Sunday, October 11, 2009

Don't Cry for Me Montenegro...

At the fortress overlooking Herceg Novi town, the Boka, and the Adriatic
...we'll be back!

The summer has ended and the rains have arrived again, which means it's time for us to be on our way. For two years we were lucky enough to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth and experience some amazing first for newly (re) independent Montenegro. The first post-referendum elections, the passage and promulgation of the Constitution, and the first shopping mall. It has been a privilege to watch the country grow -- quickly! -- right in front of us and to share these historic moments with our Montenegrin friends. Truly a country of "wild beauty," from sunny days at Gradska Kafana in Herceg Novi, hiking incredible mountain peaks from Durmitor to Prokletije, wandering historic old town Kotor, and lounging on the sandy beach at "Velika Plaza" beach in Ulcinj, there will be lots to miss... and lots to look forward to seeing again. Hvala i vidimo se Crna Gora.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Kayaking Montenegro

Montenegro is filled with loads of adventure or soft adventure tourism activities. One that we had yet to try was kayaking on/ around Lake Skadar, so as part of our long goodbye to MNE, we gathered some friends and spent a lovely Sunday afternoon kayaking from Rijeka Crnojevica towards the lake. Kayaking is a great way to see all the beauty Montenegro has to offer without impacting the delicate eco-systems. We had a ball and totally recommend it! Check out our all the fun we had here, and if you're in Montenegro and keen to try it, contact our friends at Kayak Montenegro and enjoy!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tour O.... Transylvania, Romania

Nigel in front of our cottage at Count Kalnoky's Estate

Eastern Europe, as it once was. Welcome to Transylvania.

After our whirlwind tour of Budapest, we headed for Transylvania, Romania. We'd booked five days stay at the Count's Estate. Count Dracula?? No, but even better. Count Kalnoky's Estate in the tiny village of Miklosvar in the heart of Transylvania, perfectly situated between three cities we knew we wanted to see -- Sibiu, Brasov, and Timisoara. The Estate offers daily tours of the region, highlighting the beautiful countryside and its diverse history, homemade meals using locally grown produce, and overall seemed like just what we were looking for in order to have a full Transylvania experience. The one downside.... not quite as easy to get to as we'd imagined. Actually the directions were fine, only problem "a day's drive through the Romanian countryside" really was a full day's drive. Meaning well over 12 hours. Our naturally quick driving pace was no match for the traffic and distance so we arrived at the Estate around 1 am. Thankfully one of the Estate's kind staff members had waited up for us, so we were guided to the parking area and quickly settled for a wonderful night of sleep.

We spent the next five days eating breakfast in the garden, dinners in the wine cellar, and exploring Transylvania. It is not often I find myself in a place which surprises me as much as Romania did. People often associate "Romania" with legends of Dracula or stories of Ceausescu's tyrannical rule, but in fact there is so much more to the country. The region we stayed in has a more rich and complex history than I'd even imagined, where old meets new around every corner; a place where its old Saxon traditions are evident in much of the architecture, but the traditions struggle to survive, where a mix of Hungarian and Romanian people and cultures blend, and where you can tour an amazingly autentatious castle (Peles), see an old city that retains its historic fortress walls.... but also has a McDonalds downtown (Brasov), and walk back in time a few centuries in old town Timisoara.

Peles Castle
Old Town Timisoara

Traditional life in a Transylvanian village

All and all we had a smashing good time in Transylvania and we now highly recommend a visit to friends. And we took loads of amazing pictures - check them out here and enjoy!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tour O.... Budapest

We made a short stop in Budapest (less than 24 hours sadly) on our way to Romania. With the limited time, we still managed to squeezed in a lovely stroll through the castle district, a stop at St. Stephen's Basilica, and of course the requisite goulash, before heading off for the small village of Miklosvar/Miclosoara, near Brasov in Transylvania. If we'd know the drive would take more than 12 hours we may have left earlier...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Next stop on the Tour O Balkans... or more correctly Southeast Europe

Nigel at the Schonbrunn Palace

Finally we were back on track. New battery installed, Bailey was feeling better so we headed off to Vienna... not quite the Balkans, but some would argue the hub of Southeastern Europe, so close enough. As the capital of the Hapsburg and then Austro-Hungarian Empires for centuries, the beautifully designed parks, tree lined boulevards, and magestic buildings were no suprise, but the amazing diversity and mix of cultures that blend in the streets just outside the Ringstrasse were something that I had not expected. We enjoyed the wonderful cafes of the city, tried the traditional "Melange" coffee, and discovered an amazing Asian restuarant (Japanisches Gasthaus Hidori -- 89 Burggasse). We also reveled in the fact that Vienna -- despite its longstanding cafe culture -- has a Starbucks. Frankly, as a coffee lover (and one who lives without Starbucks currently), I deemed both a cafe stop and a Starbucks stop as entirely fine. Lovely weather provded us plenty of oportunities for photos here.

Tour O Balkans, the saga continues

Bailey getting lifted onto the truck on her way to the doctor

...So we arrived in Zagreb and bailey died right outside the Sheraton. The nice concierge men helped us push her into a spot across the street and we waited for Monday to arrive so we could have her towed to the MINI dealership. It took a few more days than planned, but by Tuesday afternoon we were off again...

Monday, June 1, 2009

Tour O Balkans - Part 1

Korcula, local wine and lovely views

Day 1: On Wednesday night, May 27th, the gang and I left Podgorica to start our 16 day road trip around the Balkans. We have stops planned in Orebic, Croatia; Mostar, Bosnia; Zagreb, Croatia; Vienna, Austria; Budapest, Hungry; Translavia, Romania; Belgrade, Serbia before finally coming back home to Podgorica. We left after work and made record time to Dubrovnik, right at 2 hours. We got to Orebic around 10 at night and checked into our apartment there. There was a storm rolling in off of the Adriatic Sea just as we arrived. The lighting with the storm as awesome to watch over the sea... Or so we thought. That night, the storm hit and knocked power out at the apartment. It came back on, but the worse was still to come.
Day 2: In the morning we woke up to a bright sunny day, with a lot of wind. Over night the storm kept us awake with crazy thunder and lighting. After breakfast, we wanted to go to the beach and enjoy the sun. Well, that didn't happen. You see, my partner in crime, Bailey got struck by lighting and wouldn't start in the morning. Poor Bailey, she was all alone in the parking lot behind the small apartment building and didn't stand a chance in the crazy storm... still suffering from a bit of disbelief and with no one around and nothing to do on our own, we walked to town to catch a ferry to the lovely island of Korcula (birthplace of Marco Polo) for the day, hoping that with a jump the following day, Bailey would be all better...

Poor Bailey...
...Day three -- Hoping it was just a battery issue, with the kind assistance of our apartment's owner, we got Bailey jumped and then drove around for over an hour -- toured the end of the Peljasac peninsula -- to ensure she was properly charged and then as the wind let up, we headed to the beach. Parked Bailey under some big tress, with a lovely view of the sea, and went off to soak up some sun and some swimming. Lovely beach, lovely weather, perhaps our holiday was turning a corner...

Bailey parked at the beach, complete with lovely shady view of the sea (see more pics of Orebic here)

...After a couple hours we deemed it time for lunch and went back to get Bailey and go to lunch. But sadly she wouldn't start. Again. Well it seemed that her battery was in much worse shape than we imagined initially. We started making calls (to MINI dealerships around Croatia mostly) and crafted a plan -- jump her again the next morning and drive her to Zagreb and hope the MINI experts there could help her...