Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Greek Peloponnese ~

The Peloponnese or Peloponnesus is a peninsula and geographic region in southern Greece.
It is separated from the central part of the country by the Gulf of Corinth.

Peloponnese.  Say the word out loud and it seems like a jingle: ‘pell-oh-POE-naize’ or ‘pell-oh-poe-NEE-sos’, depending on your nationality and your pronunciation.

It is the place we’ve called our part-time home since buying our The Stone House on the Hill two years ago. And for as well-known as it seems to be among Northern Europeans who vacation and have homes here, the place seems relatively unknown to a vast majority of Americans.

“Which island?” is the question we are asked in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, by those who’ve learned of our new lifestyle. Their brows wrinkle, hmmmm, they ponder a moment, “No, not quite sure where that is.”

The Stone House on the Hill to the right of the boat mast
My response is a bit of a show-and-tell. “Not an island” and hold my hand up, outstretched fingers pointing down and say, “It is the peninsula that looks like a hand. You cross the Corinth Canal to get there from Athens.”

Peloponnese Peninsula looks like an outstretched hand

I suspect many of you - at least those in the U.S. - will be surprised to learn that Lonely Planet’s Travel Guides named it the number one tourist destination in 2016. That was huge news around here last spring. Since we've returned this fall we are hearing nothing but positive reports from those in the tourist industry (airports, restaurants, car rental agencies):

"Best year since 2007 (for home sales)" - local realtor
"Still have cars coming in and going out daily - best year in a long time" - car rental agency
Arrivals at Kalamata airport up 22% this year over last

Scenes of the Peloponnese
                                                1. The Peloponnese, Greece
Travellers to Greece tend to flock to the myriad islands or marvel at the iconic Acropolis, but one of the country’s most diverse, vibrant regions is often forgotten: the Peloponnese. It remains an affordable enclave of magnificent ancient sights like Olympia, Mycenae and Mystras, which are scattered across a rich landscape of stone villages, teal seas and snow-capped mountains.

-- Lonely Planet Travel Guide  

You history buffs will find so many ancient sites that it will require either an extended stay or many visits to see them all. . .Achaia, the seaside gate to Western Europe, Ancient Messinia, Ancient Olympia (birthplace of the Olympics), Mycenae, and Corinth (you travel over the the Corinth Canal if you come here from Athens). And unless you visit in the height of the summer tourist season, you’ll find most are not over-run by tourists even though tourism is on the upswing. We had the tomb pictured below to ourselves the day we went exploring:

PicMonkey Collage
History is there for the asking - usually for no entry fee
While not being history scholars or buffs, we’ve come to appreciate – even be awed by – the amount of history that surrounds us in every day life.  Villages scattered about the hillsides are treasure-troves of antiquity. With far too many to be listed in tourist guides, you simply happen upon them as you travel the narrow roadways that lace the peninsula. The chapel below was open on Easter Sunday at the restaurant where we celebrated the day with our neighbors.

A small church up the road from our house
Churches that have served the faithful for centuries are still used for worship. Church bells still call the faithful to services and remind us all of the importance of the Greek Orthodox religion here.

Through the ages. . .
Reminders of the conflicts that have marred the area’s history are also prevalent in the villages. The building architecture often tells the story of history’s conquerors. Take the Venetians who battled the Ottomans for control of the area. Evidence of their occupation carved into stone – their Winged Lion of St. Mark, a symbol of the Venetian empire spotted on buildings and entries throughout the area.'

The Venetians were here. . .
Many visitors though are drawn to the area – much as we were – by its striking mountains and views of the sea.

A walk along the Sea in The Mani
For others, it is the charm of the stone villages, some still requiring you to park your car and walk into their interiors because their ancient streets are so narrow.

The Main Road in Monemvasia - be prepared to walk
The Peloponnese is divided into regions, much like you think of counties within states in the U.S. Arcadia, Achaia, Ilia, Korinthos, Laconia, Messinia, where our home is located. . .each has a little something different to offer and we have barely touched the surface.

