The Belgrade Ballet (Belgrade National Theatre)

~B~

The National Theatre in Belgrade was originally built in 1869 and is a protected cultural monument in Serbia.  Located next to Republic Square, it’s unlikely you’ll visit Belgrade without seeing this grand building, but you should take advantage of what it has to offer inside as well!

THe belgrade serbia opera theater

For around $5-$10/person you can see a ballet, a drama, or even an opera within an extravagant looking theater. Between the quality and price (and therefore value), I’m surprised this isn’t recommended by more people as an activity in Belgrade. Maybe they just don’t know about it! I read somewhere that performances are subsidized to allow more people to enjoy art and culture in Serbia which makes sense because I was wondering how they could pay all the performers and theatre workers based on the admission fees and the capacity of theater. 

Isn't it grand?

After we arrived in Serbia we checked out what was playing and decided on Don Quixote (the ballet) because we both were familiar with the story which we felt would make it easier for us to follow. There are usually several options at any given time, though.

I believe you can purchase your tickets at the theater but we opted to get our’s online (you can get tickets here). You’ll need to create an account on the website and while we had some issues with the site at first, it’s fairly straightforward.

Ballet tickets

Unfortunately, when I asked someone to confirm the time (we used Kyle’s email to reserve the tickets), they did not read it correctly (I guess) which resulted in us arriving several hours early. At least it wasn’t a couple hours late! It was quite a long walk there so we weren’t going to walk back to our place only to return, so we went wandering. At this point I think we had already been to Republic Square and even maybe the fortress multiple times so we felt very free to explore wherever we pleased. It’s a nice area and we enjoyed checking out some lovely streets, a couple churches, and somewhere in there we opted to have dinner.

Manufaktura food

We ate at Manufaktura which was a pretty nice place and between the restaurant and the theater, it felt like a pretty classy date night!

Outside the theaterDate Night

After arriving to the theater and checking out the decor, we were directed by various people to the correct location.

Selfienear the entrance

This was a little slower than it could have been because the ushers/workers would talk to us in Serbian and we’d pretty much just stare blankly, occasionally squinting to attempt to understand something until they realized we didn’t understand. Then they would laugh and start speaking in English. While most people in general did not seem to know a ton of English (if any) in Serbia, most people at touristy (if you can call them that- we hardly saw any tourists there) places (like museums and such) speak English.

The doors in

Anyway, while we pretty much remained in our seats, it seemed that after everyone was seated, the seats were sort of flexible because we saw other people change locations a little bit (like maybe over a few seats or down a row, something along those lines- you wouldn’t suddenly be able to get the $10 seats if you are in a $5 seat because the entrance would be different). Our seats were a bit tilted forward which made it slightly uncomfortable until you realize that in those seats you want to lean forward a bit anyway. They were fairly comfortable but I have read others report that their seats were very comfortable and I imagine they might have been in a different part of the theater.

Beautiful Belgrade TheaterView from our Seats

The performance itself was professional and high-quality and we were quite happy with it. The performance (including the, I believe, 20 minute break) was around 2-3 hours.

Chandelier

We walked home in the rain and it was a very lovely evening.

Me at the Belgrade Ballet

Belgrade Serbia

A City of History

At the confluence of the Sava and Danube, rises Belgrade – the capital and largest city of Serbia. The city has been settled, on and off, since the 6th millennium BCE, and has come under the rule of numerous empires such as the Byzantine, Frankish, Bulgarian, Hungarian, and Ottoman Empires.

Where We've Been Belgrade

A City of War

Belgrade has seen 115 wars, and been razed 44 times. It was even attacked by Attila the Hun in 442. Debatably, Attila lies beneath the Kalemagdan fort.

Today, the city is a peaceful and charming city, that offers a lot to do, at a very cheap price.

Clue 4- building

The Kalemagdan fort is a centerpiece of the city, rising above the rest of the city where the Sava and Danube meet. It’s a wonderful park, that is free to visit, and can easily keep you and a family occupied for a day or two.

Kalemagden Front Cliff

A City of Parks

Belgrade abounds with parks, and is incredibly easy to navigate on foot, or by tram. And astonishingly, the locals have done a phenomenal job of training their dogs. They’re everywhere, they’re off-leash, and they cause no problems.

Clue 6- Dog 2

A City of Churches

Other icons of the city are the Temple of St. Sava and St. Mark’s Church. As a whole, the city offers a slew of churches and cathedrals to visit.

St Sava

A City of Culture

When it comes to enjoying the more cosmopolitan aspects of life, you can head over to St. Mark’s Square. You may catch a rally happening (as we did) or you may instead check out the national theater which has shows frequently. We visited and saw the ballet “Don Quixote” at a wonderful price. As well, numerous shops ranging from clothes, to antiques, to souvenirs in the large shopping complex.

Clue

A City of Science

If you have the time to explore, you’ll find botanical gardens, parks, cemeteries, shops to your liking. Street art adorns the walls of buildings. The people also hold a pride for their heritage – most notably for their highly esteemed citizens such as Nikola Tesla, who you can find on the Serbian Dinar. There are numerous museums to visit and even an old concentration.

Bust of Nikola Tesla

A City of Food

As well, the food is cheap and plentiful, and has a delicious cafe culture.

Clue 8- Cafes
Belgrade bakery popular

It’s easy to grab a Plejkavica, or Serbian hamburger, for what amounts to barely a dollar or two and could feed a family, along almost any street.

