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. . .

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

35,000 feet somewhere over mid-America

I will be diverted for a few days from my Greek, Black Sea and yet to be discussed, Amsterdam as we are hurtling across the United States on Alaska Air heading to Savannah, Georgia. . .that's the land of Paula Dean and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil . . .and of course, Riverwalks, Historic Districts and much more.

A conference there prompts this trip so explorations will be squeezed in among learning new things - but Joel will be researching while I sit in sessions and then we will hit that southern deck runnin'.  To come along with us, check the blog periodically as I will be posting.

I find technology fascinating, like where do my tweets go, and who are the readers of this blog and how do we do all this without wires and cords connecting us to something?  But here I am 35,000 feet, flying faster than I would care to think of  and with a computer connected to nothing solid but when I push the button the post will appear, the subscribers will receive emails and others will find it as the most recent post. 

If any of you have recommendations for places to go, see, do and eat in Savannah, please send them or make a suggestion in the comments below. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Greek Island Hopping: A Pansion Paradise

So many choices and not enough time to try them all.

That was the only dilemma we had in traveling in Greece without making advance reservations in October. As we got to the end of the month we did find a few places closing for winter, but still we had no difficulty in finding inexpensive -- and always, charming -- accommodations while traveling without set destination or itinerary.

The only place we booked in advance was the Hotel Manessi on this island of Poros because it was our first stop some 24 hours after leaving Seattle. Spontaneity has its place but not after a combo marathon plane, train, bus and ferry trip.  (The four nights we spent here at the end of the trip were booked when we walked up to their front desk.)

While we don't usually make reservations, we do our research by reading books, articles or the Internet (we enjoy the reviews on or by simply talking to fellow travelers prior to arriving in a place. Even though we had an idea of what might be available. . .

Selection: A Matter of Serendipity:

Spetses: We'd planned to stay a night or two; we liked the website of a boutique hotel here.  As the ferry approached, we decided the waterfront hotels would be fine. After disembarkation Joel set out towards them, with me at my normal, ten paces behind him.

So I was the one, a man approached, offering a brochure saying, "If you are looking for a place, try mine - Villa Christina - it is only 500 meters up the road."  Although the waterfront hotels were fine, the brochure photos tempted and we set out to take a look at Villa Christina. It was so doggone charming (made more so by a courtyard filled with orange and lemon trees and brilliant bougainvillea blossoms) that we ended up staying there four nights at 35E, or about $50, per night. (We would never have found it on our own.)

Our Hydra hotel was a phone call away . This was our taxi across the channel.
Hydra - We had absolutely no plans to go there. Then we'd driven a narrow road through an olive grove late on a Sunday afternoon and ended up at a teeny dock where a small water taxi service operates between the Peloponnese and Hydra. The temptation was too great; we decided on the spot to go there so we certainly had no idea of where we would stay. This was spontaneous travel - even for us!  We asked the lady who'd sold us the taxi ticket for a recommendation. She made a quick call, (in the photo above) reporting that there was a nice place, no water view, available for 35E a night. 

When we asked how to find it, she replied, "He will meet you at the dock."  Sure enough, George, the manager, was at the dock to lead us to his Pension Erofili.  The rooms were spacious - we were tempted to stay longer but had a rental car to return so had to put this place on our 'return to' list!

We found our hotel in Aegina several blocks from the ferry dock
Aegina:  We again had a pension in mind when we arrived but scrapped that idea when  two local men explained that the place we were looking for was on the other side of the island, 45 minutes away by taxi.  So we walked the streets, bags in tow, until we passed a colorful building with the word "Hotel" on its front.  We spent two nights in this renovated neoclassical building built in the 1700's,  and now called  Aeginiti Koarchontiko.  Our rate here was 50E a night which included breakfast - fresh made cakes, cookies, pastries and a hot egg dish made by our hostess.

