Continuing on with our annual tradition of getting out of town for our anniversary, my husband Dave and I visited Dinosaur Provincial Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in our home province of Alberta, for our seventh anniversary last August. Like the year before, we wanted to stay close to home since we had a month long Europe trip just a few weeks later. Many people that we talk to here at home don’t know much about Dinosaur Provincial Park, or think that it is part of/near Drumheller, when it is two hours, or 169km, south east of the town that is home to the world famous Royal Tyrrell Museum. My dad had camped there previously and raved about it, and we were drawn by the prehistoric history and barren badlands landscape.
Iceland’s popularity is higher than ever and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. And why should it? The small island nation in the North Atlantic is the most breathtaking place I have ever seen, full stop. Volcanoes, dramatic cliffs, crashing waves, geysers, majestic waterfalls, gorgeous glacial lagoons, the cutest sheep and horses, the midnight sun, friendly people and awesome vodka are just a few of the reasons I fell in love with this country.
It’s been a year and a half since I visited Iceland, and my post “11 day Iceland itinerary: Part One” is the most popular page on my site. The number of comments and emails I’m receiving about it continue to grow, so this is the perfect time for me to update all of you on how the itinerary worked out for us.
We woke up early to get to the bus station to catch a bus to Kotor, set in the stunning Bay of Kotor in Europe’s youngest nation, Montenegro. The Stradun, the main pedestrian road through old town Dubrovnik, was still very quiet at 7 am. It gave us a chance to appreciate the beauty of the town in relative peace. We were almost at the main gate when a huge group of people in medieval costumes paraded by us in the other direction. I might not have found this very odd, but the quality of the outfits, along with the hair and makeup of the women especially, and how good looking every single one them was made me take a little extra notice. It wasn’t until I was lying in bed in Kotor 16 hours later that I realized it was the cast of Game of Thrones. I kept hearing people in Dubrovnik talk about how they were filming there, but I don’t watch the show so I didn’t recognize any of the actors.
We got to the bus station fairly early to buy our tickets, then sat around for an hour and a half soaking up the cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes. The bus ride was fairly normal until we got to the border crossing. Our bus driver sort of looked like Balki from Perfect Strangers except surly and always smoking. We parked at the Croatian border and every passenger got out one by one to go up to the border control desk. Needless to say this was not a speedy process. After we got our stamps, the driver made us stand 30 yards up the road and wait. We got back on the bus, drove for two minutes and stopped again at the Montenegro border. A guard came on and collected all of the passports again, which was a lot more efficient. There was an older gentleman in his 80s sitting near us. He was chatting with everyone around him and was very friendly and charming. He was given the stack of passports and was going up and down the aisle, calling out names and giving passports back. He was so cheerful and it made everybody on board smile.
As we wound our way around the Bay of Kotor, the scenery outside was breathtaking. The day was sunny and people were relaxing all along the water. After a while it got a little torturous and we were relieved to step off the bus.
Kotor’s old town is absolutely tiny. You can meander and wander and feel like you’re getting lost, but you’ll end up back where you started without even trying. It is really beautiful and, more importantly, quiet! As much as I adore Europe, beautiful towns are a dime a dozen, and getting an experience that feels more exclusive is a little more rare. Maybe this is what the elusive up-and-coming, before-it-has-been-discovered destination is like. We spent much of our two days in Kotor leisurely wandering the narrow streets, or sitting on a bench by the water looking out at the bay and the impressive yachts from around the world, talking and enjoying each other’s company. Continue reading Making my way through Montenegro→
There comes a point in every trip where you have a moment of regret, whether it’s about your accommodations, the restaurant you went to for dinner, or, unfortunately, the entire town you chose to stay in. I had that moment for three days in Dubrovnik.
On the day we drove to Dubrovnik, my husband and I woke up in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovia. We ate our DIY breakfast of yogurt, fruit and pastries on the bank of the Neretva River, gazing up at Stari Most one more time. The most common route from Mostar to Dubrovnik is the highway that runs along Croatia’s Dalmatian coast. We decided to take the road less traveled and try the highway that runs mostly through the interior of Bosnia, taking us through the Serb territory of the Republic of Srpska.
This is the second post in a two part series on Bosnia. Click here to read part one.
Without hesitation, we hopped in our beat up VW and headed down the only highway to Sarajevo. The landscape was sublime – arid mountains rising up on either side of us, sparkling rivers running beside us, the sun shining in the bright blue sky, and hardly any other traffic to speak of. I spent half the time admiring it, and the other half reading the Sarajevo section of my guidebook, figuring out what we should see in such a short period of time.
