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    Europe Travel

    Visiting Serbia For the First Time

    One of the first countries we visited when we began the Grand Adventure was the Balkan nation of Bulgaria. We were, and still are, smitten with Bulgaria. It had everything we wanted; beautiful beaches, historic sites, delicious food, friendly people and all at a very inexpensive price. So we have made an effort to visit as many other Balkan countries as we could over the years including Romania, and Albania. This is how we ended up Visiting Serbia For The First Time. We only had a week, so we didn’t see it all, but here is what we saw while Visiting Serbia For The First Time in April.

    Belgrade Church of Saint Sava


    Located in a central part of the Balkans, the region has been an important crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa for thousands of years. Wikipedia says – In 1217 the Kingdom and national church (Serbian Orthodox Church) were established, under the Nemanjić dynasty. Next in 1345 the Serbian Empire was established, spanning most of the Balkan peninsula. Serbia became a part of the Ottoman Empire in 1540. Next in 1929 the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes adopted the name Yugoslavia. But in 1946, Yugoslavia became a socialist federation of six republics: Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia,

    When Yugoslavia broke apart in 1990, the Balkan wars began pitting former allies against each other. Inter-ethnic fighting between Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovnia, escalated and included Kosovo and Serbia. The Yugoslav war left economic and political chaos that is still visible today.

    On the Danube looking across at Romania

    Through Our Eyes

    Serbia today, through our eyes, is a progressive country with several beautiful historic cities, UNESCO sites, good roads and infrastructure. It is not advised to drink the water, and EVERYONE smokes, but the traffic is much better than what we experienced in Albania and most people speak a little English. It is very inexpensive. During our six day visit we visited the largest city, Belgrade where we spent one full day. We did a day trip from Belgrade to Golubac. Then we traveled for one night to Novi Sad, two nights to Zlatibor and then back to Belgrade.

    Sunrise in Belgrade

    If you are considering Serbia, do your research to decide what is most important to you. We had read some recommendations that said don’t bother with Belgrade, but we actually enjoyed our time there very much. So depending on what you are looking for, Serbia has great food, nice museums, historic towns, prehistoric sites, beautiful nature and hiking and much more.


    We arrived at the Nikola Tesla Airport mid afternoon. The airport is actually pretty nice and we found arriving quick and efficient. But then we tried to find the car rental area and that was a bit of a wild goose chase. Signage is tiny and we missed the sign and wandered around for awhile. We finally realized we had to cross a major road, with no cross walk, where we found these container type buildings housing the car rental companies. Both odd and inconvenient as we stood outside in the rain. Eventually we were sorted and in the car heading to downtown Belgrade.

    Our hotel was fantastic. Garni Hotel Bohemia, I highly recommend for several reasons; exceptional service, parking available, laundry available and a great breakfast. On top of that we could walk everywhere we wanted to go from the centrally located property in the beautiful historic cobbled pedestrian street called Skadarlija.

    Garni Hotel Bohemia

    We arrived early evening and we were pretty tired. But we took a walk around our neighborhood getting a feel for the location. Instead of Serbian food (more of that comes later), we took the plunge to have a burger and fries at a highly rated little hole in the wall called Burgos. Definitely a nice change of pace and so delicious.


    Free Walking Tour

    Next morning, after a delicious breakfast at the hotel, we took a nice walk to meet up with a Free Walking Tour Belgrade. I’ve said before how much we enjoy doing these tours, it’s always an excellent introduction to a new city. Our tour provided some interesting historical information about the city, religion, ethnic troubles and culture. We walked a lot… visiting several pedestrian areas, churches and the Belgrade Fortress where we enjoyed a beautiful view of the Danube River.

    Belgrade Fortress

    Following our tour we visited the really amazing National Museum of Serbia enjoying some surprising painting and sculpture as well as some fascinating antiquities from the region. I highly recommend you visit the The National Museum of Serbia when in Belgrade. Leaving the museum we were treated to an unexpected folk dance performance on the Republic Square.

    Republic Square
    National Museum of Serbia

    For dinner we went to the highly rated Tri Sesira restaurant, founded in 1864 and serving the most traditional of Serbian foods. The food was really good, but we thought the service was poor and a bit “uppity”. Many tourists visit this restaurant so their snooty attitude to the customers was a surprise.

    Tri Sesira

    Golubac and Lepenski Vir

    Day Two we headed out on a road trip, with no expectations. We had read about two places to the east that were worth a visit. It was a bluebird day and the drive was beautiful with views of the Danube and small towns along the way.

    Golubac Fortress

    Our first site of Golubac Fortress was a great surprise, reminiscent of Sleeping Beauty. Originally a Roman settlement, the fortress was built around the 14th century, passing through the hands of the Ottomans, Hungarians, Bulgarians and Austrians before the Serbs secured it once and for all in 1867. Recent renovations of the Fortress have made it more accessible to visitors. It is a beautiful spot for a picnic and lots of tour buses come here, so arrive early in the day if you can.

    Golubac Fortress


    Just a few miles down the road, with a sign that is easy to miss, you come to Lepenski Vir. I had no idea how incredible this prehistoric site was. Lepenski Vir, a UNESCO World Heritage Sight, is an important archaeological site of the Lepenski Vir culture. It includes Mesolithic Iron Gates Hunter-Gatherers period and transition to Early Neolithic Early European Farmers period of the Balkans.

    Lepenski Vir is the oldest planned settlement in Europe and has unique, trapezoidal-shaped houses seen nowhere else. Its culture has yielded not only the earliest discovered portrait sculptures, but also the first sculptures larger than life-size in the history of human art. The site Lepenski Vir is located at the so called “Iron Gates” of the Danube, approximately 150 kilometres east of Belgrade. The excavations conducted by D. Srejovic (1965-69) on a sandy bank terrace, measuring 170X50 m., revealed a settlement which was inhabited between 6600 and 4500 BC. Man I love this stuff. What a great discovery. Don’t miss this.

    Lepenski Vir
    Lepenski Vir

    There is more to do in this region, if you have time, spend another day. But we headed back to our Belgrade hotel and prepared for an early morning departure.

    Novi Sad

    Day three we headed North. Our destination was the city of Novi Sad, but our first stop was the historic Danube city of Sremski Karlovci. We arrived fairly early on a Sunday morning, the village was quiet. So we walked through the pedestrian area admiring the historic buildings and beautiful churches. Then following our Map My City App we wandered up through the hills around the city to a viewpoint. The site appeared to once have been a lovely spot, but now graffiti and vandalism had ruined it. The view though still worth it. We took another route back to the city, enjoying the flora as we headed back to our car. This region is one of Serbia’s wine regions, I recommend if you have some time, to check it out. The wines we had in Serbia were surprisingly delicious!

    Sremski Karlovci
    Petrovaridin Fortress

    Novi Sad

    Our next stop was Novi Sad, only about five miles from Sremski Karlovci. We parked at the bottom of the Petrovaridin Fortress and walked up the steps the way the ancient people would have. But you can also drive and park at the top. The fortress, built in 1692, has a fabulous view of the Danube and is a popular tourist destination. You can walk all around the ramparts and there are a few shops and a restaurant. We almost missed the museum, as the signage was not very good. I am so glad we found it. A fascinating chronological history of the region, the prehistoric people and the fortress. There is also a glimpse into the vast labyrinth that weaves beneath the fortress, most of it still uncharted.

    Petrovaridin Fortress
    Petrovaridin Fortress Museum

    We made a stop to see the Monument to the Victims of the Raid. On the quay that today bears the name Quay of the Raid Victims, occupying Hungarian forces carried out a mass shooting of more than a thousand innocent citizens of Novi Sad in the so-called “January Raid” from January 21 to 23, 1942. The bronze composition “The Family”, 4 meters tall, was erected at that place in 1971. It’s a beautiful sculpture and memorial that includes all the names of the victims. Worth a visit.

    Monument to the Victims of the Raid

    Next we headed to our hotel on the other side of the river. I was not happy with this hotel so I am not going to recommend it. But we really enjoyed walking at sunset around the beautiful historic town and then heading to Fish & Zelenis’– a fabulous seafood restaurant that was one of the best meals we had in all of Serbia.

