Wind and Whim’s Monthly Update: August 2023

Hi there! Can you believe it’s September already? The summer has been flying by for us, but we’re having fun. I hope you are, too.

Steve and I started August with two nights in Brasov, Romania, and spent the remainder in Skopje, North Macedonia.

Check out this monthly update to see our August highlights and low points, what we did, and where we are going. 

All money is in U.S. dollars.


Staying at Hotel Belvedere, Brasov

We made a short trip to Brasov to revisit Bran Castle (aka Dracula’s Castle) before leaving Romania. That part of the trip didn’t go as planned, as you’ll read below. However, our hotel in Brasov turned out to be a real gem.

We had a large, comfortable room, but the restaurant was the best part. We arrived at the hotel mid-afternoon and went looking for a late lunch. We were told there wasn’t any food service until 4:00 p.m., and there weren’t any stores or other restaurants nearby. I made do with a granola bar, and Steve sacrificed our last Milka chocolate bar. 

You better believe we were at the restaurant at 4:00. Once we opened the menu, we were hooked. Every option looked so good we could have spent two weeks there and never ordered the same thing twice. 

The food was so delicious and beautifully presented that we ate there on our second night, too. 

Filet mignon with vegetables
Delicious and picture-perfect food at the Hotel Belvedere

Discovering How Much We Like Skopje

Because we knew little about Skopje or the country of North Macedonia, we weren’t sure what to expect. The city is getting on travelers’ radar but still has a way to go before it is well known.

We were blown away. We had a modern, spacious apartment near the city center. It was just a 20-minute walk to the main square. If we walked in the other direction for 20 minutes, there was a large mall with a huge grocery store. There were frequent buses along this street. There was also a small market just a few minutes away.

View of Skopje buildings and mountains
Our morning view

Two things about the city surprised us. The first was the prevalence of English. Almost everyone speaks English. And they speak it well. Signs often have Macedonian, Albanian, and English on them. Information in museums and menus also include English.

The second thing was the lack of crowds. Our apartment overlooked an intersection of two main streets, but there was less traffic and, therefore, less noise than in other cities. It was great to walk on uncrowded sidewalks.

We liked many things about Skopje, but that’s for another post.

Seeing Some Great Museums

We visited several museums and were impressed with their quality, especially the Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia and the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle for Independence. You can read more about these museums and other places we visited here.

For a comprehensive list of things to do in and near Skopje, see “21 Things to Do in Skopje, North Macedonia” by Wander-Lush.

The Macedonian Memorial for Holocaust Victims
A memorial statue outside of the Holocaust Museum

The Holocaust Museum was the best museum we visited in Skopje. There was so much information that even after two hours, we hadn’t seen it all.

A video about Hitler’s rise to power gave me chills, as I can see how easily a society can head down the road to the unimaginable. Yes, I’m talking to you, U.S.A. 

Even though I’ve been to many holocaust museums, I still learned new things. The video showed bonfires where tens of thousands of books written by Jews were burned. It is alarmingly similar to the banning that is going on in parts of the U.S. where books by Black and LGBTQ authors or about Black and LGBTQ issues have been banned.

The other thing I learned was after the liberation of the concentration camps, General Eisenhower invited members of Congress and the press to tour the liberated camps. He did this because he knew words could never express the horrors found there, and so there would be proof, as he feared there would be deniers.

Making a Kitty Friend

There was a pet store on the ground floor of our building, and they had the most adorable kittens. One was orange, and two were grey. After a few days, the grey ones were adopted, but the orange one remained. 

We liked this gentle, affectionate cat so much that we visited him every day. He was still at the pet store when we left Skopje. We hope he gets a loving home soon. 

Two photos of an orange kitten
Our little buddy

Getting Our Second Housesitting Gig

This past spring, we joined Trusted Housesitters, hoping to get some house sits in places that are expensive to visit, like the United Kingdom, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. The idea is that you stay in someone’s home for free while they are away. The offerings almost always involve watching pets. 

Not long after we joined, we got our first gig! We weren’t looking for sits in the U.S., but we came across one in the Town of Tonawanda, New York, where I grew up. Steve grew up in the adjacent village of Kenmore. We will be watching one cat named Niki for 17 nights in February and will be able to visit family in the Western New York Area.

Recently, we arranged a second sit. We will spend 16 nights in Bury St. Edmunds, England, in March while caring for and no doubt falling in love with two dogs, Mollie and Angus. We plan to be low-key during this stay but take advantage of being in England to spend time in Cambridge and London before and after the housesit.

Learning to Ask Airbnb Hosts for What We Want

We are happiest when we have a kitchen with what we call the kitchen trifecta: an oven, a microwave, and a dishwasher. You’d be surprised how many Airbnb listings only have two of these three items.

When we were looking for apartments in Albania and Montenegro, dishwashers were prevalent, but microwaves were virtually non-existent. In two that we booked, we asked the hosts before booking if they would be willing to add a microwave, and both said yes. Because we asked, we even got a good discount on our Jacksonville Airbnb.

When you are staying somewhere for four weeks, the hosts are pretty agreeable to any reasonable request.

Low Points

Getting Rained Out in Bran

The whole point of going to Brasov was to take a day trip to the nearby town of Bran to visit Bran Castle. We had been there on a tour in 2018 but hoped to see more of the castle and the town. 

Bran Castle courtyard
The courtyard in Bran Castle

A receptionist at our hotel said we could get a bus to Bran near the train station, but when we got there, several people told us we had to go to bus station #2. But no one could tell us how to get there. 

I saw people lining up to get on a bus, and I asked if they were going to Bran. The driver said no, but he could take us to the other bus station, and he did so without charging us.

After waiting 50 minutes for our bus and an hour-long drive, we finally got to Bran.

Once at the castle, we wound through it along with what seemed like every other tourist in Romania. Once we were through with the inside, we headed out to explore the grounds and the town, only to be met with a downpour even though no rain was predicted. We waited it out at a café, where I had the least delicious cake I’ve ever eaten.

Our first visit, in 2018, wasn’t the best either. The castle part was alright, but the bus trip from Bucharest and back was longer than expected because of heavy traffic. When we arrived back in Bucharest, it was after 11:00 p.m., and the metro wasn’t running. I remember frantically trying to find a taxi at an intersection of three roads. It took a while, but we finally got one.

If we ever decide to revisit Bran Castle, which seems cursed for us, we will stay in the town of Bran, which, from what little we’ve seen, looks quite charming.

Dealing With SIM Card Issues

On our first day in Skopje, we headed to Telekom (T-Mobile) to get local SIM cards. Even though T-Mobile doesn’t have the best reputation in the U.S., it usually works well overseas. 

