Exploring Slovenia

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From the captivating and historic center of Ljubljana to scenic Lake Bled and the medieval towns along the way, Slovenia (formerly part of Yugoslavia) offers a complete vacation, in one compact country. Guest blogger, Neala Schwartzberg of Off Beat Travel, explores this captivating Country.

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Ljubljana

The capital city of Ljubljana will claim your heart. The Triple Bridge (Tromostovje) defines the grace and style of the city. Designed by the famous Ljubljana architect Josef Plecnik, the picturesque crossovers provided enough room for traffic without creating a huge artery running through one of the most charming parts of the city.

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Be sure to visit Ljubljana’s riverside market. It’s a beautiful space put to very practical use. Built by Plecnik between 1940 and 1944 it has a large central open area. On the side overlooking the river the market halls have large semi-circular windows –beautiful from the river. The side overlooking the street are designed as a colonnade, classically lovely. Throughout – delicious breads, cheeses, meats, and gorgeous flowers.

Also on that side of the Ljubljanica river is the oldest section of the city with picture perfect side streets, shops, and cafes. Add the museums, music venues, and the university area, and there’s enough to keep any visitor engaged for days.

Caves at Postojna

It was hard to tear myself away from Ljubljana (and I did vow to return), but the lure of the country’s other sights was a siren’s song I could not resist. One of the premier attractions of Slovenia is its system of caves. Slovenia has an extensive belt of karst –the limestone stratum that produces the spectacular caves, and the Postojna system is the largest in Slovenia.

A visit to the cave lasts an hour and a half. The first part of the tour actually begins with a tiny train ride –more like the kind found in an amusement park. We all disembarked and guides took us on a well-paved trail explaining the history of the caves, and their formations. Mostly what I did was gawk as one huge impressive formation followed another.

Stanjel

Sitting atop a mountain with 360 degree views of the distant valley and fields, the medieval town of Stanjel is a photographer’s dream. Stroll through the ancient stone streets, buy some honey, stop into a gallery, or just wander up and down the narrow lanes. The countryside is dotted with vineyards and wineries, and delightful towns to discover and explore.

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Bled

Often prefaced with the words ‘fairy-tale’ Bled easily offers one of the most charming vistas in Slovenia. It does look like something from a fantasy –a clear blue lake reflecting the town, the woods, and the castle on the mountain. Set into one end of the lake (the only glacial lake in Slovenia) a tiny island comes complete with a tiny chapel, a steeple, and ringing bell. The whole tableau is surrounded by mountains.

Slovenia doesn’t attract huge crowds… yet.

Visit Off Beat Travel to read more about Exploring the Countryside of Slovenia and the Historic Heart of Ljubljana.

Andean Villages of Northern Argentina

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This beautifully written post by guest blogger, Nellie Huang of WildJunket.com, is the perfect example of why everyone should dabble in travel. Nellie was Dabble’s featured blogger in Issue 5‘s I Dabble In… profile.

Nestled by the pre-Andean Sierras (mountain range), the immeasurable beauty of the landscape and quaint little villages make Northern Argentina my favorite part of the country. Heading further north from the colonial city of Salta, we found ourselves entering a different world — from modern cities to wild nature and cobblestoned towns lined with bright Andean colors.

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Paseo a las Nubes

Following the route of the famous ‘tren a las nubes’ , our guide Pablo brought us through the meandering paths of the Sierra Castille, past streams, rolling mountains and snow-capped peaks. The train is well-known as the highest altitude train route in the world. The landscape consisted of steep peaks dotted with cactus, ruins of ancient civilizations and llamas grazing on the endless fields.

As we climbed to altitudes as high as 4200m, we chewed on coca leaves (the plant from which cocaine is extracted from) to prevent altitude sickness, which can cause quite severe headache and short of breathe. Cruising through breathtaking views and climbing up peaks, it was definitely one of the best ways to see Argentina’s nature.

San Antonio a los Cobres

The ‘tren a las nubes’ route ends at this mining town where copper ( ‘cobre ‘ in Spanish) is found abundantly. We sought refuge from the cold at a restaurant where we tried llama meat for the first time. The indigenous animal is not only reared for their wool but also for their tender meat.