Map picture
The Peloponnese
During our next few months here, we plan to do some exploring of this vast land and we’ll take you with us, virtually, anyway.  As always, we appreciate the time you spend with us and love reading the comments and emails our tales prompt.  We can’t thank you enough for re-posting and tweeting links to our blog for others to read.  Happy and safe travels to you!

Linking up this week with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Back in Greece – Just Under the Milky Way

My new answer to the question about the location of our Greek Stone House on the Hill is going to be, “Just under the Milky Way.”

As we do seem to be just about mid-point under that filmy, far-away brush-stroke of galaxy that sweeps from left to right above our home.

Sunset over the western point of the Peloponnese as seen from The Stone House on the Hill
On warm clear nights, the type we’ve been having since we arrived two weeks ago, we can sit on our deck, watch dazzling sunsets and then a bit later crane our necks back as far as they will go and ponder the Milky Way’s path across the heavens above us. Relaxing our neck for a front-on view, we gaze at The Big Dipper that sits like a big movie screen showcasing the village. 

The Stone House on the Hill is far right on the row of grey-stone houses mid photo
Our little hillside slice of The Mani is in an area without street lights and few homes and just far enough from the village lights to make for some incredible star-gazing.  We’d pondered last year – along with our neighbors – whether the government would destroy our ‘big screen’ by adding lights along our road as they have in other areas.   Now the government has more to think about than street lights. They need to find money to repair streets damaged by the massive storm that struck our area in late September. 

PicMonkey Collage
A section of the road near our home and 'my' car that got away
The narrow black-topped road that leads to our house and on up the hillside to the village of Platsa was severely storm damaged. The little automatic car pictured above, that we were scheduled to rent, is low to the ground and wouldn’t have made it over the sunken surface of the road. The Scout has done a great job ‘ threading a needle’ –  and getting us up and down the hill in the small standard shift we've rented in its place. Ours is just one of so many roads damaged that we suspect repairs/replacement are years away from ever happening.

The Valley from the entryway of The Stone House on the Hill
We are settling in again to this segment of our part-time ex-pat life. Our temperatures have been summer-like and continue to draw European tourists to the beaches and small villages near us. This month – when the sea water is warmer than in the summer, bouquets fill our gardens, and before the shops and restaurants start closing for olive harvest and subsequent winter hibernation – is really one of the best times to be in The Mani.

Stoupa village's beach shortly after our arrival this fall
We were lucky to have little storm damage at our place.  My fledgling vegetable garden was washed away and we lost small sections of two terraces in the olive grove so we’ve spent much of our first two weeks working on restoration and planting in those areas. But now our 'chores' are back to normal and our pace has slowed.

Our crop of olives is good and we are awaiting harvest
We appreciate those of you who’ve inquired about the area and expressed concern after learning of the 100-year storm and the damage it caused. (See my post, about it, here.)  There were many who were hit far more severely - we lucked out. Admittedly, I am being a bit home-focused in this post, but I wanted to provide a bit of an update for all of you who’ve asked for a report after our return. And you know this is both a travel and a lifestyle blog. Today you are getting a bit of the lifestyle.

Our rental car for this portion of our stay - one of our mountain village roads near us
Our travels and life will be Peloponnese-focused for the next few weeks as will the blog. We've got travel tips for exploring the area and we'll tell you more about the ex pat life of living here as well.

Every day street scenes just waiting to be photographed
We appreciate the time you spend with us each week. And we love hearing from you either by email or in the comment section below.  Until the next time, safe and healthy travels to you and your family ~

Linking this week with some wonderful bloggers at:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

“Where God Put the West”

Moab, Utah “where God put the West’.
        -- John Wayne, 1961, while filming The Comancheros on location

Thanks to movies and television, when you think of the ‘Wild West’ or ‘Out West’ or ‘Cowboy Country’ in the United States, images come to mind of a vast, barren landscape. Probably with a tumbleweed or two rolling past, a desert wind howling with an ominous cloud overhead, maybe a herd of buffalo, coyote, and, of course, a cowboy looking a lot like John Wayne atop his trusty ol’ Paint. 

