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To Paradise

    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara

    This book. Mind boggling. Described by critics as both brilliant and confounding…for me I’m going with brilliant. It’s not for everyone, but I was astonished. Here is my book review To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara.

    If you are looking for an easy read…this is not it. This book is intense and sometimes horrific. But Yanagihara has a beautiful ability to develop characters that take your hand and bring you right into the story. Or stories in this case.

    Because this novel is essentially three stories…three stories that seemingly don’t connect, but keep reading. They will. The three stories are placed 100 years apart; 1893 in New York City, 1993 in Hawaii and 2093 in New York City.

    But none of these places will be familiar to the reader. An alternate New York City exists in this book. In 1893 it’s not in the United States, it exists in an alternative country after a revolution. It’s openly Lesbian/Gay friendly. Arranged marriages are common. History is rewritten through the bold yet quiet imagination of Yanagihara.

    In the second story we find ourselves in Hawaii in 1993. Unrest, global warming, and family legacy in the island nation finds the characters searching for meaning. But wait these characters all have the same names as 100 years ago. What exactly is going on here?

    And then boom. We are back in New York in the year 2093. This astonishing third story for me was gripping, and a bit too close to home. Pandemics, intense heat, unbreathable air, and a country in utter chaos. Here the characters are honest and emotional and so believable – even given the dystopian world they occupy.

    With all this angst and uncertainty can this story end happily? The overriding theme through-out is hope; hope for the survival of the planet, our human species, family, love and happiness.

    An extraordinary work, that may take some time to digest. But I give high praise to the imagination and beautiful story telling of Yanagihara. Thank you for reading my book review To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara.

    *****Five stars for To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara.

    Read last week’s book review The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb

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

    Asia & Oceania Travel

    Tasmania – Australia’s Island Paradise

    Location: Tasmania Australia

    I arrived in Tasmania Australia with absolutely no expectations. I love it when that happens. Sometimes it’s on purpose and other times it’s just because we are busy and have not really planned our visit. Usually this results in wonderful surprises and discoveries – and this is exactly what happened for us in Tasmania – Australia’s Island Paradise.

    Hobart from on top of Mount Wellington

    Tasmania – Australia’s Island Paradise

    Island Paradise? Absolutely. But maybe not in the way you are thinking. It’s not tropical…but there are beautiful beaches. You’ll love that it’s not crowded…most of it wild and undeveloped. Also it’s not hot…with four seasons but rarely getting over 75 – 80F degrees in the short summer.

    And yet it truly is a little Eden. About half the size of the State of Washington, the heart shaped island is home to a fascinating collection of birds, animals and plants. With miles of undeveloped coast, rain forests, mountains, waterfalls, lakes and meadows. A hardy local population of about 540,000 are friendly, patriotic and helpful.

    Beautiful Tasmanian beach

    Tasmania has a rich history. Home to aboriginal tribes for tens of thousands of years, the tribes were nearly wiped out when Europeans arrived. Abel Tasman, the Dutch explorer, first named the island Van Diemen’s Land in the 1640’s. The British began “transportation” in the early 1800’s, transporting convicts to gaols (jails) throughout Australia including Tasmania. In an effort to colonize the area, more than 162,000 men, women and children served hard labor between 1788 and 1868. Most of them stayed, and populated the Australian mainland and Tasmania. It is estimated that 20% of today’s Australian population can trace their roots to British convicts transported during this time.

    What’s Your Pleasure?

    During our visit, Tasmania provided us activities that we enjoy the most; bird and wildlife spotting, hiking, walking, learning about history, eating seafood and drinking local wine and beer! We did all that and more during our four week visit to Tasmania – Australia’s Island Paradise.

    Amazing local beer and wine throughout Tasmania

    Most people probably aren’t going to spend an entire month. But hopefully this post will help you set your priorities for visiting Tasmania.

    By the way – if you plan to visit more than one national park in Tasmania, it’s worth it to purchase an annual pass which we did. Definitely worth it for us at US$60. Learn more about it here.

