wonderful tour guide, so I gave him a set of my photo note cards as a token of our appreciation of our memorable visit.


Following lunch, Zoran drove us through the hills of central Croatia to Opatijia, a scenic seaside city located on the northern Dalmatian Coast of the Adriatic Sea.  A popular tourist destination for Croatians and Italians, the resort town also draws tourists from around the world.

After settling into our rooms at Hotel Sveti Jakov, Sinisha led our group on a walking tour, which concluded at the marina where Bruce and I decided to return for dinner.

Unfortunately, smoking is popular in Croatia, and we were first sat outside next to a table of diners who were all smoking like chimneys!  Knowing that more smokers would soon be surrounding us, we asked to be relocated inside.  That request landed us at the best table in the house!  Not only was it smoke-free, but it was at a lovely table next to an open window overlooking the boats.  Perfect!  The view was even better!


Our calamari dinner was delicious, just like the squid we had enjoyed a couple of times in Slovenia.  Accompanied by a tasty local beer, it was one of our favorite meals of the trip!


In my Day 4 post, I wrote a bit about Tito (Marshal Tito), the Yugoslavian statesman who led the resistance to Nazi and Fascist forces during World War II and established a Communist State.

One of fifteen children (only seven survived into adulthood), Tito was born in the village of Kumrovec, now a lovely museum of traditional rural life.  The original houses of the village are still standing and are well-maintained, providing a great opportunity for us to see what life was like during Tito’s childhood years.


During our morning guided tour of the village we learned that the people of Kumrovec lived very modestly and worked hard, looking at obstacles as opportunities.  Each generation tried to improve on the craft of the previous generation.


One of the handicrafts of the village was painted wood hearts with a mirror in the center.  If you lived in Kumrovec during Tito’s time, you would give one to a person you loved so they could see their reflection in your heart.


After Tito left his village, it was evident that he left his heart behind.  After he became the leader of his country, he would ditch his bodyguards each year to return home and visit.

I can see why.  I was captivated by the stories of Kumrovec’s people, their culture and traditions, resourcefulness, and optimism, something Tito never forgot.

As we made our way out of the village, we came across three neighborhood boys, all ten years old.  One of them (in the middle below) spoke perfect English.  He learned some English in school; however, he learned most of it by watching You Tube!  He was so well-spoken and wise beyond his years.  As a treat, Sinisa sent them off with some Croatian Kunas to go buy themselves ice cream.

After leaving the village, a beautiful drive through the mountains took us past farms where we saw corn cobs hanging from farm houses to dry for cow feed.  Farmers in the area raise cows for their own use, mostly for cheese and milk.

Our destination was Sinful Vineyards (the English translation of the family-owned vineyard name), where we took a tour of the estate, learned about their winemaking process, tasted their wines, and then enjoyed more wine with a delicious traditional lunch of duck, veal, pasta, and potatoes.  The setting was beautiful with grape vines growing around us, and a view of a castle beyond.  Traditional live music completed the enjoyable and relaxing atmosphere.






After returning to Zagreb, Bruce and I headed back to Old Town to re-visit the sites we had previously seen when the skies were cloudy and drab.  In the golden light of the late afternoon, everything was so much more photogenic and enjoyable!  It was a lovely evening to wander the city.






Parliament Building



This building was across from our hotel.  All of the yellow/gold buildings in the city date back to the period when Austria ruled the country.


Note:  My Adriatic Coast blog posts are still in the works.  It has been a slow process in between our busy craft show season; however, more posts will be on the way soon!

A few months ago, Bruce and I were sitting in our booth at the summer Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair, pouring over some photographs during the late afternoon,  and the crowd had left for the day.  American Queen Steamboat Company had announced their photography contest in the Steamboat Society of America’s monthly newsletter, The Paddlewheelerand I was trying to decide which photos to enter.  We each had ranked my final selections and agreed that this photo was our favorite:


We were aboard the American Queen in 2017 during a 23-day “Mighty Mississippi” cruise when the American Duchess embarked on her maiden voyage.  We met up with her in Paducah, Kentucky when I shot this photo.  This past January, we cruised aboard the beautiful paddlewheeler.

