Monthly Archives: May 2023

Basingstoke, England May 27, 2023

Today was a long, hard, tiring day for us, made worse by my still being ill with bronchitis. The ship arrived back in Trieste and we were assigned to the first disembarkation group because we had an early ride booked to the Venice airport. We went through the disembarkation gauntlet of people but when we finally arrived inside the terminal (just before the final exit door) I came to the panicked realization that I did not have my cellphone. I knew immediately what had happened. I laid it down on the bench beside me while waiting for our group to be called. When they called our number, I jumped up leaving my phone behind.  I guess I will blame it on not thinking clearly due to being sick. While Bill waited on the sidewalk with the luggage, I tried to get back on the ship, fighting my way across the tide of people going the opposite direction. Security is always very tight getting on and off the ship so I had to convince three security officers to let me back onboard. I raced to where I knew I left it and it wasn’t there. My heart sank. I asked where Lost and Found was located. Guest Services, deck 5. Once again I was going against the tide, with people rushing down the stairs and me up the stairs. As always there was a long line at Guest Services. I was in panic mode because I knew our reserved ride to the airport would be leaving soon. When my turn finally came the lady checked the computer and sure enough a black phone had been found. She casually sauntered over to a drawer and retrieved it. Yes, I said, it is my phone. I had to prove it was mine by typing in the security password. Just when I thought I could go on my way, no. Paperwork had to filled out. Always paperwork. Shifting impatiently from one foot to another, finally the paperwork was signed and I rushed away. When I reached Bill, our four dinner companions were there with him, concerned about my phone and wanting to tell us goodbye. How sweet is that! They were all headed to Venice for several days before returning home. 

We then discovered our reserved shuttle wasn’t going to pick us up at the port. Instead we had to take a taxi to a parking lot in Trieste where we would be picked up. We were concerned when we reached the parking lot and no shuttle bus was there. Even the taxi driver seemed concerned about leaving us there. After several minutes Bill received a text message from the driver that he was running late. Eventually he arrived and we were on our way to the Venice airport, a ninety minute drive. 

Thankfully our flight from Venice to Gatwick airport in the United Kingdom was uneventful. When we arrived at Gatwick we went through passport control, collected our luggage and then figured out how to get to the railway station located at the airport. After buying the tickets we caught the train to Basingstoke, with one train change on the way. Due to a tight connection we missed our connecting train but another one soon arrived. Both trains were crowded and the entire trip took about two hours. We arrived in Basingstoke just before 7:00 P.M. and walked from the train station to our hotel. After stopping at an express market for bottled water, we finally arrived at our hotel around 7:30.  We had been going nonstop since before 6:00 AM that morning. and changed one time zone 

We chose Basingstoke, pop 186,000, for this five day stay because it was centrally located and a convenient home base to explore the UK. But we quickly realized that even though we had the will and desire to explore, our bodies were shutting down and had other ideas. After almost six weeks of traveling, we desperately needed some time for rest and relaxation. We had a nice apartment with a kitchen and washer/dryer so after getting groceries, we took it easy for the next several days. Located within an easy walk were places to eat and a beautiful, huge mall. We had a short list of things we needed at this point in our trip, and we easily found everything. We discovered they have a store in the UK called Poundland, which is just like our Dollar Tree. They call theirs Poundland because a pound in the UK is like our dollar.

We Did Not Stay Here, Just Took A Picture

Basingstoke claims to be the birthplace of author Jane Austen. They have a sign proclaiming it as her birthplace and a statue of Austen as a young girl is located in front of their history museum. However all the research I found says that Austen was born in the nearby village of Steventon and often visited Basingstoke as a child.

St Michael’s was a beautiful church located just down the street from our apartment. We admired it everytime we walked by. It was built in the 16th century of stone and glint. Sadly time passed quickly and we never had a chance to go inside.

We had a nice meal at a Thai restaurant where Bill enjoyed some of his favorite Thai foods.

Our time in Basingstoke passed quickly. We were disappointed we didn’t get to see more of England, but our bodies had other ideas and we feel certain we will be back someday soon.

Corn Exchange now Haymarket Theatre since 1951

On Thursday, June 1st we walked from the apartment back to the train station and took a train to Southampton. This journey was only 30 minutes and once again the train was very crowded. We walked from the train station to our very small apartment. This apartment was tiny, cramped and on a very busy, noisy street. It was disappointing small but only for two nights.

Southampton is a port city of over 255,000, making it one of the most populous cities in southern England. The Titanic left Southampton on her fateful voyage and 500 of the people who died were from here. On August 20, 1620 the Pilgrims left Southampton on their voyage to a new life in America. Did you know there were two ships, the Mayflower and the Speedwell? They both left Southampton but after the Speedwell began leaking badly they stopped in Plymouth for repairs. The Speedwell was declared unfit to continue so some people dropped out and only the Mayflower continued on from Plymouth.

Around Southampton are the remains of defensive structures built around the town in the tenth century to defend its prosperous trading center. In 1338 it was raided by French forces and the walls were extended and reinforced, eventually fully enclosing the city with a 1.25 mile long stone wall with 29 towers and eight gates. By the 17th century the wall’s importance declined and they were slowly demolished through the 18th and 19th centuries. Like many things from the past, in the early 20th century their historical importance was recognized and steps were taken to preserve what was left.

