Monday, October 26, 2009

Autumn in Paris

Leaves are falling but the trees on the grounds of the Royal Palace were still shades of green and gold this afternoon. Just down the street the flower beds were filled with lavender and white blooms. The sun was out but just a hint of a chill in the air. Rain is predicted to return tomorrow.

A toast to Paris

So many champagnes and so little time. The photo on the left is of just one of the hundreds of window displays showcasing more champagne brands than one can imagine. The other is of me with one of those bottles. I couldn't resist the temptation. Bottle prices are reasonable, in fact, less than back home in many cases. Champagne by the glass in local bars and restaurants we've been to ranges from 10 - 12 euros; about $15 - $18; making the decision to buy a bottle much easier.

Since our room doesn't have a refrigerator we've chilled our champagne on the window sill; the crisp fall weather was a perfect device for doing so. We added some of the fresh raspberries we got at the street market and toasted our stay in this fabulous city.

Numerous guidebooks say that wine (that doesn't include champagne) is cheaper here than water. Today at lunch we ordered two salads and 'still' (tap) water. Silly us. . .we thought tap water was free; not so at Fauchon, the trendy shop that sells wine and other tasty items. We paid 5 euros or $7.50 for it.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Marche Poncelet - Saturday morning market

Thought you'd like to join us at our Saturday morning market walk today: Marche Poncelet, about five blocks from our hotel. I chose fruit and cheese to tempt your taste buds.

Bon Jour from Paris!

I am sitting just inside the top left hand window writing this post from Paris. We arrived at our hotel at 8 p.m., our delay thanks to the Orly ground-handlers strike was only about three hours. We are in Hotel Cecilia, a charming three star hotel about two blocks from the Arc de Triomphe.
It is a rainy, cloudy day here and the leaves are falling. Definitely a change from the month we have just had in Greece. We put on shoes and socks for the first time since mid-September today; rather a confining feeling but good for jumping rain puddles.

Credit card safety tips -

We spent the first couple of hours in Athens cancelling the credit cards that Joel had in his wallet -- several locals told us that generally the bad guys take the cash and toss the rest, but to be on he safe side, we cancelled the cards anyway.

Prior to the trip we had notified the fraud department of each company of where we would be traveling so that they wouldn't put a hold on the card when activity showed up from places outside our normal circle. What we didn't do was to verfiy the phone number to use should the card get stolen. Turned out the numbers on the back of two of the cards weren't valid; one had been changed, one was an 800-number that only worked in the US. (They have collect call numbers to use outside the US). We used our laptop to access their web sites and get correct numbers, but could have saved much time had we had the numbers with us.

What has saved us real inconvenience is that I have a credit card account in my own name; Joel isn't on it. I had it and we are using it for the remainder of the trip. I also had a card for each of the accounts we cancelled which provided us the number of the account to cancel. Single travelers should keep credit cards in different bags and make sure you have copies of the card numbers somewhere other than on the card.

We will have new cards waiting for us by the time we get home.

Welcome to Athens: pick-pocketed

While we have met some of the most incredibly kind people along the way, we also have now experienced some of the world's worst: pickpockets. Throughout the world we have encountered folks who told tales of taking precautions and being on alert for criminals and still were crime victims. Guidebooks tell you to be on the lookout as well. We have usually been obsessive-compulsive about theft prevention. But we've now joined the ranks of pick-pocket victims.

Subway trains, tourist attractions, crowded shopping areas are all ripe for the picking (pun intended) and we usually are on high alert when in those places. I have a lock-hold grip on camera and purse, with bag clamped under the arm. Joel has hand in pocket and similar grips on bags. But we weren't on high enough alert in Piraeus as we caught the metro into Athens.

Hindsight is 20-20. I thought the man that blocked my way out of the doorway and down the isle was simply being rude. He continued to be 'rude' to Joel not letting him move past with suitcase and bag. I was so focused on Mr. Rude that I didn't pay attention to his two sidekicks; one of which removed Joel's wallet from his pocket so swiftly that he didn't realize it was gone until they had hopped off the train at the first stop out of the port.

I can tell you I am no longer the nice traveler on metro trains or buses; look at me for more than 30 seconds or glance at my purse, and I am likely to start swinging my umbrella at you.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Off to Athens

We head to Athens on Thursday after a far too short a stay in Naxos, another delightful island in the Greek Cyclades islands. After all my writing about short notice hotel bookings, we found a boutique hotel on line that sounded so good that we booked it several days in advance just to make sure we had a room in it. So much for advance bookings -- after we had it confirmed, they wrote yesterday saying they really had no room and we were out of luck. We are now booked in another boutique hotel, this one only 400 meters from the Acropolis. So we may have inadvertently lucked out again. More details to follow on the hotel after our arrival.

