Thursday, September 29, 2011

TP Thursday: That moment in Crete

That moment.

We all have them in our travels; that one particular moment -- the scene -- that comes instantly to mind when you think of a particular place you’ve visited. I captured that moment on Crete during our trip there last year.

It was afternoon in Loutro, a small village on Crete’s southern shore. We’d taken a walk on the town’s main ‘thoroughfare’ – a sidewalk that looped from the ferry dock bisecting the dining decks of handful of restaurants, and display areas of stores that ring the crescent shaped shore on which it is located.
 crete 2010 043Loutro, can only be reached on foot or by boat. This boat was one of three or four in the harbor that afternoon. The ferry had departed, the day's hustle and bustle had ended. The sunlight cutting through the crystal clear water as it lapped against the shore turning rocks below into mosaics was mesmerizing.

Notes: Click to enlarge the photo.
If you want more about our Loutro visits, follow this link:
The link above the photo takes you to the official Loutro site, where accommodations for 2012 are advertised as starting from 12E a person, per night!

To see the other photos in this week's  Travel Photo Thursday, visit Budget Travelers Sandbox.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

High Plains Drifters Kick Off ‘Sun-Seeking Season’

The High Plains Drifters (that’s us) will soon be celebrating ‘Sun Seeking Season'. That’s the time of year when our Pacific Northwest days begin and end with the same gray, dreary weather. . . and we start seeking sunny destinations.
We kick off this year’s Sun Seeking Season in Las Vegas at The Villas at Polo Towers on The Strip (3745 Las Vegas Blvd. S.). 

Polo Towers, just a block or so from the better-known Paris Resort (photo above), will be our base for a week. Our one-bedroom, one-bath condo -- with full kitchen, living and dining areas -- will be one of our sun-seeker  ‘homes’.  We plan to bask in the sun at poolside, read some books, do some cooking ‘at home’ and, of course, explore all that we can.

DSCF0064Then we’ll aim our rental car south, so that we can spend a few days in Scottsdale, watching those magnificent sunrises at the same place we stayed last spring, The Scottsdale Links Resort (16858 N. Perimeter Drive).

Both of these  ‘homes-away-from-home’ are ‘time share’ resorts. We don’t own at either place, but our timeshare ownership at other properties allows us to participate in the exchange management company, Interval International’s  ‘Getaways’ program that offer accommodations at greatly reduced rates, literally, at a fraction on of a cost of a hotel stay.

Although we were reluctant to enter the timeshare world a few years ago, now that we’ve taken the plunge, we are sold on the concept.  It is much like having a second-home, but without the responsibilities of full ownership. The other nice thing is that our ‘home’ can be anywhere in the world . . .where the sun is shining!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Washington D.C. ~ Monumental ‘Wanders’

A week ago today I was flying to Washington D.C. for one of those whirlwind trips that conference attendance often generates. The kind that allows only a few hours on either side of the event to get out and explore the area.

To those of us living on the West Coast, Washington D.C., on the opposite side of the country, is the ‘other Washington’– the one that requires an almost six hour flight to reach from ‘our Washington.’

That ‘other Washington’, is our nation’s political engine. That fact alone is a turn-off to many would-be tourists, who see it as a haven of politicians; a grandstand for their rhetoric and bickering. Others, like me, also see it as a treasure chest of wonders; museums, monuments and memorials showcasing so much culture and history that it would take weeks to visit them all.

So where to wander in a matter of  hours?

DSCF1240 Three of us West Coast Washingtonians caught METRO and for $2.45 each way, whizzed  from Arlington, Virginia (where the conference was held)  to the National Mall’s  underground Smithsonian Station, from where we emerged to the sight of the Washington Memorial (pictured) to our left and the U.S. Capitol Building to the right.

From there we set out to pursue our own itineraries:

I headed to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (14th Street and Independence, 202-448-0400).  It was my third visit – and I could still return ten times over, each time learning/seeing  something I’d missed on a previous trip. You don’t tour this four-story archive of 1930’s – 40’s European history, you experience it. I used most of that afternoon’s free time pondering and shuddering at the story told through its 900 artifacts and 70 video monitors about  Hitler’s rise to power and the devastation that followed.