Some thoughts on the UK:

At this point we have spent time in Austria, Slovenia, Italy and the UK. We can honestly say that the British are by far the nicest. Always friendly, kind, considerate and helpful, they are eager to please. If they see you need help, they step right up. If you look confused or uncertain, they stop and ask if you need assistance. At the train station the elevator was not working and railway workers stepped right up to carry our bags up or down the steep flights of stairs. Cannot say enough good things about everyone we met. 

On the downside, prices are higher than we expected. We talked with some locals and they say the economy is very bad which is why they are having rail strikes throughout the country. (We were very fortunate in that the two days we had to ride the train, there were no strikes on those days.) The locals also said a combination of Brexit and effects of the pandemic have really hurt the economy and people. 

Another thing that was surprising and sad was the number of homeless people living on the streets, particularly in Southampton. We saw very little of this in Austria, Italy or Slovenia. 

On June 3rd we caught an Uber from our apartment to the cruise terminal. Our next adventure awaits, so stay tuned! 

Next up: A cruise to cold places! 

Corfu, Greece and Bari, Italy May 25, 2023

Leaving Istanbul, we had gone as far north as planned and now turned south and headed back towards Greece. The next day was a sea day. After three busy port days in a row, we really enjoyed a restful day at sea. We were invited to a Captain’s Reception in the late morning with complimentary champagne and snacks. We were entertained by two of the ship’s dancers doing the tango. We also enjoyed playing Yahtzee with our new dinner friends.

Our next stop was the Greek island of Corfu. There are about 200 inhabited islands in Greece. The island of Corfu, pop. 32,000, is located in the Ionian Sea.

We did not have an excursion booked here and planned to explore on our own. We caught a shuttle which took us to the end of the long pier where we then caught a local city bus into the town center. With roots going back to the 8th century B.C. and after spending years under French and British rule, it became part of Greece in 1864.  It is flanked by two fortresses which did defended the city’s maritime interests against the Ottoman Empire. The Old Fortress was built in the 15th -16th century and the New Fortress in the 16th century.

We took these pictures inside the Holy Church of Saint Spyridon a Greek Orthodox Church.

We enjoyed walking around the city, crowded with cruise passengers, and even found a geocache. 

Our final port of this cruise was Bari, Italy. Unfortunately I was ill and unable to go ashore. Bill took a local bus into town to get me some medicine at the local pharmacy. It was difficult due to a language barrier, but he managed. He snapped a few pictures while he was in town.

Sunset from our Balcony

Next up: Disembarkation day and flight to England 

Spoiler alert! I am feeling better. 

Istanbul, Turkey May 23, 2023

Our next stop in Turkey was the famous city of Istanbul. We had read that the sail into the port was one of the most beautiful in the world so we were up early for our arrival. The morning was cloudy but it was still an impressive sight.

We had booked an excursion here. Istanbul has a population of 16 million which is 19% of the population of Turkey. It is the largest city in Turkey and straddles the Bosphorus Strait, causing it to lie in both Europe and Asia. Istanbul is the most populous European city and the world’s 15th largest city. As to be expected, it has terrible traffic which we experienced throughout the day.

The first place we went was a mosque. We were required to remove our shoes and the ladies all had to cover their heads with a scarf.

Next was a spice market which is misleading because much more was sold there than just spices. We were given an hour to shop and Bill and I went in search of a second umbrella and a tee shirt. We knew ahead of time the Hard Rock Cafe here had closed permanently. We would have never found it in this massive city anyway. Bill managed to find a shirt he liked. Amazingly, we also found an umbrella.

Stuck in traffic, it took awhile to reach our lunch destination at a Turkish restaurant. One of the couples from our nightly dinners were also on this excursion and we had an enjoyable Turkish lunch. 

Next was a two hour narrated harbor cruise on a ferry boat. It was nice to see Istanbul by land and sea.

Fortress Made in Europe or Westside

Fortress Made in Asia or East

Since our ship did not leave port until 11:00 that evening, we had time to enjoy the lights of the city at night. We felt the real vibes of the city as we stood on deck and listened to the loud calls to prayer being broadcast throughout the city as we watched the twinkling lights shining on the water.

A great day in Istanbul. 

Next up: Corfu, Greece

Ancient City of Ephesus, Turkey May 22, 2023

On our next port stop on the Aegean Sea we took an excursion to the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey (as of 2022 the United Nations agreed to change the spelling to Turkiye as requested by the Turkish President)

The ancient city of Ephesus was one of the largest and most important cities in the ancient Mediterranean world. Once an ancient Greek port city, it is one of the oldest Greek settlements on the Aegean Sea. It was the second biggest city in the Roman Empire. Today it is one of the largest Roman archeological sites in the eastern Mediterranean.