Monument Valley, Utah in the distance
You are probably thinking of southeastern Utah, the location where a large number of those movies were filmed in the mid-20th Century. On our late summer road trip through the area, I wouldn't have been surprised to see a cowboy or two gallop past. With so many National and Navajo Parks in the area we will need to go back one day for another dose of what has drawn film-makers and tourists to the area for decades.

Map picture
National Parks in Southeast Utah and Northwest Arizona
While I’ve previously written about Monument Valley and Moab, today’s focus is Arches National Park just four miles north of Moab. Established as a National Park in 1929, it features more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches well as hundreds of unique geological formations.

Arches, arches everywhere
We set out about 9:30 a.m. Friday morning of Labor Day weekend to visit the 73,234-acre park. (That is about 119 square miles or 310 square kilometers). I note the time because as the day wore on the lines grew significantly and by Saturday morning cars waiting to enter the park stretched the length of the entryway and out to the highway. Wait times can become significant. Rangers will close the park when they’ve reached the maximum number of visitors.

Looking back at Moab as we head into Arches National Park
The 40-mile round trip road through the park begins with the two-lane road climbing sharply just after the entry gates. Elevations in the park run from 3,960 feet along the Colorado River to 5,653 at its Elephant Butte.  That tiny building – as it appears in the photo – is the large Visitor Center and shouldn’t be missed.

Petra, Jordan or Moab, Utah?
‘How could anything top Monument Valley?’ that wonderful stretch of land we’d traveled through just the day before. We couldn't imagine anything topping that, but we were only a few minutes into the park before we knew it was going to rival, if not exceed, what we had seen in Monument Valley. We were stunned at the similarities between Arches and Jordan’s Petra so we weren’t surprised to learn that parts of ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ had been filmed in both locations.

Mother Nature's handiwork
Precipitation in this area is less than 10 inches a year and on the day we visited the sky was so blue and the sun so bright you needed sun glasses to look at the amazing rock formations (and sun screen and hats).

The national park roadway
According to National Geographic, 300 million years ago inland seas covered this vast area, refilling and evaporating 29 times leaving salt beds thousands of feet deep. Because salt is less dense than rock, it rose up through it forming domes and ridges.

Views at every curve in the road
Most of the arches in the park are red sandstone which was deposited a mere 150 million years ago.

Stones or statues?
Small pull-outs and parking areas are provided along the route through the park.  In some areas trails lead from the parking areas taking visitors a bit closer or allowing a different perspective as was the case with the balanced rock below:

Balanced rock
From the parking lot, this is how the rock appeared. But from the trail that led around it, this is how it looked:

Everything has two-sides to its story
A good reminder that there are two sides to every story and its good to remember it is all in your perspective!

Some needed to get up close and personal
The arches were many – and you’ll note from my photos – never devoid of the tourist who needed to get up close and personal.

Trails in the park are user-friendly
Trails were well maintained and easy to navigate.  Some used walking sticks as the gravel made it difficult in places to get a foot-hold, but most were easily traveled. (Not recommended to do them at high noon as we found ourselves doing them – early morning or late afternoon would be much better both in terms of heat and lighting for photos.)

Too much to see in only one trip
They describe the formations as fins, towers, ribs, gargoyles, hoodos and balanced rocks in this park.  By whatever name, we found them all stunning.

Nature's varnish
The black substance, we learned at the visitor’s center, is a natural ‘varnish’ that the stone produces.

Use your imagination on this one
Our National Park’s just celebrated their 100th birthday and it takes a trip to a park like this one to remind us just what a national treasure we have in these magnificent places.  And for those of you ‘boomers’ out there a reminder that 'old age' has its benefits, like the National Park's life-long pass that gets you in to every National Park as many times as you wish to visit will cost you only $10.  And that to our way of thinking, is one of the best travel deals to be had!

Arches National Park - 'a must-visit' in Utah
For all the information you need on Arches National Park go to the park’s website: https://www.nps.gov/arch/index.htm

For information on the National Park Pass for Seniors: http://store.usgs.gov/pass/senior.html

Thanks so much for the time you spent with us today ~ it is always nice to have you with us.  A big welcome to our new followers and subscribers; we hope you’ll comment often as that is what makes this blog fun!  Our wishes to you for safe and happy travels until we are together again ~ and next week we begin our tales from Greece where we've taken up residence at our Stone House on the Hill for the autumn.

