Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Bit of Christmas Magic ~ Catching the Daydream

A recurrent theme of TravelnWrite this past year has been chasing the daydream. Our daydream, to be more specific, ‘that stone house on a hill’ in Greece. 

DSCF0252Much like youth chasing butterflies, we came close, so very close, but it got away just like the illusive butterfly.

Ahh. . .but never under-estimate the seasonal mysteries of Christmas Magic.

Were I writing that famous Christmas column, it would read:  ‘Yes, Virginia. . .it is Christmas and we’ve finally caught the daydream.’


Our Christmas will be spent in ‘our stone house on the hill’ in Greece’s Peloponnese. Something that even as recently as Thanksgiving, we’d have probably never believed possible. But here we are in the house that caught our eye last spring; the one that got away from us last summer.

Details fell into place rather rapidly in the last few weeks.  A deal was reached. Airline tickets purchased to avoid the Christmas sky-high prices and we headed back to Greece last week.

Home for the Holidays

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The entryway from the home's parking area
I didn’t show you many photos of ‘the house’ because after the deal fell through, we didn’t feel it proper to be showing someone else’s home.  Now that it is ours, come take the first of many tours I plan to take you on and let me tell you the plans we have for this place; where we plan to spend a few months each spring and autumn:

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The view from 'the stone house on the hill'
We had a number of criteria, first and foremost was view. That we have! The home looks out over The Mani and the Messinian Gulf. Olive groves stretch out before us, with Mediterranean Cypress, and small stone villages giving the feel of Tuscany (without Tuscan prices!).

DSCF0955Speaking of olives, we have our own grove of 17 trees that cascade down the hillside on three terraces.  We’ve been studying up on olive pruning and harvest. (Move over Frances Mayes, we may be producing oil one day ourselves!).

But what won my heart was the lemon tree next to a small patio –’ the wine patio’ it is now called – at the side of the house; a part of a large garden area that cascades down the hillside.

The home’s previous owners took good care of it – they’ve owned it since it was built eight years ago – it was their retirement daydream.
 
As with all homes, though, new owners have a plan for making it their own and improving it  – we certainly do with this place.  We packed garden gloves, work tee-shirts and blue jeans on this trip and are putting them to use during the short time we have here this winter.

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The garden needs some TLC
There’s painting, pruning and planting to be done.
 
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Colors speak to the soul - we want this place to shout!

Out with the old and in with some new.

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Temptations at a furniture store
 
It will take awhile, but I hope you’ll come on long on our journey in this new adventure.  It may lead to a new blog, or our efforts may be recorded every so often on these pages.  For now – it is time to do a little Christmas decorating. . . 

Christmas – in terms of celebration – in Greece comes in second to Easter.  So my next post will take you on a tour of Christmas shopping and decorating ~ we do hope your holidays are going well and that you are sprinkled with a bit of Christmas magic as well!

If I am able to find internet I’ll be linking up with my usual blogosphere buddies this week. Visit them for some amazing travels and decorating ideas:

Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox  
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route  
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Chasing Daydreams – and then. . .

Egad, we are back chasing the daydream.

You know, it’s the one we were after last spring and summer in Greece. The one that got away.

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Roadside trees middle of Nevada - 2014
We were thankful for so many of you who followed the adventure here and offered words of encouragement and support as the purchase of ‘the stone house on the hill’ fell through because its owners found they didn’t have the documentation to sell it.

We’d had a good trip and an interesting experience. We’d moved on. . .or so we thought. . .

Last week when I wrote about “Opportunity rocking the boat” I didn’t quite tell the entire story as not only did that inbox of ours last month hold tempting alternate cruise offers, but it brought news that the owners of that ‘stone house’ were now in a position to sell it and they wondered if we were still interested.

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Arizona Road Trip 2014
We were in Arizona at the time, enjoying the carefree life of timeshare ownership.  We focused on changing our cruise plans; we corresponded with Greece at first in general terms, and then those generalized discussions with Greece became more focused:  opportunity was again knocking at the door, the daydream had looped back again and was tempting.

We’d  looked at other properties, lots, homes, unfinished structures. We considered building. We considered forgetting the whole thing. We thought of our ages. We thought of the work needed to make this house ‘pop’. We thought of many things. . .

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San Diego Sunset

Greece was set aside somewhat as we went to San Diego where I was attending a conference, but The Scout continued and stepped up the email conversation.

