The Highs and Lows of Travel Life

One of my favorite high points - Whistler Mountain, BC Photo credit - whistlerblackcomb.com

One of my favorite high points – Whistler Mountain, BC
Photo credit – whistlerblackcomb.com

The insights revealed by our travels over the last few years have been nothing short of amazing. There have been so many beautiful places and interesting people. I continue to fulfill a lifelong desire to better know and appreciate the world we all share. I try to keep an open mind and to demonstrate my desire to reach out to people and to understand their culture, and I have learned that we are all not so different.

Mt. Villarica and the town of Pucón, Chile, another favorite peak

Mt. Villarica and the town of Pucón, Chile, another favorite spot     Photo credit: Wikicommons

My greatest love of the outdoors is the mountains. This was something I acquired at a young age as a hiking and climbing partner with my dad. I learned to love the clean air, the fresh water, the exhilaration of looking at the world around me from the highest perch I could reach, and the camaraderie that comes from sharing these experiences with like-minded outdoorsmen. Even though my legs are nowhere near as strong as when I was a constant hiker and backpacker, I dream of the heights when I spot snowcapped peaks on the horizon. At least there is a chair lift to the top of one of my favorite peaks, Whistler Mountain, so I will still be able to visit the high alpine country even when I am too old to hike the trails.

Not every day on the road is an adventure. There are health issues that crop up. I had to have a root canal performed on a broken tooth while we were in Mexico. I broke out in hives a few weeks back, an apparent allergic reaction that made me itch so bad that I felt like my whole body was one big mosquito bite. We also have money concerns, just like everyone else. I think the hardest part about traveling full time is missing family. I do not have a lot of family – two daughters and two grandsons. Other than my in-laws I am not close with any other family.

I have often heard the phrase on television shows and from friends that ‘family is the most important thing.’ In my case that has hardly ever been true. My family of origin was never close. In one way or another every member of my family abandoned our relationship. My father was hauled off to the East Coast by my stepmother’s family, and after 2005 I never saw him or heard from him again. I found his obituary online a last year and learned that he passed away in 2009. He would have been 90. My mother never had so much as a memorial service. Maybe that was not a bad thing. I am not sure if I would have attended. My sister, two years older than I, just one day stopped communicating with me. We have had no contact with one another since 2008.

All of these family failures sometimes make me wonder if I unwittingly sabotage relationships? Have I been a good enough father to my two daughters? Am I a good enough husband to my wife? Am I at fault for the failure of my first marriage of 28 years? I cannot take all that on myself. Relationships are a two-way street. All I know is I miss my daughters and my grandsons. They are on the other side of the world, and I cannot easily commute to see them.

I love my life on the road. Every day holds the possibility of a new adventure. I love adventure, and I always have. I also love my daughters and my grandsons. I miss them. I know their lives are busy. Mine was when I was their age. Alas, not everything about our traveling lifestyle is easy.

Starting Anew in Torrevieja, Spain

There are two miles of beaches lining the coast of Torrevieja.  This beach is two blocks from our apartment.

There are two miles of beaches lining the coast of Torrevieja. This beach is two blocks from our apartment. Pedestrians can walk the entire waterfront with shops and restaurants lining the walkway.

We have walked the city streets, learned the bus routes, visited the central shopping mall, checked out the main cathedral and located the nearest supermarkets and the public library.  Now that we have our feet on the ground we are free to check out the interesting sights of the city.

The 'coralista monument' is a tribute to music and musicians.  It references the Habaneras singing style brought to Torrevieja by sailors who brought Cuban-style song and dance back from the Caribbean in the 18th century.

The ‘coralista monument’ is a tribute to music and musicians. It references the Habaneras music adopted from Cuba via shipping trade dating back to the 1700’s.

Torrevieja, or old tower, is a city of 100,000 people with double that number when you count the surrounding suburbs.  The original tower that gave the city its name was built as an overlook facing the sea.  The tower no longer exists except for some foundation stones that mark its origin.  The city has since erected a stone tower representing the city’s namesake.

The Torrevieja area had proximity to sub-sea level lowlands just a half-mile inland from the coast.  Some early settlers dug a ditch from the sea to these lowlands and flooded two areas to form shallow lakes that were used as dehydration ponds to make salt.  These two salt ponds are huge, combining to cover over 9,000 acres.  Salt production still takes place and now exceeds 800,000 tons/year exported mostly to Western European markets.  The shoreline areas of the salt lakes are protected parklands serving as habitat for birds and wildlife.  Wading birds are common as they prey upon fish in the shallow lagoons.

Torrevieja's main church viewed from Plaza Constitución.

The city’s central church was rebuilt in 1844 using stone blocks from the old tower that was left in ruins from this earthquake.