    Novi Sad main square
    Fish and Zelenis’


    Day four we enjoyed a lovely drive heading towards the mountain town of Zlatibor. The rolling green hills and bucolic farmland were a beautiful surprise as we headed to the Gostilje waterfall for a short hike. It was cooler and damper in this forest area but we enjoyed walking through the trees and enjoying the multiple levels of the waterfall. It felt good to get some exercise and breath the fresh air.

    Beautiful green hills
    Gostilje waterfall

    Mountain Town

    After our invigorating hike we headed on to Zlatibor, the mountain ski town at 3000 feet. Wow, it was not what I was expecting. Recent construction has at least tripled the size of the destination. A gondola takes skiers or hikers up the mountain. The town is littered with construction cranes as hotels, retail and restaurants are quickly changing the look of the old town. Our apartment hotel, the Vila Masa, was a nice surprise, brand new and beautiful with an excellent breakfast included.

    The weather was chilly but we walked around the town to see what there was to see. It had been a long day so we enjoyed a room picnic and called it an early night.

    Next morning we were up early and walked to the Gold Gondola about a mile from our hotel. We took some time to explore the market, full of local cheese, wine and salami as well as traditional souvenirs. We headed to the gondola, hoping to get in a hike before the forecast rain began. The gondola ride was fun, about 20 minutes, and provided a great perspective of the sprawling area, former farmland, now being built up with condos and homes.

    Delicious local products at the market
    Top of Gold Gondola

    At the top, it was a bit chilly, but only a few patches of snow was visible. We had hoped to find some great hiking trails, but there wasn’t really as many as we had assumed. But we put in a couple miles, and had just turned to head back when the rains started.

    Zlatabor Mountain Hike

    Back in town we visited a very traditional Serbian restaurant Jezero. Our time in Serbia was coming to an end and I still had not eaten the famous Sarma, (stuffed cabbage). It was so delicious. I am going to make this at home.

    Sarma Serbian Cabbage Rolls

    Back to Belgrade

    Our final day we took a couple of hours to drive back to Belgrade hoping to have plenty of time to visit the Nikola Tesla Museum. The highly rated museum does not take reservations or sell advance tickets. Guided tours are offered a few times a day and we were optimistic. Despite arriving an hour in advance to the museum we were turned away. I’ve heard great things about this museum, but we did not see it. I hope you have better luck.

    Church of Saint Sava

    We took a walk to see the famous Church of Saint Sava, built in the 1930’s, before heading to a hotel at the airport, where we slept just a few hours, our Uber arriving at 4:00am for our 7:00am flight to Vienna. Farewell to Serbia.

    Thank you for reading my post Visiting Serbia for the First Time. See last week’s post A Visit to Lake Ohrid North Macedonia. We love it when you comment and share our posts. Thank you.

    Europe Travel

    A Visit to Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia

    Location: Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia

    What a pleasant surprise. A beautiful spot on a beautiful lake. North Macedonia is not on many American’s radars as a destination. Most of its visitors are coming from Europe. But this emerging destination deserves consideration. Our visit was brief, but I’m so glad we came. Here are my thoughts on A Visit to Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia.

    The Fortress and the Old Town Ohrid

    North Macedonia

    What’s in a name? Well the people of North Macedonia have a lot to say about the name of their country. Macedonia is a regional name for a large region of the Balkans that today makes up northern Greece and the current North Macedonia.

    Since antiquity the name has been used to identify both the region and the people. When today’s North Macedonia broke free of Yugoslavia in 1991 the name dispute reignited with Greece when the new Republic claimed the name The Socialist Republic of Macedonia. Over the next 25 years tensions escalated over the name with Greece insisting on a geographic qualifier. Negotiators from the UN helped to resolve the dispute finally in 2018 and the new name became North Macedonia.

    Dotted line shows “Macedonia”

    Yet today, many local people feel cheated of what they believe to be the true name – Macedonia. But, for the purposes of this blog post, I will use the current official name recognized by the government and the United Nations – North Macedonia.

    Lake Ohrid

    This gorgeous lake is 138 square miles, and is shared between Albania and North Macedonia. The majority of the 300-metre-deep lake however is in North Macedonia. It is considered to be one of the oldest lakes in the world – 3-5 million years. It is fed primarily by underground springs. Learn more about it here.

    Lake Ohrid

    Lake Ohrid is 139km from Tirana Albania – you could visit on a day trip. We however wanted to stay longer, so we booked an Airbnb in the village of Ohrid. What a great spot…one of the few lodgings directly on the lake.

    Room with a View
    Shared patio

    Things to Do

    We visited in mid April and the “season” had not really started. Busy season is May – September when tourists flock to the beautiful lake to swim, boat, fish and enjoy the sun. During our four day visit we had three perfect weather days, but the final day was raining and stormy. The lake sits at 695 meters above sea level.

    Looking across the lake to Old Town Ohrid with the fortress on top

    Sveti Naum

    We crossed the border from Albania at the south end of the lake. This is a lesser-used border crossing but we had time and wanted to circle the lake. Our first stop after arriving in North Macedonia was the beautiful Sveti Naum, an ancient monastery founded by the Bulgarian Empire in 905. This is a gorgeous spot, with shops and restaurants too. Parking is $1 and entrance to the Monastery is free. Don’t miss this when visiting Lake Ohrid. It is possible to come here by boat from the town of Ohrid. It is an hour and half boat ride.

    Sveti Naum
    Spring water lagoon that feeds Lake Ohrid at Sveti Naum

    Bay of Bones Museum

    Heading north from Sveti Naum it’s a short drive to the Bay of Bones Museum. An authentic reconstruction of a pile dwelling settlement, at the excavation site of Ploca Micov Kamen, near Gradishte and Pestani along the Ohrid coast. We found it to be a bit run down, but the $1 entry fee was acceptable.

    Bay of Bones Museum
    Reconstruction of home
    Reconstruction of ancient over the water village, Ohrid

    A very interesting history dating back between 1200 and 700 BC. The lake was quite shallow around this period, which allowed for a massive wooden structure to be erected above the water, considered by many as one of the largest prehistoric palafittes. Definitely worth a visit despite the current state of repairs. It is also possible to visit Bay of Bones by boat from the town of Ohrid.


    The town of Ohrid, is both historically significant and the largest city on the lake – the eighth largest city in North Macedonia. The old town is beautiful, rising on a knoll above the lake, while the new town spreads through the valley. Primarily a tourism destination, it is both a cultural and natural UNESCO World Heritage site, often referred to as the Jerusalem of the Balkans. The lake is one of the most bio-diverse lakes in the world.

    We took a lovely boat ride on the lake on a beautiful day

    Lake-related activities are the big draw, especially in the summer. Multiple boats of all sizes ply the waters. Although it was too cold to swim in April, swimming is a popular summer pastime. The Ohrid Summer Festival, a music festival mid July to mid August draws thousands.

    View of Ohrid from the mountain

    The Fortress of King Samuel

    Sitting like a crown atop the small mountain overlooking the Lake, this imposing fortress makes a spectacular sight. The 10th century fortress was built as the first capital of the Bulgarian Empire. Although it is called King Samuel’s Fortress, recent archaeological discoveries have shown it was constructed into a grand fortress by King Philip II of Macedonia, Alexander the Great’s father.

    Fortress of King Samuel
    Fortress walls

    Church of Saint Sophia

    One of North Macedonia’s most prominent monuments, the 1000 year old church is nestled in the old town, right next to our Airbnb. The beautiful church is considered one of the finest medieval churches in Macedonia. You must visit this gem when in Ohrid.

    Saint Sofia
    Church of Saint Sofia (Canva)

    Church of St. John at Kaneo

    This was my favorite of the many historic sites of Ohrid. A stunning location, Saint John the Theologian is a Macedonian Orthodox church situated on the cliff over Kaneo Beach overlooking Lake Ohrid. The church is dedicated to John of Patmos, the writer of Revelation, who has been by some considered to be the same person as John the Apostle. The construction date of the church remains unknown but documents detailing the church property suggest that it was built before the year 1447. Archaeologists believe that the church was constructed some time before the rise of the Ottoman Empire very likely in the 13th century. Restoration work in 1964 led to the discovery of frescoes in its dome.

    What a view
    Church of Saint John at Kaneo

    Ohrid Old Town

    The beautiful historic architecture of the old town is worth just wandering about the cobbled streets of the old town. Tumbling down the hillside from the fortress above, the old town is home to many residents, as well as hidden restaurants and lodging.