One of the displays  tells of the Hitler-ordered book burnings across Germany in the Spring of 1933.  Books authored by Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis,. . .Helen Keller, among them.

It wasn’t until this visit that I noted on the display window, a chilling quote written decades in advance of Hitler’s reign:

“Where books are burned, in the end people will be burned.”
Heinrich Heine, 1797 –1856, German Jewish Poet.

Admission is free.  What you experience here, stays with you for a long time. Photos inside the Museum are not allowed. I took the photo to the right as I walked to the Museum Café  housed in the building on the left; the Washington Monument in the distance.  The sculpture is titled, Loss and Regeneration.


DSCF1263We managed another monumental ‘wander’ during the three hours after the conference’s end and our flight home. We again hopped Metro and for $2.20 each, emerged from the underground station at Arlington National Cemetery.

We opted – because of the short amount of time we had – to take the narrated, 45-minute shuttle tour ($8.50 per person) with the idea we’d see the whole place and if time allowed go back to those particular places we wanted to see a bit more in-depth.


We scrapped that plan when we arrived at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier within minutes of  the Changing of the Guard – an event that I now know shouldn’t be missed. 

We were walking toward the Tomb when in the distance we heard the echo of a 21-gun salute. . .we were told that some 25 military burials take place each day. . .

As we waited for the human guards to change, we watched a Bald Eagle, our national bird and our country’s symbol, soaring  overhead, as if the ultimate guard of the more than 320,000 servicemen and women buried within Arlington’s 624 acres.

And then the Changing of the Guard:

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Travel Photo Thursday: New Angle on ‘Paris’

Travel Photo Thursday made me think about how we all can influence a photo by the angle we use to cut out people, signs, graffiti, garbage cans that might otherwise distract from the scene. Sometimes a snippet of the full scene is all it takes to bring back good memories.

Joel and I were celebrating my summer birthday, sitting on the patio at a Parisian café when I looked up and decided this photo would capture that moment:


I should add, we were dining at  Restaurant Mon Ami Gaby ~ right in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip, but you wouldn’t know it from the photo, would you?

Travel Photo Thursday was started by Budget Travelers Sandbox, so just click this link to see photos from other travel blogs.  Click the photo above to enlarge it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Travel Photo Thursday: Medianoche Magic

Madrid comes to life at night – not only its people ,but its buildings as well.  This week’s Travel Photo Thursday shot was taken on our last night in this enchanting city last spring.

On this particular night, at medianoche, or midnight, the streets had an almost magical feel about them. We’d skipped the early evening ritual tapeo, the parade between tapa bars for sipping and sampling, opting instead to dress up and head to the elegant bar at The Westin Palace Hotel, just a couple blocks from our apartment. 

Built in 1912 by King Alphonso XVIII, the building looks and feels like a palace.  We’d walked across an expansive, elegant lobby to reach the cozy dark-wood paneled  bar where we sipped wine and people-watched the night away.

But too soon medianoche, that magical hour (and bedtime) was calling. As we stepped out of  ‘the palace’ we saw this magnificent structure – perhaps another ‘palace’  - across the street:

(Click on the photo to enlarge it.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Washington Wednesday: Road Trip Sips

A couple of weeks ago we focused on nibbling your way through our Evergreen State, so today we're sipping through Central Washington – legally, of course.
We love stopping in the small town of Cashmere on our road trips to Joel’s hometown, Chelan.  Its main street is simply a Norman Rockwell painting come to life.

But it wasn’t until last month that we finally followed directional signs posted throughout the town and into the orchards that surround it to the Cashmere Cider Mill.


Cider is a term used in the United States for a non-alcoholic beverage made from fruit; primarily apples.  And at the Cider Mill they have ratcheted up the art of cider making!  After the lady at the tasting counter insisted we sip one flavor, we quickly worked our way through four flavors and left  with two bottles of those we liked best -- one a traditional apple and another pear – promising them we'd be back and stock up again the next time we were in town.

Don’t let that plain warehouse of a building in the photo above deter you because they've transformed the cavernous inside into a charming store that, besides featuring their ciders, offers a tasting counter for other products and edible souvenirs galore.

DSCF1074A lush green garden area with plenty of seating borders the parking lot and makes the perfect spot to eat and drink the goodies you’ve purchased – and there's an art barn (pictured on the left) for more shopping!

