Travel Notes: Croatia

Hello fellow travelers!

Today, I wanted to share my take on one of the many places that I’ve been fortunate to visit within the last couple of years: Croatia. It is a place that many people in the United States might not know much about – as it doesn’t get a lot of attention in movies, TV shows or other forms of media. Yet, it is a place that I consider to be one of the best destinations for those who like to explore.

When most Americans think of traveling to Europe, they think of the usual tourist destinations like London, Paris, Rome, and Berlin. And while these typical locations are certainly worthy of praise, frequent travelers might want to consider trying something new and venturing further east to Croatia.

Undiscovered Gem

With a population of only four million, Croatia is located in Southeastern Europe, far from the typical European tourist destinations, in an area known as the Balkan States. This “out of the way” placement has allowed Croatia to quietly develop into a unique destination of its own, without being overrun with tourists.

The country is set along the Adriatic Sea (a part of the Mediterranean) and has many charming towns and natural landscapes. Whether you’re looking to hike lush forests and trails that provide you with unmatched views, or if you would rather be sitting seaside basking in the sun – there’s something for everyone.

Coastal Towns

As opposed to a sprawling metropolis like Paris, Croatia’s biggest draws are its relatively small coastal towns. Perhaps the most popular of these is Split – a beautiful seaside city with a large port where cruises will often stop for a day. Split, like many places in Eastern Europe, has a sort of “old world” feel to it. The town is surrounded by white stone walls, and the orange tiled roofing of almost all of its buildings give the area a distinct Mediterranean quality.

Other worthwhile places to check out if you’re in the area include: Rovinj, Zadar, and Rab. You’ll notice that these types of towns have a consistent feel to them; however, they are uniquely Croatian.

I would recommend enjoying these towns during the sunny and breezy summer months. Croatia stays fairly sunny year-round – but it can get a little chilly during the winter. However, Kansas City gets far colder!

Living the Best Life

As I mentioned before, there is a sort of old-world appeal to Croatia and when you visit, you will learn to appreciate its slower paced lifestyle. Almost all of the areas I visited are very walkable or accessible by mass transportation, so traffic is not really an issue. There weren’t any booming car stereos, fast food chains or a Super Walmart.

Many Croatians enjoy a calmer, more peaceful approach to life. Many work in artisanal shops, walk from place to place and have a more modest view of things than many of us here at home.

As for food, Croatian cuisine is delicious. Their seafood is incredibly good, and their desserts are even better. I enjoyed several different types of desert pastries, cakes and other sweets. Amazingly, Croatians remain very healthy despite all of the tempting food – it must be the frequent walking.

*****

Ultimately, I rank Croatia as one of my favorite places to visit. It is such a unique experience for anyone coming from the United States, and its distinct culture allow Croatia to remain a place that is truly its own. It is certainly worth a visit from any traveler.

~ Michael Gortenburg Kansas City, Founding Principal of Eighteen Capital Group (18CG)

Travel Notes: Israel

Hello friends!

Michael Gortenburg here and greetings from Kansas City!

As you may have guessed from some of my earlier posts, I am an avid traveler. I always take advantage of any chance that I can to get away and experience another place or culture. I think it is good for the soul, and it provides fun and eye-opening experiences.

Today, I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned in my travels to the ancient land of Israel – a place that I find to be as beautiful as it is fascinating, and a place that I hold dear in my heart. To someone who has never been there, maybe this post will inspire you to see it for yourself!

The Foundation of History

Israel is a land that is rich in history, and it is apparent from the moment you set foot on its ancient city streets and its gorgeous countryside. Although the current state of Israel was not established until 1948, the land has been settled since the earliest days of humankind and has served as the center of history’s most significant moments.

Every building seems to tell a story and the country is filled with historic sites to visit. History buffs are sure to enjoy this aspect of Israel. One of my personal favorites is the city of Jaffa – the oldest port city in the world. It is a charming coastal city with its own distinct architecture style and beautiful beige buildings that evoke its Mediterranean feel.

Of course, if history is what you’re looking for, it is hard to find a more significant city in Israel – perhaps the world – than Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is a central holy site for some of the world’s major religions and draws millions of visitors from across the world for its rich historical and cultural offerings.