We travel there by ferry leaving at 9:30 a.m. and five hours later arrive in Piraeus.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Baptism

Baptisms are second only to weddings around here - very important and very special and for that reason the entire town turned out for the baptism. Anna told us we were invited, we all went. We joined the townsfolk in the climb up the hillside walk to the cathedral and attended the ceremony in the cavernous Greek Orthodox Church.

Angels among us

As I left the previous post I was considering ditching myself or the bags at the side of the road on our hike up the hill and into town. . .after all Joel had pointed out, it was only 3.3 kilometers up the hill and we walk that much all the time. . .

A car passed us, slowed and came to a stop and the man from Spain hopped out of the passenger side telling us to pile the bags (and me) into the car - a lady from town had agreed to give them a ride and since bags and people didn't all fit, the bags got shipped as well as me. Joel and Rob would follow.

The lady, Anne (Anna) I've decided is one of those angels among us that seem to suddenly appear when you need them and then do incredible acts of kindness. She deposited three of us and our bags at the appointed spot but when we asked for a hotel recommendation she winkled her brow, had an animated chat with two ladies sitting on a balcony above and said, "I am sorry there are no accommodations." A bit of a problem as the next ferry was the next day.

Finally after much conversation with the ladies Anna said, "I have a hotel. It is closed but I will open it for you." She took the three of us into her car again (and the two ladies watched the bags) to show us her hotel. It is absolutely spectacular with views of the town and see and surrounding hillsides.

The reason the few rooms still open were not available was because a baptism was being held Saturday night and guests from all over had taken anything that might have been available. So the five of us have become Anna's guests and had the hotel to ourselves. Today she insists that she take us to the ferry, she wouldn't hear of us riding the bus.
The hotel is Ampelos Resort ( and is owned by her brother who lives in Santa Rita CA and owns Ampelos Cellars, a winery in Santa Barbara CA.

As a side note, the article I had clipped didn't fully describe this magical place. We all have vowed to return again and hopefully in the not too distant future. Photos are of our hotel and looking down from the town (I wasn't joking - it is high in the hills).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

No reservation? No sweat. . .

Actually our trip to Folegandros has proven that statement incorrect. . .we did sweat a lot, quite literally, on this segment of the trip. Folegandros, as I wrote before, is a Greek island we booked ourselves to pretty much on the basis of an article I had clipped from the Seattle Times and an outdated guidebook entry we read in Santorini. Folegandros is on the cusp of tourism with delightful small resorts, rooms to let and a selection of restaurants found in the maze of the Kastro, a maze of small alleyways past plazas, homes and businesses in what was once a Venetian village. We had been warned in Santorini that we might find limited accommodations here this late in the season.

We were among a dozen or so who got off the ferry at the port - most went to waiting cars. But five of us went in search of the bus - the one we all had read met each ferry. After 20 minutes the realization was clear that the bus that would take us up the 3.3. kilometer stretch to the town wasn't coming. Our band of five had made introductions while waiting and we consisted of a couple from Spain, a man from Australia and the Smiths.

At the news finally that the bus wouldn't arrive for nearly two hours and with rain clouds threatening, three of us decided to walk, make that hike, to the town. That is where the sweat comes in. Under cloudy skies, in muggy conditions we began the trek, looking much like donkeys as we pulled our suitcases like carts and laden with those ' lightweight' Bagallini bags, I've been bragging about throughout the trip. After 30 minutes I was trying to remember what the symptoms of heart attack or stroke areas my heart pounded and the sweat dripped. (sometimes being a traveler isn't pretty).

This photo is of Joel and our now new friend Rob from Australia. . .as we set off for town.

Island Life

When we started planning this extended stay, we were counting on low season (end of the tourist season) rates to keep the budget from going bust. Joel had anticipated room rates at 50 to 60 euros a day. The current exchange rate is 1E=$1.48US. We've been pleasantly surprised to find accommodations at below that rate; the most we have paid per night was in Iraklio at 52E per night and the least in Santorini at 28E per night.

We've had no itinerary so therefore we've had no reservations with the exception of our start in Hania and we made a reservation in Iraklio just to be sure we were within walking distance of the ferry terminal. We had debated between a 90E per night hotel and the one we booked for 52E - we were upgraded to an oceanview room with a wrap-around balcony that provided stunning views of the harbor and coastline. We made the reservation the day before we arrived.