    Hobart

    We spent an entire month in a wonderful historic Airbnb in Hobart. All but two of the activities listed below we did as day trips from Hobart. One overnight was to Freycinet National Park, although we could have done that in a day trip too. Additionally we took two nights to go north and visit Launceston and Cradle Mountain. It was great to use Hobart as our home base, since we had such a lot of time to work with. If you have less time, be sure to spend at least a few days in lovely Hobart because there is much to do. Read all about the amazing things we did while living in Hobart for a month here Hobart Australia’s Most Surprising Town.

    Hobart

    Bruny Island

    DAY TRIP

    DISTANCE FROM HOBART – 35 min drive and 30 min ferry ride.

    Bruny Island (approximation)

    A short drive from Hobart to the small town of Kettering, you catch a small ferry to Bruny Island. Plan ahead because sometimes you wait a couple of ferries – it’s really small. Once on the island, there are some fun things to do…we did it as a day trip but depending on how much time you have it could be a great overnight. Bruny is home to some great hikes including Fluted Cape Walk, which we did. It involved a pretty steep climb but that gave us some wonderful views. We had hoped to see the famous Bruny Island white wallaby but unfortunately we didn’t. Hopefully you will. There are about 200 on the island.

    Bruny has beautiful beaches and several wineries. We took some time to visit a local brewery that also makes cheese Bruny Island Beer and Cheese Company and enjoyed a little lunch.

    Bruny Island Beer and Cheese Company

    A popular thing to do on Bruny is get out on the water on an organized boat cruise. We didn’t do this, but there are many ways to enjoy the water…and many other things as well. Learn all about what to do on Bruny Island here.

    Bruny Island Ferry
    Fluted Cape Walk
    Fluted Cape Walk

    Tasman Peninsula and Port Arthur

    DAY TRIP

    DISTANCE FROM HOBART Just over an hour to Tasman Peninsula and an additional 20 min to Port Arthur

    Tasman Penninsula Port Arthur (approximation)

    Tasman Peninsula

    We started early for this day trip and enjoyed everything we did. Starting on the Tasman Peninsula we made several stops to enjoy the beauty of this astounding scenery of this area. This is home to the multi day hike known as the Three Capes. On this visit to Tasmania we were not prepared to do overnight hiking, but it’s one of the most popular things to do in Tasmania. Learn more about it here.

    However our day trip included some short walks that provided us outstanding views of this rugged and beautiful area. Starting with a couple of short loop walks that took us to the Tasman’s Arch and then to the Devils Kitchen. Another short walk in this same area is to a Blow Hole at Fossil Bay, with spectacular panoramas along the gorgeous coast. I highly recommend a stop at the Tessellated Pavement too. It’s also a short walk and worth it to view this very unique rock formation, created by the expanding salt in the rock cracks. Unreal and bewitching.

    Tasman’s Arch
    Tessellated Pavement
    Devil’s Kitchen and Coast
    Alien looking “loafs” at Tessellated Pavement

    Port Arthur

    At the end of the Tasman Peninsula we come to Port Arthur, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and former penal colony. Between 1830 and 1877 nearly 13,000 convicts came to this remote point of the Tasman Peninsula, at that time reachable only by water. The convicts that were housed here were those who recommitted crimes. A high offender penitentiary. The museum and self-guided tour is so perfectly presented and easy to understand. At the start of the tour you receive a playing card with the name and picture of someone who either lived or worked in Port Arthur. As you tour the grounds you read the interpretive signage and try to find your person. It was fun and interesting for young and old alike. This unique historical site of Port Arthur is sad, but frankly beautiful too. Port Arthur is a not to be missed attraction of Tasmania.

    Engaging way to explore Port Arthur
    Port Arthur
    Beautiful too

    As we returned to Hobart we stopped at one of the dozens of wineries in this area. Visiting Bangor Vineyard winery we enjoyed an early dinner in their incredible restaurant and some delicious wine too.

