Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Traveling Hillbilly Goes to the Theater

Well the Traveling Hillbilly went to the theater twice today! How cultured am I? My friends and I had talked about seeing Grease while we were in London. We figured we had to see at least one show.

Turns out one of my friends knew of a place where you can buy “half-price” tickets the day of the show if they still have seats available. So we got up this morning to check it out. First of all, I can’t believe how many shows are playing here, several of which I have seen, but many that I would still like to see.

After some discussion and texting, we decided to stick to Grease. We were in luck, we were able to secure great center seats for ₤37 (these seats normally go for ₤60). So while they weren’t quite half price, they were still a great deal.

As we walk away from the ticket center, we happen to notice there is a couple of theaters right around us. There are two things showing we really want to see, Sherlock Holmes and Avatar. Okay, so that’s not the kind of theater you were thinking but it is called a theater. We hated to spend our first day at movies, but it was so cold and wet outside and Sherlock Holmes was starting very soon so we decided to head in.

The Traveling Hillbilly will post reviews of shows soon!

Eating My Way Through London

So I’ve heard the food is not so good in London, which I was actually excited about. After eating so much in Amsterdam, I was kind of looking forward to some bad food which would cut down on my eating. Well if my first dinner experience is any indication of what the food will be like, then I’m really in trouble.

We meet up with some friends for dinner our first night in London. We meet at a little Italian place called Sale e Pepe in the Knightsbridge area. I started with a baked eggplant and mozzarella appetizer. Most of you may not know this, but the Traveling Hillbilly loves eggplant, except when I make it myself. Anyway, it was delicious and so was the main course, Penne Arrabbiata. Dinner was great and I was glad to see we were all passing on dessert, finally a step in the right direction. However, a few folks decided to have coffee or after dinner drinks. Not only did Sale e Pepe have Sambuca, my favorite after dinner drink, but they had black Sambuca! I had to indulge.

Fabulous food, terrific cocktails and excellent company, all in all a great first night in London!

Eating My Way Through Amsterdam

So Amsterdam is a complete melting pot when it comes to food. So far I’ve had Indonesian, Italian and Argentinean. I hear they have great Chinese food as well. My friends and I even had some great fondue in a little fondue restaurant near the red light district. It was a very quaint little place, the service was great, the fondue was wonderful and I can’t remember the name of it for the life of me. So sorry for that! Aside from the breakfast at the Pancake Corner, all the meals have been great. The one thing I have not had since I’ve been here, is true Dutch food. There are at least three Argentinean Steakhouses, four Italian/Pizza places and at least one Chinese Restaurant on every block, but you don’t really see any restaurants touting, “Dutch” food. So after four days in Amsterdam, The Traveling Hillbilly has not sampled any Dutch food. Well unless of course you count an Apple Tart and a Chocolate Covered Waffle (well waffles), both are sold everywhere around the city and both are delicious! Oh and there was also the quick sandwich grabbed at the train station. The Traveling Hillbilly highly recommends the chocolate covered waffles on your next visit to Amsterdam!

The last time I was in Amsterdam, I had the best gyro ever! Now granted that was many years ago, but I still remember it fondly. I really wanted to try one again but sadly did not get the chance on this trip. Well I guess I’ll just have to come back for that!

Monday, December 28, 2009

So Much for a Free Trip

Well the airfare and hotel may not have cost me anything, but everything else is. It's been a long time since the Traveling Hillbilly has been somewhere were the dollar is not strong. Even a breakfast of eggs and toast for three was like $55

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Full Day of Fun

Day one in Amsterdam. We got a late start but managed to squeeze in the floating flower market, a canal cruise, the science museum, a stroll through the red light disctrict and a few cocktails to finish the day off. We went to a great little fondue place in the red light district. All in all a good first day. But it's after 2ma so the Traveling Hillbilly must sleep now.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A White Christmas!

After a very long journey and a very uncomfortably warm flight on Virgin Atlantic. We arrived in Heathrow. We had 2 1/2 hours to get through customs, check in and get through security to catch the flight to Amsterdam. We thought that would be plenty of time. We were wrong, they were closing the gate as we approached and we barely made our flight. But we did. And as we start our descent into Amsterdam, we see snow on the ground. This is the Traveling Hillbilly's first white Christmas in a long, long time.

The Traveling Hillbilly wishes you all a very Merry Christmas, even though it's almost over here in Amsterdam.

Europe for Free, Well Almost

So it’s the holidays and my office just happens to be closed from Christmas to New Year’s, so what’s a Traveling Hillbilly to do? Well travel, of course.

So you hear all the time about how people fly to these great places “all on points.” I’ve heard about some supposedly great trips that were all paid points or miles. Are these stories really true or are they just urban legends? Can you really have a great vacation using only airlines miles or reward points? The Traveling Hillbilly decided to test this theory out and share the experience of this supposedly “free” vacation with all my fellow travelers.

First task – Decide on a Destination
How about Amsterdam and London during the holidays? This is where all those American Express and Starwood points from all my prior travels should start to come in handy. I hop online to see if I can really book flights from LA to Amsterdam and London during the holidays without forking over a fortune. The Traveling Hillbilly finds success! LA to London round trip, on Virgin no less (one of the Traveling Hillbilly’s favorites) then roundtrip from London to Amsterdam, all paid with American Express points. Gotta love two RT international tickets and no big bill to pay!

Next up- Find a place to stay. I hop on to spg.com to look for Starwood hotels. Unfortunately no good Starwood options in Amsterdam. But, how about five (5) nights in London at Le Meridien, Piccadilly for free? Can’t beat that! So far the Traveling Hillbilly is off to a good start. Maybe these stories really aren’t urban legends after all.