Then he found a reasonable airfare to Athens. . .

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Outside La Jolla - San Diego

We arrived in Greece last night, those dream catchers in hand.  Unlike my rather naive writings of last summer, I am not going to say we will capture the dream of that ‘stone house on the hill’.  That remains to be seen. But, one thing is for sure, it will likely be an adventure.  We do hope you’ll come along with us for the next few weeks as we report on chasing the daydream – again.

We’ll be at the mercy of Greece internet access – which is somewhat limited in the Mani -- we do know the new house has none.  Our presence in the blogosphere, Facebook and Twitter might be a wee bit disjointed but I’ll report back as technology allows.

Photos in this post are from Arizona and San Diego.

Linking this week:
Budget Travelers Sandbox – Travel Photo Thursday

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Oregon’s Memorable but Less-Than-Warm Welcome

We were less than five hours into our road trip to Arizona last month when we had a most memorable welcome to Oregon, our neighbor to the south of Washington in the Pacific Northwest.

I’d just taken this photo of the beautiful weather in Oregon’s Blue Mountains when. . .

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Oregon State Trooper-Less-Than-Welcoming,  ‘welcomed’ us to the state in a memorable, but not particularly warm way.

Note: I have been asked by regular readers if ‘bad things’ ever happen on our trips because I  prefer to tell you positive stories; the stories that will hopefully stir the travel bug in you. But sometimes stinky little things do happen like the story I am telling today:

The cast and characters:  Two 60-somethings, one with a AAA map and guidebook in her lap and the other the driver of our 2005 Toyota Camry. The setting: Interstate 84: somewhere near the summit of the Blue Mountains.  We were in the right-hand, outside lane when in the distance we noted a car pulled on the shoulder of the road, a trooper’s vehicle lights flashing also off the side of the road behind the car. Both were parked some distance outside what is called in the US as the ‘fog line’ which marks the roadway from the shoulder. You can see it in the photo above.

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Thinking the trooper, who was sitting in his car, was getting ready to pull out, The Scout slowed and moved toward the left and center line.

Shortly after we’d passed, the trooper did pull out then pulled US over!

Trooper-Less-Than-Welcoming asked why we’d not moved completely into the left lane – called the passing lane – on our inter-state roads and in which drivers drive the speed limit or above because they are, well, passing. The Scout replied that when it appeared the trooper wasn’t pulling out that he returned to the slower right-hand lane.

BEEEP! . . . buzzer. . . .WRONG ANSWER!
Oregon has a “Move Over” law that requires motorists to move completely into the left-hand lane when any emergency vehicle it off to the side of the road with lights flashing.  Trooper Less-than-Welcoming pointed out our Washington State has the same law and then he informed us that all the Western States have the law. (Yes, we did feel like morons for not knowing that fact!)

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Now honestly living and driving in the traffic-gridlocked Seattle area, we don’t have the luxury of pulling into the left hand lane when lights are flashing on the shoulder. We slow, we edge around – we don’t MOVE OVER. We explained we hadn’t been aware of that fact.

Trooper Less-Than-Welcoming took the license and returned to his patrol car, a few minutes later (it seemed an eternity long) returned and presented us with a $260 ticket! 

One fine ‘howdy –do!’  if we ever saw one~~

Now had he issued us a warning, we’d have still gotten the message. But because of his memorable welcome, had we not already had reservations just down the road in Baker City, I was ready to get the hell out of Dodge and head straight to Idaho. 

Note: to Baker City businesses (my cute kitchen store and the art gallery, in particular) I would have come in as I always do – but my shopping money was headed to your state coffers. . .no money for you this time.

MOVE OVER law

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Had I had the opportunity to see Trooper Less-Than-Welcoming again (which thankfully I didn’t) I would have told him that after his ‘welcome note’ I began paying attention to those western states we drove through:

Idaho:  one sign as you enter the state which reads ‘move over or slow down’

Arizona: sign on Highway 17, “move over OR slow down”

Utah: In this ‘ride ‘em cowboy!’ state the speed limit is 80 and you pass in the left lane at 90 – I know as  I was driving when we saw the trooper pulled off to the side of the road ahead and to merge into that left lane – which I did -- our speedometer read, ‘93’ . . .I might note three cars going 80 stayed in the right lane and we all zipped past like bats out of hell. That, Mr. Trooper, isn’t safe!