    Bangor Vineyard
    Bangor Vineyard

    Mount Fields National Park

    DAY TRIP

    DISTANCE FROM HOBART one hour and ten minutes

    Mount Fields National Park (approximation)

    At 600 feet, you’ll enter this beautiful national park and find a cool rain forest and home to some of Tasmania’s tallest Eucalyptus trees. We enjoyed a full day hike doing the three waterfalls loop. On our visit we hiked about 7 miles but there are short and easy wilderness walks that take you through the beautiful fern trees and to the popular Russell Falls, one of Tasmania’s most beautiful waterfalls. After our hike and picnic lunch we drove up to Lake Dobson. It was noticeably colder at this elevation of 3500 feet. In the winter it’s popular for snow activities at Mount Mawson Ski Field. Mount Fields National Park is not as popular as some of the other national parks close to Hobart, we loved how few people were there on our visit. I highly recommend you visit.

    BIG trees in Mount Fields
    Pademelon
    Russell Falls

    Maria Island

    DAY TRIP

    DISTANCE FROM HOBART One hour by car and then 30 min by boat.

    Maria Island

    One of our favorite things we did on Tasmania was visiting Maria Island (pronounced mar – EYE – ah). Another national park, it is remote and beautiful and home to abundant wildlife. I recommend booking your boat ahead, especially during high season. It’s recommended you arrive at the ferry 45 min before your departure. The passenger-only ferry with Encounter Maria departs from the small town of Triabunna. At the ferry you will find parking, rest rooms and a small place for coffee and fish and chips.

    One day or More

    The boat ride can be a bit bumpy, so if you are like me plan ahead with your motion meds. On arrival there are multiple hiking options depending on your fitness level. We did three different hikes; first to the Fossil Cliffs, about an hour and half. The fossils are pretty cool and the hike along the rocky cliff side of the island is windswept and beautiful. We encountered kangaroo on this section.

    Next we did the Reservoir Circuit, a very peaceful walk through tall forests with fewer people. On this walk we saw our first potoroo and some beautiful birds.

    We walked through the Darlington Township, another of Australia’s penal colonies of the 1800’s and enjoyed our picnic lunch at one of the provided tables. It was here that we encountered the rare Cape Barren Goose.

    Boat to Maria Island
    Fossil Cliffs
    Fossils

    Next we walked along the beautiful Rutherford Beach cove to the Painted Cliffs, one of the most beautiful areas of the island. A fascinating geological feature of Maria you don’t want to miss. Make sure to check on the tide however, to properly see the Painted Cliffs the tide must be low enough to walk to them.

    Walking back to the ferry we encountered wombats. Several wombats, including a Mama and a baby. Such a treat to see these incredible marsupials up close.

    We took the 10:00 AM boat out of Triabunna and returned on the 4:15 departure from Maria. This gave us plenty of time to do all of the above. There are longer hikes as well, and you can stay the night in both small historic lodging or camping. Don’t miss Maria Island when visiting Tasmania.

    Beautiful Painted Cliffs
    Mama and baby wombat

    Freycinet National Park/Wine Glass Bay

    OVERNIGHT

    DISTANCE FROM HOBART 2 hours 40 minutes

    Freycinet National Park (approximation)

    Swansea

    We visited Freycinet as an overnight but you could do it as a day trip from Hobart. Deciding to make it an overnight, we stayed in the tiny town of Swansea, about an hour from the park, in a small cabin in a caravan park. Swansea has a few restaurants but not much else. We did enjoy a walk through town and along the waterfront.

    Beautiful beach near Swansea
    Dinner in Swansea at The Branch

    Wine Glass Bay

    Wine Glass Bay is the main thing most people come to see. There is a fairly steep hike up to the viewpoint that includes about 1000 stairs. Once at the top the view makes you forget all about that. At the lookout, you can choose to walk another 1000 steps down to the beautiful sandy beach. Then, turn around and back up, and down the other side. It is a bit difficult, but if you take your time, I think nearly anyone could do it. Be sure and bring water.

    Looking down onto Wine Glass Bay
    The beach at Wine Glass Bay
    Made it to the top!

    Cape Tourville Light

    It’s also worth it to visit Cape Tourville Light. The view is incredibly, and although very windy I definitely recommend the short walk around the light. The view from the windy cliff where the light house sits is stunning.

    Launceston

    OVERNIGHT – we did Launceston as part of a two day tour of Launceston, Devonport and Cradle Mountain (see below)

    Distance from Hobart 2 hours 30 minutes

    Launceston (approximation)

    Launceston is Tasmania’s second largest city. Located on the Tamar River, it’s home to James Boag’s Brewery – Australia’s largest brewery. It’s a small town with lots of historic charm in the Victorian style architecture. It’s easy to do a self-guided walking tour. Don’t miss the Old Umbrella Shop, owned by National Trust Tasmania.

