Thursday, December 30, 2010

Poros: The Perfect Greek Taverna

In 1963 a childhood trip to the movies in Yakima, Washington introduced me to Greece.

It was Walt Disney's "Moonspinners" that sparked my love affair with Greece and firmly placed it high on my 'to visit someday' list.  Luckily, our travels there in recent years have confirmed this country is as enchanting as I believed it to be so many years ago. I am spellbound at the sight of it's old windmills.  Watching a line of working burros lumber past, I whisper,  'just like the movie'. 

The one thing that hadn't met my idealized expectations was a 'movie-perfect' Greek taverna:

You know, it's the kind of family-owned place where the owners make you feel like you'd eaten there for years, the food is home-made; a place where the owner sings Greek songs, maybe does a little Zorba toe-tapping (because he is moved to do so, not as part of a tourist show). Oh yes, of course, the owner needs to be a fisherman as well to complete this idyllic place I sought out.

This fall we found my 'perfect' Greek taverna!

Apagio Taverna run by Liz and Spyros Papadopoulou on the Poros waterfront actually exceeded my expectations because not only did it meet all my requirements, but Spyros is also an artist.

Spyros caught this guy in the morning
and served him to us that night
The food here was so good, the warmth of welcome so sincere and the place filled with such a joie de vivre that we returned three of the four last nights we spent on Poros (and skipped one night because we 'had' to make one last visit to our gyros place, written about in the previous post.)

Each night was the same:  a warm greeting from Spyros and Liz, time spent telling us about the fish he'd caught earlier in the day, then we were left to leisurely ponder the day's list of homemade offerings while munching from a basket of fresh baked bread and sipping wine poured from the small pitcher in which it was served.  Spyros hummed. . .sometimes he sang, he stretched out his arms, snapping his fingers and doing a little dance while we continued to ponder our order. And occasionally we'd hear him raise his voice in the kitchen - it all added to the ambiance.

"Our" table was next to the art display
His paintings which filled the wall were inspirations he had while out fishing.  

And each night we reluctantly left after a few hours of dining and conversation with not only our bodies nourished, but our souls as well.  Hugs and kisses were in order as we departed on our last evening. We told them we would be back. . .and, of that I am sure!

Photos:  Were taken by Jackie Smith, 2010, permission required for reuse. Zorba dance is a link to If you like that clip, we recommend getting the movie; it is great!.

Monday, December 27, 2010

"It's About What You Leave Behind"

For us, travel is as much about people as it is places.  As 2010 comes to a close we recall some of those incredible folks and the fascinating conversations that we 've had with them as they went about their day-to-day lives.  Each encounter has enriched not only our travel experiences but our lives as well. . .

We were off to indulge in some of our favorite gyros at a place in Poros just around the corner from the Hotel Manessi. We were nearing the end of our stay on this special island only an hour by fast ferry from Athens.  Time enough for one more gyro dinner before we left. 

On this particular evening we had more than good food - we had an art display next to our sidewalk table. And even better, an opportunity to meet the artist who sat sketching, surrounded by his finished pieces.

I was taken by one of his prints, a night scene of Poros, as it looked exactly as the city had the night before under a full moon.  I purchased it for 20E and kicked myself for having left the camera in the room as it would have been great to take his photo.  "Not to worry," he assured me, "if I am not dead, I will be here tomorrow."

Me and my artist  friend Vasilas Poriotis
Joel Smith photo, (c) 2010
 The next day's early afternoon downpour had me fearing that Vasilas Poriotis may not have opened his portable gallery, but there he was in the late afternoon under one of the restaurant's sprawling umbrellas; sketching away, framed by his finished pieces.  With photos taken we took him up on his suggestion to sit awhile and visit. (His fluent English he credits to the Greek school system and his one-time marriage to an English woman).

 As we sat at the edge of the busy harbor front road, Poriotis, described himself as a "low-art" self-taught artist whose finely detailed work features buildings and street scenes. We chatted about his work and his life, both of which focus predominately on this Greek island.

As our visit came to an end, we told him that we hoped to return to Poros in the near future and hoped to find him still there.  He used his "if I am not dead. . ." phrase again, but this time added:

"I am not focused on the end - I am not afraid of it when it comes. . .it is what you leave behind that matters," and with a sweeping gesture over his work, added, "and I have left something behind. "It is important to leave something behind."