For those who want to sample some of the area’s local wines, head a bit further east to the Wenatchee Valley Visitors Center, in the town of Wenatchee, where this summer a new wine tasting center opened.  For $4 you can taste wines from seven wineries and another artisan cider (this one a  hard cider – that is, one with alcohol.)

If You Go: Click the link above for hours of operation at The Cider Mill, 5420 Woodring Canyon Road, Cashmere, 509-782-3564.  Wenatchee Valley Visitors Center, 5 South Wenatchee Ave., Wenatchee, 800-572-7753.

Getting There:  Cashmere and neighboring Wenatchee are in central Washington State. Fly from Seattle to Wenatchee’s Pangborn Memorial Airport, four miles outside town.  Or take a scenic 2.5 hour drive from Seattle through Washington's Cascade Mountain range.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

We’re “Fall-ing” for Spain

Spring in Madrid caught us off-guard. 
We had amply prepared to explore a new city. . .but we weren’t prepared to be enchanted by it. 

Nor, at the time, did we suspect that the magic spell it cast over us would linger through the summer and prompt us to book a return trip to Spain this fall.

And while admitting that we are suffering from enchantments; we were so taken with the Celebrity cruise that took us to Spain, we've booked ourselves on one of their repositioning cruises that will depart Barcelona for Ft. Lauderdale, visiting several ports of call that will be new to us along the way.

We so liked what we saw of Spain in the springtime, we’ve booked our pre-cruise flight to allow us a few weeks to continue our explorations.  We are planning to take a very circuitous route to the port – via Andalusia.

Map picture

We will fly to Seville, then after a few days of soaking up history, will hop a train or bus to Osuna (too small to show on this map) a picturesque country town about 55 miles away for a few more days as we make our way to Malaga. At this port town, we will pick up a rental car -- and our friends who are arriving from London -- and our foursome will head to Marbella for a week of modern tourism at the Marriott Vacation Club on the Costa del Sol before heading to Barcelona

As usual Joel’s been finding us ‘deals’ in airfare, cruise prices, and accommodations. In the coming weeks we will tell you more about those, the places we are heading and the cruise we are taking.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9.11.11: Remembering 3 World Trade Center

DSCF1237 As we’ve read traditional and social media reports commemorating the tragic events of a decade ago, one in particular stood out because it told the story of a New York hotel located at 3 World Trade Center.

The article focuses on the little tower – the one that housed the 22-story hotel, The Marriott World Trade Center -- and the role it played as a portal for those brave first responders who raced to save victims in the adjacent Twin Towers . 

It ran in The New York Times a year after the attack and this week was linked to Bill Marriott’s blog. It’s worth a look:
 read article

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Travel Photo Thursday: A New Perspective

First, a big thank you to all who commented on last week’s photo; Greece, we believe,  is one of the special places in the world.

This week’s Travel Photo Thursday photo was taken as we approached land after a six-day transatlantic crossing, during which time we had not seen another ship, bird or sign of life.  As we neared our first port of call, Madiera, some 300 miles off the coast of Africa, we spotted another ship setting sail – it was cause for us shutterbugs to race for our cameras. As I bent over for this angle a woman who'd been directing her husband's photo efforts, called out, “Look how she’s doing it, take one like that!”. . .making me laugh so hard I nearly miss the shot.

(To see other photos from this cruise, watch the slide show in the right hand column of our blog's home page,

HAL 2009 cruise photos 048

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Washington Wednesday: Fall’s a “Ferry” Good Time

0911800-R1-007-2Seattle’s waterfront is a must-go destination any time of year but when the sun finally comes out, as it has this fall, there really is no better place to be.  And while you are there don’t miss a ride on a Washington State ferry.

We have to be honest:  they are no where near as nice as the cruise-ship like Greek ferries we’ve been on, but these little work horses – on a nice day – will have you up topside snapping photos like crazy.
washington wednesdays 047
One of the quickest ferry rides will take you from Seattle to nearby Bainbridge Island, where the town of Winslow is an easy walk away from the ferry dock.  Have lunch there and do some shopping, and hop the ferry back to continue explorations along the waterfront.

washington wednesdays 046While simply walking along the Seattle waterfront offers some spectacular views and provides cheap entertainment in itself, (Click to enlarge the photo to the left you will see Mt. Rainier in the background.) we do recommend you visit:

1) The Seattle Aquarium, 1483 Alaskan Way, 206-386-4300, where you’ll come face-to-face with all sorts of underwater creatures.  Check their website for hours and admission prices, by clicking the link.

