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Saturday, March 12, 2016

Montenegro, From Bar To Belgrade By Train

 

 

IMG_20160216_213926At about eight in the morning I sadly leave my beautiful apartment in Bar for about a fifteen minute walk to the local train station.

 

 

 

 

Having already bought my ticket for about 10 Euros the night before I just have to arrive at the station before the 9am departure.

Although it is about a 12 hour journey to Belgrade I am excited about this trip as some consider it to be one of Europe's most spectacular train rides. Taking over 25 years to complete, the almost 300 mile line has 254 tunnels and 435 bridge crossings.

 

 

IMG_0003Lake Skadar

 

After having a very hot cup of tea at the train station café I board a less than full train and exactly at 9am we are on our way to Belgrade. After crossing beautiful Lake Skadar we make our first stop in the capital of Montenegro, Podgorica where a good number of the passengers who boarded the train in Bar disembarks.

 

 

IMG_0014An elevated track gives us spectacular views of beautiful towering mountains in the distance along with a paralleling river below us as we pass by small Montenegrin villages.

 

 

 

Along a curved area of the track we go in and out of one tunnel after another and repeatedly cross some amazing bridges.

 

 

 

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For most of the journey I have a compartment to myself but at one point I do share it with an elderly gentleman. Although we verbally do not understand each other we communicate with nods and smiles and end up sharing a few cookies together.

For me the scenery along this route never gets boring. As I see a few snow capped mountains I imagine that at certain times of the year the scenery here is even more gorgeous.

 

 

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Soon darkest covers it all and as anticipated 12 hours after leaving Bar I arrive in Belgrade the Serbian capital.

Bar Montenegro To Belgrade Serbia Train

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Montenegro, Simply Majestic

 

 

Snapshot 1 (2-23-2016 9-55 AM)Airborne east from Nikola Tesla International Airport we get nice views of Belgrade including St Sava's Temple before turning southwest towards Tivat.

 

 

Our views are soon obstructed by a thick layer of clouds that occasionally give us a glimpse of the landscape below. In these glimpses I can tell the terrain has now changed as I can see mountains lightly covered with snow.

Soon we are making a turn over a body of water when the flight attendant makes an announcement. We are diverting because of bad weather in Tivat to Podogrica.

 

IMG_20160214_165331Next it is a bus ride that puts us in Tivat about three hours behind schedule.

 

 

 

 

 

Although the Tivat airport is now closed I am still fortunate enough to be able to pick up my rental car from Meridian Car Rental after just a short wait. Soon enough I am on my way to “Tivat Star” near Porto Montenegro where I will be spending the next two nights.

 

 

Snapshot 2 (2-23-2016 9-59 AM)I get a surprisingly warm welcome at Tivat Star as I am offered to join my host and his friends for dinner.

Ukrainian/Montenegrin Style

 

 

 

Grilled meats, a tuna pate, cheese (which I pass on) delicious tomatoes, fresh bread, spicy mustard and generous shots of liquor followed by lots of laughter make me feel right at home. However, there is one slight problem. My host is a New England Patriots fan. A few more shots and I forgive him.

 

 

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Morning skies still show a threat of rain as I set off on a drive around coastal Montenegro. My first destination is Gornja Lastva where en route I get splendid views of “The Bay Of Kotor” in the distance below me.

 

IMG_20160215_120154At Gornja Lastva I visit the 600 year old St Mary's Church but miss the chance to see an olive mill nearby.

 

 

 

 

 

A stop at the Tivat Riviera and for about 5 euros I am on a car ferry crossing “The Bay Of Kotor”. A left turn leaving the ferry and I am on my way to Herceg Novi a historical coastal town.

 

 

IMG_20160216_144505Herceg Novi

 

A walk along a beach front gives more spectacular views of the bay as I head towards “Old Town”. Here you can visit St Archangel Michael Church and Square Belavista which are both relatively quiet this time of the year.

 

IMG_20160216_144746Narrow paths, step stairs, a nice park along with fancy shops and restaurants are also a part of the area.

For simple bargain souvenirs, stop in at “Svepo 1E”.

 

 

 

From Herceg Novi it is a beautiful drive around “The Bay Of Kotor” to Risan then to Kotor. This drive is so stunning it is a part of a UNESCO site. Along this route is one of the most spectacular natural sights that I have ever seen.