We've now spent four months of the last two years vagabonding through Greece, successfully using this 'go and find a place' system and will likely continue to do so until we are too old to haul bags around.   And this is what we do:

1.  Travel only in the low or shoulder seasons (early spring or late fall) -- we wouldn't try it in the middle of high season or at Easter or other holiday times when rooms are in demand (rates are also higher then). 
2.  Schedule our arrival for weekdays, as there is sometimes less availability on weekends.
3.  Ask to see a room or two (guidebooks recommend this as well) and if we aren't sure about a place we tell them we will give it some thought and may return. This isn't an attempt to get a lower price; sometimes we really don't know if we want Place A until we see Place B.
4. Pack lightly, using small carry-on-sized roller bags and smaller shoulder bags; this wouldn't work with lots of luggage.
5. Ask locals or other travelers to recommend places. We've had some of our best experiences following the advice of others.

Do you travel without reservations? Have you stumbled across a place that we should know about? Use the comment section and let us know.

Photos on this post are the property of Jackie Smith and can be used - only with prior permission.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Bosphorus Strait - Fact and Fantasy

Our journey through the Bosphorus Strait from a practical standpoint took us to and from the Black Sea.  But it seemed as though this waterway was leading us on a magical journey into the land of myths and fables.

Rumeli Fortress in the morning mist
We'd left Istanbul in the middle of the night (by our standards) at 11 p.m. For that reason, I was alone on our balcony watching the lights of the Asian shore as the Westerdam, our 82,348-ton cruise ship, glided toward the Black Sea on a rather chilly night in early October. (Joel, a bit more sensible, opted to sight see on our early morning return trip.)

It took just a bit more than a half hour to traverse the 20-mile long Bosphorus, the waterway connecting the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. This narrow channel, the fabled waterway of Jason and the Argonauts, varies from a half mile to 1.5 miles in width, bisecting two continents, Europe and Asia. 

Leaving Istanbul's busy harbor, we began our journey by sailing under the Bosphorus Bridge; so grand a structure that it seems more an elaborate sculpture sweeping across the waterway than a major highway between the European and Asian sides of Istanbul.

At night it is as brightly lit as a theatre marquee.  Just as we passed under the bridge, a light show began above, magically, it seemed. The clear lights illuminating the cable spans chased back and forth, off-and-on like tumbling dominoes between the towering bridge pillars outlined in blue lights. (It probably happens every hour, but I'd like to believe it was done for our benefit - setting the scene for our magical, mythical journey.)

Allowing that myth and magic to guide my imagination, I envisioned the kings and queens and mythical beings who lived in the grand buildings lining the Asian shore; some of which were outlined with lights and others mere shadows against the dark sky. Tourist maps show that they were, in fact, -  hotels, the Beylerbeyi Palace, a school, a pavilion, and numerous unknown structures. Those buildings gave way to expanses of darkness,  then the few lights in a small fishing community and we were entering the Black Sea.

We need to return to towns along the Bosphorus
Our return trip was on a misty-almost-rainy early morning (before 7 a.m.) which again lent itself to a magical wrap that softened the views of villages and structures along the shore.  The ship's topmost deck was our viewing platform where, with a handful of fellow cruisers, we'd race from side to side so as not to miss anything along the way.

It was all too soon over and we were passing Istanbul's Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace en route to Athens.  But this short stretch of waterway will draw us back one day. Next time, though, we'll use local ferries from Istanbul's harbor.  Guide books say ferries can take from 5.5 to 7 hours depending on the stops made along the way. . .now that will be a cruise!

Note: Photos in this post are the property of Jackie Smith, permission required prior to re-use.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Booking it with Argonauts and Turkish Tales

We still bring a paperback or two on trips and save room in the suitcases for any that we might purchase along the way. (Eat your heart out Kindle, you're not yet invited.)
Searching for books is a highlight of our travels, but one place we didn't expect to find a fun read was in Vikos Marine Supply store in Poros, Greece.  

Ferry arrival on the island of Spetses
Julian Blatchley's Adjacent to the Argonauts, a voyage of discovery in Greece (Matador, 2010) caught our attention because we'd learned about the Argonauts when our cruise ship had stopped  in Volos, Greece, the place from where Jason and his Argonauts are said to have set out from on their ancient world adventure to find the Golden Fleece. The modern town has built a replica of the mythical Argo ship. (Click the 'things to do' link on Volos for full story

And we'd also cruised the Bosphorus to and from the Black Sea, which is thought to have been Jason's routing. But the book sale was a done deal simply because the store owner said, 'It's a good book. Julian is a friend of mine."

