Wednesday, July 28, 2010

And some places NOT to visit. . .

One of the books displayed on our Amazon carousel now is 101 Places Not To See.   It's a different sort of travel guide recently published by Harper Collins.  Its author, Catherine Price, has put together an eclectic collection of places that she, and several guest contributors, recommend that we don't bother visiting.

You might be saying, "But the world is out there to be explored:  good, bad, and ugly." And I admit we were somewhat skeptical at first.. .but then came the chuckles and that led to laughing right out loud.  After all, how can one read a book that includes "The Testicle Festival" (held each year at the Rock Creek Lodge outside Missoula, Montana) or "The Amsterdam Sex Museum" and not laugh?

I disagree with many of Price's slam-dunks on places; for instance, she seems to have written off the whole state of Nevada -- a place where we recently completed  one of the best road trips imaginable; or the Mummy Museum in Guanajuato, Mexico (so. . .it's not for the squeamish, but we thought it was interesting). Several items such as the smell of the (San Francisco Bay Area) BART rapid transit train carpet or 'an AAA meeting when you are drunk' seem almost to be 'fillers' and detracted from  excellent tales such as the night spent at a Korean temple (that one had me laughing out loud).

However, she's included a good number of places -- such as The Gum Wall tucked away in an alley near Pike Place Market right here in Seattle  --  that I'd never heard of before.

Each place gets no more  than 2- 3 pages in the book making it a great over-all quick read. It might be the perfect gift for some travel-fanatic friend of yours who always is looking for some new off-beat destination; she certainly has plenty of them!  

Note:  The publisher provided us a copy of the book to review; however, there were no commitments made to review the book on the blog.  We've read the book and enjoyed it, particularly the author's statement concerning why she wrote it: she was tired of those books telling her all the things she needed to do before she dies and felt it time to let people know those things they could remove from their to do lists.  

It got us thinking, "Where would we have included in the book?" What place would you have included? Add a comment below:

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Summer Travel - Novel Destinations

The next best thing to actually traveling there, is being transported by some writer whose skills with the written word take us from Kirkland to far-away places.  We've had some great armchair trips this summer to:
          "Winds of Crete" Loutro, Crete

  • Crete - Two outstanding books of vastly differing subject matter have led us back to our favorite spots on this southern Greek island.  
A very used, dog-earred paper-back copy of Winds of Crete, by David MacNeil Doren, that I found in Portland, Oregon's Powell's Bookstore kept us totally absorbed as the author recounted the six years that he and his wife lived in Crete.  The book was first published in England in 1974.
Who Pays the Ferryman? a novel by Michael J. Bird, based on his BBC television series of the same name, took us to some of our favorite cities as we followed the story of Alan Haldane's return to Crete after a 35-year absence and the love story that ensues. We ordered this book, first published in England in 1977, from The Book Depository (which offers free world-wide shipping; no minimum purchase required).
  •  Europe  - by train, bike, horse, boat and on foot in two books by a London journalist, Andrew Eames.
In his, The 8:55 to Baghdad, we tagged along on his 2002 trip from London to Iraq on the trail of Agatha Christie, the legendary mystery writer, who as a 30-something recently divorced woman in 1928 made the trip alone.  He masterfully weaves a biographical account of Christie into his travel tale that had us wanting to hop the next train from London and learn more about Agatha's travels. I came across this book in the biography section at a  Barnes and Noble.

(This book re-ignited our desire to read more Agatha Christie books and have just completed a cruise in her Death on the Nile and took an English garden tour in Nemesis.)

Patrick Leigh Fermor, the British travel writer who at age 18 in 1933 set out to walk the Hook of Holland to Istanbul provided the inspiration for Eames' Blue River, Black Sea, the story of his own journey on foot, bike and horseback along the Danube into the heart of the New Europe.
           Sipping raki with Bill and Val Kitson 

  • England has been the setting for a murder mysteries written by Bill Kitson, the author we met in the tiny village of Loutro, on Crete's southern coast.
The first book -- in what we hope will be a long series of mysteries -- introduces detective Mike Nash, in a riviting read titled Depth of Despair.  I ordered it on-line through Amazon.  While not a travel book, the plot has taken us from tarns in England's Lakes District to Russia and back. It is a book with such a gripping storyline that it we found it hard to put down.   I've just received the second book in the series, The Chosen, also set in England, which by coincidence opens with an article, fictitious of course, from The Seattle Times.

Note: I've been able to add all but one of the books referenced in this post to the Amazon carousel that appears on our blog - if you click on a book it will open an Amazon page that describes the book, author, and offers professional and reader's reviews.  And yes, if you click on one of the books and ultimately buy it from the carousel, we get a few cents from the sale.  (That's a disclaimer; not a sales pitch!)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Pacific Ocean to the Black Sea in a Day

We went from the Pacific Ocean to the Black Sea in a matter of hours; a move so swift for the glacially-researching Smith's that I still can't believe in two months we'll be cruising to destinations in Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and Greece. . .but that's how travel research and planning go sometimes with us.

