Thursday, December 14, 2017

December 14, 2017: Day trip north from Zagreb

Since it is not light early, and we were recovering from the flight, it was 9:00 before we went to the breakfast table. We decided to take a day-trip north of Zagreb, as when Cherie arrives tomorrow, we will be driving south to Split, Croatia.

Our car - We upgraded to a new Mercedes Benz, with free GPS, free additional driver, free winter tires, free border crossing documents, and unlimited miles.

We definitely used the GPS today as we wanted to find a fairly remote castle. Our map is fairly detailed, but there was no guess work with the GPS.  However, that does not say that we did not divert from the GPS!!  If you have read any of our other blogs, you will know we do not stay on the well-traveled path all the time! We drove about 270 km (130 miles round trip today).

The area around Zabreg is very flat, but as you travel north, you enter the valleys and hills.  They call them mountains, but they are not high mountains.  You quickly notice the churches perched at the top of the mountain ridge. We did not drive through any towns with a population over 1000.  Most were probably 300 persons, so we were in very rural area. All we saw today was small-plot agriculture, small field corn plots that are actually picked by hand!  Each farm has its corn crib with whole ears of corn in it – look at photos.  Then we saw where corn was hanging to dry – very interesting. Of course, machinery was just small tractors, and it did not appear every farm had one.  Lots of the land is plowed, as in old-fashion plowing (mole-board plowing).  We did see some large bales of hay, and several trench silos for apparently cows that were indoors year around.  We have seen lots of free range chickens, and one herd of sheep.
Small Wood Framed Chapel Along the Road

Part of the small plot agriculture included vineyards – straight up the hillsides.  We did see wineries, so we surmised a farmer would sell his grapes to wineries – nice little cash crop. It appeared to be a new industry, as the vines looked young in comparison to the old established vineyard of Europe.

Typical Small Ear Corn Crib

Drying Corn

We found the castle from the 1500’s, perched at the top of the mountain.  It was open, and we toured at our own pace.  The view from the mountain top was lovely, even in wintertime - you could see much further since there were no leaves on the trees. 
Veliki Tabor Castle

View from the Castle
By 4:00 it was turning dusk, so we began our return trip to the Royal Airport Hotel. It was a lovely day exploring and meandering through the country side of northern Croatia. 


December 12, 2017:  Lancaster to Philadelphia and on the plane to Frankfurt, Germany. 

In the morning by 7:30, 12 of my first cousins and a few spouses met for breakfast at the Lititz Family Restaurant.  It is always great to reconnect with them – you can imagine the noise level! 

By 11:30 we were in the Philadelphia area meeting our son.  After transferring vehicles and having lunch, we were on our way in a taxi to the Philadelphia airport.  It was great to see him for a few minutes, as he is preparing to leave on a business trip to Asia.   We will spend more time with him on our return trip. 

So up, up and away we go!! An overnight flight to Frankfurt Germany followed by a transfer flight to Zagreb, Croatia.

December 13, 2017: Zagreb, Croatia

It was 10:55 when the plane touched down. We claimed luggage, picked-up the rental car and drove to the nearby Royal Airport Hotel we had reserved.  We are dead tired, with nothing planned for the day.  After a bowl of soup, and shower, we were in bed!

However, by late afternoon we were refreshed enough to want to begin a little exploring. It is dusk by 4:00 and dark by 5:00, so instead of driving into downtown Zegreb in the dark, we used a taxi service tonight.  He dropped us at a great spot - near all the Advent celebrations.  It was a cool night, 34–35 degrees, but if we kept walking, we were comfortable.  In true form, there was food, entertainment and lots of traditional little shops.  We saw a good overview of certain areas, and are eager to explore more when we return to Zagreb later in our vacation.  After a couple of hours, our weariness caught up, and we decided the beds sounded like the best place.  We used the same taxi for the return trip.

Entrance to one of the Parks

Marzipan Winter Ball - Wonderful

Santa on the Tram

Delicious Brat

Folk Singing and Dancing

Dough-nut Balls with Nutella

A Final Look Back

December 10, 2017 – Cal’s Birthday!!  Mt Pleasant, Iowa to Zanesville, OH

Happy Birthday to Cal! It was a rather uneventful day, but you want it that way when you are driving.

