Predjama Castle – The castle in a cave

We visited the unconquerable Predjama Castle built within the mouth of a cave in Slovenia. It has been my favorite castle by far — mysterious, fascinating to explore, and has an incredible story behind it.

The castle belonged to the renowned robber baron Knight Erazam of Predjama (Robin Hood of Slovenia).  According to the legend, he sought refuge here after fleeing the Holy Roman Emperor, Fredrick III.  He then found an ally with the Hungarians during the Hungarian and Austrian war.  He hid in the castle for over a year while under siege, mocking the enemy (Austrians) with fresh cherries — they were bewildered about how he was obtaining food and supplies.  Turns out, the hidden passageways within the cave castle allowed him to smuggle in supplies without the enemy knowing.  In the end, he was betrayed by a servant and was blasted by a cannonball while sitting on the toilet!

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Underneath the castle is a network of cave passages over 14 km in length.  This is one of the tunnels leading out of the cave.

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It was often hard to tell when the castle walls would end and cave would begin. Many of the walls inside were solid rock.

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These were not easy stairs to climb, but led to a rooftop terrace and beautiful view of the valley.  The grassy area is a tournament field where the knights used to compete.  Every July the castle holds a reenactment of the medieval tournament.  I would love to go back!

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I really loved how the museum displayed how the rooms were actually used.  Most castles are simply rooms with artifacts and lovely grounds to explore. (Interior photos by thousandwonders.net).  The dungeon was a little graphic for the kids, but Benny LOVES a good dungeon.

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I was so glad we made this stop! It was definitely a highlight and totally worth seeing.  I was not surprised to learn it’s been featured on ghost hunting shows and has been investigated by the Discovery Channel for “unexplained events”.

 

 

Bessich Winery Festa

Bessich Wines, one of the local wineries, put on a big wine tasting event.  An event I couldn’t miss on such a beautiful spring day.

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They held a little “bread making” class for the kids.

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Love these pudgy little hands
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anxiously awaiting the final product

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Gotta love a room full of demijohns filled to the brim with vino!

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We enjoyed a local lunch of frico (a patty of fried Montasio cheese and potatoes) and polenta.  The kids finally got to do quality control on their baked good.

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We sipped some wine while all of the kids went crazy in the bounce house.

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They even had a “horsey ride” through the vineyard.

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It’s quite a beautiful backdrop for the vineyard.  The mountains here always remind me of home.

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This horse got in big trouble for stopping to eat the grape leaves. IMG_5331

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Blue skies, a rare appearance from the sun, lots of local wine, and happy kids = a most delightful day!  Arrividerci!

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Our First Visitor!

My brother Adam, an amazingly talented artist,  came our way for a quick visit before he soaked in all of the art history Italy has to offer.  We met in Venice for the day.  He took in the museums and I wandered the alleys with the kids.

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If you want to experience one of the most miserable experiences of your life, take the big water bus.  Otherwise, the water taxi is totally worth the splurge.  Venice is one of those cities where you will blow through money faster than you could ever imagine.  I think it is best to mentally prepare yourself and enjoy your time.

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We were so lucky to have beautiful weather all weekend because it had been raining buckets for months!

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While wandering through Venice with the kids, we looked at the fish, chased bubbles, enjoyed gelato, and watched the gondolas row by.

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I think every kid in Venice logged time with the bubbles.  These guys must make a killing.

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We all dined at this lovely spot right outside of the hotel for dinner.  The hotel was wasn’t fancy by any means, but with a five minute walk to Piazza San Marco, the location couldn’t be beat.

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Our hotel

I left Venice with the kids as soon as possible as it is not a bit child friendly.  The crowds are insane, it’s just too much walking, and a bathroom is impossible to find!  My brother enjoyed another day getting lost in the alleys.

The next day, we showed him around Maniago, Lago di Barcis, and drove through the Dolomites.

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We enjoyed a coffee while the kids played at the playground.  Sister will always find a place to relax.