    Parts of the original wall remains
    Seeing the Old Town from the water is a must

    Ohrid Pedestrian Areas

    The new town has a lovely pedestrian walkway along the shore of the lake. We used this as our morning running route, following the path for more than two miles one way. Additionally a pedestrian shopping area is popular with locals and visitors. Great shops where you can buy the famous Ohrid Pearls, other souvenirs, groceries, and much more. Dozens of restaurants are available in this area serving the traditional Macedonian cuisine of the region as well as other options.

    Along the pedestrian walkway
    Pedestrian shopping area
    So many dining options and my favorite Shopska Salad

    The Hills are Alive

    The beautiful hills and mountains surrounding the lake have options for hiking and enjoying nature. We did an 8 mile round trip up to the tiny village of Ramne. There wasn’t much happening in Ramne but we enjoyed the view. We were fascinated by the flora including the wild lilacs and spotted several new birds.

    Hiking in the mountains around Ohrid
    Great view from the top

    A Visit to Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia

    We loved a perfect, relaxing four days in Ohrid and recommend it. As a stop to other destinations or as a destination on its own, you will enjoy a visit to Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia. Stunning scenery, amazing history, delicious food and friendly locals. It’s time to get to know North Macedonia.

    One of the locals and a very old Yugo

    Thanks for reading my post A Visit to Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia. See last week’s post Home Again Home Again Jiggety Jig. We appreciate your support, shares, pins and comments. Thank you.

    Europe Travel

    About Albania – Tirana and Beyond

    Location: Albania

    We had Albania on our itinerary in 2020 when we had to cut our travels short and return home due to the Pandamit. It’s taken four years to get Albania and other Balkan countries back onto our itinerary. We are so glad to finally visit and to learn all About Albania – Tirana and Beyond.

    Cobbled Streets of Berat Albania


    As is true for all the Balkan nations we have visited, the history here is wildly chaotic. And yet the people are steadfast and resilient. A product of oppression and occupation and much more over thousands of years. In all the Balkan countries we have visited, from Bulgaria to Slovenia, Croatia to Romania, we have found wonderfully welcoming people happy to share their homeland.

    Born to Albanian Parents, Mother Teresa is much revered


    History here, well it would take volumes to cover it. As is true through out Central Europe the area known today as Albania was passed from Byzantines to Venetians to Ottomans. The Romans made an appearance, as they always do. But it is the more recent history of the past century that is so fascinating, frightening and frankly it’s a story that needs telling. I knew very little about this tyrannical leader and totalitarian regime of the recent past and I expect most other people are the same. I certainly am no expert, but here is a brief timeline from what I learned;

    Communist era gun bunker in the middle of the city
    Gun bunker entrance

    About Albania – Tirana and Beyond

    1918 -At the end of World War I Italy occupies Albania

    1921 – Yugoslavia invades Albania

    1921 – Ahmet Zogu comes into power and will continue in and out of control of the country for the next 18 years, declaring himself King.

    1939 – Mussolini attacks Albania

    1941 – Albanian Communist Party founded; Enver Hoxha becomes first secretary. He is a staunch Stalinist.

    1946 – Enver Hoxha becomes prime minister, defense minister, foreign minister and commander-in-chief.

    1961 – Under Hoxha, Soviet Union breaks diplomatic relations, Albania looks towards China for support.

    1967 – Hoxha regime conducts violent campaign to extinguish religious life in Albania; by year’s end over two thousand religious buildings were closed or converted to other uses. Albania is declared “the world’s first atheist country,” religious leaders are imprisoned and executed.

    1975 – 1991 – Hoxha creates authoritarian state with no roads in or out. A complete closure to the outside world and absolute isolation for Albanian people.

    1985 – Hoxha dies and Ramiz Alia is his successor.

    1991 – Communism falls in Albania.

    1992 – Democratic Party wins election. Former President Alia and eighteen other former communist officials, including Nexhmije Hoxha, wife of late dictator Hoxha, arrested and charged with corruption and other offenses.

    The “Pyramid” originally a shrine to Hoxha is now a school in Tirana
    A piece of the Berlin Wall displayed in one of Tirana’s parks.

    Albania Today

    Thirty-three years after the fall of communism in Albania, it is a much different place. The country continues to find its way out of the decades of oppression. As a visitor however, you will find a vibrant city in Tirana, despite traffic gridlock and some persistent air pollution. Efforts are being made for new roads and infrastructure upgrades, but as of this writing there are way too many cars for the quality of the roads. Both parking and driving etiquette is non-existent. Multiple high-rise buildings are under construction and unique and beautiful architecture abounds.

    View from Kruje

    Albania awaits entry into the European Union, and they have waited for a couple of decades. Government corruption seems to be the stumbling block. Hopefully they can move forward in a positive way.

    Our Six Day Visit

    During our time in Albania we based ourselves in Tirana in an Airbnb. We had a car, although we regretted it on several occasions. Driving here is not for the faint of heart and gas is $8USD a gallon. To get around Tirana however, we parked the car and walked and took the bus. Multiple taxi options are also available. We spent two days in the city of Tirana and we recommend the following.

    As we often do on day one of visiting a new city we signed up for a free walking tour with FREE TOURS. Our guide was excellent, spoke perfect English and had a great grasp of the complicated history of Tirana. During our two hour tour we visited the Skanderbeg Square, which is the heart of the city and named for Albanian National Hero Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu. Skanderbeg is revered for defending the country against the Ottoman Empire in the 15th Century. Our guide described all the new construction in the city and changes being made to attract tourism. We visited the “pyramid”, originally a shrine to Dictator Enver Hoxha but today a school. He also explained the Bunk Art Museums (more on that below) and pointed out several other museums in the city. Finally he shared with us some great restaurant options. A perfect introduction.

    Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu
    National Museum of History

    On Our Own

    Following our tour we headed out to explore more deeply several places in the city. We started at the Et hem Bey Mosque, a beautiful historic mosque right on Skanderbeg square. Throughout all the occupations and historical violence, this mosque was saved partly because of its unique beauty and design. The minaret was broken in WWII but replaced after the war.

    Gorgeous interior of Et hem Bey Mosque
    Unique and beautiful exterior Et hem Bey Mosque

    Next we visited Bunk Art Two. There are two Bunk Art museums, Bunk Art One is further out of town (more on that below) but Bunk Art Two is located right behind Et hem Bey mosque. Both museums are built inside former bunkers, built to protect the communist elite in times of war or nuclear attack. Bunk Art Two is smaller and easily accessible from the city. Learn more here.

    Decompression Chamber Bunk Art Two
    Communications Equipment Bunk Art Two

    PizarirRi New Bazaar – we ended our day strolling through the city’s New Bazaar, a colorful and lively area for locals and visitors alike. Our guide recommended this to us for traditional Albanian foods as well as crafts and people watching. We had an excellent meal at Oda, a old family restaurant serving traditional local food.

    New Bazaar
    Oda Traditional Food
    Local salad always has cucumber and tomato
    Stuffed peppers are a traditional Balkan food

    Day Two in Tirana

    Dajti Express Gondola – we took the bus to the foot of the gondola, and we are so glad we didn’t try to drive in the crazy traffic. The bus was clean and efficient and cost 40 cents USD. We arrived pretty early to the gondola and there was no one there. It was Sunday and we were surprised. We rode the gondola up and admired the views. Slowly more people started to arrive so we headed out to do a hike. We had trouble finding the trail head, because a big fence had been erected. But we eventually scooted around it and did a nice but not too strenuous hike traversing the side of the mountain. The area is a bit run down with tacky tourist tzotskis, but I recommend you do the gondola when in Tirana especially for the views. The Gondola is closed on Tuesdays.

    View of Tirana from the gondola

    Bunk Art One – Located at the foot of the gondola, so a perfect activity to do at the same time. This is the original Bunk Art museum, opened in 2014. Located inside this massive bunker designed to protect the communist elite in case of nuclear or other warfare. It is five stories deep set into the mountain. Be sure to have a light jacket or sweater because it is very chilly. Most of the displays are available in English. It’s a fascinating look into the mindset of the communist leadership of the time. Sad and frightening for those who died and those who lived through the tyrannical leadership of Enver Hoxha.