So how will this all play out? Will the Traveling Hillbilly get bumped from an oversold plane? Or will I arrive at the hotel only to find, there really isn’t a room available? Only time will tell and you’ll have to follow the adventures here at www.travelinghillbilly.blogspot.com to find out!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

This Is It!!!!!

So my friend and I decided to to go see This Is It, the film/documentary about Michael Jackson. If you're a fan of Michael Jackson, the Traveling Hillbilly recommends seeing the film. I know there is a lot of controversy surrounding Michael Jackson, but no matter what you think of him, you have to admit, he's an amazingly talented performer! He truly was an talented singer, dancer, performer.

However, we spent over $50 for two people to see a movie! That's simply outrageous, even for Los Angeles! It was $11 a ticket for the movie, a matinee at that! Another $19 for a couple of sodas and a popcorn and then $10 each for parking. Now granted the parking would have only been $5 each if we had not spent extra time to go have a drink after, but either way it's still a very expensive movie for an afternoon matinee!

However, the Traveling Hillbilly does recommend going to Boca, the restaurant/club that's part of the Conga Room. The staff is friendly, the cocktails selection is good and the food is delicious!

All in all, a fun way to spend a Saturday, despite the expense.

Danger, Traveling Hillbilly, Danger

Things I learned playing racquetball (by myself) this morning:

1 - Getting smacked with the ball in the face, on the leg, the thigh, or ANYWHERE for that matter, really hurts.

2 - I so need to work on my backhand.

3 - That "swoosh" you hear when you're gunning to smash the ball and completely miss, is still very embarrassing, even when there's no one else to see it!

4 - Make sure your shoelaces are tied, tightly!

5 - It's worse than running on old arthritic knees.

6 - You really can kick your own ass.

Regarding number 6 - Is it more embarrassing to kick your own ass? Or to have your ass kicked by someone else? Let me know what you think.

Raquetball tomorrow morning anyone?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Traveling Hillbilly Cleans Up the Beach

The Traveling Hillbilly is proud to work at a company that encourages all its employees to take the day off work and do volunteer work around the city.

Several of us decided to volunteer with the Surfrider Foundation and clean up the beach. We arrived at 10am, ready to go. I have to say it was an eye opening experience. I expected to see a lot of cigarette butts, which we did, but I can not believe how many thousands of tiny little pieces of Styrofoam are scattered all over the beach. Even with the large group we had cleaning up, I don’t think we put a dent in the massive amount of Styrofoam. It was everywhere. I will never use Styrofoam cups or coolers again. For those of you who smoke cigarettes, if you can’t bring yourself to actually stop smoking, can’t you take the extra 10 steps to toss the butts in the trash can? Is that really asking that much? I just can not believe how much random trash is one the beach. There were not a ton of huge items, like cans and bottles, but there were so many little things, like pieces of plastic, labels from bottles, torn pieces of plastic bags, just a whole array of odd things.

Where does it all come from?

Friday, October 30, 2009

What I Learned

As I sit on the plane flying back home, I start to think about the things I’ve learned on this latest adventure.

I’ve learned that with nothing more than sheer determination you can accomplish what you never thought possible. I’ve learned there are places were most people are inherently good, where you can leave your bike on the street unlocked, and it will still be there when you return. I’ve learned there are still a few places in this world that don’t have a Starbuck’s or McDonald’s on every street corner. I never saw a Starbuck’s on this trip and only saw a sign for a McDonald’s in Split. Needless to say, the Traveling Hillbilly did not have any Big Mac’s on this trip!

I’ve learned living doesn’t have to end at a certain age. I’ve learned I’ve just scratched the surface on living my life. Travel is all about experiences that make you feel alive. The day to day a lot of us do is not living. It may be life, but it is not truly living.

I’ve learned to keep a little piece of each trip to myself because no matter how hard I try, I will never be able to do justice to these experiences on paper and through photos.

I’ve learned that when things don’t go as expected or planned, you’re often rewarded with a richer experience and even better stories to tell. I’ve learned there are places and people in this world so beautiful they can move you to tears.

I’ve learned I have a lot more journeys ahead. There are many more places to see, people to meet and experiences to be had. The Traveling Hillbilly looks forward to sharing those experiences with you!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Truly Perfect Day

The Traveling Hillbilly awoke, totally excited about the trip to Plitvice Lakes. It was one of the first places I saw pictures of when I was researching Croatia and I was determined to make it there. It’s on the UNESCO register of world natural heritage sites and it certainly deserves to be there! As I said yesterday, I thought I was in for even more amazing scenery and Platvice Lakes did not disappoint!

The guide picked me up in the hotel lobby at 9:30 and off we went. I will never be able to express in words how truly beautiful and picturesque this place is. It is acres of forests, lakes and waterfalls. The leaves have already changed color so it’s a burst of vibrant reds, oranges and yellows which are a striking contrast to the bright green water of the lakes below. They have built a wooden path so you can walk along the lakes, among the waterfalls and at times, over the lakes themselves. It is magnificent. I think I took more photos here today than any other day on the trip. Every turn exposed a view more majestic than the one before. The Traveling Hillbilly has never seen so many waterfalls in one place.

Whenever I travel, I marvel at some beautiful site I’ve seen and think it’s the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. But this time, I may have topped the list. I just can’t imagine a place more beautiful than this. It was truly awe inspiring.

The Traveling Hillbilly can’t think of a better way to have spent the last day in Croatia.