Friday, December 24, 2010


No Matter how you say it, from  Mele Kalikimaka to Feliz Navidad~
No matter what you are celebrating~ 
Happy Boxer Day, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, St. Lucia Day, Three King's Day, Las Posadas and Omisoka. . . (just to name a few)

Planters Inn - Savannah
J. Smith photo - (c) 2010

We are sending you our wishes for a joyous celebration of your special holiday
 where ever you are in the world this season ~
Jackie and Joel

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Some good ol' Southern Cookin'

So intent were we on the street map that we didn't hear the Savannah police officer come up behind us.

"Can I help you folks?" he asked, looking towards our map. When Joel replied that we were trying to find Angel's Barbeque, (912 W. Oglethorpe Lane, 912-495-0902) the officer looked up from the map, took a good look at us and said, "We don't get a lot of tourists looking for Angel's."

And that's exactly why we wanted to go there. 

It had been recommended by a fellow at the Savannah Bee Company (another favorite stop of ours at 104 W. Broughton) as a place 'where the locals go' and that's exactly what we had in mind. 

Angel's Barbeque - Savannah
Jackie Smith photo, (c) 2010
Even with the officer's directions, we could have missed the unadorned store front on a small alleyway had it not been for a bright yellow banner that read "BBQ" and a stack of firewood in front of the otherwise unremarkable building. 

Angel's Barbeque
Jackie Smith photo, (c) 2010
We got there at 2 p.m. so we snagged a couple of seats in the teeny-tiny interior and found we had a perfect spot for watching the parade of locals coming for take-out.   We were stuffed when we split an Angel's Special sandwich that was piled so high with pork and cole slaw we used forks to eat it. Cost $6. 

At the other end of the spectrum we dined one evening at 700 Drayton Restaurant at The Mansion on Forsyth Park. The setting was exquisite and the food. . .oh my. . .the food!  Yummy!!!  We began with salads and then the waiter placed before each of us the largest pork chops I do believe I've ever seen.  The melt-in-your-mouth desserts were wasted on us as we could only nibble on them. It was the most expensive meal we ate while in Savannah -- $65 per person including taxes and tips -- but food quality and ambiance made it worth every penny.

And nothing will top the BLT Salad at The Olde Pinke House (I've written about this place in earlier posts) where fried green tomatoes are served atop strips of bacon and lettuce and all are topped with ranch dressing.  I could have skipped all other food there and eaten plate after plate of this salad . . .it alone would take me back to this southern city.

So tell me, if a tourist were to ask you to recommend a place where locals go in your town, where would you suggest? And knowing we have readers all over the globe I am hoping for some great insiders tips that we all can file away in our future travels file.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Favorite Airports: Savannah's Rocks!

If I were giving awards, my 'Airport of the Year Award' would go to. . .(drum roll). . .Savannah!
Well,technically it's the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport.  But by whatever name, it has to be one of the easiest airports to navigate and I love it because it rocks!
Actually the travelers rock, using the wooden rocking chairs provided.  No joke. Wooden rocking chairs. . .in an airport?!  It was a great introduction to the Southern Hospitality that was to follow during our week long stay in Savannah.

Savannah/Hilton Head Airport
Jackie Smith photo, 2010
 Whoever designed the place is to be commended and whoever furnished it is to be complimented.  Between the concourse and check in counters/baggage claim areas, you pass through a large open area designed to look like a southern square, made user-friendly with wooden park benches and rocking chairs.  They even have rocking chairs placed periodically along the concourse. And security was a breeze - no long lines  in the early afternoon when we passed through.

Another favorite airport is Honolulu's. Maybe it is the warm ocean breezes that envelop you as you step out of the Jetway in this open-air terminal or the aloha greeting of hula dancers who often perform in the airport's common area, but it also has a welcoming ambiance.  Its Asian-themed garden, a lush green oasis in the middle of the airport, provides a last-chance stroll through the tropics for those waiting to board flights.

The shops were so enticing when we landed at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport in October that I actually asked to go there early the next morning to make sure I had shopping time prior to boarding our flight to Seattle.  Flower shops sell tulip bulbs in kaleidoscope of colors and quantities and those stores with blue and white porcelain were irresistible. And then. . .while exploring the stores, we discovered the airport's casino. Yes, a real casino, where Joel is already planning to spend his time the next time I go 'shopping'.

