Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Hotel Vardia – The Greek Hotel that became ‘Home’

Maybe it was a mention in a guidebook . . .
. ..or the recommendations we happened upon from past guests . . .
. . .or maybe it was just meant to be. . .

It is sometimes difficult, in retrospect, to pinpoint what made you choose a particular hotel, isn’t it?

Frankly, we don’t recall exactly why we selected the Hotel Vardia high on a hillside in Kardamyli many months before our spring trip to Greece. 

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Our room with a view - Hotel Vardia
There are plenty of hotels from which to choose in this area of The Mani. But we were drawn to  this family-owned and operated place with 18 studios and apartments – each with a drop-dead gorgeous view over the town and the Messinian Bay.

Looking back on our times there, we know it would now, be difficult  -- make that, impossible -- to think of staying anywhere else.

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Views of Hotel Vardia - Kardamyli, Greece
When life took us back to the Kardamyli area for a month this summer, we returned to the Hotel Vardia. And by the time we left we were referring to it as ‘home’.

A Springtime Introduction

Snow still frosted the tips of the area’s Taygetos Mountains, wildflowers were in bloom and a cadre of kitties lazed in the sun among the ground’s manicured flower beds as we arrived at the hotel in early spring.

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Early spring 2014 - Kardamyli, Greece

Our ‘go-where-the–winds-blow-us’ approach to travel resulted in an earlier than planned arrival; a day earlier than Voula, who runs the place expected us and a day before the hotel officially opened for the season.

“Give us a few minutes – it will be ready,” she assured, after we introduced ourselves. And ready it was – complete with comfortable beds, a fully equipped kitchenette and a bouquet of fresh wild flowers on the table. Because we were her first and only guests in that still chilly springtime we were upgraded from a suite to a two-room apartment.

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Two-room apartment - Hotel Vardia Kardamyli, Greece
Travel Tip:  Hotel Vardia, like many family owned hotels in Greece, offers fully equipped kitchenettes ~ our favorite kind of rooms because we save money by eating some meals ‘at home’ and also experience the joys of buying fresh fruits and vegetables at local markets for a fraction of what we would pay at similar markets back home in the United States.

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A walk to the grocery store - Kardamyli, Greece

It was a quick walk into town via the road but a far more charming route was using the hotel’s  steep stone stairway that led to a path through an olive grove and around the old town. It was a direct route to the nearest grocery store. (Trust me, the drudgery of grocery shopping disappears when one walks to and from the store through an olive grove.)

DSCF3223We stayed five days that first visit.

It was difficult to leave when the time finally arrived to move on.

I blinked back tears as I hugged Voula ‘goodbye’ with a promise to return ‘next year’.






Six weeks later – Summertime Sizzle

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Kardamyli, Greece - July 2014 
The fates stepped in and we returned to Greece a mere six weeks later – by then the summer sun had wilted those flowers and had turned the lush green carpeted olive groves to a toasty gold.  We needed accommodations for at least a week, perhaps longer, depending on the actual closing for the house.

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Our air-conditioned suite sanctuary at Hotel Vardia
Summer in Greece is high season and rooms were in demand. We were lucky. Voula and her husband, Ikey, found us space.  Then as the house purchased waxed and waned, they’d shake their heads, ponder a bit and find us a room – as a result we experienced several rooms while we were there and would have a difficult time deciding which one we liked best. 

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Kardamyli and Messinian Bay - July 2014

We settled into the slow-paced rhythm brought on by the heat of summer. Errands and outings were completed by noon; the time the sun’s intensity drove us back in our room for leisurely long afternoon siestas in air-conditioned bliss. Then as the sun lessened, we’d venture out to enjoy the patios and views.

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AIkey and Vooula - owners/operators of Hotel Vardia, Kardamyli

Many guests came and went during our summertime stay, sometimes spending only a night, as tourists often do in this area.  They didn't have the chance to spend as much time here as we did. As we look back on our adventure with its many ups and downs – we can honestly say that staying at our ‘hotel home’ was one of the high points.

