60 Day Europe Bash – Heart of Europe

60 Day Europe Bash – Heart of Europe

And, the next leg of my 60-day Central and Eastern European trek in celebration of turning 60 and retiring continues with 60 Day Europe Bash – Heart of Europe. This next portion is actually on a Rick Steves 16-day tour called “The Best of Eastern Europe.” Although I do enjoy traveling solo, I also like to enjoy the company of other travelers and I’ve found that Rick Steves travelers are a great group to explore with. Plus, the tour guide and separate city guides are top notch.

This tour, which we re-named “Heart of Europe” took me to Prague and Pustevny in the Czech Republic; Auschwitz and Krakow in Poland; Levoca in Slovakia; Eger and Budapest in Hungary; Plitvice and Rovinj in Croatia and Bled and Ljubljana in Slovenia. The first couple of days before the tour began, I was on my own in Prague which allowed me to do and see some of the things that were not covered by the tour, such as a day tour to the Czech Republic fairy-tale town of Cesky Krumlov, the photogenic and charming UNESCO World Heritage site full of medieval character.

My 60-Day Europe Bash, April 24 to June 22, 2016, travel blog is in six parts: Berlin, Heart of Europe, Adriatic, Balkans, Vienna and Munich. This is the Heart of Europe portion of my trip, which included the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia from April 30 to May 17, 2016. Follow along through the photos and captions.

Berlin’s massive main train station, the Hauptbahnhof, is jokingly called a mall with a train station in it. I got to the station earlier than my 9 a.m. departure time just to make sure that I was standing in the correct spot of the three level station to catch my train to Prague. April 29, 2016
This is the inside of my train from Berlin to Prague, old but it did the job. I was actually sitting in the wrong seat but when the conductor checked my ticket and didn’t say anything about it, I just relaxed. Sitting across the aisle from me were Tim and Eric, fellow travelers from Washington, D.C., that I had the opportunity to talk with, so not finding my assigned seat allowed me to meet two really nice people. April 29, 2016
With my hotel, just a five minute walk away and my Rick Steves guide book in hand, I entered the stately and beautiful Old Town Square in Prague and just stood there for a few minutes. I was having a self-contained giddy moment…I’m in Prague. The square was packed with selfie takers, Segway tour promoters, groups, students, pigeons and me. I walked, admired and took in the beauty of a place I had read about and seen photos of, but now I’m here. Wow! April 29, 2016
This huge monument in the square is of Jan Hus – the religious reformer who became a symbol of Czech nationalism for galvanizing the people to fight for their religious beliefs and independence from foreign control. April 29, 2016
A view of the Old Town Square in Prague, Czech Republic. April 29, 2016
And, one more view of the Old Town Square in Prague, Czech Republic. April 29, 2016
This 600-year-old Astronomical Clock, mounted on the Old Town Hall at the Old Town Square in Prague, has the huge clock dial and a mechanical performance at the top of the hour that includes a procession of Apostles and moving statues. People packed the square to see it. April 29, 2016
My selfie attempt at the Old Town Hall’s Astronomical Clock in the Prague’s Old Town Square. I have no idea how the clock operates, but it really is a beautiful piece and quite the crowd pleaser. April 29, 2016
The stunning Church of St. Nicholas in Prague’s Old Town Square. April 29, 2016
Beautiful art work and architectural details on a building in Prague’s Old Town Square. April 29, 2016
By the time I made it around the corner of the Old Town Square in Prague, I had passed a Starbuck’s and then I came upon this Hard Rock Cafe. Since I had not eaten dinner from the night before or much in the way of breakfast or lunch today, I was just hungry and wanted some comfort food…chicken and beef fajitas with garlic and herb fries. The taste wasn’t the same as home, but really who comes to Prague’s Old Town Square to have fajitas at a Hard Rock Cafe? April 29, 2016

The day was spent getting to and hanging out at Cesky Krumlov, a photogenic and charming UNESCO World Heritage site full of medieval character. This Czech Republic fairy-tale town is crowned by a castle with the Vltava River winding through it.

The beautiful, picturesque and charming Cesky Krumlov, a 13th century medieval town in the Czech Republic. April 30, 2016
On a beautiful and clear day like today, Cesky Krumlov shines along the Vltava River in the Czech Republic. April 30, 2016
The crowning jewel of Cesky Krumlov’s town along the Vltava River is its Castle, Chateau and Tower. April 30, 2016
The courtyard to the Cesky Krumlov Castle in the Czech Republic. April 30, 2016
The Castle Chapel at Cesky Krumlov Castle in the Czech Republic. April 30, 2016
Considered the oldest preserved horse drawn carriage in the Czech Republic is this work of art made in Rome in 1638 and housed at the Cesky Krumlov Castle. April 30, 2016
A view from the Cesky Kromlov Castle of the stunningly beautiful town and the Vltava River in the Czech Republic. April 30, 2016
The Masquerade Hall in the Cesky Krumlov Castle is truly whimsical and magical. These walls were decorated in 1748 by Josef Lederer whose paintings depict 135 aristocratic figures enjoying a fancy-dress ball full of masks and foreign costumes. April 30, 2016
Here’s a close up of a Masquerade Hall mural at the Cesky Krumlov Castle in the Czech Republic. April 30, 2016
My selfie taking self by the Vltava River with the Cesky Kromlov Castle and Tower in the background. April 30, 2016

“Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present.” – Jim Rohn

I feel very fortunate to be in an emotional place of happiness which means enjoying any physical place I’m in, be it Prague or back home lounging on my sofa in Dallas, Texas. For today and the coming weeks, I’m so grateful and pretty dang happy to be doing what I love…exploring, traveling, seeing what this world has to offer and meeting the incredible people who inhabit it. Spent the morning taking it easy, the afternoon enjoying a private walking tour of Prague with a guide who was born in Prague and the evening sharing a delicious meal with new friends traveling in Europe from the Washington, D.C., area. Happiness is about being present and enjoying the moment.