The Temple of Artemis, built in 550 B.C., is considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. In the 4th century B.C. a fire destroyed the temple. Workers completely rebuilt the temple twice. It was twice the size of any other Greek temple and had 127 columns, sixty feet high and four feet in diameter. It took workers 120 years to finish the temple. Today only the foundations and one column remains of what was once this greatest temple in the ancient Mediterranean.

Other main sites in Ephesus include The Temple of Hadrian, The Temple of the Sebastoi and the Library of Celcius.

Temple of Hadrian

Temple of Hadrian

Library of Celsius

Library of Celsius

In 17 A.D. an earthquake destroyed Ephesus and when the city was built back once again, the library was built and housed over 12,000-15,000 scrolls.

Public Bathroom

Public Bathroom

Ephesus was abandoned because silt built up in the harbor and eventually no ships could reach the city. Without ships there was no trade and therefore no city. 

Unfortunately the day we visited, a steady rain developed during part of our tour. The walkways are made of marble which are very slick when wet. So we had to creep along, trying to stay dry, take pictures, listen to the guide and not fall.

There were several stray dogs and cats wandering around. The dogs appeared friendlier than the cats.

Next we went to the House of the Virgin Mary, located not far from Ephesus, high on a mountaintop. Quite an adventure in the rain and the fog.

Ephesus is an important site in Christianity, mentioned multiple times in the New Testament. It is the site of the first church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Mary, mother of Jesus, spent the last years of her life in Ephesus with Saint John. At the time of his death, Jesus put Mary under the care of John (John 19: 26-27) On this mountaintop is the small house where Mary lived until her death in 48 A.D. (some believe it was 57 A.D.) . The setting is very quiet and peaceful. We were allowed to walk through the simple, modest house but no pictures were allowed.

A water fountain or well from a nearby spring under the house is said to have miraculous healing powers. Some people come here and fill small bottles of water to take with them. There is also a “wishing wall” where people write down their wishes and attach them to the wall.

Our guide said that each year on August 15th, the day of Mary’s death, pilgrims leave home early and walk six miles up the mountain to this site. They have a mass and meal and then make the long trek back home. 

Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II visited here and held sermons. 

Our guide pointed out a small fortress on a distant mountain where she said Saint Paul was kept prisoner. Paul made several journeys to the area to let others know about Jesus Christ and spread Christianity around the world. (Acts 19:1) He arrived in Ephesus in 52 A.D. and baptized twelve followers of John the Baptist.

Some objected to Paul’s Christian teachings while others who made a living selling statues of Artemis objected to his teachings which they believed took away their business. Paul was brought to the Great Theatre of Ephesus where he was judged and found guilty.

Great Theatre

Great Theatre

He was imprisoned high on that mountain. It is believed that Paul wrote the Books of Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon, known as the Prison Epistles, while imprisoned here. 

On our way back to the ship we stopped by a weaving school and saw how heating silk “eggs” fibers are then pulled into a larger and stronger tread.

It was a fascinating day, in spite of the rain and fog.

Next up: A day in Istanbul

Athens, Greece May 21, 2023

This is our first cruise with MSC cruise line. Our ship, the Splendida, was built in 2007 and is definitely looking old and worn. It doesn’t have activities like the newer ships such as a rock climbing wall, water park, ice skating rink, putt putt golf, etc. The food is mediocre. There is one area in which it excels and that is the nightly entertainment. It is great. In the past we have looked at price and itinerary when choosing a cruise. We will add the age of the ship to the criteria. Not that we need all the sports activities, but newer ships have cleaner, fresher carpets, furnishings, etc.

We were automatically placed at a table for six at dinner for the duration of the cruise. We would be eating with the same people every night for nine nights. There is always a little trepidation that first night when you meet the new people you will be spending two hours with each evening. We really hit the jackpot with our table companions. Two really nice couples, one from Panama City, Florida and the other couple split their time between New Hampshire and Tucson, Arizona. One was a retired school principal and the other a retired school librarian. How perfect is that! The other, retired military. We had the best time each night with these two couples. We often laughed and talked so long our waiter had to come over and gently remind us we had to leave so they could set up for the second dinner seating. We often all attended the evening show together, had a couple excursions together, and they taught us how to play Yahtzee! What a blessing they were and we looked forward to seeing them each day. Hopefully our paths will cross again someday. 

After our disappointment at missing our first Olympia, Greece, due to weather, our next port was Piraeus, Greece, the port for Athens. We had booked an excursion here into Athens.

Our first stop was the Acropolis and Parthenon. The Acropolis, the sacred focal point of ancient Athens, is a rocky hill containing the remains of several ancient buildings, most importantly the Parthenon.

The climb up the Acropolis was somewhat steep with deep steps, often without hand railings. Fortunately it was paved. What made the climb the most difficult was the huge crowds of people, everywhere, all clogging the pathway to the top. We were told there were five cruise ships in port, making the crowds worse. Coming down was even worse as the crowds grew. At one point we came to a complete stop as there was a bottleneck of people navigating down the steep steps.

The Parthenon is a former temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, who was protector of the city-state and whom Athens was named for. The original statue of Athena has been lost.