 

 

 

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At a roadside stop I am at the edge of mountain cave that has a massive volume of water thundering hundreds of feet down into the bay.

 

 

IMG_0048It is late afternoon as I arrive in Kotor for an early dinner at Caffe Sara.

This is an amazing walled city that deserved more time to visit.

 

 

 

 

As night falls I stop in at St Nichols Serbian Orthodox church as a mass is being conducted. The solemn process adds to peacefulness of the city as it now glows under night lights.

 

 

IMG_0055Kotor At Night

 

 

IMG_20160216_171555One more day of driving around Montenegro and I end up watching the sunset in Stari Grad Budva.

 

 

 

 

 

A refreshing pint in an English pub and soon I am making way to a bar. In Bar, Montenegro I will be spending my last night in this naturally beautiful country that is less than ten years old.

From here I am looking forward to taking “The Montenegro Express” a 12 hour train ride back to Belgrade, Serbia. 

Majestic Montenegro

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Serbia, Sightseeing Around Belgrade

 

 

IMG_20160211_150537It is a beautiful afternoon as I leave Zurich for Belgrade, Serbia.

However, with an almost 5 hour stop over in Dusseldorf, Germany, it is near midnight before I arrive at Nikola Tesla International Airport.

 

 

 

An arranged airport pickup for 18 Euro and soon enough I am on my way to the city which is about 15 miles from the airport. After checking in at a nice room at Central Park Apartments it is about one in the morning when I set out on a peaceful walk around town.

 

 

IMG_20160212_012354Princess Ljubica Residence

 

 

 

IMG_20160212_014106For me, this is a great time to enjoy the layout of the city and to take pictures of its lit up architecture.

Tonight I even get a sampling of some late night city snacks.

 

 

 

 

A daytime walk around Belgrade takes me to some of its famous sites including historical Skadarska Street along with “The New Court”. The New Court was intended in the early 1900's as the residency of the Royal Family but today serves as the cabinet for the President.

 

 

IMG_20160212_163235Here I am fortunate to see the ceremonial changing of the guards take place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_20160212_162304Next with a delicious Solunac Gyro (filled with hot fries) in hand I set off to St Sava's Temple.

It is the largest Orthodox Temple in the Balkans. Although currently under renovation on the inside it is still an amazing sight to see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_20160212_165601St Sava’s Temple

 

 

My second night in Belgrade rewards me with more beautiful views of the city including the nicely lit up National Assembly building and famous walking street.

 

 

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National Assembly Building

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the Belgrade Fortress I get a history lesson of the area during World War I when in December 1915 it was reported that “Belgrade is dead”.

Tonight as I look across the Danube River and see colorfully lit bridges it is evident that there has been a resurrection here.

A two hour bus ride outside of Belgrade and I take in views of the Serbian countryside as I head to Topola. Here a visit to “The Cathedral Church” is a must. I think you will be impressed by the colorful and amazing paintings inside this temple. Topola also offers a few more historical Serbian sites.

 

 

IMG_0001The Cathedral Church

 

My last day in Belgrade takes me to a museum of a man who we can all be thankful for. Although there is some minor controversy of which country should take credit for him and his great work, Nikola Tesla of Croatian and Serbian descent has a museum here. Although it is a small museum I can appreciate the significance of the displays here.

 

 

IMG_20160214_120606Urn  Of Tesla’s Ashes

 

 

 

 

 

 

After all, this museum is a tribute to the man who contributed so much to the advancement of humanity with his theories and inventions all built around electricity.

The next time you use the internet, talk on a cellphone or turn on a light switch you should be thankful for Tesla.

 

 

IMG_20160214_120737Tesla built remote control boat used in New York to demonstrate basic wireless communication.

 

 

 

 

 

For this time of the year the weather is unusually nice in Belgrade and I along with many others are really enjoying a beautiful Sunday afternoon. A delicious slice of Mexican pizza without the hot dog crust and my senses are delighted as I listen to a violin and piano make beautiful music.

 

 

 

IMG_20160214_130337Yes, today Belgrade is very much alive and well

To Serbia With Love

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Cruising, Fun On A Star

 

Barely before sailing we have one of the most efficient and fastest safety briefing ever. By the time we arrive at our muster station it is practically over.