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Piazza Italia in Maniago

The last day of his visit we took  a day trip to Piran, Slovenia. Slovenia’s coastline only stretches 27 miles. Piran is located at the very tip of a narrow peninsula.  It’s old town is one of the best preserved historical towns anywhere on the Adriatic.   20160508-_DSC244020160508-_DSC2444

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Tartini Square named after the violinist Giuseppe Tartini

We enjoyed lunch and a good bottle of local Slovenian wine in the square.

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The kids had time to run around the square.

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We strolled through the old winding alleyways.

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We climbed the bell tower for spectacular views of the city and Tartini Square.  From up here we could hear a choir practicing on one of the balconies down below.  We never did figure out where the sound was coming from, but listening was treat!

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Hello down there!

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Laskos under the sun at this seaside cafe — does life get any better?!?

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Looks so inviting!

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We capped off our time in Piran with a gelato stop.  Benny was served his first ice cream cone.  He felt like such a hot shot.

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Looks like we missed another day of rain in Maniago and came home to a  beautiful rainbow.  We had a good visit with my brother and now he’s off to explore Italy’s endless treasures.

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Spain: Malaga

Last stop… Malaga! We were pleasantly surprised by Malaga.  Because we were flying out of Malaga (the busiest airport int he Costa Del Sol), we added a couple days to the itinerary to explore the city.  We were disappointed to learn Rick Steven doesn’t recommend Malaga and barely mentions it in his guide book – we even considered changing plans at the last minute, but found it to be too big of a hassle.

I don’t understand what Rick Steves doesn’t like about it — tons of history,  sightseeing, and one of the best pedestrian areas I’ve ever seen.  And I LOVE pedestrian zones.

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These two are becoming quite the troopers.  It was a bit of a walk from the cab to the hotel as the hotel was located in the heart of the pedestrian zone.  Though we must have walked right by it at least five times – Google maps was not cooperating and the hotel didn’t have any signs.

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Waiting patiently for Google Maps to produce

This was the view from my room — overlooking city’s main plaza which provided great entertainment while Clara was sleeping.  20160416-DSC01394

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Ready to explore!

We visited Alcazaba and the Roman Theater barely discovered in 1951.

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We meandered the grounds of the Alcazaba – an 11th century Arabic fortress.

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Benny was getting a little too close for comfort.  It was a looong way down!

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Maybe one day Derek think about photobombs before he snaps the picture. Haha!

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Poor Derek twisted his ankle pretty badly on the stones in the ground, so a “horsey ride” was a welcome idea.  Clara was in heaven.

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From the carriage ride we took a ride on the giant ferris wheel.  The kids loved it! And we had great views of the city from the top.

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 Can’t do anything without a little wrestling!
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Malaga’s Bullring

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Yum… we found the Golden Arches! It was the most the kids ate in one sitting the entire trip!  Derek and I passed and opted for the largest cappuccino ever made.  You can’t tell from the picture, but the mug was at least the size of a large cereal bowl.

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A playground + beer service = fun for all!   We logged a lot of time parked at this table. 20160416-DSC01396

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admiring the princesses

I always enjoy fun artwork and painted murals throughout the streets.

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It is not a myth that Spaniards are night owls! The commotion on the streets woke me up numerous times.  This video was taken at about 12:30 AM.  Tons of people wandering around…

…so it’s no wonder the streets look like this around 10:30 in the morning.

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I’ll never forget this Mickey.  I watched many entertaining Mickey encounters from the balcony of our hotel after Clara had gone to bed.

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Love these two.  And I love this picture of them!

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Whew!  Our trip to Spain is complete!  It only took me a year, but I got through it!  It still feels weird to fly into Venice as our home airport.

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Gibraltar

Gibraltar was about an hour away from our hotel in Marbella so we hopped on the bus and headed out there for the day.  Though it’s located at the very tip of Spain, it is actually British territory.

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The Rock of Gibraltar, a limestone ridge jutting straight out of the sea, is the main landmark of Gibraltar.  We were able to see Africa from the top.

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Much of the top of the rock is a nature preserve which is home to the apes Barbary macaques.  They were a little scary, but so fun to watch.  Now the kids know what I’m talking about when I lecture them about “monkeying around”!

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These two got a little closer to the ape than I would like to be and he just happened to leave a surprise for them!  Benny thought this was so hilarious!

