Monday, December 31, 2012

2013: We’ll Be On the Road ~And Going 60!!

In his book, Dark Star Safari, Paul Theroux chronicles his solo trip through Africa taken in celebration of his 60th birthday.  When I read it several years ago, I thought to myself,

“How good it is that a person that old still travels like that. . .”
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The Scout is already at work planning travel escapades for 2013. He’s been at it for weeks already. . .seems he began sometime during our Winter Road Trip.

Don’t you love this end-of-the-year moment in time when the new, untouched year - only hours away - beckons with possibilities for adventures and travels? 

0006100-R1-009-3While the possibilities are endless, the trip The Scout’s currently focused on is the one we will take to celebrate The Scribe’s 60th birthday. 

(The Scribe who is now quick to point out that Paul Theroux wasn’t that old after all! )

Earlier this year I quoted in a post another favorite writer of mine, Frances Mayes, after learning that a couple of our friends were dealing with cancer. By the end of the year, eight of our friends had had their life altered by the disease.  The quote I had used back then still rings true for us:

“Life’s little wake-up calls. (Do they have to be so numerous?) Scroll down the list and start to wail – or shout out Carpe diem.”

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Life’s little wake-up calls, Frances called them. She got that right!  Each friend's news was a reminder that hitting  60 is reason to celebrate!
Knock it out of the ballpark.

Dance in the street.

Put your feet up and watch a sunset.

Seize the day.

Pack the bags.


The birthday is six months away, but if all goes as planned the trip in launch in the spring. Will it  rival Paul Theroux’s?   Will it result in a book as his did? It just might! It’s going to rock no matter ~ because this is the year we hit the road – going 60 all the way.

DSCF2065But before we set out to discover all that 2013 holds for us; we want to take a moment to toast each of you’ who have come along on our journeys this past year via TravelnWrite. To you, we raise our glasses and say:
“Thank You!

Carpe Diem!

Happy New Year!

Happy Travels!”

*Photos in order:  Outside Ely, Nevada, Naxos, Greece, on board Carnival Spirit off Mexico's Baja Coast, Waikiki, O’ahu, and somewhere in the Mediterranean on board the Celebrity Constellation.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ely, Nevada: An Elixir for the Soul

While The Scribe was packing our suitcases, The Scout was planning the route for our Winter Road Trip through the Western United States. 

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He’d calculated that on our second southbound day we’d reach tiny Ely, Nevada, (population 4,288 in 2011)  tucked away in the eastern part of the state in time for lunch. This town, that began in the late 1800’s as a stagecoach stop, is located at the northern tip of Nevada’s Great Basin. It became the county seat in 1887 and by 1906 was a copper mining boom town.

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Illuminated by a mid-day sun against a blue sky background the the city park with its nearby towering County Courthouse called out Small Town Americana.   It’s a call that we find irresistible.

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The Scout had read about the historic Hotel Nevada and Gambling Hall which  at six-stories it was until 1948, the tallest building in Nevada.  it was there we dined on our mid-day break.  (You can tell from the photo it is still one of the tallest buildings in town.)

So charmed were we by this taste of the Old West – both town and hotel -- that we vowed to return on our northbound trip – and three weeks later pulled in for a second dose  of small-town-soul-elixir.

By then winter had turned the little town into a Currier and Ives card:

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Our arrival seemed synchronized with the snow that began falling in the mid-afternoon.

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The small town seemed even more charming as -now bundled in winter coats and gloves -  we strolled along its darkening main street, named Altman.

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One of our favorite ‘finds’ along the way was Economy Drug, an old-time combination pharmacy, gift and toy store, and boasting one of the coolest authentic drug store soda fountains we’ve ever seen.  Opened in the 1940’s the family’s on its third generation pharmacist.

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We were warmly greeted by two camera-shy ladies running the eatery, one in particular was a ‘fountain’ of history about the town and the business. She told me not to miss the ‘naughty boy’  mural on the side of the building. So . . .

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I didn’t want you to miss it either.  (Look closely near the lighted window.)

This time we stayed overnight in the historic Hotel Nevada and it’s a story unto itself. . .one that I'll soon be telling. . .

