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26 Jul 2017

Koper, Slovenia

 

Koper is the main port of Slovenia and lies just east of the Italian border. Although they expect 65 cruise ship visits this year, it does not have much to see except thousands of cars at the port waiting to be shipped out.  It is a jumping off point for several interesting and historical sites.

 

 

 

Ljubljana is the capital and largest city of Slovenia (approx. 200,000) and is surprisingly lovely to stroll around and lunch at one of the many cafes at their winding river that runs through the heart of town.

 

 

 

The Postojna Cave is the second largest in the world (the largest is in Kentucky). I felt like I was working a coal mine riding the train that took us deep into the dark interior before we started our arduous walk.

The stalagmites (they grow from ground up) and stalactites (top down) are constantly growing, albeit at a very slow rate. In fact it takes them 1,000 years just to grow five inches.

 

 

Later we made a few stops in Trieste, an Italian border down just five minutes from the port. The Lipica stud farm is Europe’s oldest that breeds one only breed – Lipizzaner Horses. They are quite special in that they have a royal background, are beautiful performers, and are so bright that they are used for therapeutic purposes with with autistic children.

 

 

The Trieste Synagogue, opened in 1912, was built to replace four small ones and be able to accommodate a growing community of 6,000 Jews. Unfortunately it was closed in 1942 by the Fascists and then used as a storehouse by the Nazis during the War. Immediately after the war it reopened.

 

 

We had no idea there were Nazi detention and killing camps here until we visited Rice Hall of San Sabba. It was used as a transit camp for Jews to be sent primarily to Auschwitz. As usual the conditions here were horrific.

After the War it was used as a refugee and transit center for people fleeing Communist Yugoslavia. 









25 Jul 2017

Venice Area, 2017

 

 

 

 

Since we have been to beautiful Venice a few times and were still beat from the flight over, we decided to charter a guide and water taxi for a leisurely trip to nearby Islands of Murano and Burano.

 

 

 

Murano is famous for making glass and has been since 1291 when glassmaking was banned in Venice proper for fire safety reasons. A trip here involves both seeing how they make it as well as viewing unbelievable beautiful pieces – all for sale.

 

 

Burano is like a fantasy city. A photographer’s delight, the freshly painted colorful homes make it look as if it is directly out of a fairy tale. Historically a fishing community, legend has it that the sailors wanted to see their homes from the water.

 

It is world famous for their intricate lace making. A “simple” centerpiece for a tablecloth takes a month, which is why authentic Burano lace is so expensive. There are seven main stitches and different women specialize in each and share the artistry.

 

 

Of course we weren’t going to be here without boating through Venice. We particularly liked this art by Lorenzo Quinn (Anthony’s son).

 









24 Jul 2017

Flying is a Pain

 

Well it’s that time of year again. The poker season in Las Vegas is done and it’s time to ditch the heat, and chill in The Med for a month. For years I have said how much I love traveling, except for the traveling part. This week was no exception. We have been anxiously awaiting our one-month cruise from Venice to Barcelona.

Using points on Business and/or First Class air travel has become tougher through the years because planes are full and airlines are stingier. They have wonderful promotions about their mileage programs; just don’t try using them when you want them.

Back in mid April, I was lucky enough to find a wonderful connection using Delta points from LAS/JFK/VCE (Venice).

This Friday I was minding my own business and I get an email from Delta alerting me that there may be weather problems in New York for my Sunday night connection adding that if I choose they would allow a reroute at their expense. Given the flight was days off, that seemed strange on the face of it, but I called Delta anyway to see what was up. The very nice and competent lady on the other end told me the law has changed recently and the airlines have a new obligation to warn flyers of potential problems or they could have serious liability.

While looking at change options she discovered nothing was available for me because I was using points. However she suggested reaching out to a supervisor to see if they would override that since it wasn’t my fault that I may need to change.

Minutes later she came back and said we have a much bigger potential problem because my ticket was cancelled and we got lucky that I received the weather alert because I could have would up at the airport without a valid ticket. The points were even put back in my account. They said I was originally booked in December and then cancelled. That was not true whatsoever but the point is I had not reservation.

The lady told me she would stay with me until resolved and had to go through two or three other folks but they made it happen again. Rates had gone up but they booked a false trip for the same price and then cancelled, rebooked, reconfirmed and re-ticketed. Meanwhile every few minutes she checked back and said they were working on satisfying me and they did. It took 90 minutes, but they fixed it.