    If the weather is fine make sure to visit the Cataract Gorge and ride the old school Cataract Chair Lift over the gorge.

    National Trust Old Umbrella Shop
    Cataract Gorge

    Cradle Mountain National Park and Devonport

    OVERNIGHT

    Distance from Hobart 4 hours. From Devonport it’s about 1 hour 30 min.

    Cradle Mountain National Park (approximation)

    Devonport

    We drove from Launceston on to Devonport (about an hour) where we rented a tiny cottage in a caravan park with views of the the Bass Strait. We chose Devonport because it was easy to access Cradle Mountain National Park which was our main reason for coming to this area. The region is very agarian, a bit windy and absolutely beautiful. Devonport is home to the ferry that crosses the Bass Strait, the treacherous span of water to mainland Australia.

    We didn’t have much time in Devonport, and frankly there isn’t a lot to do. We enjoyed a leisurely walk along the waterfront a long and well maintained Torquay Heritage Trail.

    The best thing we did in Devonport was go at sunset to see the Little Penguins. Often called Fairy Penguins these little cuties leave their chicks on shore and go out to fish from just before sunup until after sunset. Conservation volunteers man the overlook at Lillico Penguin Viewing Platform each evening to help visitors spot the little penguins as they come ashore. It was cold and windy and of course dark…but I’m sure glad we did it.

    Torquay Heritage Trail
    Little Penguin at Lillico Viewing Platform – using red lights to see the penguins after dark

    Cradle Mountain National Park

    We arrived at Cradle Mountain National Park about 10am. It was the week after Christmas and it was really busy with tourists and locals too. We hadn’t realized that visiting Cradle Mountain means a shuttle bus inside the park. At first I was annoyed about that…always wanting to be able to control my timeline. However, it was a very efficient system, even on a very busy day. The shuttles are large and comfortable and frequent. Even if you already have a parks pass, you’ll need to stop at the visitor center to get your shuttle tickets.

    The park is about 3000 feet, and even in early summer, it can be chilly. When packing up that morning in Devonport where it was 75 Fahrenheit, we had only thrown in our down jackets and hats as an afterthought. Thankfully. We wore all of it most the day. Beginning our hiking around 11am with the Dove Lake Circuit, one of the most popular hikes in the park. We followed that with a nice stretch of the Overland Track – most of which is on a raised platform. Next we enjoyed our picnic lunch and were just heading out to do a portion of the river gorge track, which wanders back down to the Visitor Center. But right then it started to rain…a nasty, misty, soaking rain, and we decided we had enough for the day, and headed back towards Devonport.

    Beautiful Dove Lake, Cradle Mountain National Park
    Bundled up but loving Cradle Mountain National Park

    And We Didn’t See It All

    There are a few things we did not squeeze into our visit. Despite the compact size of Tasmania, if you like nature, you’ll never run out of things to see and do. The people are so friendly, prices are good, roads are passable to all the places I mentioned here, and summer and fall provide comfortable temperatures. Spending the holidays here we observed how laid-back life is – even as Christmas approached. People are unpretentious, happy, and completely at home in this beautiful state.

    We loved everything about our time in Australia, and Tasmania is a place we would love to return to again. If I can help you plan a visit to this remarkable place, let me know. Tasmania – Australia’s Island Paradise.

    See last week’s post about Hobart Tasmania – Australia’s Most Surprising Town here. Be sure to come back NEXT FRIDAY for our ANNUAL TRAVEL AWARDS post – which incidentally has a lot of Australia in it too! You don’t want to miss it – always one of our top posts of the year.

    Want to learn more about our time in Australia? Check out Visit Beautiful Brisbane, Visit Marvelous Melbourne and our Caravan Travel post one and post two.

    Thank you for reading this week’s post Tasmania – Australia’s Island Paradise. We would really appreciate your shares, pins and comments to help our post get more views. Thank you.