It was constructed beginning in the fifth century B.C. Its decorative sculptures are a classic example of Greek Art, as well as a symbol of Ancient Greece democracy and Western civilization. Since 1975 numerous large scale restoration projects have been undertaken and are still going on today.

Nearby is the Erechtheion shrine to Athena and Poseidon, and is said to be the place where the goddess created the first olive tree.

Looking Back As We Walk Down

Next up was the Panathenaic Stadium, the site of the first modern Olympics in 1896. We missed the site of the ancient Olympics in Olympia, but got to see the site of the first modern games. It is the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble. It last hosted the Olympics in 2004. It is used today as a multipurpose stadium. We liked how from this viewpoint we could see the Acropolis and Parthenon.

We rode around different sites in Athens but it is hard taking pictures from a bus window. Athens is certainly high density (pop 3,154,000) with lots of traffic, pollution and the city looks rather run down and tired.

We saw the Monument to the Unknown Soldier with guards, just like ours back home.

Behind that is the Greek Parliament, built in 1842. It was formerly the residence of the Greek royal family. In 1929 it was converted into the Greek Parliament. Our tour guide told us that the May election for prime minister did not produce a majority vote, so another election will have to be held in June.

Bronze Statue of Alexander the Great

Alexander died in 323 B.C. after carving out an empire stretching from Greece to India.

Hadrian’s Gate, was erected For Emperor Hadrian 132 A.D.

This is the Hadrian Library.

As usual there was time left for shopping. While everyone else headed off to the tourist area, we found a Hard Rock Cafe within walking distance and set off there. We were given an hour and made it back in plenty of time.

An enjoyable day in Athens!

Too Many Bags!

Next up:  Ancient City of Ephesus, Turkey

Trieste, Italy May 16, 2023

The rainy weather continued so we took a taxi to catch the train to Trieste, Italy. The lady at the hotel reception desk called the taxi for us and said it shouldn’t cost more than five euros for the short ride to the station. Sure enough when we got to the station the taxi driver said the fare was four euros. We gave him a tip and we were all happy. 

Unlike the train stations in Vienna and Graz, this station was old and run down. The elevator wasn’t working when we arrived three days ago and still wasn’t working. With no escalators we had to haul our luggage down the steps into the station tunnel. Three days ago we had to haul our luggage up the steps. Even worse. They did have an interesting conveyor belt to move your luggage up or down the next set of steps to the train platform. You place your luggage on the conveyor belt and walk up or down the steps beside it. Too bad they don’t have the conveyor belt for all the steps. 

Unlike the trains from Vienna and Graz, this train was crowded. Once again we were in a compartment with six seats, but every seat was taken. Even worse, Bill had to hoist the luggage into the luggage racks overhead. With rain on the windows and since we did not have window seats, we didn’t get any pictures from the train on the three hour ride. Eventually one person left and then another, and it was just us and one other couple. They were from Brazil and were shy to try to speak any English. Eventually the ice broke and we had a great time talking with them. Since we know zero Portuguese, we were impressed with their English skills. They love to travel and their dream is to  live in Portugal. 

The last hour flew by and we arrived in Trieste, Italy (pop 204,000). Trieste is a city and seaport in northeastern Italy on the Adriatic Sea. Trieste is one of the largest and most important harbors on the Adriatic Sea. We had booked an apartment here for two nights and it was close enough to walk to even though it was drizzling rain. We had raincoats and an umbrella. No big deal. It was a great place with a sitting area, kitchen with microwave and mini fridge, large bedroom, and best of all a washing machine. No dryer but a fold up drying rack was sufficient as things dried quickly. We spent most of one day washing clothes and getting a few groceries for breakfast and snacks. They had an Aldi grocery store in Trieste. In Austria and Slovenia they had Hofer grocery stores which is another name for Aldi. They all looked just like the Aldi store I shop at in Florida.

Trieste’s popularity and growth is due to its recent focus as a cruise ship port. In the past, most cruise ships in the region sailed out of Venice. In 2021, Venice closed its doors to berthing many large cruise ships due to rising water levels around the city. The ancient streets were at risk of crumbling and congestion from port traffic was increasing. The answer lay in the deep water port of Trieste.

Trieste is a mix of Mediterranean and central European heritage. The Unity of Italy Square is the main square in Trieste with the most spectacular architecture in the city that is a mix of Austria and Italy influence. 

Sigmund Freud and author James Joyce lived in Trieste. There is a statue of James Joyce located in one of the town squares near the “canal”.

Canal Grande is a beautiful building located near the plaza. It dates back to the mid 18th century.

All along the plaza and canal areas are churches, palaces and other buildings dating to the first half of the 19th century.

Trieste has a beautiful waterfront area where people enjoy strolling throughout the day and evenings.

There are many more things to see than we had time for in our two days there. Our reason for traveling to Trieste was to catch a cruise ship for a Mediterranean cruise to Greece and Turkey (which as of June, 2022 is now spelled “Turkiye”). So on May 18th we boarded the MSC Splendida for a nine day cruise.

