Eastern Europe Trip – Day 4 – Belgrade, Serbia

Today was my first day in Belgrade, Serbia. Before I dive into this exploring Belgrade let’s talk about Serbia’s history.

Serbia’s History

In the 7th Century Slavs, ancestors of modern Serbs arrived in Serbia. Upon initial settlement they were divided into clans, but in the 8th century the first Serbian state, called Rašica, was formed. The Serbians became Christian in the 9th century. Over the next few centuries Serbia expanded its territories and had a growing population.

Everything was going well until the 14th century when the Turks invaded Serbia in a battle at the Marica River in 1371, and another battle in Kosovo in 1389. The Turks continued their invasion of the country over the next few hundred years. In 1459 the Turks captured the city of Smederevo, which ended up in the demise of Serbian independence. The Turks were relentless and didn’t stop there; in 1521 they captured the city of Belgrade.

In 1594 the Serbians rebelled against the Turks in the Uprising in Banat, but lost. The Serbians rebelled again between 1683-1690 during a war between Austria, Poland, Venice and Turkey, but the Austrian’s withdrew, which caused the rebellion to collapse. Many Serbians went back with the retreating Austrian army.

The fighting was far from over; in 1804 the First National Uprising, led by Dorde Petrovic, had begun. With some help from Russia the rebellion was successful at first, but in 1812 the Russian’s made peace with the Turks, and as a result the Serbian rebellion collapsed. In 1815 the Second National Uprising began, but this time the Turks allowed Serbia some autonomy. In 1878 Serbia finally became independent, and in 1882 Serbia became a Kingdom.

After World War 1 Serbia became part of a large Slav nation, and in 1929 King Aleksander suspended parliament and introduced a royal dictatorship, and named the state Yugoslavia.

There were two extremist parties in Croatia during the 1930’s; the Communists and the Fascist Ustase. In 1939 the Yugoslavian government gave into the demands for Croatian autonomy and created an autonomous region called the Banovina.

During the beginning of World War 2 Yugoslavia had a neutral stance, but in March 1941 a coup was held by pro-British officers, and as a result the Germans invaded Yugoslavia on April 6 1941. The Germans set up shop in Croatia with the fascist Ustase in charge, but the Croatians were able to liberate them by 1945.

During the 1960’s nationalism re-emerged and more people were demanding autonomy. In 1971 Tito, the Communist leader put a stop to it, but he ended up dying in 1980. Communism collapsed in most of Eastern Europe in 1989, during the same time frame that many non-Communist organizations were being setup. Finally, in 1991-1992 Yugoslavia started to break up. Serbia became independent in 2006, Montenegro became independent in 2006, and Kosovo became independent in 2008.

Exploring Belgrade, Serbia

I started the day off by talking to the receptionist at the hotel for about an hour. She was quite excited that I was a photographer, so she gave me a lot of great ideas to explore while I’m in Belgrade, as well as some places close by worth exploring.

After chatting with the receptionist and gathering all the great info, it was time to start my adventures. I started off by having a goat cheese and prosciutto omelette and coffee for breakfast at a delightful little place called Red Bread. It cost me about $8 CDN for my meal, which I thought was a great price.

First stop was Republic Square, which sits in front of the National Museum. Republic Square is considered Belgrade’s most important central square. Surrounding republic square is the National Theatre, National Museum, the Army House, and the monument of Prince Knez Mihailo. There are four fountains location on the square as well. In historic times this place was home to the Stambol Gate, which was Belgrade’s’ further outer gate of the 19th century. The Turks used the gate to execute convicts by hanging them. Once the Turks left the city, Prince Mihailo ordered the demolition of the gate. The first building to be built in its place was the National Theatre, built in 1869. 19 Years later the Prince Mihailo statue was built. Over the years the square became the modern hub of Belgrade. It was suggested to rename the square to Freedom Square after some pro-democracy demonstrations that occurred at the square to oust Slobodan Milosević on 9 March 1991, during the 1991 protests in Belgrade. The National Museum of Belgrade is the largest and oldest museum in Belgrade. It is located next to Republic Square. The museum was established in May 1944 and moved into the current building (formerly a Stock Exchange) in 1950. The museum has a collection of over 400000 objects. I also passed by later on in the evening on my way back to the hotel, so I snapped a night time shot.

Next up, also close by is the National Theatre building, across the road. The National Theatre of Belgrade is located in Republic Square. The Renaissance style building, designed by architect Aleksander Bugarski, was opened in 1869. Prince Michael was impressed by theatre so he ordered that the National Theatre of Belgrade be built. Sadly, the prince didn’t get to live to see any performances in the theatre because he was assassinated. He was assassinated in Košutnjak on 10 June 1868 and the foundation stone was laid by his successor, prince Milan, on 31 August 1868. In 1911 a decision to do a reconstruction of the building was ordered because of some issues with the stage and utilities rooms. The reconstruction took a long time due to World War I and wasn’t finished until 1922. The auditorium was enlarged to be able to seat 944 people, and the stage was also enlarged. After the reconstruction the building lost its outer beauty from the original Vienna Secession and Baroque architecture blends. The theatre was damage during the German bombings in World War 2 and was again rebuilt, and enlarged once more. Two more reconstructions and expansions followed in 1965 and 1989, and the theatre was once again returned to its original Vienna Secession and Baroque architecture blends.

A short walk away and I arrived at Kombank Dvorana Movie Theatre. Kombank Dvorana (Dom Sindikata) Movie Theatre is a vision of Branko Petričić, and was constructed between 1947 and 1957. It is one of Belgrade’s most popular entertainment venues. It was built during the Tito-Stalin split in 1948, hence why it took an entire decade to build. The Great Hall has 1600 seats and has hosted a number of very famous guests such as B.B. King, Robert de Niro, Elizabeth Taylor, Oscar Peterson, Miles Davis, and Ella Fitzgerald to name a few. A large pipe organ was installed in 1957 and was operational until 1998. The building underwent some renovations and was reopened in April 2018, with a building name change to Kombank Dvorana.