Actually the book has nothing to do with Jason and his crew; it's a comic travel memoir about Julian's misadventures on a sailing holiday through Greece's Saronic and Argolic islands in the late 1980's with his friends Malcolm and Rex.

Blatchley's First Law of Nautical Recreation:  "The brilliance of the manoeuver is in inverse proportion to the number of people watching it."

It's an engaging, entertaining yarn that I still suspect prompted our visits to the islands of Spetses and Hydra, as neither were on the radar screen when we had headed to Poros. We also went to Perdika, a harbor town, the motley crew had sailed to on the island of Aegina. Amid the chuckles, the book provided great insights into sailing -- it isn't as easy as it looks.

A post script:  I scribbled, on the back of a business card, a note telling Julian (who doesn't live full time in Poros) how much we'd enjoyed the book and left it at the marine supply store.  Julian emailed this week - he'd received the note.

A harbor cafe in Perdika, Aegina Island
The book we'd brought along for cruise ship reading was Turkish Reflections, A Biography of a Place by Mary Lee Settle (Simon and Schuster, 1991).  Settle's detailed writing led us through Turkey, its customs and beauty of its cities and countryside (far more than we saw on the cruise) as she wove a tale of her past life in Turkey in the early 70's with her nostalgic return in 1989.  A sample of her observations:

"Turkey is more than ruins, or armies, or great-fawn-colored spaces of central Turkey, the mountains, the wild shades of green in the northeast.  It is a cared-for plant in a window, a geranium as tall as a small tree and covered with red bloom against a white wall, the controlled tumble of a grapevine, the economics of food and shade together on a trellis above a tabled in a hidden courtyard, a pot of basil in the captain's cabin on a fishing boat."
Another book we wish we'd read before the cruise, but learned of from fellow cruisers was, Black Sea - The Birthplace of Civilisation and Barbarism by Neal Ascherson (Vintage, 2007).  This this non-fiction paperback about the culture, history and politics of the Black Sea countries their people came highly recommended.

Note: These three books can be found on our carousel on the left-hand side of the blog home page.  They are also available from  Book DepositoryPhotos are the property of Jackie Smith and can't be used without permission.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cruising: A Matter of Dollars and "Sense"

Our cabin on the Westerdam
 "I'd say this view is worth the $8,000 we paid for the cruise!" the guy next door told his roommate the morning we were docked in Istanbul. "But 12 days will be enough, I'll be ready to get off."
Note: I am not an  eavesdropper. I was in the midst of my ritual 'morning-coffee-on-the-balcony' when I overheard the pronouncement.  Our cruise neighbor, we were learning, liked making proclamations and other bodily noises while on his deck, perhaps not realizing -- or caring about -- how sound carries.   

I am certain his bodily noises would have intensified had I leaned around the partition and told him that his view cost  more than double what ours had on this "Black Sea Medley "cruise.

On my balcony I'd also learned: He'd nearly missed the ship because of a delay at the airport.  No problem, he'd said, because ". . .some sweet talkin' to Holland America and they would have rented a chopper to get us to the next destination."   (Hmmmm. . .. don't think so, read on. . .)

A few days later. . .

While chatting with another (U.S.) West Coast couple;  our conversation followed a typical pattern of "cruiser talk":
Enjoying the cruise?
This your first cruise?
(Then,clearing the throat) . . .and so, what did it cost you?
Their response to the price we had paid was: "That was per person, right?!" 
When learning that it was the total cost, the lady blurted, "We paid $12,000!!!"

They were new to cruising and had sought the advice of a travel agent. Her husband said they'd only wanted a 'place to sleep' as it was the ports of call - not the cruise ship luxuries - that had appealed. The agent convinced them to book a mini-suite.

And then. . .

Over sail-away drinks, (those libations consumed while watching the ship leave a port) a man told us his cruise woes began when an East Coast storm caused flight delays. He'd missed the ship and spent his first 'cruise night' in an Athens hotel. The next day he had to fly from Athens to Kusadesi, Turkey to catch up with our ship.