We got our SIM cards installed but were unable to log into the app to purchase the package we wanted. It took four days and several phone calls before the company could make that happen. Then, we discovered that the package worked in other Balkan countries but not in North Macedonia.

We switched to Lycamobile and paid a lot less for hassle-free SIM cards.

Dealing With the Heat

The temperature was in the mid-90s almost every day, and the sun was intense. We tried to do outdoor things early in the day or the evening, but because of the heat, there were a few things we didn’t do. One was hiking up Mt. Vodno, and the other was a day trip to Matka Canyon. Perhaps we will do these on a future trip to North Macedonia.

We had spent July in Bucharest, and it was hot there too. Note to self: Next summer, go someplace cool or on the water.

Other Things We Did

Wandered Skopje’s City Center

Steve and I spent many hours taking in the beauty of the city center. Its highlight is the 92-foot or 28-meter tall statue, Warrior on a Horse. It is in Macedonia Square and depicts Alexander the Great on his favorite horse.

Warrior on a Horse statue in Skopje
The Warrior on a Horse statue dominates Macedonia Square

This is only one of the many monuments and statues the city erected as part of its Skopje 2014 project. The project also included constructing many buildings and replacing the facades of others to make the city more attractive to tourists and foster national pride.

Four statues in Skopje
Four statues in Skopje


Neither Steve nor I are gamblers. We like to see something for our money. The last time we went to a casino was in 2018 in Bulgaria. We played slots there and had what they termed a “massive win.” It was all of $18.

There are a lot of casinos and slot halls in Skopje, so I figured, “When in Rome.” We spent a few hours at the Flamingo Casino playing the slots. We didn’t win anything, but it only cost us $25, so it was a good way to spend some time when it was too hot to be outside.

Planned a Lot

It’s no secret that travel planning is time-consuming and not much fun, but we bit the bullet and made some serious headway on our plans for the next six months (as you can read about below).

On the Website

After two months of working on a new website design, I decided to put it on hold, get a few posts written, and then try designing a new website using a different theme (the basis of a website).

Instead of considering it a failure, I see it as being several steps closer to creating our new site, since much of what I designed can be used with another theme.

Besides the July 2023 update, I published two new posts, “The Truth About Staying in Airbnbs” and “79 Things to Know When Visiting Skopje, North Macedonia.”

Where to next? 

We have our travels pretty much planned through mid-March. This is such a change from how we usually travel, which is to plan one or two months ahead. This time, since we booked a Transatlantic cruise leaving Rome on December 4th, we thought it prudent to plan our stays up to and after the cruise.

Our ship is scheduled to dock in New York City on December 19th, so of course, we had to take advantage of that and spend a few days in the city. Then, we will head to Jacksonville, Florida, to spend Christmas with our daughters and stay for most of January to visit family and friends, see doctors, and stock up on supplies.

Here’s our itinerary so far:

Tirana, AlbaniaAug. 31 – Sept. 28
Podgorica, MontenegroSept. 28 – Oct. 26
Kotor, MontenegroOct. 26 – Nov. 24
Rome, ItalyNov. 24- Dec. 4
CruiseDec. 4 – Dec. 19
New York CityDec. 19 – Dec. 23
Jacksonville, FloridaDec. 23 – Jan. 20
OPENJan. 20 – Feb. 9
Tonawanda, New YorkFeb. 9 – Feb. 27
OPENFeb. 27 – Mar. 5
Bury St. Edmunds, EnglandMar. 5 – Mar. 21

Until Next Time

That’s it for our monthly update for August. As always, Steve and I would love to hear about your travels and thoughts about this post.

Happy traveling,

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Wind and Whim’s Monthly Update: July 2023

Hi there! It’s time for another monthly update. I hope you are surviving the summer heat. Steve and I spent most of July in Bucharest, Romania, where it was hot but, thankfully, not too humid. Even so, we didn’t do as much as planned since we were lazy about getting out before the days got too hot.

We enjoyed four visits to Therme Bucuresti, though. It was a great way to cool off and get some pampering. More on that below.

During the last five days of the month, we were in Sinaia, Romania, a two-hour train ride north of Bucharest. Here are the highlights and low points of the month.


Therme Bucuresti

This was our second visit to Bucharest. The first was in 2018. That is when we discovered Therme Bucuresti. This wellness center gorgeously combines thermal and mineral pools, saunas, waterslides, and a botanical garden. Check out our post about this must-visit place.

A large indoor swimming pool
Therme was just as stunning and hedonistic as we remembered

Each visit was over four hours long. Steve spent his time relaxing and dozing in the outdoor pool and the mineral pools, or the chemical baths, as he calls them. I spent my time whizzing down the waterslides, stretching in the water exercise classes, enjoying a heavenly massage, and of course, relaxing in the thermal water.

Don’t miss Therme when visiting Romania, and if you find yourself near Munich, check out Therme Erding.

The lucky folks in Manchester, England, will get to experience Therme close to home in 2025. Judging by the website, it promises to be as good, if not better, than Therme Bucuresti.

The Tiriac Collection

Four photos of expensive cars
Look at these beauties

Steve and I love discovering hidden gems. This usually occurs by chance, and finding the Tiriac Collection was no exception. We were on our way home from Therme when Steve spotted it. After a quick check on Google, we knew we had to visit. I am surprised that this isn’t on more peoples’ radar. I’ve never seen it on a “things to do in Bucharest” list, although it isn’t actually in Bucharest, it is in the adjacent town of Otopeni. It is an eight-minute drive from Therme.

The Tiriac Collection showcases over 200 cars owned by Romanian businessman Ion Tiriac. He is a former professional tennis and hockey player. The collection has vehicles from 1899 to the present. It spans manufacturers and includes a few motorcycles.

Dinner with New Friends

One Sunday, Steve took an Uber to a flea market and struck up a conversation with Felix, the driver. We then had a lovely dinner with Felix and his partner, Ionela. Both work in real estate and are warm and fun-loving. We ate at Hanu’ lui Manuc, a traditional Romanian restaurant in the oldest operating hotel in the city. We had some tasty food and good company and enjoyed traditional music and dancing.

Seeing the Sights

Palace of Parliament

Budapest’s Palace of Parliament
The massive and stately Palace of Parliament

At 9 billion pounds or 4.1 billion kilograms, the white marble Palace of Parliament is the heaviest building in the world. It was started under the direction of the communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who was inspired by a visit to North Korea in 1971. Construction began in 1984 and finished in 1997.

Because of its weight, the building sinks 6 mm or ¼ inch each year.

The chief architect was a woman named Anca Petrescu, who was only 29 years old at the start of the project.

Ceausescu never saw the finished building as he and his wife Elena were executed on Christmas Day 1989. You can learn more about the rise and fall of Ceausescu here.