After entering the contest, I forgot all about it.  Today, we are sitting here in our booth once again for the fall Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair, and I checked my e-mail in between customers.  Surprise!  The latest edition  of The Paddlewheeler was in my inbox.  I clicked on the link, scrolled down to see the winners– all much better than my entry.  Oh well; I lost.  I scrolled down further to read the remainder of the newsletter, and I saw the second place entries, and there it was!  I won second place!  We are going on another cruise aboard the American Duchess, so I will get to use my credit then.  Fun!

Well, the band ended their set, and the customers are cruising the aisles once again, so it’s back to work!

Stay tuned for another Adriatic Coast post soon!




Hotel Esplanade, located adjacent to the central train station, was built in 1925 for passengers of the Orient Express.  Walk into the lobby, and Art Deco is immediately what comes to mind.  Cool.  It was love at first sight!

Our room (see previous post and captions) was amazing!  It was the lovely dining room and breakfast buffet, however, that caused my jaw to drop.  There were so many options, I stood frozen, not knowing which direction to head first.  On the buffet were only the cold selections, though.  For a hot breakfast, there was a menu at the table listing amazing offerings prepared to order by the chef.  Yikes!  Too many decisions!  I didn’t even go there, but Bruce sure enjoyed his daily omelets!




That bowl of chocolate spread in front?  Mmmmm!

Chocolate is normally my nighttime indulgence; however, I couldn’t resist the bowl of BLACK chocolate spread on the buffet that was too dark chocolate to be Nutella.  Spread on top of a chocolate croissant for my breakfast “dessert,” I was in a state of bliss.

Somehow, I managed to tear myself away for our morning bus tour of Zagreb, followed by an excellent walking tour of the city highlights and Old Town.  (We needed a good walk after that breakfast!)







A bit of interesting trivia about famous Croatians was learned during our stop to view three murals.  First of all, Tesla (no, not the car!) was born in 1856 in what is now Croatia.  Nikola Tesla was the famous inventor, best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system.


The Goodyear Blimp is a modern example of the airship invented by David Schwarz, the Croatian aviation inventor, born six years before Tesla.  He invented the rigid airship with the envelope made entirely of metal.


Finally, there was Penkala, inventor of the ink pen.  Slavoljub Eduard Penkala came along later, born in 1871.  After inventing the mechanical pencil, he developed the first solid-ink fountain pen.  These weren’t his only inventions.  He held 80 patents for such things as a hot water bottle and rail-car brake.


Up the stairs from these murals was a great view of the city below; however, drizzly, gloomy skies made for drab photos; so, we returned to our favorite spots over the following two days under sunny skies to re-shoot those pictures.  They will appear in a later post.)

After our walking tour, we used the bus/rail ticket we were provided to venture out to Mirogoj Cemetery, considered one of Europe’s most beautiful cemeteries.  The gloomy skies were perfect for this somber setting!




















We found it interesting to see that this massive cemetery inters members of all religious groups, because it is owned by the city.  We saw everything from Jewish to Muslim to Catholic symbols on grave markers, and the various religions weren’t segregated.

The grounds and architecture were stunning, and at times, literally breathtaking!







After a long stroll through the grounds, we returned to the Old Town section of Zagreb to explore more of the area.  We stopped first at a bakery to pick up some snacks to pair up with a local beer.  The bars allow you to bring in food, so we relaxed on the patio while enjoying these delicious local treats!

We enjoyed the atmosphere of the old part of the city.  Between the colorful old buildings, cobblestone streets, abundance of outdoor cafes, and people out enjoying it all, it was a great place for a relaxing walk.




This statue of Ban Jelicic is located in the main square of downtown Zagreb and is a popular meeting place for friends.  They say, “Meet me under the tail!”

Between Old Town and our hotel was a beautiful fifteen-minute walk through several parks that lined one of the main boulevards.  We enjoyed the walk several times during our three-night stay in the city, including at night after dinner and a walk around town.







Yesterday’s rain continued, and we wondered what the next two weeks would be like.  Little did we know at the time that after Zagreb, the remainder of the trip would be mostly rain-free and beautiful when it mattered the most!

On this day, we got SOAKED, at least from the knees down, where the umbrella and rain jacket made no difference during our walking tour of Ljubljana (“LEW byah na”).  At least we had a terrific local guide with a great sense of humor.  He was a hoot!



