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A Little Piece of Heaven on Earth

Plitvice Lakes provides peace and rest in an amazingly beautiful setting.

A night train from Split to Zagreb provided much needed rest and sleep at this point of the journey. Arriving in Zagreb at 6:30 a.m., we made our way via the tram to the bustling Zagreb bus station. The station has everything you need, a grocery store, chapel, coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and an adult bookstore.

Upon arrival at the station we discovered that a 7:30 bus was available to Plitvice Lakes, instead of the later 8:45 bus we had expected to have to take. Having eaten our usual breakfast of fruit and a pastry on the train, we got a quick coffee from the smokey coffee shop and eventually proceeded to our platform.

The bus route takes you through the capital city of Croatia and on out to the countryside. As you travel through some of the small towns, the bullet holes remain in the concrete buildings from the war a decade or two ago. Several of the houses still remain abandoned, signs of the Serbs that had been forced to depart in haste, and still have not returned.

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As you begin to climb in elevation the flat lands and fields are replaced by rolling hills and eventually mountainous terrain. Plitvice Lakes, with two entrances, is a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage site as well. It is also the spot of the first shots fired during the war. We decided to stay at one of the hotels in the park as the closest other guesthouses are 17km from the park, and busses are few and far between.

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As we arrived at 10 a.m, we quickly dropped our backpacks in our room, grabbed some food, and got ready to see this incredible park. As we stepped out, we were greeted with a sight best described as Yosemite and Yellowstone on crack. The view was breathtaking and we both just exclaimed, "Wow!" Plitvice (pronounced (PLEET-veet-seh) is one of Europe's most spectacular wonders. Imagine Niagra Falls diced and sprinkled over a heavily forested Grand Canyon. There is nothing like this lush valley of 16 terraced lakes, laced together by waterfallls and miles of pleasant plank walks. Countless cascades and water that's both strangely clear and full of vibrant collors make Plitvice a misty natural wonderland.

There are signs with several different treks or you can create one of your own. The most popular trek starts from the middle of the two largest lakes and includes a tram, boat ride, and some hiking. The treks they suggest are 2, 3 or a 6 hour trek. The six hour hike appealed to us, however, it skipped the boat ride and not wanting to miss an opportunity to float accross these beautiful lakes, we decided to create a route of our own.

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Starting at the Lower Lake, winding our way down a narrow stair set (some of the steps tiny, with others stuttered like climbing a ladder) and through a cave we found ourselves surrounded by the turquoise water that made up this beautiful area. As we procedded around the Lower Lake counter-clockwise, we encountered waterfall after waterfall, after reaching 100 we lost count, but the number is actually in the 1000's. We hiked up and down special scenic viewpoints placing us at the top of falls, overlooking the tourists down below at the base of these massive echoing giants. As we continued the trek, we walked along the small wooden paths leading you directly over the lakes in some areas, on the dirt paths beside the waters in others, and at times under a refreshing canopy of lush green trees with all varieties of plant and animal life around. The most common land animal seen was the field mouse who was even seen swimming on top of the water at times. In the lakes there were trout beyond numbers, although fishing is strictly prohibited. We continued to traverse the lower area, exausting as many sights as possible until we decided to backtrack to the boat crossing to the Upper Lakes

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Once across we stepped off into a new wonderland of water and mist. As the afternoon trugged on, the sunlight mixed with mist provided a glorious backdrop for photos. Perhaps even more scenic than the Lower Lakes, although the lower has the largest single waterfall, the upper areas provide a quieter more tranquil atmosphere for reflection on the beauty of the surroundings. We continued exploring these lakes and finished with a trek just over 6 miles, but it was nearing 6 p.m., and we were running out of drinking water.

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As we exited the floor of the canyon containing the lakes, we ascended over 583 meters to the top and took a shuttle back to our hotel. That night, I dined on fresh local trout, while Terri sampled the turkey that is served in the Plitvice region.