Cotroceni National Museum

This museum is part of the Cotroceni Palace, home to the Romanian President. The palace was built in the 1890s and was occupied by the royal family. After WWII, it was renamed Pioneer Palace and was the home of the Pioneers organization, which indoctrinated children into the communist ideology.

A 1977 earthquake severely damaged the palace. It has been rebuilt, staying true to the original style. Each room we saw was unique, and all were exquisite.

Entrance hall in the Cotroceni Palace
The entrance hall in the palace

In 1978, Ceausescu visited Queen Elizabeth in London. This was the first time a communist head of state had visited the U.K. When he returned to Bucharest, he had two rooms refurbished in an elegant French style with the hopes that Queen Elizabeth would visit Bucharest. She didn’t.

Here is a fun article from The Independent about how Queen Elizabeth hid in some bushes to avoid speaking with Ceausescu and his wife.

The National Museum of Art of Romania

This art museum is in a former royal palace and displays Romanian and European art in two large halls. Frankly, the artwork was the least impressive we have seen in museums of this size.

There is also a section of the museum called the historic spaces. We were expecting artifacts in glass cases and were tempted to skip it. We are glad we didn’t. This area is part of the former palace with several majestic rooms and a spectacular staircase. I particularly loved the yellow marble used in the entrance hall and upper hall.

Two photos from inside the National Museum of Art of Romania
A staircase in the former royal palace and an exhibit of 16th-century icons

Two Beautiful Bookstores

Bucharest is the home of Carturesti Carusel, which is often found on lists of the most beautiful bookstores in the world.

Carturesti is a Romanian bookstore chain. While the Carusel store is their most elegant and popular, we stumbled across another impressive store, Carturesti Verona. As we were walking one evening, we noticed a run-down-looking, squatty building that we thought might be a library or a bookstore. We were entranced once we entered. Despite the small façade, the store is huge.

Carturesti Carusel and Carturesti Verona
Carturesti Carusel and Carturesti Verona

This former home was built in the mid-19th century. Each room has something to delight you, from the architecture to the furnishings to the products. In addition to tons of books, many in English, you can find music, art and travel supplies, games, wine, clothes, and household products. As Steve observed, you could do all your Christmas shopping in this store.

A Short Stop in Sinaia

Way back in 2018, Steve and I took a tour from Bucharest to the town of Bran, where Bran Castle (aka Dracula’s Castle) is located. Along the way, we drove through a town called Sinaia. It was so charming that I never forgot it. When we found ourselves back in Romania, visiting Sinaia was a must.

The main draw in Sinaia is Peles Castle. This mind-blowing beauty was built by Romania’s first king, King Carol I. It was completed in 1883, and its amenities were state of the art. It even had an electric retracting skylight.

The castle has so much detail it’s hard to know where to look first. You can take a guided tour, but we explored on our own. Peles Castle is a big draw in Romania, so it is always crowded.

The Great Hall in Peles Castle
The Great Hall in Peles Castle

Peles Castle isn’t the only cool place to explore in Sinaia. There is the smaller Pelisor Castle, built by King Ferdinand I, the nephew and heir of King Carol I (the king and his wife only had one child, a daughter who died when she was four). Pelisor Castle isn’t as impressive as Peles Castle, but it is only a three-minute walk between the two, so it’s worth a stop if you have the time.

Stirby Castle is a small building near the center of town. It was build in the mid-1800s as a summer home for the Romanian aristocracy and is now a museum and hotel. At first, it didn’t seem like there was much to see, but once we entered the lower level, there was an eclectic collection of Romanian history we found interesting.

Sinaia Monastery, which is over 300 years old and is still home to a few monks, and Dimitrie Ghica Park in the town center were also great places to explore.

For a change of pace, we took the Sinaia Gondola 6,700 feet or 2,000 meters up the Bucegi Mountains. The views were some of the best we’ve seen on gondola rides, and the cooler air, at 18°C or 59°F, was a nice change.

Toy hedgehog on a fencepost in the mountains
Hedgemeister enjoying the mountain views

Low Points

The Propped-Up Table

Airbnb allows us to travel comfortably and economically. We spend hours combing over the listings for our long-term stays, but no matter how careful we are, there is often some minor problem with our choice.

This time it was the kitchen table. Our apartment was large, but the kitchen was small. From the photos, we could see that there wasn’t much counter space, but there was a four-person glass-topped table in the kitchen that could be used for additional work space.

When Steve moved one of the chairs, the table started to fall because one of the legs was loose. Fortunately, it didn’t fall far, but we were afraid to use it. The owner replaced it, but it is maddening that it wasn’t replaced before we got to Bucharest. It’s possible he didn’t know about the broken leg, but we see this type of oversight too often.

The Heat

You would think living in Florida for 30 years would have acclimated us to the heat. That doesn’t appear to be the case. Like many places, Bucharest experienced above-normal temperatures in July. Many days the highs were above 32°C or 90°F, and on a few days it hit 38°C or 100°F. We had the best intentions to get out early, but many days we decided to stay in. Since we spent a month in Bucharest in 2018, we had already seen many of the highlights.

I told Steve I felt guilty about not doing more this time. He reminded me that we chose this location as part of our 90 days outside the Schengen Area (no offense to this fine city). We have stayed busy: Steve with his new interest, genealogy, and me with the website redesign.

Because it is in the mountains, the temperature in Sinaia was much lower than in Bucharest. Perhaps we should have spent more time there.

On the Website

Work on the new Wind and Whim website has kept me busy, so I only had one new post in July. It is a love letter to the small town of Opatija, Croatia.

Where to Next?

We will spend the first few days of August in Brasov, Romania. The main reason for this stop is to revisit Bran Castle, aka Dracula’s Castle. We visited it on a tour in 2018, but this time we will be on our own so we can explore more of the area.

For the rest of August, we will be in Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia. North Macedonia was part of Yugoslavia and gained independence in 1991.

The main attraction in Skopje is its statues. In 2010, the government started an initiative to make the city more attractive to tourists and boost the national identity. The project was named Skopje 2014. It included the construction or remodeling of dozens of buildings and the installation of over 100 statues.

The results have not been embraced by all. The city has been compared to Las Vegas, referred to as the capital of kitsch, and nicknamed Disneyland Balkans by Ashley on Global Dreaming. I look forward to seeing the buildings and finding as many statues as possible.

But Skopje has more to offer. There is the Old Bazaar, dating back to the 12th century, hiking on Mt. Vodno and the Matka Canyon, and side trips to Kosovo. Skopje is also the birthplace of Mother Teresa.

You may wonder what led us to choose North Macedonia and Albania. The answer is simple: the Schengen Area rules. As I’ve discussed in several other posts, the Schengen Area, which consists of 27 European countries, allows unrestricted movement between the member countries. Sounds great, right?