Down the street you can see the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia. The National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia building is a Neo-Baroque style building that was designed by Jovan Ilkić in 1901. Construction started in 1907, but was placed on pause numerous times before its completion in 1936. The interior of the building was designed by architect Nikolai Krasnov in academic traditional style. A fun fact about this building is that 91 pieces of art were stolen during the October 5th 2000 riots, with only 35 being found and the rest remaining missing.

On the way to walking to the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia I spotted The Old Palace off to my left. The Old Palace was the royal residence of the Obrenović dynasty. Today it houses the City Assembly of Belgrade. The square building was built between 1882 and 1884 in an Academism style by architects Aleksander Bugarski and Jovan Ilkić.

Across the street from The National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia is the Central Post Office of Serbia, which was constructed between 1935 and 1938. The building was constructed because there was a need to house the Post Office and Post Office Savings Bank under one roof, since the original buildings of both institutions were considered too small. There was some considerable controversy with the selection of the architect for the design of the building. Originally, first prize was awarded to the joint project of Zagreb architects Јosip Pičman and Аndrija Baranji, while the second prize was awarded Slovenian architect Аco Lovrenčić, both with modern architecture designs. The competition finished in the 1930’s, during an economic recession, which meant that the designs were a bit too elaborate. Immediately after the competition, at the end of 1930, it was decided that the Ministry of Construction amend the winning project. The amendment was completed by architect Dimitrije Leko, and within the ministry, a narrower internal competition was organized to create new plans for the façades of the building, where the project of the architect Vasilije Androsov was evaluated as being the best option.

Again, right next door, is the Church of Saint Mark is a Serbian Orthodox church that was built in 1940 in the Serbo-Byzantine style and designed by the Krstić brothers. It was built on the site of an old wooden church that dated back to 1835 that was destroyed during World War 1, and again in World War 2. The church is one of the largest churches in Serbia and can accommodate 150 musicians, and 2000 people in one sitting. The church is 62 metres (203 feet) long, 45 metres (148 feet) wide, and 60 metres (200 feet) high, excluding the cross. I wasn’t happy with the photo that I took, so I’ll revisit this another day.

Next up was the beautiful streets of Knez Mihaila, which were about a 20 minute walk away. Knez Mihailova Street is the main pedestrian and shopping zone in Belgrade. It features a number of buildings and mansions built during the late 1870’s. The street was included on the list of Spatial Cultural-Historical Units of Great Importance in 1979, and is now protected by the Republic of Serbia.

Further down Knez Mihaila you can start to see Belgrade Fortress, but before going there I took a detour to checkout the Holy Archangel Michael Orthodox Church, and the Serbian Orthodox Church Museum, which was adjacent next door.

The history of Belgrade Fortress dates back to 279 BC when the Celtic tribe of Scordisci ruled the region. It is the oldest section in the urban area of Belgrade, and for numerous years the city was concentrated only within the walls of the fortress. The fortress was destroyed numerous times over the years, and the current iteration of the fortress was built in the mid-18th century. Numerous wars occurred in 1440, 1456, 1521, 1688, 1690, 1717, 1739, 1789 and 1806.

A ten minute walk away is an extremely weird looking building that is home to the Sports and Recreational Center, also known as Milan Gale Muškatirović. The facility was built in 1973 to fulfill the needs of the first World Championship. In 2011 a rehabilitation project was started.

It was approaching noon and was time to head to the The Aeronautical Museum, about an hours bus ride away. The bus ride costs about $1.85 CDN. The Aeronautical Museum, formerly known as the Yugoslav Aeronautical Museum was founded in 1957, adjacent to Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport. The current building, opened on May 21 1989, was designed by architect Ivan Štraus. The museum contains over 200 aircraft, 130 engines, radars, rockets, 20000 books, and more than 200000 photographs. Sadly this building has fallen into complete disrepair, and I wonder how much longer it’ll stay standing. It was a rainy day today, and despite being indoors it didn’t block the rain much. There’s so many leaks in the structure, and I’m wondering if structural fatigue will eventually lead to the demise of this beautiful and unique place. I was starting to get hungry so I walked across the street into the Belgrade Airport terminal to grab a prosciutto sandwich from one of the stores.

Next up was an area called Block 61. I took a 30 minute bus ride to there, however got off early and walked because traffic was backed up due to a car accident. Block 61 is one of many soviet style blocks that were constructed when the construction of “New Belgrade” began in 1948. Blokovi (The Blocks) was designed as a group of urban neighborhoods that were divided into 72 blocks, including several sub-blocks (i.e. 7a, 7b, 7c, etc.). The blocks in “New Belgrade” are based on the detailed urban plan from 1965 made by Josip Svoboda (Bureau for Urban Planning in Belgrade). The green areas and traffic infrastructure were designed by Milan Miodragović, and housing was designed by architects Darko Marušić and Milenija Marušić. All constructive elements used for the complex were prefabricated in standard dimensions. I honestly had a hard time with this one, as I found it so drab and depressing. This was a “utopian” idea of how developers thought people would like to live, because everything is so close that you don’t need to drive, but in reality it is a horrible way for people to live. The buildings quickly fell into disarray, and in general its just not a nice way to live being so crowded.

The final stop for the day before having dinner was Airport City Belgrade (Stari Hanger), which was another 10 minute bus ride away. I couldn’t find much information on this building unfortunately.