Its time to leave when you see the pilot boat

The first full day was a sea day. The next day we were supposed to stop at the port of Katakolon, Greece where we had booked an excursion to the archeological site of Olympia where the ancient Olympic games were held every four years from 8th century B.C. to the 4th century A.D.  We were actually all ready to go and waiting for our bus to be called when the captain came on the loudspeaker to announce the port had to be aborted. Strong winds, which were going to increase later in the day, would make  it unsafe for the shop to get out of the port. It was a big disappointment and caught us all by surprise. Instead we had another day at sea. 

Next up: A much anticipated visit to Athens, the Acropolis and the Parthenon. 


Ljubljana, Slovenia May 13, 2023

We checked out of our hotel in Graz and walked to the nearby modern train station for our journey to Ljubljana, Slovenia. We were still plagued with rainy weather but we were blessed that the rain stopped during our walk. And my cold was getting better. 

On the last train we had seats on what we think of as a traditional train. Once again we had a reservation but no seat assignment. We were pleasantly surprised to see that this train had cars with individual compartments with six seats in each compartment. We were able to get a compartment all to ourselves where we had plenty of room for our luggage. By the way, both trains had a restaurant car which we didn’t use.

This three and a half hour ride was not as scenic as the one from Vienna to Graz. But we enjoyed seeing the agricultural fields, rolling hills and dense forests.

We crossed from Austria into Slovenia. Sometime later, with a stop coming up, we saw a lady with eight children, between the ages of 7 and 9 years old, line up in the hallway outside our compartment, preparing to get off. Since it was the weekend, we assumed she was not a teacher but perhaps a mother with her children and some of their friends. The train stopped and when it started moving again we heard shouts of distress and immediately knew some children had not gotten off in time. Bill jumped up and went to where they were standing in shock and disbelief. Bill did not speak Slovenian of course and they spoke no English. Bill motioned for them to follow him and put them in the empty compartment next to ours. He motioned for them to stay. I watched them while Bill went in search of a conductor. It was a long train with many cars and he went from car to car saying “Does anyone speak English? Does anyone know where the conductor is?” With every passing second we were getting farther from their missed stop. He finally found two conductors sitting in a small compartment doing paperwork. They understood enough English to figure out the problem and jumped up and followed him back to the compartment. They took over and shortly we made an unscheduled stop at a very small railway station where the station master in a red hat was waiting outside. The conductors handed over the children to him and we were on our way again. Thank heavens Bill took immediate action. Hopefully they were all easily reunited. Imagine the horror that woman felt when she realized not all the children had gotten off the train! The automatic doors close quickly.

After all that excitement we reached Ljubljana, (pop 280,000) the capital of Slovenia. Bill and I actually visited here in 2016 while on a bus tour of Europe. Along with Slovenian, the people often speak English, Italian and more likely, German. Slovenia has a relatively low rate of tourism. In 2016, Ljubljana was awarded the title of European Green Capital and in 2017 this small country was named the world’s most sustainable country. We saw many people riding bikes. It is very expensive to own, and park, a car here. The city has a unique feel of both Central European and Mediterranean. It also felt like a university town with many young people walking around. Slovenia is part of the European Union and therefore uses euros like other European countries. Certainly makes it easy on tourists who do not have to exchange currency while in each country. Slovenia was formerly part of Yugoslavia, along with Croatia and declared formal independence in 1991. The city suffered a devastating earthquake in 1895.

There was so much to see here, all within walking distance of our hotel. And the intermittent rainy weather continued. 

Closest to our hotel was the Old Town or medieval area of Ljubljana. The immediate thing we noticed is all the graffiti. Everywhere! Why so much graffiti on such pretty buildings? Why was it allowed? We were told they consider it an art form. Not encouraged but not against the law. They do frown on any graffiti that would be considered offensive or vulgar. After the first shock on day one, by the third day we hardly noticed.

There are several famous bridges in this area as the Ljubljana River curves and winds through the city. One is the Triple Bridge. The first bridge was built in 1842 and then in 1931 the famous architect Joze Plecnik added two pedestrian side bridges and furnished all three bridges with 642 stone balustrades and lamps, adding a Venetian flair. The architectural designs of Joze Plecnik are found throughout Ljubljana as well as in Vienna and Prague. The Triple Bridge connects the oldest part of town with the more modern area. We noticed that there is no graffiti in the newer, more modern section of the city.

Three Bridges

The city with ornate architecture and cafe lined cobblestone streets has sometimes been compared to a fairy tale, complete with a castle on the hill.

Ljubljana Castle, standing on a hill above the city for about 900 years

A popular meeting place for townspeople is Preseren Square.

Near here is the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation which was built in the 17th century and underwent renovations in the 19th century. The interior has six side altars. A glass fronted coffin contains the remains of Saint Deodatus. We did not go inside.

Dragon Bridge is one of the places we most remember from our 2016 visit. Built in 1901, there are four green dragons or gargoyles crouched on the pillars of the bridge and 16 smaller dragon statues, all appearing to protect the castle in the background. A dragon is on the city’s coat of arms and their flag. It is the symbol of the city, signifying power, courage and wisdom.

Continuing the theme of bridges, Cobblers Bridge was built by Plecnik between 1931 and 1932. It was once a covered wooden bridge providing space for cobblers’ workshops, hence the name. 

