Sunday, April 25, 2010

Greek Reservations

"So where will you be staying?" 
The question is asked often by friends as our scheduled departure date draws near.
"Did you make reservations over the internet?  Do they speak English?" 
Our answers usually prompt a polite pause and I suspect a general speculation that we are as crazy as we sometimes sound.

"No, no reservations."  "Yes, they speak English very well. . .much better than my six tourist-survival words of Greek."

The one reservation we have is for a rental car. We will pick it up at the Heraklion (Iraklion) Airport. We will return the car to the airport -- those pesky 'fees' raised their ugly head again -- and our plan to drop it at the port city of Sita were nixed with the hefty 120E drop 'fee'.

Our approach to this trip is to be flexible and without too many commitments that may need to be cancelled or changed. . .for all we know the Iceland volcano could blow again and we won't even get there. . .or we may get there and be staying for longer than we had planned.  Fellow blogger, Adrianna Schum, who writes the Symi island blog, (found on the Blog Roll link) told of tourists unable to leave the island and others unable to get there as result of the volcanic-ash airport closures.  

We are not heading to Greece though without having done hours of internet and guidebook research - which we think is half the fun anyway.  We've already 'looked at' a number of hotels in each city we think we might visit and have a good idea of what appeals and what doesn't.

Among our favorite sites are: and Trip Advisor.  (Note:  we know that Trip Advisor has been criticised in some cases for having owners, managers or staff write favorable reviews. We've used it and and found it a good resource). Anyone out there in the cyberworld have another web site recommendation for us?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

To Greece or not To Greece, that's the question

We plan to head to Greece next week for the sequel to our Cretan road trip and followed by explorations of a few new destinations.  We will continue to watch Iceland's volcano and hope that airlines get back to normal by the time we are ready to get on board. Although flights are resuming, we won't believe we are on our way until we are. 

Our plans are to fly into Heathrow, overnight at Gatwick and fly out the next morning (see earlier post on ) with Crete as our destination.  The small port towns of Sfakia and Loutro on the island's south coast are calling us back. After we get our fill of  Cretan yogurt and honey we will hop aboard a ferryand head to the land of the Knights of St. John, Rhodes, and then Symi and perhaps others of the 12 major Dodecanese islands scattered about the tip end of Turkey.

We are scheduled to return to London on another of Europe's other low-cost airlines, EasyJet and after a two-night layover in London fly back to Seattle on Iceland Air

It all seemed real simple before the volcano blew its top.

The good news is that our plans for Greece are 'no plans' so nothing aside from a rental car has been booked there. We have only London hotel reservations so should we need to cancel, that part will be a snap.  But even for those of us who are passionate about travel, the unraveling of air travel could prove a bit more tedious. 

For the next few days we will assume the trip is still going as planned. House-sitters and yard care is in place. Trip necessities are being collected at the always ready suitcases. . .

Stay tuned.

Vegas 'N Demand'

Vegas tourism seems to be on an upswing.  A single convention of broadcasters brought 85,000 people to the city while were there (and there were three other significantly-sized conferences going on at the same time). We arrived albout the same time as contestants in -- and spectators of -- the weekend's International Bull Riding Competitions.

Hotel room rates aren't quite the deals they were last year but can still be found with a bit of research.  Another way to save money and have a great time in this 'adult Disneyland' is to seek out Happy Hours where beverages and/or nibbles are offered at cut-rate prices for an hour or two in the late afternoon or early evening, sometimes longer. Times and deals vary with the establishment. Our recommended spot:

The Paris Hotel and Casino's Napoleon Bar where Friday evening we sipped two tall chilled draught beers for $6; a steal by Vegas prices. And while enjoying our cool ones we were treated to one of the best shows we've seen in a Vegas lounge - and it was free.

Napoleon's is a sprawling French-themed and decorated bar, located between the casino and convention wing of the hotel; a place where we've seen on previous visits two pianists perform 'dueling piano' medleys.  The entertainment line-up on weekends has gone doo-wop and Motown with  'N Demand , a talented four-some who not only had those of us in the audience in the palms of their hands but had folks walking past the bar clustering at its windows to watch.

The group is performing Friday, Saturday and Sundays at 6 and again at 7:30 p.m. Their hour-long performance -- not to mention the Happy Hour drink deals -- is more than a reason to head to Napoleon's. And if you can't make it to a performance, click their name to see a sample of their show.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Bloomin' Good Time at Bellagio

Last month while on our California/Nevada roadtrip we stopped by the Bellagio Hotel Conservatory and Botanical Gardens only to find it filled with workers, heavy equipment and piles of landscaping supplies.  Bordering its perimeter were artist's renditions of what it would soon look like.

According to its website, it takes 140 horticulturalists to create and maintain the grand displays that change with the seasons at this popular spot.  Admission is free. The current season will be on display until May 9th.
Thousands of blooming plants spill out of oversized flower pots and giant butterflies hover over enormous insects and bronze cast insects are joined by other creatures such as the rose-bud snail.
After strolling through the gardens stop by the Bellagio Art Gallery (there is an admission charge for it) where you will find among its permanent collection works by Renoir, Picasso and Degas.  A new show opens May 1st, entitled "Firguratively Speaking - A Survey of the Human Form" with works from Boston's Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Contemporary Design in San Diego.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

"G'Day Las Vegas!"