The city does not have a natural port, so the area was overlooked until the 17th century as far as a hub of commercial activity.  Early settlers were mostly fishermen from Genoa and Naples looking for less competitive fishing areas.  To this day Italian surnames are common among the local population.   Modern day Torrevieja features a water-break seawall that extends nearly a mile around the city’s main marina which moors over 300 boats.  People can stroll the entire length of the seawall on a beautiful boardwalk and get an outstanding view of the city waterfront from offshore. 

The elaborate altar inside the Church of the Immaculate Conception

The elaborate altar inside the Church of the Immaculate Conception

The main church in Torrevieja, the Church of the Immaculate Conception, was originally built in 1798.  A severe earthquake in 1829, which would have registered a 6.6 using the Richter scale, had its epicenter close to Torrevieja and devastated the city.  Surrounding towns were also nearly destroyed.  There was little history of seismic activity along the Mediterranean coast, so the local populations were caught completely by surprise. 

Picturesque parks are found throughout the city, like this one a few blocks from our home.

Picturesque parks are found throughout the city, like this one a few blocks from our home.

The current city of Torrevieja is a tourist and expat destination.  Nearly half of the population is made up of British expats who own a home or apartment somewhere around the city.  English is spoken in most shops, restaurants and businesses.  There is an English language weekly newspaper, an English cinema, and innumerable groups and clubs including golfing, cycling, acting, hiking and jogging.  Runners were drawn to the 31st annual Torrevieja Half-Marathon, which took place on February 23rd and draws over 2,000 runners. 

The Central Market of Torrevieja offers a variety of fresh fruits, deli items and goodies.

The Central Market of Torrevieja offers a variety of fresh fruits, deli items and goodies.

While we are not beach people per se, we enjoy strolling along the waterfront on a warm sunny day and feeling the cool breeze.  And now that we have our bearings, we look forward to getting to better know our new home town.

We Made It Just In Time

We Made It Just In Time

Our latest story was just published by BoomerCafe.com, the top U.S. website for Baby Boomers where we submit a monthly story updating readers at BoomerCafe on our travels.  This month’s story shares our transition from Croatia and getting settled in Spain, an effort still in progress.  Link here for our story and perhaps some other articles you might enjoy as well.

Stay tuned for updates as we move into our new apartment in Torrevieja on February 21st, the day before my birthday.  What a gift!  And after we settle we have much more of Spain to see and to share.  La Vida aquí es marveloso!

Time to Split, Croatia

A view of Split, Croatia's harbor and the Old City

A view of Split, Croatia’s harbor and the Old City

Diocletian, Emperor of Rome 284-305 AD, lived in this palace until he died in 311.  He addressed his subjects from this balcony.

Diocletian, Emperor of Rome 284-305 AD, lived in this palace until he died in 311 AD. He addressed his subjects from this balcony.

Split, the second largest city on the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, is our point of departure by ferry to Italy later this week.  In English ‘split’ means to leave.  Although we are less than eager to leave Croatia because of the bonds of friendship we have forged here, as The 6 Monthers we must answer the call to make another country our home for the next six months.  The excitement of moving someplace new is building within us as we complete our second year of living in a new country every six months.* 

Outside The Golden Gate of Diocletian's Palace stands this statue of medieval bishop, Gregory of Nin by Ivan Meštrović, Croatia's most famous artist.

Outside The Golden Gate of Diocletian’s Palace stands this statue of medieval bishop, Gregory of Nin by Ivan Meštrović, Croatia’s most famous artist.

We have twenty days between our departure from Croatia and our scheduled arrival in Alicante, Spain.  Thus, we will use surface transportation to travel first to Italy.  I have seen Naples, Florence, Pisa, and Sicily, but I have not yet visited Rome.  Florence informs me one needs at least a week to see and appreciate Rome.  So we will do just that.  We will then take another ferry, which is more of a cruise ship, to Barcelona and divide our remaining time between Barcelona and Madrid.  In each city we plan to reunite with Spanish friends we have made during our travels.  How great is that, to have locals help us discover the wonders of their home country!

Rubbing the toe of Gregory of Nin's statue is supposed to bring good luck.

Rubbing the toe of Gregory of Nin’s statue is supposed to bring good luck.

Why Spain?  One reason is that Spanish is my only other language.  In fact, after living in Latin America for over a year I developed this habit.  Whenever someone speaks to me in a foreign language, I automatically answer in Spanish.  It seems I now have the ability to confuse others in two languages.  At least I understand the language of laughter.  Since I have learned a few words in Croatian, my pronunciation has also elicited some laughs and smiles.  Fortunately, most Croatians speak English, and many quite fluently.

Ivan Meštrović lived in what is now a museum a few block's from Split's harbor.

Ivan Meštrović lived in what is now a museum a few block’s from Split’s harbor.

If I were to attend school in Spain, my Spanish might be good enough to get me into the third grade, which is to say I have plenty of room for improvement, and I look forward to that.  The history of Spain also intrigues me.  The Iberian Peninsula played a strategic role in the expansion and development of modern civilization, and Spain ultimately served as the base of one of history’s most dominant and influential empires. 