The next morning we awoke, fueled up with the free breakfast at the hotel, and went to catch a bus back to Zagreb. Luckily we were 40 minutes early to the bus stop as the bus arrived 35 minutes early, scheduled at 10:45, it picked us up at 10:10 and off we went. Leaving all others who were wanting that bus to be stuck waiting until 12:45 for the next bus.

Plitvice was a stop we knew we had to include on our trip, when we left the area, we were glad that we had made time for this gem, hidden in the mountains of Croatia, this is a little piece of heaven right here on earth.

Posted by darrenesl 01:44 Archived in Croatia Tagged lakes croatia plivice Comments (0)

Cleaning Up

A day of rest, relaxation, and politics, followed by music and travel.


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Our day began with a metro ride to the Parlament. The building is huge with every inch full of detail. There are guards at all the entrences. We walked around the entire building before heading to the Shoes on the Danube. After visiting Aushwitz, it gave us a more moving experience seeing the brass shoes ~ Jews were shot along the banks of the Danube and their bodies were pushed into the river with some of the shoes being left behind.

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After getting in our steps, we moved on to the warm mineral baths at Szechenyi. We indulgd in some wonderful soaks in some beautiful spas, pools, and saunas. We began in an outdoor pool with water temp in the high 80s. Just drifting around the pool letting our bodies relax. This was followed by an hour-long couples massage. The hungarians kneaded and beat us like bread dough. Then we moved on to some mineral spas and of course a dip in the ice cold waters to make sure we got the entire experience. This was a much needed day of rest.

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After 5 hours of bathing, we headed to see the City Park and Hero's Square. People of all ages playing table tennis,, chess, and numerous other games and sports filled the area. It was a great way to finish the evening. We ended our day with dinner on Vaci Utica, a walk around town with plenty of shopping, and then a fish foot massage. We recommend this to everyone. Your feet will be softer than you could ever imagine.

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Waking early on Sunday we were off to the Budapest Opera before heading to the train station for a 15 hour journey to Split, Croatia via Zagreb.

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It should have been a shorter trip, but the train tracks were under repair and we had to be shuttled to a bus for a portion of the journey. What was supposed to be a two hour window became a twenty minute rush to make our next train. We made it and on the first train made friends with several other travellers who were packed in with us. We learned all about Iran and the fellings toward the US and their nuculear capabilities from a kind Iranian who wanted to chat.

Finally we were on our night train and tucked in bed late Sunday night and headed to Split.

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Posted by darrenesl 12:32 Archived in Hungary Tagged trains budapest danube travel hungary croatia travels Comments (0)

3 Days and Counting

Time is near, how's that packing list coming?

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Suddenly we look up and the calendar says its the middle of June. Oh my, where has time gone? As we finish the preparations for our European journey, it is time to make the final reservations on airbnb, check all of our needs, and start pulling the traveling pack together.

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Yes, we have the hybrid Caribee Skymaster 70. The exact pack, filled with 30+ lbs., that we have been walking about two miles a day with to prepare for the upcoming adventure. As we talked about before, the pack offers the best of both worlds with a combination backpack and rolling bag. Sure, we most likely will not be having to carry it on our back for 2 miles, but taking a line from the Boy Scouts, we are going to "be prepared."

Along with the whole travel planning that has been going on since last year, plans for some special happenings on this trip have been in the works as well. Celebrating ten years of marriage, Terri and I have a couples massage booked in the Hungarian baths, a dinner on-top of the tower in Vienna, and a night on a private boat in Croatia. Part of the fun of this adventure has been finding some things to do that would not be on our regular list of activities here at home.

We also have several cathedrals on the list. For anyone going to Europe and wanting to let the imagination soar ahead of time, I highly recommend reading Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett.
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The book shares some of the design elements used to build these magnificent structures, with a thrilling storyline that will capture the mind of the reader.
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Many more thrilling items fill our agenda, as well as plenty of time to explore areas and get to know the locals as well. How's that packing coming you ask? Well the bags are full and we are under our 44lbs. limit. Have we forgot anything, hopefully not, thanks to the travellerspoint.com packing list. Yes, it is extensive, but it is good.

