Market Day in Šibenik, Croatia

Overlooking the first fruit vendor booth at the fresh market

Overlooking the first fruit vendor booth at the fresh market

The fresh market in Šibenik, Croatia, is open every day.  However, Saturday morning is when shoppers turn up in large numbers and the most vendors are set up to serve them.  This is one occasion where I make no effort to avoid the crowds. 

I embarrassed the bread lady when I asked for a photo.

I embarrassed the bread lady when I asked for a photo.

Surrounding the open air market is an array of meat and cheese shops and my favorite bakery kiosk where my preferred baguette of whole grain bread costs $1.20.  I have returned so often that the lady no longer needs to ask me what I want. 

There is a fish market and several butcher shops.  However, I am eating mostly vegetarian these days, so I peruse these shops mostly out of curiosity.   I will say it is a good thing I no longer have a barbecue grill, because I cannot envision this vegetarian lifestyle if there were a grill on my deck.

The vine ripened tomatoes look awesome.

The vine ripened tomatoes look awesome.

I love the hum of the crowd and the animated vendors encouraging shoppers to take advantage of their great deals.  And most of the fruits and vegetables are great deals.  I bought a pomegranate for 60 cents.  We mix and match a variety of apples for about 40 cents/pound, and we get pears for about 65 cents/pound.  Carrots, broccoli and cauliflower are about the same.  Potatoes and onions are quite inexpensive.  Bananas are over 90 cents/pound because they come from Ecuador or Costa Rica.  However, we save so much on other produce that we do not mind paying extra for bananas.  The eggplants, which are not my favorite vegetable, look amazing.  They are thin and firm with few seeds, perfect for the way Florence cooks them and the way I most enjoy them (recipe below).

Fish and meat, cheese, honey and condiments - there is much more than produce available at the market.

Fish and meat, cheese, honey and condiments – there is much more than produce available at the market.

Florence’s Recipe for Baked Eggplant Wafers

Mike has never been a fan of eggplant, especially when it is cooked in thick slices that become mushy when baked.  However, when I bake thin wafers of eggplant so that they come out of the oven with the texture of a cookie, there are seldom leftovers.  He even requests them if we have gone a long time without having had some.

Ingredients: 

2 or 3 small to medium-sized eggplants
Approximately 1 cup of bread crumbs
¼ cup olive oil
1 egg or egg substitute

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 350°F

Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and spread a layer of olive oil across the sheet.

Peel eggplants and slice into thin wafers no more than ¼” thick.  Bathe in whipped egg and then coat both sides of eggplant wafers in bread crumbs. 

Lay bread crumb-coated eggplant wafers on oiled cookie sheet and bake about 20 minutes on one side or until they begin to brown.  Remove cookie sheet from oven and flip eggplant over to bake on second side also until lightly browned.  They will come out of the oven with the texture of a cookie that is crispy on the outside and still slightly moist inside.  Serve hot. This recipe will yield two or three sheets of baked eggplant wafers depending on the size of the eggplants.

Save leftovers to snack on either cold or reheated.  Try using some leftovers in a sandwich.

If you try this recipe, let me know if you like it or any variations you may have tried.

100 Stories and We Have Only Just Begun

Entering Plitvička Lakes National Park, Croatia

On our September, 2013 trip near the entrance to Plitvička Lakes National Park, Croatia

This is my 100th post in the year plus since I started this blog.  Out of curiosity I went back over all of my previous stories to see which were the most popular.  I discovered the top five most-viewed posts dealt with some aspect of how we travel, how we budget, how we decide where to live and how we adapt to our living arrangements. 

Touring the islands of Lake Nicaragua - Granada, Nicaragua

Touring the islands of Lake Nicaragua
Granada, Nicaragua

As much as I would love to think readers wish to see our pretty pictures and learn about different places in various countries, it turns out what is most popular is to learn about the process of traveling.  This realization made me think perhaps I should use fewer words discussing ‘what’ and dedicate more effort discussing ‘how.’  I will keep that in mind.

If there is one thing I have learned, it is that there are thousands, if not millions, of travel blogs.  I am a relative newcomer to the world of travel and the blog scene.  While I would dearly love to do distinguish myself in that realm, I have barely scratched the surface.  I feel fortunate to have several things in my favor.

Altar of the feathered serpent Xochicalco, Mexico

Altar of the feathered serpent
Xochicalco, Mexico

First, The 6 Monthers concept is fairly unique.  There are other travelers who choose a variety of destinations and stay for extended lengths of time.  However, I have not discovered anyone else taking our six-months-at-a-time approach, which is why we purchased the web domain.  Our challenge now is to increase our visibility beyond the few thousand people that have heard of us. 