I am writing this post from a two-story home we have occupied since our arrival in Folegandros (that will be the next entry). We have enjoyed this unstructured island lifestyle - but as I've said before it isn't for everyone. Those who need to know where they will be would be most uncomfortable traveling with us. We've chatted with some American tourists on the ferry who have relied on their travel agent to plan their trip and haven't even looked up the hotels to see where they have paid to stay - that type of travel is not for us.

I can imagine some of you are wondering what kind of accommodations can be had for only 28E per night so I've included photos of our room and view at Manos Villas in Santorini . We had television, air conditioning, a pool and hot tub there.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Folegandros bound. . .maybe

While searching our file folder for ferry schedules we ran across a clipping from the Seattle Times travel section that I had been saving since last July about an island, Folegandros. Turns out to be the island that we view from our deck in Santorini. So we headed to the travel agent (they are the ones who sell the ferry tickets) and booked ourselves there, with plans to leave on Saturday morning.

While it is a great example of going where the winds blow us this trip, it may be the winds that keep us from getting there. A tremendous wind storm is currently raging its way through Santorini, kicking up dirt from the fields and whipping trees with gusto. So we may not leave if the ferries don't go tomorrow. Will keep you posted on where the winds take or leave us.
The photo is sunrise over Folegandros and the one of us was taken en route to Santorini on the ferry from Iraklio

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Greek beach wear

Several of you have asked about the one bag packing we've done and how it is working. Again, photos say it best. This one of Joel shows not only the versitility of the tee-shirt when worn on the head, but also reflects the carefree attitude we've adopted here. Rick Steves had best watch out -- we may be able to do even a better packing job than he does. By the way, the beach was pretty spectacular -

Monday, October 12, 2009


It is our last full day in Elounda, tomorrow we head to Iraklio (Heraklion) the port city where we will return our rental car, and spend a night near the harbor so we can catch the early morning ferry to Santorini, the connector island for ferries coming and going to Crete. We think we will spend a couple nights there -- everyone says we should -- and then probably head to Naxos, Paros or Hydra en route to Athens. We've tabled Rhodes (I think!) for this trip.

The weather forecast up north is for some clouds and temperatures in the 70's, cooler than our 80's and 90's here and cloudless skies.

We've lucked out with our accommodations - they've been cheap, clean, well equipped and v ery comfortable and have provided great views such as this one we see each morning before the sun peeks over those hills.

Cretan road trip

We've called this the trip with no set destinations, and it might now be best termed the Cretan Road Trip. We are at the end of three weeks here, our original thoughts were for a two-week stay, but we had underestimated the size and beauty of Crete. We are already talking about the need to return and visit the mountain towns we haven't yet seen, and return to our favorites we''ve found along the way.

The road trip has been fantastic - but it is not for the faint-hearted. There is a single national highway here that links the west and east coasts. Then there are main roads and then secondary and then dirt. The roads leading over the moutains are two lane roads, most paved, some with guardrails, and some without these are main roads, all good - once you get used to the pavement width, and sheer drops to the side. The roadways are like ribbons looping and twisting down sharp inclines. . .the cars are all small - thank goodness. There are some turns that are so sharp, you shift into low, coast around corners and brake - praying that a bus or large truck isn't coming the other direction.

Tourists and locals all seem to respect the dangers of the roads so they drive responsibly. We had only two instances of thinking the car coming at us was losing control and might take us over the edge with him. It obviously didn't happen.
Our steepest, curviest road looked rather straight on the road map but had me putting finger imprints into the passenger door and seat before we finished the wind down the hill. We also followed one coast road that had appeared on the map as a dirt road but was nicely paved if not somewhat narrow with a drop over the cliff into the crashing waves. . .we were feeling pretty smug, until we rounded a corner and found that the paving hadn't been quite completed. It made for a tense few kilometers but a most spectacular vista spread out before us as each turn (and thank goodness we met no other car on that stretch).

We've dozens of photos taken from the passenger seat but the two I am including show a fabulous stretch of road we found on a plateau high above us - another winding no-guardrail road got us there. The other was coming back from the beach yesterday. There was water -and road.

From ruins to raki

We are finding that from ruins to raki, some of our travel 'bests' are free.