For dinner I decided to go to a restaurant called Manufaktura Restaurant. It was about a 20 minute bus ride away, and was right in the middle of the city. I chose to have a local beer and beef goulash, which was absolutely incredible! I highly recommend this place. One thing to keep in mind is that Serbia still allows smoking indoors, so that may make some people uncomfortable. I chose to sit in the back as far away from people as possible, and it didn’t bother me that much.

It was about 530pm at this point in time, and I had already completed 18 kilometers of walking, which was causing my feet to hurt, so I headed back to the hotel. I did a few hours of work, had a nap, wrote more of my blog, and booked a car for tomorrow to explore Serbia’s countryside. I’m a day behind on my blog already, however I feel I’m just going to keep getting further behind.

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 3 – Ljubljana, Zagreb & Belgrade

Today I woke up around 7am and had breakfast at my hotel. There was a continental breakfast available so I had a coffee and made a sandwich out of the bread, salami, and cheese. After breakfast I checked out of the hotel and drove into Zagreb, parked my car, and started exploring.

Ljubljana, Slovakia

While I was in the beautiful city of Ljubljana, Slovakia I explored Robba Fountain, Tromostovje (Triple Bridge), Ljubljana Cathedral, Butchers Bridge, Dragon Bridge, and S2 Office Tower (Telemach POP Tivolska).

Robba Fountain, also known as the Fountain of the Three Carniolan Rivers is a fountain that stands in front of Ljubljana Town Hall. It was completed in 1751 by Italian sculptor Francesco Robba, and is one of the city’s most recognizable symbols. The fountain was modelled after Fontana del Pantheon, the fountain by Filippo Barigioni at Piazza della Rotonda. In 2006, the fountain was renovated and moved into the National Gallery, and the Town Square original was replaced by a replica.

Tromostovje (Triple Bridge) was opened in 1842. It is a group of three bridges across the Ljubljana River, connecting the Ljubljana historical and medieval town on one side to the modern city on the other side. The central bridge is built partially of limestone, while other parts are built from concrete. The balustrades (vertical pillars) with 642 balusters are made of artificial concrete. The bridge was originally built from wood in 1280 but was replaced in 1657 after a fire. It was again replaced in 1842 by a new stone arch bridge designed by Giovani Picco, an Italian architect. In order to prevent the new bridge from being a bottleneck, the architect Jože Plečnik designed in 1929 the extension of the bridge with two footbridges at a slight angle on each side of it. Construction of these bridges took place between 1931 and 1932.

Ljubljana Cathedral, also known as St. Nicholas’s Cathedral, was completed in 1706 in a Baroque architectural style. The site where the current church is located dates back to 1262. A fire that occurred in 1362 ended up destroying the original building, and it was refurbished in Gothic style. Unfortunately, the building was burned down again in 1461 and was rebuilt as a cathedral. It was suspected that the building was set on fire deliberated by the Turks. The building was eventually rebuilt between 1701 and 1706 in its current Baroque architectural style.

Butchers Bridge is a pedestrian footbridge that crosses the River Ljubljana. It connects the Ljubljana Central Market and the Petkovšek Embankment. The currently bridge was built in 2010 and was modeled after the bridge that architect Jože Plečnik had planned in the 1930’s. The bridge features a staircase on the left entry, glass walkways on either side, and two fences with steel wires, and a wide top shelf. It was designed by Jurij Kobe and decorated with sculptures designed by Jakov Brdar. The main sculptures on the bridge include Adam and Eve, shamed and banished from Paradise after having been induced by the Serpent to taste from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; Satyr, startled by the Serpent; and Prometheus, running and disemboweled. There are also some smaller statues of frogs and shellfish.

Dragon Bridge is a road bridge located close-by to Butchers Bridge. The bridge was opened in 1901 and features four large copper dragon statues on each of its four corners, and sixteen smaller dragon statues. The bridge was built as part of an urban renovation of the town. It replaced an old oak bridge which was destroyed a few years early by an earthquake. The bridge was built out of concrete.

S2 Office Tower (Telemach POP Tivolska) is the only part of the original urban design of the right side of the northern entry to the city center of Ljubljana. Architect Milan Mihelič planned to have two 15 story towers – S1 and S2, which would act as a “gate” to the entrance of the city. The building is designed as a combination of eccentric reinforced concrete core with vertical communications and two symmetrical steel volumes. The building is a very fine example of a combination of brutalism and modern architectural styles.

Here’s some pictures of some other interesting things that I saw.

Zagreb, Croatia

After exploring Ljubljana I drove the 1.5 hours back to Zagreb to finish exploring Zagreb. I took pictures of the Esplanade Zagreb Hotel, Art Gallery (Art Pavilion), and Cathedral of Zagreb, before having some Cevapi for dinner at Plac Kitchen & Grill.

Esplanade Zagreb Hotel is one of the most famous hotels in Zagreb. It was built in 1925 and originally attracted passengers of the famous Orient Express. The hotel took only 26 months to complete. Each of the 200 rooms originally featured running hot and cold water, a shared bathroom for each second room, a telephone in each room. The hotel also featured many suites and lounges, and a dining room.

Art Gallery (Art Pavilion) started back in 1896 when a Millennium Exhibition was held in Budapest to celebrate 1000 years of Hungarian statehood. The Budapest Pavillion was designed by Hungarian architects Flóris Korb and Kálmán Giergl and was constructed by the Danubius building company. After the exhibition had ended the building’s skeleton was transported to Zagreb, and Austrian architects Fellner & Helmer were hired to design a new version of the building based around the skeleton. Construction occurred between 1897 and 1898, and was officially inaugurated on December 15th 1898 with a large exhibition showcasing works of local artists. The exhibition was so popular that it attracted 1/6th of Zagreb’s population! In 2006 the glass roof was renovated and the lighting system was replaced.