The soviet history also brings to the city an imposing, yet oddly charming character. In Belgrade, you’ll be surprised at just how welcoming it can be. We spent five weeks in Belgrade, and enjoyed all our time there.

~K~

Clue 12- around town

Carmel-By-The-Sea Day Trip, Point Lobos and Mission Carmel

A Picturesque Location Where Mountains Meet the Sea

Just about an hour and a half south of us here in San Jose lies the world famous Carmel by the sea. While we’ve visited Monterey, which is just a few miles north, we had yet to really take in Carmel.

The picturesque location of mountains meeting the sea shore gives no wonder to why it’s such a popular day trip for many in the Bay Area. We had been back in California for a couple months at this point, and I was really itching to get a good coastal hike. After some research I decided I wanted to go to Point Lobos State National Reserve and Briana planned a couple other stops for our time down there such as Mission San Carlos Borromeo del río Carmelo (better known as Mission Carmel). 

Whaler's Cove Point Lobos

Mission Carmel

Stairs At Mission Carmel

We arrived at the Mission just after noon on a very clear and somewhat warm Sunday. It was pretty busy, as it is an operating mission, but we managed to get parking easily enough and made our way in to see the site.

The campus is large, and a perfect example of a classic Spanish Mission: adobe plaster, warm colored brick, and ceramic tile roofs. Mission Carmel had a distinct charm and personality to it, one that I find perfectly characterized by it’s crooked window above the entrance to the church.

Fountain At Mission Carmel

The grounds were well landscaped with numerous flowers and fountains. Throughout the compound there were also numerous rooms that we could visit that held various histories and artifacts related to the Mission and surrounding area.

Chapel Entrance At Mission Carmel
Fountain At Mission Carmel

The mission was established June 3, 1770. The mission served primarily to baptize the native Ohlone Indian population. It reached a peak of 927 members in 1794, but had dwindled back down to 381 by 1823.

Graveyard At Mission Carmel

The missions was secularized in 1833 by the Mexican government and slowly fell into ruin and disrepair until the Roman Catholic Church regained authority of the mission in 1863, with extensive restoration beginning in 1931.

Tomb At Mission Carmel

Today the mission serves multiple roles as a museum, working mission, and minor basilica.

Display In Mission Carmel

Carmelite Monastery

We also planned on visiting the Carmelite Monastery on our way to Point Lobos. I had thought this would make for a good starting point to our Point Lobos excursion. I was wrong – but it was still a nice stop.

Carmelite Monastery Monterey

The Monastery is mostly closed off to visitors. While you can visit, you will need to set up an appointment first. With that being said, you can walk around the grounds and enjoy the sea breeze.

Bri in The Carmelite Monastery Garden
Carmelite Monastery Garden

Point Lobos State National Reserve

Monastery Beach

Having parked at Monastery Beach, which sits across the street from the Carmelite Monastery, we made our way along the beach in search for the trail into Point Lobos. The maps online are very misleading, because it appears that you can enter the park via a trail at the far end of Monastery Beach – you cannot do this. As such, we walked about a mile up the road to main entrance to the park. It also turns out this is the only entrance into the park.

Monastery Beach
Warning Sign for Monastery Beach

Parking costs $10, however, there is no charge for people just walking in as we did. When you enter the park, you are a little bit away from the actual coast. Because of this, we set off for Whaler’s Cove via the Carmelo Meadow Trail.

Forest Trail through Point Lobos

Whaler’s Cove

Whaler’s Cove is the largest cove in Point Lobos, and it offers stunning views the seashore. Upon arriving, we were treated to a fresh breeze and picturesque landscapes. We slowly made our way around the top of the cliff sides until we reached a boat launch.

Whaler's Cove Panoramic

Here at the boat launch, we were treated to a great surprise: a Sea Otter with her pup, eating crabs. We sat here and watched for nearly a half hour before proceeding on. It was mesmerizing to watch the wildlife here, and we managed to snap a few other pics of the local sea life.

Sea Otter Eating A Crab
Crab on the Rocks

From here, we proceeded up a trail along the cliff edge and continued on the trim around the coastal trail. Here you can find a small whaling museum to visit. The museum features stuff such as the equipment used by whalers, whale bones, and baleen.

Whaling Display Near Museum
Bri With Whale Bones

Cannery Point

Cannery Point offered a great view of the ocean (as did most spots). Artists sometimes will take advantage of the location.

Overlooking Whaler's Cove
Man Painting At Point Lobos

We kept on, passing through Big Dome and Cypress Coves before beginning to head back. While we only saw half the park at this point, we were beginning to get tired and the sun was beginning to go down, and we wanted to get back home before dark (we didn’t).

Cypress Cove Point Lobos

So when we came to a trail junction near Headland Cove, we turned inward back towards the park entrance. The park was very well maintained, so these trails in the interior were well manicured, paved, or had wooden walkways.

Meandering Trail In Point Lobos

The southern half of Point Lobos is considered phenomenal as well. We plan to return to see the rest of the park. For those interested, you can also go scuba diving here in the Point Lobos Marine Reserve. Visit the park December through February and you might see migrating gray whales.

~K~

Sea Otter In Whaler's Cove Point Lobos

Cats eating

Video: Our Cyprus Housesit Watching 7 Cats

~B~

I first attempted to make an overall Cyprus video, but our “tourist” clips just didn’t blend well with all the cat videos. So this is a video mostly featuring the seven cats we watched in Dhoros. Gotta love cat videos, though!  I will probably make another short video showing some of our activities out, though. Enjoy!

