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Sep 28, 2015

Old Town Kotor, Montenegro

After our morning spent on top of Mount Lovcen in the village of Njegusi, we decided it was time to explore a bit of Kotor Bay up close...more notably, Old Town Kotor. I often remember our Adriatic cruise as the cruise full of beautiful walled cities. We spent time in Split, Croatia as well as Dubrovnik (very famous for its ramparts)...later on in our sailing we visited Malta's walled capital Mdina. Much to our surprise as we were arriving to Montenegro, Kotor was also a walled city! There's just something about a city surrounded by stone walls...the history, the weathered architecture, the whimsical Old World characteristics you often find hidden around every narrow alleyway. You almost never leave a city like this feeling anything but enchanted. 

Old Town Kotor revealed wonders similar to those we found in Dubrovnik; white-washed stone streets surrounded by mountains and sea, fresh clothes swaying in the wind, a smattering of gelato shops and al fresco restaurants (hello, fresh seafood!)...everything that makes a walled city a traveler's dream. Likely why it's alluring new visitors by the thousands each year.

What did we do with our time in Old Town? Well, I imagine the same as most...we walked part of the wall (you can go all the way up to Our Lady of Health church and take in more awesome views, but since we already saw a bird's-eye view at lunch, we only walked a fraction of the walls), ate fresh salmon steaks and sipped Montenegrin wine on the square, and wandered a few of the open-air markets scattered about the city center. All in an afternoon's work exploring on the Adriatic. ;)

It was safe to say we were pleasantly surprised with our day in Montenegro. Lots of sunshine, beautiful scenery, and even though we only experienced 9 hours in the area, we felt like we got a good feel for what life is like here. Living history is this best kind of history, wouldn't you agree? Add this one to your bucket list, friends. 

...Scenes from our day in Corfu, Greece to come!...

Sep 21, 2015

STAY | Gaylord Palms Resort Orlando

Last August, D and I were just beginning to get settled into our new lives in the Sunshine State. We'd been in Florida for almost 2 months and were finally living in the home we'd bought prior to leaving Germany. Unfortunately, those blissful two months of new home ownership were clouded by the fact that we were still missing all of our belongings. Not a pot or pan to our name. As the military goes, they're not the promptest with shipping household goods across the ocean, so we were sleeping on rental mattresses (weird, I know) and doing a lot of microwave cooking. After our mattress rentals were up, we still had 1 month of air mattress sleeping before we were slated to be reunited with our own comfy bed. We were ok with that for a couple weeks...but one Tuesday morning we woke up both aching and sore from the uncomfortable sleep conditions. At that point, I'd had it. A few tears were shed (all mine, of course) and D suggested we do what we do best when faced with less than desirable life situations...go on vacation! 

It was a stay-cation, to be honest. Orlando (and a few uninterrupted days at Disney) was the only place that seemed to shed any light on our discouraged, mattress-less attitudes. We'd just got our Disney annual passes and hadn't really gotten to use them to their full potential, so I powered up the laptop and searched for a nice place to recoup our exhausted bodies. Last minute Disney Resort hotels were slightly over the budget we wanted to pay just to sleep well, so I looked into our Marriott points account and realized we'd racked up quite a slurry of them during our time overseas. A few clicks later, we booked a weekend stay at a resort I'd only ever heard amazing things about...the Gaylord Palms Orlando.

Upon arriving, we knew we were in for a treat...this place was massive! The resort doubles as a conference center, but even so, the property still wow'd us with acreage (63 of them--you can see it from the interstate) and its beautiful tropical landscaping. After our super smooth check-in process (and being upgraded to an atrium view room, eek!) we decided to check out our room and take a wander around the resort. I think the most notable architectural feature of the Gaylord Palms is the hotel's massive 4.5 acre glass-enclosed atrium. Inside the atrium, guests can discover a variety of themed environments based on popular Florida destinations like Key West, the Everglades, and St. Augustine. It's really a sight to behold! So much lush greenery, it feels like you're entering into a secret oasis the moment you walk through the door.