Tonight, as I am writing, we are in eastern Ohio. We have had a good day driving, of course, loosing an hour when reaching the eastern time zone, making the day longer.

It was a beautiful day, sunny, and the temperature was very enjoyable by midday.

December 11, 2017 - Zanesville, OH to Lancaster, PA.

We have 6 hours yet to drive to Lancaster, PA, so we did get up a little earlier than usual.  We arrived mid-afternoon, stopping first at the cemetery where numerous generations of my family have Memorial Stones. I wanted to retake a photo of one generation, which apparently was the first generation buried in Landis Valley Cemetery, as we looked for the memorial stones for the previous generation, but could not locate them.   We did not have time for any more research on this trip. 

We arrived at my aunt’s new apartment/home, where we visited for a while before going to the Care Center to visit with my uncle/her husband.  While at the apartment a cousin stopped-by for a short, but great visit.  He is having some health issues too.  It was wonderful to see him and catch up with him.   His health is definitely in our prayers.  

The Care Center, where my uncle is a resident, is within walking distance from my aunt’s apartment on nice weather days.  She can drive when the weather is bad, like this past Saturday.  My uncle will be 89 this coming Friday.  It was great to be able to wish him a Happy Birthday, but it was hard to see his health declining.  We visited until his dinner time. 

To allow us more time to visit with my aunt, we ate dinner in the cafeteria.  It is so hard to get to the place where you can no longer care for your spouse due to their declining health, and I am so glad her children were looking out for her health and well-being too.

After dinner we drove a few miles to another cousin’s home, where we stayed for the night.  

Croatia, Slovenia & Montenegro

December 10, 2017 to January 4, 2018

We never once thought of vacationing in the country of Croatia.  Since our Mt Pleasant Rotary Club hosted an exchange student from Romania, I have wanted to visit Romania, but never considered the nearby independent countries of the former Yugoslavia. 

However, when your daughter is vacationing there for her Christmas/winter Holiday vacation, why not join her.  This all developed in late November.  We  had a very short time to get all “our ducks in a row”. 

We will be flying into the capital city of Croatia, Zagreb – had never heard of this city, renting a car and driving to Split.  We will be joining friends of Cherie’s in Split – never heard of this city either.   This is completely new territory for us. People ask what locations in the world are still on our bucket list – this was not one, but we are ready to explore. 

When beginning to plan, I receive word that my only living uncle in Pennsylvania is not doing well, plus Cal wants me to see the Mummer’s Parade in Philadelphia on New Year’s Day, while our son still lives in Philadelphia.  The way kids are mobile, you never know how long he will be there!!  How can we see my uncle, go the Croatia and attend the Mummer’s Parade?  Multi-city plane tickets increase the price. Our solution – drive to PA so we can see my uncle, see Tony before Christmas, and fly to Croatia from of Philadelphia (considerable savings).  We will return to Philadelphia before New Year’s Day, attend the Parade on New Year’s Day, and visit with Tony until we leave Jan 3, arriving back in Iowa on Jan 4, 2018.  Plans are final, and tickets are bought!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Tuesday, September 26, 2017: Sioux City, to Mount Pleasant, Iowa

We made it home!  4 weeks! Interesting trip! No problems!

NO flat tires! We saw vehicles being towed, we saw a vehicle along the side of the road with no tire (taken off, to be taken, to be fixed, at least 2 ½ hours away), and we talked to a guy who after seeing the spare tires we had on the back rack said, “Wish I was as smart as you!  I had to wait 3 days for the right sized tire to arrive”!  Yes, we were prepared, as we knew we would be driving some very remote roads on this trip - thankfully did not need them or have any other problems.  
Beautiful Iowa Countryside

New and old Countryside Icons

Sunday & Monday, September 24 & 25, 2017 - Whitefish, MT to Sheridan, WY to Sioux City, Iowa. 

