Thursday, December 31, 2009
Cruising into 2010 - Happy New Year!
We've been watching certain Australian/Asian cruises for several months now -- by monitoring the fluxation of prices on a variety of internet sites, such as CruiseCon, and Vacations to Go, from whom we receive emails regularly announcing sales and deals from all cruise lines. Then when a particular cruise really hits our fancy we turn to our friends at http://www.cruisecompete.com/ a web-site where we remain anonymous while obtaining price quotes on that particular cruise from cruise specialists from throughout the country, who respond to our request.
And yes, the prices do differ - sometimes by hundreds of dollars for the same cabin categories. We thought this balcony cabin was a great deal at $125 per night on Holland America's transatlantic crossing last spring; and friends, using a different agent, booked the same cabin 10 doors down for $100 per night.
Our continuing recommendation to friends who are new to cruising - sometimes heeded and other times not -- is to get quotes before booking your floating adventure. We've saved money and had on-board credits, shore excursions and parties as result of shopping around. In fairness, sometimes the quote is no better than that given by agents we have dealt with in the past, in which case we end up returning to the agency we've previously used. . . but we have found deals by shopping around.
Before we book any cruise we routinely refer to http://www.cruisecritic.com/ where we find a comprehensive report by Cruise Critic staff on ships, and extensive cruise ship reviews by fellow cruisers and information on the cruise line industry and ports of call.
Cruisecritic.com keeps tabs on all aspects of the industry and in a recent update noted that 15 new cruise ships will be debuting world-wide in 2010 in cruise lines ranging from Holland America and Costa to Norwegian and Cunard.
For cruise bargain hunters like us, they predict cruise deals will be harder to nab as prices are heading back up to pre-2009 levels. Sounds like there will be deals in the shoulder season and for last minute (gotta fill the boat) bookings.
for now we continue to ponder prices and cruise destinations. As the year goes along we hope to hear from you about your travel plans and recommendations. Here's to 2010!
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
We are taking a Vegas sunbreak thanks to Expedia (http://www.expedia.com/) dealing up some good prices on packages. We'll fly round-trip, on Alaska Airlines (http://www.alaskaair.com/) from Seattle, staying four nights at Wynn for $808 - total package price for two. It was a winning hand for us.
We probably should have tried one of the new City Center hotels (http://www.citycenter.com/) the $11+ billion, 68-acre mega-development on the Las Vegas Strip between the Bellagio and Monte Carlo, but decided to stay loyal to Wynn, where we have consistently had great service, enormous rooms with floor to ceiling windows that provide expansive views such as the one I added to this post. (For those not familiar with Vegas, that space-age like structure at the bottom of the photo is the entry to the Fashion Show Mall.)
City Center began its phased in open this month so we do plan to explore the hotels there: Aria, the hotel/casino with 4,004 guestrooms, 16 restaurants and 10 bars and lounges; the non-gaming Vdara Hotel and Spa, which brought a total 1,495 new suites to the Vegas inventory; and the Mandarin Oriental, a combination of 392 guestrooms and 225 residences - and six restaurants.