Republic Square near Diocletian's Palace bears striking resemblance to St. Mark's Square in Venice.  Our guide says Croatia's painted it pink as a poke at the Venetians, who once ruled here.

Republic Square near Diocletian’s Palace bears striking resemblance to St. Mark’s Square in Venice. Our guide says Croatian’s painted it pink as a poke at the Venetians, who once ruled here.

Now we get to learn about this beautiful land and culture firsthand.  So many names of Spanish cities evoke thoughts of something exotic and unique – Cordoba, Seville, Granada, Valencia (the only Spanish city I have visited).  I want to visit them all and more:  Basque Country, El Camino de Santiago, and of course, the Spanish Riviera which we plan to call home for the next six months.  I expect to have many stories to share from Spain. 

If you have traveled to Spain, what was your finest memory?  If you have not visited Spain, what would you most want to see?  I would love for you to share your thoughts. 

*Note:  We created a list of countries in which we would like to live that spans the next ten years.  Link here for our list and more about The 6 Monthers.  Do you think we overlooked a country?  Tell us which country and why.  We are open to suggestions.

The 6 Monthers Prepare to Move Again

Looking back on our time in Šibenik, we will remember living near the iconic Cathedral of St. James.

Looking back on our time in Šibenik, we will remember living near the iconic Cathedral of St. James.

My wife and I are The 6 Monthers because we choose to live in a new country every six months.  We chose the six month time span because we now have time to visit more places and see more of the sights each country has to offer.  We also choose to live like the locals.  We rent an apartment to use as our base.  We shop where locals shop and we eat like locals eat.  Six months may seem like a long time in which to stay in a country, but it goes fast because here we are preparing to move once again.

The 6 Monthers overlooking Sarajevo, Bosnia.

The 6 Monthers overlooking Sarajevo, Bosnia.

This current six month interval was divided into two three month periods for a couple of reasons.  First, we were invited to visit Croatia in September as photo and blog journalists by Dhar Media for a Touristar production called Discover Croatia.  Our intensive 24 day series of excursions opened our eyes to the beauty and historic wonders of Croatia, and we knew we would love to return.  Second, we found our move to Scotland forced us to live at the extent of our budget because there were hidden costs to living there.  Perhaps ‘undisclosed’ is a more accurate term.  Florence wrote a story with details for anyone who is interested. 

Outside the walls of the medieval city of Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Outside the walls of the medieval city of Dubrovnik, Croatia.

We have a month left before we depart.  We will celebrate our sixth anniversary the weekend before Christmas by throwing a party at a waterfront restaurant for all of our friends here in Croatia.  We will also celebrate Christmas and New Years here in Šibenik.  We have been the grateful beneficiaries of much kindness and caring on the part of our Croatian hosts, and celebrating with them is an appropriate way to express our appreciation.

Picturesque Mlini, just south of Dubrovnik

Picturesque Mlini, just south of Dubrovnik

We have completed most of our research for our next move.  We leave January 3rd to catch the overnight ferry from Split, Croatia, to Ancona, Italy.  I have not yet seen Rome, so we will spend a week there to take in the many sights that must be seen.  We will also submit our papers for dual citizenship with Italy while in Rome.  The application process has been time-consuming.  We are hopeful the final approval will be forthcoming in the next few months.  Traveling in Europe on Italian passports will solve a lot of issues when visiting Schengen Alliance countries.

Vela Spila cave, an archeological site on the island of Korčula with human remains 20,000 years old.

Vela Spila cave, an archeological site on the island of Korčula with human remains 20,000 years old.

After Rome we will fly to Barcelona, Spain, where we will spend at least four days seeing the sights.  I look forward to strolling past the shops along La Rambla and visiting La Boqueria Market, sampling tapas, and viewing Gaudi architecture.  Maybe we will even get inside La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s crowning achievement that has yet to be completed.  Tourists line up for hours to view the cathedral during the high season.  We simply cannot overlook this landmark on our ABC Tour.*

Vineyard and olive country on the island of Pag

Vineyard and olive country on the island of Pag

We will visit Madrid for a few days before settling in Alicante, Spain, for the next six months.  I look forward to improving my Spanish during our stay.  We will soon be sharing our stories from Spain on our next adventure, life on the Costa Blanca.  There are so many places to visit with romantic and familiar names:  Cordoba, Granada, Seville, Malaga, Bilbao, and more. 

If you have a favorite memory of Spain or a destination you wish to see some day, please share your comments.  I would love to know.

*Note:  ‘ABC’ stands for Another Blessed Cathedral, a reference made numerous times on this blog.

Alternating our Current Path*

*Note:  The title refers to Šibenik, Croatia, being the first city in the world illuminated exclusively by hydroelectric power.  Croatia’s most famous favorite son, Nikola Tesla, invented the alternating current generator now used in power generating plants throughout the world.

