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Monthly Archives: July 2011

A Baptism in Krapinske Toplice, Croatia

Author: Keegan

On Sunday we woke up and went to a baptism for our friend’s baby named Layla.  She is really cute.  The baptism was at a cute little church in their hometown Krapinske Toplice, Croatia.   After the baptism there was a huge party at the Grandparents house, which was in the same town (you walk everywhere). There were at least 60 -70 people there, they used all floors of the house (there were 3 floors)!!  A live group of musicians played music.  People danced, even all of us Americans, we were yelling opah!!  The party lasted all day and into the night.  There was a good amount of Croatian kids at the party and because our friends live in the U.S. there were English-speaking kids there too.  It was a blast!  Then around 4:00 we went back to the hotel and went to the spa on the top floor there was free tea and there were two saunas; a bio sauna and an infrared sauna so after we went in the big hot tub we went in the sauna to dry off.  Friends of the people who had the party own the hotel.  It is known for their therapeutic waters and services.  We were very refreshed! Then we went back to our apartment and changed for round two.  We walked back to the party around 7:00, the musicians were still playing and everything was the same as when we left.  We met this girl named Marta who was from England and speaks English and Croatian.  She was really funny. When it got dark Kendal, Marta, Brooke, Coleman, and me went on the streets and played manhunt!  We got really competitive and the teams were Coleman and I against the girls.  Coleman and I won most of the time.  Then it was time to leave around 10:00!  So then we went to bed and replayed the day in our heads.

                        THE END THE END THE END THE END!!

After mass in the cute church

The live band went all day and all night!

Me and my friends

In the beautiful Villa Magdalena hotel spa overlooking the village

The band moved inside and kept on playing!

The happy family - I told you she was cute!

This is just one table of deserts, my favorite table!

Dad dancing with Gorinka, our awesome hostess!!

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Posted by on July 31, 2011 in Croatia

 

The Night Train

Author: Amy

While planning our route we knew ahead of time that we would be going to Croatia to visit friends that live there and also we were lucky enough to be meeting a couple of families from our town in the states that would be there as well.  Our flight into Germany helped set the stage for our route and of course to hit Greece.

ANYWAY to my story . . . we took the night train from Venice to Zagreb.  They seemed relatively close on the map.  The original thought was to take a high-speed ferry from Italy to Croatia – however, there were issues with that plan.  One was timing, the ferry didn’t run every day and we needed to get out of Schengen* countries so we could come back in for the holidays.  Another was we needed to rent a car for transportation in Croatia and if we rented in the port town that the ferries arrived we would also need to return it there (the option to pick up in a small town and return at the airport in Zagreb was not available) and we were eventually flying out of Zagreb.  SOOOO we took the overnight train – very reasonably priced, we saved a night hotel stay, we had been on many trains in Germany and Austria, they were nice enough, just get a private room and we’ll all sleep.  This train was like no other that we have seen.  It was a Trenitalia (Italy train company), the windows were open, the beds were yuck (full of animal hair), the pillows you dare not look at in the light and you could hear the screech of the train that went up your spine every time it stopped.  While riding I felt like we were in midair from time to time – down hill.  I could never have imagined it would be this way.  Luckily the kids were extremely tired.  We flew in from Greece that morning and waited the day out to get on the train in the evening.  They slept through most of it.  I prayed through all of it.  We had two passport stops and checks along the way.  Border patrol would come and pound on the door with a huge flashlight and heavy accent.  “Border patrol, prepare passport”, they would pound on each door and repeat “Border patrol, prepare passport” many rooms had young 20ish people that don’t wake very quickly so we heard that phrase a lot.  It was a 7-hour train ride that will remain in my mind forever.  The best part was getting off at 4:20am and having a ride waiting for us to take us to the apartment so we could go straight to sleep – which we all did.  The payoff in having transportation waiting after train and flights is the best travel lesson learned.  As the commercial says . . . “priceless”.

"Border patrol, prepare passports!!"

