Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cabin Creek colors

Oops, I forgot to put the SD card back in the camera last night. No pictures today.  Yes, another perfect September day, clear skies, light breezes,upper 70s. The valley is smoky from a controlled burn on the Idaho side, also one on Ditch Creek, and the Bull Creek fire still going in the Hoback. We decided to head south into Alpine Canyon, and did an easy 10 mile out-and-back hike in Cabin Creek. Not a lot of elevation gain, easy walking, gorgeous aspens and mountain mahogany; pretty much perfect!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Red Mountain the long way

Yet another perfect fall day. Guy wanted to scout some moose hunting locations in the Big Holes west of Driggs, so we decided to go up Red Mountain but take the long way in via Dry Henderson Canyon and come back out Patterson Creek. A long hot day with some demoralizing ups-and-downs, but the views were spectacular. The trails up high are mostly used by dirt bikes and are in poor condition for hikers.

GPS info at EveryTrail.com

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Paddling Jenny Lake

Too many chores, another late start on a perfect September day. We opted to take the sea kayaks out for a lap around Jenny Lake.  It's noticeably smoky from a forest fire over on the Idaho side near Darby Canyon, not too mention a couple of fires in the Gros Ventre drainage. Still, a great day in the Hole.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Munger Mountain

It's a gorgeous September day in the valley, sunny, temperatures in the mid-70s, almost calm winds -- time to get out and enjoy fall in Jackson. With a late start due to other commitments, we decided on a hike that neither of us had done. The aspens are just getting started with fall colors, so we hoped for some good views.

With a south-facing hillside, a sunny day, and no wind to speak of, it was downright hot on the climb up. Here's Jill about halfway up, view to the southwest...

And looking north from the summit (elev 8383), with South Park in the foreground and the Grand Teton in the background. A fire on the Idaho side is creating some smoky haze.

Looking northwest from the summit toward Teton Pass

2.1 miles and about 2100 vertical feet, not really a trail just follow cowpaths and bushwhack for most of the way.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Warming up to Ljubljana

I spent a few more hours in Ljubljana before taking the train back to Zagreb. I must admit, it is a prettier place when the sun is shining -- more people out on the streets, in the cafes, etc.  I went up to the castle and was surprised to see that there were mountains visible in the distance, although the haze (pollution?) made it a bit difficult to see them.
On the train back to Zagreb, there were many visible effects from all of the flooding. In the canyon, the river appeared to still be up about 3 feet above normal, and in some places there was trash in trees another 10-12 feet up in the air! Fortunately the railroad tracks were much higher...

Rental car weirdness

The first time I went to Europe, 26 years ago, we rented a little blue Ford Fiesta in Frankfort. Two weeks and 2800 km later we were driving the autobahn back toward the airport when there in the next lane over was another blue Ford Fiesta with the next consecutive license plate number. Weird!

So in Ljubljana I rented a red Mitsubishi Colt with 60 000 km on the clock. As the gents on Top Gear would say, it's rubbish. Worse yet, the left rear brake has a most extremely annoying shriek that sounds like metal-on-metal to me.

A day later and 100 km away I'm sitting in an outdoor cafe in Bohinj, a small resort village near the Julian Alps, enjoying an espresso in the sunshine. I heard that same shriek from the street, and turned around to see a red Mitsubishi Colt rounding the corner. What I could see of the license plate was the same as mine, because I had the keys in my pocket! This can't be good, but then again who in their right mind would steal a Mitsubishi Colt?!?! Nonetheless, after I finished my espresso I walked briskly back to the parking lot a half-mile away to find my red Colt sitting there undisturbed. What are the odds of that sort of thing happening at all, much less twice? (And it has never happened to me in the U.S.)

In the morning 36 hours later, l checked out of my hotel in Bled and walked to the hotel parking lot..
Mine's the one on the left

Monday, September 20, 2010

Lake Bled and the Julian Alps

It was still raining when I left Postojna on Sunday morning, but by the time I got to Bled 90 minutes later there were some patches of blue sky. Bled is a cute resort town up against the edge of the Alps, looks like any of a bunch of towns with lakes in the mountains except that there is a picturesque church on an island in the middle of the lake. I don't know the whole story, but it seems like that would keep attendance down.
The primary attraction here is doing the 6 km walk around the lake, and taking pictures of the church from every possible angle. Bled is very close to the Alps, and is the jumping-off point for a lot of adventure sports like river rafting, canyoneering, mountain climbing, etc.

My Slovenia photo album on Picasa

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Under the weather in Slovenia

Not because I'm feeling ill, but because the entire country has a "red flag" warning for flooding due to heavy rains -- at least that's what the woman at the rental car counter said. I can vouch for the heavy rains part, so I went to tour two spectacular caves. I figure it won't be raining too hard underground.

Postojna Cave is huge, supposed to have over 20km of passages, with 5.3 km open to the public. The first 4 km or so of the tour is by electric train, and the rest is on foot. Although it is beautiful, the tour is quite the industrial tourist experience; there were about 400 people on the 11:00am tour, about a fourth of them were in the English-language group. With all the heavy rains outside, it was very drippy in the cave.