"I missed an entire stop" he lamented, adding that next time he will allow an extra day to get to his port of embarkation. (Note: HAL didn't hire a helicopter for him.)

We had a spacious deck - well used on sunny days
 Even with 'good deals', cruising is a chunk of change when you consider all costs associated with it; but there are ways to save "Dollars and Sense". Here are our suggestions for doing so:

1.  Web surf - it is free and easy. Check out various cruise lines and itineraries.

2.  Decide what's most important: the routing and ports of call or the cruise ship amenities.

3.  Do a bit more research: * Read on-line reviews such as those on Cruise Critic.
* Check out the shipthat interests you on the cruise line's web site - look at floor plans and on-board amenities; read the links to the ports of call on the itinerary.

4.  Get price quotes - even for the same cruise. We use When comparing prices make sure the price quotes are for the same category cabin. (size of room and location on ship). (We are researching a 2011 fall cruise for which we've seen three different prices already)

5. Ask about on board credits or other booking incentives.

6.Talk to others who have cruised; consider their opinions and recommendations.

7.  Use a travel agent if you aren't comfortable making cruise arrangements over the Internet. But use one that knows cruising first hand. Note: some now charge for advising you on options but usually apply the fee to your travel purchase. (It's okay to ask: If they've cruised in the part of the world in which you are interested? How much cruising have they done? Which lines have they cruised on?)

8. Think over the options they give you; you don't need to book on the spot. We've often had a cruise on hold for a few hours or overnight to give us time to check out airfare (using frequent flier miles requires some flexibility in travel dates, for instance).

9. Consider logistics and costs of getting to and from the cruise. (We've passed up some great cruise deals because of difficulty or cost of getting to the ship.)

10. Plan your travel to arrive a day or at least an evening before your cruise, especially if crossing time zones You'll have a cushion against delays (and costs associated with them) and you'll get a jump on curing jet-lag.

HAL's Westerdam in Piraeus, Greece
I invite those travel professionals and cruise enthusiasts out there to add your recommendations for saving dollars and 'sense' by using the comment section below.  

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sevastopol: We're not in Kansas,Toto!

In  Sevastopol, Ukraine, I knew how Dorothy felt after she and her dog, Toto, arrived in the Land of Oz

We generally consider cruise ports of call to be 'appetizers', giving us enough taste of a place to prompt a return someday. But, this stop -- of less than three hours, in our case -- took Sevastopol off our 'future's' list.

Admittedly, we had but a snapshot of a city on a  rainy, gray day; a setting that gave a spy-movie feel to the place, but that wasn't the only thing. . .  

First, on the positive side -- unlike the guarded welcome at Sochi, Russia --we were allowed off the ship here to wander the streets on our own. So we had a chance to explore the town - unlike fellow cruisers who saw  Romanov's Summer Palaces and the Best of the Crimean Riviera on ship-organized tours. 

                        Strolling through the park
Tourism websites describe a Sevastopol that is vastly different from our 'snapshots' which include:
* Sodden streets, empty, but for an occasional pedestrian or two.
* Empty parks - music playing from high mounted speakers in one gave a haunting feel to the empty surroundings.
* Closed stores.
* A handful of elderly women standing on a street corner near the padlocked sprawling market area selling produce from small plastic bags.

Weather conditions and timing of a visit can affect first impressions, but it is the interaction -- or lack of -- with people, that leave lasting impressions  Here, I wondered, were people's souls as empty as the streets? 
Although there were people, we had no verbal or non-verbal contact with them. It was if we were invisible. Or maybe they wanted to be invisible?

Our travel fall-back greeting, 'smile-and-nod-if-you-can't-speak-the-language' didn't work.  You have to have eye contact for that. There was no eye contact. There were no smiles.

I tested my invisible theory on those we did encounter:  a family at an espresso machine in the park, a few lone pedestrians, a trio outside a church, a clerk in a deli. . .each time their gaze -- (and in each case they had watched us approach) was quickly averted to someplace off in the horizon just beyond our shoulders. 