*Schengen Agreement – an agreement between 25 specific European countries that have met requirements and have signed the agreement to remove controls at their borders so that, for example, people can move freely from one country to another without needing to show their passports (similar to one state to another in the US).  The rule for us as Americans is we can stay in Schengen territory for 90 of 180 days then we must be out for 90 days.

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2011 in Italy

 

Greece

Author: Steve

Greece for some reason wasn’t high on the list to visit for Amy or me. It wasn’t that we were against it but we really were not pushing for it either. Amy felt it would be a lot of work (and cost) – going island to island, logistically figuring out flights and ferries.  Kendal on the other hand (as you read in her blog) really wanted to visit Greece and she made it well-known when we first started planning our adventure a couple of years ago.

When Amy looked into Greece she searched in Santorini and Mykonos (two of the more popular islands that most have heard of). We knew it would be peak season and very busy (which is not what we were looking for) so we did some more research and ended up getting a tip from the parents of Kendal’s soccer friend that Paros was very nice (thank you Tiffany’s parents).  We chose to just visit one island and hoped to get a feel of Greece that way.  Slow travel.

Some highlights I hope never to forget:

Paros – Paros is only 64 square miles with the longest beach length of 10 miles. It is centrally located in the Aegean Sea. We also chose to stay in one of the smallest villages on Paros being Aliki Beach; which is on the southern edge of the island. Some of this was research and some luck that we ended up in a great location and in a great hotel.  Aliki is a storybook, Greek fishing village and is an ideal get away for families.

Hotel Afrodite – We stayed at The Hotel Afrodite as Kendal mentioned in her blog. This is a 30-year old family owned and run business that takes you in with such warmth and sincerity. For these hard working people their only desire is that you have a great time and have everything that you need to be happy. From the staffers that warmly pinched Keegan’s cheeks and rubbed his hair to the other staffers that loved Kendal’s self designed manicure, they were all so accommodating and happy. The hotel was always spotlessly clean and very reasonably priced. We all felt so incredibly comfortable walking around this authentic Greek and very quaint hotel it was sad to have to say goodbye. I’ll never forget the site of the staff that was there when we left, as they ran out of the kitchen to hug us goodbye.

Playing cards in the Hotel Afrodite Garden

Saying goodbye to our family at Afrodite Hotel

If you are looking for a small, quite, slow-paced, beautiful, safe, family friendly vacation in Greece – we recommend Aliki Beach on the Island of Paros at Hotel Afrodite (they also have a few incredible villas with pools looking onto the Aegean Sea).

Late Nights – We tried to stay up a little later each night to catch dinner at the “proper” dinner eating time but it still never seemed late enough. There was an authentic Greek wedding going on in the village on Saturday night and the “Mama” of the hotel told us we should walk by and check out the music and festivities. We were so excited. Well, we had dinner on the beach at 9pm, stayed up late (so we thought) to check things out but people were still rolling in the wedding at 10pm just to sit down for dinner. We passed “Mama” on the street just walking in as well.  We stopped so the kids could have an ice cream and Amy and I decided, since we are in Greece, we should share a glass of authentic ouzo! Doubt if we’ll ever do that again, ouch!!  Any way as we look in the street, which is right in front of the beach, we see Arsenis (he’s a son in the hotel family business, and manages things. Arsenis also has a little celebrity status going on, everybody seems to know and like him). He stopped to say hi to us before he headed over to the wedding, it was 11:30pm.  We wish we would have had more time to sit and talk with Arsenis he is the nicest guy that we really enjoyed talking to about, well, everything – hopefully one day we will have another chance.  We were dragging from being in the sun all day driving the ATV’s and goofing around on the beach so we headed back. As we looked around, the streets were filled with families, kids of all ages and just plain old folk having fun, it was a beautiful site.  By the way, at breakfast the next morning guess who drove up in her wedding outfit at 9:00am…yep, Mama. She laughed as she came in the garden to say hi to us – she said she was on her way to bed but wanted to give the kids her wedding table gift, candied almonds wrapped in lace. What a sweet Greek women!