Then I headed a few miles down the road to Škocjan Cave.This cave was really interesting, slightly smaller but just as impressive. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, rare because the underground river that formed it is still there running through it, and you walk along the river (well, usually 100 feet above it) for about 500 meters. This cave is a lot less overrun with tourists, only about 40 people on the 3pm tour.

The rains continue, TV news has pictures of flooding, etc. The river that runs through the cave was at 10 m3/s yesterday morning (about 1000 cfs), fairly typical for this time of year. This morning it was 25 m3/s, and by the 3pm tour it was at 129 m3/s, yeah about 13000 cfs! It was a raging brown torrent through the bottom of the cave. That section of the cave is called "Murmuring Cave" cause of the water flowing through, bit today it was altogether different. The guide said with the forecast rain tonight, it was likely they would not conduct tours tomorrow because some of the lowest walkways would be submerged!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Soggy Ljubljana

The train ride from Zagreb to Ljubljana was spectacular, through a gorgeous river canyon speckled with lovely villages and church steeples.

 Ljubljana (population about 275,000) is the capital of Slovenia. To me it isn't anywhere near as handsome as Zagreb. Oh well. Maybe I just got off on the wrong foot here, with the drunk who tried to physically accost me on the platform at the train station (no harm done, fortunately). It doesn't help that the weather is changing, becoming cloudy (on Thursday afternoon) and raining a lot on Friday.

Ljubljana Castle on the hill
I did a two-hour guided tour on Saturday morning, well worth the 10 Euros. But by the end of the tour it was raining hard, which made the sightseeing a bit less pleasant.

My Slovenia photo album on Picasa

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Home turf in Svetičko Hrašče

My maternal grandfather was born and raised in Croatia (part of Austria back then), and came to the United States in 1912 at the age of 17. One goal for my vacation in Croatia was to visit the village where he grew up.

Through astounding coincidence and good luck, my mother's cousin Branko (my grandfather's nephew) just happened to vacationing in Croatia at the same time we were! Branko grew up in a nearby village, and came to the USA as a young man in the early 1960s; he has lived in Chicago for many years. He was very kind to take me on a tour of the old home village area. We borrowed his wife's cousin's Pontiac Firebird convertible (it's a long story!) for an afternoon's drive from Zagreb up into the hills northwest of Karlovac. Riding around on hilly one-lane roads in a big American convertible was an interesting experience in its own right.

Anyway, thanks to Branko's memory and some directions from local residents, he and I found the place where the old family farmhouse was. There are numerous villages called Hrašče or similar names in Croatia (it means "oak trees" or something like that), so this one is now officially named Svetičko Hrašče meaning it is near Svetice, where there is a well-known monastery and old church. There is no way that I'd have found it on my own...

Wow. The house that my grandfather grew up in is long gone, but it was very moving to be at that same place and feel the geography of the surroundings.
Since we were in the neighborhood, we also went to the village of Slapno where Branko grew up. The farm where he lived has been owned for many years by one of his boyhood friends (and now that friend's widow). Here is Branko at his boyhood home...
This part of Croatia is also home turf for my maternal grandmother; her parents were born in villages only a few kilometers from here. She was born in Ohio, but her family went back to Croatia shortly after she was born.

Visiting this area was the highlight of my trip to Croatia. Branko, thanks again!

Pictures on Picasa web album

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A day trip to Varaždin

After taking Jill to the bus station for a 5am (!) bus to the airport, I took a day trip to Varaždin, the former capital of Croatia. It was rebuilt in the late 1700s after a fire, and is known as the Baroque Capital of Croatia reflecting the architecture of that time. It is 68 km north of Zagreb, a short trip by car but 2.5 hours by train. Fortunately it is a very scenic train ride at 35 mph through hilly countryside that looks a lot like Pennsylvania or Switzerland, very agricultural with well-kept villages and white hilltop churches.

The city was once the capital, in the 18th century. I think I read that it is the 2nd largest city, after Zagreb. Scenic town center area, the highlight is the Stari Grad "old town", a 12th century castle with some huge embankments to create a moat that were added later like in the 16th century. The castle is in pretty good shape, having had several restorations over the years most recently in the 1980s. 

The town cemetery is also unique with enormous hedges 12 feet tall around every plot, to create a very attractive gardens effect. The cemetery manager didn't want individual monuments to compete with each other, so the hedges dominate everything else in the cemetery.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Handsome Zagreb

I really didn't know what to expect from Zagreb. I figured there would be some boring communist-era concrete (and there was), and some modern development, but hadn't thought any about what the older parts of the city might look like.

Wow, was I impressed! That's the National Theater building there. Most of old Zagreb was destroyed by earthquake in the 1880s, and rebuilt in the late 1800s. At that time, it was part of the Hapsburg Austrian empire, and boy does it ever look it. So much of the city looks exactly like what I expect Prague or Vienna to look like. At night, the downtown street cafes were jammed with people in a lively street scene.