If you find yourself in Jerusalem, there are plenty of historic places to visit: The Wailing Wall, the Temple Mount, the Tower of David and more. One could spend days in this city alone – but the nation of Israel offers so much more!

International Destinations

Breathtaking view from Haifa

Outside of the historical sites of Israel – there are also plenty of places visitors should be sure to check out once they visit. The city of Haifa comes to mind, with its impeccably manicured terraces and world-famous Baha’i Gardens. Haifa is built along a hillside so visitors in the gardens are treated with breathtaking panoramic views of the Mediterranean and the rest of the city below, complete with a central staircase that leads wanderers down to the shore. Haifa is easily one of the most scenic and well-planned cities that I’ve been lucky to come across in my travels.

Another international destination is the city of Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv could be compared to Miami for its warm temperature and similar design of seaside towers, glistening in the sun as beachgoers relax on its sandy shores.

Tel Aviv is more of a secular city – drawing millions of tourists every year to its party and cultural scene. There are many clubs, beachfront restaurants and bars for partiers of any kind. But if you’re more of a relaxed type, you could also visit its many museums, gardens and markets. A personal favorite of mine would be the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

And while Tel Aviv is a huge draw for fun, it is also an economic powerhouse for Israel and a technology hub for the world. Tel Aviv has its own “Silicon Valley” of sorts and is home to some of the most advanced technology companies in the world, like RAD. It also houses pharmaceutical giants like Teva and has a vibrant startup scene. Many groundbreaking companies focused on AI/Machine Learning and software are based in Tel Aviv and its surrounding areas.

A Journey You’ll Remember

Whether you’re interested in making a trip for its religious or historical significance, or whether you’re more curious about its party and vacation scene – Israel has a lot to offer. It is one of the few countries in the region that is readily available for tourists to enjoy and you will never run out of things to see and do.

I would highly recommend anyone thinking of going to take the opportunity and visit Israel. It is certainly a place like no other and a memory that you will never forget.

Happy travels!

~ Michael Gortenburg Kansas City, Founding Principal of Eighteen Capital Group (18CG)

Advice for Landing a Nice Room with Airbnb

You can get a stylish room for a decent price on Airbnb if you know how to properly use the platform.

It never ceases to amaze me just how dramatically technology can change the way we live our lives. When the personal computer was introduced, it took a couple of years for use to become mainstream – but now you would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t use a computer throughout the day.

Now with the smart phone and constant access to the internet, we have more options available to us than ever before and entire industries are being revolutionized – including the travel industry.

You may know by now that traveling is one of my favorite hobbies, and one of the biggest technological changes to affect traveling is Airbnb.

For those who might not know, Airbnb is a platform that allows users to host/rent rooms with a simple tap of the finger. Hosts prepare a room in their home or property and place an ad on the platform which then allows guests to browse and secure dates for the room as needed. Airbnb rooms essentially function as a less expensive hotel room – or even an apartment for long-term use.

The great thing about Airbnb is that it gives shared control of the stay to the host and guest, without corporate policies getting in the way of a mutually beneficial deal. And Airbnb rooms can be found all over the world – opening up new traveling options that would otherwise be impossible.

Today, I’d like to share some quick tips for using Airbnb to maximize your traveling plans.

Review the Listing Carefully

Reading the full review and paying attention to small details can mean the difference between an amazing stay and a bad experience.

It goes without saying that you should take a careful look at any listing before booking. Some hosts will have “creative” ads to entice guests, and while they may have the best intentions, you want to ensure that the place fits your expectations on your trip.

For example, sometimes a room may be described as “cozy” but should really say “small.” Or if a listing says “private” but doesn’t indicate a separate room – there may just be a curtain blocking your bed from view of three other people in a shared room.

Make sure to look at the photos that are posted. Does the room look clean? Does it show all of the things listed in the ad? A picture is worth a thousand words.

Most Airbnb hosts are honest enough with their listings (they want good reviews after all), but it’s always best to really look over the ad to avoid any disappointment. Speaking of reviews, read them. Reviews will also give insight into the listing as well as the host. If a host has dozens of positive reviews claiming that the spot is a good deal, is clean, is convenient, etc. – then it’s a safe bet that you will enjoy your stay there.