In fact, a downside of buying a house would mean we couldn’t stay with Voula and Ikey -- and that we would definitely miss!

Travel Tips:

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Kardamyli is less than an hour’s drive from Kalamata. A number of airlines fly from European cities to Kalamata. It is a four-hour drive from Athens (freeway to Kalamata then two-lane paved road).

Hotel Vardia – For more information visit the hotel’s web site: www.vardia-hotel.gr

For those who missed our house purchase adventure: Chasing Daydreams

Linking up with these other fun sites that you might want to check out:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route
Travel Photo Monday – Travel Photo Discovery
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening

And, as always, thank you so much for your time!!! Hope you'll come back and bring a friend or two!!!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Maui: Prisoners in Paradise

We are talking ‘captives’ not ‘captivating’ as we take you on a tour through a bit of history in Maui’s port town of Lahaina.
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Banner over Lahaina's Main street 
MauiLanaiSF2014 029This small town, the first capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii, is  now a hub of tourism on this Hawaiian island.

Once a busy whaling port and (sugar cane) plantation settlement, it continues to be a busy port town although it is day-tour boats and cruise ship tenders that ply the Pacific waters these days.

As you know a trademark of our travel lifestyle is to get off the beaten path – away from the tourist bustle – in this case, anywhere near the port.

We set off on foot as Lahaina is an easy walking town and just a few blocks away from this bee hive of commercialism we found ourselves strolling through a laid-back semi-residential neighborhood.

Soon we came to a road called “Prison Street”.  We followed it and found ourselves at . . ., you guessed it. . .a prison. A prison that is now an outdoor museum, that is.

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Hale Pa’Ahao, which loosely translated means ‘stuck in irons’ was built by convict labor. In the late afternoon we found the entryway open – there was no admission charge and no one staffing the historic site. We had the place to ourselves.

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(Note the sign says guardhouse and cells were rebuilt in 1959 – the same year Hawaii became a part of the United States, so one might assume from its worn interior today that it was still in use then.)

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As far as prison grounds go, this one seemed rather comfortable (at least in is present state) with green lawn and trees.  But it was clear that comfort was left on the doorstep of that small building that housed the prisoners:

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It appeared that it wasn’t just a place to ‘sleep off’  too much fun --  prisoners had rules. . .lots of rules, for example:

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It’s unclear how long the place housed prisoners, but the cells and stockade were reconstructed, according to historical records, as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). And then there’s the plaque in the photo above says there was a rebuild in 1959. By 1967 the place was in a state of deterioration and the Lahaina Restoration Foundation developed a plan approved by the Historical Commission to save it.

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Walls of coral border the old prison site
If only those coral walls that surround the prison could talk. . .

TRAVEL TIPS:
A number of airlines have direct flights from the Mainland US to Maui’s Kahului airport and there are several flights daily from Honolulu. You’ll need to hop the local bus or rent a car to get to Lahaina.

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Stop by the Visitor’s Center (housed in Lahaina’s historic courthouse) footsteps from the harbor and take a tour of the Museum (in the same building) – entry here is also free but donations are welcome. While there pPick up a free copy of the Historic Walking Tour map and take a self-guided tour of the area’s  62 historical sites.  Bronze plaques at the sites give brief overviews of the historic significance.

The old prison, now considered an outdoor museum, is open daily from 10 a.m. – 4  p.m.

As always, we thank you  for spending time with us today. Hope to see you back again soon – bring a friend or two with you!