*Note: The title refers to Šibenik, Croatia, being the first city in the world illuminated exclusively by hydroelectric power. Croatia’s most famous favorite son, Nikola Tesla, invented the alternating current generator now used in power generating plants throughout the world. This statue of Tesla sitting outside his childhood home near Smiljan, Croatia, is nearly life-sized –  he was 6’4″ tall.

As we prepare to move to Šibenik (SHE beh neek), Croatia, several followers have commented things like, ‘You guys are The 6 Monthers.  Are you going to change your name to The 3 Monthers?’  No, we are not going to change our name.  Our plans have always been flexible and six months in a country is a guideline, not a rule. 

The Botanical Gardens in Glasgow, Scotland

The Botanical Gardens in Glasgow, Scotland

Coming to Europe our original destination was Ireland.  When the people we attempted to connect with for housing did not respond, we expanded our search to include Scotland.  The same thing occurred as we were leaving Panama last January.  Originally, we were going to move to Costa Rica.  No one responded to our inquiries about an apartment there, so we expanded our search to include Mexico.  Our decision to move there is one that we never regretted. 

 

Rosslyn Chapel, just south of Edinburgh, Scotland

Rosslyn Chapel, just south of Edinburgh, Scotland

Florence had visited Ireland on her first trip abroad thirty years ago.  Scotland represented an opportunity to explore someplace new for both of us.  We had an amazing summer in the land of bagpipes, Scotch whisky, kilts and castles.  We attended the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo at the Edinburgh Festival.  Among the many churches we visited on the ABC Tour, we saw Rosslyn Chapel, the 500 year old church made famous in Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code where some of the movie was filmed.

A glimpse of the Dalmatian Coast from the nearby hills

A glimpse of the Dalmatian Coast from the nearby hills

The offer to visit Croatia as journalists in September was an unexpected opportunity.   We knew almost nothing about Croatia except that they and Romania were the newest members of the European Union.  We discovered a country more beautiful than anything we could have imagined.  We met people with smiling faces and open hearts that welcomed us.  We made friends that could hardly wait to see us again. 

When we returned to Scotland at the end of September the rain was regular. The days were colder and the nights were longer.  Popular attractions were closing for the winter.  When the opportunity came to finish out our current six months back in Croatia, it was a no-brainer.  The days are 20° warmer than Scotland, and we will save nearly half on our monthly expenses compared to the cost of living in Scotland. 

 

We made new friends in Croatia.

We made new friends in Croatia.

We had a great time in Scotland, and someday we hope to return to see some of the attractions we missed.  This weekend we are headed back to lower latitudes on the lovely Dalmatian Coast.  We will visit more of Croatia’s incredible sights.   We will party with new friends.  Then it is on to Spain in January where The 6 Monthers return to our regularly scheduled program to live in a new country every six months.  At least that is the plan.

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. 

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. 

Meet The Incredible Croatians

The wooden Santa Barbara Church is over 400 years old.

The wooden Santa Barbara Church is over 400 years old.

On our excursion to the Santa Barbara wooden church we were met by Father Anđelnko. He explained the significance of the beautiful chapel built of native oak over 400 years ago and the unique craftsmanship that made possible the building of such a solid structure without the use of nails.  The interlocking logs are shaped such that the only way the structure could be built was like a puzzle, laying one log atop another one at a time from the ground up, and the weight of the logs was enough to bond the structure together.

The wood panels show original artwork from the 17th Century.

After we learned of the original artwork on the interior wooden panels and we observed a prayer before the handcrafted altar, Father Anđelnko invited us to join him in the reception hall where we were given food and drink, of course, because this is Croatia.  I do not remember exactly how the subject came up, but the priest said to those of us close at hand that there were two people he would most love to meet.  Not surprisingly, Jesus Christ topped the list, because he is after all a priest.  And number two on his list he said was Eric Clapton.

Father Anđelnko offers us gifts during our visit.

Father Anđelnko not only loves the blues, he also owns a Fender Stratocaster on which he practices blue guitar whenever he gets the opportunity.  He also owns over 500 CD’s including every album on which Clapton ever played.  He even confided to us, “I sent Eric an invitation letter to come to Croatia for a visit as my guest.  Unfortunately, he never responded.”  I think Eric would come to Velika-Gorica, Croatia, if he knew how blessed and fortunate he would be with the hospitality of Father Anđelnko.

Our guide, Vlatka, introduces Sister Beliclava.

On our visit to Lužnica and the majestic estate converted to a nunnery, we were greeted by Sister Beliclava.  Her warmth and ready smile were surpassed only by her self-effacing humor.  The sister, a woman of large stature, was asked to join us for a group picture with the lake in the background.  She said, “Oh no, your lenses are not big enough to include me.”  We finally convinced her to stand with us, and then it was suggested we do the ‘Ashley Jump’, Ashley Colburn’s signature celebratory cheer. (Ashley is our TV producer.) Sister Beliclava said, “Oh, please do not ask me to jump.  Our site does not have earthquake insurance.”  Such a quick wit and such an enjoyable personality!