The magnificent National Museum of Slovenia was built in 1888.

The  Cathedral of St Nicholas was erected between 1701 and 1708.

The Town Hall was built in the late 1400’s and renovated in 1718.

It was late in the day when we walked around the large Central Market and they were starting to close up for the day.

We walked to the Ljubljana Skyscraper which would make New Yorkers laugh at the term “skyscraper”. Their skyscraper is a 13 story building built in 1933. When it was built it was the ninth tallest building in Europe. We took the elevator to the top floor where there was a viewing deck all the way around the building with nice views of Ljubljana.

Of course we couldn’t miss walking by the U.S. Embassy. Bill asked one of the Embassy workers walking outside why the flag was at half staff but he didn’t know. The building was first conceived in 1897 by Vienna architect Alfred Bayer, the United States Embassy opened here in December 17, 1999.

The National and University Library was certainly a strange looking building. It was built between 1936 and 1941, also a Joze Plecnik design.

Another famous bridge is Butcher’s Bridge. It is here that lovers seal their love forever with a lock and then throw the key into the river. The bridge is full of love locks.

Strangely, one statue nearby is of Adam and Eve, showing them after they were banished from the Garden of Eden. The bridge is named for the many butchers who once lined the bridge selling meat.

While looking for a geocache we found the Slovenian national anthem carved into the middle of a pedestrian walkway. Perhaps if we did that throughout the United States, more people would remember the words of our anthem!

One evening we went to dinner and our young waiter spoke such good English, I asked him where he learned English. Turns out he is a student at the University of Ljubljana and is studying computer science with a concentration in graphic design. He had a great time discussing computer technology and computer programs with Bill. He would have talked longer but had to get back to work. 

The next day we were sitting on a bench discussing where to eat lunch and a lady in her late fifties quickly stopped in front of us. She heard us speaking and said it was so good to hear people speaking English. Three months ago she sold everything and moved to Slovenia. She no longer had any family in the U.S. but had aunts, uncles and cousins in Slovenia so she decided to move there. We chatted for over 30 minutes. She said she loves it there, but she sure seemed happy to hear English. She is taking classes to learn Slovenian. She said she misses her car the most. In Slovenia it is very hard and very expensive to get a driver’s license. You have to pay $1,500 to attend a mandatory drivers school and pass many tests. I think they just don’t want people driving in Slovenia. 

Some thoughts on Europe so far:

  • Everyone smokes too much everywhere – – Italy, Austria, Slovenia. They have cigarette vending machines on the streets and it appears any age can buy them. 
  • It is cheaper to order wine with a meal than a soft drink. 
  • Not as many European’s speak English as we thought. A misconception on our part. 
  • Slovenian men and women are tall. 
  • If you order tap water, and only tap water to drink, they charge you 50 to 75 cents for it. If you order wine or a soft drink, they will also give you tap water at no charge. 
  • A bottle of water that is not carbonated is called “still water”. Took us a while to figure that out in the grocery store. 
  • In Slovenia most stores, including grocery stores, and many restaurants are closed on Sunday. 
  • Whether in Italy, Austria or Slovenia, you will always hear church bells ringing throughout the day. 
  • If you try to eat dinner in a restaurant before 6:00, they will tell you the kitchen hasn’t opened yet. If you wait too late, the restaurants are all full. 
  • The description on the menu doesn’t always match what you get. Surprise!! 

Next up: Train ride to Trieste, Italy and a two night stay there


Graz, Austria May 11, 2023

On May 11th we took a train from Vienna to Graz, Austria.

The train left early in the morning so Bill grabbed a quick breakfast at the McDonald’s at the train station. In keeping with their conservation agenda and “going green”, they gave him a wooden knife and fork instead of plastic. We had booked tickets ahead of time but no reserved seats. We had no trouble finding nice seats together and the train set off right on time for the two hour trip. Trains in Europe are very punctual. It was a  beautiful scenic ride over the Semmering Pass, a UNESCO World Heritage Site listed as “one of the greatest feats of civil engineering during the pioneering phase of railway building”. We crossed the River Schwartz, passing through many tunnels and viaducts with small villages nestled in the hillsides. With such a scenic landscape, the time passed quickly.

We arrived in Graz (pop 332,000) and though it was early, they let us check into our room. Even though it is Austria’s second largest city, Graz receives a small number of tourists compared to Vienna or Salzburg. 

Graz, located on the River Mur, doesn’t have the grandeur of Vienna, but it definitely has charm and beauty. It is said to be one of the best preserved historic cities in Europe. We learned that 20% of the population are students, 150 languages are spoken here and the city council is run by a communist mayor, evidently a surprise from the last election. Sixty percent of the city is green spaces with a strong emphasis on sustainability and ecology. The city uses new emission free hydrogen buses.

Along with its World Heritage status for its Medieval Old Town in 1999, in 2003 Graz was crowned the European Capital of Culture. In 2011 an additional UNESCO award was bestowed as a City of Design for its design schools, forward thinking architecture and embrace of modern urban design. Graz is only the second city in Europe to hold two UNESCO titles. Berlin is the other. Graz is also the birthplace of Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

Unfortunately when we reached Graz there began a week long chilly, rainy spell that followed us to two other cities. On top of that I came down with a bad cold. 