Mike: 'What's that sound?' Florence: 'My teeth chattering.' Torres del Paine NP, Chile

Mike: ‘What’s that sound?’
Florence: ‘My teeth chattering.’
Torres del Paine NP, Chile

Second, I retired a couple of years ago and I now have time to pursue with a passion both travel and writing.  With Florence’s social media and photography expertise, we leveraged our skills to earn an invitation to travel for three-and-a-half weeks in Croatia as the guests of Dhar Media and Touristar.tv to help promote tourism in their country.  That was cool!  Our ambition now is to carry our experience forward to other countries to help bolster their tourism industry while saving on expenses.  Sharing those kinds of experiences would dovetail nicely with writing more about the ‘How to’ of travel.

On the main island of Antigua - Leeward Islands, Caribbean Sea

On the main island of Antigua
Leeward Islands, Caribbean Sea

Finally, I want to someday point back to something meaningful to say, “I created that.”  Perhaps it will be a book.  We have published one children’s book, and we have a dozen more waiting in the wings.  We would love to score a publishing deal so we could get our books illustrated for young readers.  We would love to teach children about the people and animals and cultures from around the world.  And we would love to build our name, The 6 Monthers, which might one day be worthwhile to the next generation of travelers.

We have our work cut out for us.  Every great idea that amounted to something required perseverance, creativity, and passion, things we think we have.  We now look ahead as we pursue our journey and continue our travels down as yet unexplored roads.  As always, I hope you will accept my invitation to join us and share your thoughts along the way.

Croatia’s Enchanted Islands

The Romans may have had this view from the Island of Kornat.

The Romans may have had this view from the Island of Kornat.

To fully appreciate Croatia’s natural beauty, one needs to visit some of the 1,000+ islands that make up the Dalmatian Archipelago.  Seagoing vacationers have long enjoyed the quiet coves, sandy beaches, hiking and biking paths and boutique hotels tucked comfortably in their secluded venues.  However, a charter boat or water taxi can open this private world to any interested traveler.

Fortunately, Croatia has seen fit to preserve some of their island treasures as national parks.  I explored two of these island national parks, and each could not be more different from the other.

Rock cliffs tower over our boat like giant sea monsters.

Rock cliffs tower over our boat like giant sea monsters.

Kornati National Park

Kornati National Park is about 30 miles up the coast from Šibenik (SHE beh nik).  The park includes the island of Kornat, largest of the 89 islands in the park.  Our charter boat took us around several islets with high cliffs that plunge 200 feet vertically down into the depths of the clear, turquoise sea. 

Other than scattered shrubs and trees, the islands seem largely barren.  On the main island, Kornat, we climbed to a promontory ruin believed to have Roman origins.  It is hard to tell, as we were informed by our captain, Emil, that a film company had rebuilt some of the ruins for a film set some years ago.  Even so, it was not difficult to imagine that the Romans had used this site as a lookout vantage point.

Some ancient ruins were probably part of a movie set.

Some ancient ruins were probably part of a movie set.

The magic of Kornati National Park becomes apparent below the water’s surface where you will find a diver’s paradise.  These protected waters feature 352 confirmed species of algae, 22 corals, 177 mollusks, 160 fishes, 55 crab species, plus indigenous sea grasses and countless organisms that have yet to be identified.  In addition, large numbers of bottlenose dolphins and loggerhead turtles make this habitat their home.  If you are a diver or snorkeler, you must discover Kornati National Park for yourself.

The saltwater lakes are connected by manmade canals.

The saltwater lakes are connected by manmade canals.

Mljet National Park

The western part of Mljet (mul YET) Island was declared a national park in 1960.  In brilliant contrast to the stark islands of Kornati National Park, Mljet features inland lakes.  They are not really lakes, but rather natural depressions that were flooded by the rising sea after the last ice age.  These are actually saltwater lakes connected by a small channel to the sea.  Because they are shallow and landlocked, the lakes are several degrees warmer than the sea and make for excellent swimming for nine months out of the year.  Visitors often rent bicycles to casually peddle around the forested shores of these lakes in shaded comfort. 

The monastery is accessible only by boat.

The monastery is accessible only by boat.

If you get too warm, there are lakefront café bars called konobas where you can stop to refresh yourself.  If you are seeking refreshment, you should remember these two words – Ožujsko and Karlovačko, the Croatian equivalent of Budweiser and Miller.  Every konoba will have one or the other.  I occasionally enjoyed a variety called lemon Radler, made by both Ožujsko and Karlovačko, which is only 2% alcohol and tastes a lot like San Pellegrino limonata – very refreshing!  It is also sold in grapefruit and orange flavors at the supermarkets.  If you are stopping for lunch, let me caution you to allow at least 1½ hours for eating.  Dining in Croatia is not a hit-and-run activity. 

Ruins of St. Paul's Church built on Mljet Island in the 4th century.

Ruins of St. Paul’s Church built on Mljet Island in the 4th century. I think they had a very small congregation.