“En Garde,Sir Ivan!” (Fortunately, I wore a helmet during the sword fight.)

Our day reached a climactic end with a visit to a partially renovated medieval castle and the gathering of the Knights of Zelingrad.  We were greeted by a local group reliving the traditions of the Middle Ages in period costumes.  After a demonstration of sword play and launching a replica catapult, we took part in archery and sword fighting.  Then we were invited to join the group for food and drinks because after all, this is Croatia.

I spoke with Ivan, my sword fight rival, about the history of the Croatia.  He asked me what I knew about Croatia, and I said, “I am impressed with your young country.”  He responded with, “Croatia is not a young country.  Our history dates back to the 6th century.  It is only now that the world is getting to know us.”

I continue to be impressed with the immense pride the Croats have for their country and their heritage, as well they should.  It is one of the most appealing and welcoming countries I have ever visited.

Discovering Croatia’s Proud Heritage

Looking down on Zagreb from Mt. Medvednic (Bear Mountain)

Looking down on Zagreb from Mt. Medvednic (Bear Mountain)

If someone were to ask you, “What do you know about Croatia?” your answer would probably be a lot like mine – not much. Today, that perception is changing as we were shown around by professional guide, Hrvoye Kuček, or just ‘Harry’ to us Croatian-challenged types.

Entering Mirogoj Cemetery near central Zagreb

Entering Mirogoj Cemetery near central Zagreb

We first visited the 150 acre Mirogoj Cemetery. What sets this cemetery apart from amazing cemeteries like Recoleta in Buenas Aires, Argentina, is the greenery of gardens, trees and lawns that give the site a park-like setting with over 30,000 gravesites. Harry tells us families will come to Mirogoj Cemetery to walk stroll. November 1st, All Saints Day, is when everyone comes to place flowers or light candles at burial sites for loved ones and national heroes.

One of the most famous Croatian heroes is former NBA star Drazón Petrovic, who died in a tragic auto accident at the peak of his career. He is pictured at his burial site in the uniform of the Croatian National Basketball Team, which he captained.

In a newer section of the cemetery is The Wall of Pain on which are inscribed hundreds of the names of the 16,000 soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the War of Independence in 1991. Not all of the names are known to this day. This is one of the memorials with an eternal flame honoring those who fell.

St. Stephen's Cathedral is undergoing complete restoration.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral is undergoing complete restoration.

We visited the main square of Zagreb with its shops and banks lining the perimeter. This is one of the few city squares in predominantly Roman Catholic countries that does not feature a cathedral. One block away is the Cathedral of St. Stephen which has undergone complete restoration. Also within easy walking distance is the open air market featuring a vast array for fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fresh breads and pastries. One floor below the street surface are the refrigerated stalls for fresh meats, cheeses, fish, and everything you could want for your kitchen.

We took in two museum tours, the Natural History Museum which sits on one corner of the medieval city of Zagreb, and the Technology Museum featuring the inventions of Croatian inventor, Nikola Tesla, whose contributions include neon and fluorescent lights and the alternating current induction motor upon which all generators and alternators in use today are based.

A warm summer day in Zagreb is perfect for water sports at the Jarun rowing center alongside the Sava River.

A warm summer day in Zagreb is perfect for water sports at the Jarun rowing center alongside the Sava River.

We enjoyed a feast for lunch prepared by our hosts at the family-owned Hotel Puntijar, which we were informed was a typical sit down lunch in Croatia. For the non-vegetarians there was a cheese-based soup starter, grilled pork fillet with bacon, a grilled veal steak in an egg yolk and pine nut coating, and veal sautéed in lemon sauce. Dessert was traditional apple dumplings served with a plum sauce and ground cinnamon.

Our tour took us to the Jarun athletic park which includes a two kilometer long rowing lagoon. Several of us got into kayaks for an invigorating paddling experience and an informal race. I am pleased to say they did not throw the victor in the water to celebrate.

We are in love with the people and the sights of Croatia, and we are just beginning this amazing adventure. I am learning this country offers an amazing quality of life. We look forward to living here one day.

Flashback Friday – A Twice-told Tale

Now that I have over a year’s worth of writing this blog under my belt and close to 100 stories posted, I wish to pull out an occasional favorite from the archives to share with readers.  This updated selection has little to do with travel.  It is a personal story about my father and a little about me.  Although I typically focus on places, please permit this rare indulgence to share something more personal.

Dad, what are you doing?