If You Go:

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  • Ely, is in White Pine County in the central part of eastern part of Nevada, sitting at the crossroads of U.S. 93 and U.S. 50. As you enter the town,you’ll find a selection of motels flanking the main drag.
  • It’s a great base for outdoors enthusiasts as camping, hiking, fishing and places to climb are found within a close radius.
  • In Ely, you are also in old Pony Express Country and not far from some old stage stops and mining ghost towns. 
  • The old Ely Ghost Train, is an operating railroad museum. Between May and September you can take train rides powered by old steam engines No. 40 and No. 93 – both important links to the area’s mining past. For more information:  775.289.2085
Hope you’ll continue our journeys with us. Sign up to receive our posts in your inbox by using the box at the right. Or we’d love to see your photo among our other friends just mid-way down the column.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

In Pursuit of Passion: Those Who Dare

Travel, for us, is pursuing a passion.  It is about risk-taking; leaving our routines and comforts to experience  new cities, countries and customs. 

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“You are so brave!”

So often that is the response when we talk of some destination or our plans for reaching and discovering it. (That's us high above Dubrovnik, Croatia in the photo above.)

No, not brave.

Just passionate about seeing the world while we are ‘young’ enough to do so.

Along the way we’ve met others who haven't let age or health deter pursuit of their passions. As the year draws to a close, we've been remembering some of those folks who’ve inspired us along the way:

~~~Ravenna, Italy~~~

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The two ladies in the photo above finally paused long enough for me to snap a photo of them while on a stop in Ravenna, Italy. They were fellow cruisers who had been a continual source of inspiration from the moment we first noticed them aboard the ship.

Their white-hair and frail-frames masked the spirits of a couple of independent travelers who were constantly on the go;  never missing a port of call – nor an afternoon of reading at poolside when on the ship.

~~~Poros, Greece ~~~~

Two years ago, on the Greek island of Poros we visited one afternoon with self-taught artist Vasilas Poriotis as he sat in his sidewalk gallery.

As our visit ended we told him that we hoped to return one day and find him there.  He said he would be  "if I am not dead." Then with a sweeping gesture over his work, he 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 I have left something behind. . .It is important to leave something behind."

~~~Adriatic Sea~~~

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John Koruga, who splits his time between Seattle and Mexico, has pursued his travel passions for decades. But it wasn’t until this fall, at age 86, he tried  the world of cruising. He flew from Seattle to Rome and boarded the Celebrity Silhouette, the cruise on which we also ‘looped Italy’s boot’.

SilhouettePt12012 329Age and health are not topics John readily discusses (although he had both knees replaced a few years ago); he’d prefer to talk about the next trip he’d like to make and he’s got quite a few on his list. In this photo he was teaching me the art of bocce ball.

~~~Bologna, Italy~~~

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It was  Anna Maria Monari, the 72-year-old owner of Trattoria Anna Maria that inspired during our visit to Bologna, Italy. She founded her restaurant 24 years ago in a smaller location a few blocks from its present site. Back then, Anna Maria was both waitress and chef, serving menu items created from her mother’s recipes.

She’s not entertaining thoughts of retirement either, as she told us,  “I am here every day.  Where else do I have to go? This is the party.  . .Mama Mia!”

~~~Mascota, Mexico~~~

It was on our stop last spring at  El Pedregal Museo, The Stone Museum in Mascota, Mexico the town high in the Sierra Madres near Puerto Vallarta where we met the owner, curator, and artist  Don Francisco Rodriguez.

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Pero, por que piedra? (But, why stone?), Joel asked of the 76-year-old artist as he explained how he goes to the river and searches for rocks, loads them into a wheelbarrow and hauls them.

Porque es mi pasion, (Because it is my passion),” he answered simply with a shrug and a grin.

~~~Kastri, Crete~~~

“The colors of the sea”  is what I told him when he said he wanted to make me a gift. But  the real gift was the time I spent with  Georgios Chalkoutsakis on that warm spring afternoon on Crete’s southern shore. Georgios is a glass bead artist whom some might label as 'handicapped', but I would call him talented! 

He is wheelchair bound as a result of a premature birth.  His hand movement is a bit limited but that hasn't kept him from perfecting his art of glass bead making. My colors of the sea are pictured on the left.

Yes, we believe it all comes down to daring to pursue a passion.  Will 2013 be the year that you begin pursuing a long-put-off passion?  Or will you simply step up the pursuit of an existing one?