 

Having a fun conversation with our friend Arsenis

Ecosystem in the Aegean Sea – We decided to take a 4-hour snorkeling tour in Aliki and were happily surprised when our guide and owner of the facility came out with a book before we put our wetsuits on and spent 45-minutes talking to us about; 1) what exactly we would be looking for and; 2) engaged us in a discussion of the current activities of the specific marine life in Paros. This area is still one of the most uninterrupted ecosystems in the world. One of the reasons we see the varying colors of blues and greens off of the beach is because is contains such a strong and healthy plant life below.  Posidonia is a sea plant that provides vast amounts of oxygen (you can kind of think of it as a rainforest under water – and it needs to be preserved).  It’s prohibited for fisherman to fish within 1.5 km from shore and they should only use specific approved methods when they do fish. Unfortunately that’s not always the case and when they trawl they interrupt the posidonia and the inhabitants within the posidonia.  As the discussions continued I found how large spread the ripple effects are from the current economic state of Greece.  The snorkeling was surreal and at one point we could not see a single boat as far as our eyes could reach. We docked in a cavern that once was encompassed within a cave but the ceiling center had collapsed which allowed us to examine, in crystal clear water, what survives in sunlight and what survives in darkness. We learned how and where photosynthesis occurs as well as the different types of sponges and how they survive. We had some great conversations with Sara and are so happy we chose to take a chance that maybe we’d learn something – we definitely did.

Heading out for our snorkeling tour

Economy of Greece – I started reading a little more heavily about the Euro financial situation about 1.5 years ago when the many articles regarding the unflattering term of PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) were surfacing heavy.  I never could have imagined we would be in Europe when this was hitting the fan not to mention the increased growth of the problem within not just the EU but also the possible worldwide ramifications. While we were in Aliki we received an email from the taxi service (that Amy had very smartly booked on-line through a UK website) that the taxi drivers had went on strike but not to worry they would still be at the port waiting for us.  We were lucky to have an unmarked ride waiting for us. Taxi drivers are upset for a number of reasons but the main one is that they paid $80,000 euro (some reports as high as $150,000 euro) for a taxi license but the government believes that the current taxi drivers control the market and have monopolized this sector.  So their plan to resolve that is to allow competition in at an extreme advantage with an “ease to market” strategy by now only charging $3,000 euro for the same license and liberalizing their sector.  The taxi’s lined up in front of ports and airports disrupting one of the countries strongest revenue sources, tourism, which accounts for 16% of the country’s total economic output.  The night before we left they had extended their current 48-hour strike for another 48 hours.  With taxi’s not in operation the public transportation system was much heavier than usual so it made it tough for us to get around. We had scheduled a tour guide for 5 hours (to get the most education as we could out of the short time we were there) to show us the main sites. He called us the night before and sadly informed us that he would need to cancel because he drives a taxi and if he was caught with us he would most likely get in a lot of trouble. We ended up finding our own way to the Acropolis by foot but unfortunately missed some of the other sites we had planned on seeing as well as the education we were hoping to experience.  The taxi’s are just one area of this very huge problem.  One of the primary protest areas was right by our hotel, we did see protest activity but what we saw was all non-violent and groups carrying signs .  The government is not just targeting the taxi sector but is focusing on reforming 135 professions to help reduce their huge debt.

Parthenon - a temple on the Athenian Acropolis dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena

The unfortunate thing is this recent taxi strike effects everyone even an establishment like Hotel Afrodite.  Because the taxi’s established a blockade on the port and the airport, tourists are having a hard time getting to their hotels.  So if a tourist had a 5 night stay but now they need to reduce or cancel, this greatly effects an already struggling economic sector not to mention all the critical ancillary costs to bars, restaurants on the beaches, grocery stores, snorkeling, wind surfing, etc. that all get effected.  When you are in this scenario it’s hard to see that you are hurting yourself but you believe you have no other choice. Unfortunately the result is things continue to get worse.  Even the ecosystem is effected, for example, with the lack of tourist to these hotels and restaurants the fishermen sell less so they need to cut fuel costs and do what ever they need to to fish as close as they can to shore (by trawling and disturbing the ecosystem) in what ever way they can so they can feed their families.  These are basic consequences but powerful ones. Now throw Italy, France, Germany, the financial markets, the banks, what effects this may have on the Middle East situation, etc. When you really sit back and try to list the ripple effects this has within our world it can be taunting.  I am anxious to see how things play out in Thursdays summit meeting.