A hiking trail in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, my father’s favorite playground

I never thought I was much like my father, but I will admit I see more and more of him in me as I get older.  I was the child who favored my mother’s side both in looks and temperament.  Over the years, however, I took on this look. It was not so much a scowl as it was a deadpan expression, neither approving nor disapproving.  That’s my dad. (My mother constantly scowled, so this is not about her.)

My father (his name was Clyde) had a sense of humor that was quite dry.  He and his clan used to sit and tell whoppers all day and never so much as smile.  I remember a family reunion when I was a young boy listening to my grandpa and his brothers tell whopper after whopper, and I was captivated.  After one particularly outrageous fish tale, I asked in all seriousness, “Really?”  That got a smile out of them, and unbeknownst to me at the time, I made their day.

My father was kind of a loner.  That is not to say he didn’t have a lot of friends.  It was more like he did not connect deeply with others. The one exception in his life was his mother.  My grandma was the most caring, nurturing woman I knew growing up, and my father was absolutely devoted to her until the day she died.  Other than that, he was typically kind of distant.  And more than anything, I wanted to impress him.  I think I did in some ways, but he never came out and said so.

I remember one time coming up to him in the basement workshop where he was running the table saw. I was in junior high school and I approached him with my report card, my first one with straight A’s, and I said “Hey dad, what are you doing?”
“I’m building some shelves. What’s up?”
“I got my report card. You want to see it?”
He took the envelope and pulled out the slip of paper with the column of A’s, read it over briefly, and gave it back to me. Then he said, “I’m glad you got all A’s.  I just wish it wasn’t so easy for you.”
When he saw the stunned look on my face, he said, “Mike, I would rather you had to work your butt off and got all C’s than to see you get all A’s without putting out much effort.”

To say my father was stoic would be a tragic understatement, although in fairness, he was a product of his upbringing.  He never got anything without effort, some might say superhuman effort. He was born in 1919 and grew up in Selah, a rural farming town in central Washington, now a bedroom community to Yakima. He graduated high school (barely, from what I’ve been told) in 1937. There was no work except picking fruit in the summer, which he did. Later, he took a job with the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of the federal work programs during the Roosevelt years. Then, in 1939, he joined the Army to get out of the middle of nowhere.

My father was always well-read. He knew war was imminent.  I think he knew before anyone in the country was even speaking about it.  He landed a desk job as a clerk at the Presidio in San Francisco because he was the only one in his unit that could type.  He could have remained there and prospered in this role, but that was not my father.  He wanted to see the world.  He told his CO he had applied for a post in Manila, which he got. Anyone who knows a little history will know that was a bad decision.  It was just over a year later that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  Japanese troops next invaded the Philippines, and my father was on the island of Corregidor when it fell.  Atrocities like the Bataan Death March followed, of which my father was a part.  He always told me, “The lucky ones died first.”  I did not understand that until years later when I read numerous accounts of the war.

My dad did not talk about the war until he was in his 70’s.  His whole life was about living and getting the most out of each day.  For him, every day not hiking and climbing in the mountain wilderness areas so near to our Seattle home was another day lost.  He signed up for swing shift or graveyard shift as much as he could during his thirty years at Boeing in order to get up and take a day hike before heading to his job.  Vacations were for weeklong mountain expeditions, and he retired at the age of 60 in order to spend all the days he could in his beloved mountains and traveling to far off lands.  As it turned out, he outlived most of the POW survivors from WWII.

He gave up skiing at age 82 when he learned he had Parkinson’s disease, which he determined was what caused him to keep falling down.  He still went for day hikes with his pet beagle for a few years until it became too risky to go alone.  Both he and his wife, my stepmother, began displaying signs of dementia, and my stepsister moved them back east somewhere when he was 85.  There was no love lost between me and my stepsister, so I lost track of him when he moved, and I have no idea when he passed or where his remains are.  It does not really matter because he would not have remembered me by that time.

I remember on a four day hike in the Cascade Mountains I found an unspent .45 caliber bullet, which I picked up.  That evening around the campfire, my dad said, “Let me see that bullet you picked up.”  I handed it to him.  He inspected it, and then tossed it into the campfire. “Dad, what are you doing?” I hollered.  We looked at each other wide-eyed for a moment.  Then we both jumped up and dove behind a log. About thirty seconds later, BOOM!  We looked up and the entire campfire was blown out.  We quickly ran to extinguish coals that were burning holes in our tent fly and the clothes we had laid out to dry.  He never offered an explanation, and I never bothered to ask.  It was the most spontaneous, goofy thing I ever experienced with my father.

To know my dad was to know and love the outdoors, which I did from a very young age, something I tried to pass on to my own children.  I was 15 years old when I completed the Mountaineers Basic Climbing Course with my father.  I climbed Mt. Rainier for the first time that summer of 1965, a milestone for any outdoorsman in the Pacific Northwest.  And that was the legacy my father passed on to me.