All travelers have a supply of airport horror stories. But what about the good airports? Do you have a favorite? Tell us what makes it so.  Are there any that you'd like to put in the 'losers' category?  Tell us about them below:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Stocking Stuffers for Travelers

There are a number of items we don't leave home without when we travel. . .all are small and would make great stocking-stuffers for that hard-to-shop-for-traveler on your list.

They are simple things that make life on the road just a tad bit easier and sometimes cheaper as well.  So if you are about to make a last-minute shopping dash, consider:

* A Picnic Pack:  A half dozen small plastic food storage bags, a packet of fancy cocktail napkins, a wine/beer bottle opener and a small cutting knife. (The knife and the wine bottle opener go in the checked baggage).
(We buy cheese and fruit and a bottle of local wine at farmer's markets and have picnics in our room or along the way, storing the extra fruit and cheese in the bags).

* Souvenir Savers: Wine bottle shaped bubble wrap protectors. (Available at wine stores.) These work well for protecting wine and other glass containers in your suitcase.
(I've packed honey and olive oil jars in them to bring home).

* Gadgets and Gizmo's: Roll of adhesive tape, small sewing kit with some thread in basic colors, and a needle and small pair of scissors. (The scissors go in checked luggage.)
After being on a cruise ship in the middle of the Atlantic and needing a needle and thread with neither housekeeping nor the on-board store having them, we've since always brought our own.)

*The Laundry Basket: Plastic clothes hangers, two or three will do, and a half dozen plastic clothes pins  and  a couple of those tiny boxes of laundry soap (usually found at local drugstores in the U.S.).
(I've calculated that on our longer cruises and hotel stays we have saved at least $75 to $100 per trip by simply doing a bit of hand laundry. With a pair of socks or underwear coming in a $2 a pair, using a laundry service over a long-period of time can be pricey.)

* Take Note:  Light-weight, small notebooks (journal type or those with tear out pages) and pens always come in handy. (These can be found at drugstores and bookstores)

*S*** Happens:  To be honest, sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't, when you travel.  A packet of Imodium or other such brand and a small bottle of stool softeners will come in handy for either eventuality - and could end up being one of the most used gifts you tuck into the traveler's stocking. Along that same theme, travel-sized toilet paper packets -- especially for women travelers -- are sometimes worth their weight in gold. (all can be found in drugstores in the U.S.) 

 Got more gift ideas for travelers?  Use the comment link below to share your tips:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Savannah: a Strollin' and Stoppin' Town

I beg to differ with those who told us Savannah was a good walking town.  You don't walk in Savannah - not if you want to savor the full effect of its historic districts - you stroll and you stop, then stroll a bit more and stop again.

Strolling through a Savannah Square
Jackie Smith photo
 My photos -- for that matter even the tourist brochures -- can't capture the magical ambiance that a slow-paced stroll provides of this historic river-front city that was founded in the midst of the Georgia wilderness by British General James Oglethorpe in 1733.

Strolling was also a good way for us to justify some of those hefty, mouth-watering meals we were eating.  We spent hours wandering through the downtown commercial area and adjoining tree-lined neighborhoods. Yet, we didn't even scratch the surface, making it to only half of the 22 remaining (there were 24) historic squares.  These squares, designed originally as gathering places for those whose homes, churches and businesses bordered them, continue to be perfect spots for finding a bench and 'sittin' a spell'.  No two squares are alike aside from their lush flower and foliage beds and the dense canopies of massive Spanish moss draped trees.

Two squares became regular pathways for us and in each we were serenaded daily by street musicians. One flutist played an almost haunting background tune and anther sang to no one in particular as he strummed his guitar. They were always in the exact same spot in the exact same square. 

One evening en route to The Mansion on Forsyth Park for dinner we cut through a square where Santa was greeting folks, cider was being poured  while a baritone sang Christmas tunes to a small gathering of folks. 

Giant oak trees filter sunlight in Savannah's Squares
Jackie Smith photo 2010
From a practical standpoint:  Walking the tree-lined streets of the historic streets could be hazardous to your health as you would be going too fast and trip over the uneven walkways that rise and fall as decades of tree roots dictate. By slowly strolling those same walkways you give yourself time to look at the beauty of the place and not where your next step will take you.