A little background about the city, Ljubljana has been the cultural, educational, economic, political, and administrative center of Slovenia since the country gained independence in 1991.  It is a vibrant city with a mix of architectural styles dating back to the Roman period.  After the 1511 earthquake leveled much of the city, it was rebuilt in the Baroque style.  Another earthquake struck in 1895, so many of the buildings had to be rebuilt once again.  Hopefully, that’s the last of the earthquakes, because the remaining old buildings are so much more interesting than the contemporary boxes!

After our tour, we had free time to poke around the farmer’s market and wander the streets of the city.  Fortunately, the rain had stopped, so we could enjoy the sites with closed umbrellas.

























St. Nicholas Cathedral door














Glass or plastic?  Choose your bottle and fill ‘er up!


The “Epl” (Apple) computer store

Ljubljana was the last we would see of the picturesque country before traveling on to Zagreb, the capitol of Croatia.  Having grown fond of Slovenia, I would have loved to have seen more of the small country that puts such a high priority on preserving their pristine beauty and is ranked 5th in the world in recycling!

Zagreb is our program director, Sinisa’s home, so he could speak plenty from personal experience about what it’s like to live in the bustling city now, and what it was like under Tito’s rule before Yugoslavia broke apart.

Sinisa, 50, had an interesting childhood growing up as the son of popular singer Drago Diklic, known as “Croatia’s Frank Sinatra.”  During one of our bus rides, he played some of his father’s music and showed us pictures of his dad with Tito (Josip Broz Tito, Yugoslavia’s communist leader from 1953-1980).

In the early 1990’s, when the war broke out and Serbia attacked Croatia, Sinisa fled to London while the remainder of his family stayed behind in Zagreb away from the fighting that destroyed Vukovar and other cities in the eastern region bordering Serbia.

Sinisa returned to Zagreb after the war ended and lives in the city with his wife and son.  As we entered the city, he pointed out the contrast between Slovenia and Croatia:  Slovenia is extremely clean and free of graffiti, whereas Croatians aren’t nearly as conscientious about recycling and there was a lot of graffiti on old and new buildings alike.  It was heartbreaking to see some of the lovely old Austrian architecture defaced; however, if there was any consolation, we learned that none of it was gang-related.  There are no gangs in Zagreb, and the city is actually quite safe to walk around, even at night.  The graffiti is done by destructive kids, and authorities are having a difficult time getting a handle on the epidemic.

The city is large, home to about one million of the over four million people in Croatia (or “Hrvatska” as the locals call it).  There is a generation gap in the population, because many older people were killed in the war, but even more younger people are leaving the country for jobs in Germany and other countries.  As a result, Croatia has the oldest population in Europe.  This leaves remaining Croatians feeling worried about the future of their country.

Croatia’s past was tumultuous.  Elders, including Sinisa’s grandmother were Austrian, Italian, Yugoslavian, and Croatian in their lifetimes without ever having moved from their home once!  It has been occupied that many times in one lifetime.  Each time, people had to learn a new language, obtain new documents, and live under a new set of laws.

If you were fortunate in the early 1990’s, you still had that home after the war.  One eighth of Croatian’s homes were destroyed, and it took twelve years for the country to build 160,000 homes to replace them.  So many schools were destroyed that remaining schools had to educate children in two or three shifts, including one at night.

Due to land mines that still haven’t been cleared (and won’t be until 2024, according to government estimates), much of Croatia’s food must be imported, because of the dangers associated with farming.

If Croatians could wind back the clock to any period of their past, most would choose to live under Tito’s rule once again.  Although there was a documented (very) dark side of their leader and how he had dissenters killed, life was good under Tito’s brand of communism.  Tito had divided Yugoslavia into six republics after World War II, and Croatia (along with its friendly neighbor, Slovenia) was the most industrialized and successful.  Practicing religion was permitted, passports were granted, travel to foreign countries was allowed, and Yugoslavians had the best lifestyle and most freedoms of all of the communist countries.

During the industrial boom of the 1960’s, apartments were provided for free to all factory workers, there was job security, and every citizen had free medical care and free education.  Nationalism was forbidden and there were no elections, but if you didn’t mind (or kept your opinions to yourself), you had a comfortable lifestyle in an extremely safe country.

The 1970’s brought a boom in tourism to Yugoslavia, a popular destination for Austrians, Germans, and Brits; so, the country prospered even more.  But, in 1980, the “Benevolent Dictator,” as Tito was called, died.  His funeral was the largest in history; over 159 nations attended.  Not only was he well-loved by his own people, but he was well-respected by world leaders for having stood up to Stalin in 1948.