Mljet Island has something for everyone – sandy beaches, Roman ruins, a 4th century church and the Santa Maria Benedictine monastery that is being refurbished and is open for visitors.  Even the Greek poet, Homer, wrote about the island in The Odyssey.  Some believe this is the island upon which Odysseus was shipwrecked.  There is a sea cave that could match the description in Homer’s story.  Mljet is also a great island getaway with lovely resorts and hotels suitable for families or for a romantic holiday for couples.

One thing is certain.  If you are interested in a special vacation of a lifetime, then you owe it to yourself to consider the islands of Croatia.  Once you go, you will be like me – looking forward to the day when you can return. 

What I learned on my Croatian Vacation

Vineyards are found throughout Croatia.

Vineyards are found throughout Croatia.

People are friendly in Croatia. Did I mention wines?

People are friendly in Croatia. Did I mention wines?

My wife and I were invited to join an international journalist team sponsored by Dhar Media in Zagreb, Croatia.  Our assignment was to help publicize to the world what Croatia has to offer as part of Dhar Media’s Discover Croatia web production while their video crew filmed the entire twenty-four day tour.  Like most of the team members, Florence and I knew almost nothing about Croatia other than its location.  Tourism is Croatia’s leading industry, and they want the rest of the world to discover their country.  Thus, with open minds and cameras ready, we set off for the capital city of Zagreb.

We were often offered something to eat on our tour.  This was not lunch, just a snack.

We were often offered something to eat on our tour. This was not lunch, just a snack.

I posted dozens of Instagram photos on Facebook as we traveled.  I have written about some of the special people we met and of the immense pride the people have for their country.  I continue to write about the treasures of Croatia’s National Parks.  I now wish to share some of the insights I gained from this travel adventure. 

I learned that there are a lot more swear words in Croatian than there are in English.  There are what – twelve words in English that will get you in trouble with your mother?  My friend Hrvoye said, “You English-speakers are like priests compared to the way Croatians talk.”  Croatian is a hard language to learn.  You may not know when someone is swearing, and a lot is lost in translation.

A choice of alcoholic beverages is optional.

A choice of alcoholic beverages is optional.

Lots of Croatians speak English.  It is taught in their schools starting in the first grade.  Lots of older folks speak German.  When I asked one of our guides why English is now taught instead of German, the explanation was straightforward.  He said, “We realized after World War II that English was going to be more important.”  I never found a place where someone in a shop or restaurant did not speak English.

Meals are served with wine and/or rakija as an option.

Meals are served with wine and/or rakija as an option.

I learned that Croatians love food and drink.  Croatia has vineyards scattered across the country, and their long tradition of winemaking produces both red and white wines which are remarkably good.  They also make grappa, a strong brandy distilled from grapes.  Also worthy of note is rakija (ROCK ee yah), a type of brandy which can be made of plum, grapes, figs or a mix of fruits and herbs.  Grappa or rakija is typically offered in a small glass before a meal or as a gesture of friendship or greeting.  I learned to always robustly shout “Živjeli!” (ZHEEV ya lee), meaning “Cheers!” as we tilt our glasses up and drink.  The cheering becomes more robust with each round if you do not stop at one drink, which reminds me of something else I learned.  Do not ever think you can out drink a Croatian.  You have been warned.

The prosciutto, cheeses and meats are all local and fresh cut.

A typical first course, the prosciutto, cheeses and meats are all local and fresh cut.

Then there is the food.  Mealtime is more than satisfying your hunger in Croatia.  Mealtime, whether lunch or dinner, is a time of gathering.  Do not spoil your appetite before lunch or dinner in Croatia.  Three courses are typical and five courses are not uncommon.  That does not include the artisan bread with local olive oil that accompanies each meal.  And do not even think of leaving the table in less than 1 ½ – 2 hours or people will wonder what your hurry is. 

The main course often includes several options of meats and vegetables.

The main course often includes several options of meats and vegetables.

Our guide in Dubrovnik, Anita, talked about the importance of mealtime.  She said, “The dining table is where we get together to share about our lives.  We laugh together because what is joy if we do not share it?  We cry together because it is sadder to cry alone.  This is how we share our lives.  This is what eating means to us.”  When she shared these words with me, I realized how much of the essence of living we Americans have given up by not spending more time together around the dinner table.   

ŽIVJELI!!

ŽIVJELI!!

Mostly, I learned to love Croatia.  The people are open.  The land is diverse and beautiful.  And, at least for now, Croatia is largely undiscovered and uncrowded.  If you wish to see Croatia before the world realizes its captivating appeal, do not wait too long. 