2) The Olympic Sculpture Garden, 2901 Western Ave., 98121, 206-654-3100, where you are free to stroll among the pieces of art in this outdoor garden setting where – as an added benefit – you have spectacular views of Puget Sound. No admission charge.

3) Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, currently located at 1001 Alaskan Way, 98104, 206-628-5844, is an icon of the Seattle waterfront.  It opened in 1899 as a museum of natural wonders and today is a showplace for weird curios and oddities like shrunken heads. . .and of course, is a great place to get odd souvenirs.

4) Ivar’s Seafood Bar, or Ivar’s Acres of Clams restaurant at Pier 54, 206-467-8063, is the place to get a bowl of steaming clam chowder.  Another Seattle landmark , Ivar’s has been around since 1938.

5) The Edgewater Hotel, yes, Baby Boomers, it is where the Beatles and the Monkees stayed during their visits to Seattle. Recently upgraded with a Pacific Northwest lodge interior, stop by the photo exhibit off the lobby and then head to the bar where you can sip a cold one while watching boat traffic on Elliott Bay. The AAA 4-Diamond rated hotel is at 2411 Alaskan Way, 206-728-7000.  In fact, if you want to stay on the waterfront, the waterfront rooms here also have spectacular views.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Luxury Hotel. . .that floats!

Maybe they could be called motorized hotels . . .HAL 2009 cruise photos 044
Universally called “cruise ships”, enthusiasts of this mode of travel, don’t give much thought to the hotel operation – you select a cabin, or it is selected for you; you like it or you don’t.  Simple as that? Not really.

We really hadn’t given much thought to the hotel side of cruising until we crossed the Atlantic Ocean and had the opportunity to meet and visit with the person who was responsible for the hotel side of the Celebrity Solstice. 

solsticetransatlantic 021 Our Hotel Director Sue Richardson, who hails from the market town of Stamford, England, after earning her Hotel Management degree, began her career at sea in 1988 as Chief Purser and Hotel Director with Royal Caribbean International.

Today her resume would make for a tropical sea novel or movie:  she lived for three years on Bermuda managing a  Boutique Hotel Resort, has worked on a 126-meter (410+ feet) private yacht, and spent three years as a hotel director for Silversea Cruises prior to heading to Celebrity.

“It’s a lifestyle – not just a job or career,” she said.

On our cruise, it seemed that she, just like the Captain, managed to be everywhere, no matter what the time of day. She’s pictured above with Paul Baya, our Cruise Director, during a welcome cocktail party for returning guests. Below she, and other senior staff members, welcomed us back to the ship after a stop in Lisbon.

solsticetransatlantic 030 (1)Over morning coffee with me one sea day, she described her work life as 24/7 during the four to four and a half months she’s on the ship. On the flip side, she is off the ship for an equal length of time, which allows her to pursue educational and travel opportunities and spend, perhaps more, quality time with family and friends than some,who have traditional 8 – 5 jobs and weekends off.

Just like land-based hotel directors, she manages a team of people who are responsible for the operation and upkeep of  accommodations -- in this case -- the 1,235 cabins and 56 suites on the ship, and for keeping the guests happy and entertained.

“It is all about service,” she said, “Service is a feeling. What was the feeling about the experience?”

Judging by the number of returning guests on this cruise – 613 people who had logged more than 10 Celebrity cruises – Richardson and her staff (and their counterparts on the line’s other 10 ships) seem to have nailed it.

Note: The cabin photo above was our balcony room on a Holland America cruise ship.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Travel Photo Thursday: Greek Memories

While sipping wine last night with friends who are in the planning stages of a trip to Greece, we started telling stories about our travels there. . .

Today I happened upon Travel Photo Thursday which is making its way through the travel blogosphere world. That, combined with last night’s conversation, sent me off to the Greek photo file where I found this one I took on the island of Naxos.  I think it’s time we start talking Greek travel again as well. . .

If you want to see others participating in Travel Photo Thursday, check out  Budget Travelers Sandbox


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