Finally Sunbathing

The Traveling Hillbilly awoke to another beautiful sunny day. I’m so glad I decided to stay a few extra days. After biking everyday, I felt I needed to get in some good exercise in, so I headed off to the gym. After my workout I decided to explore a little. I walked all along the beach, just enjoying the scenery and the peaceful rippling sound of the water. I just can’t get over how beautiful this place is. It really is a natural paradise. The sky is so blue, the water is so clear, the air is fresh and the scenery is simply breathtaking. It makes you certain that something greater than us created it.

I’m, thrilled to finally have an opportunity to actually lie on the beach and catch some sun. The weather is absolutely perfect, not too hot, and not too cold. The beaches here are beautiful, but rocky. They are full of rocks and pebbles so you can’t just walk along with your barefoot in the water. They are not the sandy beaches we have in California. They are however much cleaner than the beaches in California.

After some time writing and reading on the beach, I decide to head to the market to get some wine and snacks. I thought the best way to end the day would to watch the sunset, with a glass of wine on my balcony. Unfortunately, I discovered I did not have a cork screw in the room, so I enjoyed my salami, bread and cheese with a lovely glass of Coke Zero. The sunset was still magnificent!

Tomorrow, it’s off to Plitvice Lakes. I have a feeling I’m in for even more stunning scenery.

The Traveling Hillbilly, All Alone

It’s sad to wake up knowing everyone has left to go back home. But the Traveling Hillbilly has a few more days left, so better get up and make the most of them. I decided to take the bus over to Trogir before transferring to my new hotel, Le Meridien.

Trogir is a very scenic town. It’s much bigger than most of the villages we saw on our tour, but much smaller than Split. They have done a great job of preserving all the stonework. The Old Town reminds the Travel Hillbilly of Dubrovnik, with its stone shops, narrow alleyways and housing.

As I wandered through some of the narrow alleyways, I spotted a quaint little courtyard café. I decided to have a light lunch and glass of wine. Honestly, the lunch wasn’t that great, but the setting was wonderful. After all the cold wet weather, it was nice to be sitting outside on a warm sunny day.

The town itself is so picturesque, between all the boats in the marina, the mountains serving as a backdrop, homes built into the hillside, the stone walls of Old Town. It’s like stepping back in time.

After a few hours touring, it was time to take the bus back to Split and transfer to Le Meridien for a few days of rest and relaxation. First on the list, a massage followed by a great dinner. The massage was much needed and was absolutely wonderful. The Traveling Hillbilly may have even nodded off for a minute or two. After the massage, I was just too relaxed to get ready for dinner so I ordered some room service and settled in for the night.

All in all, a perfect day!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Watching the Waves of the Adriactic

As I sit watching the waves (not really waves)of the Adriatic roll in, I feel like I’m going to cry. I’m not sure of the reason, maybe it’s many reasons. Maybe it’s because the bike tour is over and I have to say goodbye to all the amazing people I’ve met. Maybe it’s because I’m so moved by the natural beauty of this place. Maybe it’s because I feel so blessed to have had this experience. Maybe it’s all those reasons and more.

I have met people on this trip who have truly inspired me. They are warm, generous and fun. We’ve all met those people who just exude warmth and affection the moment you meet them. While most people are, inherently good, there are those that truly stand out amongst the rest of us. There is just something special about them. I’ve met a few of those people on this trip. The Traveling Hillbilly wants to give a shout out to Jim and Nancy. Nancy is a truly special person and her husband is a gentlemen in the truest sense of the word. From the moment I arrived, they extended their kindness and generosity to me. They have been together over 35 years and you can feel their love and affection for one another. They have inspired me in more ways than they’ll ever know. Nancy was always there to help, to offer support and provide words of encouragement. She made even the most torturous days of riding fun. Her husband took on every challenge with a great attitude and a sense of fun. At the end of the day, all they wanted to now was how you did. They were always concerned and interested in others. I’m truly going to miss them.

Marsha and Doug are another great couple. They have such a sense of fun. There was never a doubt in Marsha’s mind that we were not going to do the longest and toughest options available to us. She is a real spitfire! Vera and Rachel were right there as well. It was each one of them that made me push myself to try and meet every challenge. While they usually left me in the dust on the hills, they were always waiting just around the next corner, taking photos and offering kind words. The Traveling Hillbilly laughed constantly with this group. You would have thought we had all known each other for a long time and had not just met a day or two before.

All in all this was an extraordinary group of people. We had a wide range of ages and a range of biking experience and ability. From Marsha, a serious biker to those of us who just like to take leisurely rides along the beach. We had several people that are older, many even retired, who got on the bikes every morning and rode further than I thought would be possible. Most of them were often passing me as I struggled to climb up a hill. Several of them travel together and have done more than 10 biking trips. But everyone got along, supported one another and had fun. This is one of the reasons I like to travel by myself on occasion. It gives the Traveling Hillbilly the opportunity to meet new people, make new friends.

So thanks to the whole crew; Terry, Linn & Krissy (it’s great to see a family taking this adventure together), Arthur & Miriam (New Yorkers who always made the Traveling Hillbilly laugh), Mike & Vicky (could actually speak the language and often helped the rest of us out), Barry & Karen (a bummer Barry got so sick), Chuch & Jacquie (a great couple of people), Ken & Annie (a truly compatible couple) and of course Nancy & Jim, Marsha & Doug, Vera (a great sense of humor and very photogenic) and Rachel ( an independent spirit and great photographer). Everyone one of them contributed to making this an amazing experience. The Traveling Hillbilly will miss all of you.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

71 and Summy

We finally wake up to sunshine and warm weather. What an incredible day for our last day of biking! The Traveling Hillbilly decided to take a quick walk and sit by the Adriatic before having to meet everyone for our day of biking. After a few moments of sitting with my feet dangling in the water, I decided to take a dip in the Adriatic. Wow! How invigorating! It truly made the Traveling Hillbilly feel alive. The water is so clear; you can see the rocks below. The salt makes your skin feel so soft, not sticky. There could not have been a better way to start the day! Well, maybe one, but that was not in the cards for the Traveling Hillbilly today.