We walked from our hotel to the train station where we bought a day pass that included both the city tram and bus. We walked to a tunnel next to the train station and caught a tram into the city center. 

From the top of the Schlossberg hill, in spite of the clouds, we had a nice view of Graz with its many red tiled roofs. With our daily pass we were able to ride the Schlossberg Funicular to the top and came down using the Schlossberg Lift. The Funicular ascends at an incline of 61% and has been in operation for the last 100 years. The Lift has glass walls that give you a clear view of the rock lined elevator shaft.

Part of the Armory

At the top of the hills are the remains of the old fortification which in 1544 was a huge Renaissance fortress, now listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the strongest fortification of all time. Even Napoleon found it impossible to capture at the beginning of the 19th century. However in 1809 when Napoleon occupied, and was threatening to destroy Vienna, Graz surrendered. The  fortress was dismantled after the Treaty of Vienna in 1809. The Hackher Lion is a monument to Major Hackher, the last defender of the fortress.

Also at the top of Schlossberg is the famous Clock Tower.

Napoleon’s troops destroyed the Schlossberg fortress, the residents all came together to pay a ransom to save their beloved clock tower from destruction. The clock tower is unique with its large wooden balconies and clock face where the hour and minute hands are reversed in size since the minute hand was added later. It has struck the hour precisely since 1712.

As we used the Schlossberg Lift to descend, we then walked in a tunnel through the hillside to ground level. It was once part of an extensive system of tunnels that was built in the Second World War as a shelter for the people of Graz during aerial bombing. The tunnels were part of a four mile long system with 20 entrances that could hold up to 40,000 during an air raid. 

In the Old Town’s main square, Hauptplatz, is the Town Hall, built in 1893, with its neoclassical design.

The Graz Cathedral is the city’s most important place of worship. It was built between 1438-1462. The cathedral has a Gothic exterior and a Baroque interior with a vaulted ceiling over the altar.

Next door was the Mausoleum of Emperor Ferdinand II, built in 1614. It is thought to be one of the most beautiful mausoleums in Europe.

Part of the University Next Door

The Franciscan Church has the tallest towers in Graz.

Murinsel is a quirky ultra modern design structure floating in the Mur River. It is an island constructed in 2003 in honor of the city’s European Capital of Culture award. It is shaped like an upside down seashell and is made of steel and glass. It is used as an open air amphitheater, has a cafe and children’s play area. Two pedestrian bridges tether it to the riverbanks.

Nearby is the Parish Church Graz-Mariahilf, 1607.

Another modern structure built in 2003 was the Kunsthaus Graz, or the Graz Art Museum. The roof is made of acrylic and the locals have nicknamed the structure “the Friendly Alien”. At night the building lights up like a spaceship.

The Glockenspiel is a structure with 24 bells that ring out on the hour. Three times each day the two wooden doors open and two little figures in traditional costume come out and dance to Alpine folk tunes. Unfortunately we missed that by 18 minutes.

We saw the Kaiser-Josef-Markt farmers’ market open each day except Sunday. The rain didn’t seem to bother the shoppers. So many European towns have these daily fresh markets.

Across the street from the market was the Opera House.

Also on this corner is the Evangelical Church of Graz-Heilandskirche, 1824.

We really enjoyed Graz, in spite of the chilly rain! 

Next up: A train ride and 3threedays in Ljubljana, Slovenia 


Vienna, Austria May 9, 2023

After a good night’s sleep we were up early the next morning for a day of exploring Vienna. Our original plan was to use the Hop On Hop Off Bus. But our friendly, helpful hotel concierge convinced us we didn’t need to pay for the expensive tickets and instead we could take the subway located close to the hotel into the city center. Our subway tickets also gave us access to the city’s tram and bus service. I must say that Vienna has excellent public transportation. Taking the concierge’s advice saved us money ($95 for us on Hop On Bus vs $16 for us for 24 hour public transportation). 

Austria, with 8.5 million citizens, shares boundaries with eight  European countries: Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Most Austrians speak German (the second largest German speaking city after Berlin) and are mainly Catholic. 

Vienna, the capital and largest city, has a population of just under 2 million. It lies in the eastern part of Austria on the Danube River.

Its past residents have included Mozart, Beethoven (giving it the nickname “City of Music”) and Sigmund Freud (also giving it the nickname “City of Dreams”).

We walked the couple blocks to the closest subway station, bought our 24 hour tickets, and were quickly on our way. The public transportation, whether subway, tram or bus, is very punctual.

A J F Kennedy Memorial Plaque

We hopped off at city center and immediately our visual senses were overwhelmed with the architectural beauty that surrounded us. In every direction we saw majestic buildings. Bill and I had been here in 2016 on a group tour and we agreed it was more beautiful than we remembered. Group tours are nice but I think when you are on your own you have more time to stop and take in your surroundings. Sometimes on tours you have to worry about keeping up with a guide or being rushed from one place to another.

