Tuesday, August 19, 2014

One Secret European Town I've Visited

When I encountered the delightful World of Wanderlust website, my eyes lit up when I saw the blog title “Twenty-Five Secret Small Towns in Europe You Must Visit.” I immediately went to the list to see how many of the towns I’d visited. I had to get to item 5, Bruges, before I found one I’d been to! But then I kept reading. I’d actually been to six of the towns, which means I have a lot more towns to explore. But I visited two of the towns this past summer. I wrote about Ljubjana in my previous travel blog, so today I’m detailing the other town: Annecy, France.

Annecy [pronounced ‘ahn-SEE’] is a sweet town near the Italian border. It’s close to Colmar, another famous town on the blog list, but it has a charm all its own. I wanted to visit Annecy as soon as I found out that canals ran through the town. Even without the water, I would have enjoyed the trip. (But when I reviewed my pictures, I found that I’d taken lots and lots of the canals.)

Annecy is a perfect tourist town. There’s not too much traffic. The people are friendly. The old town makes for a picturesque, historical stroll. But the town offers much more than that. It’s situated on a huge lake, Lac d’Annecy, that offers boat rides and swimming and walks around the lake’s perimeter. It’s close to mountains for hiking. It has large green areas near the lake that are perfect for picnics. It has benches and cafés that make for perfect angles for people-watching.

Even though the weather was cool, I was excited to find that my mid-June, the lake was a comfortable temperature for swimming. I only had to walk about ten minutes from the center to find a peaceful swimming area with changing rooms and fellow bathers.  Afterwards I spent a lovely afternoon walking on the peninsula near the lake. It was so beautiful I asked my friend to record Chapter Three from my new book Island Casualty with the lake in the background.

The final advantage I found to Annecy was that it’s a comfortable jumping-off point from Geneva. A two-hour train ride takes you right to town. Our charming hotel, Allobroges, was a five-minute walk from the train station. Our only problem in Annecy: we had to leave!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Loving Ljubljana

One of the joys of traveling is going to new places, sometimes ones you’ve never even heard of before. This summer I made it to Slovenia for the first time. My friend and I headed for the capital, Ljubljana. The very name of the place was so long that the whole prospect seemed intimidating! But of course the real city isn’t difficult at all; it’s a beautiful capital and a great place to hang out for a couple of days.

The city is full of museums, but because our time was short and the days were nice, we opted to spend our time on the streets. We went up and down the river and in and out of the center of town. We found great places to stroll and especially to people-watch. Many people were out with their dogs and in fact a few even brought them to the cafés. Once we saw a waiter bring out a water dish for the customer’s pet!

The city’s mascot is a dragon, and one of the highlights is The Dragon Bridge, with four metal dragons to keep an eye on all the passersby. The most famous monument in town is probably the Triple Bridge, designed by the town’s favorite son Jože Plečnik. We couldn’t figure out why a Triple Bridge was necessary, really. It’s a beautiful structure, and visitors to the city become fascinated with it. But was it really necessary? Wouldn’t a double bridge have done the trick?

Ljubljana offers unexpected pleasures though. One is the peculiar sight of shoes hanging from lines. What did these shoes signify? We didn’t know the answers so we started inventing them. Perhaps a freedom. Perhaps rebellion. Perhaps a way to clean out the closet! (My mother would approve.)

We also noticed a lot of graffiti. There were cats and dragons and sayings and scribbles. But the result suggested that this is one capital that does whatever it pleases. Its ice cream is fabulous, its cafés are full, its inhabitants are friendly. The downtown area is pedestrian and easily managed. Thanks to the mascot, you have the excuse to buy dragons on everything from magnets to T-shirts. 

We were sorry we only had a couple of days in this small capital, but we will look forward to going back. I know the best time: at the end of a long trip when all you want to do is sit!

Hanging out with Jože Plečnik

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