There isn’t a street in Prague that doesn’t seem to have stunning architecture. This is the Municipal House with its striking Art Nouveau decor and to the left of it, the 500-year-old Powder Tower. May 1, 2016
Along the pedestrian-only street of Celetna, on our way through the Old Town of Prague, we passed this Cubist-style house called the Black Madonna. May 1, 2016
Here’s a close-up of the Black Madonna statue on its namesake cubist-style house on Celetna Street in Prague. May 1, 2016
I honestly can’t get over how beautiful and ornate the buildings are in Prague. May 1, 2016
The Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV is the revered monarch of the Czechs. This bronze statue was unveiled in 1848 and can be seen prior to entering his namesake, the Charles Bridge. The emperor died in Prague in November 1378. May 1, 2016
There are two bridge towers for Prague’s landmark icon, the Charles Bridge. This tower is on the Old Town side of the bridge and the Vltava River. May 1, 2016
A view from the Charles Bridge of the the Vltava River in Prague. In the distance, you can see the Petrin Tower, built in 1891, two years before the Paris Eiffel Tower, but at one-fifth the height. May 1, 2016
The iconic Charles Bridge, packed with tourists, artists, vendors and bridge performers, as it straddles the Vltava River. Lined with statues of saints, the bridge connects the Old Town to the Prague Castle. The Castle can be seen in the distance on top of the hill. May 1, 2016
This is the second bridge tower on the Castle side of the Charles Bridge. May 1, 2016
Me on the Charles Bridge in Prague. May 1, 2016
This little bridge and canal on what’s called Kampa Island is at the end of the Charles Bridge from the castle side. If you look real close, you’ll see that people are starting to place padlocks along the bridge, supposedly as a sign of love. May 1, 2016
Again, just love the architecture. This section of Prague is on the Castle side of the Charles Bridge. May 1, 2016
The knowledgeable and delightful young woman standing in front of the red car was my guide today. Her name is Diana Lohrova and she’s standing in front the building where both her and her father were born in Prague. Thanks Diana for sharing Prague’s history with me. May 1, 2016
The old town square in Prague. May 1, 2016
Thank you Tim (whom I’m sitting next to) and Eric (to the right across the table from me) for the great company and delicious meal this evening. I met these two gracious men on the train ride from Berlin to Prague and they so kindly invited me out to dinner on the last night of their travels. The food and lively conversation were enhanced by a beautiful violin and guitar serenade. Safe travels back home my friends! May 1, 2016

I met my Rick Steves Eastern Europe tour guide, Peter Polczman, and our group members this afternoon. I will no longer be traveling on my own, at least for now and instead I’ll be part of a small group of travelers as we journey from Prague to Pustevney, Czech Republic; Auschwitz and Kraków, Poland; Levoca, Slovakia; Eger and Budapest, Hungary; Plitvice and Rovinj, Croatia and end this 16-day tour in Bled, Slovenia.

Since the group get together wasn’t until 3:00 p.m., I arranged a 3-hour walking tour of the Jewish Quarter in Prague that included the cemetery, a synagogue and a relics museum. During the tour my guide, Margaret Schumacher, a GrayLine tour guide, told me a story about a man she knew who at the age of 17 survived the Terezin concentration camp outside of Prague, but lost his parents, his sister and everyone else he ever knew. He was completely alone in this world. Margaret said his spirit was broken and that he never really smiled. My heart broke for his broken spirit and the many lives lost, including some 77,000 Czech Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust.

Thousands of gravestones pack the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague’s Jewish Quarter. From 1439 until 1787, this was the only burial ground allowed for the Jews of Prague. May 2, 2016
Inside the Spanish Synagogue. A synagogue is a place of public worship, where Jews gather to pray, sing and read from the Torah. Although Moorish in style, this synagogue is completely covered in an elaborate decor of stars and vines of red, gold and green from the columns, the sides and ceilings. May 2, 2016
A close up of the interior of the Spanish Synagogue in the Prague’s Jewish Quarter. May 2, 2016
The Old-New Synagogue in Prague’s Jewish Quarter is considered to be the most important synagogue for more than 700 years. Built in 1270, it is the oldest synagogue in Eastern Europe. May 2, 2016
The Jewish Quarter in Prague. May 2, 2016
The statue of Franz Kafka is an outdoor 2003 sculpture in Prague, Czech Republic. It is based on a scene in Kafka’s first novel, Amerika, in which a political candidate is held on the shoulders of a giant man during a campaign rally, and carried through the streets. May 2, 2016
Our Rick Steves guide, Peter Polczman (with the black baseball cape to the left), sharing some basic Czech vocabulary with our group before we head out for a walking orientation tour. May 2, 2016
After our Rick Steves tour group dinner, we were treated to music by two members of the Prague Castle Orchestra to a lively combination of local and swing music. May 2, 2016
Walking back to the hotel from our first group dinner, this is a night view of the Old Town bridge tower from the Charles Bridge in Prague. May 2, 2016

We, my Rick Steves tour group, and I hit the streets early this morning for a tour of the Prague Castle complex which includes the St. Vitus Cathedral, the Royal Castle and the Garden on the Ramparts. Katka, our local guide, broke down 1,100 years of history surrounding the castle complex. The Cathedral, which we spent most of our time in, is an overwhelming and stunning piece of architecture, but what caught my eye was the stained glass window by Czech and Art Nouveau artist Alfons Mucha. With the afternoon on our own, I found my way to both the Mucha Museum where his Art Nouveau work is on display and then to Prague’s National Gallery where his “Slav Epic,” a set of 20 large canvases is featured. A fitting way to end my stay in Prague. Tomorrow, our tour heads for Pustevny, Czech Republic.

An exterior side of the St. Vitus Cathedral, the towering Gothic Catholic house of worship in Prague’s Castle complex. The Cathedral is the place where saints, kings, princes and emperors of Bohemia are buried. May 3, 2016
These are two of the four architects and builders who completed the St. Vitus Cathedral six centuries after it was started. Originally construction got underway in 1344, but wars and plagues got in the way and the Cathedral, it’s entrance facade and towers, were not completed until 1929. May 3, 2016
The inside of the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague’s Castle complex. May 3, 2016
Our local guide, Katka Svobodova, inside St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague’s Castle complex, talking about the large baroque silver tomb of St. John of Nepomuk. St. John was a 14th century priest to whom the queen confessed her sins and according to legend when the king inquired about his wife’s secrets, the priest refused to tell. For his silence, he was tortured and thrown off the Charles Bridge. A statue of St. John, with five golden stars encircling his head, is also on the Charles Bridge. May 3, 2016
The old church confessionals of the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague’s Castle complex. May 3, 2016
The exquisite stained-glass window in the St. Vitus Cathedral of Prague’s Castle complex was designed by Czech Art Nouveau illustrator/artist Alfons Mucha in 1931. It celebrates the birth of the Czech nation, Christianity and the life of its future King Wenceslas. May 3, 2016
The exquisite stained-glass window in the St. Vitus Cathedral of Prague’s Castle complex was designed by Czech Art Nouveau illustrator/artist Alfons Mucha in 1931. It celebrates the birth of the Czech nation, Christianity and the life of its future King Wenceslas. May 3, 2016
The gorgeous city of Prague from the hills of the Castle complex. May 3, 2016
The exterior of the Castle entrance as people gather to see the changing of the guard at Prague’s Castle complex. May 3, 2016
The steps down from the Castle. Thankfully we took a tram up to Prague’s Castle complex this morning, so taking the stairs down made for a much more enjoyable time. May 3, 2016
Trdelnik, one of the most common pastries to find on Prague’s streets, is a rolled pastry that hangs from storefronts throughout the city, particularly in the tourist neighborhoods. What makes this cone-like fresh doughnut batter so wonderful is that it is coated in sugar and cinnamon and filled with soft ice cream with a variety of toppings. May 3, 2016
Alfonse Mucha was a Czech Art Nouveau painter and decorative artist. He produced many paintings, illustrations, advertisements, postcards, and designs. However, it was his fine art masterpiece, The Slav Epic, that he spent many years working on/ It is a series of twenty huge paintings depicting the history of the Czech and the Slavic people in general, bestowed to the city of Prague in 1928. He had wanted to complete a series such as this, a celebration of Slavic history, since he was young. From 1963 until 2012 the series was on display in the chateau in Moravský Krumlov in the South Moravian Region in the Czech Republic. Since 2012 the series has been on display at the National Gallery’s Veletržní Palace in Prague. May 3, 2016
A close up of Alfons Mucha’s 1923 “Coronation of the Serbian Tsar,” one of 20 massively large pieces of art from his series called the “Slav Epic.” The series tells the epic story of the Slavic people from their humble beginnings to the optimism of the post World War I era. Mucha is also known for his willowy, pastel works that became known as Art Nouveau. May 3, 2016
A close up of Alfons Mucha’s 1912 “The Celebration of Svantovit in Rugen,” is one of 20 massively pieces of art from his series called the “Slav Epic.” May 3, 2016
A close up of Alfons Mucha’s 1912 “The Slavs in Their Original Homeland,” one of 20 massively pieces of art from his series called the “Slav Epic.” May 3, 2016
Saying good-night from Prague’s Old Town Square and to Prague, as I move on tomorrow with my Rick Steves Eastern Europe tour group to Pustevny, Czech Republic. May 3, 2016