(Note:  If you can't make it to Savannah click the 'historic squares' link for a virtual tour of a couple of them. And if you aren't able to stroll, take one of the many guided tours available - horsedrawn carriages or motorized trolleys will take you on a variety of tours from historic mansions the late night ghost seeking).

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Songs of the South - Savannah-style

There was no end to Savannah's entertainment possibilities: clubs, theatres, special performances, . . .you name it, we had a full menu from which to choose. So many choices and so little time.  Add to that, the musicians entertaining in many restaurants and cocktail lounges . . . some so good that they brought us back for second helpings.

Such was the case with Downie Mosley

Downie Mosely 
 Jackie Smith  photo 2010 
 Mr. Mosley plays piano in Planters Tavern in the basement of The Olde Pink House Restaurant (23 Abercorn St., 912-232-4286) on Reynolds Square. We'd stopped in for an after-dinner drink, having dined Sunday evening in one of the more formal (and very popular, it seemed) upstairs rooms.

Actually, we'd gone to the restaurant in hopes of hearing a singer that Joel's Kirkland barber had raved about, Ms. Cidra Sams. Keith had heard her a few months ago. But Ms Sams was off that night; lucky for us, Mr. Mosley wasn't.

(I am using the courtesy titles in this post that we found were the norm in this city. You always refer to folks by their title and surname - I was 'Mrs. Smith', well, at least when they didn't call me  'darlin' . . .which happened quite often.)

With the tarvern's dark, low-slung ceiling -- the wood floor-board beams of the main floor-- and the taper candles used to illuminate the printed menus I wouldn't have been surprised to see ale being served in tankards. After all we were in a home built by a wealthy planter back in 1773 on land granted by the crown of England.  Back then it was the Habersham House and this bar had been the kitchen, we were told.

But back to Mr. Mosley, who sits at the piano near one of the two enormous fireplaces that anchor each end of the room. He was such a performer and played with such enthusiasm, that he captured the attention of diners and drinkers alike.  His wasn't cocktail lounge background music; he was center stage. And it wasn't the electronically-enhanced set medley of songs, nor did he use sheet music.  You requested a song and he played it.

Downie Mosley and Cidra Sams
Jackie Smith photo 2010
By the time he'd given us a sampling of songs written by Savannah's famous son, Johnny Mercer, we knew we would return the next night - right about the time that Mr. Mosley started playing. (And that night we got to meet Ms. Sams as well!)

(Hint:  Do click the Johnny Mercer link, it will give you a sample of  his music, thanks to a great YouTube posting.) 

Photos on this post are taken by me and you'll need my permission to reuse them.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Novel Experience: Savannah's "Taxi Writer"

Even the briefest of encounters can produce the richest of travel memories.  Such was the case with a short taxi ride Sunday morning when we moved from the Savannah conference hotel to a small historic hotel tucked away at the corner of Reynolds Square.

Savannah's Taxi Writer - Robert T.S. Mickles, Sr.
When Joel asked our driver if he' watched any football the day before, he replied, "No, I am a writer. I am not into sports."  He then handed me his card which said he was:  Robert T. S. Mickles, Sr., Essence Magazine's best selling author of "Blood Kin, A Savannah Story, Part 1" and "Isaiah's Tear's, Part 2".
In response to all my questions  that his card had prompted, he offered me a large scrapbook (from the front passenger seat). It was filled with newspaper clippings about him, his books, clipped best-seller lists on which his books have appeared and photos of him with notable people. 

"May I take your photo?" I asked, as I exited the cab, adding, "You are famous!"  He laughed as he paused for the photo above, and said, "No, ma'am, I am not famous. Around here I am known as the Taxi Writer."

I bought his book at Savannah's E. Shaver fine books a few hours after our chance encounter.  The two store clerks offered stories about this author that painted a picture of a kind and generous man. The author's bio on the back of the book says he is the great-grandson of former slaves on one side of his family and Portuguese slave traders on the other. 

"The world needs to hear what we have to say.  We need to tell our stories." is the way he ends the prologue.  I suspect the book will be great if it is anything at all like the author.

[Note:  You can buy his books from Amazon and from the bookstore above.]

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Do Not Feed the Alligators!

