Behind a NATO checkpoint: Kosovo’s Visoki Decani Monastery

Handing over our passports to the Italian NATO troops we waited in the crisp winter air to enter. The secluded canyon exuded peace and tranquility, at odds with the tank barriers, sandbag bunkers and matching barb wire. We weren’t crossing a boarder, or even trying to enter a military base. We were there to visit Visoki Decani Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site and probably the best preserved medieval church in the Balkans. Nestled in the embrace of western Kosovo’s Decan Canyon, surrounded by grapevines, chestnut trees and bucolic pastures the abbey is a lovely two hours drive from the capital Pristina. Ten years since NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign and accompanying peacekeepers, tensions are still evident between  Serbians and Albanian Kosovars. Many of the Serbian cultural heritage sites have a NATO protection force camped on the perimeters. However, at Decani tensions are much lower and it offers a model of Read full article…

Skiing the Four Passes in the Italian Dolomites

Fifty US dollars doesn’t get you much these days, but in the Italian Dolomites it buys 650 miles of downhill trails, and 464 modern ski lifts leading to and from about 40 facilities and through eight charming mountain villages. All this and one of the most spectacular mountain settings in the world. Don’t trust me? Well, UNESCO agrees, and it was named a World Heritage Site in 2009. Set in Italy’s Southern Tyrol region, where German is heard more often than Italian, the Dolomites’ charm bursts into colorful splendor when the twisting rocky peaks turn soft pink during sunrise and burning red at sunset. The ideal setting during any season, winter time sees some of the best skiing in Europe. After a trip to Venice, we drove up into the Dolomites and made the quaint village of San Cassiano our base to ski the region. And I do mean ski Read full article…

An Underwater Tour of Venice, Italy

I faced my dive buddy for a final check as our boat approached the Renaissance city of Venice. Weight belt on, air open, B.C.D. working….we gave each other the final OK symbol, not the thumbs up of course. We weren’t amateurs, this wasn’t our first trip after all, we were ready. We even checked the news that morning before we left, which of course was our downfall. “Venice is underwater” the swanky Italian host informed us. “Dress appropriately,” he advised with a wink. I was taken in by his professional nature and shinny suit.  We stepped off the water taxi, not onto the worn cobble stone streets of lore, but raised platforms sagging with tourists from far flung reaches of the globe. Underwater indeed! We were over dressed! Without the benefit of galoshes the fancier hotels supply, we were left to battle our way through the crowded back alleyways and Read full article…

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