We left a cool, gray and drizzling Prague this morning. The first time since I arrived on Friday that the weather has not been as delightful as the city. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed you Prague. As we travel through the Czech Republic to our destination this evening, it really hit me that this country from 1938 to 1989 was dominated by Communist ideology. If you did not comply you could be interrogated, intimidated or put under surveillance. And, if you complained, you could be accused of subversion, put in prison or worse, executed.

Our local guide, Katka, during the past two days spoke so passionately about her country and being a part of the 1989 Velvet Revolution. A young girl at the time, Katka took part in the non-violent protests that eventually brought about a peaceful end to Communism. When you think about the generations of people who suffered and died for the freedoms we take for granted today, it saddens me. If we don’t respect what we have, it can easily be lost…history has proven this.

Passing Wenceslas Square as we leave Prague this morning. Wenceslas is one of the main squares and the center of business and culture. It is also the place where many historical events including demonstrations and celebrations have taken place. The statue is the Wenceslas Monument in honor of Wenceslas I or Vaclav the Good, born in 907, who reigned in what was Bohemia at the time from 921 until his assassination in 935. May 4, 2016
I noticed a number of these types of buildings in the suburbs of Berlin as the plane was landing in Berlin’s Tegel Airport and thought then that these might be the remants of Communist Era housing. Leaving Prague, I saw these similar style of tall concrete housing units. Peter, our tour guide, explained that these towering pre-fabricated concrete buildings were indeed Communist era housing. Called panelaks, these buildings came into existence during the postwar housing shortage. Communist era leaders at the time wanted to provide large quantities of affordable housing. The panelaks, in large cities such as Prague, dominate the suburbs. May 4, 2016
The beautiful fields of yellow flowers called rapeseed can be seen dotting the countryside in the Czech Republic. Its oil content is processed for a number of things from salad dressings to bio-degradable lubricating oils. May 4, 2016
On our way to Pustevsky, Czech Republic, we stopped at a small town called Stramberk for lunch. Located on a hillside, it is a small, quaint community. I had lunch, a delicious salad and split pea soup at its quaint namesake, the Hotel Stramberk. May 4, 2016
On our way to Pustevsky, Czech Republic, we stopped at a small town called Stramberk for lunch. Located on a hillside, it is a small, quaint community. May 4, 2016
It was cold and dreary outside but I found a quaint little place in Stramberk, Czech Republic to hang out in for a glass of wine, a delicious salad and a bowl of Czech split pea soup. May 4, 2016
How the bus driver, Milorad, got us through the fog up to the hotel, I can only attribute to good driving techniques and a keen eye. But for tonight, we’re staying at this gingerbread-like hotel in Pustevny, Czech Republic. May 4, 2016
My Rick Steves tour group enjoying dinner together in the gingerbread-like hotel in Pustevny, Czech republic. May 4, 2016
My Rick Steves tour group enjoying dinner together in the gingerbread-like hotel in Pustevny, Czech republic. May 4, 2016
Along with the hearty meal was some local folkloric dance and song in Pustevny, Czech Republic. May 4, 2016
Along with the hearty meal was some local folkloric dance and song in Pustevny, Czech Republic. May 4, 2016

Driving into Poland from the Czech Republic, I look forward to learning more about Poland’s past and present. Because Poland is part of the Europeon Union, there are no borders for our Rick Steves tour group to stop at for a passport check. The Schengen Agreement, which includes Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany and 23 other countries, basically abolished border checks to allow international travel from one country to the next. The journey brought us to the quaint town of Pszczyna, Poland, for lunch and then on to Kraków where we stepped foot back to the early 1950’s with a walk through the Communist created industrial city of Nowa Huta. Plus, I had my first shot of Polish Vodka today and I liked it. Kraków will be our home base for the next three nights.

As we make our way to Krakow, our first stop in Poland, for lunch, is here at the delightful and charming town square of Pszczyna, Poland. May 5, 2016
The town square of Pszczyna, Poland, including its Castle (left) Protestant Church (middle) and Town Hall (right). May 5, 2016
I’m enjoying a respite with Princess of Pless, Daisy, in the town square of Pszczyna, Poland. Daisy was a noted society beauty in the Edwardian period who along with her husband Hans Heinrich XV, owned large estates and coal mines in Poland. They also owned and once lived in the town’s Castle. May 5, 2016
The Pszczyna Castle in Pszczyna, Poland, was also called the Pless Palace and was once the home of Princess Daisy and her husband. It is now a museum. May 5, 2016
Castle Park part of the Castle estate in Pszczyna, Poland, was designed in the English style with walking alleys meandering among old preserved oak and pine trees. May 5, 2016
Window shopping in Pszczyna, Poland’s, town square. With all the walking I’ve been doing, I just couldn’t imagine what my feet would feel like if I wore some of these shoes. May 5, 2016
Entering old town of Kraków, Poland, where we’ll be staying for the next three nights. May 5, 2016
Stepping into Kraków, Poland’s, Communist-era past with a walk through the pre-planned socialist realist city of Nowa Huta. Started in 1949 as a separate town near Kraków, Nowa Huta was to become an ideal city for the Communist propaganda populated mostly by industrial workers. The city was built around the steel mill. May 5, 2016
The officially sanctioned architectural style at the time, by the Communist party, for Nowa Huta in Poland was Socialist Realism. May 5, 2016
Nowa Huta was a community built without a church. But when the community put up a wooden cross and the government took it down, the result ended in a number of lives being lost. How many people were killed is difficult to say because the government records were never made available to the people. This cross is in memory to those killed. May 5, 2016
Nowa Huta, Poland’s, first house of worship was pieced together brick by brick by volunteer workers between 1967 and 1977 without assistance from the communist authorities. The Lord’s Ark is a symbol of the Polish belief in Catholicism. Although you can’t see it, the church is made of stones that people brought in. May 5, 2016