In the meantime, let me share some smiles from our Discover Croatia team:     

Discovering Croatia’s National Parks

Mike's mile high view of the Makarska Riviera and  beyond

Mike’s mile high view of the Makarska Riviera and beyond

Note:  I have been touring Croatia as a guest of Dhar Media in the role of journalist/blogger for most of September.  Due to constraints on time and internet connectivity, my blog has suffered some neglect, although I managed to post a couple of stories in fulfillment of the expectations of our hosts.  We return to Scotland at the end of September when I will explore in detail more about our travels through Croatia.  For example, we visited seven of Croatia’s national parks and I have posted only one related story to-date, the story about Plitvička Lakes.  This series continues with the following story about two of Croatia’s beautiful parks.

One of the most impressive qualities about Croatia is their preservation of the most beautiful public spaces for posterity through their system of national parks and parks of nature.  The distinction between national parks and parks of nature is the legal limitations on land use.  A good analogy would be the difference between a national park and a national forest in the United States.

Paklenice National Park

The steep canyon walls of Paklenica National Park

The steep canyon walls of Paklenica National Park

Paklenice (pawk-leh-NEES-eh) National Park is above all a climbers’ paradise near the Dalmatian archipelago island of Pag.  Solid karst rock walls rise 1,000 feet and higher in some areas to form a narrow, deep canyon.  Most routes are numbered and protection anchors are drilled permanently into the rock for clipping in carabiners for climbing ropes.  Small plaques on each pitch label the difficulty rating with a numerical designation.  Some pitches are no more than ten feet away from the next adjacent pitch, and during the Spring and Fall, climbing ropes lay about like spaghetti as climbers take turns climbing various routes.  Colorful names for the routes are given to each pitch, an honor reserved for whoever was credited with the first ascent.

Climbing walls tower overhead

Climbing walls tower overhead

The national park covers 95 km² (23,000 acres) and the terrain which straddles the coastal mountain ridges is an ideal setting for backpackers.  A ranger informs me that camping is only allowed in designated sites where shelters have been built.  Their purpose is primarily to protect surrounding areas undisturbed in their natural state.

A backpacker could hike the high country from one end of the park to the other in a few days.  This would make for an invigorating and rewarding outing and instill the desire to return to one day further explore the park’s hidden treasures.

Biokovo Park of Nature

View of the Dalmatia Coasts and Adriatic Sea

View of the Dalmatia Coasts and Adriatic Sea

Biokovo Park is named after the peak that towers over the Riviera town of Makarska.  The road to the summit winds up and up, switchback after switchback for 23 kilometers (14 miles).  Our drive climbs 1,700 meters (over 5,500 feet elevation) from the sea to a viewpoint marked by a radio relay tower.  The temperature drops 6°C (11°F) from our seashore point of origin, and a brisk wind reminds me I should have brought a jacket.

We can see all the way to Bosnia from Biokovo Mountain's summit.

We can see all the way to Bosnia from Biokovo Mountain’s summit.

Although weather can change rapidly and extreme weather is possible any day of the year, we arrive at the summit on the perfect day.  Looking east I can see Bosnia.  To the west I am able to see over the Dalmatian archipelago to the Adriatic Sea and beyond to catch a glimpse of the coast of Italy.

I should warn any prospective visitors who aspire to reach the summit of Biokovo Mountain.  The road is adequately maintained.  However, it is single lane over much of the route, and you will encounter oncoming cars.  Be prepared to find the closest wide spot in which you are able to squeeze past one another.  It may seem challenging, but the view is worth it.  Many tourists rent scooters for the drive, and that is a great solution on a typically warm sunny day.

During our trip I visited seven national parks.  You may be surprised by the diversity of natural settings as I share with you more of the natural beauty of Croatia in my next story. 

Discovering Plitvička Lakes in Croatia

The lowest of the Plitvicka Lakes is seen first as you enter the national park’s east entrance.

The lowest of the Plitvicka Lakes is seen first as you enter the national park’s east entrance.

Telling about Plitvička (pleet-VEECH-ka) Lakes National Park in Croatia is sort of like telling of one’s experience visiting the Grand Canyon in the United States, a place well known for its unique geological formations and natural beauty.  And yet, why not share the story, because both locations are worthy of being talked about again and again given that there is no other place on earth quite like either one.

What constitutes a waterfall is a matter for speculation.

What constitutes a waterfall is a matter for speculation.

Although there are streams that empty into the Plitvička Lakes, their primary source of water is from underground springs.  The string of sixteen successive lakes is like a giant necklace of turquoise jewels strung together with a series of waterfalls.  Visitors often ask the obvious question, ‘How many waterfalls are there?’  The answer is, of course nobody knows, partly because the definition of how much water constitutes a waterfall is a matter of speculation.  Also, the water level changes with the seasons.  The underground aquifer feeding the lakes increases in volume with the spring thaw and seasonal rainfall.

Fish swim alongside our path.

Fish swim alongside our path.