Entrance to Thang Long Water Puppet Theater

Thang Long Water Puppet Theater (Hanoi)

~B~

Soon after learning about this traditional art special to Vietnam- I put it on my must-do list for the country. We knew we would have multiple opportunities to catch a water puppet show so we put it off in Ho Ch Minh while we did other activities which could only be found there such as the War Remnants Museum, the Cu Chi Tunnels, and so on. Our first glimpse of a water puppet theater stage occurred there, though, in the Museum of Vietnamese History. There was a room with a stage and seating off to the side of one of the museum rooms where you could catch shows at certain times. This show, while on a smaller “stage” than the show we ended up seeing, is allegedly quite good! We might have gone except that it was starting as we arrived so we didn’t have much time to debate the extra little cost (we were on quite a budget at that time). There were other options in Ho Chi Minh as well, but ultimately we ended up going to the famous Thang Long Water Puppet Theater after making it to Hanoi.

Water Puppet Theater Entrance

One special thing about seeing the show there is that water puppetry actually originated in north Vietnam (specifically in the Red Delta River area in the north) back in the 11th century. Apparently this was a form of entertainment used by villagers when their rice fields were flooded. They were sometimes used to celebrate the end of the season (and possibly on other special occasions). In the old days, they would build pagodas in the rice fields which could hide the puppeteers who would stand in the (waist to chest deep) water controlling the puppets. The water hid the puppet controls and served as a stage. Back then, they would also often be dealing with cold water which could have leeches and water-borne diseases in order to put on these shows.

The Thang Long Water Puppet Theater was established in 1969 as a way to preserve tradition and increase tourism. The puppets they use are carved from wood and are controlled with bamboo rods and string. Scenes and skits performed in the show address aspects of daily life for rural farmers like fishing and farming, as well as performances relating to folklore, festivals, and more. Water puppet performers from this theater have toured 40 countries to put on shows as well. If you’d like to get a glimpse of what to expect, you can check out some videos on youtube.

Little Figures

Anyway, this was one of the first things we did our first time in Hanoi. Our last 10 days or so in HCM was spent away from District 1 (location of a lot of the touristy stuff) and was during the period of Tet so we had plenty of time to get work done and were able to go out and sight-see pretty immediately once we got to Hanoi. On our first day out we walked quite a bit but I believe it was the next day we chose to walk to the theater. It’s located near Hoan Kiem Lake and lots of other neat activities in the Old Quarter, but was quite a long walk from our Airbnb at the time.

Road near our Airbnb

When we got to the theater, they were sold out! Be aware that this could happen to you due to its popularity.

Crowded Theater

We did not find tickets available online at the time and it seems it may be fairly common for them to sell out early for the day and sometimes even the next day or two. So- we bought tickets for the next day, got some coffee (for Kyle) and tea (for me) and then wandered around the area proceeding to get quite lost, making our journey back hours longer.

Crowded Hanoi

The next day we were so exhausted we decided to just get a taxi down to the theater for our show time. The funny thing is that all of this could have been avoided because after our 10 days on Cat Ba we ended up staying at a place just around the corner from the theater! That’s how things go I guess! Fortunately, like everything else, transportation is pretty cheap there and our taxi ride only cost us about $2 and we walked the way back (pretty sure we got lost again).

Overall, we really enjoyed the show. I noticed from online reviews that it’s not everyone’s thing- but it was our’s! We weren’t entirely sure what to expect but here are some of the things we liked: 1. It was educational. I felt like I learned a little bit about the history of the area and even a little bit about current life for rural villagers in Vietnam. There were scenes of fishing, festival events, etc. 2. It was entertaining. The show even made me laugh out loud a couple times. 3. It was slightly interactive (like smoke for certain parts and dragons spraying out water- though not really at you per se). 4. The music. A traditional Vietnamese orchestra including a Dan bau, bamboo flutes, drums, and more plays as an accompaniment/accent to the show. There is also some Cheo (a type of opera) singing.

People playing instruments

The only thing that sort of got in the way for us was that we couldn’t understand what the puppets were saying (their “voice actors” spoke in Vietnamese). We didn’t mind because we were in Vietnam, but do feel we might have missed a few things or could have learned more if it was in English or we knew Vietnamese. Still, with many parts the music, tone, and actions of the puppets helped communicate things to us.

Here is the info:
Address: 57B Dinh Tien Hoang – Hanoi – Vietnam
Cost: 100k dong (~$5)
Times: I see varying things online so I would just check in person. Show times are mostly in the afternoon/evening, I believe, though.
Website: www.thanglongwaterpuppet.org
Other info: Shows last for one hour.

Combine it with: Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple, Hoa La Prison (the “Hanoi Hilton”), the Temple of Literature, the Museum of Vietnamese history, the Vietnamese women’s museum, the Hanoi Opera House, and more!

In front of HK Lake

And if you can’t make it here there are a few other opportunities (such as these) across Vietnam to see water puppet shows of varying sizes.