The first masterpiece we saw was the Romanesque and Gothic architecture of St Stephen’s Cathedral, the most important religious building in Vienna. The groundbreaking of this Catholic church was in 1137 with completion in 1578. Made of limestone, it stands at 448 feet with 2 main spires and 22 bells.


Beethoven discovered the totality of his deafness when he saw birds flying out of the bell tower as a result of the bells’ tolling but could not hear the bells. The largest bell weighs 44,380 pounds and is the largest in Austria and the second largest swinging bell in Europe. The roof of the church is covered by 230,000 glazed tiles. The roof is so steep that it is sufficiently cleaned by rain and seldom covered with snow.

Over the centuries, soot and air pollution accumulated on the church and gave it a black appearance, but recent restoration projects have returned some parts of the church back to the original white. 

We were able to go inside and oh my, there are no words to describe the beauty. The main part of the church has eighteen altars and several formal chapels. 

In the basement of the church are tombs, catacombs and crypts containing emperors, military leaders, Bishops, Cardinals and 72 members of the Habsburg dynasty. 

From there we wandered along the streets soaking it all in. 

The Greek Revival style Parliament building foundation was laid in 1874 and completed in 1883. It contains over 100 rooms and is where the president of Austria is sworn in.

The Vienna Plague Column, also known as the Trinity Column, was erected after the Great Plague Epidemic in 1679. It is one of the best known and prominent sculptural artworks in Vienna. Some consider it one of the most ambitious and innovative sculptures anywhere in Europe of that time period.

Vienna Plague Column

The Hofburg is the former imperial palace of the Habsburg dynasty. It was built in the 13th century and served as the winter residence.

Since 1946 it is the official residence and workplace of the president of Austria.

Neptune Fountain

Part of the palace is now the Sisi Museum which gives an authentic look at the life of the Empress Elizabeth, known as “Sisi”, the famous Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary. She was assassinated in Geneva in 1898.

Theseus Temple was built in 1829 as a replica of the ancient Greek temple of Hephaestus in Athens.

Iron Square is rather unique. It is the midsection of a tree trunk from the Middle Ages into which hundreds of nails have been pounded for good luck over the centuries.

The Nail Heads Are Large

When we were here in 2016 we had lunch at a little Chinese restaurant on a side street near St Stephen’s Church. Bill remembered how good it was and wanted to go back. Bill remembered exactly where it was so we had Chinese food for lunch once again in Vienna! The restaurant has a new owner but was still good.

St Peter’s Catholic Church

Guess where we ended the day. Yes, at the Vienna Hard Rock Cafe for another shirt to add to Bill’s collection.

This is a 3D Artwork on the side of a Tall Building

It was an easy subway ride home and walk back to the hotel. After a nice dinner we had another seven miles logged for the day. A really wonderful day in Vienna! 

Next up: A train ride and visiting Graz, Austria

Fiumicino, Italy & Vienna, Austria May 8, 2023

On Monday, May 8th our transatlantic cruise came to an end. It was disembarkation day! We took a shuttle from the port of Civitavecchia to the Rome airport, a one and a half hour bus ride. We were staying the night in Fiumicino, a small town on the outskirts of Rome. We had chosen this hotel because they provided free transportation to and from the airport. We were only staying one night before our early flight to Vienna the next day. The owner of the hotel spoke very little English and we speak no Italian other than ciao (hello) grazie (thank you) and arrivederci (goodbye). So we all used Google translate to communicate. By the way, unlike the United States, any kind of hotel shuttle to and from the airport is hard to find, and free transportation is unheard of. 

The hotel was small but our room was clean and pleasant and we were pleased with our choice. 

We walked three blocks down to the beach overlooking the Mediterranean Sea but it was spitting rain so we didn’t stay long.

On the way back we stopped by a supermarket a block from our hotel for some snacks and drinks for lunch. The checkout girl was chatting away until she looked up and saw our blank expressions. She said, “Oh!” but between the three of us we communicated enough to check out.

After a relaxing afternoon we walked a few blocks to a little family run restaurant for pizza. Again very limited English. The pizza was not the best but we were hungry and made the best of it. We found one TV station in our room that had English translation with some older CBS shows like “The Rookie” and “CSI Los Angeles”.  There were many tv stations but only one that had English language as a choice. 

The  next morning we were up bright and early at 5:00 AM. When we opened our patio door we could hear birds chirping away. I don’t know that we have ever heard so many birds singing so loudly. At 5:45 as promised our host was there to drive us back to the airport.

We had breakfast at the airport before our flight on Austrian Airlines to Vienna. Bill and I slept during most of the 90 minute flight. Our transportation to the hotel was waiting for us. We were very pleased with our hotel in Vienna called Hotel Caroline. Even though it was before noon, they let us in our room early. The room was large with a sitting area, mini-fridge and large safe. The bathroom was also a nice size. 

After unpacking a few items we walked to lunch and stopped by a supermarket for some drinks and snacks. There was a cold breeze blowing and we were glad to have jackets! After walking to dinner later that evening we had logged seven miles for the day. 

Next up: A full day of sightseeing in Vienna with lots of pictures.