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This big guy was barely INCHES from crashing into me!  He came leaping through a window right as I was walking past.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt me heart beat so quickly!!! Terrifying!

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We got to witness some of them getting into trouble.  The gift shop had left a box of merchandise unattended…it didn’t take long before the “monkey business” began.  The employees did not look happy.

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There must be something tasty in here!
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The aftermath

Of course we couldn’t leave the top of the rock without taking a monkey with us.

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The main streets were quite bustling and had great shopping.  It was so refreshing to speak english without feeling guilty!

Now THIS is what I call fish n’ chips!

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…and the freshest chicken nuggets I’ve ever seen!

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It was quite a delightful day and I would definitely like to go back some day to explore more of the city and nature preserves.

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Spain: Puerto Banus

Well…It’s been almost a year since we returned from Spain and I still have yet to finish the  posts! Oh well, I just about quit the blog altogether, but figured I’ll be happy someday if I keep it up.  So here is an abbreviated version of the last few stops.

We took the catamaran to the ritzy town of Puerto Banus just down the coast from Marbella.  It is full of fancy yachts and high-end shopping.

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They were a little uneasy about sitting on the net for a while, but quickly took a liking to it.

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We found a cool little bar right on the water shaped like a pirate boat.  The kids loved the kingsize furniture.

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And we loved the kingsize drinks.  This was amazing!!

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The freshest orange juice ever!

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We didn’t stay in the town very long as it was mostly high-end  shopping.  The sun finally decided to shine and the boat ride back was wonderful. The kids loved discovering that fish like to eat Pringles.

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There’s always time for a little roughhousing.

And relaxing…

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Benny is ready to be captain.

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Yikes! I had never realized that Clara’s dress had gotten so short on her.

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Down we go!

 

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Whew! Good recovery!

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Back on land, this is what happens when anyone has to potty.  Bathrooms are impossible to find unless you are a customer.

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Andalusia, Spain: Marbella

Next stop… Marbella!  We took a public bus from Granada to Marbella.  We were pleasantly surprised by the bus ride and found it enjoyable and relaxing.  The countryside was almost entirely olive groves and much greener than I had expected.

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She’s got this figured out!

Pool time at last!

The pool was far too cold for me (and everyone else).  I don’t know how the kids braved it!

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The resort had given them a sticker activity book at check in.  It was quite a hit!

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The beach near old town Marbella had a great playground.

It was cold and windy and there were several people on the beach determined to sunbathe.  They looked so miserable.  I wish I had gotten a better picture — this was before the weather turned really nasty.  They still toughed it out.

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Throwing rocks in the sea and finding shells is always a joy.

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Time to warm up — coffee con Bailey’s hit the spot!  Benny and Clara chose to warm up with gelato instead.

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The beach was getting far too cold so we took shelter wandering Marbella’s whitewashed alleys.

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This could possibly be my favorite wall of all time.  I adored the blue flower pots clinging to the walls.

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This is one of many, many paella samplings.

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Old town Marbella is incredibly picturesque!

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By this time, Clara was ready for a good nap.  She sleeps well in the carrier though it gets  painful quickly.

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We spent the most splendid afternoon in this little bar sipping sangria and munching on more paella.  We visited with Germans at the next table while all of the kids played soccer in the street.  When the rain picked up we moved the party inside while the owner played his Spanish guitar and our waitress burst into song.  It was perfect!

The kids ran up and down the street over and over and never seemed to tire.

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Finally some sunshine!!!  Time to enjoy the beach.  Benny loved finding jellyfish on the beach and immediately found a “bellyfish” sword.

Poor Sissy was knocked down by a wave and was so upset.  She looked cute in my jacket though!

We tried  the pool again, but the weather was just not on our side.  It was even to cold for Clara this time.  Benjamin braved it a little, but it wasn’t long before we were all in the hot tub.

It was a perfect night for bubbles!

More paella!  We ate a lot this trip! The truth is neither one of us are crazy about sea food, but feel guilty for not eating it when we are sitting on the sea.  We finally had to search YouTube for directions on how to eat the shrimp out of its shell. Pathetic. I know.

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Next up in Andalusia…excursion to Ronda.