Like all things, learning how to spot a good deal on Airbnb can take some time and experience. The higher the price for your stay, the nicer the place will be – but you can find some really good deals on a room that fits both your expectations and budget with a little investigating.

Booking for Deals

Book your room at the rice place at the right time for extra savings on your trip.

When you are booking Airbnb rooms, it’s important to understand and anticipate any fluctuations that may affect pricing. For example, if the place you’re traveling to has a tourist season, the prices might be higher during a time when more people are booking Airbnb stays.

Naturally, hosts don’t want to lose out on any opportunities so keep this in mind when booking your stay. One way to grab the best deals and the best rooms is by booking weeks in advance. One of the benefits to Airbnb is being able to seamlessly secure a stay, but you will get better deals and better rooms by taking the time to book early.

Depending on how long you will be in the area, you may want to book for extended stays (a couple of weeks or even months.) Airbnb and even hosts will factor in discounts for extended stays – saving you hundreds of dollars that you would have otherwise paid for the spot.

When you do book a room MAKE SURE YOU BOOK THROUGH TO THE NEXT DAY!

Airbnb calculates the last day as move-out day, so book through to the day you want to leave.

Contacting Hosts & Support

Airbnb has a phenomenal customer support team who are available at all hours in case there is an issue with your stay. If you are unhappy with your room or if you cannot contact the host – the Airbnb support team will work tirelessly to address your concerns.

They are also known to offer you discounts or comped services if things don’t work out with your experience. For example, if a host accepts your booking but does not coordinate with you for your arrival, you may want to contact Airbnb support as they can offer you hundreds of dollars in credit toward another room. That means you will get a much nicer stay for the same price.

Also, it is always a good idea to contact hosts prior to your stay. Some hosts leave their listings in auto-accept, but may never check their app – meaning they might not know that you’re arriving! To avoid any issues with your trip, just contact the host through the Airbnb platform before your stay and sure up everything.

Final Thoughts

Travel the globe and get great places to stay through the power of your mobile phone.

Airbnb’s are a great experience and a great deal for anyone looking to travel on a budget or for people who want to avoid stuffy hotels. A lot of Airbnb rooms are really nice places with even nicer hosts who will entertain you and give you a glimpse into the life of a local.

When you use Airbnb, make sure that you are respectful and treat the room as if it were your own. There is a review system after all, which could determine your opportunities later on. And make sure to leave an honest review of your stay – it keeps the platform accurate and hosts always appreciate good feedback and credibility.

Hopefully you can use these tips on your next trip if you’re interested in using Airbnb.

Safe travels,

~ Michael Gortenburg Kansas City, Missouri

Mexico: Land of Enchantment

Mexico: Land of Enchantment

I have always enjoyed traveling, and I’ve been fortunate enough to visit some of the most beautiful places in the world.

One such place would undoubtedly be Mexico.

As you may have read in my previous post about traveling, there are some benefits to doing the touristy things when you travel; things like seeing the famous sites, going to museums, etc.

But then there are times to go rogue and truly become immersed in this foreign and wonderful place that you find yourself in. There are times to avoid the popular destinations to get a full perspective. Well, if you find yourself in Mexico – my advice is to do just that (within reason).

The Beauty of the Desert

Mexico is a fairly large country with a wide range of scenic coastal towns, bustling metropolises, dense forests and of course – grand deserts.

Cancun may be the best bet for spring-breakers and MTV, and Mexico City is a great place for food and culture. Yet there is something special about the isolated and calming nature of the Mexican desert.

Located in the state of Chihuahua, the Chihuahuan Desert is an almost spiritual place. It’s the single largest desert in North America and spans well into the United States and is home to many mountain ranges.

What I like most about the desert is how remote it feels. No people hustling around, no Kansas City traffic, no rush – just the soothing sound of the wind.

Small Towns

As I mentioned, if you really want to see Mexico for what it is – you have to stray away from the tourist zones and check into some of the lively small towns and villages that dot the countryside.