Cathedral of Zagreb is a Roman Catholic cathedral church that started out in 1217 and consecrated by King Andrew II of Hungary. The building was destroyed by the Mongols in 1242 and rebuilt a few years later. At the end of the 15th century when the Ottoman Empire invaded Croatia, which contributed to the construction of fortified walls around the cathedral, of which some are still intact today. In the 17th century a watchtower was erected and used as a military observation point, because of the Ottoman threat. In 1880 the cathedral was severely damaged during an earthquake. The main nave collapsed and the tower was damaged beyond repair. The cathedral was repaired in Neo-Gothic style, which is its present architecture type. A fun fact is that the cathedral is depicted on the Croatian 1000 kuna banknote, which will soon be discontinued when the Euro banknote becomes standard currency next year.

For dinner I had Cevapi at Plac Kitchen & Grill. Cevapi is a grilled dish of minced meat served with a fluffy flatbread called Somun. It was recommended to me by a great friend, and I’m glad that she recommended it to me.

After having dinner I had a couple of meetings in the car, and sent some emails before heading to the airport. I was supposed to board a Air Serbia 840pm flight from Zagreb, Croatia to Belgrade, Serbia, however the plane that I was supposed to fly on had maintenance issues, so I was placed on an Airbus A319, instead of an ATR72. After the delay was announced people left, so I was the only one left in the airport, which was weird. I watched the security staff play catch, and I was the only one on the plane.

After arriving in Belgrade I was greeted by my drive, which the hotel sent for me. I’m staying at the Venati Suites, located right downtown. I grabbed my keycard from the front desk, checked myself in, had a shower, and went to bed since it was late.

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 2 – Plitvice Lake & Ljubljana, Slovenia

Today I drove from Zagreb, Croatia to Plitvice Lakes, about a two hour drive away. On the way I attempted to stop at The Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija, however the road was closed off for the season to prevent continued degradation of the site by looters during the off-season. The Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija is a World War 2 monument designed by Vojin Bakić, and built by Veliki Petrovac on the highest peak of the Petrova Gora mountain range. The monument celebrates the uprising and resistance movement of the people of Kordun and Banija against Nazi-fascism, as well as commemorates the victims of the Nazi-fascism. The monument took ten years to build and was finished in 1981. At the time the monument was finished it was the largest postmodern sculpture in the world. After 1991, antifascist monuments and memorial complexes were neglected. This continues to this day as local people continue stealing the stainless-steel plates off the monument. I snagged a few photos from Google Maps (credit given to the photographers) so you can see what it looks like.

Photo Credit: Bara Fai – 2021
Photo Credit: Arwen Swan – 2021
Photo Credit: Uldis Strauss – 2019

Next stop was Plitvice Lakes National Park. Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the oldest and largest national parks in Croatia. It became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. The park was founded in 1949 and is very well known for its beautiful lakes, pathways, and waterfalls. Entrance cost to the park is about $16 CDN, however expect to pay double when its not off season.

After visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park I drove about 3.5 hours towards Ljubljana, Slovenia. The border crossing took about an hour because they were checking everyone’s COVID vaccine passports. Before I dive into the rest of my day in Slovenia let’s talk about Slovenia’s history, which has a lot of overlap with Croatia.

Slovenia’s History

Slovenia is a relatively young country; being formed on June 25 1991. The history of Slovenia is very similar to that of Croatia; having been its neighboring country. Historically, Slovenia was part of many different states dating back to the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Carolingian Empire, Holy Roman Empire, Habsburg Monarchy, the Republic of Venice, the Illyrian Provinces of the First French Empire of Napoleon I, the Austrian Empire, and finally the Austrian-Hungarian Empire until it broke up in October 1918.

As mentioned back in my brief history of Croatia; in December 1918 the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was formed. In 1929 this kingdom was renamed to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

During the beginning of World War 2 Yugoslavia had a neutral stance, but in March 1941 a coup was held by pro-British officers, and as a result the Germans invaded Yugoslavia on April 6 1941. The Germans set up shop in Croatia with the fascist Ustase in charge, but the Croatians were able to liberate them by 1945.

During the 1960’s nationalism re-emerged and more people were demanding autonomy. In 1971 Tito, the Communist leader put a stop to it, but he ended up dying in 1980. Communism collapsed in most of Eastern Europe in 1989, during the same time frame that many non-Communist organizations were being setup. In April 1990 elections were held and in December 1990 a referendum was held, with the majority of people in favor. On June 25 1991 the Slovene parliament declared Slovenia independent. This irritated the Yugoslavian army, so they tried to invade Slovenia a few days later on June 27 1991. They were held back by the Slovenian Territorial Defense forces and the police, and on July 7 1991 the Yugoslavians agreed to a ceasefire brokered by the European Union.

In December 1991 a new constitution was written, and on January 15 1992 Slovenian independence was recognized by the European Union. As was the case for many of the eastern European countries, Slovenia faced a long painful transition from Communism to Capitalism during the 1990’s. In 2004 Slovenia became a member of the European Union.

Exploring Ljubljana, Slovenia

When I arrived in Ljubljana, Slovakia my first stop was exploring Ljubljana Castle, a castle complex standing on Castle Hill, which overlooks the entire city. It was originally a medieval fortress constructed in the 11th century, rebuilt again in the 12th and 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. The castle is depicted on the city’s coat of arms, along with a dragon on the top. The castle just finished a major restoration project that lasted from 2000 to 2019. There was also a puppet museum inside the castle, which was pretty neat.