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2011 in Greece

 

ATV’s in Paros

Author: Keegan

So hello again it’s a me a Mario, just kidding its me Keegan and today we tried to go to a yoga studio thingy. We walked for a while and kind of got lost. So we all yelled at each other saying “we were suppose to go that way” or “WE ARE NOT LOST” (Dad yelled that, sorry Dad for putting that in).  So we finally found it and it was really small and we didn’t see anyone so we went back to the beach to make a plan. When we got there (it took a while after we got lost) we said well let’s go see if we can go on a snorkeling tour but they said it was too windy.  We couldn’t do it today but they said we could do it Sunday so we made reservations.  Then we went back to the beach and said, “lets just have another beach day” (such hard decisions) and we decided that Kendal and I were going to stay at the beach while the parents went to get all the toys, snorkel and sun-tan lotion (we were already wearing our swim suits).   I went in the ocean while Kendal did whatever a Kendal does. About 30 minutes later only Dad comes back jogging and says, “we got the ATVs for today not tomorrow” (we were suppose to get them on Friday).  So (YIPPEE!!) we got the ATVs and we got gas for them both because one was really low.  We cruised around the island and we made a stop to change our high-speed ferry reservation out of the island to Monday because we were actually staying till Monday not Sunday.  While we were there, in a town called Parikia, we had lunch.  After lunch we rode for about 1 hour until we saw a cute town and tried to find a pool.  We finally found a pool/bar/hotel that was a resort, it was empty, no one in the pool and no one in the hotel lobby but it was open…. Strange, so we asked if we could use their pool.  We were hot from driving around the island.  It’s cool because you can drive the ATVs on the regular roads on the island.  The hotel people were nice and said we could use the pool so my mom and dad got ice-cappuccino’s and Kendal and I got water and we went swimming for about an hour with no charge whatsoever (except the drinks)!!!  After that we went back on the ATVs and cruised around the island some more, then we saw another cute village and we went down there. As we walked on the rocks we saw a couple different type of fish. Soon after that we got back on the ATVs and went back to Aliki to our hotel where we had a quick snack and then went to sleep…ZZZZ…zzzzz…ZZZZZ…zzzzz…

Yes, the story continues, we had the ATVs for 24 hours so early the next morning we started up the ATVs and went to a little island off of Paros called Antiparos.  It was a great morning, we had to take a ferry over so we drove the ATVs right onto the ferry and took a 7-minute ride.  Breakfast was delicious.  My parents let Kendal and I drive the ATVs for a little bit. It was a RUSH!! You could feel the power in your grip it was like you could do anything you wanted to do!  I wish we could have had them the whole week!

Kendal downloaded the Harry Potter Book 7 Part 1 of 2 movie so we could refresh our memories before we see the new one. After her download, which took about 3 hours (during which we all just chilled out), we went down to the beach for a late dinner.  Wow! What a long, fun two days!

THE END

Beautiful Church in the Village of Aliki

We couldn't find mules but these bad boys suited us fine

Our awesome break from the ATV's in our private resort

On the ferry headed to Antiparos

I was ready to ride at all times!

Panagia Ekatontapiliani - also known as the Church of 100 Doors is in Parikia and dates back to 326AD (from my dad)

Oh how I Iove the feel of the open road!