It’s not so great for long-term travelers and digital nomads, though. As U.S. citizens, we can only spend 90 out of every 180 days in the Schengen Area. This restriction has led us to visit places we may not have otherwise chosen, like Morocco, Bulgaria, and Romania. It even led us to Croatia, a country we adore, in 2018. As of 2023, Croatia is in the Schengen Area, and Romania and Bulgaria will become part of it in 2024.

Until Next Time

Steve and I hope you enjoyed catching up with our travels. Please use the comment section below to tell us about your summer adventures.

Happy traveling,

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Wind & Whim’s Monthly Update: June 2023

Hi there. I hope your summer is off to a great start. Ours sure is.

After laying low in May, we had a busy June. We spent most of it based in Pula, Croatia. While there, we took a six-night side trip to three other Croatian locations. After Pula, we spent a few days in Venice, then headed off the Bucharest for five weeks.

June was full of captivating sights and a few minor mistakes. Read this monthly update to learn about our adventures in Croatia and Venice and why Linda needs a refresher course in reading.

The Pula Amphitheater
The Pula Amphitheater


Four Weeks in Pula, Croatia

This city was our fourth and last one on our way up Croatia’s Adriatic Coast. Its most famous sight is its Roman amphitheater. It is over 2,000 years old and reminiscent of the Colosseum in Rome, although the Pula Amphitheater (also called the Pula Arena) is considerably smaller. Today the amphitheater is used for concerts and film festivals.

We enjoyed exploring Pula, including:

Visiting the Pula Aquarium – the aquarium is in a 130-year-old fortress and has over 200 species of sea life. But perhaps most interesting is that the hallways are loaded with naval memorabilia. So this is two museums in one.

Interestingly, I couldn’t find anything online about the naval displays. Perhaps they are new or temporary.

Strolling the coastline – the Adriatic Coast of Croatia has incredible scenery. So it was no surprise that our stroll along the coast led from one picture-perfect moment to another.

Delighting at tortoises living at a monastery – we’ve seen a lot of monasteries but decided to give the St. Francis Monastery in Pula a try. I’m glad we did because it was our first time seeing tortoises at a monastery. There were hundreds, and we weren’t the only adults enthralled by them. Seriously, one man was petting a tortoise’s shell.

Hunting for Austro-Hungarian fortresses – there are several long-abandoned fortresses in Pula. These small fortresses formed a ring around the city in the 1800s. Steve and I went looking for two of them. The first was covered in vegetation and couldn’t be entered. But the second one was wide open, and we were able to explore it on our own.

Four photos of Pula, Croatia
Clockwise from top left: A cuttlefish at the aquarium, a beach on the Pula coast, Steve discovering Ft. San Giorgio is open, Headgemeister meeting a tortoise at the monastery

Learning about olive oil at the House of Istria Olive Oil Museum – I know, an olive oil museum wasn’t high on our bucket list either. But we enjoyed learning about the history and manufacture of olive oil. The entrance fee included an olive oil tasting, which was fun, even if I did choke the first time I drank some. Apparently, some people drink a small amount of olive oil daily. Who knew?

Perusing the markets – I am not a fan of markets, but Steve loves them. He visited a few, including a large weekend flea market, where he found two antique psychology books for our daughter Laura’s counseling office.

A Three-Stop Side Trip

In mid-May, Steve and I were in Zadar, Croatia. Since we were only a two-hour bus ride away from Plitvice Lakes National Park, we took a three-night trip there. It was our second visit to the park, the first one being a day tour in 2018. Unfortunately, this time it rained almost the entire time we were there. The heavy rains closed a large part of the park, and we only hiked for two hours.

We love this park so much that we were determined to try again. The only problem was that we were now in Pula, a more than six-hour bus ride away. And the only bus heading to Plitvice Lakes left Pula at the unholy hour of 5:15 a.m. So we decided to break up the trip by making a few stops along the way.

First Stop: Opatija

The first was two nights in Opatija. The town is on the Kvarner Bay, in the northern part of the Adriatic Sea. It was a popular summer resort in the 19th century and is chock full of the lovely Habsburg-era villas of that era.

Two photos of Opatija, Croatia
The Hotel Miramar and a small harbor on Kvarner Bay in Opatija

The best thing to do in Opatija is enjoy the scenery. It is easy to do thanks to the abundance of seaside hotels and the Lungomare. The Lungomare is a 12 km or 7-mile-long seaside promenade along the bay.

Steve and I spent hours walking the Lungomare. We never tired of the beautiful rock formations along the coast, and we have hundreds of photos to prove it. We also relaxed on our hotel room balcony, which overlooked the bay.

Second Stop: Rijeka

The next stop was the city of Rijeka, just a 20-minute drive from Opatija but a world apart. Our primary reason for visiting Rijeka was to view the Habsburg-era buildings. We saw many, and they were architecturally beautiful, but they were all quite dirty.

We walked around, ate a few good meals, and visited Trsat Castle. The best part of the trip was when we stopped for breakfast on our second morning. As we usually do, we had Hedgemeister join us. When our waiter came by, he was delighted to see a hedgehog. He explained that one of the most popular children’s books in Croatia is about a hedgehog who loves his home. It’s called Hedgehog’s Home or Jezeva Kucica in Croatian. Here is a cute video of the story.

Third Stop: Plitvice Lakes National Park

They say the third time is a charm, and it was. This time we kept an eye on the weather before we headed there, and it was much better than on our last visit, although we did have one downpour.

The park includes sixteen terraced lakes that create over ninety waterfalls. It is laid out well, and the trails are well-marked and well-tended. This time we got to see almost all of it.

Four photos of Plitvice Lakes National Park
Four scenes from Plitvice Lakes National Park

We drove from Rijeka to Plitvice Lakes because the bus trip was too long. This is only the second time we have driven overseas. The drive there was fine, but the drive back was stressful because it was raining the whole time, and a good part of it was spent driving on winding mountain roads through low-hanging clouds.

A Quick Trip to Venice

Venice was hot, crowded, expensive, and wonderful. We had a great tour of the Doge’s Palace, marveled at the beauty of St. Mark’s Basilica, and viewed the city from the top of the basilica’s bell tower.

We also checked out two nearby islands, Murano, known for its top-quality glass, and Burano, known for its brightly painted buildings.

And, of course, we got lost in the maze of streets, a rite of passage when visiting Venice. Google Maps did not work well on the city’s narrow streets.

Three photos of Venice
Scenes from Venice: a cat marionette, a gondola bringing people to a restaurant, a sea creature made of Murano glass

Our Venice trip was short because we were close to the 90-day Schengen Area limit. We had originally planned to spend three nights in Venice but adjusted our plans, as you can read about below.