After visiting the castle I drove to my hotel; BIT Center Hotel, to check-in, and do a few hours of work, which included a few meetings. After working I drove back to the castle to haver dinner at the renowned Strelec Restaurant. A reservation is a requirement here, however being off-season I just booked it in the morning and they were able to accommodate me. This is a michelin star quality restaurant, however it is not a michelin star restaurant. I was served a 5 course dinner, however it was more like 8 courses… I wish I had taken better notes as to what I ate, however I had a few favorites. My first favorite was the ravioli with truffles, cheese, and home made sour cream. My second favorite was venison with beet-root. Third runner up was beef tartar. The meal was finished off with chocolate ganache, ice cream, a sweet puree of some sort, hazelnuts, and gold foil. The meal cost me a total of $115 CDN, however it was absolutely worth it. It was one of the most enjoyable dinners that I’ve ever had.

Be sure to check back tomorrow while I explore more of Ljubljana, before driving back to Zagreb, Croatia to catch a flight to Belgrade, Serbia late in the evening.

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 1 – Travel Day & Zagreb, Croatia

Today I embarked on a 3-week trip to Eastern Europe to complete an Eastern European journey across 8 countries. The countries that I will be visiting are Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Hungary, Slovakia, Vienna, Estonia, and Finland. During my trip I’ll go into a brief history of each country I visit, as well as go into more detail about specific places in each country that I visit.

My journey started in Calgary with a 9 hour flight on an Air Canada Boeing 787-9 to Frankfurt, with a quick layover before flying on a Lufthansa Airbus A320NEO to Zagreb, Croatia. I booked the outgoing flights in Premium Economy, however was upgraded to business class, which was nice. On the Air Canada flight I had Smoked Duck Breast as an appetizer, Chicken thighs with lemon mustard sauce and sautéed gnocchi for the main course, and cheese and crackers with Port for dinner. Breakfast was fruit, oatmeal, and cheese, however I skipped eating the oatmeal.

Upon arrival in Zagreb I picked up my rental car from Budget; a Skoda Kamiq, a mini SUV, which I only paid $65 CDN for two days.

After picking up the rental car I drove to downtown Zagreb. Before we dive into my adventure out let’s talk about Croatia’s history.

Croatia’s History

Croatia’s history dates back to roughly 5000 BC. After 390 BC the Greeks settled in colonies along the coast line. After 229 BC the Romans gradually took control of Croatia, and ended up ruling the entire country by 12 AD. The Romans divided up the area into provinces of Dalmatia (the coast), Noricum (which included part of Austria), and Pannonia (which included part of Hungary). The Roman control of Croatia came to an end in the 5th Century when the Roman Empire collapsed.

In the early 7th Century Slavic people, known as Croats, migrated to the area. They first settled in Dalmatia, expanding further northwards and inland in the 8th Century. During the Middle Ages trade flourished in Croatia, which allowed many towns to grow significantly. In 1202 of Venetian Crusaders took the town of Zadar to repay a debt that the Croatians owed them. In 1205 the Venetians also captured Dubrovnik and Istria.

In 1358 the Hungarian-Croatian king defeated the Venetians and took back control of Dalmatia, however this didn’t last long because in 1409 after a war the king of Hungary-Croatia sold Dalmatia (except Dubrovnik) to the Venetians. The reason why Dubrovnik wasn’t included was in 1382 Dubrovnik became independent and remained so until 1808.

In 1493 the Ottomans defeated the Croatians during the battle of Krovsko Poje. Peace in the area remained short lived with another war occurring in 1526, when the Hungarians were invaded by the Turks during the battle of Mohacs. The king of the Hungary-Croatian empire was killed and the kingdom was based to Austrian, Archduke Ferdinand of Habsburg, however the Turks continued to control most of Croatia until 1716 when they were defeated during the battle of Petervaradino.

In 1797 Venice was forced to return its Croatian territory to Austria. In 1809 Napoleon formed the territory into a new stated called the Illyrian Provinces, but this was short lived because in 1815 Napoleon was defeated. Austria took back the territory, including Dubrovnik.

In 1848 the Hungarians and Croats had a falling out and went to war, but the Austrian monarchy was still able to maintain power until 1867, which the Austrian Empire was split into two halves; Austria and Hungary. The Austrian monarch remained king of both independent halves. Croatia was eventually split; Dalmatia was ruled by Austria, while most of Croatia was ruled by Hungary.

In October 1918 the Austro-Hungarian empire broke up and Croatia declared its independence. On December 1 1918 the Croats agreed to join with the Slovenes and Serbs to form a new state called the kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. The Croats soon became upset, as they wanted the new state to become a unitary state. In 1929 King Alexander suspended parliament and introduced a royal dictatorship, and named the state Yugoslavia.

There were two extremist parties in Croatia during the 1930’s; the Communists and the Fascist Ustase. In 1939 the Yugoslavian government gave into the demands for Croatian autonomy and created an autonomous region called the Banovina.

During the beginning of World War 2 Yugoslavia had a neutral stance, but in March 1941 a coup was held by pro-British officers, and as a result the Germans invaded Yugoslavia on April 6 1941. The Germans set up shop in Croatia with the fascist Ustase in charge, but the Croatians were able to liberate them by 1945.

During the 1960’s nationalism re-emerged and more people were demanding autonomy. In 1971 Tito, the Communist leader put a stop to it, but he ended up dying in 1980. Communism collapsed in most of Eastern Europe in 1989, during the same time frame that many non-Communist organizations were being setup. In May 1990 elections were held, with the Croatians seeking to leave Yugoslavia, but with a substantial number of Serbians living in Croatia this created issues. In May 1991 the Croatians voted for independence, but The Yugoslavian army invaded to protect the Serbians living within the Croatian borders. This was the beginning of a long war, which didn’t end until 1995 with the signing of the Erdut Agreement. Croatian independence was recognized by the European Union on January 15 1992, even before the war was over. Eastern Slavonia was ran by the United Nations until 1998, when it was handed over to Croatia.