An elaborate fence reminds one of Sevastopol's history
A War Torn History
When one considers the history here, these folks, and generations before them, really haven't had much to smile about. The Crimean War and its Siege of Sevastopol in the mid-1800's and World War II are local history.  With all the memorials and monuments they've erected, those battles won't soon be forgotten. We saw war memorials (guns are prominent in the designs), statues of war hero's and Lenin, elaborate ironwork fences with designs incorporating the dates: 1941 - 1944. Even the facade of the stately Vladimirsky Cathedral was pockmarked with what appeared to be bullet holes.

 Gun Metal Gray
Even today there is a strong military presence. Our ship anchored in such a manner that our balcony was a viewing stand from which we could watch a passing gunmetal gray military ships . . .we weren't sure if they were Ukrainian or Russian ships.

With the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, both Russia and the Ukraine claimed the Black Sea fleet stationed there. By 1995 they had agreed to divide the fleet between the two countries.  The ownership of Sevastopol continued to be a point of contention and in 1997 Russia dropped any claim to Sevastopol but got 80% of the fleet.

A cruise stop is but a snap-shot of a place - the one we put in our memory book of Sevastopol is gray-toned, well, in fairness with just a splash of color:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sochi Russia: A Narrow Welcome Mat

                                    My View of Russia
One of the reasons I liked the itinerary of our Black Sea cruise was that it would allow me to set foot in Russia, the land from where my mother's parents left in the early 1900's for America's promise. 

And because Sochi -- stretching along the Black Sea with a backdrop of the Caucasus Mountains, some 90 miles beyond it -- is the site of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, it promised to be one of our most interesting ports of call.

                Our cruise routing took us to Russia 

Weeks before the cruise began we were notified of Russia's visa (and that's not the credit card)  requirements:  get one on your own, sign up for a group tour, or stay on the ship.  Visitors are not welcome to simply go explore the town as with the other ports of call on this trip. 

Using a link on HAL's website, we signed up for a tour before leaving home.  The response:  we were 'wait-listed' for the 4.5 hour highlights tour that we had selected ( $59USD per person). 

The night before arriving in Sochi, having heard nothing about our outing, I joined a line of fellow cruisers at the oft-crowded tour desk to check our status, only to be told, "Sorry, you don't show up on the waitlist. Hmmm," she added,  "we will have to make note of this."

It didn't matter really as others were told there was still a wait-list for two of the tours -including the one we had wanted.

We  opted not to take any of the three yet-to-be-filled remaining tours, priced at $89, $94, and $224, per person, with outings including tea at Dagomys tea plantation, visiting Sochi's Friendship Tree and seeing 'the best of Sochi'.

So we stayed on the ship. No visit to the 'homeland' for me this tme.

Using our binoculars, we admired the snow-topped mountain peaks that drew the Olympics here; without binoculars we watched the two boats (pictured above) that never left our side while we were anchored.   Their presence on the gray, dreary day, added to the mystique of the visit, but didn't give a particularly warm and fuzzy welcoming feel to it.

Those who did go ashore told tales of narrow roads, lack of tourist facilities (dirty bathrooms, no souvenirs) and a traffic jam that caused at least one bus to go no further than a mile in an hour's time (several buses were delayed in returning to the ship). 

"How will this place ever be ready for the crowds the Olympics generate?" was the common question they asked. 

One thing is for sure, they need to enlarge their welcome mat or they won't have crowds with which to deal.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Turkey: Bazaar, simply. . .Bazaar!

Bazaars for thousands of years have served as commercial hubs and meeting places in Turkish cities.  Some, such as Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, have become popular tourist destinations and others operate without fanfare, serving as both market and meeting place for locals - wonderful places to be 'discovered' by tourists such as ourselves.

Our HAL cruise allowed us 'snapshot stops' in Turkey's Istanbul, Kusadesi and Trabzon. And at each place we explored at least one bazaar. Each was a different size and shape; the common denominator being that they are refreshing alternatives to the uniformity of our U.S. 'big box' malls.