    Bunk Art One
    Bunk Art One

    Day Trips Outside of Tirana

    With our car we chose to do day trips from Tirana on three days. All of the places listed here can be done with a tour, or a taxi from Tirana. All can also be overnight destinations on their own. But we chose to do them as day trips. Let me reiterate however, driving in this country is not for the faint of heart.


    Duress – a popular summer destination, Duress sits on the Mediterranean Sea about 30 min from Tirana. But, of everything we did in Albania, Duress was my least favorite. The town has a few historic sights including a Roman Amphitheater and Venetian Tower, but the sites and the town overall seemed rundown and in need of some tender loving care. The beach was covered in sea-grass during our early April visit.

    Sea grass and a messy beach in Duress
    Roman Amphitheater Duress


    Berat – Possibly my favorite place we visited in Albania, the UNESCO World Heritage site offers a beautiful river front location on the Osum River with ancient 2500 year old village and winding cobbled streets. Berat is known for its “one over one” windows and a is showcase of traditional Albanian life. It’s a straight up walk to the fortress above the city (also driveable) but absolutely worth seeing this beautiful Castle of Berat and walled site dating to the 4th century.

    Berat Walled city and cobbled streets
    Osum River and The Arched Bridge of Gorica


    Lake Bovilla – the drive to Lake Bovilla was crazy. We probably would not have done this day trip if we had better understood how rough the road was going to be. But, we made it and were so glad we did. We arrived early and were the only people there. We assumed no one else was dumb enough to tackle the road. But then vans of tourists started to arrive and even taxis. So if you want to come to Bovilla but don’t want to try and drive it, there are multiple transportation options.

    Lake Bovilla is a reservoir built high in the mountains and the crystal clear turquoise water is a sight to see. You pay 100 lek (1 USD) to climb stairs to the look out at the top, and this is what makes the drive worth it. Mind blowing beauty.

    Just a snapshot of what the road was like
    Climbing to the peak
    Oh the view

    Close By

    Kruje – It’s another winding drive to the medieval village of Kruje, but it’s not so far and I’m glad we went. We enjoyed climbing up to the old castle and shopping in the colorful historic bazaar. There are several museums too as well as hotels and restaurants. Kruje is the birthplace of Albania’s National Hero Skanderbeg.

    A beautiful day at the Kruje Castle
    Kruje is famous for it’s colorful and traditional bazaar

    Final Thoughts

    Be sure not to miss the local coffee culture. Albanians spend hours in sidewalk coffee shops. It really is a huge part of the daily social life of nearly everyone. In fact our tour guide, somewhat tongue in cheek, said he thinks all the coffee shops make people lazy…they spend too much time drinking coffee with friends. During our stay we of course tucked in to as many coffee shops as we could. And, we made a visit to Tirana’s only Microbrewery, The Taproom by Pan’s Microbrewry.

    I love good coffee and Albania has it
    Refreshing stop at The Taproom by Pan’s Microbrewery

    About Albania – Worth a Visit

    Lake Bovilla

    Rough around the edges, indeed. But for me, it’s beautiful to see this rising star of a destination working to overcome all of its troubling past. If you love history like I do, unique culture and strong and resilient people, you will love Albania. Come and see why Albania is one of the most anticipated emerging destinations in the world. Come and see what is happening here – About Albania – Tirana and Beyond.

    Coming up in a future post I’ll tell you about our visit to Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia. This could be a day trip from Tirana, but we chose to spend several days. Stay tuned to learn more about this beautiful region of the Balkans.

    More next week about Lake Ohrid

    Thank you for reading my post About Albania – Tirana and Beyond. See last week’s post A Visit to Knossos Palace, Heraklion Crete here. We thank you in advance for commenting on our posts, sharing and pinning. And for being faithful followers of My Fab Fifties Life adventures around the world.

    Asia & Oceania Travel  --  Island Life

    Our Favorite Things to do in Panglao/Bohol, Philippines

    Location: Panglao/Bohol, Philippines

    We spent an entire month relaxing on the island of Panglao in the Philippines, a tiny island connected to the larger island of Bohol by a bridge. We came with few expectations. In fact, after a three week whirlwind of Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong, we were looking for some peace and quiet. We certainly found it, and a whole lot more. Panglao/Bohol is one of the most underrated destinations we have found. We loved it and will be back. Here are some of our favorite things to do in Panglao/Bohol Philippines.

    Panglao Sunset

    Keeping it Simple

    We originally thought we would rent a car for a couple of days to see some sights. But our wonderful Airbnb host suggested we not. He explained how crazy the drivers were, and we had to agree after just a few days of walking around. So instead we hired a private driver on two occasions to spend the day seeing sights. We also went by Tuk Tuk or Tri-Cab to a couple other sites and beaches close to our bungalow. The hired driver was safe and economical. Our host helped us secure a driver rather than going with a tour. Total cost of an entire day for two people was less for a private tour with driver than it would have been for us to go on a group tour on a bus. And we could pick and choose the sights we wanted to see.

    Alona Beach

    Since we were in Panglao/Bohol for four weeks, we had lots of time to enjoy the sites as well as time to just do nothing. We like to do both! I understand most people probably won’t have a whole month, so I’m listing the things we did and how we liked them and you can pick and chose what works for you.


    We spent the month of October, and every day was hot and humid. During the month we saw a couple of cloudy days and a couple of torrential downpours with thunder. Weather changes quickly so be prepared all the time. October is considered the end of the rainy season, with the dry season being December to May, however the high temperature does not fluctuate much throughout the year. It was 87 degrees Fahrenheit pretty much every single day.


    So let me tell you our favorite things to do in Panglao/Bohol Philippines;


    Our hands-down favorite was visiting the Philippine Tarsier Foundation Sanctuary in Corella on the island of Bohol. If you only do one thing here it must be this. There are other places to see tarsiers on this island but the Philippine Tarsier Foundation is the one that is working to protect, save and conserve these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat for all to enjoy for generations to come.

    Our visit included an informative video and then a guided tour into the forest to see up close and personal four Tarsiers who had bedded down for the day. Tarsiers are nocturnal, and because they feel safe, they return to the sanctuary each morning and spend the day. I was smitten by these darling, tiny and highly endangered little beauties. PLEASE don’t visit places that put Tarsiers in cages. These beautiful creatures only survive a very short time if in a cage. Visit the Philippine Tarsier Foundation.

    Philippine Tarsier Foundation

    Our second favorite was snorkeling the Napaling Reef with Freedive Academy Panglao. This reef is off the Northwest side of Panglao. This snorkel tour does not involve a boat, instead you are swimming right off shore in a beautiful protected reef. The highlight of this is to swim with millions of sardines…I am not kidding MILLIONS! There’s also many other tropical fish, and amazing coral. It was very cool, the water is clear and clean and our guide took so many great photos and videos for us to take home. Cost was only $20 per person. A must do in Panglao/Bohol Philippines!

    Millions of sardines
    Napaling Reef, Panglao
    Napaling Reef, Panglao

    PLEASE NOTE – we chose not to swim with the Whale Sharks because we did not feel this activity was eco-friendly or sustainable for the health and welfare of the whales. We discourage you from doing this activity.


    We made our way to two waterfalls, both on Bohol. The first one is not far from the Chocolate Hills, but is down a long dirt road. Because the road to Pangas Falls is rough, not as many people visit. Our driver managed it and we were thrilled to arrive and find we were the only ones there. The set of small falls create a beautiful pool to swim in. Ropes are provided to pull yourself through what is a pretty strong current. It was a lot of fun and I am so glad we got to do this all by ourselves. Turned out to be one of our favorite things to do in Panglao/Bohol Philippines.

    Pangas Falls
    We had the place to ourselves

    The second falls we went to was much taller. Can Umantad Falls is located a lot farther away from Panglao and it took us about two and a half hours to get there. We did not swim here although we could have and there were lots of visitors enjoying swimming. To get to the falls you have to pay a guy on a motor scooter to take you down the steep hill to the entrance of the falls. I wasn’t expecting that so I had to psych up to get on the back of that scooter. But it was very pretty and I’m glad we visited.

    Can-Umantad Falls
    Can-Umantad Falls


    We visited two caves, one on Panglao close to our Airbnb and one on Bohol, more than two hours drive away. We loved the one on Panglao, but didn’t really love the second one.