Exploring Zagreb

Zagreb’s history dates back to the Roman times, and was founded in 1134. Today Zagreb is home to 1.1 million people, housing about 25% of Croatia’s population. I spent the late afternoon exploring the old city including Lotrščak Tower, Ban Josip Jelačić Square, Zagreb 360°, Museum of Broken Relationships, St. Mark’s Church, and Atelijer Meštrović Museum.

As I drove into Zagreb I saw how beautiful the streets were. They reminded me quite a bit of the Czech Republic.A notable building was the circular Croatian Society of Fine Artists. I parked my car in the downtown area and explored for a bit before having to take my COVID test @ 430pm.

Lotrščak Tower is a fortified tower that was built sometime in the 13th century to guard the southern gate of the Gradec town wall. Gradec is an old part of Zagreb known as Upper Town. The name is derived from the Latin saying “Campana Latrunculorum”, meaning thieves bell, making reference to a bell that was hung in the tower in 1946 to signal the closing of the town gates. The tower had a cannon placed on the fourth floor, and since January 1 1877 the cannon is fired from the tower to mark midday so that bell-ringers of the city churches know when it is noon.

Ban Josip Jelačić Square is Zagreb’s central square. The square has existed since the 17th century, and was first named Harmica. It was renamed to its present name in 1848 after Count Josip Jelačić, who was in office from 1848 to 1859. In 1946 the square was renamed Republic Square and Josip Jelačić’s statue was removed the following year as the new Communist government of Yugoslavia denounced him as a “servant of foreign interests”. After the breakup of Yugoslavia Josip Jelačić’s historic role was again considered positive and the statue was returned to the square, but in a different location on the north side, facing south. Today the square is a common meeting place for the people in Zagreb and is a pedestrian only zone, as well as the main hub for the ZET tram lines. The square is adorned by a variety of architectural styles ranging from classicism, secession, and modernism.

The Museum of Broken Relationships is a museum in a baroque palace displaying personal objects from former lovers along with brief synopses.

St. Mark’s Church was built in the 13th century and was radically reconstructed in the second half of the 14th century to a Gothic architecture style. Massive round columns support heavy ribbed vaults cut in stone and an air of peace and sublimity characterizes the church interior in its simplicity. Outside, on the northwest wall of the church lies the oldest coat of arms of Zagreb with the year 1499 engraved in it. On the roof, tiles are laid so that they represent the coat of arms of Zagreb. There was police tape all around the building so I wasn’t able to enter. I couldn’t figure out why there was police tape all around.

The Atelijer Meštrović Museum is dedicated to the artwork of Ivan Meštrović, a renowned Yugoslavian and Croatian sculptor, architect and writer of the 20th century. He lived from 1883 to 1962, where he died at an age of 78 in South Bend, Indiana, USA.

During my walks I also saw a vineyard in the middle of town.

For dinner I had a Truffle Strukli from La Štruk. Štrukli’s are a popular Croatian dish made of pasty, cottage cheese, eggs, sour cream, and salt. All I can say is WOW this dish is delicious!

I explored the night life walking the streets back to my car before driving back to my hotel called Hotel & Hostel Zagreb; a basic accommodation for about $40 CDN. I finished my blog, had a shower, did some work, and went to bed.

Be sure to check back tomorrow when I travel from Zagreb, Croatia to visit the Uprising Monument, Plitvice Lakes National Park, Postojna Cave, Predjama Castle, and Ljubljana, Slovenia.

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Jasper & Wells Gray Provincial Park

Last weekend Julie and I took a long 1900km roundtrip road trip to Jasper and Wells gray Provincial Park. We used my new trusty steed; 2018 Toyota Prius PRIME. Total fuel cost on the trip was $60 because I was able to take advantage of multiple free charges during our trip, including at our hotels, and BC Info Centre’s.

We left Calgary on Friday July 31st 2020 at 4pm, picked up some Subway sandwiches and headed straight towards Jasper. The drive took just over 5 hours and we ended up staying at the Tonquin Inn for $200 for the night, which is quite acceptable for being a hot spot. The place was well equipped with a queen bed, separate living room, kitchen, and bathrooms.

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The next morning we got breakfast at Coco’s Cafe. We both had coffee and a Montreal style bagel (Julie had gluten free) with Salmon and cream cheese. After we ate our food we drove to Overlander Falls, about an hour away.

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Overlander Falls was a quick 30 minute return walk to the beautiful high-volume, but low height waterfalls. We were the only people there so I was able to take the time to capture some video and long exposure photographs.

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After visiting Overlander Falls we stopped in at the Mt. Robson Information Centre, which was only a 5 minute drive away. There we received some information booklets on Wells Gray Provincial Park, and the Berg Lake hike, which I plan on doing sometime this year. While we were there I took advantage of the free Level 2 EV charging there and was able to charge my PRIME about 50%.

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Continuing along we drove to Clearwater, BC, with a brief stop in Blue River for $15 worth of fuel, as it was a good price. We stopped at Clearwater to quickly take a look at which hikes we should visit on the first day. First stop was Spahats Falls. The walk / “hike” to Spahats Falls is an easy 3.1 km with 91 metres of elevation difference. The views are stunning! This is where I realized Julie was a bit afraid of heights, but she did really well all things considered.

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Second stop was Dawson Falls. The walk / “hike” to Dawson Falls is an easy 1.4 km with 38 metres of elevation difference. The falls are very wide, but only about 15 metres tall.