Monday, December 28, 2009
Seattle: America's Most Literate City
It's worth visiting the Seattle Public Library because of its architectural fame alone. If you find yourself in town, make it a point to drop by and explore the structure. Another stop for book lovers is The Elliott Bay Bookstore, (http://www.elliottbaybook.com/) the near legendary independent bookstore, that for decades has been located in the city's southcentral Pioneer Square area. This spring the store will be relocating to a new Capitol Hill location, on 10th Ave. between Pine and Pike. Although the location is new, the building is vintage Seattle; built in 1918 and complete with squeaky wood floors. The new location will have space for a cafe and author's speaking area.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Countdown to 2010 Olympics
I noticed the Bellwether Hotel (www.hotelbellwether.com) about 50 miles to the south of Vancouver in Bellingham, WA is in the spirit, offering an Olympics package: At the Gold level your three-night stay for two persons includes a personal town car service to and from Vancouver and other goodies, starting at $6,300. The Silver will get you the same length of stay in an Executive waterview room and a daily shuttle starting at $1,320. At the Bronze you also stay in a waterview room but you are on your own for transportation. That starts at $669.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Cruise News: Cunard's World Cruise
A Yorkshire Court awarded them $80,000US in refund and additional $36,000 in damages. Need I say Cunard is appealing the judgement? Read the article on Cruise Critic for details of the couple's complaint. Any one who's ever cruised will find it good for a chuckle.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Austin: Strolling through History
Among our favorite historica buildings were The Driskill Hotel (http://www.driskillhotel.com/) just off Sixth St. and The Austin Club (http://www.austinclub.com/) on Ninth St. The hotel, built in 1886 by cattle baron Jesse Driskill, has 189-guest rooms in its Historical and Traditional wings. We began our weekend days with breakfast in its cafe/bakery and ended them sipping locally brewed beer in its bar. The Christmas season kicked off while we were in Austin so the enormous lobby with its columns and marble floors had a centerpiece tree that stretched to the ceiling. We found its food and beverage prices reasonable, if not on the inexpensive side for a luxury hotel; a tumbler-sized glass of fresh squeezed orange juice was $4 and a pint-sized brewskie $5.
Three blocks away, The Austin Club, is housed in the one-time Millett Opera House, built in 1878 by Captain Charles Millett. Over the years the Opera House has hosted legislative sessions, political conventions, dances and roller skating. The building is now owned by the Austin Independent School District and is being leased to the private club.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Keep Austin Weird
Monday, December 7, 2009
Austin: Hook 'em Horns
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Austin: A chilly reception
Locals we've chatted with more than make up for the chill outside. They are warm and welcoming and more than ready to visit. Tourist bureaus everywhere could learn from this city whose unofficial motto is "Keep Austin Wierd". We've seen an ecclectic mix of cowboy, urban hippie, business folks and visitors as we've bundled up in long johns and layers of clothing to explore this pedestrian-friendly Capitol of the Lone Star State.
Tonight the town welcomes Christmas with songs and celebration. Christmas carols will be sung on the steps of the Capitol. It was refreshing to see a Christmas tree in the chamber of the House of Representatives. Instead of arguing about symbolism, as our state does, here they are celebrating the state of Texas with each representative having an ornament on the tree with a scene depicting the area they represent. For example, Tyler, known for its roses, has a beautifully decorated globe with red roses on it.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Cattle, cowboys. . .and wine?!
But a bit of research prompted by a recent article in the New York Times took us to the web site of the Texas Wine Trail (http://www.texaswinetrail.com/). Austin's location is perfect for wine country exploration through the Texas Hill Country, which is home to some 24 wineries. While we won't have time to explore the trail, we'll make it a point though to sample some Texas vino while visiting some of Austin's wine bars like Cork & Co. or Max's Wine Dive. With names like that we can't pass them up.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Washington's Winter Getaways
The nose-numbing crisp winter air of Central Washington tempts at Stehekin, the tiny hub nestled on the slope of the Cascade Mountain range at the tip of the 55-mile-long glacier-fed Lake Chelan. Stehekin Landing Resort (www.stehekinlanding.com) has become a favorite summer/fall destination but unfortunately, they don't rent rooms in the winter. We don't have the equipment - nor desire - to camp in the snow. Two cabins are available for rent so we may just round up some adventuresome friends to join us in this mountainous wonderland where the winter days are short and the piles of snow tall. If nothing else a day trip aboard the Lady of the Lake to the Landing for a bowl of steaming hot soup may be in order. For more about Stehekin in the winter, check out my article in the Seattle Times, November 26, 2009.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Headin' to Austin
If the town is half as much fun to visit as its Visitors and Convention web site (http://www.austintexas.org/), we will have a great time.
Founded in 1839, it sounds like there's a lot of history to be found there. Two free guided walking history tours are offered each week; one of Congress Ave./6th Street (Thurs - Sat. 9 a.m. and Sunday 2 p.m.)and one of the Bremond Block Historic District (11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday). All we need do is register 48-hours in advance by calling 866-GO-AUSTIN.