And with that greeting we were off on a rollicking, rocking, hand-clapping, finger-snapping performance of Motown Music by an Australian group called Human Nature.   We couldn't use flash so bear with the blurred photos but for a real taste of  what we experienced, click on the name link and you can watch a clip from YouTube.  

We've seen other great shows and performances here but none have reached the bar set by these four performers, who have been at The Imperial Palace on the Las Vegas Strip since  June, 2009.  (You might recognize them from the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in Australia).

Our tickets -- purchased through the discount Vegas Tix 4 Less put us at the edge of the stage for $41 a ticket - close enough to make eye contact with the performers.  I took this shot  just before he danced down our table. 

We stood and cheered when a lady from the audience was selected to go on stage and help sing "My Girl" and she said she was from Seattle.

If you've ever needed a reason to come to Las Vegas, attending a performance by Human Nature would be a good one.  We are certainly going to use it as a reason to come back!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

CityCenter, Las Vegas: Another look

I am blogging  this week from Las Vegas, where we are staying with friends in their two-bedroom timeshare at the Marriott Grand Chateau, (above) next to Planet Hollywood and the Miracle Mile shopping center. We've left Kirkland's clouds and 50-degree temperatures for sun and 70-degree temperatures here, a restorative for body and soul of sun-seekers such as us.

We are told Marriott Vacation Club will begin construction on the final two wings of this project in 2012.  The finished building will be shaped like an X instead of the current boomerang configuration.  It currently has a rather plain, small pool area on the roof off the 38-floor with walls built up so that there is little view except from the pool bar area. We suspect the finished construction will provide a more lush setting in keeping with other establishments on The Strip.

We have a to the northwest, a straight shot of the mega-development CityCenter:
Earlier this year I described the interiors of the shopping area and Aria Hotel as 'stark and dark' and since then have heard visitors make similar comments.  We did spend a couple hours revisiting the place yesterday and it still seems like a cavernous, sterile place. There seemed to be a bit more activity and maybe a new storefront or two.

I couldn't resist including a photo of the seats in the Aria Hotel lobby, I suspect they are architecturally award-winning designs but they aren't what I would call inviting.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

2010 Memory Lane, Yakima, Washington:

Yes! You can go home again.  Earlier this week I speculated about my trip to Yakima and the claim made by someone long before me, "you can't go home again".  Wrong. You can.  I did. I recommend it to anyone who has been putting off  making that personalized trip down memory lane. 

In my case it was as simple as sending a few emails and making a few phone calls to friends I'd stayed in touch with over the years, a couple of whom I hadn't seen in 20 years. We set a date, planned an itinerary and carried through -- despite Mother Nature giving us a few tense hours as a late season storm swept through the state closing Snoqualmie Pass twice on Thursday and leaving in its wake blowing snow and slush on the roadway Friday. This is how the pass looked at 9 a.m.

And this is how it looked at 5 p.m.:

The time spent between 9 and 5 was better than I could have imagined.  Mary, with whom I had shared my childhood, and I traveled down memory lane slowly driving up and down the roads that made up our old neighborhood.  We remarked on the changes, laughed at memories and challenged each other's brain cells with names from the past.

Our lunch gathering of college girlfriends was one we will remember for years to come.  The photo albums filled with somewhat fading photos prompted shrieks of laughter and puzzled looks as we tried to recall associations we had with faces of many in the photos.  Old photos mixed with new ones as we were introduced to adult children - grandchildren! - homes and recent travels. The conversation never stopped, food got cold, the years between college and the present seemed but a blip.  We've vowed to stay in touch: next gathering this fall in our college town, Ellensburg.

For those who read the earlier post, Mary and I did ride the elevator to the top of the Larson Building for old times' sake.  This time I'd read up on it and knew that it had been built during the Depression and the designer had designated that several floors be equipped for medical and dental offices (no wonder our dentist had been there).  The lobby of this Art Deco building is incredibly beautiful with its black marble and brass.  The building is on the National Register of Historic Places - definitely worth a visit if you are in Yakima. 

(Tip: Ride to the 11th floor, head to the left and from the window to the north side of the elevators you'll have a sweeping western view of the Yakima Valley.)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

In the "Spirit" of Travel - more fees!

Nothing like announcing fees for carry-on bags to get you into the 'spirit' of travel these days!  And Spirit Airlines-- much like the Grinch who stole the Christmas Spirit -- began chipping away at the spirit of travel with its well-publicized addition of carryon bag fees that is making headlines around the US.

You read that correctly: fees for carry-on bags that you place in the overhead bin. . .those under the seat, for now anyway, are free as is your umbrella and food you plan to eat.

An article appearing in the Seattle Times today quotes the airline's CEO as saying, "Nobody brings their package to FedEx or UPS and expects them to ship for free."  He's either mixing bags and bananas or he's not realized that people sending packages haven't already paid hundreds of dollars to travel in one of the big white or brown trucks.  