When Tito was alive, he wanted Yugoslavia united as one with no nationalism; however, when he died, nationalism was out and the Serbs wanted independence.  Ten years after Tito’s death, his legacy was destroyed.

Sinisa looks back on Tito’s days fondly.  Life was good back then!  Although his family and friends didn’t have access to the variety of items other countries enjoyed, the freedom to travel made it easy to pop over to Italy for a shopping binge and pick up Italian shoes or jeans.  In Austria, they would make a beeline for chocolate.  (I can relate to that!).

It was interesting to hear Sinisa’s stories a well as those told by the local guides, lecturers, and hosts of our home visit for dinner later in the trip.  Having been to Vukovar and Osijek, Croatia on a Danube River cruise in 2007, I had learned about Tito as well as the horrors of the 1990’s war; however, the experience wasn’t as in-depth.  I was completely captivated this time around.


Our room at the Hotel Esplanade, built in 1925 for passengers of the Orient Express.  The TV greeted us with “Welcome, Mr. Cook,” and we could program a wake up call to have the TV turn on at our scheduled time with various peaceful videos of the ocean, forest, etc.







Julian Alps

Our program director, Sinisa, told us he had a “surprise” for us today.  He has a good sense of humor.  When we arrived at our “surprise,” we were in ITALY!  Sovenia is bordered by Italy and Austria, and you could actually bicycle through all three countries in one day quite easily.  Since all three are members of the European Union, you wouldn’t even need a passport.


We walked into Italy at this now-shuttered border station to take cheesy pictures at the Italia sign and have a good laugh about the additional country we were visiting.


Sinisa Diklic, our program director

At one time, this border separated communism from capitalism.  (More on that in a future post.)  Now you can go all the way to the English Channel without a border crossing slowing you down.  In 2020, Croatia and Montenegro will also be members of the European Union, so there will be even less need for a passport on road trips.

Our next stop was really the unexpected surprise:  Planica, Slovenia’s Olympic ski jump center and location of the most recent ski jump World Record.  Set in 2015, Peter Prevc jumped a whopping 248.5 meters (about 814 feet or 271 yards)!


When we first arrived, I said to myself, “Ok, we’ll see some beautiful mountains with ski jumps and just imagine what it would be like to jump off them.”  I had visited the Olympic ski jump in Oslo, and I thought that was amazing enough.  I would have been happy just having an experience like that again.

Surprise!  There were skiers jumping, and it was SUMMER!  Little did I know that except for the main jump where the World Cup is held, the training jumps were covered in a special Astroturf that was kept wet for the skiers to train on all year long.  In addition, there was an indoor cross-country ski course, where we braved the cold for a minute (in our t-shirts and shorts) to take a quick snapshot before going back outside to watch the jumpers.



After getting an overall view from the center’s balcony, we got an up-close look to watch the ski jumpers.  It amazed me how YOUNG some of them were!  One of the kids flying through the sky couldn’t have been more than ten years old.  (I missed the shot of him.)  That’s a brave kid!





In Slovenia, they start young, learning how to ski at the same time they learn how to walk.  Once they are stable on their skis, the kids learn how to jump by starting on a playground slide-sized jump, and then work up from there.


This is the highest ski jump where the World Record was broken by Peter Prevc.  The World Cup is held here. Note the tiny ski jump at the bottom.  This is used to train toddlers!  Next, they graduate to the longer jumps behind it.

We had so much fun watching (and trying to photograph) the jumpers that we could have stayed there all day.


Laura, this one’s for you!  Bring in da goat!!


Free time was spent nearby exploring the ski resort town of Kranjska Gora, surrounded by beautiful mountains.  There was a ski lift directly behind the hotels; no driving required!

Unfortunately, those lifts didn’t get any use last year due to the lack of snow.  It usually snows October to May; however, global warming has caused quite a weather change in Slovenia, including less snow and more tropical thunderstorms.

The lack of snow made for good foraging in the surrounding forests, however.  Berries and mushrooms grow in abundance, and mushroom soup (which we enjoyed later on at dinner) is a mainstay of the cuisine in the region.






A cheese vending machine!  Laura, don’t ya love it?  We saw a milk vending machine the following day, and they even sold both glass and reusable plastic bottles to dispense the milk in.