    On Panglao only about 15 min drive from where we were staying is Hinagdanan Cave. Entrance fee was under $2 and you walk down some dark stairs and then suddenly you are deep in the earth with the most crystal clear beautiful pool of freshwater. Life jackets are available if you need a boost of confidence, but we enjoyed a swim in the cool refreshing pool with the filtered sunlight coming through the top of the cave and the tiny bats flitting around. A definite must visit.

    Hinagdanan Cave
    Crystal clear at Hinagdanan Cave

    On Bohol, and about two hours from Alona Beach is the Cabagnow Cave Pool. This cave is deep but with a complete open top. You have to go down a steep ladder to enter. We were there right after a big rainstorm and the water was not very pleasant looking. I’ve seen photos where it is not so brown, but the day we visited it wasn’t very appealing. Also the care of the surrounding area is very poor, very muddy and rocky with no facilities, so we really thought we could have left this off our itinerary altogether. Disappointing. We only paid about $1 each so no great loss!

    Cabagnow Cave Pool
    Cabagnow Cave Pool

    Popular Tourist Sights

    There are several other miscellaneous sights scattered about with numerous options for getting to these sights. We did not do all the sights, some of them seeming a bit tacky to us, but here is what we did do;

    Cadapdapan Rice Terraces – these beautiful terraced rice fields stretch golden across the landscape on the hill above the Can-Umantad Falls. When we visited rice was in harvest and along the stretch of road throughout the region rice is laid out to dry. Very pretty and worth a stop if you are in the region, easily combined with a visit to the falls. There is also a restaurant here.

    Cadapdapan Rice Terraces
    Cadapdapan Rice Terraces

    Chocolate Hills – these geological formations are fascinating. And although the vantage to view them is very touristy, we are glad we went to learn. Wikipedia says – The Chocolate Hills form a rolling terrain of haycock-shaped hills—mounds of a generally conical and almost symmetrical shape.[5] Estimated to be from 1,268 to about 1,776 individual mounds, these cone-shaped or dome-shaped hills are actually made of grass-covered limestone. The domes vary in size from 30 to 50 metres (98 to 164 ft) high with the largest being 120 metres (390 ft) in height. One of Bohol’s best known tourist attractions.

    Definitely worth a stop on Bohol.

    Chocolate Hills
    Chocolate Hills

    A Few More Sites

    Tigbao Bamboo Hanging Bridges – I had seen some photos of these twin bridges that hang over the Sipitan River and I wanted to check it out. So we did. To cross the bridge you pay less than $1, and the view is very pretty. Although the bridges sway, I felt completely safe.

    Tigboa Hanging Bridge
    Tigbao Hanging Bridge

    Baclayon Church – historic and beautiful old Catholic Church built in 1727 of local limestone coral blocks, this is a favorite stop on most local tours. There is a museum, but we did not go inside, we just admired the exterior.

    Baclayon Church built in 1727
    Historic Bacylon Church


    We visited several tourist beaches during our stay and there are many more we did not visit. The most beautiful beach we thought was Dumaluan. There are many resorts on this stretch of white sand but we visited through a small private park and paid 100 pesos (about $2) for access to the beach for a day. Alona Beach, which was the closest one to our Airbnb, is also the most crowded and home to lots of resorts and departure point for dive boats. The Alona area of Panglao is definitely the tourist base, but it’s also pretty and a nice place to swim.

    Dumaluan Beach a beautiful long stretch of white sand
    Alona Beach is home to the tourism base on Panglao

    Doljo Beach is also nice, but very shallow. Much of the island is surrounded by coral reef and you can walk hundreds of yards in shallow water. Doljo was like this but also beautiful. We spent a couple of hours on Momo Beach, where lots of locals and no tourists were enjoying the white sand. It was very swimable but a bit remote to get to.

    Doljo Beach
    Momo Beach

    Resort Day Use Pass

    We discovered how inexpensive it is to visit local resorts on a day use pass and we took advantage on three occasions. All three were amazing and we definitely recommend this if you are staying in a place like our Airbnb that, although it has a pool, is not located near the beach. All passes included food and drink. We recommend the following;

    Close to our Airbnb in Dinao

    BE Grand Resort – This beautiful resort was about a mile from our Airbnb. There was a gorgeous pool, a lovely manmade sandy beach with stairs down to the ocean. We had one of the best meals we had all month in their restaurant. We paid 1200 pesos (about $22 USD) and that included $15 towards food and drinks. I really appreciated the beautiful and large locker room with showers.

    Nightly rate at the beautiful BE Grand mid November starts about $140. This beautiful hotel would easily cost $600 a night in Maui.

    The pool at BE Grand Resort
    The bar at BE Grand Resort

    Two on Doljo Beach an Easy Tuk Tuk Ride

    Modala Resort – We really loved this beautiful beach resort as well. The pool was busy but very nice. A very shallow but long white beach fronts the property. Our lunch here was delicious and the service was great. We paid 950 pesos (about $18 USD) and that included $12 for food and drinks.

    Nightly rate for mid November at Modala is around $253 per night.

    Infinity pool at Modala
    Swimup bar at Modala

    The Bellevue Resort – not far from Modala Resort is The Bellevue Resort. We liked the pool here but the beach is very shallow. We had a nice relaxing day. Cost was 950 pesos (about $18) with 600 pesos for consumables. Restaurant was more expensive than the other two resorts but the food and service were excellent.

    Nightly rate mid November at The Bellevue Resort is around $135 per night.

    Clearly if you want the full resort experience but you are on a budget…Panglao is the place to go.

    Morning Bloody Mary beach side at The Bellevue Resort
    Authentic and delicious lunch at The Bellevue.


    We used the tiny kitchen in our Airbnb most days as we usually do to stay on budget. However we did eat out a few times during our month on the island. Here are our favorites;

    A Little More Upscale

    The Pearl – located in the Linaw Beach Resort walking distance from our Airbnb. Our host recommended we visit and also made a reservation for us so we could sit with our toes in the sand at sunset. The service and view were impeccable. We had a full meal with several drinks and it was only $30. A lovely evening.

    Beach dining at The Pearl
    Sunset Dinner at The Pearl

    BE Grand Resort, The Food Hall – while visiting on a Day Pass to the BE Grand Resort we had what was possibly the best meal during our month. The service was amazing, and the food was on point, beautifully presented and absolutely delicious and authentic.

    Our favorite meal in the Philippines at BE Grand

    Gerardas Family Restaurant – our Airbnb host recommended this very authentically Filipino family restaurant and we are so glad he did. It was very inexpensive, (huge meal with drinks and desert $25) the service was great and we were able to try several delicious Filipino favorites. Several locations throughout the Bohol area. We enjoyed this place so much we went again on our final night on Panglao.

    Gerarda’s Family Restaurant
    Halo Halo is a favorite local dessert of evaporated milk shaved ice and fruit at Gerarda’s

    Very Casual

    The Garden Cafe – my deaf friend Veronica, who used to live on Bohol, recommended this restaurant. It is a restaurant that employs deaf people from Bohol. We liked this concept and wanted to support their cause. We enjoyed our meal especially the lumpia. $28 for a big lunch.

    Lumpia at The Garden Cafe
    Crispy Pork Garden Cafe

    Toto e’ Peppino Pizza and Italiano Restaurant – we went looking for a Taco place we had heard good reviews about, but when we found it closed we ended up at this wonderful little Italian spot. Pizza was authentic and delicious, service was great and as usual…so inexpensive. $18 dollars for pizza, salad and beer.

    Toto e’ Peppino

    Garlic n’ Lemon Bistro – this highly rated Alona area restaurant says it’s Thai, but we actually didn’t find much Thai on the menu. However we did find delicious food, giant portions, lovely service and great prices. Our dinner was $25 and we took lots of food home.

    The Signature Dish – Garlic Shrimp at Garlic n’ Lemon Bistro

    Guitarwoodhouse – We came to the Guitarwoodhouse just because it was a must see. We only had a beer and an appetizer (an authentic Filipino pork dish called sisig), but the Guitarwoodhouse has a full menu, bar and nightly music in a unique setting.

    The Guitarwoodhouse, Panglao
    Trying Sisig for the first time

    Much More

    There is much more to do on this beautiful island, and we think we should come back and visit again. We did not get out to any of the outlying islands but there are multiple options to do this. Diving, snorkeling and free diving are very popular activities and draw the most visitors.