Shockingly, the day started out with a relatively flat ride. We were all enjoying this part of the day, knowing we had a very tough ride coming up in the afternoon. But for now, we all rolled along, enjoying the scenery, stopping to take pictures and chatting. Yes, for once we were actually able to talk with one another without huffing and puffing. It was truly an enjoyable ride. We even stopped in a great little village, Veboska, for a quick lemonade and even more picture taking. Veboska is another seaside harbor with cute little stone bridges reaching across the canal. It looked like a mini-little Venice.

After our leisurely morning ride, we arrived in scenic Jelsa. Matej had a little surprise for us here. His family has a home in the village that has been in the family for many generations. He gave us the opportunity to finally see what one of the original stone homes looked like. It was quite enchanting. We hopped back on our bikes for a very short ride, through beautiful trees with a view of the sea on our left. It was like being in Lake Tahoe. We had a lovely picnic of true Croatian foods, overlooking the sea. The Traveling Hillbilly has to say that for once, the guides spoke the truth. Matej told us Vanja was the picnic master and I must admit, he did a great job preparing our lunch and picked the most scenic spot. . All in all it was a very moving experience, especially knowing it was our last day of biking.

After the picnic, it was time to get serious and start the “real” ride of the day. After our guides informed us that this was going to be the toughest ride yet, several people in the group decided to skip the afternoon ride and go directly back to the hotel. A few people opted to take the van to the top of the hill and just ride down. Just six of us decided to take on this beast of a hill. It was the longest and steepest we’d done yet. I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to make it. The Traveling Hillbilly truly had doubts about this leg of the ride, a steady six mile climb on a steep grade.

It was tough and there were times when I thought I could not go one inch further, times when I felt like I was pedaling and getting nowhere. Did I mention that my iPod died just before lunch so I was having to do this without any inspirational music? What was I thinking? But, I’m proud to say the Traveling Hillbilly made it to the top! Certainly not in record time, but made it none the less.

My sense of accomplishment however was brief as I realized we had more miles to go. Plus we had just turned the clocks back an hour, so it was starting to get dark. We continued on as it kept getting darker. I wondered if the others had already made it back to the hotel. Were they already sitting in the hot tub relaxing their sore muscles? And I’m still don't have my music. I have to admit, I was a little scared. In the dark it’s tough to see the potholes and rocks/pebbles that make you slip and potentially skid off the road and over a steep cliff. Luckily I had a guide with me who led the way. Matej was really great about pointing out potholes, rocks and any other potential dangers along our path. Others were not so lucky and were alone for a bit in the dark. The guides though are never far away and we all made it back to the hotel safely. Another great adventure!

P.S. The Traveling Hillbilly unlike everyone else still feels the ride the day before was tougher!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Guides

What can I say about Matej and Vanja? It is apparent they have a true love and passion for their country. They know their country’s history and can trace their own family history back several generations. At first they were not forthcoming with information, nor very personable. We didn’t feel like we were truly getting to know them. However, after a few days with us, they relaxed and started to open up. They were a lot of fun and we realized they are thrilled to share the history and beauty of their country with its visitors.

They also lie like rugs. They told us the first day would be the worst and toughest ride. They were always telling us, “you’re almost there, just five more minutes to the top of this hill.” All lies! They gave us options of flat or flatter. How can something be flatter?

But all in all, they were great guides and we enjoyed our time with them. They made this a truly amazing experience and the Traveling Hillbilly personally wants to thank them for all their hard work.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Miserable, Miserable, Miserable Day!

After yesterday’s challenging ride, we were looking forward to a lot of down hills on the ride today. However, Mother Nature had a different agenda for us today. We awoke to dark clouds above, but given that there can be a variety of weather conditions on the island, we were still hopeful it would be sunny were we were heading. Well no such luck! We were driven to the highest peak on the island for the start of our ride. As we drove up, it got colder, windier and foggier. We wound up having to drive back down until we had safer riding conditions. About 10 minutes into our ride, the winder started, the rain came down and it didn’t really stop for most of the day. There were times were the Traveling Hillbilly actually had to pedal going downhill because the winds were so strong. There were times, were the Traveling Hillbilly was pedaling, pedaling, pedaling and getting nowhere! It was truly a miserable day. But we persevered and made it through. It was a long and tough day. It was supposed to be easier than yesterday, but given the weather conditions I think today was tougher! The Traveling Hillbilly has to admit though, the scenery was still magnificent.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

31 Miles Down, Many More to Go

Let the bike tour officially begin! Today we biked to the village Pucisca and then on to Skrip, the oldest settlement on the island. In Pucsica we caught a chance to tour the stone cutting school. It’s a high school and kids have the option of going for three years and then getting a job or they can do the four year program and then go on to university. The school has a great reputation and we were informed that for the kids that go there can get a job anywhere. It’s a public school too. In Skrip, one of the local families provided us a sample of their wine and olive oil. The house they live in is over 300 years old and has been in the family for generations.