Sign at Marriott Riverfront,    Photo,(c) Jackie Smith
Hey y'all, thought I was kiddin' in the last post, didn't you? 
Well it's no joke. 
They don't want you feeding the alligators. (Just for the record, we haven't seen any alligators) and we've spent a good deal of time looking at the river or crossing it.  This sign, by the way, is posted at our Marriott Riverfront Hotel.  I've been shuttling across the river each day to the Savannah Convention Center (the Westin, adjacent to the Center, is in the photo below).

The Savannah River traffic from our room. Photo (C) Jackie Smith
 What we have seen is a  passing parade of freighters from around the world - we've lost count of the countries they represent but within a few minutes yesterday we had a Greek ship leave and an Italian one arrive.  Depending on who we've talked to, this is either the 3rd, 4th or 10th largest port in the United States. Whatever it's size, these mammoth sea creatures gliding by prompts squeals from kids and send adults sccurrying for cameras.

Tomorrow we give up this view for a taste of history; we are moving to the Planters Inn, on Reynolds Square in the heart of this charming city. We will be across the street from The Olde Pink House, restaurant and tavern, where many swear the ghosts roam freely. Will let y'all know if any make their way to the hotel. . .

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hey, Y'all - from Savannah

Okay so first I'll do some name droppin': 
--Paula Deen (she's the cook y'all see on the Food Network who cooks with a pound a butter and a lot a Southern influence).  Her restaurant The Lady and Sons is so dad gum popular in these parts among the tourists that even with reservations, there's a line outside the door.  They call her the 'First Lady of Southern Cooking' here. (But we've found even more local restaurants than hers without the fanfare which I'll tell you about later).

And then we have Johnny Mercer, the lyricist, who wrote such pieces as Moon River and Skylark and many others -- he's a hometown boy as well.

Other notables include Clarence Thomas the U.S Supreme Court Justice and then there is Juliet Gordon Low, (bet you don't know that name) but she's the founder of the Girl Scouts of America and since she spent most of her life here there are two historic places dedicated to her:  her birthplace and the Girl Scouts First Headquarters.

And then. . .there is Uga VII. . .and this guy is one of the most famous and loved residents:  He's the bulldog who is the University of Georgia's cherished mascot (there are stuffed versions of him for sale around here complete with red sweaters. 

Beyond the famous folks, there's the history (more on that later) and the beautiful squares and the southern hospitality (have you ever gone to a national conference and seen posters on the doors of businesses saying "Welcome" to your group? It is happening here.) 

Y'all (you do talk this way after about 20 minutes here) may not be able to understand this, but there is somethin' special about this place; we are talkin' down home Americana. I am ready to move here, but if that doesn't pan out, I've at least got a few days after the conference  and there's the ghost tour in a hearse, or the Historic Homes Tour or the Civil War tour. . .so y'all check back later there's a lot more a comin' from these parts.  And don't let me forget to tell y'all about not feedin' the alligators. . .

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

We went Walkin' about Midnight in . . .Savannah

/We went walkin' about midnight yesterday in Savannah. . .not through the Garden of Good and Evil but down the main drag to the Marriott Riverside conference hotel. Despite my tweets and other teasers about John Berent's book, this walk was because we arrived about then --several hours after we were scheduled to arrive -- and were looking for a place to buy a glass of wine. (Every place was closed by the way - no wine).

Let me make it clear:  after missing Alaska's flight 261 a few years ago by only three days (the flight that ended up in the Pacific Ocean killing all on board) I don't take flying lightly. It is not for the faint of heart. I consider  flying  the means to an end, as was the case yesterday:  we were flying to get to Savannah -  which we did, although somewhat later than we had planned.

 Not long after I wrote from 35,000 feet above the United States, our plane slowed (at least it didn't circle for an hour as others had) on our approach to Atlanta.  The flight attendants said to expect 'severe weather" in Atlanta, the city where we could connect to our 39-minute flight to Savannah.  Later, on the ground, we learned they'd been under a 'tornado watch'. And so we joined thousands of others in Atlanta who waited for the weather system to pass and the congestion it had caused to ease. 

We were among the lucky ones and we reached Savannah at about 11 p.m. instead of the earlier expected 8 p.m.  Others in our conference delegation had flights cancelled and didn't arrive until the early morning hours today.  Was it worth the trouble of getting here?  You betcha!  More on that tomorrow. . .


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