I am smitten by Kraków, Poland. I did not anticipate this city would be so warm and charming, but it is. Took a lengthy walk this morning with my tour group through the empty Market Square as vendors set up, then on to the Old Town park, up to Wawel Hill to visit the splendid Cathedral and back to the bustling Market Square.

Our morning walk through Kraków, Poland’s, Old Town took us through Market Square considered to be one of the largest medieval town squares in Europe. To the left is Cloth Hall, where cloth sellers had their market stalls in the Middle Ages and to the right is the Town Hall Tower, which is all that remains of the town hall building from the 14th century. May 6, 2016
This gigantic head, by the Town Hall Tower in Kraków’s Market Square, is a sculpture by contemporary artist Igor Mitoran. May 6, 2016
A morning view of Kraków, Poland’s, Market Square as it begins to start its day. May 6, 2016
A beautiful park called Planty that stretches 2.5 miles around the entire perimeter of Kraków, Poland’s, Old Town. And, when there was a wall around the city, long ago, this was a moat. May 6, 2016
The statue of Tadeusz Kosciuszko can be seen at the entryway to the Wawel Cathedral. Kosciuszko was a hero of the American Revolution had helped design West Point. When he returned to Poland, he fought against the Russians. May 6, 2016
The Wawel Cathedral in Kraków is Poland’s national church. The church, with a hodgepodge of styles, holds the tombs of nearly all of Poland’s most important rulers and historical figures. May 6, 2016
A close up of the Wawel Cathedral in Kraków, Poland’s national church. The church, with a hodgepodge of styles, holds the tombs of nearly all of Poland’s most important rulers and historical figures. May 6, 2016
Kraków, Poland, has about 142 churches and monasteries within the city limits. To the left is the Church of Saints Peter and Paul and to the right is St. Andrew’s church. May 6, 2016
Walking and admiring the beautiful architecture in Kraków, Poland. May 6, 2016
By noon Kraków, Poland’s Market Square was a buzz with merchants and vendors selling goodies from food to jewelry on the other side or the Adam Mickiewicz statue side of the Cloth Hall. Mickiewicz was considered the greatest romantic Polish poet of the 19th century. May 6, 2016
The market area passageway of the Cloth Hall on Kraków’s Market Square is where souvenirs, jewelry and a variety of items are sold. May 6, 2016
This downstairs bar and restaurant is home to a laundry mat. Who says washing clothes in Kraków, Poland, has to be boring experience? With almost two weeks of travel under my belt, I needed to wash cloths. Our tour guide, Patrick, recommended the Frania Cafe as the place where you can do the washing yourself or it can be done for you. I spent a leisurely afternoon hanging out with tour members Jennie and Luis as my laundry was being done for me. May 6, 2016

“For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazi’s murdered about one and a half million men, women and children, mainly Jews from various countries of Europe.” Reads a plaque at the monument of Auschwitz-Birkenau 1940-1945.

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana

My humble afternoon was spent in sadness, anger and a complete lack of understanding how such monstrous acts of violence and hatred can be unleashed onto human beings by other human beings. Learning history from a book is one thing, but walking through the history of how so many innocent lives at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps were taken and shattered, is profound.

Throughout the world, Auschwitz has become a symbol of terror, genocide and the Holocaust. The German forces occupying Poland during World War II established a concentration camp on the outskirts of Oswiecim, Poland, in 1940. The Germans called the town Auschwitz and that is the name by which the camp was known. Our licensed guide spent the afternoon with our group walking us through the horrors of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the biggest, most notorious concentration camp in the Nazi system. The name at the gate “Arbeit Macht Frei” means “Work Sets You Free.” May 7, 2016
The barracks, guard tower and barbed wire electrified fence at Auschwitz. May 7, 2016
Blocks 1-10 were used as a camp for women prisoners from March 26 until mid-August of 1942. During these four months, a few thousand women were sent to the gas chambers or died as a result of the conditions in the camp–starvation, rampant epidemics, lack of sanitary facilities and slave labor. May 7, 2016
Photos of women prisoners after their hair was cut off in Auschwitz. In a dimly lit room is a powerful exhibit, an entire wall of actual victims hair. Much of the 4,400 pounds of hair taken from the prisoners has turned gray. May 7, 2016
From 1941 to 1943, the Nazis shot several thousand people at the wall in this courtyard in Auschwitz which is called the “Death Block.” Most of those executed here were Polish political prisoners, above all, the leaders and members of clandestine organizations. Brutal punishments and torture were inflicted on the prisoners including flogging and hanging by their wrists with their arms twisted behind their backs. May 7, 2016
In one section in Auschwitz are exhibits of piles of the victims possessions, from shoes to eyeglass frames to these suitcases with the victims names on them. May 7, 2016
The crematorium at Auschwitz. After the selection process on the railway platform, those who were to be murdered in the gas chambers were assured they were going to take a shower. Fake shower heads were fixed to the ceiling of the gas chambers. As you enter to the right are the big “shower rooms” and from ceiling vents the Nazis dropped Zyklon-B. gas. May 7, 2016
In the Auschwitz crematorium in the room adjacent to the gas chamber is this replica of a furnace where the bodies were burned. May 7, 2016
In 1941, realizing that the original Auschwitz camp was too small, the Nazis began this second camp…Auschwitz II-Birkenau. This is the guard tower and the train tracks that brought the prisoners into the camp. May 7, 2016
The conservation of a freight car at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau site shows how prisoners were transported, often over many days in a crowded freight car. May 7, 2016
Women and children leaving a crowded freight car at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration camp as they are being sent immediately upon arrival to the their deaths in the gas chamber. May 7, 2016
The Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration camp. May 7, 2016
The Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration camp gas chamber and crematorium, circa 1943. May 7, 2016
This monument at Auschwitz II-Birkenau represents gravestones and the chimney of a crematorium. May 7, 2916
This monument at Auschwitz II-Birkenau represents gravestones and is in a variety of languages. May 7, 2016
The “Death Barrack” was used for the special isolation of those women prisoners at Auschwitz II-Birkenau who were selected by the Nazis as unfit for further work. Here they had to await their deaths in the gas chambers without food or water, often for several days. Many women died here. May 7, 2016

I ate breakfast in Poland, had lunch in Slovakia and dinner in Hungary. It’s been a full day of getting transported on a pretty dang comfortable bus during my Rick Steves Eastern Europe tour, which has been warmly renamed the “Heart of Europe” tour. We are making our way from Kraków, Poland to Budapest, Hungary…by way of Levoca, Slovakia (the lunch stop) and Eger, Hungary (dinner and a night’s stay). Keeping count, today, Sunday is the 15th day of my 60-day birthday and retirement celebration trek through Central and Eastern Europe. It’s also Mother’s Day in the U.S., so I want to wish all women who mother, including my own mother, a very Happy Mother’s Day!