Now for the ride itself. Honestly it was tough! Now I never ride my bike in 1st gear at home. It makes me feel like Fred Flintstone, just pedaling but getting nowhere. I usually ride on 2nd or 3rd gear and then adjust the speed for hills and such. But I have to admit, I had to shift into first gear and more than once today. We had hill after hill after hill. There is just no flat riding here. It’s either up or down and we had more up than down today! Plus the roads are really curvy so you can’t even take advantage of the down hill to build up momentum for the next hill. After some major hills we were all exhausted and quite dismayed to discover that our last journey to Skrip was the worst incline of the day. But we all figured we’d come this far, what’s a few more miles? Boy were we cursing about 5 minutes later. It was nothing but a steady incline, there was just no break. Let’s just say the Traveling Hillbilly was in 1st gear after the first 2 minutes and pretty much stayed in first all the way to Skrip. Some folks opted to Skip the ride and took the van in to Skrip, while others wound up hopping off their bikes and walking them up the hill, or should I say mountain?!

So yes, it was a tough ride, but we were rewarded with some simple magnificent views. Coming back from the death hill leading to Skrip, we had a stunning view of the water, with another island in the background. It really was a picturesque ride. Everywhere you looked there was something stunning to see; blue, blue waters, mountains, grape vines, olive trees and beautiful countryside. Along the way, we passed goats, sheep, donkeys and lots of locals. The Traveling Hillbilly has always liked to take train rides when traveling. It gives you the opportunity to see things you otherwise wouldn’t get a chance to see just by sightseeing. That is one of the reason’s I decided to do a bike tour in Croatia. I wanted the chance to see more than just the key sites and beaches. So far, VBT (Vermont Bike Tours) has delivered! Tonight we are off to a local family’s home for dinner. But first, we have a quick lesson in Croatian. I believe our guides want to make sure we can speak to the families, in a polite manner!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The First Casualty

The day started off nice enough. We finally had some sunshine! The Traveling Hillbilly sat on the ferry on the way to Brac, sipping a cappuccino, enjoying the view and thinking about what a nice life it is. Why can’t everyday, or at least more days, be like this? What a special day it was starting off to be.

As we pulled into the marina, I’m struck once again by the images from the fairy tales I heard as a kid. It feels like we are stepping back in time, to a different world. It just doesn’t seem real.

We get to the hotel, get checked in and then it’s off in search of lunch. Our trip leader informs us that most of the restaurants are closed or no longer serving food, however if we go across the way, a tiny woman named Marta (spelling?) will open up for us and make us something to eat. While some of the group opts to go to the grocery store, others opt to take a nap; a few of us head over to see Marta. Marta does not disappoint!

After a quick bite, we head off to explore the village around our hotel and find several great photo opps. Then it’s time for our first ride of the trip! After reviewing the rules and some key safety tips, we final head out on our bikes to Dol, the next village over.

As we bike along the narrow road, we are surrounded by mountains, grape vines and an overall amazingly scenic view. I wonder if this is what it’s like to bike in the French countryside. There’s so much charm, grace and beauty, I just can’t believe I’m actually here. It’s truly spectacular.

Then of course, we all miss the first turn and get lost! Luckily we are back on track after a few moments of panic. Halfway through our ride, we come across a great little bar where they have set up some lovely welcome drinks for us. The owner has set out some almonds, figs and brandy (all grown/made on site) for us to try. The bar is actually built into the mountain. It’s stunning.

Time to head back to the hotel and get ready for dinner. As we head into the bar for a pre-dinner drink we are informed that one of our group has already been injured. Apparently, she fell coming down the hill on her way back to the hotel. She has been transported to the hospital to be checked out. We are all saddened to hear that one of our group may be hurt and most likely will not be joining us for our ride tomorrow. Here it is day one and we’ve already been lost and had a major casualty.

The Traveling Hillbilly sends out a prayer for Linn and hopes tomorrow turns out better.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Feeling Bettter, a Little Less Grouchy

Well I met up with the bike group and we all headed down to check out the Palace in our brief time here. It's totally cool. Basically they have built shops in what's left of the Palace. So there are shops among the rubble and apparently some people even live in the Palace above the shops. After wandering through, we headed off to dinner. The Traveling Hillbilly is feeling much less irritable after getting some food! Hunger really can make one grouchy.

I'm sure there's more to see and we'll have one more day here at the end of the trip to more sights. Plus the Traveling Hillbilly is staying a few extra days in Split after the bike tour is over.

I must say though, I'm really looking forward to getting to Brac tomorrow. Here's hoping for sunshine and warmer weather!

Not in Dubrovnik Anymore

It’s time to leave this beautiful but cold and wet city and head to Split for the official start of the bike tour. Despite the rain, the ride along the coast is still stunning. Once again, the Traveling Hillbilly is reminded of the ride along Highway One in California. We pass quite a few small villages, houses built along the sea as well as up in the hillsides. I was very surprised to see snow covered mountain tops just outside of Split.

The first thought that goes through my mind as we approach Split, is we are definitely not in Dubrovnik anymore. The quaint, small town charm of Dubrovnik does not apply here. We aren’t even in the city for a minute, when we see a sign for McDonald’s. We did not see one McDonalds, Subway, Taco Bell, KFC or Starbucks in Dubrovnik (nice to know some places have still not been invaded by the Fast Food Nation). Split is a much bigger, bustling city. Luckily we’re only here for the night and then we’re taking a ferry over to Brac for our first day of riding.

My second thought is, maybe they’ll actually have internet access in the hotel room here. And maybe they’ll even have an adapter so I can charge up my computer. Well I was good on the second thought. My computer is charging as I type. While they supposedly do have wireless internet in each room, the single is too low and I can’t get on! I decide to grab a quick bite to eat, while I charge up my computer. Unfortunately, the café bar in the hotel, does not serve lunch or dinner. The reception desk sends me to a restaurant just down the street where I discover they can’t do take away. I walk a few blocks trying to find something to eat, but no luck.