Stop by Budget Travelers Sandbox today if you need a bit more travel inspiration.  And if you want to receive TravelnWrite posts in your inbox, sign up in the box on the corner,become a friend by signing up below that box (where our other friend’s photos appear) or follow us on Facebook. We'll get back to the Winter Western Road Trip this weekend.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas 2012!

Where ever your holiday travels 
- actual or armchair -
have taken you. . .


. . . we are hoping you’ve found a bit of
Christmas Magic there.


Our wishes for the Happiest of Holidays  and our thanks for being a part of our TravelnWrite life!

~ Jackie and Joel

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas: Finding Saint Nicholas

Santa Claus – fact or fiction?   Saint Nicholas – fact! 

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And if you don’t believe that, just head to Bari, Italy and visit the Basilica di San Nicola (Basilica of St. Nicholas).  The remains of this Patron Saint of sailors, merchants, children, archers and thieves have been resting here since 1087!

Because the church was built on what was previously the residence of the Byzantine Governor (Catepan’s Court) historians can’t quite agree on the stages of construction.  The underground Crypt where the remains are enshrined was consecrated in 1089. 

Whatever the sequence, the end result is an enormous structure; one well worth visiting.

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We visited the Basilica of San Nicola  this fall when the Celebrity Silhouette stopped for a day in Bari.

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Depending on the version you choose to believe, Saint Nicholas relics were either ‘removed’ or ‘rescued’ from the saint’s original shrine in Myra, located in present-day Turkey by a group of sailors and merchants from Bari.

SilhouettePt12012 335There had been great competition between Venice and Bari, both seaport towns on Italy’s eastern shores.  But legend has it that the saint passed by Bari on his way to Rome and had chosen it to be his burial place.

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The Nave at Basilica di San Nicola

So, who was Saint Nicholas and what’s the link to Santa Claus? 

Saint Nicholas, who was born around AD 270, is believed to be from whom the present day Santa Claus evolved. Saint Nicholas was a real human being born in the village of Patara, which at the time was a Greek holding and today is part of Turkey. 

Saint Nicholas was orphaned at an early age and is said to have given away his entire inheritance to help the sick and suffering. He dedicated himself to serving God and became known as the Bishop of Myra and known for his love for children, concern for sailors and their ships and his giving to those in need.

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The Crypt at Basilica di San Nicola
Known for his giving of gifts, stories abound about his generous acts, and much like all stories about him vary. Perhaps the most popular story to carry through the ages is:

There was a poor man who was unable to provide his three daughters with dowries. Without anything to offer prospective husbands (other than love, that is) the daughters would most likely have been sold into slavery. Then without explanation, on three different occasions, a bag of gold (or gold balls – depending on the version) appeared in their home providing the funds for the dowries. Some say the bags were tossed by Saint Nicholas through an open window – others say down a chimney but each landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry.

This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. Oranges are used in symbolize the gold balls . . .have you ever found an orange in your stocking and wondered why?

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History shows he attended the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.

His death on December 6, AD343 continues to be a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day (December 19 on the Julian Calendar).

Since 1951 the basilica had been home to a community of Dominican Friars and is now an active ecumenical center.

If You Go:

Map picture
The Basilica di San Nicola is on the piazza of the same name within the remaining walls of the ancient city of Bari. It was a 20 minute walk from the cruise ship dock, a bit further from the Central Train Station. We didn’t use the recommended shuttle.

Hours: 7,30 – 13,00, 16-19,30; Entrance is free. 

For information on the Basilica:

For information on Saint Nicholas:

All photos in this post are Jackie Smith’s with the exception of the photo of the Russian icon of St. Nicholas from The Elsner Collection. It is used under Creative Commons licensing agreement with Wikipedia: Photo by The InstaPLANET Cultural Universe .

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Aboard The Southbound Polar Express

When the High Plains Drifters set out on our Winter Road Trip early Thanksgiving morning, I’d silently decided we were taking a holiday from the holidays (like that John Grisham book/movie a few years ago about a vacation from Christmas).

As the Pacific Northwest forests gave way to the barren Southwest high plains, I ticked off the list the things I wouldn’t be doing: seasonal decorating, shopping and cooking, cards and gifts, ahh, yes. . .no holidays for us this year!