The Research
For more than a year we've been looking for cruises that would include Sydney, Australia and New Zealand.  Either the ship's routing didn't appeal or the price was prohibitive. Then, some months ago, we began following the price fluxuations of a 30-day cruise from the U.S. West Coast to Sydney, with some Hawaiian and South Sea ports of call thrown in.  It tempted. The cruise price went down; we calculated the cost of the various airfares to get us back to Seattle and to San Francisco . . .we debated. . .'should we or shouldn't we?'. . . and then. . .

The Trip
Two days ago Joel was reading the latest cruise deals from Vacations To Go and he mentioned a 12-night Holland America cruise sailing this fall from Athens, Greece to ports of call that ring the Black Sea.  Price was good and the eight ports of call sounded exotic. We sent the cruise off to Cruise Compete, a website we've used before (and highly recommend) to price-compare this cruise.  We've learned price quotes do vary for the same category cabin on the same cruise.

By 5 p.m. we had booked our trip with Cruise Vacation Outlet, a company in Orlando, Fl, that submitted one of the best quotes we received in response to our Cruise Compete request; one that included a $175 on-board credit.

We'll be getting to Athens using a combination of frequent flier miles (it took some time to find something that didn't involve two plane changes and long waits along the way) and Europe's low-cost airlines.  We will fly Delta from Seattle to Amsterdam for air miles and $97US per person in taxes and fees.  After a couple nights there we'll continue to Athens.

Maybe we'll get to Australia next year. . .

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Starbucks and other travel tips

You might call us cheap, or frugal, or thrifty. . .or you might call us wise travelers who look for money-saving deals.  Whatever you call us, our approach to travel allows us to spend nearly four months a year living out of our suitcases. Here's some ways we've saved money:
                         Starbucks menu - Rhodes

Saving Money

Starbucks, our Seattle-based coffee company that has taken the world by the cup, has already saved us several hundred dollars this year. How? In a word, Via.  Via, is their instant coffee ( Italian/bold and Columbian/ milder), sold in a 12-packet box for $9.95, less than a dollar a cup. The Italian is strong enough for us to use a single packet for two cups of coffee.

In Greece, the price averaged 2.50E, or a bit over $3, a cup for coffee; no free refill and was often made with a packet of a mild instant Nescafe.  Being accustomed to at least two cups each in the morning and another in mid-afternoon of strong coffee, we calculated that over the course of the month we were gone, we would have paid more than $300US for coffee had we kept up our caffeine habit at restaurants and hotels. 

By using the hot water pots provided in our rooms -- a nice touch that we've found a part of our European stays -- and our Via, we saved big bucks.  We replenished our supply at the Rhodes Starbucks. 

We were not so frugal as to pass up cappucinos or lattes, but made our own black coffee. . .except on our Easy Jet flight from Rhodes to London where we paid 2.50E for a cup of Via. 
Back home, I've purchased hot water pot to use at home that is similar to those we used in Europe. I took it along on our recent road trip through the Western United States. It was incredibly convenient to have coffee in our hotel rooms and it again saved us money;  a cup of plain black coffee at Encore in Las Vegas was $3.50.

Room Rates

We learned a lesson about room rates on our road trip. Opting out of the afternoon pool time when Las Vegas temperatures hit 107-degrees, we did some Web-surfing in preparation for our departure the following day. We were seeking reasonably priced first-night-on-the-road destinations. The place that had the best prices it seemed  was Reno, where at its Silver Legacy Casino Resort, the internet price for a standard room was shown as $49.  We still were hesitant to book it, just because some other place might call out along the way. We planned to just call from the road the next day to make the reservation. 

Out of curiosity, I called the hotel while we had the price on the computer and was told the rate for the sametype room on the same night would be $89; at best it would be $59 if I held any of a number of memberships. . . that settled it; we decided to book then and there - using the internet.

       Greek trip began on Kirkland bus

Public transit
If you pack as we do - no more than a roller bag sized for an overhead bin and smaller carry-on bags then public transit systems can be navigated with luggage and save enormous amounts of money. Using our local Metro bus  and new LINK light rail system we traveled from our Kirkland home to SeaTac some 25 miles away for $10.50 for the two of us; taxi fare would have been $50. 

In London we caught the Piccadilly Line (The Tube) for a 45-minute trip to Heathrow after walking two blocks to the station from our hotel. The cost for both L9, or about $13 at the exchange rate at the time.  This compares favorably with the taxi fare to Paddington Station and then the Express Train to the airport. The train tickets alone would have been L33 or just under $50US.

