Hello and welcome to my blog! When I was 48 I started my journey as a solo traveler. Occasionally, I travel with a friend, but mostly I travel alone and am always looking for ways to overcome my fear of that! To read my blog posts, just hit the Home button on the top left and you’ll find all my stories. Also, feel free to check out the About page for info about me. In the near future I’ll be adding more, so watch for updates about some great European destinations, China, and maybe a sprinkle of North America and Sri Lanka. If you have some interesting ideas or inspiration to share, too, please feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you! ~ Cathy
I first approached Granada by train. I had heard so many great things about it, but I have to confess, it wasn’t love at first sight. Trains rarely pull into the nicest parts of town, after all, and there wasn’t much to look at from the train window, either. However, after just one day, Granada had stolen my heart. From the street art and music echoing through the winding streets, to the cheap eats at the local tapas bars, to the Sacromonte district and the Alhambra, how can one not love this city?
The history of Granada goes so deep I couldn’t help but to be swept away with fascination. On my first stroll around the town, and just around the corner from my airbnb, I stumbled upon a church. As it turned out, it was the Royal Chapel of Granada, the very church where Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand’s remains are kept. This was when I first realized I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, because, I’m going to make a confession, I didn’t relate Granada to the king and queen of Spain circa 1492 or Christopher Columbus, for that matter. How wrong I was! Anyway, this blog isn’t about my ignorance with historical facts, but about the time I spent in this charming, magical city. Aside from its history, Granada is an eclectic place, very down to earth and a bit gritty, but only in the best way. It feels like coming home, where you can just be yourself.
A fascinating historical gem in Spain, the Alhambra is 700 years old. There is so much complex history to this place, mixed with major world events where Moorish Islam and Christianity meld into one, that you would be hard-pressed to find a more intriguing place to visit. Among one of the most compelling things I discovered about the Alhambra was that the the Moors believed that the outward appearance of a thing was less important than its contents. The outside structures of the Alhambra are actually, in my opinion, nothing special to look at. To me, the place sort of conjures up thoughts of a large prison, and when trying to capture a photo it just doesn’t have the same style and beauty as other great palaces in Europe. However, once inside, you are taken into tranquil spaces where simplicity, color and nature show the splendor of true wealth within the walls, where all of your senses can relax and take in, not just the visual, but the feel of freshness, the sound of water, and the smell of nature, and where the magnificence of the architecture is awe-inspiring. But this philosophy of inner beauty was not just meant for buildings; the builders took this same attitude toward themselves, believing that they should not ‘show off’ in their outward appearance, but focus more effort on improving the inner self.
The clever symmetry and mirror effect of the water allows one to experience a double portion of the beauty of the sky and surrounding gardens. And, when inside the building, you never know what you might find hiding about. If you chance to look up, you might be surprised to discover a fresco of the first kings, intricately detailed ceilings with deep spiritual meaning, or a stained glass skylight.
Cave Dwellings of Sacromonte
If you travel to Granada, visiting the area of Sacromonte, where people have established homes in caves for hundreds of years, is a must. I took a small group tour with Street Art & Cave Tours Badass Granada that was led by a man who had once lived in the caves. His connections led us to the home of a couple who allowed us to take a peek inside their cave dwelling and watch the spectacular sunset over the city while eating homemade tapas and drinking wine on their little terrace. The view was absolutely astonishing. I almost can’t imagine a better place to have a home!
Another interesting thing you’ll find in Granada is some amazing street art. If you’ve traveled anywhere in Europe, you’re probably aware of the unsightly graffiti that seems to be everywhere. However, in Granada, it’s a welcome and cheerful part of the city landscape, and we have Rual Ruiz to thank for it!
Sierra Nevada National Park
It was mostly by luck that I had the opportunity to go on a hike in the Sierra Nevada National Park. My tour guide from the day before mentioned it, so I decided to join, only to find that only I and one other guy from Egypt had booked for the day. But the hike turned out to be great fun and made my time in Granada just that much more enjoyable. To get to the park, you have to either drive or take a bus, but the bus will only pick you back up at a certain time in the afternoon, so you can’t really take “all” day for hiking. However, we had plenty of time and even stopped for a picnic along the way. The trail is very easy, aside from a slight moment of having to hang on to the side of a rock wall while going over a river, but there is a bar to hold on to, so not to worry. On the hike, you can see olive trees and the remnants of old mining habitations. There is so much more to explore in the Sierra Nevada mountains, though, so if you’re into hiking I think it would be a great experience to spend more time there. I even heard that on a clear day you can see Africa from the top. How cool is that?!