Schools of trout follow along as we walk the pathways bordering the lakes.  I imagine that a number of tourists have fed bread crumbs to the fish over time so that they are now naturally attracted to the movement of people.  That may be the only thing added to the water which maintains an amazing purity that makes it possible to see to the bottom of the lakes.  The government of Croatia has recognized the importance of the natural beauty of the area and has protected it as a national park since 1949.

Calcium deposits perpetually change the shape of the lakes and falls.

Calcium deposits perpetually change the shape of the lakes and falls.

The springs feeding the lakes contain calcium carbonate.  The calcium solidifies over time to create the rock formations that have given the lakes their unique shapes.  While this calcification typically produces rock at the rate of a few millimeters per year at locations around the world, at Plitvicka the rate of rock formation is 30-50 times that rate.  Scientists have not been able to fully explain this rapid rock formation.  It is a phenomenon exclusive to this one place in Croatia, which contributed to Plitvicka Lakes being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Natural Site.

Other features of the park are worth noting.  The highest falls in Croatia can be viewed as one enters the east entrance to the park.  Veliki-Slap Falls are nearly 300 feet tall.  Visible from across the canyon from the falls is a wood cabin, the remnants of the last watermill in the area used by settlers to grind their wheat and corn.  There are also campgrounds, motels and a luxury hotel near the park to provide a vacation experience for any budget.  The entry fee to the park is 110 kuna, less than $20.00.

Seasonal changes provide tourists with ever-changing scenery.

Seasonal changes provide tourists with ever-changing scenery.

Given the amenities, the beauty and the affordability, a visit to Plitvicka Lakes is too good to pass up.  When you take into account the warmth of the people, the great food, the enjoyment of wine country in the north and the Dalmatian Coast to the west and you can see the country beckons with open arms for you discover Croatia for yourself.

Dunfermline, Scotland – Birthplace of Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie statue in Pittencrieff Park Photo credit: wikicommons.org

Andrew Carnegie statue erected in 1914 in Pittencrieff Park, Dunfermline
Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org

While visiting Dunfermline we discovered the Andrew Carnegie Museum which was built around the humble cottage where Carnegie was born. The story of his youth makes his rise to become the richest man in the world* all the more intriguing.

The Carnegie's occupied the top floor, left half of this cottage.

The Carnegie’s shared the top floor of this cottage with another family.

In addition to telling the life story of Andrew Carnegie, the museum preserved the humble one room loft apartment where he was born and where his family cooked, ate and slept. Another family occupied the room across the hall. The first floor space was taken up by hand looms. Andrew’s mother, Margaret Carnegie, worked to hand weave towels and linens. Once textile factories mechanized the weaving process, the Carnegies fell on hard times.

Andrew Carnegie was born in this room, beds on the right, dining table to the left.

Andrew Carnegie was born in this room, beds on the right, dining table to the left, no kitchen, no bathroom. Cooking was done at the fireplace.

Against the wishes of Andrew’s father, Margaret decided they should emigrate to Allegheny County, Pennsylvania where she had a sister. Andrew was 12 years old when they made the journey. Although education was not mandatory, Andrew had voluntarily attended school starting at the age of 8 and learned the basics. He put his sharp mind to use on his first job at age 15. He earned $1.20/week as a telegraph operator where he became invaluable by being able to translate Morse code messages by ear without having to write down the words.

Two of these hand looms occupied the cottage's first floor.

Two of these hand looms occupied the cottage’s first floor.

Carnegie was hired as a personal secretary at $4.00/week at the age of 18 by Thomas A. Scott, owner of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, one of the largest railroads in the country. Carnegie quickly rose to the role of superintendent of the Pittsburgh office. Carnegie’s relationship with Scott made possible an investment in Adams Express, which carried messages to corporate offices as they came in by telegraph. Margaret had to mortgage their house for $500 against its $700 value to make the payment. The investment paid off. Adams Express later grew to become American Express with Carnegie getting in on the ground floor.

The Carnegie steel mill at Homestead, PA, 1905 Photo credit: documentarist.com

The Carnegie steel mill at Homestead, PA, 1905
Photo credit: documentarist.com

The outbreak of the American Civil War called for rapid, large scale expansion of the railroads. Carnegie did not invest in railroads. He invested in the companies who supplied railcars, locomotives and parts to the railroads. Carnegie used money from his investments to open a steel plant using state-of-the-art technology to sell rails to the railroads. He also invested in iron mines, shipping and refineries. Eventually, Carnegie’s expanding steel empire threatened the future of other steel producers because he now owned the entire supply chain as well as the finished goods.