FROM THE INBOX -Places to Stay

United Kingdom: Val and Bill Kitson, the murder-mystery writer and his editor wife, whom we met in Crete, reported staying at a great -- reasonably priced as well -- place on a recent stop in his book signing tour.  They recommend  The Best Western in Mexborough where they nabbed a Saturday night stay for L56 and that included free WiFi and a buffet breakfast.

Greece:  Michael has sent some great ideas for places to stay and eat in Karpathos, Greece.  Karpathos is an island between Crete and Rhodes where we'd contemplated a stop on our recent trip, but ferry schedules didn't cooperate. We would like to return to Greece in the spring and Michael has recommended Holy Week as the best time to visit Karpathos and Olympos for the island's best photo ops.  Do a little armchair travel and check out his son's website,  for great photos and information.

We are always looking for travel tips; if you have some to share please comment below or send them to so that they can be included in a future Tips Post.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Putting the Glam in Camping

         Cherry Wood B and B
Glamping is catching on in Washington State. . .that would be a healthy dose of glamour and a bit of camping.  When those two concepts merge anything is possible, as we found out this summer. 

We 'glamped' in a tepee in the Lower Yakima Valley, about 170 miles from Seattle called Cherry Wood B and B a few weeks ago and just yesterday toured the new yurts at Chiwana Village at Sagecliffe Winery and Cave B Inn, near Quincy, Washington.  From our tepee we had views of Mount Adams and from the yurt, the mighty Columbia River rolled past - some 900 feet below us, by the way.

           view from Chiwana Village
I wrote about our glamping for the Seattle Times.  The article appears in the July 15, 2010 NWWeekend section. I chuckled at the reader's comment that appeared shortly after the article went on line.  The writer obviously doesn't understand 'glamping' - a high end experience!

Yurt interior Chiwana Village
One of the best sources for glampsites around the world is

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Traveling in to the Techno World

By our own admission we are first, travelers, and in my case, then a writer.  We are eager to explore the world.  The one world that we've been hesitant to enter is the world of technology.  The day the first post successfully appeared on this blog I thought I had attained the highest of technology skills (that should tell you why we call ourselves 'techno dinos' in reference to the dinosaur age).  And thanks to several fellow bloggers out there who've so willingly shared tips with me, the blog is slowly evolving.

As the posts multiplied we have been encouraged to add Twitter and Facebook as yet more destinations in this brave new world we've entered.  So, never one to miss a stop along the way, I've started accounts on both.  You can find us on both as 'Travelnwrite'

I am still not sure how I got us there, nor where we go from there. But there we are. I encourage you to add us to those you follow or fan or friend or tweet or read or write or whatever. . .

Friday, July 9, 2010

Nevada's 'Biggest Little City in the World'

Google Maps and Expedia had nailed it pretty well - it took us just less than their estimated eight hours to travel from Las Vegas to Reno, Nevada. They listed 452 miles, we traveled 465. We also veered off their directions (when do we ever follow set routes?) and took the scenic route north primarily following State Route 95 and its Alternate SR 95.  We followed long stretches of deserted roadway through unseasonably green desert lands. 

The route provided us a trip through history thanks to the small towns through which we passed.  Towns such as Goldfield where empty buildings are but a reminder of its glorious goldmining days. It's just down the road 'a piece' from Tonopah, the town I wrote about a few days ago.  Goldfield's 1906 Esmeralda County Courthouse seems to be in the best shape with the old hotel down the road appearing to be poised for renovation.

   Mining operation near Goldfield/Tonopah

Mina, an old railroad town founded back in 1905, about an hour from Goldfield, seemed to have nothing more open than a single burger joint.  A sign welcomed ATV-ers (that would be all-terrain vehicles) to its more than 500 miles of trails and a subsequent internet search after we got home confirmed it's popularity with outdoor enthusiasts.

A couple hours beyond Mina we passed the Wabuska Bar and Rooms, a wooden building dating back to 1881; then a stop on the East-West Rail line.  The place is for sale according to the internet - hopefully the new owners will retain its historic presence in the middle of the desert.

There were a few brothels along the way as the activity inside them is legal in parts of the state. For more on this topic you'll have to do your own roadtrip or internet research.

The High Plains Drifters crossed elevations some 5,000 - 6,000 feet in height with temperatures at the summits in the 90's - I couldn't help but think of those pioneers who crossed these vast countrysides on horseback and in covered wagons. It was early afternoon when we reached Walker Lake a 12-mile long, 5-mile wide liquid oasis near the town of Hawthorne.  I read an article recently about words to avoid in travel writing.  "Oasis" is such a word. The article's authors claimed their are few true such places - I believe they need to do a road trip in Nevada and they'll change their minds on that word.  RV's and motorhomes were beginning to stake claims to spots along its banks of the 'oasis' as the Fourth of July long weekend approached.