 

Snapshot 1 (1-30-2016 9-14 AM)Just like that our “Fun On A Star” begins.

Fun On A Star

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Philippines, Manila Cock Fighting

 

Although we had been led to believe “Cock Fighting” was a popular venue in Manila we are having a difficult time getting information about it. After several attempts talking to different locals we finally find someone with some good 411.

 

IMG_20151115_084737With this information in hand we make plans for an early get up on a Sunday morning to head to Pasay City Cockpit.

 

 

 

 

Having been to a bull fight once I am not really to fond of this outing. However, our son is excited about it so I basically tag along for the experience.

We watch a few fights with a mostly male audience who almost go in a frenzy betting on the fights. A few of them even tried to solicit us into playing along although we felt much safer just being spectators.

Interestingly, there is not always a winner and loser in the fights. Unfortunately some roosters that survive get a trip to “The Rooster Doctor” for repairs to later rejoin the circuit.

 

 

IMG_20151115_095444The Rooster Doctor

 

What an experience to watch him do his magic and even perform man to rooster mouth to beak resuscitation.

To my surprise cock fighting was much less unpleasant than watching a bull fight and another good lesson for me in how we are all so culturally different.

Experiencing these things for us is truly a part of the joy of traveling.

Cock Fighting In Manila

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Cruising, On A Star Under A Bridge

 

Our first cruise out of Tampa, Florida and of 2016 turns out to be surprisingly a lot of fun with an early highlight of sailing under “The Skyway Bridge”.

 

 

IMG_20160110_182029Skyway Bridge

 

For a 93K ton ship not only is navigating the channel to the bridge impressive but even more so is passing mere feet under it.

NCL Star Under A Bridge

Philippines, Manila By Night

 

Part of our night exploration of Manila has us going against the flow of traffic on a busy street as we pass by The National Museum. Our destination is Chinatown one of the oldest such market area outside of China.

 

 

IMG_20151114_181308For us the area turns out to be a bit of a disappointment but probably not as bad as it could have been.

We learned from a taxi cab driver the day after visiting that it is not one of the safest places to be in Manila especially at night.

 

 

 

Our second night is spent enjoying one of the locals passion, karaoke. We end up at the Star Of Manila which has one of the best karaoke set up we have ever seen. It is not too busy the night we visit and we end up having the good fortune of meeting one of the bar owners, Steve. This turns out to be a treat as we get to learn more about business and Manila life from a foreigner’s perspective.

 

 

IMG_20151116_002008Star Of Manila

 

We finish the night with a walk towards the American Embassy with Steve and his bodyguard who then escorts us back to our hotel.

Tomorrow, we set out for another unique Manila experience but this time only two of us will be a part of it.

Manila By Night

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Philippines, Hectic Manila

 

Besides its what I am told normal madness, we are told that Manila will be even more hectic as we will be visiting (unplanned) during the APEC conference. We get a quick taste of this outside the airport arrival area when we attempt to join the taxi queue which is about 150 passengers deep with a “Yellow Cab” showing up about every 7-10 minutes.

 

 

IMG_20151114_133127Knowing this will not work we walk off the airport area through a construction site then jay walk across 6 lanes of traffic on a major highway to find a “White Cab”.

 

 

 

 

Our 5 mile journey to downtown begins but takes us almost an hour in bumper to bumper traffic even on a sometimes multi-lane highway.

Checked into our hotel our next adventure is a ride in one of the most popular forms of public transportation, a colorful and (9 pesos) very cheap “Jeepney”. Our destination is one of the oldest parts of Manila, Intramuros. Here we discover of the quickest ways to see this huge area is on a bicycle tour where someone else is doing the pedaling.

 

 

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A lot of the city's history is here including Fort Santiago and the Manila Metropolitan Cathedral which I think has being rebuilt about eight times. Intramuros is definitely a worthwhile stop in Manila.

Our second day has us crossing MacArthur Bridge to see another part of the city.

 

IMG_20151115_122802A nice local noodle lunch then we receive a sidewalk blessing of “Holy Water” before we make a visit to Quiapo Church.

 

 

 

 

Quiapo Church is home of the Black Nazarene which is considered scared and miraculous by many here in the Catholic faith.