As we entered Sarajevo from the west, we drove down the infamous Sniper Alley. Along either side are buildings that were heavily damaged during the war, and, due to the struggles of the government and economy in Bosnia, have not been repaired at all. A dilapidated retirement home with the front torn off covered in graffiti and bullet holes, grey communist-era apartment blocks completely covered in bullet holes, the Holiday Inn which housed foreign journalists. I could rattle off a list of the sights we saw, but I feel empty doing that. As I wrote in my journal the next day from Dubrovnik, I said to myself that I didn’t think my words could do it any justice. So much has happened in Sarajevo. I had never been to a place thus far in my travel career that was still so covered in war wounds, still trying to recover almost 20 years after the end of the war, and still with such a long road ahead. The city was such an unexpected surprise. Such a beautiful place, bustling with life, still shining even though parts of it are very run down. The culture is so fascinating; I wish we had given ourselves more time there and I can’t wait to go back someday. I want to see the museums and the memorials and the monuments. I want to eat delicious burek and admire the minarets piercing the sky next to Orthodox and Catholic churches. Continue reading Sarajevo: A city of conflicting emotions→
I sat on the balcony of our guesthouse on our second night in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, reflecting on the last day and a half. The call to prayer was ringing out from I don’t know how many mosques simultaneously, echoing around me, in beautifully haunting voices that could lull me to sleep. And then, as the clock struck 9pm, church bells rang. I was writing in my journal, trying to get all of my thoughts out before I lost them, but my brain was moving too fast for my pen. When Dave and I first began planning this Europe trip, Bosnia wasn’t even on our minds, but visiting there was one of the best decisions we made. Continue reading Mostar: A moving introduction to Bosnia→
We made it to Husavik, another perfectly picturesque Icelandic town, just in time for our 14:00 whale watching tour, run by a company called North Sailing. The beautiful oak schooner Haukur, built in 1973, was awaiting us in the harbour. Once our group of 12 passengers boarded along with two crew members, we were given big, heavy, warm overalls to wear. Even though the weather on land was gorgeous – blue sky with only a few clouds, little wind – we would absolutely need this warmth very soon.
As we set out into the bay, everyone was eager and alert to spot whales, although it was more likely that we would see them further out where the water is deeper. The tour we were on was called Whales, Puffins and Tails, so we were also all on the lookout for those funny little birds. I still hadn’t seen any puffins up close, so my hopes were very high. About 30 minutes after setting out, we reached Lundey, nicknamed Puffin Island. Finally, there they were! They were so much smaller than I realized they would be, flitting through the air, some of them looking like they were about to drop out of the sky. The crew turned off the engines and we floated around the island for a bit, watching the puffins while the captain told us more about the birds.
Driving into Akureyri, the view of the town and the surrounding area is incredibly breathtaking. It sits at the end of a fjord with mountains rising up all around it. The sky was such a brilliant blue and the sun was shining so bright, it made the water twinkle in the most beautiful way.
After we settled into our guesthouse, we headed out to explore Akureyri by foot. We grabbed a couple of beers at the liquor store to sip on while we walked around. Weekends are a busy time at Icelandic liquor stores, as drinking in the bars is very expensive, so people drink at house parties first. But this liquor store was manic. Foreshadowing of things to come. As we walked around the very cute and photogenic town, something struck us both as very odd. It felt like a ghost town, even though it is a fair size by Icelandic standards with over 17,000 residents. Continue reading Alluring Akureyri, cut short→
The next stop on our Europe trip was Croatia, and the best way for us to get to our destination, Split, was to take an overnight ferry from Ancona, on the Adriatic coast of Italy. We had an easy drive, followed by a mildly irritating time returning the rental car and figuring out how to get to the ferry terminal.
As soon as we got off the elevator into the ship’s reception area, everything felt surreal. Even before that. It was surreal as soon as the Russian elevator attendant crammed the two of us plus bags, plus another young couple and their bags, plus another random bag onto the elevator. We were packed so tight. It was so hot. We were only going two floors, so it wasn’t even a time saver at all!
There was music playing on an intercom system all throughout the ship, but not what you would expect. What made the whole place really the pinnacle of bizarre was the 70s rock music playing over the intercom in every part of the ship, including a little speaker in the wall of our room. Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix… “Everybody Must Get Stoned” was playing as soon as we got to the reception area and a middle aged British man behind me was singing along to it. Continue reading Sailing across the Adriatic to my 20th country→
After two uneventful, yet sleepless, flights, Dave and I touched down in Roma. Although the trip from our door to the airport in Rome was 17.5 hours, we decided to rent a car and hit the road right away to get to San Marino, where we were spending two nights. Continue reading My visit to the world’s oldest republic→