We could have reached Reno sooner and maybe even shaved off some of the miles we logged that day, but the point of the trip had been to see the sights and on this particular day we got our money's worth!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Unlikely finds in the most Likely of Places

             Likely, California
The road sign welcomed us to "Likely,California" population 200 and elevation 4,447 feet.  As with many of the small towns on our road trip through the Western States, a single blink and you could miss the entire town.  It was the The Most Likely Cafe, just a couple doors down from the Likely General Store,  where we stopped for a late breakfast.

 The Most Likely Cafe has a Facebook page on which they list the Chef as Rodney Weed and public transportation to be "walking, horses and hitchhiking".  Serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and coffee, they say walk-ins are welcome, which is good, as that is what we were.

Being the third and fourth customers just before high noon, we sat on stools at the counter and our waitress paused before asking, "Did you want menus?" That didn't make much sense to us until three local fellows showed up for lunch.  To a person,  she knew what they wanted. "You want cottage cheese today?" she called out to one. "If you've got enough," he responded.

She poured their iced tea from a pitcher kept in a refrigerator at the end of the counter; the type you'd have at home, including the display of several children's drawings held on the door with magnets. For our requested ice water she dropped the large bag of ice cubes on the floor in front of us to break them up with a crash that jolted the senses, but it got the job done.

We ate our meal (two eggs, hashbrowns and toast, $5.75) while chatting with her about the area's weather, winter snowfall in this unincorporated community in Modoc County in northeastern California about six miles from Lively Mountain and the collection of salt and pepper shakers (her mom's) that lined the shelves. 

Some may wonder why even write about the stop as there was nothing particularly exciting about the meal or the conversation, yet, we found the experience itself to be most memorable.  It was this kind of small-town experience we set out to have on this road trip.  And it clearly illustrates that sometimes the best travel memories are made in the most un-"Likely" places.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Old Glory - A Red, White and Blue Road Trip

             Palazzo, Las Vegas
The "High Plains Drifters", as I named us for this journey, set out to see America's West on this 12-day road trip that took us 2,733.5 miles from start to finish. We twice crossed Washington State, traversed central Oregon and looped our way around Nevada, and nipped off a corner of northeastern California for good measure.  At one point we were next door to Arizona and a stone's throw away from southwestern Utah.

We returned to a cloudy, cold Kirkland with our skin a deeper shade of  tan, our souls refreshed and confident that the old west is alive and well. We are even more assured on this Fourth of July that despite the continuing media headlines of our county's economic woes and the on-going political finger-pointing, that at least in the West, America, too, is alive and well, as evidenced by those flag-waving patriotic people and places we found along the way.

                Burns, Oregon
Flags fluttered along our route from Hawthorne, Nevada with its enormous flag flying from a skyscraper-sized flag pole to the flag-lined highway at Pilot Rock, Oregon; from the Old Glory painted windmill blades on a farm outside John Day, Oregon to a campground on the Ukiah-Dale Scenic Biway where individual campsites displayed flags and red, white and blue banners.. .not to mention the dozens of towns, ranches and farms in between, decked out in red, white and blue.

We traveled roadways that at times followed or intersected the same routes as did those thousands of brave pioneers more than a century ago. Those who followed the Oregon Trail, the Noble Emigrant Trail and other routes across Nevada's Great Basins and on through Death Valley or the many mountain passes, like that  made famous by the Donner Party.

All those many folks who are credited with settling  the West were on a red, white and blue road trip of their own design ~in search of their American dreams; ultimately laying the cornerstones for the West that we were happy to find is still alive and well.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Heading North through Nevada

             Nevada Highway
The High Plains Drifters head north today through the high desert and Great Basin in Nevada. Reno is our first night's destination on the anticipated three-day trip back to the Pacific Northwest.  We avoided the 107-degree afternoon temperatures at poolside and opted to research destinations.  Best deal found: $49 a night room at the Silver Legacy Resort Casino so there we will go.

Expedia and Google maps tell us our travels will cover 452 miles and it will take eight hours.  I'll let you know how close they are to accuracy.

           Herbie and our Camry
Tara asked on an earlier post if we were driving Herbie, my 69 VW Bug (that my dad bought used in '71 for my college car)  and after several years and dollars spent on restoring my dear old car, I just chuckled at the thought. 

Well, I chuckled until we reached Tonopah on our trip south.  Because at the service station where we stopped to fill up our Camry, we saw this ol' boy, a 70 VW Bug that the owners assured me had served them well. 

              Herbie's cousin
Maybe it is time to have a bit more work done on Herbie - for the next road trip!


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