Our over-sized Emerald Bay Atrium View guest room mirrored the ambiance of a private residence with French door terraces (our room had two!), luxurious decor, and plush linens. Each of our terraces overlooked the expansive atrium which filled with ethereal light from the sun each morning. The room decor, well, it was right within my style profile. Clean, modern, and with an air of fun sophistication--not something all resort accommodations can boast! I was slightly obsessed with the carpet...it was insanely comfortable for hotel flooring. Almost comfy enough to sleep on! We also loved the thoughtful little details (like the granite vanities, the deluxe bathroom toiletries, and video check-out). The Gaylord Palms really showcased its dedication to world-class amenities and service throughout every moment of our stay.

All rooms at the Gaylord Palms Resort Orlando include:
  • Wireless high speed internet access 
  • Mini-refrigerators with daily replenishment of 2 bottles of water
  • Safes with laptop charging ability
  • Ceiling fans and in-room coffee maker
  • Complimentary transportation to and from Walt Disney World parks and Disney Springs each day

 I couldn't think of a more peaceful way to start the day than enjoying my coffee (fresh from the on-site coffee shop downstairs) on our private balcony each morning. You could hear the trickle of the natural area waterfalls in the distance, adding serenity to an already luxurious Florida escape. Every day we spent at the Gaylord Palms had me wishing we had just one more to savor. Plus, the property had so many unique areas to explore, you need more than a short weekend to experience everything this resort has to offer.

One of my most favorite resort features was the adults-only South Beach pool. D and I spent a half-day ordering poolside cocktails and reveling in the Miami-inspired pool deck lined with palm trees. We felt just like we'd been transported to the white sands of South Beach! And if you've got kiddos in tow, I'm positive they'll find Cyprus Springs Family Water Park as a splash-worthy way to end a long day of Disney adventuring.

With just a 5-minute drive to Walt Disney World and showcasing a plethora of resort amenities like restaurants, lounges, unique shops, a full-service spa, on-site child-care center and entertainment venues, it's easy to see why the Gaylord Palms Resort Orlando is a prime destination for Disney and Orlando lovers alike. Two BIG thumbs up from Team Cote! We can't wait for our next stay!

Want to experience the luxury of Gaylord Palms Orlando for yourself? Email me at Casey@destinationstoexplore.com and we can get you booked today!

Sep 16, 2015

Montenegro: The Village of Njeguši

Our final stop at the top of Mt. Lovcen, was the small village of Njeguši. When our bus pulled up, I was a little less than enthused. It didn't look like much--just a few weathered stone buildings, some barns, and a handful of local vendors with their wares for sale on make-shift stands. But as we started wandering around and learning the history of the village, I began to see Njeguši with a new set of eyes. With the mountains hovering all around and fields of wild grass covering every square inch of land, the character of the this small mountaintop village began to shine through. 

Njeguši, while quaint, is quite famous for its well-preserved traditional folk architecture. It's also popularly known for its smoked ham (prosciutto) and local cheese (called Njeguški sir and Njeguški pršut--say that five times fast). And fun fact...according to a 2003 census, this village only had 15 inhabitants. A bit outdated, but if I had to guess, there might be 40 people here now. 60 if you include the wild roosters and feral cats.

Nowadays, the village is a popular place for tour groups to stop. This gives Njeguši some much needed income as it's a tough commute down to Kotor Bay for many of the village locals. Those who don't work outside the village sell their handicrafts and smoked meats to happy tourists. It seems to be a win/win situation for all. I know I sure appreciated the salty bite and sip of wine after that hair-raising bus ride up the mountainside! After our snack we continued on wandering the village roads, inspecting abandoned buildings and taking in the greenery. It was such a nice reprieve from the busyness of our cruise ship. Like exploring someplace hardly changed by the passage of time. If folklore and smoked ham are high on your "love" list, maybe a stop in Njeguši could be in order for you. Do vijenja!

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