    Our Airbnb bungalow was perfect for a long stay, complete with pool, bottled water and a kind and helpful host. We paid with tax and fees $69 per night. Rate varies by season. With a long stay it included a weekly house cleaning. We would definitely stay here again.

    Our little bungalow in Danao, Panglao
    Enjoying the pool

    How To Get Here

    Originally we had booked an Airbnb in Cebu City on the island of Cebu. But that got canceled, and in hindsight we are so grateful it did. Otherwise we would not have ended up on Panglao/Bohol. But we already had a flight to Cebu City from Manila that we couldn’t change. So from Cebu City we took the two hour ferry to Bohol. See it here.

    However, there is no reason to go through Cebu. You can fly direct to the newly opened Panglao Airport from Manila. There are also direct flights to Panglao from Korea.

    The Bellevue Resort

    We Will Be Back

    We did not meet any other Americans. This surprised us given how popular Vietnam and Thailand are with American travelers, why not here? Likely the Americans here are staying at the resorts or are full-time expats we did not encounter. It’s a very inexpensive place to retire. We only met a couple of Europeans. Most the visitors are Korean, Japanese and Chinese. We thought it was an outstanding destination.

    We had the best day snorkeling Napaling Reef

    Our Favorite Things to do in Panglao/Bohol Philippines

    Thank you for reading our post Our Favorite Things to do in Panglao/Bohol Philippines. We definitely think more people should visit here. It is so inexpensive, and also beautiful. The beaches are clean and the food is good and the people are friendly. It is now the most, budget friendly place we have ever visited since we started our world travels more than seven years ago. It beat out Bulgaria by about $15 per day. You should get here before the secret is out.

    Our next stop is Australia for two months…we hope you will continue to follow us on our Grand Adventure.

    See last week’s post Cooking Class in Hong Kong with Pots n’ Pans Cooking Studio

    Our Pinterest followers are loving this post this week Birds of Papua New Guinea. Have you engaged with it yet?

    We love it when you comment, pin and share our posts. Thank you.


    Becoming a Traveler

    Full Time, Nomad, Solo or Just an Adventure

    I get asked a lot of questions regarding our travel life. The most often question is what is our favorite country? Answer – I don’t have a fav…but I do have a top ten (Bulgaria, New Zealand, Myanmar, Guatemala, Vietnam, Namibia, French Polynesia, Cyprus, Malta, France). The second most often asked question is about getting started. Many people just can’t figure out the steps needed and need a little nudge to help.  People we meet often show interest, surprise, envy, jealousy, horror and confusion over our long term travel life. But most of all they are curious. And the curiosity is about becoming a traveler. How to make the leap?

    We began our travels in Thailand

    Getting Started In Travel

    There are as many kinds of travel as there are travelers. Our long term travel (longest 18 months, shortest two months) fits our comfort level, tolerance and budget. But it’s not for everyone. Other people are more suited to solo travel, short-term travel, organized tour travel, female group travel, or niche travel such as yoga or bird-watching or food travel.

    So before I can help you in getting started in travel, you need to do some personal soul searching to narrow down what kind of traveler you think you are. What is your tolerance level?  Consider everything from beds to cultural customs when considering your personal tolerance for traveling outside of the United States.  Do you have phobias? Afraid of bugs? Snakes? Rodents or people not like you? Are you afraid of cultures where everyone isn’t white?  Are you willing to eat new foods, communicate in languages other than English and squat to go to the bathroom? Give it a think because, even if you aren’t traveling full-time, you still gotta be open, willing and fairly fearless while being smart, observant and adventurous.

    Hard to answer questions to a travel nomad
    We spent a lot of time in Spain

    What Kind of Traveler are You?

    When the idea first sprouted to become full-time travelers, I knew immediately we would do it.  Without a question I knew it was right for us.  All while knowing it isn’t right for everyone. That’s why you need to find your comfort zone. Only you can do that. And realize you may start out as one kind of traveler and morph into another as you broaden your horizons. That’s a good thing.

    Before we embarked on the first phase of the Grand Adventure in 2016 we spent several years preparing.  We had to sell our house, get organized, and figure out what we wanted out of this new lifestyle. It took some soul searching, and frankly it continues to evolve each and every year. But in the beginning our choices had a lot to do with budget.

    We fell in love with New Zealand


    Once you know your tolerance level and have some idea of your comfort zone, that in turn will help you determine your budget.  If you are only willing to stay in upscale American style hotels, then your budget will need to look very different from ours. To sustain our travels we travel very frugally. We don’t need fancy hotels with room service. But if you do, put it in your budget.

    Bulgaria was a wonderful surprise

    Who Do You Want to Be?

    Our travels have us staying in primarily Airbnb’s that average about $70.  And honestly if you are only willing to stay in American brand hotels with 700 thread count sheets and someone to cater to your every whim – well, you should just stay in the USA. Because you will miss the most rewarding part of international travel – getting out of your comfort zone and expanding your world view. However, if USA travel is your desire…go for it. There is a lot to see in the United States. One good way to do that is to become an RV Traveler. So before we tackle budget let’s talk about some of the different kinds of travelers;

    500 days of summer
    Astonishing and unexpected Namibia

    Retired Traveler

    Like myself and my husband, many retired folks go all in on travel…either long term or short. If you are new to travel and retired you might consider starting out with a group tour or a cruise to “get your feet wet” before launching out more broadly. My friend Linda and her husband are retired travelers from Canada and I recommend Linda’s blog and social sites to learn how they make it work. Follow Linda and reach out to her at Retired and Traveling.

    Christmas in Kenya

    Solo Female Traveler

    As a blogger I have had the opportunity to become friends with other bloggers and there are many solo female travelers out there. As a solo female it can feel a bit daunting to get started, feel safe and not get lonely. I recommend getting to know my friend Sue. Sue has a wonderful backstory as to how she became a solo female traveler when she lost her husband. I recommend for anyone considering adventure travel, solo or not, to engage with Sue on her website and socials. Learn more at Sue Where Why What.

    Guatemala was one of our favorites

    Lightweight Travels

    Packing for travel is one of the questions I get so often! It can seem overwhelming trying to figure out what to pack for either short term or extended travel. So meet my friend Katherine. She is a Kiwi (New Zealand) solo traveling light and she blogs about it and has a book coming out next month called Dare to Travel Solo! Learn how she pulls it together here at The 5kilo Traveller

    Packing is an education

    Full Time Traveler

    Full time travel is not everyone’s goal, however once you get comfortable with travel you might find the concept appealing. Becoming a nomad, especially in this day and age where you can work remotely from nearly anywhere, a life of full-time travel is more accessible than ever. My friend Heather left the corporate world to become a full-time traveler and she never looked back. In addition to her blog and socials, she now teaches others how to make it work as a full time traveler. She has a very active Facebook Group called Full Time Travelers and Nomads and a Ted Talk. Find out more about Heather at Heather Begins

    Australia is a great place to begin your travel life

    How to Budget.

    We have a daily budget of $220 all-inclusive for two people (transportation, lodging, food, entertainment and misc).  At first glance that might seem like a lot, but flights alone over the years have averaged $40 per day (amortized). This budget is enough for most places (Asia, Africa, Latin America) and not enough for a few places (parts of Europe and the USA), but we are frugal and hope it all evens out. To stay on budget we plan ahead, look for discounts and deals, fly in economy and often don’t rent a car. We cook most meals, eating out about once a week. And the remarkable thing is, we live significantly less expensively while traveling than we did in the USA before we embarked on this new life.

    Now in year seven of our Grand Adventure (despite putting everything on hold for an entire year during Covid) we have learned a lot about how to long-term travel efficiently. Some of this knowledge can be applied to any kind of travel, not just long-term. So listed below are some “details” on getting started in travel. Most of these things we have had to learn on our own – so if this list can alleviate any work for someone else considering traveling abroad full-time or traveling solo or just taking a trip then our work here is done.

    Flights can be expensive, we always shop around


    PURGE – we started our purge process more than two years before we put our house on the market, as we let go of nearly every bit of fluff we owned, including house, cars, boats, trailer, furniture and more.  We put our remaining possessions in a 10×12 storage unit for three years. After three years we purchased a small condo to have a place to come home to in the summer. That was a blessing when Covid hit. When we leave our condo we sometimes have a house sitter but not always. We forward our mail to our son.