Pretty City

Budapest Video

~B~

Here is a brief video showing off some of our time in Budapest, Hungary. It seems that in Europe (Cyprus, Serbia, Hungary) we focused a lot more on taking pictures and follow/spin videos than taking other video. There were quite a few of these (follow and spin videos) from these countries which I did not find until after I made those video or did not include for some reason. Therefore, despite the fact that we spent a substantial amount of time in each of these locations, we just don’t have a ton of video footage. As per normal I also had to get rid of all the videos that were just too shaky, bad angles, too short, etc. which is typically well over half of them. The video does show many of the top touristy spots, though.

Navigating Bangkok

Getting around Bangkok is not too difficult a feat to accomplish. It’s a large metropolitan area however, so you’re not going to be able to just walk around to get where you need. It’s not as easy or extensive as Seoul – though it’s less daunting; but it’s also far more convenient than Kuala Lumpur or Vietnam. There is a wide variety of ways to manage getting around.

Briana At A Temple In Bangkok

Tuk Tuk:

In this entry, I’ll also include motorbike taxis or Xe Oms. They’re easy to discover, they tend to wear orange vests that display their license (which is nice). The motorbikes are not likely able to carry multiple people or with large packs, but can be great for a short distance.

Tuk tuks are the pretty much the same as throughout the rest of Southeast Asia. They can be convenient, and if you find a reputable driver – nice. But it’s very easy to get ripped off, scammed, and just generally fed up with them. We don’t like using them, but it’s up to you if you want to use them. We wouldn’t recommend using them if you’re traveling a long distance, but for a short distance, it may be ok if you agree to a price before hopping on.

Taxis:

As with most other cities, taxis are the first and most obvious mode of transportation that you’ll take. They’ll overcharge you if you come from the airport (don’t they always?), but elsewhere, the rates are pretty reasonable. We only took a taxi a few times – but they were usually quite straightforward. Our first taxi didn’t quite seem to know where he was going, but figured it out rather quickly. The second taxi didn’t really speak English, but I showed him the address and a map and he got us there for 100 Baht (~$2.50). Our final taxi took us to the bus stop quite easily as well for around 150 Baht.

Grabbing a taxi is very simple as well, we never bothered to call for one – we simply walked out to the street and waved one down. There always seemed to be a taxi no matter where we were. It literally took me 30 seconds to flag down a taxi each time. One thing to keep in mind, is that traffic is awful in Bangkok, so the taxi will ask you if you want to take a toll road (highway) to get where you’re going, which you’ll have to pay for. We didn’t do it the first time, and it cost us over an hour’s drive – we took it the second time, paid 70 baht, and got where we were going within 20 minutes.

Be sure to use a metered taxi though! It will be cheaper, despite what the driver may say, but generally if you say use the meter, they will do it without complaint.

Boat Taxi:

If you find yourself anywhere along the river, you can take boat taxis. In fact, if you want to get to some temples, you may need to use these (Temple of Dawn). We never did end up using them, mainly because we just didn’t have it in our itinerary, but if you do there are a few things to keep in mind.

Canal Near Station

There are three main waterways: Chao Phraya River (the main river), Klong Saen Saeb (cuts across Bangkok), and Klongs of Thonburi (networks of canals throughout the city.

There are 6 boat types: River Taxis, Long Tails (tuk tuks on water), Ferry, Canal Boats, Private Cruises, and Hotel Shuttles. These are pretty self-explanatory and unless a tour or hotel has already arranged these for you, you will only be bothering with River Taxis, Long Tails, and Ferries.

There are 5 types of River Boat, indicated by the flags, and these will be how you decide which you want to take:

No flag (local line) – Stops at every Pier

Blue flag (tourist boat) – Stops when you want. Will cost more, but may be more convenient.

Orange flag – Stops at main piers

Yellow flag – Large express boat for commuters

Green flag – Express boat for commuters

If you want to take one, it is easiest to access the Sathorn Central Pier, located in front of BTS Skytrain Station Saphan Taksin.

Canal Near Traimit Station

Buses:

City buses are a convenient way to get around as well (though we never did use them). Generally quite cheap, with fares ranging from 7 to 20 Baht. They run 24/7, so they may be your go-to if you find yourself out after the metro has shut down. There are 12 lines of service, and most will have a stop near the main hotels.

Buses with blue signs in the window will run normal routes and stop at all bus stops, while yellow sign buses use expressways and have a limited locations. You purchase your ticket on the bus itself. Be sure to search a map beforehand though, to know which route you want to take.

Or arrange for a bus across international borders, such as we did for entering Cambodia. You read more about that here.

Van / Minibus / Truck:

You may notice throughout Bangkok what appears to be vans or trucks, with open backs and benches along the back. These are like buses, and tend to run some of the same routes, and some of the smaller routes that normal buses won’t frequent. You can simply hop on and pay the attendant a small fee (5 – 20 baht) and simply ride until you get where you need to go. Just let the driver or attendant know when you want to get off and you can simply walk off the back.

Metro / Subway / MRT:

Our primary method of getting around Bangkok was via the Metro, Skytrain, BTS Rail. It is not a streamlined as Seoul by any means – but they aren’t too difficult to manage. There are numerous stations that you can enter. When you come into the station, you will have your bags checked for bombs/contraband, but it’s pretty simple, and nothing at all like the airport (just open your backpack and you’re good).

Subway Card

Once in, you’ll usually find a small assortment of stalls selling food or drink. Ticket vending machines, which conveniently run in Thai and English, stand throughout. Simply tell the kiosk which station you want to go, then feed in the bills or coins. This makes for wonderful way to get rid of excess coins you’ll undoubtably collect. Once purchased, you will receive either plastic coins or cards to swipe to get to the platform. If you would prefer to talk to a person, there are regular kiosk operators as well (great if you have large bills to break).