Ironically during the wait she checked the NYC forecast and chuckled in that there was just a 40% chance of showers and the whole thing was probably a big nothing.

So Sunday morning Allyn and I pop out to the airport and find out the flight has been delayed 90 minutes, but not to worry because we had a 2.5 hour layover in New York and just had the extra wait in LV instead of NY.

Guess what after waiting for what seemed like the longest time on the tarmac the captain told us there MAY be a mechanical problem, but we had to go back to find out.

Bottom line, no matter how long the delay, we would now miss our connection in New York to fly to Venice. That meant overnighting and in New York and arriving Venice 15 – 24 hours late.  

They announced on the plane that people could cancel but they suggested to wait and go on this flight because their other NYC flights were all sold out AND there were no hotel rooms available in Las Vegas because it is a big convention week.

Then the gate agent actually sought us out and said they booked us on a completely different route to Venice via Minneapolis and Amsterdam. It would get in at 4:30 instead of 10:30 but we already were four hours late. They could not have been nicer.

The only problem was we had to fly coach on the first segment. That is normally no big deal except I still had to pay with the first class points.

Although our flight to MSP was both cramped and adjacent to a crying baby, it was otherwise uneventful. Our ride to Amsterdam was delightful and seemed to be fine when headed for Venice. Five minutes before landing the captain got onboard and said there are local thunderstorms and because we were sixth in line we didn’t have enough fuel and a refueling stop would be necessary in Bologna.

So off to Bologna we went. Finally we arrived Venice in the evening instead of the morning.

It seemed like such an ordeal, but upon reflection, the Delta people did the best they could and got us to Venice the same day as scheduled and we didn’t have to overnight in New York.

 

 

Here we our in our beautiful suite on the Oceania Riviera, our home for a month. Things are actually great. It is just that flying is a pain.









26 Mar 2017

Caribbean

Final three ports. After leaving the Amazon we had three Caribbean stops on the way back to Miami.

 

Snorkeling in Barbados.

 

 

Snuba in St. Lucia (not us).

 

 

Zip lining in Puerto Rico 









18 Mar 2017

Manaus (Amazon), Brazil 2017

Manaus is one of the most unique cities in the world. It has a population exceeding 2,000,000 and is 900 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean.

It is known as “Paris of the Jungle” because the fancy European “rubber barons” wanted a high end feel. These guys rounded up many thousands of Indians to work in unbelievably poor conditions on the rubber plantations practically as slaves. Meanwhile the barrons were lighting their cigarettes with hundred dollar bills just to be cool.

Shortly into the 20th century, the rubber business here was about gone with other Europeans planting rubber trees elsewhere and undercutting the Brazilian market.

 

Manaus was stagnant for years. Then, about 50 years ago, Federal investments and tax incentives creating the Free Economic Zone turned it back into a thriving community.

Even though it is thriving economically, the Amazon tells a different story for many.

We are at the end of the road as far large ships can go, and by road I mean the Amazon because there is no highway system around.

Since most people cannot pay to fly, they take cheap ferries up and down the Amazon for 5 – 10 days where they take a hammock and sleep almost on top of each other.

I hired a very good guide for 2 days, Herman, to give us the real feel for the Amazon and Manaus. What a start! First stop from this metropolis was 45 minutes upstream by speedboat and we were back 200 years with Indians. I’m talking the real deal.

I’m not sure I have danced since my wedding, but I was afraid to turn this lady down in case they might be cannibals.

Then it was swimming with the pink dolphins. This is no park. It is the Amazon.

The backwaters of the Amazon are so peaceful. The lilies are over three feet in diameter. We saw many different type of monkeys. 20% of the world's oxygen comes from the Amazon rain forest and over half of the 10 million identified animal species are indigenous.

Allyn got a beautiful shot of a giant Iguana. I couldn’t see it live and didn’t even see it in the photo until it was blown up and pointed out to me.

Where the Rio Negro and the Amazon intersect it is called the Meeting of the Waters.  They keep their respective colors for miles for several reasons – one is very much colder, slower and more dense. We dipped our hands in the water and the 10-degree temperature difference was immediately apparent.

It seemed like the right idea to sample fresh fish in town for dinner. We were not disappointed.

Today we visited the market in the morning. It was teaming with people. They are preparing fish for sale that were just caught this morning. There are 70,000 registered boats here including the fishing boats.

The Opera house was built during the rubber boom and has been restored four times since. They were practicing today during our visit. 

Manaus is a truly unique place.