More than anything, he taught me to survive. Granted, on Maslov’s hierarchy, survival is pretty basic.  There is much more to life than surviving.  On a higher level I believe I acquired some of my father’s sense of humor.  And often to my surprise, I find myself quoting my father – some of his philosophy, as well as some of his brain farts. Here are a few that come to mind:
“Show me a man who plays good pool, and I’ll show you a man with a wasted youth.”
“Humility is something you have until you find out.”
“A good loser is someone who loses consistently.”
And whenever I asked where we were or where we were going, my dad always said, “We’re taking a shortcut.”

Looking back, I can recall sort of smiling when my daughters asked me, “Dad, what are you doing?”

Travel Blogs
Travel blogs

Checking Out Huntingtower Castle

The architecture of Huntingtower Castle is unusual with two separate tower houses side by side.

The architecture of Huntingtower Castle is unusual with two separate tower houses side by side.

One thing you figure out quickly in Scotland is that there are dozens of castles throughout the country, and in many cases one need not travel far in order to reach them. Our first week in Scotland we signed up to become members of Historic Scotland for which we are granted free admission to many of the castles. Today, we took a local bus just five miles out of our home city of Perth to the site of Huntingtower Castle.

The gap between the two towers has been closed in.  The walkbridge is just for tourists.

The gap between the two towers has been closed in. The walkbridge is just for tourists.

The uniqueness of this castle is that it was built with two tower houses side by side but separated by a gap of a few feet. More recent renovations had the two towers joined into a single structure. The oldest part of the castle as it stands today dates back to the 1400’s. Prior to 1600 the castle was known as the Place of Ruthven. In 1480 the two sons of William, the First Lord Ruthven, were each granted letters of legitimacy, thus giving both heirs a rightful claim to the estate. This rare occurrence may explain the building of two tower houses so close together – one for each son.

A floor once divided this room into two stories. The first floor was for cooking and cleaning. The upper floor was for dining.

A floor once divided this room into two stories. The first floor was for cooking and cleaning. The 2nd floor was for dining and receiving guests.

The reign of King James VI was an unstable time politically. Even though the king made the Fourth Lord Ruthven the Earl of Gowrie in 1581, a year later the earl captured the young king and held him for ten months as a prisoner in what became known as the ‘Ruthven Raid’. The dispute was settled and the king forgave his earl.

More political intrigue followed, and in 1600 the Ruthven brothers, John and Alexander, were implicated in a plot to murder King James. The king had them executed and their families were forced to forfeit their land. The king took possession of the castle and estate and renamed it Huntingtower. In 1643 he awarded the land and the earldom to the Murrays of Tullibardine.

The top floor was the earl's bedroom. A four poster bed sat along the left wall.

The top floor was the earl’s bedroom. A four poster bed sat along the left wall.

The last of the family to reside in the castle was Lady Mary Ross, widow of John Murray, the First Duke of Atholl, whose realm included parts of what is now Perth. She died in 1767 and the castle fell into disrepair. Farm laborers occasionally used the site for shelter. Nowadays, the castle has become a popular site for weddings. The castle is now in the care of Historic Scotland and is open to visitors all year round.

The most important historic feature of the castle is this medieval ceiling painted with pigments from the 15th century.

The most important historic feature of the castle is this medieval ceiling painted with pigments from the 15th century.

The ubiquitous cross of St. Andrew on the flag of Scotland flies over the ramparts.

These days the cross of St. Andrew on the flag of Scotland flies over the ramparts.

Scone Palace near Perth, Scotland

The gateway to Scone Castle marks where the town used to border the castle grounds. When the castle was rebuilt in the 1800's, a new town was built two miles away and the old houses were knocked down.

The gateway to Scone Palace marks where the town used to border the palace grounds. When the castle was rebuilt in the 1800’s, a new town was built two miles away and the old houses were knocked down.

The local bus drops us at the driveway to Scone Palace about 10 minutes from town. (Scone rhymes with raccoon.)  After a 15 minute walk down the drive we come to the gate of the palace grounds.  Since a tour bus beats us to the door, we divert our attention to the expansive grounds which include a graveyard, gardens, and the Star Maze.

2000 beech trees, half copper and half green, were planted  to create a tartan effect.

2000 beech trees, half copper and half green, were planted to create a tartan effect.

The Star Maze is a five-pointed walk-through maze with eight foot tall hedges to prevent taking shortcuts or peeking over the tops of hedgerows to figure out the solution to finding the exit.  It is not recommended that people with poor spatial ability take on the maze challenge. People have gotten stuck in the maze which typically leads to a panic attack and cries for help.

Scone Chapel. displays a replica of the Stone of Scone visible in front of the chapel.

Scone Chapel. displays a replica of the Stone of Scone visible in front of the chapel.

Scone Palace fell into disrepair in the 1800’s, and it might have been left to crumble had not the then Earl of Mansfield realized the tourist value of the place. The castle was completely refurbished and now gets thousands of tourists every year. This site is where the coronation of kings took place dating back a thousand years to the time of Macbeth and Robert the Bruce.