I can’t say which part of Granada was my favorite, but I truly hope to return one day. It’s a place where all are welcome and you feel a sense of belonging. I wouldn’t mind living there, either, if only I could learn to speak Spanish!
First, you’ll need to gather your supplies:
- a Vietnamese coffee filter (phin)
- ground coffee (preferably Trung Nguyen)
- a cup or a glass
- hot water
- sweetened condensed milk (optional)
First, set the bottom part of the filter on top of the cup. Then add 2-3 spoonfuls of coffee into the filter. (If you’re using condensed milk, go ahead and pour it in the cup before starting the filter process. You should use about 2-3 spoonfuls of milk, or as much as you like, according to your taste.)
Once the coffee has been placed into the filter, shake it a bit to even it out. Then place the middle part of the filter over the coffee. If your filter has a screw-on filter, go ahead and screw it down all the way, then loosen it half a turn.
Add about 20 ml of hot water over the filter. Let it stand for about 30 seconds to allow the coffee grounds to expand.
Next, carefully pour in the amount of hot water you like. For espresso, 40 ml should be about right. If you don’t like yours as an espresso and want a bigger cup of coffee, you can add water all the way to the top of the filter.
Place the lid on the filter and wait for all the water to drip into the cup. This may take some time, possibly 5-10 minutes.
Once the water has drained, take the filter off the cup and pour the brewed coffee into your favorite mug. If you added condensed milk before, stir thoroughly.
Optional: If you prefer iced coffee, use 3 spoonfuls of ground coffee. Follow the instructions above. Pour the coffee into a glass and add ice. Stir and enjoy!
Triglav National Park, located in the northwestern part of Slovenia and just a 40 minute drive from Ljubljana, is worth a trip if you get the chance! The natural beauty and fresh air of the alps, crystal blue streams, and history within the park are all worth the trip. On the way you will pass small mountain villages and wonder how people survive in such locations. Yet, as I passed them I longed to be among them, living off the land, neighbor helping neighbor. It was a scene right out of Heidi, one of my favorite children’s stories. 🙂
There are so many beautiful scenes to experience in Triglav National Park!
A picture of a church on an island surrounded by crystal blue water and enchanting mountains is what first enticed me to visit Slovenia. This island, lake, town and even a castle, all go by the name Bled. Here are the main attractions in Bled and tips on how to get there from Ljubljana.
TIP: Click on the green boxes to explore more!
After stepping off the bus, you’ll find yourself meandering just a short way through parts of Bled to where you’ll eventually discover the path that leads to the castle. It’s a quiet hike up a hill where you’ll get views of the lake as you walk. You can also drive, but unless you came in a car or with a tour group, you’re probably going to have to walk. It takes about 15 – 20 minutes to get up to the castle from the “bus station”. There’s plenty of trees along the wooded path for shade, but it can be steep in some places. The price of the castle entrance is currently 11 euros for a single adult, but they offer discounts if you’re with a group.
The first thing you’ll want to do once you get inside the castle gate is take a picture of Bled Island from the great viewpoint. I arrived at 10:00 am and found that not many tourists had arrived yet, so I had plenty of time to take some good photos. After the photo shoot, you’ll find a few interesting things to explore inside the castle walls, such as a replica of the Gutenberg printing press, a wine cellar, museum and gift shop. There’s also a small restaurant where you can sit on the terrace and enjoy the view while sampling the local dessert, kremsnita.
I didn’t try the kremsnita in the castle, but opted to try it at another restaurant along the lake. You can read more about Bled Castle and Bled by clicking the links below.
How to get to Bled Island: take a Pletna boat!
After the essential first-things-first exploration of the castle, I made my way back down to the lake where there was lots of summer activity going on with people swimming, paddling, sun bathing, people-watching and eating gelato. Bled seems like a great place to visit for a few days, whether for a romantic weekend or just some much needed R & R, so if you really want to enjoy it, it’s probably best to book yourself a room in advance. But if you only have one day like I did, I would recommend taking the time to experience a Pletna boat ride over to Bled Island, (you know, that island with the church that first draws everyone to visit Slovenia), while a professional oarsman does all the work. The round-trip ride costs 15 euros in CASH and takes about 20 minutes each way. You’ll only get about 30 minutes to explore before the boat heads back to the mainland, so choose your island activities wisely. There’s some interesting history about these boats and the men who row them, as well as facts about Bled Island, which you can read about by clicking the links below.