    Letting go of too much stuff

    All the Documents

    DOCUMENTS – we updated our passports even though they were not expired, so we would not have any issues with needing to do that from abroad.  We also updated our Washington State Drivers License.  We carry a copy of our marriage certificate with us but not our birth certificates because the passport is sufficient.  We research every possible country we think we might visit to learn the entry/visa requirements. We carry copies of our passport, extra passport photos because some countries require obtaining a visa on entry with photo. We also carry International Drivers License, even though we have NEVER been asked for one. We sign up with the US State Department Smart Travel Program and list every country we plan to be in and when.

    Documents are important

    Create a Spreadsheet

    SPREADSHEET – we created a spread sheet (using Google Sheets), which is evolving constantly and we can access via Google Drive, to track all of our travel including air and ground transportation and lodging.  This spreadsheet includes notes regarding entry rules for countries. It’s also a fun tool for tracking so many things from miles traveled to beds slept in.  The data we have is incredible after six and half years.

    Google Drive Photo Storage
    Tracking expenses and other data is part of our travel life

    What About the Mail?

    MAIL – we have worked really hard to NOT have any paper mail and do 95% of everything online. But we forward to our son’s house in case mail does show up.

    Thank Goodness for Technology

    TECHNOLOGY – we have new smart phones, an iPad, a Kindle and a light weight Mac Book Air  For our smartphones (we each have an iPhone) we buy a sim card in each country for one of our phones to enable the phone to have a local phone number and data.  We then also use our iPhones with wifi for things like blogging, Facebook and Instagram. We keep our Verizon number active so when we return to the USA that number still belongs to us. I definitely recommend getting a SIM card in each country and not paying the daily international fee your provider will offer you. SIM is simple and inexpensive.

    We also have our Bose noise-canceling headphones and our Bose SoundLink Mini speaker that measures about 6 in x 3 in.  We carry this with us and it allows us to listen to music using Spotify and listen to Audible or other books.

    Photo Library
    Technology makes this kind of life so much easier

    APPS – We have a few travel apps we like especially Airbnb, Expedia, Booking and Google Maps.  We also use Google Translate which is really cool.    We use WhatsApp, an app that allows you to make overseas calls via the internet, this is primarily the way we communicate with our kids.  To call our parents, who aren’t on WiFi, we use an app called TextNow which allows free phone calls from anywhere to the USA. We also use Kindle, Yelp, Uber, Get Your Guide, Viator and Trip Advisor. We do our banking online with an app and our taxes online. We use a weather app, a plant identifier app called PictureThis and a bird watching app called Merlin. I follow news on the NPR app and the BBC app.

    CORDS AND CHARGERS – I honestly don’t understand why there isn’t a universal cord for all electronics, but alas wishful thinking.  So we have organized and sorted all our cords, charges and adapters to travel along. We research ahead to make sure we know what adapters we need in each country. We have a really cool little case that keeps all of our electronics organized and in one place. I usually carry some packing tape, post it notes and paper clips in there too.

    Money Money Money

    CREDIT CARDS AND CASH – don’t you hate it when your credit card company announces suddenly that you are being mailed a new credit card because your card has been compromised?  Well that would really screw us up if that happens.  So we have FOUR credit cards.  One is our primary and three are backups.  Three cards have no foreign transaction fees (which is a killer).  We also have multiple ATM cards. All credit and debit cards are chipped.  VERY IMPORTANT is that we do not carry all these cards together in one place.  That way, if our wallet or purse is lost or stolen, we will have back up cards available in a different location.  For most credit credit companies it is no longer necessary to let them know when you are traveling abroad. But check with yours to be sure. We carry several hundred US dollar in cash for emergencies. We never “exchange” US Dollars for local money. Instead to keep from paying the exchange rate fee we take money from a local ATM when we arrive at the airport.

    Money and Credit Cards need to be taken seriously

    Staying Healthy

    PRESCRIPTIONS – I take two prescriptions regularly.  It’s been a challenge to get enough of my meds stocked up.  My insurance company will allow, with a special doctor’s note, two 90 day vacation overrides.  Check with your insurance company to see what their policy is. We carry a first aid kit and a few Covid tests.

    DOCTORS – each time we return to the USA we have had a ton of appointments; family physician for full physicals, new prescriptions and precautionary antibiotics; eye doctor for new contacts and glasses; dermatologist for annual check up; dentist for cleaning and some work; gynecologist for check up; and annual mammogram. We have our Covid shot and boosters and we keep track of all our other vaccinations and update as needed.

    Taking care of you is an important part of travel

    STAYING FIT – we eat very healthy everywhere we go. We used to drink a lot more alcohol than we do now…I only have a drink about once a week. In nearly every country we create a running route, do yoga everyday and hike once a week. And we walk and walk and walk.

    A Little Pampering

    GIRL STUFF – I get a haircut about every three months, and have my nails done about every two months. In between I take care of my nails myself. Depending on the country, I sometimes allow myself a massage or facial. In many countries these things are incredibly inexpensive and very nice. I do not carry a hair dryer but I do carry my skin care products and a very small amount of makeup which I hardly ever use. Because many countries have a lot of minerals in the water that is very hard on hair, I bring really good hair care products from the USA. I have a flat jewelry case with a few earrings and a couple of necklaces.

    Splurge a little from time to time

    Let’s Go!

    DECIDING WHERE TO GO – After six years of long-term travel we feel much more comfortable with our movement around the planet.  It feels natural.  We usually agree on where we want to go and make our decisions based on budget, weather, safety and interest. We love to go to new places, but have a few favorites we return to. We take turns planning the itinerary, often taking a country each. We have been to 123 countries so far! By the way I use a little app called BEEN to keep track of all the countries we have been to.

    Tracking our countries using BEEN

    PACKING – this topic is one most people ask about, and indeed one of the hardest.  We will continue to use two large REI rolling bags.  Arne will continue to use his backpack as a carry on. I have a small roller bag carry on and a large bag that slides under the seat. And packing cubes have changed my life.  Organized and categorized, I love using packing cubes. All that said, I still habitually over pack. But I am better than I used to be and have created a travel wardrobe that works for me. Once you are on the road for awhile you will get a feel for what you actually need and what you can do without.

    AND OTHER USEFUL STUFF – We carry a Scrabble game and I carry my fold up hiking poles. We have a hammock that folds up very small. We have a collapsible hot pot for heating water and I love it! We carry some refreeze ice packs, a tiny fold-up cooler, a fold up beach bag and a fold up yoga mat. I carry a few spices and olive oil, some can koozies and reusable water bottles. I also pack flat laundry sheets (such a great invention) a cord and a few clothes pins. My husband has an all-purpose utility knife. Freezer bags and packing cubes – both so useful.

    Happily married 40 years and loving our travel life

    Getting Started in Travel

    So there you have it.  The details. This is what we have learned when getting started in travel.  Start slow or take a leap of faith….but get out there. Alone or with friends or make new friends on a tour…getting started in travel just takes a little faith. Take a few trips, get a feel for it, and then your confidence will soar! Ask me questions! I want to help.

    There is plenty of information out there to help in getting started in travel! Fabulous!

    Check out a few of my other blog posts about travel life; Making Sense of it All, The Surprising Things You Learn From Full-Time Travel, Our Favorite Destinations No One Goes To and Travel Wardrobe for Multiple Climates

    See last Friday’s post Maui Best Restaurants 2022 here. Also see our special Thursday Travel Tips post from yesterday Top Twenty Blogs of 2022.

    We have lots of great things in store for the coming year! Be sure not to miss a thing by signing up to receive our blog posts in your email inbox. Sign up here.

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

    Such a surprising novel. Published more than 15 years ago, I’m not sure how I have never read this amazing novel. Here is my book review The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.

    Non-Fiction or Fantasy?

    A sprawling novel that covers centuries, Kostova’s debut novel was a culmination of a decade of research. Her childhood fantasies about Dracula through stories from her father, compelled her to re-imagine the tales of Vlad the Impaler in this epic novel.

    My friend Merry suggested this book to me, she and I often enjoy the same novels and she was right about this one. Although this story is very long (more than 700 pages) I devoured it and couldn’t put it down.