Sunday: Until we arrived in Whitefish, we were not aware there were forest fires in Glacier National Park.  The fires are still smoldering underground in the mosses and bogs, so driving through Glacier National Park from the west on the “Going to the Sun” road, is not possible now.  We could drive to East Glacier, drive into the Park from that direction, turn around and drive out the east end again.  We decided that after we had been to Jasper and Banff, we probably would be disappointed.  We are not going to Glacier National Park on this trip - hopefully some other time we will come this way. 
Downtown Whitefish is full of Bars, Grills, and shops. This is a tourist town with skiing nearby and Glacier National Park.
Last night we ate at Craggy Range Bar & Grill. We needed a sports bar to watch the Iowa-Penn St game while we ate!  There was another Iowan there too – She is from Clinton, Iowa, but now lives in Seattle. We finished watching the game back at the hotel.   
At breakfast, in a “hot spot” for Sunday breakfast in Whitefish, we made our final decision regarding Glacier.  Breakfast was fabulous.  We had lemon cream stuffed French toast with raspberry sauce – there were two huge pieces, thank goodness, we split the order.  

We are beginning our direct trip home, well that is, until we took a scenic-drive detour on a Montana State road, returning to I-90 about 60 miles later!  The landscape of Montana began in southern BC, Canada, and of course has continued all through Montana.  You need to experience Montana to understand the vastness.  It is a totally different vastness than Alaska or Canada. Big Sky Country is a very appropriate nickname for the State.  The topography is varied and as you look over the landscape you know exactly where there is a stream of water or a river - as that is where trees are growing.  For anything else to be green, it needs to be irrigated. Looking across the landscape is interesting as you can see for miles.  You could see toy-sized freight trains winding their way through valleys.  
Talking about trains – going both ways on this trip, we have seen airplane fuselages on train flatbeds.  We finally Googled and we think these 737 fuselages are going from Wichita, Kansas west to Seattle area, where they will be finished – wings, tail, etc.  We saw 2 on one train and 3 on another.  
We have also seen long coal trains and long oil tanker trains.  We assume the coal is coming out of northeast Wyoming coal mines, but we do not know where the oil tankers are coming from, or going to.  
There are hobby ranches, large ranches, horses, rodeos, horse arenas, cattle, wheat fields, and lots of hay ground, with huge stacks of round and square hay bales - also round straw bales from the wheat fields.   It appeared one small town was having a contest among businesses in decorating large round straw bales.  Some had very cute ideas! 
As to wildlife, this morning we saw a herd of Mule Deer and later several herd of Pronghorn antelope near the Interstate. There were lots of beef cattle herds spread across the landscape – some small and others large.  

Mule Deer

It is a LONG way across Montana!  In fact, Montana is one-time zone!  We finally made it to Wyoming! We returned to Sheridan, WY, to the same new Comfort Inn & Suites where we stayed going west. 
According to the weather map there will be snow tonight in the mountains near Sheridan.  We prefer it stays in the mountains, so we can enjoy the view without having to drive on it!          
We really did not take many photos today – we were just driving! Hopefully we will be home in 2 days.
Monday: It is raining in Sheridan this morning.  Due to fog, we cannot see how much snow is on the mountains.  For breakfast, we went to a cafĂ© in downtown Sheridan – a small hometown place. As we entered, the only place was at the counter, but we could not have sat together.  Within a few minutes a couple of guys left, opening a place for us at the counter.  It was the place to eat!  
We were chatting with the guys next to us at the counter.  The hunting season in Wyoming begins in October 15, so by then, the ranchers will have their livestock (cows/calves) down out of the high country, where they have been grazing all summer. We assume the date is similar in Montana.  We have seen more cattle in grazing lands near I-90 on our way east, than we saw on our way west a month ago, indicating the ranchers are beginning to bring the cattle down nearer to where they can get hay to them during the difficult winter months. 
I-90 goes through the northeast corner of Wyoming, which is where there are coal mines.  We took a couple of photos this morning of a coal mine near the highway.
Coal Mine near Gillette Wyoming


We continued seeing herds of pronghorn antelope – one herd had approximately 20. This area has been having rain since we drove through here a month ago, which has brought out the green in fields.  The pronghorn with their white body pattern stands-out again the green in the fields.  You first see either their white rumps or white sides.
Pronghorn Antelope

The sunflower plants we saw a month ago, that were in bright bloom, are still losing leaves and drying.  Those that appeared to be drying then, are now harvested.  For those fields still unharvested, flocks of black birds are having great meals sitting on the sunflower heads.    
In the Black Hills area of western South Dakota, we stopped at the Black Hills National Cemetery which is located near the highway.  We pulled off and drove around the cemetery for a little while.  It has been continually raining all morning so we did not get out to walk around.  From the vehicle, we saw that most of the memorial stones were for veterans of WWI and WWII and Korean War.  However, we saw one memorial stone for a veteran from the Spanish-American War – wow, when was that war?  Of course, Google knows everything!  1898!  It lasted 3 months, 3 weeks, & 2 days! This short war changed a lot of territorial sovereignty in the world.  