The photo I included with this post was taken in Kissamos, a port town in the northwest of Crete, where we had stopped for afternoon coffee. These types of excavations have become 'typical' street scenes in our travels. Many have posted explanations and others leave it all to your imagination. The Kissamos archeological museum is filled with pottery, statues and incredible mosiacs that took us back centuries. There was no entry fee.

Similar excations are found throughout Hania, which got its start as a Minoan city of Kydonia in 1450BC! Its old harbor reflects the buildings of its Venetian occupation in the 13th Century and to the east of the harbor the old Turkish Quarter of Korum Kapi provided winding walkways and interesting sites.

On the south coast we visited Frangokastello, a remarkably well-preserved Venetian fortress, built in the 14th century to protect from pirate attacks. You visit there free of charge; no staff, no guards, no bag checks. It overlooks a beautiful white sand beach that draws busloads of tourists to it and the beach chairs nearby.

Raki, is a clear distilled liquor of this country. It is served in miniature pitchers and drunk from thimble-sized glasses after meals. Usually it is served with some Cretan specialty like honey cake - as a thank you from the restaurant to you for having eaten there.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Flavors of Greece

I've written about yogurt and honey so it is time to add a bit more about Greek food. It has been fantastic! We are eating ripe, red, juicy tomatoes and crisp cucumbers in the Greek salads, each served with a wedge of feta cheese on top. I've given in to my love of moussaka and am making the most of it at every opportunity. Joel has taken a fancy to the slow roasted chicken that comes swimming in a broth of olive oil and lemon juice. And of course, we haven't been able to pass up the pita gyros - so large they make a meal. I'll let the photos tell the story here.
And in keeping with my food-focused travel writing, check out the article appearing in the Thursday, Oct. 8th Seattle Times, about our tasting trips in Washington State this summer (

Kalespera from Elounda

It is afternoon in Elounda (e-loon-da) on the north coast of Crete and it is in the 90's today. We finished our travels along Crete's southern coast yesterday morning and a quick 39 kilometer drive later we were back on the north coast. My last message to many of you was that we planned to head for the hills. . .of course, the winds changed direction again right after I wrote that and we continued our drive along the south coast stopping in charming seaside villages, walking spectacular lengths of sandy beaches and watching waves crash against sheer rock cliffs in other places. The scenery is so everchanging and startling that our vocabulary of late has been,"Oh Wow!" or "Look!" and our heads swiveling like periscopes.

What is amazing to us is that we have both a sea and mountain view no matter where we have been on this island. And the views just never stop.

We planned a an overnight stay in Elounda and have again fallen to a place's charms and have extended for at least three nights, perhaps more and will do day trips from here for a few days anyway.

Taking the recommendation of Lonely Planets guidebook we stopped at Corali Studios ( and lucked out with a no-show guest having left a beautiful waterfront studio for us to rent - again at a mere 40E per night. We have a view of Spinalonga Island - one of my 'novel' destinations, the bay and down the coastline.

A beautiful pool area is behind our complex and it is time to head there. . .more on Spinalonga later.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Honey and yogurt

We can't get enough of the two. If you've never tried Greek yogurt think of eating cream cheese and you've got an idea of the consistency. Then add to it a smokey, thick amber honey, seasoned with the wild thyme flowers that bloom here twice a year. We purchased our honey from the lady who owns the bakery in Hora Sfakia -- her husband, the baker, is also the one who bottles the honey twice a year. We've saved an enormous amount by having breakfast in each morning and also by having our own honey and yogurt creations.

Wind changed direction

I've said we were going to travel where the winds took us and so was the case with the weekend. The winds changed direction as I was writing the last blog entry. We'd had every intention of heading east along the south coast of Crete, but while I was writing downstairs, Joel chatted with our German neighbor upstairs who said we really shouldn't miss Loutro, just down the coast to the west.. So we flung things into our one suitcase (yes, one is now packed with our Paris clothes and is left in the rental car) and two Bagallini bags, and headed for the morning ferry.

The ferry, a small car ferry, makes three 20-minute runs a day between Hora Sfakia and Loutros. Loutros is a small harbor town -- smaller than Sfakia and accessible only by ferry or on foot (down a narrow path for an hour and a half) so we opted for the ferry. We'd decided that if we didn't like it, we would have lunch there and return on the 12:20 ferry. With the stormy weather Saturday morning, we rocked and rolled our way to Loutros, disembarked in one of the most charming harbor towns we've ever seen and soon were checked into a pensione at 35 euros a day that provided us a deck with front-on view of the harbor (not to mention ceiling fan, refridgerator, dishware and a hot water pot). Within an hour the town had worked its charms on us and we extended our stay until this morning. It was difficult to leave today, and we've vowed to return. For those reading this in the Pacific Northwest, Loutros is our new Stehekin - perhaps even better as it provides both the hills for hiking and a stunning seafront.