This is where you’ll see just how different life is in other parts of the world. The days and nights pass more slowly and people seem to be more relaxed, almost happier. You feel completely disconnected from the world for just a little while and content with a simpler kind of life.

It’s a sort of therapeutic experience.

One city that I would recommend visiting is Guanajuato. It’s a very vibrant medium-sized city with multi-colored rows of buildings, cobble stone streets and a town center where city dwellers exchange goods at a market. There also happens to be a very interesting “Museum of Mummies.”

South of the Border

By far one of my favorite aspects of our southern neighbor is the different expectations that they have of businesses and services. It is eye opening and interesting to see how different the world operates in their day-to-day.

In some rural parts of Mexico, it’s not uncommon for businesses to close up shop for a couple of hours in the middle of the day; “siesta.” This is one of those aspects of their culture that I wish I could bring back to Kansas City, and I don’t think I’m alone on that.

It’s also not uncommon for prices to change depending on the mood of the shopkeeper and whether or not they can be talked down. Although you won’t need to necessarily talk down too many shopkeepers because the American dollar can go a long way down there.

See It for Yourself

There are so many differences between the U.S. and Mexico that you have to see it for yourself to truly understand the difference in feeling.

Mexico is a wonderful country that offers a lot in the sense of adventure, natural beauty and fun. My advice if you go is to take your time, enjoy the slower pace and really enjoy the experience.

~ Michael Gortenburg Kansas City, Missouri

Travel: Notes on Italia

michael-gortenburg

Over the past two years, I have been fortunate enough to travel to many different extraordinary destinations. From the lesser known coastal towns of the Balkans to the ancient cities of the Middle East – I’ve seen a lot outside of Kansas City.

One of the most distinct places that immediately comes to mind has to be Italy. With the ruins of the Colosseum and the timeless cathedrals, Italy can be described as truly atmospheric. And while sites like the Vatican and the Trevi Fountain are packed with tourists, they are absolutely mandatory for visitors…at least once.

Second-to-None Cuisine and Sightseeing

After sightseeing and observing the differences in cultures, trying new foods has to be one of my favorite things about traveling – and what is Italy known for if not their beloved food? It’s a cuisine that has been carefully perfected and preserved over centuries. Their attention and attitudes toward quality is astounding and drastically different than typical restaurants that you would find in Kansas City, or the U.S. in general. It’s a quality that Italian chefs take great pride in.

The first thing you’ll notice about authentic Italian cuisine is that it isn’t all pizzas and pastas. Sure, those are classic staples, but Italian dishes outside of the states consist of vegetables, rice, and seafood. The carb-heavy American approach to Italian food is far from a true representation of the Mediterranean peninsula.

Also, in Italy, less is more. They focus on quality, taste and nourishment as opposed to how much they can put onto a plate. There’s a reason why the Italian island of Sardinia is included in the areas labeled as “Blue Zones,” where people live far longer and healthier lives.

In addition to the variety of foods, Italy is incredibly diverse from region to region. There’s an ocean of difference between the rolling green hills of Tuscany’s wine country and the sun-kissed villages along the Amalfi coast. Milan is often regarded as the fashion capital of the world. Florence is known for its rich history and artists. Venice, of course, is a town largely built on sunken streets and this time of year is filled with tourists who line up to travel the canals by gondola.

No matter where you go in Italy, it’s fascinating to see how a relatively small country can be so unique from town to town.

Hold the Phone

Finally, one last note for those thinking of visiting Italy:

Like with all traveling, what is it that we remember most? It’s not the hotels, the photos on our phones or the t-shirts from famous hotspots. It’s the raw experiences and memories. Italy is a beautiful place with many things to see and do. My advice to anyone thinking of visiting is to take your time and avoid the luring “comforts” of modern traveling.

I enjoy nice hotels and attractions as much as the next person, but they can detract from the experience if you’re not careful.

It’s okay to go without Wi-Fi for just a moment, to get out and enjoy the many offerings of one of Europe’s most historic places. Don’t just try to cram in all of the tourist attractions and destination. Maybe take a walk off of the beaten path or two.

The whole idea is to see and do things that take you out of your average day and the mindset of passive consumption.

~ Michael Gortenburg Kansas City, MO