How to get to Bled from Ljubljana by bus
The Ljubljana train and bus stations are located on the same square and simple to find, (Trg Osvobodilne fronte 4, 1000 Ljubljana), so if you want to take a quick and inexpensive trip to Bled, all you need to do is go to the station and buy your ticket. I was told that the trains are “quite bad” in Slovenia and it’s much better to use a bus, which will get you there in about an hour. Another option is to rent a car or hire a taxi, but I opted for the least expensive way. Here are the things you need to know when traveling by bus to and from Ljubljana and Bled.
Going to Bled: you need to pay for your ticket in CASH. A one-way ticket to Bled costs about 10 euros, give or take, and must be paid for in cash. You can buy the ticket a day or so early, or just show up at the bus station and hope for the best. There are many buses going to Bled, so the chances are good that you’ll be able to board the next bus. Personally, I chose to purchase my ticket a day in advance just to be on the safe side. You may also want to secure a return ticket at that time.
Returning from Bled: you need to pay the driver in CASH. When I arrived back at the bus station in Bled, (which, incidentally, was NOT a bus station at all, but simply a pick up and drop off point for buses – there’s another bus station in Bled in a different location), I assumed I would have to buy a return ticket. However, I was told that I just needed to pay the driver in cash. The bus arrived and people lined up, but unless they had a ticket, they were turned away!
Lesson #1 – Some drivers aren’t very friendly and choose to make it hard for travelers. The good news – there will be another bus coming in 30 minutes, so not to worry. The return fare was under 7 euros, for some reason, but best to take more cash, just to be on the safe side.
UPDATE: I’ve just done some searching and found this link to Avtobusna Potaja Ljubljana (bus schedules in Ljubljana). Check it out, maybe you don’t need cash after all!
Good to Know: In Bled, cash is king
There is no Western Union in Bled! I’m adding this piece of information because I spent hours looking for a Western Union. Why? Because I ran out of cash for my return bus ticket! Why? Because I wasn’t thinking about the cash and ended up spending it on little things like gelato and kremsnita (the local dessert I’ll tell you about later), and a tip for the nice boat-rowing guy. When I realized I only had 7 euros left, I panicked because I’d forgotten to bring my ATM card, as well, and was only carrying a credit card.
Lesson #2 – BRING ENOUGH CASH and your ATM card. You cannot get cash out of any bank, post office or ATM machine with your credit card unless you have a PIN! (which I did not). My story, however, ends on a happy note. After running around town for the better part of the afternoon looking for a Western Union, sitting on the steps of the biggest bank in town bawling my eyes out, I finally came to the conclusion that my only option was to return to the “bus station” to see, if by some miracle, somebody could help me out of my predicament. I thought the ticket was going to be 10 euros, but as luck would have it, the return ticket was only 6 and I actually had 1 euro to spare! I really don’t know if the prices change from bus to bus, all I’m saying is, BRING ENOUGH CASH.
Pay-as-you-Pee. Yep, you even have to pay to use the bathroom in Bled, so again, take some extra coins.
This has been just a short sampling of the things Bled has to offer. I wish I had more to add, but as mentioned earlier, I spent too much of my day searching for a Western Union! I hope one day you’ll find your way to this charming town. I’ve also heard good things about Bohinj, another, less touristy lake not far from Bled. Check out the links below to explore other places to visit around Bled.
Up until about a year ago, I’d never heard of Slovenia. I guess it kind of sounded familiar…or was I thinking Slovakia? As it turns out, they’re two very different countries (Slovenia used to be part of Yugoslavia, whereas Slovakia used to be part of Czechoslavakia), and they don’t even touch borders. I’m not sure if this is a joke, but on slovak-republic.org it states that, “Staff of Slovak and Slovenian embassies meet once a month to exchange wrongly-addressed mail!” Oh my, it’s so confusing! But I can assure you, once you’ve had the chance to visit Slovenia (although I’m sure Slovakia is equally as charming), you’ll never confuse the two countries again.