Washington: as we concluded our trip and were within 10 miles of our home driving a stretch of Interstate 90 – where there are multiple freeway lanes – a trooper on the left side shoulder had a motorist stopped – NO ONE moved over.

SEQUEL:

DSCF1061 The Scout, who is a retired attorney, submitted his check for $260 and pleaded No Contest with letter of explanation.

We found a letter from the court waiting when we got back home seeking an abstract of his driving record – one that has no traffic stops on it for more than two decades and then it was for exceeding the speed limit. He submitted it.

A second letter arrived this weekend: his fine has been reduced to $130.

TRAVEL TIP: Next time we’ll drive via Idaho or fly.  We recommend that you do the same! The ticket for not Moving Over could have been $355!

Note: I did take these photos during our recent road trip.  I wanted to, but refrained from, taking photos during the traffic stop. Trooper Less-Than-Welcoming would likely have arrested me.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Brazil to Bangkok: When Opportunity Rocked Our Boat

Last week opportunity rocked our boat ~ striking with the force of a tsunami!

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I’d just tried on the mosquito net head cover given me by my friend, Jeanie. (It fits!)  The lemon eucalyptus mosquito repellent was ordered. Our noses were buried in guides and other books preparing for that Amazon cruise that would replace our traditional Christmas this year. . .

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Then, like the old adage, ‘when opportunity knocks. . .’ .
Okay, so it wasn’t a knock, it was a bit more modern a version - an email from Oceania cruise lines that said:

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If we wanted to volunteer to take one of five longer cruises to different destinations, they’d refund us $3,240 and transfer all of our on-board perks to the new cruise.

Our stages of reaction began with chuckling as The Scout read the email aloud, then we moved  to speculating ‘why’:  perhaps our cruise was overbooked, perhaps they needed to fill the five other cruises they’d offered. 

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Then we began pondering . . . there was one cruise that had caught our eye. It was not only going to places we’ve talked about – it was over-nighting in a number of them!  But really. . .

. . .it sounded too good to be true. (After all, a longer cruise for less money on a luxury cruise line?!). . .
. . .there must be some catch. . .
. . .some small print somewhere. . .

We called the cruise line.
We called our travel agent.
Both assured us:

No joke.
No catch.
All true.

And then you might say, we jumped ship – in a manner of speaking!

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We often say our travel lifestyle is one that requires flexibility. In this case it was an exhilarating acrobatic flip – letting go of the trapeze called Brazil and spinning forward in time and place to Bangkok.

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We’ll hop aboard the Nautica ship for our Far East Odyssey, as this 35-day sailing adventure from Bangkok, Thailand to Istanbul, Turkey is called. We will sail through the Gulf of Thailand, the Andaman Sea, the Bay of Bengal, the Laccadive Sea, the Arabian Sea, The Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea AND transit the Suez Canal before entering the Aegean Sea!

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Don’t Leap without Looking

While we are fantastically excited about the new cruise, let me caution that no matter how flexible your lifestyle, switching plans for a major trip isn’t something to do on a whim. There are a number of details to consider. For example:

Airline changes: Cancelling those flights booked to and from Seattle and Miami. Luckily we used airline miles one way – and booked the higher level of miles so they could be refunded. We’ll deal with Expedia to change the other.

Booking flights to Bangkok and back from Istanbul are going to cost substantially more but that refund will balance out the cost increases.  The Scout has begun scouting.

Passports/visas:  Yes, we’ll need to send our precious passports off into the unknown again to secure visas for three countries on the itinerary – a step that can’t be done until until 90 days prior to the trip.  (The cost of these visas is not insignificant with estimates as high as about $800 for the both of us – this time they weren’t included as a benefit.)

Give and Take: While being at home or gone at Christmas isn't a big consideration for us, our spring travel compass had been pointing back to Greece. . .celebrating Easter in tiny Loutro, on Crete’s southern coast has become a near tradition for us. We’d hoped to take in the 2nd Annual Jazz Festival in Kardamyli in May. Neither of those will happen.

But as I said of the Amazon River cruise, sometimes we need to s-t-r-e-t-c-h our comfort zone.  This spring’s cruise – perhaps even more than the Amazon -- will do just that!

We always welcome recommendations and suggestions for things to do in new places – and we will have a bunch of those on the new cruise . Do you have any thoughts about the places shown on our route map above? 