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Purmamarca

Further north in the Jujuy province is the tranquil mountainous town of Purmamarca, famed for the ‘Sierra de los siete colores’ (Mountain of 7 colors). Naturally formed by layers of different minerals (copper, iron etc), the mountains display beautiful strands of colors, as though God had decided to paint it this way.

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The main plaza of the Purmamarca is littered with artisan shops and stalls that are decorated with brightly colored llama carpets and jumpers. Unlike other towns, Purmamarca is distinct with its boutique artisan shops that are modern yet thick with local flavors.

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With locals dressed in authentic Andean ponchos and bright llama skirts, threading the alleys of Humahuaca, I found myself dreamily lost in this mountain daze, totally enchanted by their culture and traditions.

For the complete story of Nellie’s time in Northern Argentina, visit Wild Junket, where adventure lives.

Landscapes of the Arctic

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Experience for yourself the breathtaking landscapes of the arctic in this travel post by guest blogger, Nellie Huang of WildJunket.com. Nellie was Dabble’s featured blogger in Issue 5‘s I Dabble In… profile.

There’s something haunting about the Arctic landscapes: aqua blue icebergs floating on crystal water, massive glaciers crackling in the background towered by snow mountains.

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Few places boast such striking physical appeal and raw wilderness as the polar regions. Since returning from the Arctic, I’ve found it hard to get the images of sparkling glaciers and sounds of trickling ice water out of my head.

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My arctic expedition with Gap Adventures took me around the Svalbard archipelago of the High Arctic region. This group of islands belong to Norway, although geographically, they are closer to the North Pole than continental Europe.

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Besides being the largest wilderness of Europe, this is also one of the Arctic regions that offer the widest variety of landscapes, wildlife and ecosystems.

Each day of our Arctic expedition presented to us starkly distinctive landscapes: from brown moss-covered mountains one day to thousand-year-old glaciers the next. Through our cabin windows, we would wake up to see frosty ice fields in the morning, then green tundra slopes by night. There wasn’t a single moment of monotiny in our backdrop.

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To read about Nellie’s full experience in the Arctic, please visit Wild Junket.

On the Bus in Rajasthan

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An excerpt from the book, Song of India, written by guest blogger Mariellen Ward of Breathe Dream Go.

On my first three trips to India, totaling more than nine months, I had been on or in almost every mode of transport you can think of: plane, train, taxi, private car, autorickshaw, bicycle rickshaw, motorcycle, even elephant and camel. But until very near the end of that third trip, I had never been on a public bus.

I was beginning to think I was afraid. Public buses in India are known for being hot and crowded and free of modern amenities such as A/C and suspension. I had heard stories about leering men, live chickens and lunches cooked on small stoves.

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But, to be fair, just before my first trip, I promised my brother –a man whose idea of an adventure vacation is hitting the bars in Cancun — that I would not get on a bus in India. He was reading a book about all the terrible things that can happen to you around the world, and I guess bus accidents in India figured largely on the list.

So, though I had raveled from one end of India to the other, from Dharamsala in the hilly north to Kanyakumari at the very southern tip, where three oceans meet, on that first trip, I never once took a bus. And by my third trip, buses just never made it into the itinerary.

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But then one day I found myself in Pushkar. Pushkar’s like that; it draws people; people who like to relax and soak up the atmosphere, or the ‘vibes’ as they are known in this part of the world. I spent nine days lounging on the perfect rooftop terrace restaurant of the Seventh Heaven Inn, soaking up the vibes and meeting other women travelers who all arrived by public bus –and who all left by public bus.

When it was my turn to leave, I investigated the options. I was going only about 100 kilometres, to Roopanghar, another small town in central Rajasthan. I decided it was time to take the plunge. I figured the statute of limitations on my promise to my brother had expired. And besides, the trip was only two hours on flat, desert terrain. How bad could it be?

I hitched a taxi ride to Ajmer with a fellow traveler, walked confidently into the bus station, bought my ticket, found my bus and waited only about 15 minutes to load. As I struggled to get me, my bag, my purse and my camera bag onto the bus, I was pushed from behind by two very assertive Indian women. I found a seat and by the time I loaded on my stuff, there was just enough room for me, and not much for anyone else. And then the bus filled up and I found myself crammed in with two children, an older sister and younger brother, sitting virtually on my lap.