We have been months in the planning stages and now the trip is upon us, we look forward to sharing our journey with you over the next couple of weeks. Keep watching here for our story and pictures and we will try to update it regularly. Please leave us your feedback and comments, we want to hear from you!

Signing off until we hop on board that plane,

~Terri and Darren

Posted by darrenesl 18:47 Archived in USA Tagged boats budapest prague vienna eastern austria warsaw poland fun air hungary croatia europe czech travels split republic krakow airlines darrenesl Comments (0)

Taking the Plunge

There comes a time when it gets real, that time has now arrived.


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There is a knot in the stomach, palms are sweaty, it is hard to concentrate and wonderment surrounds. That is the experience that surrounds the moment of no return, that moment when dreams become reality, when there can be no turning back. That is the moment when you actually purchase your airline tickets for the journey.

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Deciding to fly into Warsaw, Poland may have been the easiest part of the decision. What proved to be much more difficult was determining when and where to buy the tickets for our trip. You may wonder why Poland was an easy decision? When we first started discussing a trip to Eastern Europe (Yes, I know it is actually Central Europe, but as an 80's youth, when communism and the cold-war still existed, it was Eastern Europe to millions of Americans, myself included), we looked at tickets to Hungry, Croatia, Czech Republic, and some of the larger Western European countries. The average RT flight from Los Angeles (LAX), California, to the destination cities that I looked at were $1,500USD for airfare in June 2014. However, as we continued looking at the map we decided to check Poland for flights, sure enough $987USD.

Once we discovered the difference in prices, the decision was made. We will fly into Poland and travel via train from there. The whole process seems easy enough, where does the previously mentioned angst come from you ask? Let me tell you, curses on that little "roaming gnome," I mean really does anybody know what he does for Travelocity? Or Hotwire, Kayak, WebJet, Orbitz, Expedia, Priceline, these companies quickly became a thorn in my side.

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All of the companies have handy fare alerts that will tell you when the prices are going up or down, and it is as bad as watching the stock market rise and fall hourly. Really, how often can the airfare rise and fall during a single day? And Orbitz, well, they have all these great fares, but a "this fare is no longer available comes up on all of their lowest flights," what's that all about?

Information abounds about where to get you tickets and when to buy them. We researched and continued to watch the numbers rise, rise some more, and fall a bit. Again, they fluctuate, day-in and day-out. Eventually, you have to take that step and we did. Finding a $1000USD fare among the prices of several others that had now risen to $1100+, it was time to jump.

Yes, I hit that purchase now button and won't be looking back. We will be traveling on Lufthansa from LAX to WAW. That's right it is now official Eastern Europe 2014 is no longer a dream but a reality for Terri and I!

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The stress of choosing a flight is gone, now it is time to plan some activities!

Posted by darrenesl 14:03 Archived in USA Tagged travel vacation eastern austria poland holiday air hungary croatia europe czech republic planning airlines fare Comments (1)

The Planning Stages

Research, Research, Research -- What is important to you?

The research for our trip has begun, as well as the first reservations on where to stay and how we are going to travel. We always begin with a bang and try to have our trips paid off before we go with only the daily activities needing to be paid for upon arrival. The internet has become a travelers best friend and I love the hours of research that become part of my travels.

Living in San Diego, we have decided to fly Los Angeles to Warsaw, Poland as the air travel will be under $1000USD per person as opposed to $1200-1400USD flying into Hungary or Croatia. As a result of the addition of Poland to our trip, we have decided on 21days for this excursion. Look to our last post to see more and also below.

1. Warsaw - 2 days
2. Krakow - 3 - days
3. Budapest - 2- days
4. Zagreb - 2 days
5. Split/Dubrovnik - 4 days
6. Vienna - 3 days
7. Prague - 3 days
8. Warsaw - 2 days

You can follow along with the planning and trip, and many holidays leading up to this event on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/MrDarrenesl/ where I will post videos of what is going on and the thought process leading up to the trip. For now, as always, we look forward to your thoughts and ideas on how to make this trip a success!

Posted by darrenesl 15:36 Archived in USA Tagged travel vacation eastern austria poland holiday hungary croatia europe czech republic planning Comments (0)

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