It has rained almost all day!  Tonight, we pushed it a little later that usual, making it to Sioux City, Iowa – just inside the Iowa border!  We hope to be home soon after noon tomorrow.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Friday & Saturday, September 22 & 23, Jasper National Park, Icefield Parkway, Banff National Park, Lake Louise and on to Whitefish, Montana

I did not write last night, as we stopped too late.  I am going to combine both Friday and Saturday, as we were in both Jasper & Banff National Parks on the Icefield Parkway.

Each morning there has been fog until about 10:00 am, when the sun finally burns it off.  Therefore, we have not been in a hurry to get out and going in the morning - as the fog has been too dense.  By the time we arrived in Jasper it was after lunch.  We drove to Pyramid Lake just outside of Jasper, before getting on the Icefield Parkway.

Mount Robson

Our first Elk

I don’t know if there is a place in the world like the Icefield Parkway.  It is just a continuous drive of mountains, usually on both sides of the road which is in the valley, alongside the river.  The mountain peaks are so interesting.  Right now, with the “termination snow”, it accentuates the ridges and strata’s in the mountains.  There was still plenty of daylight so we kept driving, stopping often to take photos – all around us.  It was a beautiful mostly clear day. The sun was better on the mountains to the north and east, but we took them all around.

There is a lot more traffic on the roads than we have experiencing the last few weeks. There are many pull-outs, plus there is a wide shoulder on the highway for cars to pull off for photos.  There are also areas to park, allowing you to walk to waterfalls or beautiful reflective lakes. We did not stop at every pull-out, nor did we do any long hiking trails, except for this morning.  Cal walked to Peyto Lake at Bow Summit.  The trail was icy from the snow that had fallen in the area 2 days ago.  I did not change shoes to be able to go with him. 

Athabasca Falls

Our second Elk

We did see some wildlife along the way. There was a herd of elk right beside the road.  There was a male, 3 females, and numerous young. At another location, there was just a single male elk. There was one medium sized black bear that decided to scamper into the wooded area, instead of poise for us. 

We also discovered that most of the campgrounds are already closed for the winter, even though there are lots of campers on the highway.  Motorhomes were parked in parking lots.  We kept driving, as it was not dark.  Finally, we reach Rampart Creek campground, which is open until Oct 9th unless there is too much snow.  By now it is 7:45! We found a nice spot, made a light supper on our stove/burner, and crawled in for the night by 8:30.  It was a beautiful clear night.  There were millions of stars shinning, as this is in a very dark location.  We saw the stars until early morning, but by 8:30 when we woke, it was foggy.  We were looking forward to a clear day!  It was 34 degrees, so getting up is a quick process!! We drove a few miles to a restaurant for breakfast, taking our time, as we were sure the sun would burn off the fog.  By the time we finished breakfast, sure enough it was almost clear and the clouds were continuing to rise. 
Athabasca Glacier

After Jasper National Park we continued into Banff National Park.  At Lake Louise, we ran into a traffic jam.  Vehicles and more vehicles!  Parking lots were overflowing.  The parking lot at Lake Morraine was full – they would not let more traffic drive there, so after viewing Lake Louise, we continued southwest through Kootenay National Park to Radium Hot Spring, BC. It was a lovely drive, but after the Parkway, nothing can beat it! 

We are going this way so we can drive the “Going to the sun” road through Glacier National Park in Montana. We crossed the Canadian/American border at Roosville, Canada, and drove to Whitefish, MT for the night.

Snow along the Trail

Peyto Lake Cal hiked to see

Beautiful Reflection

Narrow highway opening at Radium Hot Springs

A Saw Mill