Linking with Judith's Mosaic Monday at Lavender Cottage Gardening

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Mani ~ The Greek Land of the Towers

From our room in the hotel on the hill in Kardamyli we looked out over the old town’s church and war tower. The two structures are prominent remains of the Troupakis Complex that dates back to the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
Legend has it that the family known as Troupakis were refugees from  Mystra (ancient inland city) when it fell to the Turks in 1461. The family lived in caves (called ‘troupas’ – thus their name) in the Taygetos Mountains behind Kardamyli before arriving here and building the family complex – now a treasured part of history.
The complex was a mesmerizing sight whether in the early morning sun, the mid-day’s blaze or in the evening shadows. The morning our summer sojourn in Greece came to an end, I took this photo from our deck.

I wanted to remember that tower the way it looked in that July’s morning sun.

I wanted to remember this enchanting history-laden Land of the Towers.

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Troupakis Complex - Kardamyli, Greece
The Mani – in the north called the ‘Outer Mani’ and in the south the ‘Deep Mani’ – located in the southern part of the Peloponnese peninsula is the home of ancient towers. (Lovers of Italy’s San Gimignano’s towers in Tuscany would go nuts here!)

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DSCF8282A drive through The Mani (the area is only four hours from Athens via freeway) takes one from olive grove-covered hills and gorges to barren, windswept hillsides on a narrow, lightly-traveled roadway.

You don’t travel far before spotting a tower on a far-away hill or in the midst of villages.

Often times the road slices through stone villages, the old stone buildings so close you could reach out and touch the walls.

A road trip here is guaranteed to offer surprises. Sometimes goats or cattle in the middle of the road, or stone tower towns so picture-perfect they simply don’t seem real.

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Deep Mani Tower Town - Peloponnese
The towers played an important role in this area’s turbulent history. Some freestanding towers were built as village’s war towers and others served as both homes (in the lower level) and a tower for defense in the upper levels. First used when the Turks invaded; later they were used as local clans fought against each other.

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Even today homes built here are constructed using the area’s stone. And some, (like the middle photo above and to the right below illustrate) are being built incorporating the tower design of old.

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Old Tower on the left, new homes on the right
Towers, towers everywhere and most are well preserved.  Standing in the Troupakis Complex (which is a museum area now) in Kardamyli, I took the photo below back towards our hotel on the hill and yet another the tower just behind it. There was a time this harbor town served as Sparta's port.

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Troupakis Complex - Kardamyli
IF YOU GO:

The Mani – a part of the Peloponnese peninsula which is generally thought of as mainland Greece and separated by the narrow width of the Corinth Canal.

There’s a modern divided freeway between the Athens Airport and Kalamata. From Kalamata the state road becomes a two-lane paved roadway. 

There are seasonal flights from various gateways in Europe to the Kalamata Airport and rental cars are available there as well as Athens.

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I’ve mentioned ‘that hotel on the hill’ several times in recent posts. It became our home away from home this past summer and soon I’ll introduce you to the people who run it and our travel lifestyle there. Until then, we thank you for the time you spent with us and hope you enjoyed today’s journey. 

Happy – and safe - travels until we are together again ~

Joining in the fun at:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Travelers Sandbox
Weekend Travel Inspiration - Reflections En Route
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening
Travel Photo Monday - Travel Photo Discovery

Monday, September 22, 2014

Kaua'i: Where Memory Lane leads to Louise’s

She was as exotic as any I had person I’d ever seen back then.
(I’d spent my life in an agricultural community in Central Washington State). 

She was enormous.
(from my five-foot-almost-one-inch point-of-view)

And she had a smile that just wouldn’t quit. She made you feel warm and welcomed – prompting that  kind of ‘I-don’t-want-to-leave’ feeling and a desire to return soon when you finally did leave.

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Louise Hauata - Tahiti Nui, photo March 1983
That’s how I remember the woman, Louise Hauata, from the Austral Islands of French Polynesia, just south of Tahiti. We met her back in 1983  in Hanalei on Kauai’s North Shore. She was a single mother running the Tahitian style bar and restaurant that she and her American husband, Bruce Marston, a former Lt. Col in the U.S. Air Force, had opened in 1964. They had met and married in Tahiti then moved to Kauai. He had died in the mid 70’s.
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The Scout - reluctantly posing - Princeville, Kauai, March 1983

We were young back then – barely married three years -- and travel was doled out in brief 10-day-per-year-doses by our employers. Hawaii, a mere six-hour flight away from the Seattle airport, was  a favorite destination for us.  Kauai’s North Shore was of particular appeal; in part because of Louise’s Tahiti Nui.