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We left on schedule as people settled into their seats and the people around me settled into staring at me. Especially the two pushy women in from of me and their young daughter, who didn’t seem to have a seat at all, and opted instead into standing as close as she could to me, shoulder to shoulder.

The women kept smiling and talking to me in a language I didn’t understand, the girl kept trying to get as close as possible and the bus kept getting hotter under the noonday sun and it was all very interesting for about the first hour. Eventually, I was starting to feel suffocated, and wondering if the last hour of the trip was going to be an endurance test, when the young girl handed me a candy.

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These were poor people; people who didn’t have very much, nor much hope of ever having very much. I was moved by her generosity and as I took the candy I felt the bittersweet tug of genuine humility. A little while later, she gave me another.

Rooting around in my purse, I found a little beaded bag I bought in Rishikesh and handed it to her. She dutifully handed it to her mother and grandmother, who looked it over and approved. Then they smiled at me with real warmth and the little girl hugged me, and I noticed how beautiful she was. She had huge eyes and delicate features and long fawn-like limbs.

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I turned away to look out the window at the dry desert landscape, baking under the scorching sun, and dotted with mud huts and women walking with huge bundles of twigs and branches on their heads, or almost as equally large jugs of water. My eyes filled with tears as I realized the real reason I had avoided taking the bus.

For more information visit Song of India. Read more from Mariellen Ward at Breathe Dream Go.

Exploring Thailand

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Beth Halstad hikes in the lush hills outside Chiang Mai province in northern Thailand.

Snapshot: Thailand

Leaving the pushcarts, crowds of tourists and the fast pace of Bangkok, we board a train and head north for a three-day hike outside of Chiang Mai. For a mere $25 US/Canadian, we make the 751 km journey in an air-conditioned sleeper car. To our delight, the train is faster than flying, extremely comfortable and offers picturesque views.

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The day of our trek arrives. We are bussed early in the morning to our starting point and out on the trails in no time. The views are breathtaking as we traverse up and down sloping valleys and hills. I pick up an occasional scent of lemongrass, tranquil sounds as we near rivers and the feeling of being embraced by the jungle’s lush tropical vegetation.

Our friendly guide educates us on jungle foods and is not distracted even as a large rat crosses our path. He speaks passionately about the variety of Hilltribes who have migrated to the mountainous terrain from the Asian interior over the past 100 years and successfully cultivated hillside crops to maintain their self-sufficiency. The minority groups, each with their own language, clothing and religion, reside peacefully side-by-side in a simple rural existence.

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In the evenings we are warmly welcomed into communities where the tribes prepare traditional foods on open fires and entertain us with stories told through song and dance. Although most do not speak English, we learn about their values through their unassuming lifestyle and oneness with nature.

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As I think about these sometimes challenging days of hiking and basic (hut) sleeping accommodation, my soul readily gives these experiences a 5-star rating.

To read the full article, check out Snapshot: Thailand, Issue 3 July/Aug 2011.

Weekend Escape to Puerto Rico

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Travel by Design: Puerto Rico

After multiple visits to San Juan I’ve learned that getting in sync with the locals means slowing down, even embracing the predictable tardiness and laid back attitudes. Not always easy for this multi-tasking Northerner. In my experience, the only things that move quickly in Puerto Rico are conversations and cab drivers. I suggest you fasten your seat belt for both.

Here I share a few additional photos from my most recent trip to Puerto Rico:

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To read more on Puerto Rico and Beth’s trip, check out Travel by Design Puerto Rico, Issue 2 May/June 2011.

Inspire, Plan and Share

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Travel inspiration starts innocently enough – you see a photo, a post from a Facebook friend, a great travel deal in your inbox, or have a conversation over dinner – and the trip is suddenly on. But where to stay? Where to eat? Where to play? We rely heavily on trusted resources to answer these questions and ensure a winning trip.

Flyer Style News Airline KLM partners with designer Marcel Wanders to create tableware for its frequent flyer set. This spring, KLM’s business class passengers will dine in style on restaurant-quality wares with a twist of traditional Dutch lace.

Check out more featured gadgets: Travel Geek

Guest Post by Anne Taylor Hartzell