After our first day, we both felt that this short visit would be enough. But after our second day, we agreed that we would like to spend a week here during a less busy time.

Our Second Time in Bucharest

From Venice, we headed to Bucharest. We were there in the summer of 2018 and liked it. In addition to incredible architecture and history, they have Therme. You can read our take on this amazing wellness spa/water park here.

Low Points

A Rookie Mistake

Midway through the month, we were finalizing our plans for our three-night visit to Venice. We realized that the airport we were flying out of when leaving Venice was an hour and a half away from where we were staying.

Since our flight was at 7:50 a.m., that was bad enough. But the trip would involve walking, taking a ferry, walking again, taking a train, walking yet again, and then riding a bus. All while dragging everything we travel with.

Apparently, when we booked the flight, we were so happy to find a direct one that we failed to check the logistics of getting to the airport. Even after five years of travel, we are still making rookie mistakes.

So instead of spending three nights in Venice, we only spent two. Then we spent the third night in Trieste, so we only had a ten-minute ride to the airport.

Hotel Mozart

In Opatija, we stayed at Hotel Mozart, a charming pink building built in 1894. As pleasant as the hotel was, we quickly encountered a few problems. First, we noticed that there wasn’t a refrigerator in our room, as there was supposed to be. Steve called reception, and we soon had a petite young woman knocking on our door while carrying a small refrigerator.

After shaking our heads that no one had noticed this was missing, we quickly unpacked, turned on the air conditioner to get the room cool for our return, and headed out to explore.

When we returned, the room wasn’t any cooler than when we left. Steve returned to reception only to be told the air conditioner wasn’t working. I was ready to go to another hotel right then, but Steve asked for a discount, and we decided to spend at least the first night.

We had a hot night, and by mid-morning the next day, we still hadn’t heard anything about a discount. I finally went to reception an hour before check out to see what they were willing to offer. I was shocked when the receptionist told me they would give us our second night free.

Those who know me know I love a bargain, so I was willing to put up with another hot night for that sweet deal. We bought an inexpensive fan and lucked out because the second night was cooler than the first, so we slept well. As we were checking out, the air conditioning came back on.

Despite the problems at Hotel Mozart, the staff was superb, the view was great, and the breakfast buffet was delicious. I would consider giving them another try if we visit Opatija again.

You Know What They Say About Assuming

I have a bad habit of not reading things carefully. I did it with train tickets from Paris to London, which cost us US$200 to change the tickets. I also did it at the Sofia, Bulgaria airport, where I led us to the wrong terminal. Since their two terminals aren’t within walking distance from each other, we had to take a taxi to the correct one. And I did this not once, but twice, two years apart!

This time, I failed to read the details about our tour of Doge’s Palace. I assumed we would meet our tour group in front of the palace. When we arrived, I asked a man at the entrance where the tour groups met. He said (in a very unpleasant and unhelpful way) that there weren’t any tours and asked to see our tickets. Before we knew it, he had checked us into the palace and informed us (again in his unpleasant way) that if we left, we would not be allowed back in.

Then I read the instructions, which directed us to the tour operator’s office. We headed there and explained the issue. From their reaction, this wasn’t the first time they had a problem with the palace staff.

Our guide solved the problem by going through a different entrance with a nicer staff member, but the man at the entrance certainly left a negative impression.

Detail from inside the Doge’s Palace
Detail in the Doge’s Palace

One of these days, I will learn to read more carefully.

On the Website This Month

In between our explorations, I’ve been busy updating this website. Soon it will have a more modern look with more functionality. Because this has taken a lot of time, I didn’t have any new posts in June. The last one, from late May, looks at the problems of overtourism and possible solutions

In late June, Time Out Travel published this article about France’s plan to find ways to reduce the number of tourists at its most popular spots.

Where to Next?

Steve and I will spend most of July in Bucharest, then head north a few hours to Sinaia and Brasov. These two Romanian towns are near several castles, including the medieval Bran Castle (also known as Dracula’s Castle) and Cantacuzino Castle (Nevermore Academy in the Wednesday TV series).

Then we will go to Skopje, North Macedonia, for a month, and Tirana, Albania, for another month. After all this, we can reenter the Schengen Area. Perhaps we’ll go back to Italy.

Until Next Time

Do you have any summer travel plans? If so, drop a comment below and tell us about them. Maybe we’ll find ourselves in the same place.

Happy traveling,

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Memorable Moments From a Year of Full-Time Travel (2022)

Happy New Year! Is it just me, or did 2022 go by faster than a Parisian pickpocket can grab your wallet?

I hope last year has left you with wonderful memories and new friends. Steve and I have been fortunate on both fronts.

Sometimes when we are having a low-key day or two (or seven), I feel guilty that we aren’t doing enough or seeing enough. Then I look over our photos and decide we’re doing okay.

These are the memorable moments from our 5th year of full-time travel.


The year got off to a slow start. We were still living in Budapest long-term because of the pandemic. In the early months of the year, we only took side trips in Hungary because we didn’t want to deal with Covid restrictions in other countries.

We filled our days with exploring Budapest. The city is full of beautiful sights and cool things to do. It will always have a special place in my heart.

We also went to many comedy shows and made new friends at the Stay Sane Social Club’s quiz nights while we waited for Covid to complete its retreat and spring to make its appearance.

Our Final Visit to Aquaworld

During our two-plus years in Budapest, we enjoyed five visits to Aquaworld Budapest. We love this thermal bath, spa, and waterpark complex. A visit there means lazy days lounging in warm spring water, swirling around in the lazy river, and stuffing yourself silly.

It turns out that thermal baths are one of our favorite things, and Budapest is full of them. I wish every city were.

Read our impressions of Aquaworld here.

Chilly Days in Szeged

In March, we took a five-night trip to Szeged, Hungary’s third-largest city. One of the draws was the thermal baths at Sunshine Aquapolis Szeged, which are connected to the Hunguest Hotel Forrás, which is where we stayed.

The second draw was the Art Nouveau buildings. The city had a devastating flood in 1879 that wiped out most of its buildings. The rebuilding continued into the early part of the 20th century when the Art Nouveau style was popular.

It was colder than expected while we were there, which hampered our sightseeing, but we did tour the New Synagogue and the Votive Church, both of which are splendid. We also enjoyed art in the Reok Palace, an Art Nouveau building decorated with irises.

Interior of the New Synagogue in Szeged
The interior of the New Synagogue

Read more about visiting Szeged in “The Best Things to do in Szeged, Hungary.”

A Rainy Trip to Vienna

Several people suggested we visit Vienna since it is only two and a half hours by train from Budapest. In April, we finally did.

This was during the evacuation of Ukraine. Both the train terminal and the train were teeming with refugees. It was sobering to see people carrying everything they had, and it was tough to see the children.