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Tahiti Nui - March 1983
We’d sit in those cushioned rattan chairs on her front porch sipping Mai Tai’s and watch the occasional car go by on the two-lane road that gives way to hiking trails and the rugged NaPali coast a few miles beyond Hanalei.  The bar made such an impression that to this day we have an enlargement of this photo hanging in our den.

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Scenes from the Tahiti Nui luau - March 1983
It was at this little place we attended our first – and only – Hawaiian luau.  The dishes were prepared primarily on site, but we recall some dishes were brought by locals – think potluck style.  We paid some ridiculously small amount and dined on authentic Hawaiian dishes: roasted pork, poi, salads, lomi lomi, lau lau. . .the works.
 
Before we sat down to eat, Louise had us encircle our tables, join hands and she said grace. Then the feast and entertainment was on. The hula show provided by local talented young ladies.

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Hanalei Valley 1983 left, 2014 right
The Hanalei Valley really hasn’t changed much during the decades that have passed since those youthful visits of ours to paradise. The landscape is still carpeted with agricultural fields– with a fair share of golf courses and visitor accommodations in nearby Princeville, where we stayed. 

The town of Hanalei has a grocery store now, a small (tourist-oriented) shopping development and several restaurants and bars from which to choose. However, prior to our return, we were delighted to read in the Lonely Planet’s guidebook, “Kauai” that the Tahiti Nui is run by Louise’s son, Christian and her nephew, William Marsten.

Although Louise had died in 2003, we were eager to follow memory lane back to her Tahiti Nui.

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Tahiti Nui, Hanalei, 2014
I raced up the stairs after taking this photo to peek inside as it was early Sunday morning and the place -  now twice the size it had been -- was closed. Just as I got to the doorway, a woman inside snapped, “We open at 11!” and shut the door in my face. 

So much for that warm welcome I remembered. . .

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The "Nui" now - 2014

Oh well, not to be deterred, we were pleased to learn they still have a weekly luau. . .not so pleased to learn it was capped off at some hundred guests or so, each paying $75 a person.  Maybe a regular dinner there would work, we reasoned. . .

We stopped by the one evening we were in town and the place -- with its cross between funky Tahitian and dive décor -- didn’t look much different from how we remembered it. It was, however, crammed with diners and drinkers thus making its interior stifling hot and stuffy.

But no smiles like Louise’s greeted us from the bartender or the wait staff.

ManitoKauai2014 120There really seemed no room nor real reason to stay.

We took a final look around.

Then tucked those sweet memories away. . .

. . .and ate pub grub at Kalypso a bar/restaurant down the street where we were greeted with a warm welcome.

If You Go:

Tahiti Nui
5-5134 Kuhio Highway
Hanalei, Kaua'i
808-826-6277
www.thenui.com

Kalypso
5-5156 Kuhio Highway
Hanalei, Kaua'i
808-826-9700
www.kalypsokauai.com

Linking up:
Foodie Tuesday – Inside Journeys

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Greece: Finding ourselves in “Pigi” Heaven

KARDAMYLI - We headed south one morning during our summer adventure in the Greek Peloponnese on the winding two-lane highway that lead us back from our coastal setting and up into the Messinian hillsides.

We were off to find, and then explore, Pigi.

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Pigi, Greece
We’d been told the place was home to a restaurant that came highly recommended. Then The Scout found a house listed for sale there. . .a combination we couldn't resist.