Linking up this week with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

And then came Moab. . .Utah, that is.

The name Moab is a Biblical name for a land just short of the Promised Land.
The Moabites were historically regarded as the perpetual enemy of the Israelites, "God's Chosen People." Physically, the region was a green, verdant valley in the middle of a serious desert; an emerald in the sand, so to speak. Because of those similarities, our little town was dubbed Moab by Mormon settlers in the 1800's.
                                                                           -- Moab-Utah.com

Sunset in Moab, Utah
Our heart rates were finally returning to normal after traveling that breathtaking section of roadway through the Monument Valley. We were headed to Moab (MOE-ab), Utah our own ‘Promised Land’ where after an eight-hour day on the road, we were ready for our two night stay in this small town. We were heading to the Fairfield Inn and Suites, just outside town near Arches National Park for this segment of our Southwestern road trip.

Fairfield Inn is dwarfed by the surrounding cliffs - Moab, Utah
At the time we decided to stay there – about two days in advance of the trip -- we didn’t know much about this small town of less than 10,000 residents nestled tucked in alongside the Colorado River in Southeastern Utah. But a bit of on-line research had convinced us it was time to visit – and to give ourselves an extra night there.

Colorado River, Moab, Utah
During the 1800’s the area around what is known as Moab served as the Colorado River crossing along the Old Spanish Trail. That 700-mile-long trail is a historical trade route that connected the northern New Mexico settlements of Santa Fe, New Mexico with those of Los Angeles, California and southern California.

Moab Valley
The downtown, as with most tourism-oriented towns, is lined with galleries, restaurants and gift shops. There are dozens of retail outlets that focus on the out-of-doors, from selling gear for outdoor adventures to offering tours. The area is an outdoors paradise with whitewater rafting and kayaking on the Colorado River, canoeing on the Green River, mountain and road biking, rock climbing, hiking, backpacking and camping.

Working up a hunger and thirst:

The lone food truck in Moab, Utah
With only a single full day we packed as much into it as we could: a visit to Arches National Park, and during the afternoon we tried out the hotel’s pool area and then headed into town to explore its many stores and find a place for dinner. (There is no end to the food options.)

Moab - Margaritaville, Utah!
We chuckled at the headline in one of their tourist publications: “How to Get a Drink. . .in Moab, Utah”.  As it was a question that had crossed our minds as we set out on this route.

Utah, with its Mormon population and influence has long been recognized by travelers as a place than can be difficult to find and consume alcoholic beverages. But the times are changing even in this ‘dry land’.  The Moab Brewery – yes, a real micro-brewery in downtown Moab – is the only place in town you can buy full-strength beer to go.  Beer with an alcohol content of 3.2% can be purchased at food stores and convenience stores.

The Utah State Liquor Store is the only retail outlet that sells bottled liquor, wine and beer with an alcohol content above 3.2%. You don’t find the beverages with that alcohol content and above in grocery stores.

However, Moab now has two local wineries:  Castle Creek Winery, located at Red Cliffs Lodge, 15 miles from town on Scenic Highway (The River Road) and Spanish Valley Vineyards, just off Highway 191, south of Moab.  Both wineries have on-site tasting rooms and wine is available for sale.
La Sal Mountains - Utah
With only a day we didn’t have time to drive the scenic loop road that would have provided a close up view of the La Sal Mountains, a part of the Manti-La Sal National Forest, just 20 miles south of Moab. With peaks reaching nearly 13,000 feet this alpine ranges is the second highest range in Utah. We also had to put Canyon Lands National Park a bit to the north on the ‘next time’ list.  But we did visit Arches National Park and that’s a whole post in itself.

As always, the time you spend with us is most appreciated! And another big thank you to those who’ve shared our posts on FB with your friends and family there. Hope to see you back next week.

We’ve just returned to our Stone House on the Hill in Greece where we plan to spend the fall. I know a number of you are waiting for more road trip tales from here so as soon as we finish up with the Southwest trip tips and tales, I’ll tell you about some of what the Peloponnese has to offer! And of course, I've got tales to tell 'from the hill'. Safe and healthy travels to you and yours.