We had combined our Vienna trip with a visit to Salzburg. However, it was so cold and rainy in Austria that we postponed the Salzburg leg. Because of the weather, we limited our sightseeing to museums, of which there are plenty. And they are phenomenal.

Staircase in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna
Inside of the Kunsthistorisches Museum (fine art)

We saw art, history, and the Lipizzan Stallions at the Spanish Riding School. We visited a multi-story aquarium and had to leave a crypt tour in St. Stephen’s Cathedral because we didn’t have enough euro to pay. The tour guide was not amused.

Lipizzan stallion looking out of his stall
A beautiful Lipizzan

I wasn’t excited about going to Vienna, as I wrongly assumed it would be like Budapest but larger. There are similarities because of the shared history of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But as much as I love Budapest, I found Vienna grander, the museums a cut above, and the buildings in better condition.

When we arrived home, we had a message from the hotel where we stayed. They accused us of stealing a high-end makeup mirror worth $115. There were supposed to be two of these curved mirrors in the bathroom. Our bathroom only had one, and we didn’t give it a thought. Luckily, a forceful email put an end to that.

A Visit to Visegrad

In April, we visited Visegrad, Hungary, for the second time and finally had some good weather.

Visegrad is a small town only forty minutes from Budapest by train. Its main attraction is the Citadel, a 13th Century castle set on a hill overlooking the Danube. You can also tour the 14th-century Royal Palace, which has twenty rooms open to the public and a good-sized garden.

Since we love cemeteries, we enjoyed the Visegrad Cemetery. It is the best-kept cemetery I have seen.

We also enjoyed some fun on the summer bobsled and alpine coaster at Bobsled Visegrad.

We stayed at Hotel Visegrad. Despite some problems with our toilet, it was good. Our stay included half-board and dinner one night at the Renaissance Restaurant. The hotel also has decent pool and spa facilities.

People enjoying a Renaissance dinner
Steve and I enjoying the food at the Renaissance Restaurant

May Visit to Prague

Since we were still in Budapest in May, we took the opportunity to visit Prague for ten nights. We split our stay between two hotels: one in District 1 and the other in District 3, and learned that staying in District 1 is the way to go. It is where most of the sights are and is very walkable.

We hit all the top tourist sights, including the Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, and Vysehrad Castle. However, one of the most memorable things we did was visit the KGB Museum. Our guide, a Soviet native, was the only employee, and we were the only customers. He delighted in telling gruesome stories, complete with thrashing and horror-film sound effects. He seemed to enjoy this a bit too much.

Another favorite was the Troja Chateau. This 17th-century chateau’s walls and ceilings are covered with ornate frescos. The grounds are pretty impressive, too.

A man sitting in front of the Troja Chateau
Steve and Hedgemeister in the Troja Chateau garden

Read “12 of the Most Interesting Things to Do in Prague” for more information.

Four Cities in Austria and Slovenia


Since we had wet and cold weather on our April trip to Vienna, we decided to give it another try in June. We combined this with stops in Salzburg, Lake Bled, and Ljubljana.

Fortunately, the weather was much better this time, so we saw Vienna beyond the museums. It is beautiful and easy to get around. It has been named the most livable city in several polls and is one of my favorite cities.

We spent a day at the 270-year-old Schonbrunn Zoo, the oldest zoo in the world that is still in operation. We also enjoyed the grounds of the Belvedere Palace with their beautiful statues and joined in the revelry of the Pride parade.

The Rollercoaster Restaurant in the Prater amusement park was a lot of fun, too. Your food is delivered on a rollercoaster (surprise, surprise), and a light show plays periodically.

Inside the Rollercoaster Restaurant in Vienna
The Rollercoaster Restaurant – colorful and fun


Salzburg was as charming as you would expect. The highlight was a visit to the Schloss Hellbrunn. The 400-year-old Baroque villa is lovely, but the real attraction is on the grounds. They are full of water features and trick fountains that surprise guests as they wander through the gardens.

We also checked out the Mirabell Palace grounds. I wanted to see the Dwarf Garden. This garden contains seventeen marble statues of dwarfs in various poses. The statues are over 300 years old and were recently restored.

Two dwarf statues
Two of the little charmers in the Dwarf Garden

The rest of our short visit was spent wandering the picturesque streets and trying to pronounce the Austrian names.


You’ve undoubtedly seen photos of Lake Bled with the Assumption of Mary church standing on an island. It is as magical as the photos suggest.

From the minute we arrived in Bled, we were captivated. And we had a lot of time to be captivated because we caught the wrong bus and spent 45 minutes dragging our luggage around the lake to our hotel.

Besides enjoying the lake, there is some good hiking in the area. Unfortunately, our hiking plans fell through because of my upset tummy, but that just gives us a reason to return.


The last stop on this trip was the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana. Of the four places we visited on this trip, this was my least favorite. The city center is pretty, and the dragon is the symbol of Ljubljana, which I think is pretty cool, but it didn’t seem like there were many things to do there. Perhaps we didn’t look hard enough.

Ljubljana had the most unusual public art I have ever seen. I just don’t get it.

Four photos of statues in Ljubljana
A dragon on the Dragon Bridge and three examples of Ljubljana public art

One of the things I like best about traveling is learning about unusual places. In Ljubljana, Metelkova fit the bill. Metelkova is an autonomous culture zone populated by squatters since 1993. It is sometimes compared to Christiania in Copenhagen.

It isn’t very big, and we were a bit uneasy because we didn’t know what to expect, but no one bothered us. Metelkova is based on the principles of equality and acceptance. Because of this, it has been targeted by hate groups, including neo-nazis.

Read more about Metelkova in this article by Adventurous Miriam.

And for the really adventurous, how about an overnight stay at Hotel Celica? It is a former military prison in Metelkova that is now an art-filled hostel. 

Walking the Dales Way in England

In July, we finally got to do the eight-day Dales Way walk we had initially planned for 2020. We walked the 81 miles and then some since we got lost frequently and had to retrace our steps.

When we weren’t busy dodging cattle and their leavings, we marveled at the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales.

We highly recommend this adventure. You do not have to be athletic, although there is some climbing over stiles and navigating rocky inclines. Read more about walking the Dales Way here.

We spent several days before and after the walk in Manchester, a city full of the friendliest people we’ve ever met.

A Month and a Half on the Turkish Riviera

This was our first time in Turkey. Before then, the only places I knew of in Turkey were Istanbul and Cappadocia. Discovering all the beach towns along the western and southern coasts of the country was a happy surprise.

In six weeks, we visited six coastal towns. Each one had a different vibe, but all were relaxing and beautiful.

We enjoyed the super touristy town of Marmaris, admired the amazing scenery in Dalyan, and had fantastic food in Fethiye, including pizza with filet mignon and hollandaise sauce.