Trains tend to arrive every 10 minutes, and can be a little crowded. We didn’t make it in once and had to wait for the next train, but usually it’s not a problem.

When you arrive at the station you will either leave completely or transfer to the next station. The stations are not as seamlessly integrated as Seoul. This means possibly needing to leave your current station and entering a new one, especially when changing from Skytrain to Subway. It’s not too difficult to manage, but it can throw you for a loop the first time you ride. You will need to purchase a new ticket at each station though.

BTS_MRT_Chao_Phraya_Express_Khlong

Conclusion

If you are going to be in Bangkok for a while, you can purchase a longterm rechargeable card for a more streamlined process. Keep in mind, that there seem to be no bathrooms within the metro system – so take care of business before you travel!

~K~

Vietnamese Style Thai Temple Bangkok

Wat Pathum Bangkok Thailand

Peace In Chaos

A trip to the heart of Bangkok will take you some of the highest-end malls and to some wonderful parks, and as you walk down Rama I road, you won’t be able to not notice the beautiful white walls and shining gold of Wat Pathumwanaram Ratcha Wora Vihan – or Wat Pathum for short. We stumbled across this Buddhist temple on accident while we were visiting the Siam Paragon Mall, and we saw the tell-tale roofs of a Buddhist temple.

Wat Pathum Wanaram

The temple is medium size, though it seems dwarfed by the massive malls and skyrail station beside it. The grounds of the temple stand as a quiet respite to the bustling cosmopolitan surroundings.

Wat Pathum Wanaram

The temple was founded in 1857 by King Rama IV as a place to worship near the Sa Pathum Palace. At the time, the area was only simple rice fields, but today it stands in one of the busiest parts of the city.

Wat Pathum Wanaram

The ashes of Thai Royal Family members from the line of Prince Mahidol Adulyadej lie at the temple. The temple also served as a safe zone during the 2010 crackdown on Red Shirts anti-government protesters.

Wat Pathum Wanaram

The temple is simple, yet elegant and you can quietly slip away from the city here. If you’re passing by, it’s well worth a visit. There is no entrance fee, but of course, you are always welcome to place a donation at a til box.

Wat Pathum Wanaram

Find It:

969 Rama 1 Rd, Pathumwan,, Khwaeng Pathum Wan, Khet Pathum Wan, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10330, Thailand

~K~

Bear Gulch Reservoir Hidden behind Mountain at Pinnacles National Park California from the High Peaks Trail

Pinnacles National Park California

Pinnacles National Park

We’ve visited Pinnacles National Park previously about two years ago, but this time around we decided to take a slightly different route through Bear Gulch cave and then up to the High Peaks pass. Pinnacles is just under a two hours drive south of San Jose and makes for a great day trip, and we’d been itching to go since we arrived back in California.

Rock formation at Trailhead

The park itself offers more than 16,000 acres of dramatic spines of rock and and fallen boulders. And this time of year is a great time to visit because the weather compliments the location pretty well. In the summer it can get hot and the sun brutal. But spring is great because the recent rains have turned the landscape green and vibrant with wildflowers and the temperature allows for a comfortable climb.

Creek In Pinnacles National Park

Getting In

We arrived at a seemingly inopportune time; as this is the best time of year to visit, the park can get crowded pretty quick, and with us arriving at noon we had to wait about fifteen minutes before we could get parking, but that was about our only set back.

We parked near the trailhead for Bear Gulch and began making our way towards our first destination – Bear Gulch caves. The path gently rose, through the well shaded riparian forest and rising monoliths of stone.

Rock Formation near trail head
Path to Bear Gulch

Bear Gulch Cave

Canyon Approach

We could see numerous rock climbers taking advantage of the excellent climbing conditions here as we approached the cave. Just before entering the cave, we could feel a strong cool breeze blowing out from the entrance. The breeze was refreshing, but quite decidedly chilly.

Rock Climbers near Bear Gulch at Pinnacles National Park
Tunnel on the way to Bear Gulch Cave
Passage on the way to Bear Gulch Cave
Entering Bear Gulch

Talus Caves

The caves themselves are Talus caves, formed from rock falls in valleys and canyons, where the falling boulders would become wedged in the narrow spaces and form the roof and interior layout of the caves.

Talus Rock Roof Inside Bear Gulch Cave

Bear Gulch cave was a little bit larger than Balconies Cave (which we had previously visited) and was a little more challenging to get through as well. We enjoyed the challenge though. The primary obstacle was the water, as a small stream flowed through the cave and many times the stream crossed the path or even was the path.

flooded path in Bear Gulch Cave
Part of the path inside Bear Gulch is the River itself

Climbing Waterfalls

Numerous waterfalls were inside the cave as we proceeded through the roughly half mile cave, and we steadily climbed up the rocks. The passages were quite narrow and ceilings low, so scrambling on rocks and wedging into tight spaces was a must. The most difficult part (for me at least) was getting through a small passage that could only have been maybe 3 feet high at the max and shimmying up a stepped waterfall.