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Third stop was Helmcken Falls. The walk / “hike” to Helmcken Falls in an easy 1.0 km hike with 60 metres of elevation difference. The falls are a stunning 141 metres tall and are the fourth highest waterfall in Canada. While we were there we saw a cute young couple getting married, which we saw later on in the evening when we were eating, but more on that later.

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Fourth stop was Osprey Falls, about a 30 minute drive away, but it was very underwhelming so we didn’t take any photos. It was 6pm so we decided to head back to our accommodation for the night; a cute bungalow at the Wells Gray KOA Journey Campground.

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After checking in and plugging in my car to recharge we walked over to a wonderful restaurant called Hop N Hog, where I had some delicious brisket and Julie had some delicious Pulled Pork. While we were there we learned of some nasty false reviews from a woman on Google and Travelocity against the owner. I suspect it was a date that went bad. This saddens me because these small “ma and pa” style restaurants rely on reviews from people like you and I. I left a super positive review because I thought the food and service was incredible.

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The next day Julie and I woke up around 7am, got ready and headed to the Painted Turtle Restaurant, which was just a few kilometres away. There I had an Eggs Benedict and Julie had a traditional breakfast, minus eggs, since she’s allergic to eggs. The restaurant overlooked a gorgeous lake which had a variety of turtles. The restaurant was on the same property as a campground, but the lack of trees at the campground would make me reluctant to stay there.

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After breakfast we drove to our first hike of the day; Moul Falls. Moul Falls is a 5.5 km return hike with 200 metres of elevation differential. At the end of the hike you decent via a steep trail / staircase to the bottom of the waterfall, where you can walk behind the waterfall. I decided the venture behind the waterfall, but Julie stayed behind because of a previous knee injury.

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After hiking Moul Falls we drove to Triple Decker Falls. The hike is only 0.8 km, and 52 metres of elevation differential, but don’t let that fool you, because it’s difficult. When you start the hike you’re presented with some donated hiking poles from “Y2C”; Youth to Christ, that you can borrow. Julie and I both took two as she has her prior knee injury, and I didn’t want to fall. Halfway through the hike I told Julie to stay behind, and I went to the bottom to complete the hike. The waterfall is beautiful, but I’m glad that Julie stayed behind as the last 1/4 of the hike was very technical and would have probably resulted in further injury to her knee.

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After completing the two hikes we drove back to Jasper and checked into our accommodation for the night; the Jasper Inn. Our room had a queen sized bed, a nice bathroom, a kitchen, and separate living room. After checking in we decided to walk to Jasper Pizza Place for dinner. Sadly they were out of gluten free crust so Julie had gluten free pasta, while I enjoyed a delicious glutenous pizza.

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After dinner we returned to our hotel where we watched a movie called Extraction. After watching Extraction we went to bed.

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The next morning we woke up around 8am and drove to the Jasper Fairmont where we had breakfast. I had Eggs Benedict, and Julie had the traditional breakfast, minus eggs, due to her allergies.

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After breakfast we started the drive back to Calgary with a couple of stops; Athabasca Falls, Sunwapta Falls, and Athabasca Glacier.

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Sparwood, Fernie, Frank Slide

As most of you know COVID-19 has making its rounds around the globe, infecting over 2.64 million people so far and taking the lives of 184,000 people as of the writing of this article on April 22nd 2020. I was supposed to take an Eastern Europe roadtrip starting on March 18th 2020, ending on April 7th 2020. This trip has been postponed until further notice, but I will complete it when it is safe and socially acceptable to do so. In the meantime I am following government guidelines and maintaining physical distancing from others.

Last weekend I needed to get out to get some fresh air. I didn’t want to be around others so I decided to drive around Southern Alberta with Julie to take some drone shots of some of my favorite places. We visited Sparwood, Fernie, and Frank Slide.

This 800km journey was completed in my new to me 2018 Toyota Prius PRIME, which I picked up about a month ago. I’ve already put 3800 kilometers on it, and it costs just pennies per kilometer to drive. The average fuel consumption is under 4l/100km.

The journey had a bit of excitement along the way because I had a catastrophic tire blowout along highway 3. It resulted in a 3 hour delay, with a $300 service call from OK Tire in Pincher Creek, about a 30 minute drive away. I ended up having to purchase new all-season tires for a total of $960 including the $300 service call. We made the best of it though.

The first stop was Sparwood, British Columbia. I hadn’t been here since 2005, when I rode through on my Yamaha R6 on my way to my friend Hadrian’s cabin. Sparwood is home to the world’s largest truck, the Titan 33-19, which was produced by General Motors. The Titan was conceived in 1968 in the General Motor’s offices in London. Six years later it was a reality and was showcased in the American Mining Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada in 1974. It was used in the Eagle Mountain Mine by Kaiser Steel in southern California until 1978. In 1978, Kaiser Steel moved the Titan to its coal mining operation near Sparwood. The mine was subsequently acquired by Westar Mining in 1983, and the Titan was eventually retired in 1991. The mine was acquired by Teck Corporation in 1992 and offered the Titan in preserved format as a public monument in 1993. The Titan was fully restored by the end of 1993 and put on display, despite having its engine removed.

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The next stop was Fernie, where we walked around for a bit and took pictures of the old buildings, and I flew my drone over the beautiful old court house. Fernie was founded in 1904, and currently has a population of 9200 people. Fernie was originally founded because of Crowsnest Pass coal mines, which still continue to operate to this day. Like most single-industry towns, Fernie endured several boom and bust cycles throughout the 20th century. Today the town survives with a seasonal focus on skiing in the winter, and coal mining year round, but not as strong as it once was.