A stop at a little ski resort village with a gorgeous view of the Tatra Mountains, part of the Carpathian Mountain chain, along the border between Poland and Slovakia. May 8, 2016
Our Heart of Europe Rick Steves tour guides and bus driver. From left, our guides Peter Polczman and Sanel Maric and our bus driver, Mico Vujanovic, at little ski resort village with a gorgeous view of the Tatra Mountains, part of the Carpathian Mountain chain, along the border between Poland and Slovakia. May 8, 2016
Our Rick Steves tour group stopping for a picnic lunch in the quaint village of Levoca, Slovakia. May 8, 2016
Our Rick Steves tour group stopping for a picnic lunch in the quaint village of Levoca, Slovakia. May 8, 2016

The thing about travel is that I never know what will catch my eye, grab at my heart strings or make me laugh. Today was filled with all three. Although the quaint town of Eger, Hungary, is off the beaten path, the main thing that caught my eye, in addition to the beautiful architecture, is how prevalent my favorite color red is to the town and to the people. Then, something I’ve never done on a tour is visit a school in a foreign country and yet meeting these young students learning English warmed my heart with joy. And last but not least, where there is wine, music and some Hungarian folk dancing, there’s bound to be plenty of laughter when wine tasting at a winery. All in a day’s travels as we made our way to Budapest.

The enchanting small town of Eger, Hungary, was our home last night, but we move on today to Budapest. However, the gorgeous architecture caught my eye including this green and red Town Hall in the Dobo Square. The color red, my absolute favorite color, seems to have a home in Eger from this building to… May 9, 2016
…this beautiful red door entryway….May 9, 2016
To this man with his red sneakers and the red table and chairs along the side of the building…May 9, 2016
To the red love locks on a gate….May 9, 2016
To this red door advertising red nails…May 9, 2016
To this red car parked at the Castle entrance…May 9, 2016
And, to this adorable red-headed woman decked out in red who so kindly agreed to my taking her picture as I communicated through gestures and showing her my red jewelry and scarf that I loved her red attire and wanted a photo of her. May 9, 2016
But the color red wasn’t the only thing that caught my eye. The Eger Cathedral in Eger, Hungary, is considered to be the second-biggest church in Hungary. When I saw this sumptuous Cathedral yesterday during our tour group’s brief walk, I knew I wanted to see more of it today…and I did. May 9, 2016
The altar of the Eger Cathedral in Eger, Hungary. May 9, 2016
The enormous organ, above the entryway of the Eger Cathedral in Eger, Hungary, is considered to be the second-largest church organ in Hungary. May 9, 2016
The ceiling fresco at the entryway of the Eger Cathedral in Eger, Hungary. May 9, 2016
One of two stained glass windows decorating the north and south transepts of the Eger Cathedral in Eger, Hungary, commemorates the 1,000th anniversary of Hungary’s conversion to Christianity. May 9, 2016
A wonderful part of the Rick Steves tour today was the opportunity to visit a school…the Jambor Vilmos Altalanos Iskola where students are learning English from their teacher Edit Hollo. I was so taken by their smiles and our efforts to communicate with one another. May 9, 2016
It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down for a school lunch, but today after meeting the Hungarian students at Jambor Vilmos Altalanos Iskola, our Rick Steves tour group sat down in the school cafeteria for a hearty lunch. May 9, 2016
After meeting the students and enjoying the school lunch our tour group took a drive to the Kohary Winery in Egerszalok, Hungary, for a wine tasting that included music, singing, Hungarian folk dancing and wine…lots of wine. May 9, 2016
Before we even had one glass of wine, we had to cleanse our pallets with Palinka, a Hungarian “grappa” made from the skin of the grape, that warms the insides as it goes down. Yes, there was music, Hungarian folk dancing and a great deal of laughter. Here I am enjoying a wonderful time at the Kohary Winery in Egerszalok, Hungary, with Rick Steves tour members Jackie and Hilda. May 9, 2016
Barrels of wine in one of the wine cellars at the Kohary Winery in Egerszalok, Hungary. May 9, 2016

It’s been a cool and rainy day, but this is Budapest, Hungary, and there’s always a shining light at the end of the tunnel…like a night cruise along the Danube River. Today was all about the Pest sights of Budapest. In brief, after decades of Hungarian uprisings, the cities of Buda, Pest and Obuda united to form the capital city of Budapest. What’s interesting about Budapest is that most of its landmark monuments and buildings were constructed for its 1896 millennial celebration of their ancestors’ arrival in Europe. In the thousand years between 896 and 1896 the Magyard had gone from being a nomadic tribe to sharing the throne of one of the most successful empires in Europe. The notable 1896 millennial celebration landmarks we saw today included Heroes Square, the Millennium Monument, Vajdahunyad Castle, St. Istvan’s Basilica, the Great Market Hall and the Opera House. And, to top off the day, a night cruise along the Danube River. Tomorrow we cross the bridge to see the Buda sights of Budapest.