Waterfall inside Bear Gulch Cave
Pool inside Bear Gulch Cave
Light from above in Bear Gulch Cave

Bear Gulch Reservoir

After about thirty minutes we emerged from the cave, miraculously completely dry, although I suffered a few bumps on the head from the low ceilings. The caves are home to Townsend’s big-eared bats, and are closed throughout the year to allow them to raise pups in peace. Due to the narrow nature of the caves, they can also close due to rain.

Exiting Bear Gulch Cave

Upon exiting the cave, we came to Bear Gulch reservoir. The reservoir is a nice lake, home to the endangered red-legged frog. While we could have stayed here for a while, as others were, we knew that we still had a long hike to go and only so much daylight, so we proceeded on up the path towards High Peaks.

Bear Gulch Reservoir

High Peaks Trail

The rocky trail winds its up way steadily up for several miles, passing through meadow, sparse woods, and ridge line. The floor falls away pretty quickly as you climb and you can begin to see the surrounding landscape.

Rising Above Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park was originally established in 1908 by President Roosevelt as a National Monument and later converted into a national park in 2013 by President Obama. Pinnacles sits squarely atop the San Andreas fault, and as such the park and surrounding areas have been dramatically shaped by the seismic activities. The dramatic formations of the park are part of what remains of the Neenach Volcano, which erupted 23 million years ago, down near Lancaster. The fault has since moved the roughly half the rock 195 miles north to it’s present day location in the Salinas Valley.

Rock Stack on way to High Peaks

After an hour or so, we began to near the High Peaks area. The spires of stone stand with a dramatic hue of orange and red against the green hills. Within another thirty minutes or so, we finally made it to the “top”.

Approaching the High Peaks
Climbing towards High Peaks

This isn’t really the top of the mountain, rather it’s a convergence of several trails at a scenic overlook. Here, you can often see falcons and other birds going about their business. We had stopped here our previous time for lunch, but had to run down the canyon due to an abrupt lightning and hail storm. This time however, the skies were completely clear.

From this point, where you’ll also find a restroom if you should need it, you can proceed multiple ways. Our direction was through the High Peaks trail, which follows the ridge line of the mountain.

Steep and Narrow

The hike through here is a lot of quick up and down, climbing very steep and narrow stairs. There are also several tight walkways to maneuver. Luckily, the park has installed railings to assist you through here.

More Stairs at Pinnacles National Park
Steep stairs at High Peaks Pass

You can also find tons of multi-colored lichen and slime molds on the rocks throughout the park.

Lichen at Pinnacles National Park

Back from the Brink

As we were finishing our way through the High Peaks area, we came a stunning view of the resident Californian Condor. Brought back from the brink of extinction, all the birds present are descended from the original 27 birds that were left on earth. The breeding program has been a huge success and brought their numbers up now to 435. Pinnacles serves as a release site for the Condors and if you look closely, you can even see the tag numbers and find out who they are.

Narrow Paths in the High Peaks Paths
California Condor

Most of the Condors were a little too far away from us to get a real good look at, but there was one in a tree near the trail that decided to pose well for us. The tag reads 00. This Condor was laid in the wild, and hatched (under care of researchers) in April 2015. You can find more information about the specific Condors here.

California Condor Landing on a Tree
California Condor No. 800 at Pinnacles National Park

Condor Gulch Trail

After spending twenty minutes watching the Condors (if not more), we steadily walked towards Condor Gulch trail. By this time, the sun was starting to get low, being that it was already nearly 6. We picked up the pace to get down the mountain and make it back to the car before sun down.

Along this route, we encountered the numerous wildflowers present along the trail. There are also numerous bees in the area, due to the flowers. In fact, Pinnacles hosts the highest density of bee species in the world with 400 different species. Most of them are solitary bees though, not hive-dwelling, so you don’t need to worry about being stung.

wild flowers at pinnacles national park
wild flowers at Pinnacles National Park
Wild flowers at Pinnacles National Park
I call them Bee Bonnets

Condor gulch made for a nice walk down as the sun set and the temperature began to drop. The flowers, fresh air, and gurgling streams made for a nice end to a pretty strenuous walk. We were pretty happy for the route we chose as well. I don’t think we would have been as enthused traversing the caves at this late a point in the day.

Finally we got to the car, as the Condor Gulch trail put us out right at the parking lot that we had left roughly 6 hours previously. Tired, but happy, we started our long drive back to San Jose.

Plan Your Visit

If you plan on visiting Pinnacles, you should keep in mind that there are two entrances to the park. SR 146 approaches from both the east and west, but is not a through road. It takes two hours to drive from one entrance to the other, so be sure to go to the correct entrance. We entered from the eastern side, which is just a little south of Hollister; whereas the western entrance is just east of Salinas.

west parking lot viewed from High Peaks trail at Pinnacles National Park

Both entrances are good locations with full access to the park. The western entrance will put you closer to Balconies cave, while the east entrance puts you nearer Bear Gulch cave. Be sure to bring enough water, especially in the summer. Even on a cool spring day, we went through six bottles of water and could/should have drunk more.

Regardless, Pinnacles National Park is an excellent spot to visit for hiking, camping, or even night hikes.

National Park Service Website

 

Sunset near Hollister California

Camping At Pinnacles National Park

If you want to camp at Pinnacles National Park, you absolutely can. There is a campground, but only on the eastern side of the park. To reach them you must approach from Hollister, not Salinas. The campground has 134 sites, so you shouldn’t have too much difficulty getting a place.