When we returned to Lake Bled, I had hoped to go for another swim; however, the clouds looked threatening and thunderstorms were in the forecast.  Instead, we grabbed our umbrellas and set out on a 3.5 mile walk around Lake Bled, not worrying about rain, but hoping a lightning bolt wouldn’t strike our umbrellas!  It turned out to be the only time rain was a nuisance on our trip besides the following day on our walking tour of Ljubjana.  The walk around the lake was gorgeous, though, even in the rain!  It is one of the most popular walks in all of Slovenia, and I’m glad we didn’t miss it!








This was our hotel.  There was a ski lift on the right.

For dinner, we were taken by bus to a traditional local restaurant, Gostina Lectar, in the town of Radovljica.



Antique skis were displayed in the lobby.

The restaurant has been in existence since 1822; however, the 500-year-old house has been in the Lectar family for three generations.

Before dining in a private room, we first watched a private ginger-bread-making demonstration in the charming basement bakery and gift shop.  Actually, it was really honey-bread, since ginger isn’t native to the area, but honey is abundantly available.


Dinner was served by Mr. Lectar himself, and we started with his family’s locally-made wine and mushroom soup in a cute bread pot.  Very clever!  Platters of meat, sausages, potatoes, and sauerkraut were then served (one platter per four people), and plenty remained behind as we were all quite full from the abundance of food.  There was still dessert, though, and we were served apple ice cream in a carved-out apple.

The town was so picturesque, that I was glad I slipped out to take this picture before night fall.









Our hotel at Lake Bled had something I had never seen on a breakfast buffet:  honey straight from the comb.  It was delicious with cheese and their freshly-baked croissants.  Between the wonderful assortment of food and fairy tale view of Bled Castle, it was a pleasant and relaxing way to start the day!


The view from our patio table


Bled Castle dates back to 1100, the wall was built in 1300, and the church in 1600.


There is a permanent rowing course set up on Lake Bled, and we watched dozens of sculls gliding back and forth during breakfast.

We began our morning tour (14 passengers in a deluxe 45-passenger coach!) with a beautiful drive through the Julian Alps to Vogel Ski Resort where we took a breathtaking cable car ride up to the top at 4,000 feet.  The views were spectacular!



Skiing is Slovenia’s national winter sport, and they are dedicated to it, no matter what it takes to get to the slopes.  It is typical for Slovenians to spend a total of 14 hours (round-trip drive and the wait time to get on the cable car and ski lift) just to be able to ski for 36 minutes down from the top of Vogel!

Our next stop was for a walk through a tiny village where the homes were adorned with overflowing baskets of flowers and the stream was incredibly clear and colorful.  It was the most beautiful little stream we had ever seen!






The town of Ribcev Laz located on the crystal-clear glacial Lake Bohinj was another picturesque stop we made where we were mesmerized by the clarity and color of the water.  Our free time at Slovenia’s largest lake provided an opportunity to take in the views of the limestone mountains and enjoy doing some photography.





Throughout the morning tour, I came to understand why those who had been to Slovenia were so emphatic in their recommendations to visit this small gem of a country.

When we returned to Lake Bled, we made our way around to the other side of the lake from our hotel to visit medieval Bled Castle that dates back to 1011.  Fortunately, it was a sunny day, and we were able to take in the gorgeous views of the lake, including the church on Bled Island and our hotel across the way.







Although most of our group chose to return to the hotel afterwards via our private motor coach, Bruce and I opted to walk down and take in the views around the lake.  We rewarded ourselves with a piece of delicious Bled cream cake at the Park Hotel.  Created by their chef in 1953, it is so popular now that they make 500,000 of the cakes each year!  Considering that every single person dining on the patio around us had a piece of cream cake in front of them, I had no doubt that statistic was accurate!




This is where we enjoyed Bled cream cake and took in the views of Bled Castle across the way.


Between our piece of cake followed by a gelato at a stand down the street, we made a lunch of it.  Nutritious?  No.  Delicious?  Absolutely!

Dining alfresco at a local restaurant that evening, I was curious to see if the grilled squid would be as good as the night before at the hotel, and I was not disappointed!




Our flight from Atlanta to Ljubljana, Slovenia (via Zurich) was uneventful, and that’s a good thing!  I love being able to fly out of the busiest airport in the world (and Delta’s hub).  It means never having to fly United Airlines ever again (if I can help it!) and opting for Delta and Southwest Airlines (domestically) instead.