We also mistook a nighttime party boat cruise for a romantic moonlight cruise and spent three hours willing the pounding music to stop.

We only saw six of the many, many towns on the Turkish Riviera. No matter which you choose, you can’t go wrong.

Learn more about the places we visited on the Turkish Riviera here.

Bucket List Destination: Cappadocia

Since we were in Turkey, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to visit Cappadocia. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of photos of the dramatic rock formations and the sunrise hot air balloon rides.

Cappadocia is as intriguing as the photos suggest, and our balloon ride was incredible. I was surprised and pleased when Steve said he would do it since he avoids all thrill rides. As he will tell you, there was nothing scary about it.

Three people sitting in front of a hot air balloon basket
Steve, our pilot, and me after our balloon ride

Be sure to check out our post “18 Things to Know Before Visiting Cappadocia.” Instagram does not tell the whole story.

Four Weeks in Istanbul

Istanbul was our final stop in Turkey. The city is full of contrasts: beautiful buildings among slums, kind people who turn into maniacs on the road, and an efficient metro system but undependable bus service.

Visits to fascinating places like the Topkapi Palace, the Basilica Cistern, and the Dolmabahce Palace contrasted sharply with walking through rundown neighborhoods. Even our modern Airbnb rental looked out over a litter-filled dump.

The highlight, if you can call it that, was a fire in the building where we were staying. Fortunately, it was limited to the exterior, so no one was hurt or lost belongings.

You can read all the details about our Istanbul stop in “Visiting Istanbul: The Good, The Bad, and The Startling

Off to Thessaloniki, Greece

Greece was a welcome change from Turkey. The first city we visited was Thessaloniki, the second-largest city in Greece.

Life was so much easier there. It is much less crowded than Istanbul, and English is more common, which we don’t expect, but do appreciate.

There aren’t loads of things to do in Thessaloniki. The Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki was very well done, with excellent English translations. The War Museum was also worthwhile. Strolling the seaside promenade and spotting random ruins throughout the city were also enjoyable.

The highlight of our time in Thessaloniki was a side trip to Meteora. This area rivals Cappadocia for stunning rock formations, which can be almost 600 meters or 2,000 feet high. Some of these rocks have centuries-old monasteries on top. You can tour the monasteries, and they are beautiful.

Then to Athens

After Thessaloniki, we headed to Athens. We stayed in the Plaka neighborhood, which is the best option for tourists as it is close to most of the sights. We walked by the Acropolis daily.

There was plenty to keep us busy. In addition to touring several ruins, we spent time in the Panathenaic Stadium, the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble. The stadium was originally built in the 2nd century and was excavated and renovated in the late 1800s. It is definitely worth a visit. Be sure to get the audio guide; it adds a lot to the experience.

Another cool sight is the Psyri neighborhood. It is full of antique shops and restaurants, including the over-the-top Little Kook.

Toy store exterior decorated for Christmas
Little Kook decked out for Christmas

Our First Time in Africa

The last city of 2022 was Tangier, Morocco. It is the first stop on a two-and-a-half-month stay in Morocco before we return to the U.S. for a short visit.

After the chaos of Istanbul and the busyness of Athens, Tangier is a welcome break. There aren’t a lot of sights or museums, but the medina and the promenade along the Straight of Gibraltar are must-sees.

The medina in Tangier
The medina

Everything is easier here. Traffic is light and respectful of pedestrians. Shopping is convenient. The official languages are Arabic and Berber. French is also widespread, and Spanish and English are sometimes spoken.

What’s Planned for 2023?

It’s unusual for us to plan too far ahead, but we made an exception this time. We’ll be spending March in Jacksonville, Florida. While there, we can spend time with friends and family and attend a wedding in Key West.

Then it’s back to Athens for us, this time for two weeks with our daughters, Stephanie and Laura. We hope that Laura’s boyfriend Nick and his mom will join us.

After that? Time will tell.

Until Next Time

I hope you have enjoyed our walk down memory lane. Hopefully, some of them have tickled your travel bug. Steve and I would love to hear about your experiences in the places we visited.

We wish you health, happiness, and prosperity in 2023.

Happy traveling,

The featured image was taken on Lake Bled.

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Our Top 10 Latin American Travel Experiences (2019)

When you are heading to a new location you think about the famous sights you plan to see. But often your best memories are of the little things that no trip planning could have anticipated.

From February through November of 2019 we traveled throughout Latin America. These are ten of our most memorable travel experiences from those ten months (in no particular order).

1. Riding Scooters in the Galapagos Islands
Woman riding an electric scooter

I may look like a nerd, but I just don’t care. This was the best day we had in the Galapagos.

We rented scooters in town and rode them into the countryside to visit the El Chato Giant Tortoise Reserve on Santa Cruz Island.

Galapagos tortoise with grass in his mouth

We ran into this adorable guy at the reserve.

Galapagos tortoise crossing the street

This fellow couldn’t be contained. We saw him crossing the road on our way back to town.

Horse standing in the road

We also saw this free-range horse just walking down the road.

Read more about our four weeks in the Galápagos Islands in “Is a Land-Based Galapagos Trip Right For You?”

2. Spending Three Days in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

We took the bus from the capital of San Jose to the Caribbean coast. When we arrived in Puerto Viejo our first thought was “where the heck are we?” This place looked kind of rough. The name translates into “old port”, so that should have been a clue.

Our Top 10 Latin American Travel Experiences (2019) 1

It didn’t take us long to see the charm. By the afternoon we were in love. The beach is just yards away from a wooded hiking area where you can see wild howler monkeys and sloths.

A beachside restaurant

Many restaurants line the beach and embody the phrase “pura vida” (pure life).

Sloth hanging upside down

We enjoyed a visit to the Jaguar Rescue Center. The name is misleading because they rescue and rehabilitate many species. We learned that many sloths are injured or killed when they chew through electric wires.

The sloth above, who lives at the center, was just hanging around in the open.

Puerto Viejo is the most laid back place I have ever been and I hope to visit it again someday.

3. Visiting Machu Picchu

This is the only tourist attraction to make my top ten. I am not a big fan of Pre-Colombian history, so I questioned whether it would be worth the hassle and cost to get there.

It definitely was. There is something magical about this place.

A view of Machu Picchu

It is not quick or easy to get to Machu Picchu. You have two choices, hike for about four days (definitely not for the couch potato) or make your way to the town of Cusco, Peru then take a train to Machu Picchu Town (or Aguas Calientes).

Linda resting after the Machu Picchu tour

If you chose to get there through Cusco you need to become acclimated to the altitude to avoid altitude sickness, which I was surprised to find out can be deadly. While Machu Picchu is only 8,000 feet (2,400 m) above sea level, Cusco sits at 11,200 feet (3,400 m) above sea level.