 

Andalusia, Spain: Granada

We’re off to Andalusia! It doesn’t seem too far from Italy, but with a fairly long layover in Madrid, it was a full day of travel.  Luckily, the Madrid airport had a few playgrounds to ease the waiting time.  Why aren’t these more common in the states?

The lobby of our hotel had ancient ruins on display.  The kids enjoyed imagining what this would’ve been.  Benny decided it was a good lion cage.

Granada was quite vibrant and bustling with an exotic feel.  I loved the spice markets on the streets!

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We stopped for an aperitivo to get our bearings and unwind a little. The cafe came with a view of the cathedral, flamenco dancers performing on the corner, and the sound of a spanish guitar across the street.

No European Square would be complete without a carousel ride!

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I was worried about going to Spain since I’ve heard they eat so late at night (even later than Italians), but the tapas bars were open so we always had options.  Our server recommended this tower.   Everyone in the restaurant seemed awestruck as it was served to us.  The French people at the next table asked to sample it. That was a first!  We couldn’t figure out what it was and finally concluded it was squash battered and fried with a molasses based glaze.  It was good, but I think we were all expecting french fries?

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Derek couldn’t wait to sample the famous Jamon Iberico or Iberian ham.

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Apparently we were early risers by Spanish standards.  Somehow, all four of us managed to get ourselves ready, eat breakfast, and STILL take to the streets before anyone!  That’s an accomplishment! We killed time by chasing pigeons…

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Strolling through tiny sleepy alleys…

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And best of all… getting Clara decked out in a flamenco dress! I don’t think the shop was technically open, but she was nice to let us come in.   And yes, I was secretly wishing I was the one trying on dresses!  They were all so colorful and exotic!

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The cathedral of Granada is magnificent!  Mostly done in Spanish Renaissance style, its design is based on the triumphal arch and it is built over the site of an ancient mosque.

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I love how Benny truly seems amazed by these incredible structures. The interior was spectacular!

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The plaza outside of the cathedral was full of gypsies pushing bunches of rosemary.  I had encountered a particularly pesky lady who simply wouldn’t take no for an answer.  While my  hands were occupied carrying Clara, she attempted to stuff the rosemary into my purse while screaming “regalo, regalo”(gift)!  Fortunately, I had a purse that zipped and managed to escape without a forced palm reading and a 20 euro loss.

We grabbed lunch at what is supposed to be one of the oldest restaurants in Granada.   This tapas dish had eggs, spicy sausage, potatoes,  and some other kind of meat.  It wasn’t my favorite, but Derek seemed to enjoy it.

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A cheese plate is always a good idea

It was time to do something for the kids so we ventured out to the Science Park – Museum for Children.

They did some drivers ed …
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Worked on a ball track …

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Studied a giant globe  (actually, Derek and I were the ones fascinated with the globe)…

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And constructed and tested a boat made of corks …

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We had to leave the science museum as we couldn’t be late for the main attraction of Granada:  Alhambra! Tickets are hard to get and they sell out fast.  In fact, I had dropped the ball and didn’t order tickets in time, but a tip from Rick Steves saved the day!  In that situation, he suggests purchasing a Granada Card which includes a visit to Alhambra.  It worked out beautifully.

We had a delightful stroll through the gardens. The gentle sound of water trickled throughout garden’s water features,  Clara was sound asleep on my back, the sun was shining; it was tranquil and beautiful! 20160408-DSC00886

I loved the intricate designs of the walkways and the beautiful flowers.

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Now for the main attraction: Nasrid Palace! Nasrid Palace is very restricted and each entrance ticket is assigned a visitation time.  We dutifully arrived about 15 minutes early and were one of the first in line for our time.  Naturally, a few minutes prior to the doors opening, we hear Benjamin shout “I need to go potty”! We were stuck.  Had we gone to  find the potty, we would’ve missed our time slot.

So, we then did the great sprint through the Nasrid Palace (our entire reason for stopping in Granada)! We were basically elbowing and pushing our way through throngs of people.  It was a giant maze that never seemed to end! I managed to snap a few photos with my phone as we plowed through the crowd.