Again, thanks for the time you spend with us – we read each and every comment and appreciate them all. Every ‘like’ and ‘share’ on Facebook is so appreciated! Welcome to our new followers both here and on Facebook~

Happy Travels to you ~ come back soon!

Linking up this week:
Tuesday Travel 
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox  
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route  
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Thanksgiving Trip to Who-ville

Dr. Seuss, the beloved children’s author, who gave life to
The Cat in the Hat, Horton and the Grinch,
also created the place known as Whoville, or Who-ville.

In one of his books, Whoville 
is a floating speck of dust placed inside a clover flower                                                              
in another it is located inside a snowflake.

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With all due respect to Dr. Seuss, today we’d like to take you on a Thanksgiving trip to our “Who-ville” ~ a place we’ve been exploring since beginning this travel blog five years ago. 

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The idea for this Thanksgiving trip to our Who-ville began a few weeks ago when a friend asked of the blog, “How many readers do you have now?” 

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I started to answer with the statistical explanations that we bloggers fall victim to every now and then and realized I sounded like a Dr. Seuss character as I tried to explain the blog’s varying numbers:  page views verse readers verse followers verse subscribers . . .

“Think left and think right and think low and think high.
Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!”
- Dr. Seuss

Instead of looking at just numbers, it seemed a trip to Who-ville might be a more interesting way to answer my friend’s question.

To get there we start at the small box on the TravelnWrite home page called, Clustrmaps.  I signed up for this free feature a few months after starting the blog back in 2009.  It shows the location of people who are reading the blog – in real time, in fact,  if you care to look closely enough.

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This map leads to our somewhat enchanting Who-ville. . . where we don’t know exactly the ‘who’ of you are visiting the blog, but we do know your ‘ville’. 

“Today you are You, that is truer than true.
There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
- Dr. Seuss

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While statistically speaking the ‘who’s’ total 41,524 visits in the last five years, what is the most fun about our Who-ville is that they’ve come  from every corner of  the United States and 170 countries!  (I remember when I first added the map I kept hoping that someday I would have a visit from Canada – it now ranks third in number of visits in our ‘Who-ville’!)

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What is simply amazing are some of the locations from where our visitors have come. Some places on our ‘Who-ville’ map were so far off our radar that I’ve had to research them because I flat out didn’t know where they were. . .

“The more that you read, the more things you will know.
The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.”
-Dr. Seuss

. . .places like Aland Islands, a chain of 6,757 islands  between Sweden and Finland or Reunion Island, a French Island with a population of 840,974 just east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.

Some visits have come from ambiguous places listed as  “Armed Forces, Europe, Middle East and Canada”.  While headlines scream  strife and war in places like Israel, Iraq and Iran, we are gratified to find visitors from each of those places have found the time to visit the blog.

Many of you in ‘Who-ville’ have become friends over the years – and many old friendships rediscovered in Who-ville have taken up right where they left off. . .

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“You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You're on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go...”
- Dr. Seuss

To all of you in our ‘Who-ville’ we thank you for joining us on our journeys and for the time you spend with us. You’ve enriched our lives.  Happy Thanksgiving to those of you celebrating the day today and Happy Travels to all~ (And if you’ve just discovered us, please come back again!)


Linking up this week:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox 
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route 
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening

Monday, November 24, 2014

Chelan ~ A Winter “Wander” Land

Lake Chelan – the 55-mile long glacier fed lake -- in Central Washington State is a magnet for summer fun and sun seekers. But did you know the area is becoming increasingly popular as a winter destination as well?

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Lake Chelan and the North Cascade Mountains

For example, there are six Sno-Parks (parking lots in the wilderness areas where snow  has been groomed into trails for use by snowmobilers), there’s miles of groomed Nordic cross-country ski trails and there’s downhill skiing. . .

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Benson Estate Winery - Chelan, Washington

And of course there is wine – 24 wineries are scattered among vineyards that carpet the surrounding hillsides.  In the winter the vineyards might be bare, but the tasting rooms are often open on weekends or by appointment.

There’s a lot to do and see in Chelan during the cold, crisp winter months.  The lead story in the Seattle Times travel section yesterday tells you about its eateries, stores, and outdoor activities.  There’s a ton to do there; take my word for it.  . .I wrote the article! And I was on the road and didn't even see it until tonight. So take a look and be sure to click through the 30-photos that accompany the story on line!