Fittingly, Slovenia is the only country in the world that contains the word “love” written right into its name. A small country with a population of about 2 million people, it shares the Julian Alps with Italy and also borders the countries of Austria, Hungary and Croatia. Not only does it boast those beautiful snow covered alps, but as an added bonus meets the Adriatic Sea to the south. Although I didn’t attempt this myself, rumor has it that you can go to the beach and go snow skiing all in one day.
Slovene is the official language in Slovenia, but Italian and Hungarian are co-official languages. I met some people who also speak Croatian, and you’ll find that many people speak English, too, especially in Ljubljana and Bled.
I flew into Slovenia’s capital city, Ljubljana, on a warm, sunny July afternoon. From the sky, I could clearly see that the small city was surrounded by nature on all sides. While the gentleman sitting next to me, a Ljubljana native, explained some need-to-know local tidbits to help me gain a little knowledge for my 3-week stay, (“always wear slippers in the house, you must visit Tivoli Park, the restaurants in the old town are way overpriced so don’t eat there . . .” ), I became more and more excited to see what this country was all about. So, here are my fun facts and adventures of Slovenia, beginning with Ljubljana (pronounced loo-blee-yaw-nuh). ;P
Bridges, Buildings & Boats
Ljubljana is the largest city in Slovenia with a population of 280,000. The city is so small that I never once used public transport to get around after I stepped out of the shuttle van from the airport. I’ll talk more about getting around in a bit, but first let’s explore some of the main attractions.
The first thing I look for in any European city is its castle, of course! This one is in the heart of town, just up the hill from the Mestni Trg or Medieval Square. There are a couple of ways to get there, but I chose the good old fashioned way – by foot. Click the links below to learn more about Ljubljanski grad, or Ljubljana Castle.
Aside from Ljubljana Castle, Triple Bridge and the Red Church, one of the most obvious attractions in Ljubljana is its river. It’s actually been given seven names throughout history, the most recent being Ljubljanica. If you want to know more, you can take a 45-minute boat excursion offered at the river’s edge near the Dragon Bridge and the castle. It’s not hard to find your way to a ticket stand where they’ll help you board the next hourly ride. You might even get lucky enough to snag a seat on the unique, locally-made wooden boat. It’s the only one of its kind on the river, and I was fortunate enough to board purely by chance. If you want to make the trip more relaxing you can opt for a glass of wine while you float along. Click below for information about the “wooden” boat and more things to do in Ljubljana.
Getting Around Ljubljana: Biking is the best way!
Ljubljana is an extremely bicycle friendly city, catering to cyclists by way of bike lanes on every street. So I have to say that my favorite way of getting around was by using the bicikelj bike sharing system, first introduced to me by my Airbnb host. You basically find a bike station, punch in your code, and unlock a bike. There are several bicikelj stations around the city, making it convenient to park the bike fairly close to your destination. It costs only 1 euro for the week, which you charge to your credit card. If you want a yearly pass, it’s only 3 euros! As long as you return the bike to another station within 60 minutes, there’s no additional charge. If you’re not quite ready to give up your ride just yet, you simply return the bike to any bicikelj station, then unlock the bike again (or another bike if you weren’t happy with the last one) and begin your next hour of free biking. I found that even if I went over the 60 minute limit, the cost was minimal and well worth the convenience. Click the links below to find more information about using the bicikelj system and other ways to get around.
The Trail of Remembrance and Comradeship
And while we’re on the subject of biking, there’s an interesting bit of history many people may not get the chance to explore while in Ljubljana – The Trail of Remembrance and Comradeship, or more simply referred to as POT. The significance of the trail is that, during WWII, it was the border which was used to enclose Ljubljana’s inhabitants from leaving the city. I’ll be completely honest here, I set off to do the entire trail, but at times got lost and finally just had to give up. On another day, I made a second attempt by going a different direction, only to find that I had to carry my bike up a steep hill, at which point I opted not to continue that way. I later realized that, although parts of the trail can be ridden by bike, it may be best for walking and running. Either way, it’s a nice trail to explore and it helped me to enjoy a couple of hours by bike in the countryside around Ljubljana. If you’d like to learn more about the Trail of Remembrance and Comradeship and the history of Slovenia, click the links below.
Airport Shuttle Van – When arriving at the Ljubljana airport you’ll instantly see the shuttle van counter to the left as you leave the terminal. (The airport is VERY small, you can’t miss it). Here, you just tell them where you’re going, pay the money (I think it was less than 15 euros), then walk across the street to where the vans are parked. The English speaking driver will drop you off anywhere you tell him.