The one thing I have realized here is every restaurant has the same menu. They all have fish soup, tomato soup, spaghetti Bolognese, spaghetti cabonara, a fish platter, pizza and a few meat dishes. It’s really odd there is not more variety. It’s also odd that lunch and dinner is the same menu. I’m not used to eating a huge meal at lunch everyday. I really like trying the local food when I travel, but right now, I’d settle for a sandwich or even a dinner roll but it doesn’t look like I’ll even be able to find that nearby. Where was that McDonald’s again? Fortunately I brought some Luna bars with me and it looks like that will be my lunch today.

An Amazing Place Filled with Amazing People

All in all you can see all the sites in the old city in one day, but if you only do one thing in Dubrovnik, you must walk along the wall. It’s kind of like the Great Wall in China, but a much smaller version. It loops around the whole city and is only 1 ¼ miles all the way around. The wall offers incredible views of city and the Adriatic Sea. It actually reminds me somewhat of Capri, Italy. You have the sea on one side and these beautiful homes built into the mountain side. It truly is stunning.

Other sights to see include, The Franciscan Monastery, which houses the one of the oldest pharmacies still in operation in all of Europe, The Dominican Monastery and the Dubrovnik Cathedral, which includes a piece of the real Cross.

If you have some extra time you should consider taking the “History of the War” walking tour. Our guide was just 16 when the war broke out in 1991 and he provided us a first hand account of what it was like during the siege. After hearing his story, we decided to go to the Sponza Palace and check out the Memorial Room. It is a room dedicated to those who stepped up to defend Dubrovnik. There are pictures of those who died, as well as, photos taken while the town was under attack. As you walk around you wonder why anyone would want to destroy such a beautiful city. It saddens you to see the holes in the walls, some of the houses with no roofs. However, the people of Dubrovnik have done a remarkable job of restoring their city. The truly should be commended for what they’ve been able to do. While there is a sense of optimism among the people here, they are still wary and you can sense there are emotional scars that may never heal.

The Old City

Shortly after arriving at the hotel, I met some wonderful people from Virginia and Michigan. They have known each other for years and have done several trips together. They were kind enough to invite me along to tour the old city with them on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, we woke up to some cloudy and slightly chilly weather.

However, we didn’t let that dampen our spirits. We are off to tour Dubrovnik, the walled city and all it has to offer. Of course within minutes, the rain came down! Now Dubrovnik is a very small town. The main attraction is the old city. Most of the sights worth seeing are located within the walls of the old city; a couple of monasterys, a few cathedrals and several very small museums. There are two main entrances, Pile Gate (western) and Ploce Gate (eastern). The main street, the Stradun, runs from one gate to the other. Now it’s a very short distance and you can walk from one end to the other in less than 10 minutes. However, there are several narrow streets and alleyways filled with shops and restaurants. It’s truly amazing to see and feels like you are walking around in a medieval city. Of course, there are also lots of shops and restaurants. Everything is made of stone and it truly is an amazing sight to see.

It makes me realize, how great is it is to be back in Europe. Given all the trips to Asia, it’s been a few years since the Traveling Hillbilly has been to Europe. Boy it’s good to be back.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

5 Buses, 4 Airports, 3 Planes and 2 Taxis…

Yes after a very long day of travel, The Traveling Hillbilly has finally arrived in Dubrovnik Croatia! Given there are no direct flights, it is not an easy place to get to, but the weary traveler is greeted with such kindness and beauty, the hassles of travel are quickly forgotten.

The Traveling Hillbilly’s first thought flying into Croatia, wow, it’s surprisingly green! There are lovely green fields below, surrounded by amazing limestone mountains, all under an amazingly blue sky.

The ride from the airport to the hotel is all along the coast. With its stunning views, it reminded the Traveling Hillbilly of driving along Highway 1 (PCH) in California. There’s the Adriatic on one side and mountains on the other. The one major difference though, it truly is a village. When you here the word village, it conjures up quaint stone houses, castles and other visions from the fairy tales you heard as a kid. Dubrovnik delivers on that vision! It is known as the walled city. It’s surrounded by a huge stone wall, making it look like a castle. As we drive in to the “old city,” the Traveling Hillbilly is half expecting to see men standing along the wall, guarding the place.

What makes this place truly special is they’ve managed to maintain the small town, village feel even as they’ve grown, renovated and built out into the “suburbs.” All the new houses and shops are made of stone and look like they’ve been around for hundreds of years. Finally a place that truly looks like what one imagines it will. It’s not just a big city, with a lot of tall office buildings and hotels everywhere. It looks like the kind of place that might not even have an ATM or internet access. It does have ATMs. As for the internet access, none in the hotel room, but they do have 2 computers in the lobby where you can go online for 30 minutes for about a buck and a half.

The Traveling Hillbilly can’t wait to explore!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hearst Castle

How does the Traveling Hillbilly even begin to describe Hearst Castle? Magnificent? Stunning? Grand? Glorious? All of the above!

What a truly amazing site. We saw Zebras roaming the grounds as we pulled into the road leading to the Visitors Center! The Traveling Hillbilly has seen some truly wonderful sites over the years and the Hearst Castle has now been added to the list. Both the indoor and outdoor pools are so inviting you just want to jump right in. The house itself is quite over the top, just as you would expect a “castle” to be. The Traveling Hillbilly’s whole house would fit in the living room. The grounds and the view however are what I enjoyed the most. I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves.