The train ride to Machu Picchu Town from Cusco takes a little over three hours and passes through the Sacred Valley of the Incas where you will be dazzled by one breathtaking view after another.

4. Exploring in La Cumbrecita, Argentina

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware” Martin Buber

How true this quote so often proves to be. While in Cordoba, Argentina we decided to take a side trip to a German-inspired hamlet called La Cumbrecita.

A foggy backyard

The day started out foggy but turned out to be sunny and temperate.

Wet dog on the shore of a creek

We spent some time playing fetch with this sweetheart in the Rio del Medio.

Steve standing on a rock in the river

We loved spending time climbing (carefully) on the rocks in the river.

photo of a pond

The reward for hiking down a rocky trail.

We saw people every now and then but were often alone on the trails. It was so peaceful and picturesque. It reminded me of how we would spend hours in parks or on nature trails when we were young. Time spent in nature can make you feel like you don’t have a care in the world.

Find out more about La Cumbrecita and Cordoba in “Visiting Cordoba, Argentina’s Second Largest City.”

5. Amaru Biopark

Imagine a hiking trail, a zoo, and a conservation organization in one. That is Amaru Biopark.

This park is built on a hillside and houses animals who have been rescued but cannot be returned to the wild. Because of its location, you will get quite a workout as you make your way through the park.

You will see so many beautiful animals, including African lions, which really made me scratch my head.

Female African lion

I would have loved to hear these animal’s stories, but I didn’t see any programs like that when we were there.

Squirrel monkey

Squirrel monkeys roam free in the park.

A blue-headed parrot

The aviary lets you get up close to many beautiful birds.

If you go, don’t make the same mistake we did. Our first visit was in the afternoon. We were slowly working our way around and thoroughly enjoying the animals when we looked at the map and realized that in several hours we hadn’t even reached the halfway point.

We backtracked so we could get out of the park before dark and returned earlier on another day so we could enjoy all it had to offer.

Overview of Cuenca

You can get some amazing views of the city from the entrance to the park.

You can learn more about this park and our visit in “The Amazing Amaru Biopark.” We highly recommend you explore it when you visit Cuenca.

6. Visiting District 13 in Medellin

District 13 (Comuna 13 in Spanish) is a poor neighborhood in the foothills of the Andes that less than 20 years ago was the most dangerous neighborhood in one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

Many people associate the violence in Medellin with Pablo Escobar’s drug empire, but guerrilla and paramilitary groups were also causing problems.

In 2002 the government initiative called Operation Orion freed the district from the scourge.

While it is still poor, it is now a popular tourist stop due to an abundance of street art like this colorful lizard:

Colorful mural of a lizard

There are many small, tourist oriented businesses and young people form dance troupes to earn cash.

A dance troupe and tourists

A series of escalators carry people up the mountainside. At every step, you are greeted with smiles and warm hellos.

At first, Steve was a little apprehensive because of the area’s past reputation. He kept his camera in its case for a while. Then he slowly started taking pictures but would quickly put the camera away after each picture.

At one point I turned around to look for him and he was surrounded by several children and was sharing his pictures with some local children.

Steve and kids looking at his camera

Seeing the positive changes to this once forsaken neighborhood impacted me in a way that very few of our travel experiences have.

Be sure to check out our post “10 Things to Love About Medellin, Colombia.”

7. Sand Surfing in Huacachina

On our way to Machu Picchu we stopped at a tiny oasis town called Huacachina. It is basically a small lake surrounded by huge sand dunes.

There are two things to do in Huacachina; party and sand surf. Our party days are behind us, but we were excited to give sand surfing a try.

Sand dunes in Huacachina, Peru

The lower dune where some people walk up and surf down.

Dune buggies on sand dunes in Huacachina, Peru

Dune buggies take people to the higher dunes.

One method is to ride a board that is similar to a snowboard down the dune. We novices chose the easier method, which is to lay on your stomach on a board and fly down the dune head first.

But before you can do any of that you need to get to the top of the dune on a twelve-person dune buggy. It is guaranteed to be an exciting ride.

Both Steve and I figured it would be relatively safe to sand surf since we were on sand. Unfortunately, Steve found what might have been the only rock in the dunes and got a six-inch cut on his arm.

8. Visiting Santa Cruz Cemetery Manga

This memory is not a typical travel memory. We love to explore cemeteries for the history and art. Early in our travels, we went to Montmartre Cemetery in Paris and it was so compelling that it ruined us for other cemeteries.

That doesn’t mean we’ve stopped visiting them, but we haven’t found another one that comes close to Montmartre.

So we approached this visit as something to do. What a shock. This cemetery is in bad repair and you can see below:

Cemetery crypt with black tarp

As we continued exploring we were shocked to see open crypts with either cloth bags or exposed bones. Perhaps the saddest and most bizarre sight was a tomb with a skeleton lying on top.

Tomb with skeleton on top

Even with the disrepair, there was beauty to be found.

Flowers on a tombstone
Ant Stories

Many years ago I read about a family with young children who visited the Grand Canyon. The mother was a little dismayed when they returned home and all the kids could talk about were the ants they had seen in the hotel parking lot.

Thinking about this I realized that it is sometimes the little things, things that you can’t anticipate and could happen anywhere, that stay foremost in our minds after a trip.

I have started to refer to these as “ant stories” and here are two of my favorites from 2019:

9. Come In and See My Cat

One day Steve and I went to the neighborhood of Getsemani in Cartegena, Colombia. This neighborhood was once plagued with drugs, prostitution, and violence. It is now a safe, authentic neighborhood that attracts many tourists, often looking for street art.

Mural of two colombian women in traditional dress
Mural of a woman’s face

While I was taking these pictures a local man heard Steve admiring a cat outside his door, and invited him in to meet his cat (below).

Cat sitting on a chair
10. Maybe Later

In several touristy areas, we have been annoyed by people who stand in front of restaurants and try to get you to go inside. They are referred to as bringers.

Even when you say “no, gracias” or indicate that you just ate they won’t leave you alone.

It took a while but we finally discovered the magic words that make them happy and gives us some peace.

While walking through Machu Picchu Town we were being bothered as usual. When we said no to one bringer he said: “maybe later”.  We replied, “maybe later”. He broke into a huge smile.

We looked at each other with glee. We had found the magic words. We would never be driven crazy by bringers again!

That’s Not All Folks!

I hope you enjoyed this look back at our ten months in Latin America. These memories and many others have enriched our lives beyond our expectations.

While the memories are priceless, they did come at a cost. You can find out what we spent in “Wind and Whim’s 2019 Full-Time Travel Costs: Latin America.”

Happy traveling,

Featured image: llama at Machu Picchu