    Reading Wednesday

    Sixth Annual Reading Round Up 2023

    Reading Wednesday Year in Review

    As you likely know if you have been following all these years, I track my reading year from August to July. Nothing fancy, just keep a little tally in my notebook of all the books I read. This year I read 69 books, (11 fewer than last year) and today I will share with you some of my favorites, once again, for Sixth Annual Reading Round Up 2023.

    Over the past year I have written 52 book reviews, pulling into reviews my favorites of the 69 books. Fifty of the 69 were read on my kindle, four were traditional books, while 15 were audible books we listened to on road trips or in the car while home in the USA. Some of my top books of the year were on Audible…a fantastic way to enjoy a book while driving.

    So as in the past several years (see our year in review from 2022 and 2021) I’m sharing my most favorites in a Top Fifteen list, and a few honorable mentions too. Some outstanding novels, biographies, historical non-fiction, as well as Booker and Pulitzer winners. Other than the number one slot here, the books are in no particular order.

    My favorite book of the year

    My Top Fifteen

    Here are my favorites from July 2022 to July 2023;

    1. The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese One of the best books I have read in several years, Verghese is a brilliant man and writer and I will read anything he writes in the future. My favorite book hands down of this past year. Go Read This Book!
    2. Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus – powerful yet sentimental this story of a brilliant woman scientist in the “women stay home” 1950’s will make you life, cry and jump for joy. Soon to be a movie too I hear.
    3. The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell – O’Farrell has a magnificent talent to weave real historical characters into fictional historical novels so perfectly you will wonder if the story is biographical. A beautiful read.
    4. To Paradise by Hanya Yanaghihara I believe in my book review of this book I used the phrase mind-boggling. Indeed it was. A spectacular achievement in fiction, difficult to explain, sometimes confounding, absolutely worth the effort. I loved it.
    5. Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver – winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction 2023, this fantastic story of drug abuse, poverty and abandonment in Appalachian USA is deep and sometimes difficult to read. But read it anyway.
    6. The Whalebone Theater by Joanna Quinn – set in England before and then during WWII, the changes in Quinn’s astonishing cast of characters through the book and the war will keep you turning every page. A deep story of the meaning of family.
    7. Act of Oblivion by Robert Harris – I had never heard the historical fact that the killers of King Charles I in England escaped to New England. This part is true. What Harris does so eloquently in this book is imagine how the manhunt for these killers evolves over more than a decade. I really enjoyed it.
    8. This is Happiness by Niall Williams – Sweet, heartfelt and identifiable. This is a story about that one great love. This is a story about life. It will make you smile, cry and remember your first love and past regrets. An unforgettable and well written story.
    9. Becoming Duchess Goldblatt Author Anonymous – Before reading this great book I assumed it was a novel about a 17th century Duchess. LOL! Well you can’t judge a book by it’s cover as they say. This book is brilliant.  Duchess Goldblatt is an anonymous Twitter character who gained a giant following for her uplifting yet hilarious posts about life’s ups and downs in this social media world.
    10. Horse by Geraldine Brooks – Brooks has two books in my top 15 this year (see #14) and Horse is her most recent. She uses the human activity centered around a horse – a real horse from the past – to create this fictional story of racism through the centuries.
    11. Booth by Karen Joy Fowler – what a tale of both fact and fiction of the infamous John Wilkes Booth and his family. The trials and tribulations of this family make a great story, long before anyone shoots Lincoln. Extreme poverty to wealth and prosperity are combined with unfathomable loss of of children and property, alcoholism and rivalry, illegitimate accusations, polygamy, ego, and family love and regret. This was a perfect Audible on a long road trip last summer.
    12. The Night Ship by Jess Kidd – The real life wreck of the Dutch East Indies flagship Batavia in 1629 is the basis for this fictional novel. Wrecked near Beacon Island, the horrifying experience of the survivors of the Batavia is one of the most barbaric ever recorded. Kidd brilliantly chronicles the events in both fact and myth through the eyes of two small children in The Night Ship.
    13. The Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead – A very long saga of a book about a female pilot in the early days of pilots and airplanes. Yes it is long…but I loved it. At first I thought it was about a real person; the character is fictional but comes to life under Shipstead’s genius
    14. Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks – This is Brooks second appearance this year in my top 15. Loosely based on Eyram Derbyshire, a real village that had to quarantine itself during the black plague. Brooks creates a fictional village in 1666. When an infected bolt of fabric makes its way to the isolated village from London, the protagonist Anna’s life will change forever.
    15. Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron – Young Daniel and his father run an antique bookstore in Barcelona during a time when Spain and the city are reeling from war. Daniel has lost his mother, and in his grief he finds solace in a mysterious book but the search for the author will nearly kill him.