Clearly these pictures don’t do it justice, but the detail is absolutely stunning! I wish we could’ve taken our time and learned something about it, but… alas, it was a great parenting failure and it served us right for not thinking about it.  It took us a moment to recover from the shock of missing the very thing we came to see.

Carrying on, we explored the last of the grounds. We climbed a steep, twisty, narrow, crowded staircase to the top of  bell tower plaza.  My legs almost gave out on me with Clara on my back.  I’m fairly certain I was climbing with all fours at one point!  There was wonderful view of the Albayzin Moorish quarter at the top.  I wish we would’ve had time to visit this area…oh well, we definitely have good reason to return! 20160408-DSC0095020160408-DSC00951

We finished the evening with dinner in a touristy plaza where the servers tried to swindle us and we were constantly interrupted by pesky salesman.  They didn’t bring us our glass of wine, charged us for it and also seven coffees we hadn’t ordered!  We learned a good lesson — always study the bill!

Moving on to the next Andalusian stop:  Marbella…

Slovenia

We had a long weekend for Easter so we decided to check out Slovenia.  I can see why everybody raves about it.  It’s very clean, the people are friendly, and almost everybody speaks perfect English!

Ljubljana was our first stop — and this time  didn’t get lost or drive through a pedestrian zone!  Ljubljana is charismatic and picturesque.

The Franciscan Church was beautiful inside although we busted in on an Easter service.  Whoops! I would have enjoyed watching a little, but definitely not with the kids!

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Franciscan Church of the Annunciation

I’m always a sucker for accordion street performers. He looks delighted to be there! Haha!

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We stayed at the Union Hotel which was especially nice and with Preseren Square a few steps away, the location couldn’t have been better!

Benny and Clara loved the Dragons everywhere.

Next stop was the Ljubljana Castle.  We hiked to the top of the castle towering over the city. Why we were hiking when they provided a functioning funicular was beyond me.  I wasn’t prepared for it.   I was wearing flimsy ballet flats and carried Clara the entire time! It was pretty much straight up the mountain. Benny was a trooper.

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Reaching the top made for some fantastic shots of the city.

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We had fun wandering around the grounds and looking inside the castle.  The kids loved spying for bad guys.

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After the climb back down to town we were ready for an aperitivo!

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Next stop… Lake Bled! It was about a 45 minute drive from Ljubljana.

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When we arrived we took the boat ride out to the island. The kids love any boat ride and the views are breathtaking!

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We were greeted with this staircase upon our arrival to the island.

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After the trek up, we visited the Church of the Assumption (the only place to visit on the island).  The top brought gorgeous views of the mountains, a perfect place for an appetitive, and open grassy area perfect for rough housing!

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This looks a little daunting… but there is only one way down.

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And as always…there was a lot of crying and a lot of whining!

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So long Lake Bled. We’ll be back this summer!  There is so much more here than we had time for — including sampling the famous Bled cream cake.  I won’t rest until I’ve sampled it! We’re moving on to the ski town of Kranjska Gora.

Kranjska Gora was a charming little sleepy town in the Julian Alps.

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The kids and I loved these little Easter bunnies!

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The kids enjoyed digging in what was left of the snow.

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We stayed in a small, family-run motel called Hotel Kotnik.  I think only one man was in charge of the motel and the restaurant! He stayed busy!!  They had these little wooden benched carved outside of their door.

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And for some reason, the kids decided to put their shoes away (this is definitely a first)!

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We tried this awesome dessert.  I didn’t catch the name of it, but it was sort of like a warm cream puff served with ice cream.  One between the four of us did NOT cut it.

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We spent the next day skiing.  Benjamin had his first lesson.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t much snow at the resort, but the hill was perfect for Benny.

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He was so excited to learn, but things went downhill fast when Derek tried to be his instructor.  I was fairly certain it could sour him on skiing forever.  He seemed to do much better with the actually instructor.

This is what I did while everyone was skiing… I was possibly the only one enjoying myself.

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I think Derek managed to get a few good runs in despite the fact the snow was minimal and the hill wasn’t the most exciting.  As for Benjamin … only time will tell if he’ll ever recover from his traumatic first lesson.