Paso Robles in 48 Hours!

A last minute trip to Paso Robles turns out to be just what the Traveling Hillbilly needed. After spending the morning trying to reschedule a few things, it was time to hit the road for a quick getaway. As a lot of you know, the Traveling Hillbilly has been wanting to spend more time wine tasting in this region since the great Highway 1 drive last year.

A friend of mine was on his way back from doing the infamous Highway 1 drive and we decided to meet up in Paso Rablos for a couple of nights.

Luckily the Traveling Hillbilly got out of town early enough to avoid the dreaded “rush hour” traffic and arrived in Paso Robles, just in time for dinner. Coincidentally, my friend arrived just ten minutes later. Where to go when there are so many choices?

We headed downtown and after walking around for a bit, decided on Berry Hill Bistro. What a great decision. If you’re ever in the area, the Traveling Hillbilly highly recommends (www.berryHillBistro.com 114 Pine Street Paso Robles, CA 93446, 805-238-3929). The Raspberry-Chipotle Chicken sandwich is delicious. And according to the Traveling Hillbilly’s friend, so is the Chicken Florentine sandwich. If you’re with a friend, share an order of the frites (fries), served with three dipping sauces (garlic aioli, wasabi source cream, chipotle ketchup). The wasabi sour cream is yummy! Plus, if you’re into wine, the pours are very generous.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Perfect Sunday

So far, our day was great but it turned out it was about to get even better. We heard from some other friends of ours as well. We had hoped to meet up with them while we were here as well but did not think it was going to work out.

After lots of phone tag and texting, we had a plan. We decided to meet up and wander through the Haight street festival. Apparently each of the neighborhoods hosts a street festival during the summer. There was one in both the North Beach and Haight neighborhoods today. Sounded like a great San Francisco experience. The streets were crowded and quite and interesting crowd it was. We wandered around for a bit and then decided to rest in the park.

Turns out we sat in the park for most of the day and just hung out. At first the Traveling Hillbilly was thinking, “we could be doing this, or that, we should go somewhere, do something.” Then I stopped for a moment and thought to myself, when was the last time you just hung out? I realized it had been a very long time. Here I was in San Francisco, hanging out with some really good friends and just enjoying a Sunday afternoon. The six of us just sat in the park, caught up with each other for the whole afternoon. The Traveling Hillbilly could not think of a better way to spend the final day in San Fran!

Not So Early To Rise

As I mentioned in my last post, we met up with some friends for a night out. What a night we had. We started at the hotel with a quick drink before heading out for a late dinner. There are so many great restaurants in this town. The Traveling Hillbilly has yet to have a bad meal here.

We just hung out until late into the night, drinking, sharing stories and laughing until our sides hurt. It truly was a fun evening. It made me realize how much I miss my friends. I miss having them in Los Angeles and being able to see them often.

After the late night last night, neither of us was eager to jump up and start the day right away. The Traveling Hillbilly even slept until 9am! We got a bit of a late start but it turned out to be one great day.

We headed down to the Ferry Building to grab some coffee from the Blue Bottle. They have a great New Orleans iced coffee our friends had told us about the night before. They were right the Traveling Hillbilly enjoyed the brew!

We got a text from our friends (who also got a late start) and decided we’d all meet up for a late breakfast. We wandered around the ferry building for a bit while waiting for them to join us and decided to have a drink at the Slanted Door while we waited. Jon had a very spicy but delicious Bloody Mary, while I had some champagne. Having a drink early in the day without feeling guilty is just one more reason the Traveling Hillbilly loves to travel!

Our friends met us at the Slanted Door and then we headed over to the Market Street Café for breakfast. We were a little disappointed in the breakfast there, but it was such a beautiful day we couldn’t help but enjoy ourselves. Sitting outside, on the water, when it’s sunny and just under 70 degrees, you can’t help but enjoy yourself.

Running into an Ex - Awkward

First, the Traveling Hillbilly has to give a shout out to Le Meridien, San Francisco. As always, they truly deliver on service. The Traveling Hillbilly has stayed at Le Meridien’s around the world and they always have great locations (except in Hong Kong) and provide truly great service.

We pleased to discover that despite our last minute notice, our friends are available to hang out. We are in the elevator going down to meet them in the hotel bar for a drink when the elevator stops, the doors open and in steps in a couple. One of who looks amazingly familiar. Sure enough, it turns out to an ex of the Traveling Hillbilly. Now I won’t bore you all with all the details, suffice it to say this is the one person, the Traveling Hillbilly has always felt was owed an apology. One I planned to give if we ever ran into each other. We both live in Los Angeles and have never run into each other, so I have never had the opportunity. Now suddenly we come face to face in an elevator in San Francisco. Awkward and not really an appropriate situation to apologize. Wow. It really is a small world.

After a few moments of awkward chit chat, we meet our friends and start our evening. Let’s just say a fun time was had by all.

Day 2 - This Is Living

We hit the road before 8am. We make a quick stop for coffee, at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, of course. We’re on our way. What a truly beautiful drive. Now a lot of you know the Traveling Hillbilly did this drive just under a year ago but I have to say, it’s still just as awe inspiring the second time around. It’s amazing we have such beauty so close to us.

Of course, like typical Californian’s we’re dressed like we’re in the middle of winter in Chicago, with our heated seats on and the top down!

We stop for some fresh strawberries along the way at this little stand that just has a box for you to drop your money in. It’s nice to know there are places where you can still be on the “honor” system. After a few hours in the car, we decide to stop for breakfast. We went to a fabulous place called the Big Sky Café in San Luis Obispo. It’s at 1121 Broad Street and the Traveling Hillbilly highly recommends it!