    More I Enjoyed

    A few for Honorable Mentions;

    Surprising – The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid –  was a tiny bit hesitant to read this book. Because I LOVED Reid’s book Daisy Jones and the Six but wasn’t so impressed with her last book Malibu Rising. But so many people were loving on her new book so I decided to tackle it. And I am really glad I did and you should too.

    Local Author – The Whiskey Creek Water Company by Jan Walker – Walker, who lives in my local town, presented one of my favorites this year in a sweet and simple book about a tiny fictional village in the Pacific Northwest during the prohibition.

    Humor – Guncle by Steven Rowley – Gay Uncle Patrick (Gup) also known to his niece and nephew as Guncle, finds his world turned upside down when a family tragedy back home in Connecticut has him caring for his niece and nephew all summer in Palm Springs. I fell in love with the characters and this family story.

    Favorite Author – Delicious by Ruth Reichl- I have been a Reichl fan for years. Celebrated memoir author, food writer and former editor of Gourmet Magazine, her first novel is for foodies as well as anyone who has lost someone they love. 

    Favorite Author – The Museum of Extraordinary Things – I’m a big fan of Alice Hoffman, one of my all-time favorite books was The Dove Keepers a few years ago. And this novel is an earlier work of Hoffman. I suspect there is more Hoffman in my future.

    Travel Through Reading

    Two of my favorite things to do in the world are travel and read…and for the same reason. Both take you to unknown places, where you meet new people and encounter different ways of life. Both open your eyes to alternative ways of life, educate you and present new ways to think and see the world and beyond. Get out there and explore…books are the perfect way for ANYONE to do that. Just. Go. Read!

    Thanks for reading this week’s Reading Wednesday post Sixth Annual Reading Round Up 2023.

    See last week’s book review The Postcard by Anne Berest

    What am I reading now? Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth (1992 Booker Prize)

    Thanks for all your support again this year. We love it when you comment, pin and share our posts. It helps us gain followers and reach more book lovers!

    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Becoming Duchess Goldblatt

    This book. So much fun, even though the character (author) deals with some dark times. One of my fav books in the last few months. Here is my book review Becoming Duchess Goldblatt.

    I kept seeing this book pop up but I wasn’t really paying attention because I was busy and traveling. I tossed it on my library waitlist assuming it was a novel about a 17th century Duchess. LOL Well you can’t judge a book by it’s cover as they say.

    This book is brilliant. Duchess Goldblatt is an anonymous Twitter character who gained a giant following for her uplifting yet hilarious posts about life’s ups and downs in this social media world.

    The still anonymous author and pseudonym, Duchess (or Your Grace as she prefers to be called) found solace in this fictional character during the most dark time of her real life. A divorce spirals her into depression. She loses friends and family and income. She is trying to hold on for the sake of her child, keep working and provide a suitable home environment. But her dismal existence makes her sad and lonely, and on one particular dark day (her birthday) with nowhere to go, the author creates Duchess.

    Today Duchess Goldblatt has 60K followers including multiple famous authors and musicians including Lyle Lovett who features heavily in the book.

    What a strange situation this author found herself in. Clearly hitting a note that many people out in Twitter land didn’t even know they needed. Her humor and “grace” not only brings light into the lives of her followers, but it lifts her out of her own depression, gives her purpose, and in essence becomes her memoir.

    I bit difficult to explain this one but I loved this book and couldn’t put it down. A great page-turning read.

    *****Five stars for Becoming Duchess Goldblatt

    Thanks for reading my book review Becoming Duchess Goldblatt.

    See last week’s Book Review To Paradise by Hanya Yanaghirarya

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    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.

    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
    Wow

    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.