Vantage Travel’s arrangements were flawless, and we had a seamless day of arrival.  For our pre-cruise extension in Slovenia, we spent three nights in Bled at the Grand Hotel Toplice, located on Lake Bled, and dating back to 1845.  GORGEOUS!  Although the hotel wasn’t anything special on the outside, it was grand on the inside with a lovely lounge and restaurant overlooking the lake.


The view of Grand Hotel Toplice from Bled Castle.  The hotel’s private “beach” and swim area is to the right of the rowboat shelter.


The key to minimizing jet leg is immediately adapting to local time.  Neither of us sleep well on planes, so it was a challenge to stay awake until after dinner.  I chose to go for a refreshing swim in Lake Bled while Bruce lounged on the hotel’s private “beach.”  At 77 degrees (just below competition temperature), I was in heaven!  It did the trick and energized me for the remainder of the day and evening.

After meeting the 12 other Vantage travelers on the pre-extension over a glass of wine and briefing by Sinisa , our program director, we enjoyed dining with sunset views of the lake and Bled Castle.  Dinner was fabulous!  Bruce and I had never tasted grilled calamari (they refer to it as “squid”) so fresh and perfectly prepared that you could cut it easily with a fork.


By now, many of you may be wondering just where Slovenia is located and why we would travel there.

A small country bordered by Italy to the west, Austria to the north, Hungary to the northeast, Croatia to the southeast, and the Adriatic Sea to the southwest, Slovenia is smaller than the state of New Jersey.  Formerly part of Yugoslavia, the country gained independence in 1989.  In 2004, Slovenia joined the European Union.  It is one of Europe’s least-densely populated countries with just under 2.1 million people who are mostly Roman Catholic.

I was impressed to learn that Slovenia’s education ranks as the 12th best in the world and that 92% of adults between 25-64 speak at least one foreign language.

Slovenia’s extremely strict gun laws also impressed me.  Before you can purchase a gun, you must undergo a medical and psychiatric exam.  If you pass, the next step is to participate in a six-month training program.  As a result, the percentage of privately-owned guns is only about 15 per 100 civilians compared to about 120 per 100 American civilians!  In addition, most of those privately-owned guns in Slovenia are used for hunting, which is only allowed on Sundays.

A few other facts about the country:  In addition to banking and tourism, Slovenia is known for its production of electronics, wool clothing, wood furniture, beer, wine, and jams.  Apples, pears, plums, and vegetables are the main crops; and the cuisine is a mix of Central European, Mediterranean, and Balkan.

Slovenia is very mountainous with over half the country covered by forests, so it is absolutely beautiful—and, clean!  Conservation, a clean environment, and recycling are priorities of Slovenia, so we never saw litter on the streets, and the air and water were fresh and clean.

Located in the Julian Alps in the northwest region of the country, the scenery surrounding Lake Bled is stunning, making it an ideal locale for destination weddings—very popular for the British.

In my next post, we explore more of the Julian Alps region.


After returning from our three-week Mississippi River cruise around the same time last year, it seemed to take forever to get all of my pictures edited and blog posts written.  September starts our busy fall craft show season for Bruce’s fused glass jewelry, so my blog took a back seat to our business and associated travel. It wasn’t until December when I concluded my blog posts of that trip.

In retrospect, there was a wonderful silver lining to what at first seemed unthinkable, especially since I am the opposite of a procrastinator!  (Since I had previously posted to my blog during my travels back in the early days, it seemed so strange to me to have my trip posts take so long to complete.)

That silver lining?  First, enjoying every minute of the trip without the distraction of editing pictures and writing.  It was fine during our seven-week road trip, since evenings were mostly spent unwinding and relaxing in our hotel room.  Bruce would study the map and travel info. I had researched, while I worked at the computer.  On the riverboat trips with my mom, evenings were mostly quiet on the boat after dinner, so there was plenty of opportunity to pop open my netbook in the lounge and write while others read their books or conversed with other passengers.

This time, there was too much going on that I didn’t want to miss.  The writing could wait!  Instead, I took a lot of notes during our walking tours and lectures, filling up an entire spiral notebook.  (Being able to read my scribbled notes will prove to be a challenge, I’m sure!)