The library at Homestead, PA included a swimming pool, a 1,000 seat theater and a bowling alley as free facilities for employees.  Photo credit: Explorepahistory.com

The library at Homestead, PA includes a swimming pool, a 1,000 seat theater and a bowling alley free for employees.
Photo credit: Explorepahistory.com

In order to stop him from overtaking the industry, the steel producers needed an investor who had the funds to buy him out. John Pierpont Morgan envisioned an integrated steel industry with efficiencies based on consolidation and minimizing waste. In 1901, Carnegie was 66 years old and ready to retire, so he accepted the largest corporate buyout in history.  J.P. Morgan paid Carnegie $480 million ($13.2 billion today) and U. S. Steel was born. Carnegie spent the next twenty years of his life funding public works including the building of over 2,800 public libraries. He endowed the Universities of Scotland with $10 million including scholarships for boys who could otherwise not afford a university education. The Carnegie Trust continues to endow numerous universities.

The World Court at The Hague, The Netherlands Photo credit: muntr.org

The World Court at The Hague, The Netherlands
Photo credit: muntr.org

As a pacifist, Carnegie had the Peace Palace built at The Hague in The Netherlands, which today houses the International Court of Justice (The World Court), and is still managed by the Carnegie Trust. The Trust also supported the Children’s Television Workshop. The Carnegie Museum displays Bert and Ernie puppets to commemorate the Trust’s support for the production of Sesame Street, now in its 44th year and broadcast in 140 countries.

Growing up in Dunfermline, Carnegie was excluded from entering the nearby private Pittencrieff Estate. In 1902, Carnegie purchased the 76 acre estate and gifted it to the people of Dunfermline. Today, as we depart Dunfermline, we pass Pittencrieff Park where now stands a statue of Andrew Carnegie, a self-made business mogul and philanthropist, a famous American and a favorite son of Scotland.

*Note: Using CPI cost-of-living statistics, Carnegie’s net worth would have been $13 billion today. Using GDP figures to determine the costs of goods and services at the turn of the century, Carnegie’s purchasing power would be comparable to $165 billion today.

Expat Scotland

Picturesque Pitlochry, or How Scotch is Made

The castle-like house marks the entry to the 5 star Athol Palace Hotel.

This castle-like house marks the entry to the 5 star Atholl Palace Hotel.

An hour long bus ride from Perth took us through scenic farmland, villages and towns on the road to Pitlochry at the foot of the Northern Highlands. We were seeking out Edradour, the smallest distillery in Scotland. However, the two mile trek through fields and forests to get there convinced us to take the more accessible tour of Blair Atholl Distillery instead.

Courtyard entrance to the distillery - no cameras allowed inside.

Courtyard entrance to the distillery – no cameras allowed inside.

As we arrived we were quickly slipped ahead of a bus tour group into a private tour with an English couple as we began to learn how Scotch is made. So as not to bore you with a lot of details, here are a few high points:

  1. 1. A 69,000 liter vat of mountain spring water is mixed with over eight tons of malted barley and fermented to make a ‘barley beer’ with 9% alcohol. After siphoning off the beer the remaining mash is sold as feed to dairy farmers.
    2. The first distillation comes out of the condenser with a 25% alcohol level. The liquid is then diverted to a spirit still where it comes out as a clear liquid at or near 70% alcohol.
    3. The amber color of Scotch comes from aging barrels of American Oak previously used to age bourbon whiskey. After four years aging Scotch takes on a pale yellow hue. After eight years it is a darker yellow, and twelve years later Scotch attains its classic amber color.
    4. Scotch aged longer than twelve years is not necessarily a superior product. Evaporation takes place during aging which alters the composition and thus, the taste of the whisky.
    5. Most Scotches are blends of up to 35 varieties to achieve a smoother taste. Blair Atholl, a relatively small distillery, produces 3 million liters/year of single malt Scotch, about 1% of the world market.
Pitlochry is a popular vacation destination and tour stop.

Pitlochry is a popular vacation destination and tour stop.

We sampled a dram of twelve year old Scotch with instructions on how to maximize the experience. For example, a single malt Scotch should be stored at or below room temperature. Never chill good Scotch over ice, or you might as well get the cheap stuff and add soda pop. You can enjoy a milder taste by adding a little cold water of the purest quality available. Warm a small serving of whisky by cradling the glass in your hands. Breathe the vapors as you would a fine wine. Then sip and let the liquid move slowly over your palate before swallowing. We enjoyed the experience. However, the flavor of Scotch is still not one of my favorites, and I certainly would not pay over $50 for a bottle of single malt.

The countryside outside of Pitlochry is lush and scenic.

The countryside outside of Pitlochry is lush and scenic.

After the tour we walked up the road into the town of Pitlochry and found out it is a major stopping point for tours. We saw busloads of Russians, Germans and Swedes during our walk through town. A drive through the outskirts showed that B&B’s, hotels and guest houses were numerous.

The town is bordered on the north by a huge national park, so the surrounding scenery is captivating. It is not difficult to see why it is so popular a destination. If we were to continue north from Pitlochry, the road would take us past Loch Ness to the northern city of Inverness, but that is a story for another day.