A morning walk in Budapest, Hungary, takes us to Heroes Square, a tribute to Hungary’s historic figures. Built in 1896, this vast square culminates with the Millennium Monument behind me. May 10, 2016
The statues of Heroes Square, a tribute to Hungary’s historic figures in Budapest. May 10, 2016
The Vajdahunyad Castle, in Budapest, Hungary’s city park, is a gorgeous castle that no one has ever lived in. It was originally built as a temporary structure for Hungary’s Millennial Exhibition, but because it was so loved by the people, it was rebuilt in brick and stone. May 10, 2016
More of the Vajdahunyad Castle complex in Budapest, Hungary. May 10, 2016
A peak into the Szechenyi Baths in Budapest, with two thermal springs where one can soak in 100 degree water. May 10, 2016
St. Istvan’s (St. Stephen’s) Basilica is a Roman Catholic basilica in Budapest, Hungary, built as part of the 1896 millennial celebration, it is named in honour of Stephen, the first King of Hungary (c 975–1038). May 10, 2016
The interior of St. Istvan’s Basilica (St. Stephen) named in honor of Hungary’s first Christian King is Budapest’s biggest church. That’s St. Stephen glowing in the middle of the high altar. May 10, 2016
A close up of St. Istvan, St. Stephen, Hungary’s first Christian King glowing in the high altar. May 10, 2016
An important relic is the “holy right hand” of St. Istvan (St. Stephen) the first King of Hungary (c. 975-1038). The 1,000 year old withered fist is sacredly housed in a bejeweled box in the St. Istvan Basilica in Budapest, Hungary. May 10, 2016
The trams running through Budapest, Hungary. May 10, 2016
Our Rick Steves tour group leader, Peter, giving our group instructions inside the Great Market Hall in Budapest, Hungary. It is the largest and oldest indoor market in Budapest and offers a variety of items on three floors. May 10, 2016
Just one of the many places to get a quick meal at the Great Market Hall in Budapest, Hungary. The market hall has three levels. The cooked food choices were on the second floor. May 10, 2016
Fresh fruit of all kind are available on the first floor of the Great Market Hall in Budapest, Hungary. May 10, 2016
Peppers, the size I’ve not seen before, were available on the first floor of the Great Market Hall in Budapest, Hungary.May 10, 2016
The lavish marble and gold leaf interior decor of the Hungarian State Opera in Budapest, Hungary. May 10, 2016
The stunning bronze chandelier of the Hungarian State Opera in Budapest, Hungary, illuminates a fresco by Károly Lotz, depicting the Greek gods on Olympus. May 10, 2016
A night view along the Danube River of the Elisabeth Bridge and the Town Center Parish Church on the Pest side of Budapest, Hungary. May 10, 2016
A night view of the Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest from my Danube River cruise. May 10, 2016

The weather was overcast and rain was forecasted, as our Rick Steves tour group, along with local guide George, ventured into the Buda side of Budapest. As I mentioned yesterday, after decades of Hungarian uprisings, the cities of Buda, Pest and Obuda united in 1873 to occupy both sides of the River Danube to form the capital city of Budapest. Our Pest day began with a walk along the iconic Chain Bridge, a funicular ride up to the Castle District, a colorful interior view of the Matthias Cathedral and a walk along the Fisherman’s Bastion for a panoramic view of Budapest. After which I took a little adventure of my own to see the “Shoes” along the banks of the Danube and enjoyed mastering the metro underground train system as I made my way to the largest synagogue in Europe. I feel a warm connection to Budapest, it’s people and its dazzling architecture. Plus, I really like the fact that the U.S. dollar is strong against the Hungarian Forint. Money aside, I must say “Viszlat,” which I hope means “Goodbye” in Hungarian to the classy and beautiful Budapest. Tomorrow our tour group travels to Croatia.

The Chain Bridge which connects Pest to Buda in Budapest is an iconic bridge guarded by two lions on each end where both cars and pedestrians can cross. Like the other bridges in Budapest, the Chain Bridge was destroyed by the Nazis at the end of World War II, but was quickly rebuilt. May 11, 2016
A view of the Pest side, the Chain Bridge and the Danube River as I’m heading up the funicular on the Buda side of Budapest. The funicular first opened in 1870 gives gorgeous panoramic views of the Pest side of Budapest. May 11, 2016
A view of the massive Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest from the Buda side. May 11, 2016
Me at the Holy Trinity Statue next to the Matthias Church on the Buda side of Budapest in the Castle District. Built between 1710 and 1713 to celebrate the end of the plague. The sculpture at the top represents the Holy Trinity. It sits on a sturdy pillar decorated with statues of little angels and – below – large statues of saints. The column rests on a large pedestal adorned with bas-reliefs and the Hungarian crest. May 11, 2016
Officially named the Church of Our Lady, this famous Roman Catholic church landmark on the Buda side called Castle District in Budapest, Hungary, is better known as Matthias Church. It is named after the much-loved 15th-century Renaissance king, Matthias Corvinus, who expanded and embellished the building by adding the towers and getting married here twice. Matthias Church is without hesitation as stunning inside as it is outside. Destroyed and rebuilt several times in the 800 years since it was founded by King Bela IV, today’s version, restored after World War II, is an ornate and colorful splendor. May 11, 2016
A view of the high alter of the Matthias Church in the Buda Castle District of Budapest, Hungary. The church is a colorful feast for the eyes from the tiled floors to the painted columns and roof. May 11, 2016
An ornate bowl and the colorful interior of the Matthias Church in the Buda Castle District of Budapest, Hungary. May 11, 2016
Me standing by one of the huge and colorful pillars inside the Matthias in the Buda Castle District of Budapest, Hungary. May 11, 2016
The colorful floor tiles of the Matthias Church in the Buda Castle District of Budapest, Hungary. May 11, 2016
The ornate wooden confession booth inside the Matthias Church in the Buda Castle District of Budapest. May 11, 2016
More of the colorful floor tiles of the Matthias Church in the Buda Castle District of Budapest, Hungary. May 11, 2016
Between the Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion stands a statue of the first Christian king of Hungary, St. Istvan or St. Stephen. He is shown mounted on a horse, atop an ornate pedestal decorated with reliefs. May 11, 2016
The Fisherman’s Bastion, located behind the Matthias Church in the Buda Castle District of Budapest was built at the site of an old rampart that, during the Middle Ages, was defended by the guild of fishermen, who lived nearby. A combination of neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque architecture, the Fisherman’s Bastion with its turrets, parapets and climbing stairways, was built between 1899 and 1905. The bastion is made up of seven towers – each one symbolizing one of the seven Magyar tribes that, in 896, settled in the area now known as Hungary. May 11, 2016
The Fishermen’s Bastion, located behind the Matthias Church in the Buda Castle District of Budapest, was never used for military defensive purposes, it was created for only decorative reasons. The building has many turrets, terraces, parapets and stairways offering an exceptional view of the Pest side and the river Danube. May 11, 2016
A view of the Hungarian Parliament Building from the Fisherman’s Bastion in the Buda Castle District of Budapest, Hungary. May 11, 2016
It’s called “Shoes on the Danube Promenade,” in Budapest, a commemoration dedicated to the victims of the fascist Arrow Cross party who shot the people right into the Danube River, sparing themselves the hard work of burials. The victims had to take their shoes off, since shoes were valuable belongings at the time. The monument contains of 60 pairs of iron shoes, forming a row. Each pair of shoes were modelled after a contemporary shoe from the 1940’s. May 11, 2016
It’s called “Shoes on the Danube Promenade,” in Budapest, a commemoration dedicated to the victims of the fascist Arrow Cross party who shot the people right into the Danube River, sparing themselves the hard work of burials. May 11, 2016
A statue of Attila József (1905-1936), a noted Hungarian poet, sits on the steps by the Hungarian Parliament Building gazing across the Danube River in Budapest. May 11, 2016
The Dohany Street Synagogue, also called the Great Synagogue, in Budapest, Hungary, is the second biggest synagogue in the world (after the Temple Emanu-El of New York). It was built between 1854 and 1859 in Moorish Revival or Neo-Moorish style, in the wake of Romanticism. I made my way here on my own using Budapest’s underground metro system…just exit on Astoria off of the red line. May 11, 2016
The stunning interior of the Dohany Street Synagogue, also called the Great Synagogue, in Budapest, Hungary. May 11, 2016
The memorial garden of the Dohany Street Synagogue, also called the Great Synagogue, in Budapest, Hungary. During the Soviet siege that ended the Nazi occupation of Budapest in the winter of 1944-1945, many Jews in the surrounding ghetto died of exposure, starvation and disease. Soon after the Soviets liberated the city, a mass grave was dug at the site of the memorial for an estimated 2,281 Jews. The trees and headstones, donated by survivors, were added later. May 11, 2016
I conquered the Budapest metro system getting myself around the city. May 11, 2016
Also a part of the memorial garden of the Dohany Street Synagogue in Budapest is this weeping-willow “Tree of Life” sculpture. The Holocaust Memorial, also known as the Emanuel Tree, was created by Imre Varga. The names of Hungarian Jews killed during the Holocaust are inscribed on each leaf. May 11, 2016
A close up of a leaf of the Holocaust Memorial, known as the Emanuel Tree or “Tree of Life” at the Dohany Street Synagogue in Budapest. The weeping willow tree, created by Imre Varga, has the name inscribed on each leaf of Hungarian Jews killed during the Holocaust. May 11, 2016
Celebrating our last night in Budapest, my Rick Steves tour mates and I are enjoying dinner at the Central Cafe. From left, Hilda, Jackie and me. May 11, 2016