Linking up this week with: 

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Monument Valley: “Awesome ~ Simply Awesome”

AWESOME – adjective – extremely impressive or daunting,
inspiring great admiration, apprehension or fear.

“Awesome!” responded the young telephone sales clerk when I placed an order for curtains.

“Will that be all?”  We said yes and the young waitress replied, “Awesome!”

Neither of those things were awesome.  But on our Southwest Road Trip we found something that  really was:

Awesome is the Monument Valley that stretched from Northwest Arizona up into Utah.

We revised our route north while in Arizona's “Valley of the Sun” (as the Phoenix area is known), after reading a travel article in the local paper. The area sounded too good to miss - and it was! 

We were barely 25 miles beyond Kayenta, a small ‘census designated place’ of about 6,000 people (not even a ‘town’) in the Navajo Indian Reservation, when we come over a rise in the road and were met with an ‘AWESOME!’ sight – the kind that gives you goose pimples and a shiver even on the warmest of days.

The Monument Valley from Highway 163
We were traveling a stretch of Highway163 that cuts through the vast, remote Monument Valley, a region of the Colorado Plateau famous for its clusters of vast sandstone buttes (the largest reaching skywards for 1,000 feet). This area is part of the 16 million acre Navajo Reservation. The number of outdoor hiking, rafting, horseback riding and camping opportunities are endless. 

There are even two hotels in this somewhat lonesome landscape – The View Hotel and Restaurant and the Monument Valley Trading Post, both just off Highway 163. One warns that because of the remote location, Wi-Fi might be a bit lacking in speed and quality.

Monument Valley straddles Arizona and Utah
The Anasazi, the Ancestral Puebloans, are believed to have settled in this region in 120 BCE; the cause of their disappearance is still being speculated upon by historians. Then came the Navajo culture centuries before the Spaniards arrived in 1581.

Monsoon season made a lush green carpet on the valley floor
The Navajo Visitor Center is about four miles from the highway. As Monument Valley is a part of the Navajo Tribal Park, there is an entry fee required for those who leave the highway and spend time exploring by jeep, hiking or horseback. All tours can be arranged in advance or at the Visitor Center. 
Entry fee is $20 per car with up to four occupants.  National Park passes don’t work here.

Mind-boggling in size and shape - the Monument Valley rock formations
We’d considered staying at one of those two hotels but our last minute itinerary change brought us here the Thursday prior to Labor Day weekend when rooms were scarce and the few that were still available cost many more hundreds of dollars than we wanted to pay. So our 'touring' was limited to the time we spent driving the highway through this wild, usually-sunbaked desert. However, as I told you earlier we traveled in early September at the end of the area's monsoon season which made for lush green landscapes.
Monument Valley - Arizona and Utah
In fact rain clouds skirted past and drizzled on us before we left the area.

A two-lane highway bisects the Monument Valley
Highway 163 is a two-lane roadway – it was nearly empty on this Thursday afternoon.

A mitten perhaps?
The land and monuments are considered sacred to the Navajo. There is something about this place - even just driving through it - that makes you understand why.

Monument Valley
While normally road construction delays are a source of frustration, we welcomed the one we encountered just as we were leaving the area.  It gave us a chance to get out of the car, feel the strong desert breeze that was pushing the rainclouds above us and get one final glance at that magical, no, make that, “Awesome!” place – Monument Valley!

A long and not so lonesome highway leads to Monument Valley
If you are planning a trip here in the near future check out the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park website as it is full of information about accommodations, and guides that have been approved by the Tribe for hire.

Up close and awesome!
Monument Valley is 146 miles from Moab, Utah or 380 from Salt Lake City, Utah, 395 miles from Las Vegas. Rent a car and set out on a road trip – it is one you won’t forget!

Our destination that day was Moab and its amazing Arches National Park - an area that turned out to be equally as 'awesome' as here. We'll tell you about it soon. And, as always, we appreciate the time you spend with us and hope that your travels are healthy and happy ones. 

Linking this week with:

Through My Lens


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