Getting to Austin will be a snap as Alaska Airlines (http://www.alaskair.com/) just started non-stop service between Seattle and Austin, (every day but Saturday when they loop passengers through a San Jose, CA, connection to get back to Seattle). Alaska's introductory fares are starting at $119 each way.
We'll be staying at the Courtyard by Marriott at the Downtown Convention Center. The conference rate of $185 per night drops to $135.96 AAA rate per night of our weekend stay. However, a friend who just returned from Austin reports even better deals; she nabbed a 4-star hotel in downtown Austin for $105 a night, including taxes, on http://www.hotwire.com/
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Honolulu: Surf's up and prices are down
Hotels were a different story: The Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa (http://www.marriott.com/) that two years ago had January city view rooms at $269 per night currently is offering a $144 (AAA rate) per night. That seemed an incredible savings until Joel, this travel duo's researcher, found the Hilton Waikiki Prince Kuhio, (www.hiltonhotels.com) located on the same intersection as the Banyan and Marriott, had ocean view rooms for our January time period at $99 per night. We booked it.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Kitron sipping in Naxos
Our nightly ritual for the three of us -- Joel and I and Rob, the traveler from Australia with whom we forged a friendship as we hauled suitcases up the hill in Folegandros -- was to sip a Kitron (or two) at Kitron Naxos, a popular waterfront bar, across the street from the marina. We had actually begun our nightcap tradition in Folegandros, sipping Greek raki, and we continued the ritual sipping Kitron in Naxos.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Wynn-ers In Vegas
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Paris Postscript: getting around
Batobus, (http://www.batobus.com/) operates river boat taxis that travel the Seine making stops at eight notable locations in Paris, including Notre-Dame, Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower. A day pass, that allows hop-on, hop-off stops is 12E these days. Multi-day passes are also available. From the back deck of the boat you can get some great photos although the glass enclosed walls and ceilings can get a bit steamy when sitting inside with a large group of other tourists.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Paris Postscript : L' Entrecote
We arrived at the restaurant at 6:40 p.m., twenty minutes before it opened for the evening's dining. There were only four others outside the restaurant when Joel read the hand-written menu posted outside the door. Not wanting to perpetuate the image of Americans -- who eat unfashionably early -- we went down the street and nursed a small glass of rose, finally giving in to hunger and returning to the restaurant at 7:20 p.m. In that 40 minutes the place had filled. Jam-packed filled.
We sat shoulder-to-shoulder, with other diners, our tables only inches apart. The only thing we had to decide was "rare, medium, or well-done" and the rest is taken care of by teams of efficient wait staff. We were served a green salad with walnuts before the entre: steak frites, french fries and a cut-it-with-your-fork rib steak drenched in an herb sauce that lived up to decades of accumulated accolades. Wait staff whirled around the crowded room, but kept a watchful eye on their assigned diners, as the moment we finished this first plate, they returned with platters from which they served us a second round.
And of course, we had to try a dessert; a delightful artery-clogging, calorie-laden Profiterolles Chocolat a plate of ice cream filled puffs swimming in dark chocolate (almonds are good for you though, I reasoned):
We had this gastronomical romp for 69E, just over a $100US which included a bottle of house wine. It was one of the best food buys we had, particularly when 1E = $1.50US. When we left at 8:30 the line of people waiting to eat their stretched into the street:
Reservations aren't taken at this place but we recommend it highly no matter how long the wait. We dined at the original restaurant location, however its website http://www.relaisdevenise.com/ says it is now open in Manhatten and Bahrain as well.
Paris Postscript: Rue Cler
In addition to the vendors the organ grinder kept the atmosphere lively much to the delight of children drawn to his music. Just a bit further down the block this kid stole the show.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Bagless-Lady - did it work?
Monday, October 26, 2009
Autumn in Paris
A toast to Paris
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Marche Poncelet - Saturday morning market
Bon Jour from Paris!
Credit card safety tips -
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
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 travel there by ferry leaving at 9:30 a.m. and five hours later arrive in Piraeus.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Angels among us
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.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Folegandros bound. . .maybe
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Greek beach wear
Monday, October 12, 2009
Cretan road trip
From ruins to raki
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
Kalespera from Elounda
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 (http://www.coralistudios.com/) 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.