 

 

 

IMG_20151115_133059The Black Nazarene

Manila By Day

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Cebu, Our Intro To The Philippines

 

 

IMG_20151112_102246Thanks to Air Asia for approximately USD 90 per passenger, about 4 hours after leaving Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia we are touching down in Cebu.

 

 

 

 

Our on the spur of the moment (adventure style) travel presents a bit more of a challenge than usual as we soon discover that our “Plan-A” for this stop is not as workable as it looked on paper. Although our planned destination for the next two days is less than 100 miles away we are told it will take us at least 5 hours to get there. So much for swimming with the whale sharks in Oslob.

Nonetheless we are fortunate that our rental car agent helps us develop a “Plan-B”. As we crisscross the city with her and her drive in search of affordable accommodations for the night we get a chance to learn first hand about life in the Philippines. Stories of corruption including “The Airport Bullet Scam” are amazing and frighting.

After several attempts we finally find our home for the next two nights. A stroll around town and before long we are dining on delicious and tender local pork and chicken. A haircut for about 35 US cents and we are ready for a night out on the town. A visit to what some might consider a “local discotheque” is kind of a bust except for cold beers and a glimpse of Cebu nightlife on a Thursday.

 

IMG_20151113_135057We are up early the next day for a delicious breakfast before we set out to explore Cebu by car. We opt for a closer destination but the 46 mile journey still takes us almost 3 hours to cover. Our exploration rewards us with some bridge diving like a local for my son and a chance to relax at Hermits Cove.

 

 

 

 

IMG_20151113_142428Hermits Cove

 

 

IMG_20151113_165526Dinner at Carcar City Public Market and our “Plan-B” turns out not to be so bad after all.

Two Days In Cebu

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Florida, An Afternoon With The Ponies

 

In Tampa a day early for a cruise we decide to spend a part of a rainy afternoon at Tampa Bay Downs a short drive away from our hotel. Fortunately, for us we arrive in time to catch the last three races of the day but on a muddy track.

 

IMG_20160109_155233Although we love watching these beautiful and amazing animals, when it comes to betting horses and gambling in general I have very little idea.

However, I do know if you bet to win and your horse wins then you win.

 

 

Anymore complicated than that and I get confused.

 

Taking a 30-1 odd does not work out to well for us in our first round of betting however on our second shot at it we hit the “jackpot”. We can see our winner leading the pack down the stretch... and I start screaming louder to make him run faster... Come on No.9... It's not even a close finish.

 

IMG_20160109_163833We wait for our money maker at the “Winner's Circle” then excitedly go off to cash our pay dirt.

For a $2 bet, we walk away with a whopping $7.56 an almost 600% better return than we got playing the $900,000,000 Powerball. Not bad, not bad at all.

Tampa Bay Downs

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Malaysia, Don't Mess With Melaka

 

Our second day touring around Kuala Lumpur has us driving South. We are again in love with all the lush green vegetation including tons of palm trees that constantly surround us.

Oddly enough we soon feel like we are in Texas minus the cowboy hats and longhorns when we encounter a sign warning us not to mess with Melaka.

As our good fortune would have it we make a roadside stop along the way and get invited to the “Grand Opening” celebration of a local restaurant.

 

IMG_20151111_114614Free delicious food along with an endless stream of free beer from the “Carlsberg Girls” and about two hours later we have to force ourselves to leave. However, we really enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with the locals and learn a bit more about their country and culture.

 

 

Finally arriving in the historic port of Melaka we take a stroll around town before taking a short cruise on the Melaka River. While it seems the area has seen better days our cruise does give us the chance to meet a few more Malaysians even a little cute one.

 

IMG_20151111_160357Next it is a tour of a replica ship from Melaka swashbuckling days were we learn a bit more about the are's maritime history.

 

 

 

 

Our last taste of Malaysia is it's warm waters at the beautiful Saujana Beach where we watch another day come to an end.

Don't Mess With Melaka

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Montana… Weeeeeeee

 
 
 
 
What started as a gimmick to attract business at Bear Creek Saloon And Steakhouse during lean times has turned into a “Big Sky Country” phenomena.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Now I have seen a “Shoe Fly” but I ain't ever seen a ….. “Pig Fly”

Big Sky Where Pigs Do Fly