    Drakulya (Vlad the Impaler)

    Kostova takes the reader through generations as we follow the story of Drakulya; Prince, Warrior, Legend and Vampire. Traversing the globe from the USA to Oxford, throughout Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Turkey and more. This tale follows the handful of characters who find themselves thrust into the duty of lives focused on killing that illusive vampire.

    Honestly if anyone else had told me about this book I probably would have thought it was what “B’ rated movies are made of. But I trust Merry’s review of a book, and so I plunged ahead with this novel. It’s brilliant. The tremendous research that Kostova did makes this fictional tale feel like non-fiction as you are engrossed in this decades long search for the illusive. Her characters are also incredible, and believable, even the character of Vlad himself…who at one point in the story I actually felt sorry for. Kostova is an excellent writing talent, adept at suspense and thrills while creating an exhilarating and intoxicating narrative that spans generations. I loved it.

    Surely I will go in search of more of Kostova’s work in the future. I hope you enjoyed my book review The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.

    ***** Five Stars for The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

    We love it when you pin and share our book reviews. Thank you.

    Read last week’s review A Life Without Water by Marci Bold

    The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

    Our Favorite Destinations No One Goes To

    Add These to Your Bucket List

    Location: Around the World

    It’s blog bonus day! Enjoy this one once again.

    We love Paris like everyone else.  But really that’s the problem.  EVERYONE loves Paris (and London and Rome) and so you find lots of crowds and high cost.  In our travels around the world we have really tried to find new places that few tourists go.  Often these destinations end up being our most favorite.  And the more we travel the more we want to encourage everyone to consider stepping out of their travel comfort zone, and exploring the unknown – the favorite destinations no one goes.   Finding your way to the lesser traveled destinations creates less impact on the planet while bringing greater cultural awareness to the traveler.  We ask you to consider these options:


    Our Favorite Destinations No One Goes To


    Instead of Croatia consider visiting  Bulgaria, one of our favorite countries we have ever been to.  Bulgaria has so much to offer, and yet we did not meet a single American during the entire month we were there.  We did meet lots of Russians, Germans and some Brits.  Bulgaria has a remarkable coastline along the gorgeous Black Sea as well as great mountains for hiking.  The food is amazing, the wine is cheap and the 5000 year history is astounding.  And the people are so amazing, welcoming and proud. They have endured a great deal in their history, and they have a “come what may” attitude that is infectious. Go visit Bulgaria.


    Our Favorite Destinations No One Goes To


    Instead of Italy go to fascinating Slovenia. From Trieste, Italy it’s just a hop across the border to Slovenia, the tiny country once part of Yugoslavia.  We have been to Slovenia twice and I suspect we will be there again.  Slovenia has a tiny coastline on the Adriatic, and our favorite town of Piran is a perfect place to visit and get some local flavor.  But don’t stop there, Slovenia has some of the most beautiful mountain towns and lakes.  Much of Slovenia is still agrarian and the people are welcoming and patriotic and friendly.  Oh and the seafood.  So darn delicious. Go visit Slovenia.

    El Salvador

    Our Favorite Destinations No One Goes To

    El Salvador

    Instead of Mexico go to El Salvador.  We just spent two weeks on the Pacific Coast of tiny El Salvador and we absolutely loved it.  There are some Americans coming here, but mostly 20-year-old surfers. The media has made us believe El Salvador is a dangerous place, and yet it is no more dangerous than Mexico and Americans flock to Mexico.  Come to El Salvador where the water is warm, the people are welcoming, the food is delicious and the history though brutal and bloody – is fascinating.  El Salvador will soon come out the shadow of its violent past, so visit before the secret gets out.  Go visit El Salvador.


    Our Favorite Destinations No One Goes To


    Instead of Germany go to Poland.  Poland is just beginning to step out of the shadow and become a tourist destination.  And it should.  We fell hard for Poland spending three weeks there last fall.  Poland has some of the most astonishing history anywhere in Europe.  The food is fantastic.  The people are warm and happy to meet you.  The historic villages are well-preserved and beautiful.  And it is cheap and easy to get to.  We loved Krakow as well as all the other places we visited and using the train in Poland was a great way to travel.  You really should visit Poland now.


    Our Favorite Destinations No One Goes To


    Instead of India go to Bangladesh.  I loved our time in India too, but if you want to push yourself and visit somewhere no tourists go, visit the remarkable, tiny country of Bangladesh.  Our short visit to Bangladesh provided us some of the most rewarding moments we have ever had in our travels. It’s difficult to visit Bangladesh without a guide, and we were lucky to find Deshguri, one of the few tour operators in the country.  Through Deshguri we able to meet so many Bangladeshi people, who greeted us with more kindness than anywhere we have ever been in the world.  We certainly stood out in both crowded Dakar as well as the beautiful villages and countryside, since almost no Western tourists come here.  We learned so much during our time in Bangladesh, and left our heart with its beautiful people. A remarkable experience that everyone should have. Visit Bangladesh soon.

    Sri Lanka

    Our Favorite Destinations No One Goes To

    Sri Lanka

    Instead of Thailand go to Sri Lanka. Thailand is overrun with tourists anymore.  So if you are looking for beautiful beaches, mountains and more, visit Sri Lanka instead.  The young backpacking set has found Sri Lanka, but few American visitors of the Fab Fifties era are traveling here.  Why not?  It is amazing.  We spent three of our most favorite weeks in Sri Lanka, one of the friendliest countries we have ever visited.  The Civil War is over and Sri Lanka is safe and inexpensive.  The food is the da bomb. Hiking and history is around every corner and the beaches are incredible.  We saw elephants and leopards, monkeys and snakes.  Oh my.  It’s Sri Lanka for me.


    Our Favorite Destinations No One Goes To


    Instead of South Africa go to Namibia.  Our ten-day tour in Namibia with Wild Wind Safaris will go down in our travels as one of the most remarkable places.  This country that nobody has heard of is one of the most beautiful in the world.  We had an amazing private guide during our time there, but you can also see the country easily with your own 4×4 vehicle (careful though, there is a high traffic fatality rate in Namibia). Namibia has a gorgeous Atlantic coastline, dry mountainous region that is like a moonscape, and multiple fascinating cultures such as the Himba, Damara and Herero people.  And to top it off Etosha National Park – single-handedly the best wildlife viewing we have ever encountered.  I absolutely fell in love with Namibia.  If you have ever considered a safari in Kenya, Tanzania or South Africa take a moment and research Namibia.  You will be so glad you did.  Go see Namibia now.


    Our Favorite Destinations No One Goes To


    Instead of the Maldives go to the Seychelles.  First a word about the Maldives.  We loved our time there, and luckily we found a very inexpensive place to stay.  But in general the Maldives are expensive and there is no alcohol! So consider the Seychelles instead.  A beautiful set of small islands out in the middle of nowhere off of east Africa.  We spent a month on the tiny island of Praslin and loved every minute of it.  Groceries were expensive and the variety was less than desirable, but the rest of the experience was very positive.  The islanders speak French/Creole mix, and the shy people are friendly and religious.  If you are looking for a place to kick back and relax with the warmest turquoise waters in the world, visit Seychelles now.


    Our Favorite Destinations No One Goes To


    Instead of Spain go to Portugal.  I hesitated about adding Portugal to this list because Portugal does have a thriving tourism industry.  But we met very few Americans while we were there.  Perhaps more Americans go to Spain because Spanish is a language more Americans can handle.  But during our time in Portugal we had very little difficulty with the Portuguese language.  We loved Portugal so much we would consider living there.  The food is incredible, the cities are beautiful and the beaches are fantastic.   It’s a remarkable place with such a variety of geography.  Historically Portugal was once a powerful country of explorers and merchants, colonizers and tyrants but today, this quiet and beautiful country is laid back and relaxed and fun.  Visit Portugal.

    What is next for us?

    We are now into a full-fledged planning phase of our next chapter of the Grand Adventure. We will spend May-September in the USA then depart again.  Without really trying, we have noticed

    Hard to answer questions to a travel nomad


    a trend in the countries we are planning to visit next, a trend towards less touristy.  A trend towards staying longer in one place.  A trend towards trying to make less of an impact and remove ourselves from the fray.

    I think this is what we always intended to happen on this journey, but it just took us a while to get there.  But when we look back on our favorite places we have been so far, it’s always the places with the road less traveled.  It’s always the places with few western tourists.  It’s always the places the cruise ships don’t go.  The authentic and relatively untouched destinations.

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