The Most Influential Blogger Award

Who won an award? Seriously?

You won an award?  Well, congratulations.  No, seriously.
Photo credit: Matt Pereira

My first blog award was such an important affirmation that somebody was actually reading something I posted. Within a few months, I began to feel like I was part of a community – the blogosphere. Another award or two came in and I soon found myself preoccupied with acknowledgements and questionnaires.

I stopped posting stories like ‘Look, I got an award!’ I am not one to hang certificates or wear lapel pins that announce accomplishments, although I posted the awards on my About page. I also did not know enough bloggers to pass the award forward to ten or fifteen people according to the rules of the awards. It began to feel like I was posting an electronic chain letter. Remember those? Now Facebook does stuff like ‘share this if you love your mother.’  So what, people do not love their mothers if they do not share a link?

most-influential-bloggerNevertheless, I like this award. I like the questions in the ‘Tell us something about yourself’ portion. I like Robin and her blog Witless Dating After Fifty who sent me this award. And I like some deserving writers out there, especially the newbies that are worthy of recognition. If you do not see your name on the list below it may be because I recognized you recently. Or if you just want another cool award, email me and I will add you along with some nice words. You know who you are.

Here is the questionnaire:

If you could create your own planet what would it look like?
I am quite fond of the planet we are on, although I would add more trees and fresh water, and perhaps a few more glaciated peaks with lots of waterfalls – big waterfalls!

If you could visit one nation you have never visited before, what nation would that be?
This is funny since I am embarking on a mission to accomplish exactly this – to visit lots of nations I have never visited. Instead, I will say my favorite nation so far is Chile because right now, if I were asked to choose one place to live it would be Chile. Or maybe Canada. Or Germany. Or Italy? Or…

Have you ever taken a long distance train trip?
Yes – in 1973 my fiancé and I reserved a Pullman sleeper compartment for a 48 hour trip from Chicago to Seattle.

What is something you would collectively change about humanity?
I would make bartering the only standard payment so that people would be rewarded for how hard they work at whatever skill they chose. I think I would also require term limits for every politician and appointee.

Huey LewisWhat is your favorite song?
I occasionally change my favorite song. After my divorce it was The Eagles’ Already Gone. I am in a wonderful relationship now, so my favorite song is Some Kind of Wonderful co-written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King and first released in 1961 by The Drifters. I prefer the versions by Huey Lewis and the News and Grand Funk Railroad, which are quite similar. And I love anything a cappella.

Chris Berman, ESPN Commentator Extraordinaire

Chris Berman, ESPN Commentator Extraordinaire

If you could meet one person who is still alive who would you choose to meet?
I would pick someone with whom I could talk sports for hours. That would have to be Chris Berman, one of ESPN’s original announcers. He still does “The Fastest Two Minutes in Football” during the Monday Night Football halftime show, with his iconic saying, ‘He – could – go – all – the – way!’

otterIf you could choose one symbol to represent you, what would that symbol be and why?
I would be represented by an animal – the river otter. They are adorable creatures who know how to play and have fun, have beautiful fur coats, and they are incredible swimmers. Throw in some fresh fish and life is good!

Blogs I wish to acknowledge in alphabetical order:

Aja’s Northwest Life  – Aja’s stories and photos make me to think about my home.

A Lifetime’s Exploration – Sarah Ryan makes me appreciate how much she has traveled at such a young age.

Cô Kerri – Kerri makes me think about her profession as a teacher who chose to teach English in Viet Nam. My mother was a teacher. Enough said.

I’ve Got Some ‘Spaining To Do – Nancy makes me to think about living in different cultural settings.

Gallivance – James and Terri have already won every conceivable award and I hope my blog will one day be as successful. I also mention them because they have been many places I hope to go, and they are damn good writers.

Honk If You’re Vegan – Celeste is a friend and she has influenced how I eat. I cannot imagine a greater influence in one’s life.

Tales From The Motherland – My list of influential bloggers would be incomplete without my friend, Dawn, who reminds me about parenting, the Pacific Northwest and lots of other stuff.

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Scotland's legendary Black Watch Regimental Pipe Band enters the arena from Edinburgh Castle.

Scotland’s legendary Black Watch Regimental Pipe Band enters the arena from Edinburgh Castle.

The original meaning of ‘military tattoo’ was a military drum performance. The term dates back to the 16th century in Holland. The Dutch Army was staffed mostly by mercenaries from England, Scotland, Germany and Switzerland with a Dutch commanding officer. Drummers were sent out each evening at 9:30 p.m. to inform soldiers it was time to return to their barracks. The process was known as a ‘Tap Toe’, a signal to innkeepers to shut off their taps and stop serving beer to the soldiers.