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2011 in Greece

 

Paros, Greece

Author: Kendal

I have been dying to go to Greece. Ever since I first saw The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Mamma Mia I have been longing to see it. I have sung the songs to Mamma Mia at least 400 times. We went to our “little island” (a phrase said in Mamma Mia) on a high-speed ferry; it took 3½ hours. We were able to get a glimpse of the other islands and what we should expect on our ride out to our destination: the island of Paros. The ferry ride went very quickly, it was incredible to be on the sea blue water with a clear blue sky.  The day just kept getting better and better.  Paros seems not that busy which I like and seems to consist of mainly Greeks! A person holding a sign up with our hotel name, Hotel Afrodite, picked us up at the port. His name is Arsenis and he is super nice and he drove us to our hotel. We were then taken to heaven, he took us in our hotel and I fell madly in love with it! It consisted of everything I had wanted from Greece.

We started our first full day in Greece by eating in our amazingly awesome Hotel Afrodite! The breakfast was delightful. It has a really nice staff, and the place is beautiful, it’s like it was cut out of a movie and plopped down right by the beach. It has a little garden in the back where you can buy a drink and relax while reading or playing cards with the family. It’s about a 3-minute walk from the front steps to the beach, about 1 block. After breakfast we went and changed into our swimsuits and headed out for a walk. We walked along the beach and past the shops. Then Dad and I went and climbed out on these huge rocks into the sea. The wind was blowing like crazy and almost pushed us over a couple of times (almost). We walked to another beach and found many different sea urchins within the rocks; we also went in the water a little. After that we walked to the grocery store and bought a couple of things we were in need of.  Later we walked back to the hotel, where Mom and I went on the Internet and the boys played cards in the garden out back. When we were done with that, we got ready for dinner. We headed toward the beach and ate at the cutest restaurant right on the water, the water is crystal clear and you can see the sea urchins from our table. It was about 8pm; it seems everyone eats later here. We had fresh calamari, some grilled feta and bread (very tasty), fresh caught Sea Bream fish (with some yummy sauce), and then some watermelon for dessert. Afterwards we walked back to the greekest hotel for a good night’s rest. Welcome to Greece!  We love it here!!

I love our room - when we walked in there was candy on the bed, drinks for me and Keegan and Mom and Dad got a bottle of wine, all gifts from the Hotel.

That's me standing in front of Hotel Afrodite.

Aliki Beach in Paros, Greece

Aliki Beach - that's Keegan and me swimming.

We got to watch the US Women's Soccer Team beat France in a restaurant on the beach before dinner one night.

Fresh calamari, yummy!

Sea Bream - very tasty!

It was a great night!

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2011 in Greece

 

Venezia, Italia

Author: Amy and Steve

We took a train from Salzburg, Austria to Venezia (Venice), Italy to catch a flight to Greece.  The train ride was quite an adventure.  We ended up spending most of our time in the dining car.  We weren’t able to figure out how to reserve seats online so we didn’t – big mistake.  (We are however finding good family train deals and that it’s much less expensive to buy our tickets in Europe than doing the whole Euro-Pass deal like we thought of doing back in the US). The train was overloaded with people.  Sooooo our savings on reserved seats was spent on a delicious – very slowly eaten meal in the dining car.  We eventually were able to move to a “Harry Potter” cabin with 6 seats and a door.  We knew where to get off because it specifically stated it on the ticket and because we only wanted one connection (instead of 3 or 4 like some of the other options) it was a pretty clear ticket. When it was time to get off at our stop — Mestre Venezia, we got the backpacks on (which is work in itself) and headed to the door, as did many other travelers. The train stopped but the doors wouldn’t open – people were somewhat in a panic because eventually the train was going to start heading out at any moment. Well it did head out and no one was able to get off. We weren’t too upset because we knew we could get off for sure at the next stop which was Venice – main. We were just frustrated from a long days travel and were thinking – what the heck?! Our waitress walked by while we were waiting for our next stop and we asked her why the doors wouldn’t open. She explained that Mestre is simply a stop for train staff and not passengers – so sorry. Huh? But check out our tickets….oh well.  We were able to catch a different train quickly backtracking to the stop we needed.

Our flight to Greece was scheduled for a couple days later so even though we never planned on visiting Venezia, we were there already so we ended up taking a full day in on the Island.