Most of all, though, I discovered how much I thoroughly enjoyed reliving the trip again and again throughout my three-month photo editing and writing process.  I caught myself smiling, laughing, and remembering things that had slipped my mind, each time I edited a new batch of pictures and wrote about what we had experienced.  Every time I sat down at the computer, I felt exhilaration and happiness; I was in the zone.


Happily swimming in Lake Bled, Slovenia (Bled Castle is behind me.)

It is for those reasons, my dear readers, that I make no promises as to when my next post will appear on this site, and when my last one will be completed for our most recent trip.  I will at least cut to the chase, though, and tell you that each and every day was thoroughly enjoyable and breathtaking.  Hopefully, my pictures will do justice to the beauty of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Montenegro; the former Yugoslavian countries we visited during our 19-day Vantage Travel land and yacht tour.

If you wish to read on without having to keep checking my site for my next post, sign up to receive e-mails notifying you when a new post has been added.  Who knows?  I may even get them all written before the December holidays arrive!



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Multnomah Falls measures 620 feet from top to bottom.  On September 4, 1995, a 400-ton rock slid from the face of the upper falls and dropped 225 feet into the upper falls pool.  It sent a 70-foot splash over the bridge and drenched a wedding party having their photographs taken!

The American Empress stayed overnight in Stevenson, so the following day, we took a tour to see the breathtaking Multnomah Falls and the panoramic views from Vista House.  Unfortunately, it was a cloudy day and not the best for photography; however, we couldn’t complain.  The weather was fabulous otherwise!


During the afternoon, we took the hop on-hop off bus to the Bonneville Dam where we were fortunate to have an opportunity to tour the facility.  We arrived at the dam’s visitor center just in time for one of only three tours scheduled for the day.  It was fascinating to see how the dam and power plant operates.  Just as was done at McNary Dam, a fish ladder system was built for fish migration, and we were able to get a close look at it from above and below.  Viewing windows allowed us to see the fish pass through.


When we returned to Stevenson, there wasn’t much to see in town, because it is very small.  We were quite entertained, though, just hanging out along the shoreline and back on the boat, where we watched wind surfers and kite surfers having a blast!  The dependable high winds on the riverfront is a huge draw for them, and they come from all around.  We had a perfect vantage point from our veranda—great for photography!



Our final port was Astoria, Oregon where we had a gorgeous day to cap off our cruise.  Situated near the mouth of the Columbia River, the deep-water port city of only 10,000 residents has a growing art scene, and a cool vibe.  The Riverwalk thrives with cafes, a brewery/restaurant, and shops served by an old-time trolley that stops alongside them.








The highlight of the hop on-hop off route was enjoying the breathtaking views of the river from the Astoria Column.  When we disembarked the bus, we were given a souvenir balsa wood glider kit.  After hiking up the 164-step spiral staircase, we flew our gliders from the viewing platform and watched the long flight to the ground below.  If you were lucky, it didn’t end up in the trees!  I was lucky– twice.  I had written our names and date on the bottom of the wing, so I would know if I had found my own glider down below.  Somebody else found it and placed the glider on a bench in front of the gift shop.  Trying my luck again, I gave it to another American Empress passenger getting ready to climb up to the top.  Sure enough, I later found my glider on the ground, and it now sits atop my computer printer as a souvenir—at least for now.


Meanwhile, the exterior of the 125-foot Astoria Column has a beautiful wrap-around mural depicting the history of the region from 1792 to the 1880’s.  If the mural was unwound, it would be over 500 feet in length!

Our next stop in Astoria was back downtown to see the Sunday street market, an excellent market considering the small size of the town.  In addition to the usual produce and foods, there were several high-quality artists and crafters.



Next, we toured the Flavel House.  Built for Captain George Flavel in 1885, the 11,600 square-foot Queen Anne style house was full of beautiful woodwork and antiques.


The backyard of the Flavel House


The woodwork was beautiful throughout the house.


Rather than take the bus back to the boat, we walked down to the riverfront and enjoyed the views of the river along the Riverwalk.  As we passed by the brewery, restaurants, and shops, we could hear the seals barking just below.



 The American Empress was tied up at the same dock as the Coast Guard cutters and in front of the Columbia River Maritime Museum, so there was plenty to see around the boat as we made our way back on board for our final night aboard the beautiful paddlewheeler.