I must admit that we skipped, (for a second time), Istanbul's enormous Grand Bazaar, today a tourist shopping mecca of sorts, that got its start back in Byzantine times. The place grew to be the trade center for the entire Ottoman empire. This colorful, maize of a market place continues to be on our 'next time' list, but with limited on shore time and many other places to see, (not to mention four other cruise ships in town - each with bus loads of cruisers heading to the Bazaar) we decided to save that experience for a future trip. After all, with 4,000 vendors  I might need more time there than a cruise stop would allow.
           A Different  Spice at the Spice Bazaar
Instead, we headed over the Galata Bridge to Istanbul's mid-17th century Spice Bazaar.  After all, our Pacific Northwest travel guru Rick Steves' "Istanbul" guidebook had described it as a place where "the air is heavy with the aroma of exotic spices." 

Okay, so I did find some displays with small canisters of open spice and if I stood close and breathed deep, I could smell them, but this market, like the Grand Bazaar, has  'gone tourist.' The first two shops we passed sold knock-off designer sun-glasses and postcards . . .and little packets of spice  - convenient for tourists to tuck into a suitcase. There were samples of Turkish Delight candies and offers of all sorts of items, but we weren't enveloped in the exotic, heavy air ambiance for which I had hoped.

Of course, if adding spice to your life instead of your food was your goal, you could pick up a nice belly-dancing outfit.

Just a short walk from where the ship docked, we made it through a gauntlet of vendors who lined a narrow passage way, once a cobbled street in the old city (now covered with green carpet to keep tourists focused on product and not footing).  Here, even the slightest pause to look at a display, resulted in vendors calling out,  “Hey, Lady! What you want?" “Hey Mister, from America? Come and write a check, I need money."  "May I ask you a question? Where you from?" They were a good-natured, but persistent, bunch. And, I might add, the shops were stocked with tourist items.

                  A street in Trabzon's bazaar district
We found our favorite bazaar here.  The bazaar (Carsi) district's streets were teeming with shoppers on the Saturday morning we visited. And real shops sold real things to real people: hardware, pottery, clothing, foods, dry goods and linens, scarves and (of course there were plenty of gold jewelry shop for the tourists who made it to the area, as well).  We would go back to Trabzon for many reasons and the town's bazaar area is definitely among them.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Turkish Tea and Toilets

We don't take the land tours offered by cruise lines because we prefer to explore on our own.  Sometimes we have a destination in mind and other times we don't. 

And often times the most ordinary of experiences make for our most memorable travel treasures.  Such was the case with the Turkish tea and toilets in Trabzon.

                                                      A Trabzon street scene
We realized that on this, our third stop in Turkey during our Black Sea cruise, we had not yet sipped Turkish tea from those fragile looking cups that look like miniature drinking glasses served on  tiny saucers with tiny spoons.  We chose a place that for decades had been selling tea and offering a vast array of those walnut-honey pastries, baklava.

The one thing it didn't offer was a toilet.

Toilets, our waiter said, were across the street about a half block away. And then he led us to them: Down a long hallway and some steps at the back of a banquet hall. He directed Joel to the "Bey" room and then ceremoniously opened and held the bead curtains at the entrance of the "Beyan" room for me.

What happened next makes me laugh now; but at the time it was quite perplexing: 
The ladies room was modern with motion-activated lighting in stalls equipped with an eastern-style toilet (think toilet in the floor, a 'squat-pot') which was fine until . . .
I squatted and the light went off. 
I stood up, the light came on.
I squatted and the light went off.
I did this three times thinking,"Is this "Candid Camera"?
Finally, I took aim and did what I had to do - in total darkness.

When I came out, our gracious waiter was still there  and again opened the curtains for me.  He escorted us back to the street, shook our hands, thanked us again for having tea. 

He returned to his shop while we tucked away another travel treasure.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Open. . .Sesame! Those Street Treats

The temptations, it seemed, were on every street corner, at every ferry dock, bus or tram stop in Turkey and Greece. They were stacked high on tables in the open air or in glass enclosed colorful carts.

                              Lunch in Sinop, Turkey
We called them, 'those sesame circles' but the proper name in Turkish is simit and in Greek koulouria. By whatever name, they are some of the tastiest, cheapest street food we have ever eaten. I sometimes ordered by smiling at the vendor then drawing a circle in the air, pointing to the stacks, holding up two fingers for the quantity - I call it the 'point-and-smile' method of ordering in a foreign language.