    At Home

    Home Again Home Again Jiggety Jig

    Location: Washington State, USA

    Eight months. Yep, it’s been 8 months today since we left the USA and it is time to turn our compass towards home. I love our travel life. But I love our little Villa de Verano as well, and we love spending summer in Washington State. So, it’s time. Home Again Home Again Jiggety Jig.

    At home

    A Look Back

    This is year 8 of our Grand Adventure. What a crazy life this is, but also rich and rewarding. This past 8 months we have tackled some difficult places (Papua New Guinea), some favorite places (Brisbane, Melbourne, Tasmania) and some chilly places (Bologna, Puglia, Sicily). We have learned new things and enjoyed watching spring arrive in places like Crete.

    Papua New Guinea
    Italy

    More Blogs Coming

    I have not finished writing about our adventures in year eight. Coming up North Macedonia, Serbia, Vienna, Bratislava and Madagascar. All worth a read. But meanwhile, this week I just wanted to talk about home. The Grand Adventure is not the kind of life everyone wants, but for us it really is satisfying, particularly knowing we can always go home. Homeward bound. Home Again Home Again Jiggety Jig.

    What’s Next

    What’s next is the question we get probably more than any other question about our travels. So in brief let me share. We will be back in the USA for four months this time from Mid May to Mid September. In September we will travel for six weeks and then return to the USA for the holidays. During this six weeks we will visit three countries we dropped when we had to return home during COVID; Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Then we will do a tour once again with Intrepid Travel to the Five Stans before returning to the USA for holidays with our family.

    mount rainier
    Hiking with the family

    After our time home for the holidays (November – January)we don’t know yet, but we have some ideas. We will definitely travel and are considering the South Pacific and Australia in the winter and Europe again for spring. Our trips from now on will be shorter, possibly three to four months. We have learned over the past few months that eight months is too long, our bodies can’t take it anymore. So the continuation of the Grand Adventure will revolve around shorter adventures and longer periods at home. It’s been an evolution, and luckily we both are on the same page about this.

    Home Again Home Again Jiggety Jig

    I am amazed and grateful at how many people follow our adventures, ask questions and seem genuinely interested in this travel life. Thank you for that. While in the USA, we plan to stay put for most of the four months, with the exception of one short trip to Las Vegas to see Elvis Costello for my husband’s birthday. We really want a quieter summer without travel. Spending time with our adult children and our moms close to home. Time to get some projects done around the house (new laundry room and more). We look forward to golf, hiking, and getting back on a running schedule – I need to drop a few pounds travel has gifted me…so much great food. I’m looking forward to gardening, quilting and some redecorating. I need to continue the photo project I started last summer. I just need to be HOME. These are things that make us happy and keep us healthy. I hope to see some of you this summer.

    Summer golf

    Be sure to stay tuned for upcoming blog posts. See last week’s post About Albania – Tirana & Beyond. Thank you for your comments, shares, pins and continued interest in what we do. This life – a real Grand Adventure.

    Europe Travel  --  Inspire

    Sicily Sensory Journey

    Location: Sicily Italy

    Sicily. Sensory overload. A journey of the senses bursting with color, taste and joy. I couldn’t bring myself to write another itinerary post. I really wanted to share more deeply about this island; a vast, diverse, astounding scene with overpowering pull. Come with me on a Sicily Sensory Journey.

    Scopello Tower near our Airbnb

    Where Am I

    We spent three weeks in Western Sicily. In February. Western Sicily is less traveled than other parts of the island and February is a very low tourism month. I recommend both for this reason. Our senses were treated to a wonderful self guided tour, and we nearly had the place to ourselves. I can’t image trying to enjoy this place in July with thousands of other people. February and March were perfect for a Sicily Sensory Journey.

    Western Sicily

    Sights and Colors

    Green is not what I was expecting. But in February green is the color. Green, blue and gold. Come August the island will be brown and dangerously dry. In fact in the past few years climate change has increased the frequency of devastating wildfires. But in February and March it’s lush. The mountains look like they are blanketed in green velvet. The fields are full of glossy green trees laden with yellow lemons and oranges. Silvery green olive trees cover miles and miles of the island. The Mediterranean sea tempts you with it’s turquoise shimmer, but it’s too chilly this time of year. Enjoy watching it crash into the gray and white rocky coast.