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The final stop was Frank Slide, where a rockslide buried the mining town of Frank on 4:10am on April 29th 1903. It was estimated that 110 million tonnes of limestone rock slide down Turtle Mountain and buried the town, which had a population of around 600 people. Approximately 90 of the 600 citizens died during the slide. The town was named after Henry Frank, who owned the Canadian-American Coal and Coke Company, which operated the mine that the town was created to support. The town was founded in 1901.

The cause of the slide was a multitude of factors. Mining left the formation in a constant state of instability, as well as a wet winter and cold snap on the night of the disaster. After the slide the railways was repaired within three weeks, and the mine was quickly reopened. The town was relocated in 1911 because of fears of another slide occurring. The town’s population doubled to 1200 by 1906, but quickly dwindled after the mine was closed in 1917. The community now is part of the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass and has a population of 200.

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A video of this adventure can be found on my YouTube channel here.

Check back soon for my next adventure. In the meantime wash your hands religiously, maintain physical distancing to flatten the curve, and stay safe. See you soon!

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Valley Of 5 Lakes & Bald Hills Hikes

Yesterday I completed two hikes in Jasper National Park; Valley of 5 Lakes & Bald Hills. I started my day off early at 6:30am by waking up and making a nutritious breakfast omelet and coffee before setting off on a 5 hour drive towards Jasper.

First stop was Valley of 5 Lakes, a short 4.5km hike with a mere 154 metres of elevation gain. The hike was amazing; it started through a moderate density forest and opened up into a meadow before going back into a forest with a view of five beautiful turquoise and emerald coloured lakes. The hike took roughly an hour to complete and was completely worth the visit.

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It was nearly lunch so it was time to head into Jasper. I stopped at my favorite place; Jasper Brewing Company and had a cheddar burger with poutine, and a pint of their Rockhopper IPA, which is super tasty.

After lunch I drove to Maligne Lake, where I started on the trailhead to Bald Hills. It was a light misty rain when I started the hike, but over the course of the hike it started to rain more and more. About 1/3 of the way through the hike I met a wonderful woman named Susan, and her husband Steve. They had one of their daughters, and daughters friend with them. We spent the rest of the hike together, which made for a nice time. One of the kids made a hilarious comment when we were talking about religion. She said “Is a Protestant also a prostitute; we all burst out laughing! By the end of the hike we were all soaked. The hike was 13.2km with 701 metres of elevation gain; I definitely felt it in my quads towards the end.

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After the hike I drove back into Jasper to fill up my Lexus with fuel, and get some coffee from Tim Horton’s before heading back to Calgary. I finally made it home around 10:30pm.

My Next Trip – US Route 66

It’s been a busy few weeks since my return from France & Spain last month! I celebrated my 31st Birthday and had a job promotion at work to Business Development, which has kept me quite busy.

During the Christmas break my father and I began discussing where we should go for our annual Father & Son trip. We weighed a few different options but both agreed on wanting to drive the US Route 66, originally known as Will Rogers Highway, and also known as Main Street of America or the Mother Road. Let’s take a bit of a look at the history of the highway and why it plays such an important part of the history of the United States of America.

Conceived as a government-funded wagon road back in 1857 and coming into full fruition as a national highway in 1925, Route 66 stretches from Chicago to Los Angeles and was built to connect the main streets of rural and urban communities along its course as most small towns had no prior access to a major national thoroughfare. The numerical designation ’66’ was assigned to the route on April 30th 1926, and was signed into law in 1927 as one of the original US Highways, although it wasn’t actually fully paved until 1938.

There are several very dangerous curves on the highway so it quickly earned the nickname “Bloody 66”, and over the years there has been some re-alignments around the dangerous sections. Over the years much of the highway has been superseded by interstate highways I-40 and I-25 as they were wider, larger, straighter, and faster than the original Route 66 highway.

Route 66 still has some very well preserved buildings and attractions along its entirety, as well as some of America’s best restaurants scattered along its entirety. This is what drives my Father and I to want to drive it.

Our trip is going to commence on May 17th, starting in Chicago at around Noon and then driving over the course of 10 days to Las Vegas. We will be departing Las Vegas on May 27th in the evening.

Make sure to follow us along our journey as I will be keeping a detailed log of the attractions and restaurants that we visit, and the history behind every stretch we drive.

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April 6th 2016 – Exploring Southern Kauai

Today was my second consecutive day of no roosters or birds disturbing my slumber. I woke up at around 7:30am. I had to walk to get my car from the previous night, which I had left about 1/2 mile away where we caught the shuttles for the wedding. I picked up the car and drove down to the St. Regis hotel, where we had a buffet breakfast with everyone before Marc and Jen took off on their honeymoon.

Breakfast wrapped up at around 11am. I wasn’t sure at first if I actually wanted to drive all the way down to the South today, since the day was starting so late, but I decided to go ahead anyways. My first stop was the eucalyptus tree tunnel on the way to Koloa.

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Koloa is a very beautiful small town. There was an older, beautiful church, and a nice little stretch of beach.

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After visiting Koloa I drove to Port Allen for some lunch. It looks like Port Allen is a fairly industrious town, in fact it seems the South is way more industrious than the North.

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I then headed to Waimea, where I saw a bunch of racing canoes.

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The real fun then began! I headed to Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park. The roads are out of this world! I only had a Nissan Versa for a car, but it was still fun twisting through the roads at a decent pace. Today is the day I wish I had upgraded to the V8 Mustang! I’ve never driven on such twisty roads in my life! The views were out of this world spectacular. Along the road there were about half a dozen official lookouts, but I stopped everywhere I could do so safely. The round trip into the national park took about 2 hours, which included stopping to take photos.

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It was starting to get dark so I head back to the condo, where I just relaxed for the rest of the evening. Tomorrow is a beach day, unless it rains!

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