They may fill up during the spring season though, which is the ideal time camp. You can camp all year, but may want to be wary about the summer and early fall due to extreme heat. In any case, you’ll want want to get a shaded spot if possible.

There is a camp store that is well stocked for what it is, but you should still pack carefully. The closest supermarket is in Hollister, 32 miles away. There are also showers and flush toilets on site for you to use.

~K~

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California USA Pinnacles National Park

View of Pinnacles National Park California

dessert

Coffee, Desserts, and other Sweets We Ate in Belgrade, Serbia

~B~

Onto the coffee and desserts we tried in Belgrade, Serbia! During the five weeks we spent there we primarily got our desserts from the grocery store and bakeries, and our coffee from three-in-one packets, but we also tried out a couple cafes and a creperie. I’m going to cover them in a similar manner to my Desserts in Budapest post which has been a relatively popular post for our site (in terms of traffic). Serbia definitely has fewer tourists, but probably partly because of that, there is less written about it on the web. 

Desserts We Ate in Belgrade, Serbia

I’ll begin with the coffees and desserts we tried out:

Hari’s Creperie
Strawberry chocolate crepe
hari's creperiecreperie

Because they seemed fairly popular there and I hadn’t had a ton of them in my life, I decided that if I had to try only one dessert in Belgrade (in a restaurant), it would be a crepe. We first made them ourselves (about that later) but I also wanted to try one out. It seemed the best-rated/most popular places were Hari’s Creperie and Glumac. It was getting near the end of our stay before we decided to give it a go and ultimately chose Hari’s because it was closer to us and open late (until midnight everyday). I think we made our way there around 11pm one night (I talked about schedule we were keeping in our roundup for that time) to finally indulge.

At that point it was tempting to get a waffle because they all looked so appealing and we both enjoy a good waffle, but I had already decided- crepe. Hari’s offers both sweet and savory crepes (like omelettes, basically) but we were obviously there for dessert. We decided to share one, both because of the size, and the price. They were cash only and one item plus a small tip would take what we had left at the time (not much- we needed to go to an ATM) so it was really our only option. I read that tipping is not necessary in Serbia, but in this case we did because we felt the service was good (and it feels not to unless we’re somewhere you’re not supposed to tip). They were quick to seat us and bring our food. They also gave us water which had not been the case everywhere.

Our crepe included chocolate, strawberries, and a cream/yoghurt. Very good. And very filling. By the end, we were glad we shared. So service, food, etc. all good. I will say that their television programming was rather unprofessional, though. I may send them a message advising them to change it.

Info:
Located: Kraljice Marije 8, Beograd 11000, Serbia (less than a kilometer from the Church of Saint Mark)
Website: Here is their Facebook page. They also have a regular site but it’s only relevant in terms of looking at their (Greek) origins and some of what they offer. The menu and prices were a little different in Serbia.
Cost: The crepe we ordered cost 420 Serbian Dinar which currently equates to $3.58. There were a couple slightly cheaper options and also, obviously, more expensive items. The simpler the item, the cheaper, and the more ingredients (such as multiple fruits, candies, or whatever in your crepe or on your waffle), the more it will cost.

Coffee Dream
Coffee Dream Outside
Coffee Dream SeatingCoffee Shake
Kyle at tableKyle with coffee dream

We also wanted some coffee experiences. Vietnam really got us into trying the local coffee and with Belgrade’s heavy cafe culture (I think we saw more cafes here than anywhere else), it was almost hard not to!

At Coffee Dream, you can choose to dine in or take-away your ordered items. We did not realize this so when we went up to the counter to order, they assumed we were getting take-away. We should have begun by sitting down at a table. Flavor options for the various types of coffees include cinnamon, choco-cookie, caramel, and even pumpkin! You can see the menu here. We think (see below) we ordered a caramel freezeri which was basically like an coffee shake. It was just what we wanted. Despite accidentally ordering the coffee to go, we first sat down and enjoyed it for a few minutes before taking off to stroll around and finish it off (we shared).

Info:
Located: Coffee Dream is actually a chain with several locations throughout Belgrade and even throughout Serbia. Each location is a little different.
Cost: We paid 245 ($2.24), yet online it says 275 for what we think we ordered so it’s possible we got something else. Prices may also vary slightly by day or location but in general, most are similar and you can approximate prices on the menu.
Website: http://www.coffeedream.rs/ 

Cafe & Factory
Caramel coffeeGood coffeecafeandfactoryKyle with coffeee

Cafe & Factory (or one of its locations, apparently) was just down the street and around the corner from our Airbnb. We’d often pass it and enjoy the nice aroma drifting out. One day, we decided we’d skip our 3-in-1 packets and head over there to start our day. It was then that we found out that “cafe and factory” means cafe AND factory. They make fresh coffee there and inside we saw people stand in line to get it freshly ground. We thought about getting some of their ground coffee (maybe we should have) but we didn’t have a coffee machine at our Airbnb there or at our next place and still had a couple months before we’d be heading back to the US so we just ordered some coffee to enjoy in the cafe. I think we got the Latte Macchiato Caramelo and Cafe Mocha Bianca. It was something along those lines. It was as good as it looks!

Info:
Located: There are six locations http://cafe-factory.net/ja/index.php/locations
Cost: The total cost for both of our coffees was $3.90 (430 Serbian Dinar)
Website: http://cafe-factory.net/ja/index.php

Ice Cream
me with coffee gelatoCoffe ice cream
ic flavors

On one of our first days in Belgrade, after Kyle got his first Pljeskavica (burger), I found myself hungry as well. The first thing we came to that suited my tastes was ice cream. I chose the coffee flavor and we headed over to the Church of Saint Mark and strolled around the park with our food.