    Green in Scopello
    Blue and White near Agrigento
    Green and Blue Scopello
    Green Scopello

    Golden ruins from ancient civilizations create a contrast to all the green…the surprising history of this island going back thousands of years is still present and accessible in dozens of preserved ruins, medieval towns, and ancient settlements. Most all of it built from local alabaster limestone aged to flaxen by sun, rain, wind and years. The stories it holds in its depths fire the imagination.

    Golden Ruins
    Ancient road Ericce
    Golden Shadows at Castelvetrano
    Mosaic at Segesta

    In the shops, a rainbow of colorful Sicilian ceramics, popular with visitors and locals, shout out in motifs of fruit, vegetables and ancient faces amidst a riot of primary colors.

    Sicilian Ceramics in Agrigento
    Color punch in Parrini

    As February melted into March we were rewarded with wildflowers of every hue; orange, yellow, purple, pink and blue. Their little heads bobbing in the wind in a joyful dance of spring, as if saying welcome. Welcome to our Sicily Sensory Journey.

    Apricot blooms Scopello
    A riot of orange in Segesta
    Cows enjoying spring in Scopello
    A burst of color in Agrigento

    Sounds

    Italian drivers are, in a word, insane. But in February traffic is low and I can only imagine how the sound of vehicles in the summer changes the ambiance. Our little Airbnb near the Northwest corner of Sicily sat over looking the sea on a dirt road at the end of a bluff. Most days we didn’t hear or see another human. Just nature; wind, rain, birds. Occasionally a dog barking off in the distance. The sound of silence. A treat for the senses, when we live our lives in such busy and noisy times.

    Palermo
    Marsala

    Sicily was a lovely place to search out birds, as we walked the peaceful trails and unpopulated towns. From lying in bed in our cozy cottage bedroom to standing on top of windswept mountains we listened to new-to-us birdsong, a part of this little piece of paradise called western Sicily.

    European Robin (Merlin App)
    European Siren (Merlin App)
    Eurasian Kestrel (Merlin App)
    Rose Ringed Parakeet (Merlin App)

    Tastes and Smells

    Close your eyes and breath deep. The smells of Sicily might startle you; fishmonger aroma is surprisingly fresh and salty; any beach, of course smells of the sea but also of something sparkling and clean. The ancient sites smell of earth and secrets. And of course the agriculture smells of citrus, artichoke, new sprung grasses and something deep and peppery. Sicily Sensory Journey. Makes you smile.

    Zingaro Nature Reserve
    Local Harvest
    Ancient Olive Tree
    Ancient Church

    Of course there is the food and the wine – this is not Italy…it’s Sicily and it’s not exactly the same. Yes you will indulge in pasta and pizza. Sicilian food is always made with the freshest and most in-season ingredients, sourced close to the plate. Home cooks and chefs alike are resolute in their commitment to local and seasonal components. All the many tastes of Sicily are changing with the calendar, creating a sensory dance on your pallet. During our visit we fell hard for the local and seasonal sardines, tuna and squid. We ate olives and citrus everyday. We reveled in local ingredients like pistachio, ricotta, tomatoes and fresh-made pasta from local wheat. Food and culture are so closely entwined in Sicily, and a major ingredient of the Sicily Sensory Journey.

    Grilled Vegetables
    Wine at Sunset
    Fresh Octopus in the market
    Coffee and Blue Skies

    Sicily Sensory Journey

    It’s easy to find hundreds of blog posts and travel articles about what you should do and see when you visit Sicily. And you should absolutely visit Sicily. I know I will visit again. For your planning purposes, let’s consider instead of a whirlwind tour, a slow travel, off-season and sensory tour. It’s the perfect place to find yourself – away from the hustle and bustle, stress and chaos of the world we live in. The colors, the sounds, the smells, and of course the tastes of Sicily. Unforgettable.

    Roman Amphitheater Segesta
    Local and Fresh

    Come for the history, beauty and food. But come for a Sicily Sensory Journey.

    See last week’s post Tasting Sicily – Surprising and Delicious.

    Thank you for reading my post Sicily Sensory Journey. I hope you will continue to follow us as we travel next to Rome, Spain and Greece. Grazie.