On the road again with our Rick Steves group as we make our way from Budapest, Hungary into Croatia as we continue with our tour of the “Heart of Europe.” Sometimes the least exciting, but necessary part of travel, is getting from one place to another and today was just that kind of a day.

Farewell to the Danube River, the iconic Chain Bridge and most of all the beauty of Budapest. May 12, 2016
Getting comfortable on our very luxurious bus as our Rick Steves tour group leaves Budapest, Hungary, heading to Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia for the night. May 12, 2016
Before our group can enter into Croatia, we have to stop at the border control of Hungary and Croatia. We were required to step out of the bus, with our passports and hand them over to the Hungarian border control staff for an exit stamp. Then the Croatian border control provided the entry stamp and returned our passports. Although Hungary is part of the Schengen Agreement, which in essence abolished passport and any other type of border controls, Croatia is working to join the other Schengen countries and at present must continue to protect its borders. May 12, 2016
A Croatian lunch spread at a Zelengaj, a restaurant just a few minutes from the Croatian border allowed our group to preview some Croatian cuisine. May 12, 2016
It was a full day on the bus but as our Rick Steves tour group made its way to Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia we could see signs of the lush landscape. The largest of Croatia’s eight national parks, we will be spending the night at a hotel in the park and walking through the park tomorrow morning. In 1979, Plitvice Lakes National Park was included in the UNESCO list of World Natural Heritage sites. May 12, 2016
Our Rick Steves tour group unloading our suitcases from the bus so we can check into our hotel at the Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia. May 12, 2016

It was supposed to be a sunny day with little rain in sight, but the forecast did not meet with the reality for our more than two hour hike of the Plitvice Lake National Park in Croatia. Although the city girl in me was definitely taken by the lushness and the waterfalls of the park, I would have appreciated more sunshine and less rain, but I managed my fair share of oohs and ahhs. And just when I thought I was going to make it to the end of our walk without any battle scars, I ended up taking a spill and bruising my right knee. Thankfully Peter and Sanel, our wonderful Rick Steve guides moved quickly to get me ice and antiseptic. After the walk and a quick change to drier clothes, we continued on our journey to Rovinj, Croatia, where we will spend the next two nights. And, just to keep count, this is day 20 of my 60-day birthday and retirement celebration trek through Central and Eastern Europe.

The beautiful waterfalls of Plitvice Lake National Park in Croatia. May 13, 2016
Me enjoying the beauty of the waterfalls at Plitvice Lake National Park in Croatia. May 13, 2016
The waterfalls and flora of Pltvice Lake National Park in Croatia. May 13, 2016
The muddy trail at the Plitvice Lake National Park in Croatia. May 13, 2016
Me enjoying the beauty of the waterfalls at Plitvice Lake National Park in Croatia. May 13, 2016
These Merrell shoes got a work out today as I hiked, with our Rick Steves tour group, through the rain and muddy trails of the Plitvice Lake National Park in Croatia. May 13, 2016
I took a spill on the gravel surface and rocky surface of the trail at the Plitvice Lake National Park in Croatia. I decided to look up and around instead of down when I stepped on a rock and just lost my balance. Thankfully all I did was bruise my right knee. Peter and Sanel, our great and caring Rick Steves tour guides, moved quickly to get me some ice and make sure I had what I needed. The adventures of travel. May 13, 2016

The sun came out to play today and that made Rovinj, Croatia, with its Italian village look and feel, even more of a delight. Our Rick Steves tour group is staying on the island of Katarina, linked to Rovinj by a ferry boat which goes from the Katarina Hotel to Rovinj’s Old Town center. And crossing the Adriatic even for those five minutes is the epitome of what pure charm and beauty feel like when they collide. Rovinj’s Old Town central streets are pretty much pedestrian friendly with shops and restaurants everywhere you turn. Add to that the colorful houses, the fisherman village flair of the harbor and a bell tower that exclaims its presence high on the hill and Rovinj is just packed with ambiance. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my brief stay. Tomorrow, we head to Lake Bled in Slovenia and towards the last two days of this tour. I am loving the “Heart of Europe.”