Info:
Located: It was somewhere between Park Manjez and the Church of Saint Mark. It looks like it might have been around Bacio Gelato but I’m not convinced that’s where I got it.
Cost: $0.64 (70 Serbian Dinar)
Website: not sure

There are plenty of other ice cream/gelato places that looked really delicious too, though! Just wander around and you’ll see.

Gelato

Bakeries

We made nine bakery visits. Some visits involved the purchase of a single pastry and on others, we chose multiple items. I’m going to go over costs in advance for this section as I am not including every single item we purchased. We spent a total of $8.75 at bakeries. Try that in France or Switzerland! The macaron cost 100 Serbian dinar ($0.91), one of the donut visits cost 120 Serbian dinar ($1.10), and my other visits I simply listed in my finances as “bakery” or “pastry” but those visits respectively cost $0.63 (2), $0.64, $0.89, $1, $1.43, and $1.52.

Pekara Trpkovic

Belgrade bakery popularPopular placeSweet item

This is allegedly THE place to get burek in Belgrade (or so I have read). Every time we passed it there was a line out the door. Now, we did not get burek here because we did not feel like it when we visited but we did try some food. Kyle got something which was more of a savory snack and I chose the item you see above which basically tasted like fried dough soaked in honey.

Located: We went to this location: Nemanjina 32, Beograd, Serbia, but it looks like there is another at Dimitrija Tucovića 60, Beograd, Serbia
Website: http://pekaratrpkovic.rs/

Hleb & Kifle

Donuts in a box
Macaroondonuts from bakery

This is a higher-end bakery in Serbia. We saw them throughout and tried items from a couple of them. It was actually only my second time having a macaron (the first time was in Sri Lanka) that I can remember. All scrumptious!
Located: There are many locations throughout Serbia. You can find them on the website.
Website: http://www.hlebikifle.rs/

German lady near school

pastry from german woman

Our first attempt at visiting Park forest Zvezdara was not entirely successful but we did have a nice day exploring. On our way back to our place we were hungry and decided to make a stop at the bakery. Kyle knew he’d be able to find something (a burger) along the way but I needed something to help me along until we were home. The place was run by a friendly German woman. We spent a little time talking to her before we went on our way.

Location: There is no listing online and we can’t find it recognized anywhere, but here is the location on Googlemaps (unmarked).
Website: No website

Other Bakeries

Pastry

There were obviously other bakeries we visited as well but I don’t remember them. Like the previous one, many have no online presence- even on google maps which makes it difficult to find them. I might remember better if they had allowed photographs but the couple times I tried to take a picture they “no photos”. Interesting to me because other people taking photos and posting them on their blog or social media is basically free advertising but maybe they want privacy or the ability to more freely change items/prices, etc. Who knows. Anyway, the pastry you see above was one of my favorites from another bakery we visited a couple times. It was filled with chocolate.

Onto the desserts we tried at home:

Here are the treats we got from the grocery store.

Ice Cream Cakes
Chocolate ice cream cake
White Ice Cream Cake BelgradeBerry Ice Cream Cake
Ice Cream Cake BoxChocolate

When we were in the store and saw the prices on these things (like $2), we thought, it can’t possibly taste good too. THEY WERE. As you can see, we basically tried every flavor we found.

Other Ice Cream at Home.
ice cream bar

We were more focused on the ice cream cakes in terms of ice cream but we also tried a couple ice cream bars. This one was called Kapri.

Homemade Crepes
Crepe with berriesBerry crepeHomemade Crepe

At the store we were able to buy prepackaged crepes- similar to the way tortillas are normally packaged. We found them in a refrigerated area near produce, under the gnocchi and other pre-packaged pasta. Kyle warmed/cooked them in a pan, sometimes cooked a berry mixture, and then we added beli sir (local cheese) and/or yoghurt, etc. It was one of my FAVORITE things I ate abroad period. If only I could have it now!

Candy Bars, Chocolate Boxes, and other Grocery Store Treats
Alpine milk chocolatecoconut candy
Coconut barChocolate box
Milka Bar

There was this area in our grocery store that would have made you think Valentine’s Day was coming up, but it was just always like that!! The candy was fairly affordable too so we treated ourselves and brought back some for our families. We tried several kinds and found everything to be really good. Because we tried to give some type of candy to everyone (parents, siblings, grandparents, etc.), basically half my backpack was filled with candy on our final flight home.

Oatmeal

Oatmeal yoghurtRaspberries on oatmeal

Oatmeal?! Well, when you add brown sugar, fruit, and possibly yoghurt and/or Nutella (yes, we found Nutella there) well, it starts to taste a little like dessert!

Honorable mention: Airplane yoghurt! (Plane ride from Athens to Belgrade) 

Plane foodHoneyyoghurt

This may not count as a dessert and it’s also Greek, but it was sweet! I’m mentioning it because it was such a luscious combination of cream and honey and there’s nowhere else to put it. Greek yoghurt was also popular in Serbia though I couldn’t find this exact package at the store (I looked).

I’ll finish off with the way we’d normally start our day, with coffee.

Coffee

There you go. If you had another great dessert in Belgrade feel free to comment!