We went out to Jarun, a city park with a man-made lake with beaches (including a nude beach!), and a 2 km rowing course that became very busy in the late afternoon.

Jill and I spent a day and a half wandering around Zagreb, and I can't get over how much I like this city. It didn't hurt that we had lovely sunny days. And of course you have to like a city that celebrates scientists and engineers, like this local hero Nikola Tesla...

Zagreb and Varazdin photo album on Picasa

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sea Kayaking in the Elaphite Islands

Alas, one of the challenges of waterproof cameras; you don´t have to keep them dry. We spent five days of sea kayaking in the Elaphite Islands, in the Adriatic just north of Dubrovnik. We took the evening ferry over to the island of Lopud, where we stayed four nights. The original plan was for six days of kayaking, but we took one day off because it was too windy. Just as well, that gave us a chance to do a hiking lap around the island. We did a paddling circuit around Lopud, a circuit around the island of Kolocep (including a lunch stop at a small restaurant for the best fish dinner I´ve ever had).

After the day off for winds, we crossed to the island of Šipan for the next three nights. The crossing was short, perhaps a kilometer to a smaller island that gave us some shelter, but all of us agreed that it was no fun at all. We had four-to-six foot swells coming in from the sea on our front left quarter, and a stiff breeze with wind-driven waves on our back right quarter. We all gritted our teeth, paddled hard, and everybody manged to avoid capsizing; but it was a white knuckle adventure for a good half-hour or so.After that crossing, we had shelter from the swells and some of the wind, so we paddled around to the far end of Šipan. The next day we completed the circuit of Šipan. For the final day of kayaking, we paddled over (and back) to the mainland village of Trsteno where there is a very nice historic botanical garden. We had sunshine and glassy water on the way over; on the way back some light rain moved in but without any wind or lightning. It was very cool to be paddling across and listening to the sizzle of the raindrops on the calm seas.

The islands are beautiful. There were some interesting caves, a few beaches (that we didn´t stop at, unfortunately), and amazing clear blue waters. The water temperature was a little bit too chilly for me to do any comfortable swimming, perhaps 17-18C. Oh well. The weather pattern seemed to be sunny mornings with afternoon showers, but our guide Đivo said that was not really typical. There were eight people in our group: another couple from the US, a couple from Scotland, a guy from England, and a woman from Scotland originally who now lives in Switzerland. The group got along very well, everybody was an experienced paddler, so it made for a great trip.

Elaphite Islands photos on Picasa

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Okay, two nights stay in Dubrovnik to see the old walled city before we start our sea kayaking trip. It is a UNESCO world heritage site. For much of history, Dubrovnik was an independent republic until Napoleon took it over in the early 1800s. When his empire fell apart, it became part of the Hapsburg empire.

The walled city is maybe a kilometer across, filled with tourist shops and cafes, but a beautful place nonetheless. The paving stones in the main street are polished to a nice sheen by all of the foot traffic.We did the obligatory perimeter walk of the wall, lots of wandering down narrow side streets, up and down steep alleyways that are basically staircases, gelato in street cafes, and a tram ride up the fort overlooking the entire city. The weather was cooperative, not too hot for all the walking we did. There are a lot of tourists here, as you might imagine; it would be too crowded here in August!

Photo album on Picasa

Friday, September 3, 2010

Plitvička Jezera

That´s the Croatian name for Plitvice Lakes, a beautiful national park that was the first stop on our trip to Croatia. It is a chain of lakes and travertine waterfalls through a lovely limestone canyon. We hiked a loop around most of the lakes in the park, for about 9-10 miles of hiking. A good deal of that was on boardwalks over small pools and waterfalls. The boardwalks were just wide enough for two people to walk side-by-side comfortably. With the crowds of tourists, most of the time you couldn´t walk at your own pace, unless your pace is that of an elderly Japanese tourist. Oh well... it was a nice day and a gorgeous place, a good start for a vacation.

The drive down from Zagreb was uneventful, there are big signs at every turn pointing the way to Plitvička Jezera, and it is on the main road south from Karlovac. Finding our way through the outskirts of Karlovac was the hardest part, and that wasn´t bad.

After hiking a lap around the park, we still had part of the afternoon left, so we made a dash for the Dalmatian coast and the Adriatic Sea for the evening. An hour and a half later, we were in Senj. The hairpin turns on the road down to the town were very interesting. Then we headed south along the coast to Karlobag; I didn´t get to sightsee much because the road -- narrow, twisty, turny -- was getting pretty much all of my attention. After dinner in Karlobag we headed up another huge series of switchbacks to gain a few thousand feet and get back to the inn after dark.

After two nights here, we headed back to Zagreb to catch a flight down to Dubrovnik. My mothers cousin Branko is arriving in Zagreb just a couple hours before our flight, so we get to see him and his wife at the airport. We will meet up with him later in the trip for a tour of the old village where my maternal grandfather is from.

Photos from Plitvice Lakes (Picasa album)