Maybe it is time for FedEx and UPS to install passenger seats in their aircraft and trucks so that we could simply ship ourselves and our bags and avoid companys like Spirit?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Yakima, Washington: Going Home

So can you go home again? I am going to find out this week.

Yakima, in Central Washington, just a bit over two hours drive from Kirkland, is where I was born and spent my first 33 years.  Joel and I usually get back there a few times each year as it now the Gateway to Central Washington Wine Country.  I even wrote an article about Yakima and its growing popularity with tourists for the Seattle Times a couple years ago. But this trip is different because I am traveling through history - my own.

While I look forward to every trip, this one has me so excited that I'm in a near frenzy state as I fret over whether Washington's late spring storms will dump snow on Snoqualmie Pass preventing me from my rendezvous with Mary, my sister-like-friend with whom I shared the joys of childhood.

After realizing we had let 20 precious years get away since we were last together, we set our our itinerary: Mary will drive from Pasco, in the southern part of Washington on the Columbia River and I'll come from Puget Sound. We will return to the neighborhood where we grew up and other places that make no sense to anyone else; such as riding the elevator in the now-historic Larson Building where our dentist once had his office. See? Makes no sense; except to us who share those long ago memories that make such a simple act something special.

Lunch will be at a long-time favorite Miner's Drive-In with college roommates (our other sister-like-friends) we've rounded up for the occasion. I'll report back on our trip but in the meantime would love to hear from you about similar journeys you've taken.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Modern-day Air travel mysteries . . .

Sometime between our flight to Honolulu in January and our flight home in February we apparently landed on 'a list'. 
        What list?
        And why?
We likely will never know, but we had an 'ah-ha!' moment when the airline's customer service agent I spoke with prior to our Santa Barbara trip provided a phone number for Homeland Security.

The good news - it seems - is that whatever we were on, we are now off according to the form letters we each received from Homeland Security (DHS)  last week in response to our application for a re-dress number.  We apparently don't need one.

We suspect our brief encounter with DHS was related to the implementation of the Homeland Securities' Secure Flight 'behind the scenes program that enhances the security of domestic and international commercial air travel through the use of improved watch list matching.' (quoting their website). 

The Secure Flight program requires passengers (when purchasing tickets) to supply:
  • Name as it appears on government-issued I.D. when traveling
  • Date of birth
  • Gender
  • Redress number if available
The intent of the program (implemented Aug. 2009 for domestic flights and Oct. 2009 for international) is to prevent individuals on the No Fly List from boarding an aircraft and to identify individuals on the Selectee List for enhanced screening.

One of the questions on the DHS Q and A list is: 
How do I know if I am on the No Fly list? 
Answer: " If a passenger successfully obtains a boarding pass his/her name is not on the No Fly list."

And that is how we came to investigate this topic:  we couldn't print out our boarding pass - as simple as that. We've always printed them in advance of our flights, but after being told by the computer screen that we had to check in at the airport for the last two trips we've taken we suspected a pattern was developing.

In Honolulu I called our airline and received assurances that the reservation was fine, and the flight not over-booked. 'So, what's the problem?" I asked.  "It could be you are using a companion ticket," was the answer, referring to the reduced-air-fare perk given annually for using that airline's credit card. We've used companion tickets for years. . .never had that problem before.

Next day we were denied boarding passes by the self-service machines at the Honolulu Airport as well.  At the checkin counter the clerk called for a supervisor, who glanced at the computer screen, swept up our passports and headed back into the labyrinths of the airport.  Many minutes later she returned and said we were good to go.

We joked about which one of us had made 'the' list.  It was funny until we tried to print the Santa Barbara tickets the day before our flight and received the same, 'must check in at the airport message'.  That's when I again called the airline and was referred to the Homeland Security number.

DHS has a simple process:  Following the prompts I requested forms be faxed for us to complete in order to be issued a re-dress number. They were faxed within minutes of the call and mailed back the next day. We each received a letter a week ago saying a review of applicable records had been made at our request and where it was determined a correction was necessary it was made. 

Jim Kennedy, signator on the TRIP letter, wrote, "Based on our analysis of those persons who have applied for redress through DHS TRIP (Traveler Redress Inquiry Program), more than 99 percent are not on a Federal watch list."

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Time Travel through Seattle

If you've never visited Seattle and you find yourself in the Emerald City on a sunny day (yes, there are sunny days here!) you will want to head to the to the top of the Space Needle, icon of the 1962 World's Fair, or hop aboard one of the ubiquitous Washington State Ferries  - not as luxurious as those cruise-ship-like Greek ferries, but they provide unobstructed views of Puget Sound's expansiveness and beauty.

Seattle's  better-publicized rainy days encourage leisurely explorations of the Seattle Art Museum or the waterfront Aquarium.

Those looking for something a bit different should try the free, self-guided trip I wrote about in today's The Seattle TimesTime Travel through Seattle  I did it on a sunny day and again on a rainy day; either works.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...