We stopped at several vista points to take some photos. One of which, had a hundred squirrels running around. I guess people have been feeding them so the moment we stepped out of the car, they came running up to us begging for food. One guy was letting them crawl all over him. It was a almost creepy, like a scene from a horror movie, Squirrels Gone Wild. But they were cute and there were a bunch of little baby squirrels running around and so close to the beach.

We decided to hike in Big Sur and go see the waterfall at Julia Pfieffer State Park. Jon had found a great site, www.hikinginbigsur.com and it listed it as a must see. I wouldn’t really call it a hike though. It was more of a walk, but well worth the time. Add one more to the list of amazing things to see along this most scenic drive.

Day 2 - Early To Rise

Before crashing last night, we decided we wanted to get an early start and agreed to rise at 7am. After finishing a bottle of wine on the beach, the Traveling Hillbilly was not sure how realistic that was. However, here it is 6am and I’m already wide awake and ready for the day.

For the first time in weeks, I actually slept through the night. I got a whole six hours of sleep! Maybe by the end of this trip, I’ll actually be able to sleep for eight whole hours in a row vs. 2-3 hour increments.

I’m ready to hit the road, if only my friend were as eager to get going. The alarm should be going off very soon.

Let the Road Trip Begin

It’s been way too long since the Traveling Hillbilly has actually been traveling. It was time to get the heck out of Dodge. My friend felt the same way. So we decided to take a road trip.

Why not, load up the Jeep and hit Highway 1 for the scenic drive up the coast? We could say hi to some friends in San Francisco, stop for a hike in Big Sur or Monterey and maybe even do a little wine tasting in Sonoma. Who knows where our adventure might take it us.

Knowing we had a long drive up the coast and wanted to do it at a leisurely pace, with some stops along the way, we decided to knock a couple hours of the drive and hit the road Friday night, after traffic of course. Traffic was surprising light, as we headed up the 101 to Santa Barbara. We arrived at cute little place called the Hotel Marmonte, www.hotelmaramnte.com and checked in for the night. Our adventure has begun.

We grabbed a bottle of wine, headed down to the beach and listened to the waves crash. Now as a lot of you know, the Traveling Hillbilly is somewhat frightened by the ocean. We all know what an angry beast she can be, so I must admit sitting on the beach late at night is not exactly the Traveling Hillbilly’s idea of relaxation. I kept a close eye on the water as the tide rolled in, my fear rising as each crashing wave grew just a little bit closer. Did the tide pull way back suddenly? Was a wave going to suddenly come crashing over us and pull us in? The wine helped in keeping these random thoughts at bay.

We sat, we talked and we sipped our wine, feeling so far away from the hectic pace of, what has been our life for the last several weeks. Despite the constant fear of being sucked into the deep dark ocean at any moment, the Traveling Hillbilly was having a good time.

It was time to head back to the hotel and get some rest. We know we have a long day ahead of us tomorrow.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Gossip Girl - Could it Really Be True?

I know most of you have probably not watched Gossip Girl, but the first time I saw it I wondered if it could be true. Could there really be a place on "the upper east side" where teenagers drink martini's in swanky hotel bars? Where did they get this idea? Well I felt like I was right in the middle of a Gossip Girl episode last night. I arrived at the "W" Union Square after midnight to check in for the week. The place was hopping. It was just a buzz of activity. I guess this really is the city that never sleeps. So as I'm waiting to check in, a gaggle of 12-13 year old girls comes squealing into the atrium. They are all dressed to the nines, fancy dresses, high heels and make-up! They looked like they were trying to be 20 year olds. After discovering there was a screw up with the reservation (that's a whole other post), I go outside to take a taxi to Le Parker Meridien. While I'm waiting for the taxi, along side all these girls (with their mothers), I overhear part of the conversation. They are complaining about the rain, and what it's going to do to their $80-$100 shoes! I feel like I'm in an alternate universe. Who are these kids? Who are their mothers and fathers that let them dress like this? Are these girls going to grow up thinking the brand name of their shoes, their jeans and who does their hair, are the important things in life? It makes one wonder. The next time the Traveling Hillbilly sees an episode of Gossip Girl, I'll know it's true. There really is a place where teenagers drink martini's at swanky hotel bars! And that place is a long way from where the Traveling Hillbilly's grew up.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Best Job in The World

Check out the video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utx3jAejjSE and then Click here to vote for Traveling Hillbilly! to send in your “write in” vote to Queensland Tourism.

There it was an email from the Traveling Hillbilly’s sister about the Best Job in the World. The Traveling Hillbilly was instantly intrigued. Get paid to live on beautiful Hamilton Island for six months and share the experience with the world via video and blog postings? Spend your days exploring the islands of the Great Barrier Reef. And get paid to do it? It just sounded too good to be true. But alas it was not. It was a real job!

So the Traveling Hillbilly enlisted the help of a few good friends to produce the required video application. After weeks of blood sweat and tears, not to mention countless emails and texts, the video was complete, and with a whole day to spare, before the submission deadline.

Unfortunately, there were thousands of other folks trying to upload their video applications as well. The website just couldn’t handle the volume of submissions and unfortunately many folks, including the Traveling Hillbilly, were not able to successfully upload their videos in time.

The Traveling Hillbilly doesn’t want to give up just yet. So please, check out the video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utx3jAejjSE and then Click here to vote for Traveling Hillbilly! to send in your “write in” vote for the Traveling Hillbilly.
Thanks in advance for your support.