It took a bit of time to convince ourselves to try them as they looked somewhat plain. I mean, there was nothing fattening to add to them or dunk them in - a practice to which we Americans have become far too accustomed.  Think large bread stick or small loaf of bread twisted into a circle and topped with sesame seeds.

But once we did sample them, we were hooked.  Some were sweet and others more like a cracker with the sesame seed topping providing all the flavor needed.  They made for several inexpensive lunches as we never paid more than .75E or TL (that's euro or Turkish Lira), often paying much less than that. The one I am eating in the photo above was still warm from the oven, as we purchased it at a bakery in Sinop, Turkey during our cruise stop there.

We eat on shore every opportunity we get when on a cruise (we welcome a break from ship's cuisine no matter how good it is).  And half the fun of exploring a new city is trying the new flavors and foods it has to offer even if it means ordering by my 'point and smile' method.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

October 28:: Oxi Day - Greek Parades and Pride

                               OXI Day - Poros
Oxi Day, October 28th, is a national holiday in Greece.  Throughout the country parades and celebrations are taking place and Poros is no exception.  Today's chilly temperatures, dark clouds and wind didn't keep residents from lining our main street and attending the ceremony at the war memorial in the heart of town.

Oxi Day commemorates the events that took place on Oct. 28,1940, when the Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxes refused Benito Mussolini's demand to occupy certain portions of Greece that he considered strategic locations.  The story goes that with a single word, "Oxi" ('oh-hee') or "No" the request was denied by the PM marking Greece's entry into the war. 

Today's celebration, a rather simple affair compared to the descriptions of those that take place in the larger cities,  involved -- it appeared - every child on the island.  School children marched wearing white shirts and dark pants and skirts; their teachers - men in suits and ties, and women in dress coats and shoes marched to their side.  They were divided by grade with the youngest leading the parade.  Each group drew loud applause from the on-lookers.

A single, small uniformed marching band played.  The Greek Orthodox priest opened the ceremony at the War Memorial with prayers.  Pairs of school children, some wearing tradtional Greek clothing, placed wreaths at the war memorial.  We all observed a moment of silence.

Greek tourist guides say not to miss the observance festivities if you are in Greece - they are right.  We consider ourselves fortunate to have been able to share in the celebration.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fall Harvest and Market Daydreams

Tourist season is coming to an end and harvest season is in full swing - it is a perfect time to be exploring the Peloponnese and the nearby Saronic Islands. 

One of the highlights of our trip is experiencing olive harvest.  Time and time again as we drove through the Peloponnese countryside Sunday we would come around a corner to find a mom-and-pop harvest underway. 

Large nets are draped beneath the trees to catch the olives. Branches were cut --  thus taking care of pruning and harvest at the same time, I guess -- and the branches shaken to release the olives onto the net.  The olives were then stuffed into gunny sacks.

We passed numerous old pickup trucks, laboring under the weight of stacks of sacked olives, as the harvest was taken to the cooperative processing plants that appear every so often in this area.

We opened the windows to inhale the pungent citrus air as we drove through miles of orange groves.

The abundant harvests of the area are reflected in the street markets held in towns and villages.

The street market held each Wednesday and Saturday in Nafplion stretches for blocks as vendors display their fruits and vegetables.  Zucchinis (courgettes) and aubergines (eggplants) carrots, cabbages and soft-ball-sized, vine-ripened red tomatoes are piled high. Leeks as long as yard sticks were piled like lumber next  next to mountains of fava and string beans. Huge bags of perfectly-shaped potatoes were offered for less than a euro.

In addition to oranges, pomegranites and figs, we were tempted by red- and green- grapes so vine-ripened they fell of their stems as I placed a large bunch into the bag the vendor held for me.  Liter and half-gallon sized plastic bottles are filled with home-made rose and white wines. (We tried the white in a liter bottle - we paid 2E - it was an excellent sipping wine).

Market prices are ridiculously low here; not like the prices we know at Farmer's Markets back home.  We strolled through the Nafplio market, restricting our purchases to an item or two that we would eat during our short time there. And then we begin daydreaming. . . if we were to live here a month or two each year, just think of the wonderful things we could cook at home  and how inexpensively we could eat. . .