The Stone of Scone, the ceremonial seat for coronations, was removed by Edward I in 1296 with the spoils of war and placed in Westminster Abbey. The stone was shelved under the royal throne to symbolize English monarchs sitting above the kings of Scotland. This never did sit well with the independent-minded Scots. There was talk of moving the stone back to Scotland in the 1300’s. However, riotous crowds prevented the moving of the stone from Westminster Abbey, and it remained in London for another 600 years.

Rob Roy Pipe Band from Kingston, Ontario, practiced for the Highland Games in Perth and the World Championship Pipe Band Competition next week in Glasgow to the delight of the tourists.

Rob Roy Pipe Band from Kingston, Ontario, practiced for the Highland Games in Perth and the World Championship Pipe Band Competition next week in Glasgow to the delight of the tourists.

On Christmas Day, 1950, group of four University of Glasgow students stole the stone from Westminster Abbey and braved roadblocks to return the stone to Scotland. They were not caught, but the stone was damaged during the heist and broke in two. Thinking the Church of Scotland would not allow the stone’s return, the students left the stone on the steps of Arbroath Abbey in April, 1951. When the British authorities were notified, they took possession of the stone and returned it to Westminster Abbey.

In 1996, in response to growing dissatisfaction among Scots with the British Parliament, Queen Elizabeth II had the stone moved to Edinburgh Castle, where it remains today. It is only moved to London for coronation ceremonies of which the Stone of Destiny as it has come to be known, has been a part for a thousand years.

The ABC Tour in Scotland

One thing you notice in the cities of Scotland is the abundance of steeples. Perth is no exception.

One thing you notice in the cities of Scotland is the abundance of steeples. Perth is no exception.

Dear reader, in case you are not familiar with the ABC Tour, this is the part of our travels when we visit Another Blessed Cathedral. The ABC Tour is a series of mini-tours we have been doing for over two years, and we have witnessed some of the most spectacular art, architecture and antiquities imaginable.

We can see the Perth Cathedral steeple from our flat.

We can see the Perth Cathedral steeple from our flat.

Florence, like all her ancestors, was raised Catholic. She even attended a Catholic boarding school, which accounts for her exceptional preparation for post-secondary school. Upon entering a cathedral, Florence observes reverent moments of contemplation and dutifully lights a candle in remembrance of those who are the subjects of her prayers and blessings.

The Perth Cathedral, St. Ninian's, up close

The Perth Cathedral, St. Ninian’s, up close

I also stand in awe of the size, scale and sophistication of the art and architecture of the sites we visit, albeit from a different perspective. The symbols of Christianity are not new to me. I learned enough in my Protestant upbringing to comprehend both New and Old Testament teachings, enough so that I can appreciate the imagery in all of its glory. I am awestruck by the creations of artists and craftsmen who designed and built these great cathedrals. One cannot help but be moved by the grandeur or the works.

The Gothic ceiling towers over the crucifix above the altar.

The Gothic ceiling towers over the altar.

There is so much history behind each cathedral we visit. For example, here in Scotland, the Catholic Church rivaled the great monarchs and land barons in its wealth and power. After The Reformation when the Anglican Church broke away from the Roman Catholic Church, the church still shared the power and wealth of the country. In order to have a place in the church, one had to purchase a seat in the congregation. So it was that the poor were left out.

The Perth Cathedral interior is spectacular.

The Perth Cathedral interior is spectacular.

During the period of The Enlightenment, when scientific thought supplanted ignorance and superstition, the common folks in society demanded a say in how they were governed in the wake of the French Revolution and the introduction of parliamentary rule. This was true also in the way people worshiped. In 1843, there was The Disruption, when over 400 ministers and their congregations broke away from The Church of Scotland. When these congregations had the means, they erected their own churches as The New Church of Scotland. By 1929, a compromise of sorts reunified the divided churches. However, neither church regained its former stature.

The North Church behind our flat is only open on Sunday.

The North Church behind our flat is only open on Sunday.

The Church of Scotland used to preach from the pulpit the principle of Sunday as a day of worship. However, the schism in the church led more and more people to find other things to do with their time. With the advent of radio, television, organized sports and even Sunday shopping, church attendance in Scotland continued its decline. Contributing to this decline was the fact that women formed the majority of church membership, and women were denied the right to be ordained until 1968.

Even though we are not able to enter every church, like the Church of the Nazarene, it is still an interesting building.

Not every church is open to us, like the Church of the Nazarene. Still, it is an interesting building.

The decline in church attendance is why you now see many church buildings in Scotland that have been sold to private businesses housing restaurants, night clubs and offices. I was surprised to learn that today in Scotland, the largest denomination of churchgoers is Roman Catholic. I have learned a lot of interesting history on the ABC Tour.