After making a sharp exit onto a narrow road that appeared to get smaller, we parked the car and decided to proceed on foot. We’ve learned that some villages in Greece -- built long before cars arrived -- are so small that driving into them isn’t the best idea. We made a wise call on this one as the road into town quickly narrowed to what appeared to be a wide pathway.

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So narrow was the road that we squeezed up against a building when much to our amazement a car approached us from the opposite direction! But aside from that car and its two occupants, it was as if we had the small village to ourselves. We didn’t see another person as we explored the small settlement with a population of 67.

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Our footsteps echoed on the roadway and we spoke in stage whispers as we didn’t know who might be behind those magnificent doorways. . .

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Or up those ancient stairways.  . .and we certainly didn’t want to disturb their morning’s silence. . .

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So we walked to the church. . .as with most villages, it was the centerpiece of the town.

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And then walked a bit further and admired the views. . .

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. . .from the café, that hadn't yet opened for the day. And we never did find that house for sale.  But to our way of thinking, we had just had a great introduction to  “Pigi Heaven”.

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A home's sitting area built into the cliff behind the house

We know this is a place we will certainly return to one day . . . its charm is too hard to resist. And who knows? Next time we might see another human being?!

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That’s it for today’s outing in Greece’s Peloponnese. Thanks so much for joining us! And welcome to our new followers and subscribers~



Linking up:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Travelers Sandbox
Travel Inspiration – Reflections en Route
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Kauai: Luxury for Less, Part II

“You own here?” a fellow guest sitting next to us at the Marriott Waiohai Ocean Villas beach bar asked.

“No, we rented a week,” The Scout answered, adding, “I think we got a deal. . .two-bedroom, two bath unit for $109 a night.”

“You bet you did!,” he exclaimed, “I am paying $495 a night!”

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Beach at Marriott Waiohai - Kauai
And so began our second week of Luxury-for-Less on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

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Our condo was the one far right top floor, with its deck nestled between two palm trees and overlooking this fabulous lagoon.

In Part I of our Kauai Luxury-for-Less series, I told you about our plush digs at the Westin and its steal-of-a-deal price in Princeville. This Marriott Vacation Club (these are also timeshare condos) is on the sunnier south side of the island at Poipu.

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Top left clockwise: Living room, guest bedroom, guest bath, master and bath, kitchen
The two-bedroom, two-bath unit with fully furnished kitchen, a table to seat eight and full living room had been available for rent from an owner for $109 a night – the only additional cost was a $50 booking fee and nightly room tax which brought the price up to $116 a night.  Wi-fi, athletic facilities and pool use – all included; no extra charges.

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Our deck, and gardens between buildings
Admittedly, we had a garden view but with gardens like this, it wasn’t tough to sit on our deck (a table with seating for four and a lounge chair) and then walk the garden path to the beach.

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Sunset from the Marriott's Honu Beach Bar - Poipu, Kauai
If You Go:

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Kauai is the oldest of the Hawaiian islands and is considered the chain’s Garden Island (translated that means it does get rain, however, the showers came and went quickly during our two-week stay).

KauiSm2014 056A number of airlines fly directly from the U.S. west coast to its airport, Lihue.  Inter island flights connect in Honolulu (but they can add a couple hundred dollars more to the cost of the trip).

Another money-saving tip:  There are a number of U.S. ‘big box’ stores on the island, including Costco (where food and beverages prices were definitely less and the selection greater than at local markets.)

Finding The Deal:

The Scout booked this rental through ResortRentals.com which he found when searching the site, SellMyTimeshareNow.com

Our stay was the first week of September and a quick check for September rates for a 2-bedroom, 2-bath, island view at the Waiohai:

Marriott:  $412 a night
Expedia:  $412 a night
Our rate, $116 (including tax) compared most favorably!

As always, we thank you for the time you spent with us. Hope our tips come in handy on your future travels. If you’ve got some tips for ‘deals’ do let us know in the comments below or shoot us an email.  Hope to see you back again later this week~ when we'll take you to "Pigi Heaven"! Happy travels~

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