Picture a crescent shaped harbor, ringed with small restaurants and hotels and pedestrians, small boats dancing in the gentle wave action at the water's edge, the ferry docked for the night at the edge of the harbor and a full moon comes up illuminating the scene, like a postcard. . .that would be last night. This morning the sun rose over one of the distant peaks, looking ever so much like a volcano erupting a giant orange and yellow sphere. . .it really doesn't get any better we've concluded.

In addition to being one of the most picturesque harbors we've ever seen, there were incredible hikes to take up the hillsides around us that led to and through Venetian and Turkish ruins. Sunday morning we climbed to the remains of a Turkish fortress, hundreds of years old. The only sounds were the wind blowing through the olive trees, goat/sheep bells ringing, the birds chirping and the waves below. The morning sun heated the wild herbs so the scent of thyme, oregano, and sage wafted in the breeze.

We finally headed out this morning the direction we had planned to go on Saturday. We are now in a small studio apartment in a small beach front town called Kalamaki about six hours and 50 kilometers from Loutros. Distances aren't great here but the narrow, winding roads up over the mountains and through gorges makes for slower travel. Our apartment cost 27 euros and has a narrow view of the ocean. . .the ocean front units were all filled on this Monday night. We head out tomorrow as the explorations continue.

Friday, October 2, 2009

On the Road Again

We have so easily settled into this fishing villiage lifestyle that we think we had best move on or we will be tempted to ask about monthly winter rates . . .they actually close our hotel on Nov. 10th.

We did go looking for a real estate office yesterday (a tradition in our travels) and couldn't find any - another mark of an authentic place, not yet given over entirely to tourism.

So today we head north along the Libyan Sea coastal highway under a cloudy sky and rain falling. We have no destination in mind, will report in when we stop the next time. I mentioned driving in Crete and this photo probably says best what I was trying to describe. This is the way you move to the side allowing others to pass - works fine unless they are doing the same thing coming from the other direction!

Hora Sfakia - on the Libyan Sea

It seems longer ago than day before yesterday that we wound our way through the Lefka Ori mountain range to the southern side of Crete and ended up in this small town Hora Sfakia, also Sfakion (ho-ra sfah-kee-on) perhaps, because we've had an easy transition into the slow pace of this village as compared to the hustle of Hania.

This small town -- with a handful of lodging establishments; many atop street-level eateries-- is built on a small cove on the Libyan Sea. With a population today of some 350 residents, and despite its small size, it played a prominent role in the Cretan history as thousands of Allied troops were evacuated from the island fom this small port following the Battle of Crete. [Many weren't so lucky as we also visited the 1,500+ graves in the Allied War Cemetary on Souda Bay, near Hania before heading this direction. Many gravestones were marked without names, only an inspcription, "Known only to God."]

For centuries, we are told, the people here fished and tended sheep and lamb herds. The sheer height of the mountains and difficulty in getting over them meant that you pretty much were born and died here. Then tourism joined as one of the local industries as hikers made it a jumping off point for the breathtaking gorges that cut through the mountain ranges.

We've yet to meet another American with our fellow guests all being from Germany, England, Holland and other European locales. The ferry (the size of a small car ferry in Washington State) is pretty much the big excitement here three times a day. It travels between Loutros a smaller village west of us with no access other than ferry and also to Agios Roumeli where the hikers arrive from Samaria Gorge. They come here on the ferry and then catch large tourist buses taking them back to the northern side towns of Hania and Rethymno.
The afternoons are quiet; I am sitting alone in the Hotel Stavros lobby writing this entry. I overlook the cafe tables along the small narrow street (one of two in the harbor area) that passes the hotel. A cat walked past. An owner of the hotel sits at one of the tables, there is no reception desk. You simply look at the room, if you like it, you are handed the key (in exchange for your passport, that is). There are two cash machines in town; no one takes credit cards. There are a few cell phones in use, and of course there is wireless access.

We taken outings in our rental car in the mornings and afternoons are nap and play in the sea times. Then it is time to sip a Mythos beer on our deck watching the ferry arrive at 6:30 p.m. and the sun set at 7 p.m. Then it is off to dinner.

We've convinced ourselves that we must stay here a bit longer; the desire to get to Rhoades is fading. . .


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