About 5 years ago we went to Rome and down the Amalfi coast with the kids on an awesome land tour (where we were taken care of from the time we woke up till the time we went to bed) and we fell in love with Italy; the food, smells, views, wine, etc., what’s not to love? However, this trip we need to take care of ourselves and it makes for a different type of travel.  So instead of staying at a fancy hotel like we did on the tour years ago we stayed in a “modest” hotel in Venezia Mestre which is not on the island but much less expensive (it had a private bathroom so we can’t complain).  We heard a number of times how Venezia was dirty and expensive.  After our 20-minute bus ride from our hotel we were pleasantly surprised how clean and very “Italy” it was as we remembered back at our trip some years ago.  Expense wise let’s just say one coke (no refills) was 5.50 Euro! Sheesh!!!

Venezia is built on a lagoon and encompasses 118 islands, back in 2006 it was ranked 28th of the most visited cities in the world. Its vast amount of art is one of the leading factors of this ranking as well as being known as one of the most romantic cities in the world.

We arrived into the main station at about 11 am (it was a Sunday), it was very calm and stores and restaurants were just beginning to open. After a few hours it got very busy, definitely a tourist haven and coming from a tourist town we understand peak season. Okay so we’ve seen first hand that it is in fact a clean and picturesque destination, now on the expense.  Long story short, it became very clear very fast that this location was too expensive for our tastes. One day was (as beautiful as it is) good enough for us. We love Italy and can’t wait to go back but we agree when we do go back we’ll want to stay in the more rustic, non-tourist location.

A day in Venezia

Venezia, Italia

One of the canals in Venezia

Keegan enjoying the views

The Basilica di San Marcos which has been the city’s cathedral since 1807 is in the background

Keegan - Italian style!!

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2011 in Italy

 

Salzburg, Austria – Fraulein Maria

Author: Amy

While in Austria we stayed in the town of Salzburg.  We decided not to rent a car and knew we probably could venture out to the beautiful ski towns with the bus or train.  While I was researching where to stay there were many options in the ski towns but it seemed that we’d have to rent a car.  I spent many hours deliberating because we love cool summer weather, being from a warm climate, but I didn’t want to be stranded out on some deserted mountain – I just didn’t have input from anyone that had spent time in the summer there.  Our apartment was “fine”.  We were overpromised and under delivered a bit, but such is life.  We were just across the street from the beautiful Mirabell gardens and were lucky to spend a lot of time there – it had a great park for the kids and random school chorus/bands would play each day.  It was fun to see their enthusiasm and talent.  One day we took the “Fraulein Maria, Sound of Music Bike tour”.  We saw all the sights from the movie; the Von Trapp home (two were used for the movie – we saw them both); the famous Gazebo (I am sixteen, going on seventeen  . . .); and the Abby.  Many of the scenes were shot in the Mirabell Park that we were staying near.  It was a fabulous day – a 4-hour bike tour.  It also included most of the sights of Salzburg – Mozart’s home and the Salzburg castle.  Salzburg is set upon the river Salzach, which makes it a very pretty city. Another day we took the local bus out to a ski village called “Jenner” and took a gondola up to the very top (which is in the Berchtesgaden National Park).  The view was breathtaking.  We enjoyed a light lunch and hiked down to the midpoint gondola, a 1.5 hour hike straight downhill.  The path was gravel and you really had to concentrate on not slipping.  Along the path we encountered some gorgeous cows with bells around their necks.  It just seemed so cute and rustic, until I got closer and saw how massive these animals were and my non-animal instinct/fear overtook me.  Good thing Kendal stayed calm.  We enjoyed our time in Salzburg and a week was long enough to see what we wanted to see.

Looks Like a pretzel but it's really a donut

View of the Salzburg Castle

Great bike tour

Is Fräulein Marie home?

Von Trapp home

I am 16 going on 17...

A view from Berchtesgaden National Park

Keegan took this shot and kept saying, "Dad, do not move back"!!

Stop saying, "Mooo" just keep moving!

 

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2011 in Austria