Check it out by clicking this link:  http://seattletimes.com/html/travel/2025059605_washingtonweekendschelanxml.html
and then think Chelan for a winter getaway!

Thanks for the time you spent with us – hope to see you back again later this week!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

In Scottsdale ~ ‘Tis the Season. . .almost!

I’ve written in recent weeks about the concept of not being home for Christmas which also means not doing the traditional decorating of our house.  In response, a friend or two have exclaimed, “But you love Christmas!”

And that I do. But it doesn’t mean I need to be the one doing the decorating to enjoy the season.  To illustrate that point, I thought I’d take you on a tour of Scottsdale and Phoenix where we've been for the last three weeks and where ‘Tis the Season. . .


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Christmas trees stand taller than palm trees in some displays around town. 
And how about that blue-sky backdrop?


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And speaking of palm trees. . .
how about this duo decked out in their sparkling holiday jewels?


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The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Hotel gets into the celebration with a garden of lights 
and an ice skating rink – all open to the public as well as guests.


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They also have a tree that changes its holiday gowns as Christmas carols fill the air.


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But let’s not forget we are in the desert and those stately Saguaro cacti and Palo Verde trees (these at the Four Seasons Troon Resort) like to get dressed up as well for the holidays.

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Nothing compares with the gingerbread displays at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Phoenix.  
This display from a couple of years ago was the Wizard of Oz theme – 
see the brave foursome at the Emerald City?


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So I am not decorating this year. 
Our setting is not the usual one and our traditions are left behind, 
but there is no doubt ‘Tis the Season!
And we plan to enjoy it where ever we are! 
Hope you will too!

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As the busy holiday season is upon us, we appreciate even more the time you spent with us today!  Photos in this post were from our trip here two years ago – but I can assure you Arizona is as decked out this year as it was then! The decorators have seen out in full force for the last two weeks!

Linking up with:

Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox 
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route 
Travel Photo Monday – Travel Photo Discovery 
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Scottsdale. . .Walkin' in Sunshine

I hate to admit it, but I wasn’t taken with Arizona the first couple of times we visited here decades ago.  But with each return visit over the years I found some new ‘wonder’ which I kept adding to our ‘reasons to return’ list.

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Sunset - Scottsdale

Now, several years later, we actually own here – admittedly, a small bit of deeded property that affords us an annual visit of at least two weeks in our timeshare home.  And as reports of the Arctic Blast that is sweeping the Pacific Northwest keep arriving in our inbox today we are even more grateful for this warm-weather respite.

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Four Seasons Residence Club - Troon Mountain to the right
Last week I wrote from our “Marriott” home in Phoenix and by this week we’ve moved to our “Four Seasons” home in Scottsdale.

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Four Seasons Hotel Scottsdale, Arizona
One of the benefits of timeshare life at this Four Season’s Residence Club is that we are footsteps from the hotel. And as residents, we have access to the hotel’s pool, spa, exercise facility and grounds as do hotel guests.  (We have our own pool and exercise facility as well.)

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The Terrace at Onyx Bar - the Four Seasons overlooks the garden above
I’ve invited you in to see our condo on previous posts, so today I  thought we’d stroll around the property for a bit of a tour:

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We’ll start in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel where vibrant southwest colors bring the stucco Adobe-style walls to life.

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We follow a path through the natural landscape to get to and from the Residence Club and the hotel.  The stately Saguaro cactus stand like sentries and wild bunnies skitter among the bushes along the route.

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Then it is back to the Residence Club and its own lobby where easy chairs face fireplaces and southwest colors figure prominently in the d├ęcor.  The library (far right in photo above) is a quiet place to peruse the books available on the lending shelf or relax in front of yet another fireplace.  (It does get chilly this time of year, so fireplaces aren’t just for decoration!)

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Fireplaces and chimineas (like the one pictured above) are lit each night and fill the air with the scent of the southwest – the pungent smoke from the Mesquite wood – making it difficult to resist their magnetic pull to just ‘sit a spell’.

Arizona Spring 2012 154But we pass up the fireplace and head back to our place.

There, we bundle up in coats and sip a glass of wine on our deck while listening to the call of the desert animals that break the still of the night.

That’s it from Arizona for this week.  Hope to see you back again soon and until then, thanks for your time and Happy Travels!


Linking up this week with fellow bloggers at:

Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox 
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route 
Travel Photo Monday – Travel Photo Discovery 
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening

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