It was an idea as tempting as the produce!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On Foot or Burro? That is the question.

On the island of Hydra (Greeks pronounce that, 'eee-dra') in the Saronic Islands off the Peloponesse coast, there are no motorized vehicles - except for two small garbage trucks.  So when you step off the ferry onto its near perfect crescent-shaped dock you have two choices for getting to your hotel: on foot or burro. 

              Burro loaded with rebar in Hydra
Unlike Santorini where the burro chain greets the cruise boats and photos are taken of passengers riding up the steep hillside, here the burro is serious business.  They haul produce and people, lumber, dirt, supplies and their handlers sit sidesaddle leading their pack-string along the waterfront loading the items in preparation of heading up the steep, narrow pathways to the town's interior.

Our mainland roadtrip took us to Hydra for a night's stay Sunday.  We had planned to stay in another town on the coast but as with our philosophy of travel, when the opportunity presents itself, take it.  We passed a sign pointing through an olive grove that read "Hydra".  We followed the roadway and found ourselves at a tiny taxi ferry dock, and thought,'why not?'

We parked near the olive grove, packed on overnight bag and hopped aboard the 16-passenger taxi that whisked us across the channel for a delightful evening and morning visit to an island we would otherwise have missed.

In case you are wondering, we walked to the pansion where we stayed for 35E a night. It was an easy walk, not far from the harbor.

It Just Doesn't Get Any Better. . .a Sunday Drive

"It just doesn't get any better!" has become an almost daily declaration of mine since heading to Greece following our Black Sea cruise.  Each new destination has me proclaiming, "it won't be better than this. . .view, moment, monument. . ." and then each new place proves that it can!

Sunday as we headed back across the inland and along the coast from Nafplion I think might have been one of those days that just don't get any better.

Our route from Nafplio took us through a series of small towns and miles of lush agricultural area; a checkerboard  of deep-green orange- and silver-gray olive groves. Rolling hillsides and valleys gave way to steep mountain peaks that we ascended on the twisty two-lane highway that took us back to the coastline we'd left five days before.

 It was an easy and quiet time on the roadway as Athenians hadn't yet begun their treks back to the big city so we had the road to ourselves, passing only a few orchard tractors and trucks along the way.  We stopped to admire the views - as good as Tuscany, we declared, if not better -- and that is saying a lot for the two of us who love all places Italian..

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Peloponnese Potpourri: People and Places

                             Nafplio from the Fortress
It is a sunny Saturday afternoon in Nafplion and the Square below our room has come to life with weekend visitors from Athens.  The cafes are full, a game of soccer is being played by local children on one side of the marble-paved square and a street performer is entertaining other children and cafe patrons on the other side.  Laughter and conversations fill the air.

There's been so much to see and do in this area that we've used Nafplion as a base (staying five nights) and have taken day trips by car and explored the town on foot. . .driving in old Nafplion is a tights squeeze at best so we park at the port's free lot and walk a few block to our hotel (which is in a pedestrian only area anyway).

Americans Among Us

We realized a few days ago that we had gone for nearly a week without seeing another American; in fact that last time we had spoken to Americans was when we called out goodbye to our Florida friends at the cruise ship in Piraeus. 

Our first night here we met three delightful young American women who are studying in Athens and who were in town for a four-day study of the archaeological sites nearby.  Monika from USC, Soula from Michigan and Clare from Notre Dame gave us an introduction to the sites that we would be seeing and we had some good ol' football -- not soccer -- but football, talk from home.  We saw two of our trio atop the cliff at the fortress the next day and had hoped to cross paths again but it didn't happen.  "Yassis" to you all - hope to see you again one day.

Street scenes

People often ask us about places and begin with, "But what is there to see?"  Our short answer is "Life." And one of our favorite from this trip is the nightly scocer game that beings about 6 p.m. on the Square.  A group of tousle-topped boys gather and anywhere from one to three soccer balls appear.  The boys appear to be between the ages of 6 and 10 but often a grown man walking by will take a kick or two and last night a toddler - a bit bigger than the ball - wove his way in and out of the big boys.  It made for great entertainment - we can hardly wait for tonight's game!


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