Sim Card – You can purchase a Slovenia phone number and data from A1, which is conveniently located in Presernov trg 2, just near the Red Church and Triple Bridge. (When standing at the door of the Red Church looking toward Triple Bridge, you should be able to see the building in the picture below). The 1-month card cost me about 20 euros.
Flix Bus – Great app for purchasing bus and train tickets to other cities. I paid about 10 euros for a one-way ticket to Rijeka, Croatia from Ljubljana. https://global.flixbus.com/service/bus-app
Airbnb.com – I started using Airbnb 8 months ago. What I like most about it is that you can live like a local and get a whole apartment for the same price as you’d pay for a cramped, impersonal hotel room. With your own “home”, you have the option to do your own cooking or have access to a washing machine, which can save you money if you’re planning on staying for more than a couple of days. You can also get personal advice from your Airbnb host, and maybe even make some lifelong friends! There are also options to choose shared rooms or shared bathrooms. If you’ve never used Airbnb, my advice is to choose a “Superhost”. Read the reviews to make informed decisions based on what others are saying about the host, as well.
If you can’t find a moon cake, I hope a moon cake finds you!
Living in China has its benefits for those who love to travel, as there are a number of long holidays in store, particularly for those of us who work in schools! Every August, when I arrive back to work after a long summer break, I look forward to checking the work calendar to see which days I can use to plan my vacations.
However, there is one small holiday, not really worthy of traveling in and of itself, but one I look forward to every year – the Mid-Autumn Festival, otherwise known as “mooncake festival”.
It was my first year in China, sometime around the end of September, when I was surprised to receive a gift. It was given in a beautiful box, loaded with thick, round dense cakes, each in its own beautiful wrapping. “What is it?” I asked. “Mooncakes!” someone replied. “You can try.” The first bite was heavenly, and it was then that I fell in love with “mooncake” festival.
Since that first year, I’ve tasted more than my share of mooncakes. Typically, I receive a case of them from my workplace. Sometimes they taste really delicious, rarely they don’t. Some people love them, some hate them. Some have nuts or lutus seeds, others are filled with a red bean paste. The closest thing I can compare it to would be a fig newton. They’re meant to be eaten in wedges, usually cut into quarters, but I prefer to eat the whole mooncake in one sitting!
Recently, a friend told me that the mooncakes are much tastier in Southern China where she grew up. I guess it’s all up to the individual to decide. Whatever the case, if you happen to visit China during the end of September or beginning of October, you’re sure to find a mooncake in almost any shop. The biggest problem will be, which one to choose?!
I don’t know about you, but I love karaoke. I guess it’s because it gives me a chance to feel like a rock star for five minutes. When I travel, I’m always looking for a place to let off some steam with other karaoke
nerds budding rock stars. Recently, I got a subscription to a karaoke website and as I began scrolling through the catalog, I realized there are tons of songs that provide inspiration for us blue sky chasers. Here are some of my favorites that I hope will stir up the wanderlust in you, too.
1. It’s My Life – Bon Jovi – This was actually the first song I ever belted out at karaoke. If you read my About page you may remember that I mentioned a time when my life was at an all-time low. Well, this song was the beginning of my breakthrough because when I started singing it became my anthem. I was ready to pull up my big girl panties and “live while I’m alive!” About a year later I was off on my first solo trip abroad to Germany!
2. Breakaway – Kelly Clarkson – Well, this one’s a no-brainer. “I’ll spread my wings and I’ll learn how to fly, I’ll do what it takes ’til I touch the sky!” It has to be one of the best songs ever written to inspire listeners to take that leap!
3. Moon River – Audrey Hepburn – I know there are a few versions to this one, but for me, none inspire my longing to escape as much as listening to Audrey Hepburn singing her rendition from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
4. Here Comes the Sun – The Beatles – We all know there’s no chasing blue skies without knowing the sun is going to appear at some point! This song inspires me to shake off the problems of yesterday and move on to better days – and maybe start planning for my next adventure. 😉
5. I Can See Clearly Now – Jimmy Cliff: This song will just bring you joy in every way! I see some blue sky. Let’s chase it!
Tell us in the Comments which songs inspire you to get out and chase YOUR blue sky!