Our hotel Katarina on the island of Katarina, Croatia, just a 10-minute ferry ride from Old Town Rovinj, Croatia. May 14, 2016
The ferry boat that transports us, in about five minutes, from the island of Katarina where we are staying to the town of Rovinj, Croatia. May 14, 2016
Rovinj, Croatia, is a quaint fishing village reminiscent of a small Italian village that’s filled with charming old homes that tightly crowd the shorelines of the Adriatic Sea. May 14, 2016
The small and compact outdoor market by the Adriatic Sea in Rovinj, Croatia, is filled with local flair including bottles of truffles and olive oil. May 14, 2016
The colorful outdoor market by the Adriatic Sea in Rovinj, Croatia, includes fresh flowers, fruit and a variety of vegetables. May 14, 2016
An ornate gate into the Old Town of Rovinj, Croatia. May 14, 2016
The walkable Old Town of Rovinj, Croatia. May 14, 2016
The walkable town of Rovinj, Croatia. May 14, 2016
It has the look and feel of a small, Italian village and Rovinj, Croatia, is officially bilingual…Italian and Croatian. May 14, 2016
Called Grisia Street in Rovinj, Croatia, it is the Main Street lined with touristy shops and the walkways up to the landmark Baroque church, St. Euphemia, and the bell tower that dominates the hillside. May 14, 2016
The Church of St. Euphemia with its landmark bell tower in Rovinj, Croatia. May 14, 2016
Me, feeling a bit sore from my spill yesterday, but more than able to walk and loving the village of Rovinj, Croatia, along the Adriatic Sea. May 14, 2016
Rovinj, Croatia, is a quaint fishing village reminiscent of a small Italian village that’s filled with charming old homes that tightly crowd the shorelines of the Adriatic Sea. May 14, 2016
Our Rick Steves tour group gathering at the Katarina island and hotel dock to take the ferry to Rovinj for dinner. May 14, 2016
Enjoying the second dish of our dinner, Risoto with shrimp and vegetables. I’m sitting with our incredible driver Mitch to the left, one of our guides Sanel, Jackie, Hilda and myself. May 14, 2016
Our view of Rovinj, Katarina and the Adriatic Sea in Crotia from our dinner table this evening. Goodbye Rovinj, Croatia….hello Lake Bled, Slovenia. May 14, 2016

We left the sunshine of Rovinj, Croatia, this morning to make our way to the cold and rain of Ljubljana and Bled, Slovenia. Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital is a lovely city with the Ljubljanica River bi-secting the idyllic Old Town. We spent a couple of hours in Ljubljana so I’ll share just a little of its charm today because I’ll be returning to Ljubljana on Tuesday when I begin the second half of my Rick Steves tour “The Adriatic.” Bled is our home for the next two nights as we come to the end of this tour.

Early this morning on the island of Katarina waiting for our ferry to whisk us to the bus, our Rick Steves tour group said good-bye to Rovinj, Croatia. Next stop, the border of Croatia and Slovenia. May 15, 2016
Before leaving Croatia, our tour group stopped at the Croatian passport control office on the border of Croatia and Slovenia. May 15, 2016
It was cold and rainy, but we took a quick tour of the Old Town section of Ljubljana, Slovenia, which included the Town Hall and the Robba Fountain. May 15, 2016
One of several bridges in Ljubljana, Slovenia. May 15, 2016
It was a cold and rainy day, but our group took a quick tour of Ljubljana’s Old Town including this bricked street leading to the Ljubljana Cathedral. I’ll be returning to Ljubljana on Tuesday when I start another Rick Steves tour…”The Adriatic.” May 15, 2016
Although overcast, cold and rainy, Bled, Slovenia, with its cliff hanging medieval castle looming over Lake Bled, is our home for the next two days. May 15, 2016
The overcast view of Bled Island, which I can see from my hotel room, on Lake Bled in Slovenia. And in the background covered by the clouds are the Julian Alps. May 15, 2016

We’re at the end of the 16-day Rick Steves tour “The Best of Eastern Europe,” now fondly re-named, “The Heart of Europe,” that began in Prague and ends here in Bled tomorrow after breakfast. It is difficult to believe that this portion of my 60-day trek has come to a close. But, today, we began our last full day together as a group with a Pletna boat ride to Bled island and a peek into the island’s church which is being meticulously renovated. After the boat ride we each did our own thing and mine was a walk around Lake Bled to the Vila Bled, former Yugoslavian President’s summer home, to see a stunning propaganda socialist wall mural. As is customary for a Rick Steves tour, the finale night we gathered to share travel memories and toast to new friendships over a sumptuous dinner.

Tomorrow, I head back to Ljubljana, Slovenia, to start my second Rick Steves tour, 14 days of “The Best of the Adriatic,” which begins in Ljubljana and will take me through Croatia to Bosnia and end in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Ready for the next adventure to being.

The traditional to take a trip across Lake Bled or to Bled island is on a Pletna boat. It is the traditional boat made by locals which has its origins back to the late 1500’s. It is a wooden flat-bottom boat with a pointed bow and the stern widened with a step to enable passengers to enter. The oarsman stands up and rows with two oars. May 16, 2016
On Lake Bled, Slovenia, is a Pletna boat with Hilda as we head to Bled island this morning. May 16, 2016
A Pletna boat heading to Bled island in Slovenia. May 16, 2016
The inside of The Church of Our Lady, Bled island on Bled Lake in Slovenia. The present day church dates from the 17th century when it was renovated after another earthquake. The main altar with its rich gold-plated carving dates from 1747. May 16, 2016
Tedious restoration work being done on the interior of The Church of our Lady on Bled island on Bled Lake in Slovenia. May 16, 2016
While The Church of our Lady on Bled island on Bled Lake in Slovenia was being renovated in the 1970s, workers discovered this Gothic fresco…the bris…Jewish circumcision ritual…of Christ. May 16, 2016
The bell tower of The Church of Our Lady on Bled island of Bled Lake in Slovenia. May 16, 2016
Vila Bled, in Bled, Slovenia, is the former residence of the Yugoslavian President Tito. The former summer residence of the communist leader, built in 1947, was turned into a hotel in the late 1980s. May 16, 2016
Vila Bled, in Bled, Slovenia, is the former residence of the Yugoslavian President Josip Broz Tito. He was a Yugoslav revolutionary and statesman who served in various roles from 1943 until his death in 1980 at the age of 88. May 16, 2016
The desk, chair, lamp and telephone of former Yugoslavian President Tito at the Vila Bled in Bled, Slovenia. May 16, 2016
The second floor ballroom inside the Vila Bled, in Bled, Slovenia, features a mural depicting the Yugoslavian struggle during World War II. Vila Bled was the summer residence of former Yugoslavian President Tito. May 16, 2016
A close up of the wall mural at Vila Bled, the summer home of former Yugoslavian President Tito shows the proud workers coming together for the betterment of Yugoslavia. May 16, 2016
Standing on the balcony of Vila Bled, a current hotel and the former summer home of former Yugoslavian President Tito with a perfect view of the Bled island and the church. May 16, 2916
A view of the Julian Alps at Bled Lake, Slovenia. May 16, 2016
More of the Julian Alps at Lake Bled, Slovenia. May 16, 2016
And, more of Lake Bled, Slovenia. May 16, 2016
Enjoying our farewell dinner tonight in Bled, Slovina, with our tremendous Rick Steves lead guide, Peter, and his effervescent assistant guide Sanel on this incredible tour. May 16, 2016
Such a wonderful group of travelers. I do hope we meet again. Until then, it has truly been a wonderful pleasure! May 16, 2016

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