The boys' precision motorcycle team from England warmed up the crowd.

The boys’ precision motorcycle team from England warmed up the crowd.

Nowadays, a tattoo is a performance by military bands for entertainment, and one of the  world’s most prestigious tattoos is held outside the entrance to Edinburgh Castle every August as part of the festival known simply as Fringe, which we attended. The show featured groups from Korea, Mongolia, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, Australia, England and of course, Scotland.

The massed band opened the tattoo with stirring pipe and drum numbers.

The massed band opened the tattoo with stirring pipe and drum numbers.

The show opened with the massed pipe bands marching out from the castle onto the escalade while playing the bagpipes in unison. The collective musical force of fifty drummers and a hundred pipers is thrilling. It got the crowd fired up more than a Super Bowl halftime show! Following the pipers were the drum and bugle corps massed bands. There is nothing like marching bands in their dress uniforms to get the spectators energized.

From Mariachi to fiesta dancing, the Mexico band livened up the show.

From Mariachi to fiesta dancing, the Mexico band livened up the show.

The Mexican group opened with an Aztec-style fire dance followed by a musical fiesta featuring dancers in traditional bright colored dresses. The Mongolian band had the most impressive uniforms and their dancers performed a tribute to the great Genghis Khan, complete with period costumes and replica spears and arrows.

The performers from South Korea contrasted with the power of the brass and pipe bands with a delicate dance with silk scarves and ballet-like choreography. Their presentation built to a crescendo of synchronized drumming that brought roars of appreciation from the capacity crowd of 8,600.

The Kiwis go Gangnam Style.

The Kiwis go Gangnam Style.

The New Zealanders stole the show with their energy. They started their presentation with the classic Maori haka or war chant. After a classic march they performed a drinking song where they staggered while playing, which drew laughs and cheers from the audience. They followed with the final movement of the classic Sousa march, Stars and Stripes Forever with six piccolo soloists. However, they completely won the hearts of the crowd when the trombone players set down their horns and danced Gangnam Style complete with sunglasses.

The Mongolian uniforms were the most colorful.

The Mongolian uniforms were the most colorful.

As if that were not enough, the women’s drill team joined the band. Their precision movements culminated in a double file crisscross performed marching backwards. I have seen some amazing dance and drill routines, but I had never seen that before! It was one thing keeping their lines perfect, but they did so while blind to the movements of their teammates while marching in reverse. No wonder the Kiwis won over the crowd so completely on this night.

The Tattoo Grand Finale complete with fireworks

The Tattoo Grand Finale complete with fireworks launched from Edinburgh Castle.

As exciting as the tattoo was, my words are inadequate to describe how stirring the performances were to see in person. If you ever learn of a military tattoo in your area, I urge you to experience it firsthand. You will not be disappointed.

Surprise – We Are Going to Croatia!

Pozadina

All photo credits: Discover Croatia Tours, Touristar TV

The Six Monthers exist due to a lot of behind-the-scenes work. While I busy myself writing this blog and sharing our travel adventures, Florence is busy on numerous social media sites promoting our brand and seeking opportunities that complement our travel plans. These efforts recently paid off when the staff at Touristar TV in Croatia invited us to join their team to promote their Discover Croatia Tour in September, which will be filmed for television.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Dubrovnik is one of the world's finest examples of a medieval walled city.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Dubrovnik is one of the world’s finest examples of a medieval walled city.

We will be representing the United States on an international team of travelers and journalists from Brazil, Finland, Spain and host Ashley Colburn along with our Croatian hosts TouristarTV and the Croatian agency, Dhar Media.  I will be sharing more about our fellow travelers in the weeks ahead. Currently, I am announcing our travel plans and sharing a few photos from Croatia provided by our hosts.

Croatia's freshwater richness is evident in the Neretva region.

Croatia’s freshwater richness is evident in the Neretva region.

I will share stories about the people, the culture, the sights, the food and the history of Croatia. I am no expert about Croatia, so I will be learning and writing about it as I go.  I have met only a few Croatians in my life, and they all have one thing in common. They are proud of their country’s beauty and heritage.

Our route will take us from the interior capital of Zagreb through scenic national parks past mountains and lakes to the coast. It is the desire of our team to create an irresistible image of Croatia as a travel destination.  Until such time as we assemble as a group on September 3rd, our hosts at Touristar TV passed along some images from Croatia to share with you.  I will post updates as I am able until I begin sharing stories and photos from Croatia.

Plitvice National Park features a string of alpine lakes connected by waterfalls.

Plitvice National Park features a string of spring fed lakes connected by waterfalls.

I am excited about seeing a part of the world I have only read about or heard about from others. One thing is clear. Now that Croatia has become a member of the European Union, they want to raise their profile and let the world know who they are and what their beautiful country has to offer. I can hardly wait to share my discoveries.