What I didn’t realize at the time was that we weren’t escaping from the holidays; we were hurtling toward them aboard our own  Polar Express, (it’s the other book/movie that convinces the Scrooge in all of us that the magic of Christmas is alive and well).

082We were headed to Arizona - Christmas Central -  the best place in the world to experience this season, …well,. . . with perhaps the exception of the North Pole.

The Sugar Plum Stations along our route left holiday visions dancing in our heads . . . visions like those in. . .


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Christmas Spirit enveloped us within hours of our arrival in Prescott, “Arizona’s Christmas City”.  This is its Courthouse, a centerpiece in the downtown, which by now is lit up each night just like the Christmas Tree next to it.


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We had a week-long stay in Marriott’s Desert Canyon Villas, five-minutes from the J.W. Marriott Hotel where Christmas decorations began appearing the same weekend we arrived.


With each day the decorations seemed to expand throughout the hotel’s massive lobby. Poinsettias lined the stairways, festive green and red decorations seemed to sprout – as if magically – during the night.


I didn’t think the Land of Oz could be made any more wonderful than the Emerald City that welcomed Dorothy and her friends. But thanks to the Marriott’s culinary team this land of Oz was a Confectionery Convention Center where gingerbread pavers lined the Yellow Brick Road.

108We spent three nights – thanks to a Cyber Monday deal – at the Fairmont Princess Hotel in Phoenix –a place that in December could be mistaken for the North Pole.

Scrooge would have had a difficult time here but not those who are still kids-at-heart. 

080Much time was spent watching their four-story tall Christmas Tree change colors; the changes synchronized to the Christmas Carole’s that ring out over the hotel’s plaza, located just outside its elaborately decorated lobby. 

113Then, down a path to the skating rink. . .yes, real ice, six-inches deep, in the heart of the desert. A large truck/generator  hidden behind one of the buildings brings this frozen wonderland scene to life.  (The rink is open to the entire community, not just hotel guests.)
They rent skates at the hotel.



After a bit of time at the rink it was time to follow a luminaria-lit path through a fairy land of lights and scenes that appear each evening. Any other time of year, the same pathway leads through a beautiful – but not particularly magical – lagoon area.

And if the kid within you allows you to do it, you can hop aboard a miniature train to tour this enchanted land.

In Arizona where everything seems big – even the Christmas decorations are enormous.  The tree below at  the Desert Ridge Shopping Center towered over the palm trees around it.



At Scottsdale’s iconic Pinnacle Peak Patio restaurant we found Santa’s sleigh being hauled by cattle.

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And just down the road this big ol’ bronze mountain lion was decked out for the season as well.


Each evening at the Troon North Four Seasons the pathway between the Hotel and Residence Club wound through a daytime-desert that each evening gave way to a seasonal showcase.
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By the time we reached the Four Seasons I was much like the kids on the Polar Express – I was a believer again.  We may have left the holiday hustle behind, but we’d re-discovered the Magic of Christmas!
Have you visited any magical places this year? What made them magical?

Where ever your travels take you this holiday season we hope you’ll also find some Christmas Magic ~ it’s Travel Photo Thursday – don’t forget to visit Budget Travelers Sandbox for more armchair travel.  I’ll resume the High Plains Drifters tales this weekend with a stop in Ely, Nevada . . .

Monday, December 17, 2012

Raindrops and Rainbows~ Sunshine and Snowflakes

I sat reading a book Thursday evening in front of the fireplace as rain lashed the windows and the wind howled outside our adobe casita  - winter was announcing its arrival in Scottsdale, Arizona.

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It was time for High Plains Drifters to head north.  We’d lucked out on the weather since our arrival the weekend after Thanksgiving as most of our days had been sunny and unseasonably warm in Arizona. As we headed out of town Friday morning  Black Mountain near Carefree was hidden behind a thick cloud cover.

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Scottsdale roadways were covered in places with water and desert sand that had washed across the asphalt.

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We would follow a route  that took through the small hamlet of Wikiup, past Hoover Dam and loop us around Las Vegas  as we headed to Highway 318 which would take us. . .

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on a near magical journey through Nevada’s Great Basin.  If you’ve never visited this stretch of country we highly recommend adding it to your bucket list. 

One of its many highlights is about 90 miles north of Las Vegas,  the  8,400+square-mile Paharanagat National Wildlife Refuge, which was created in 1963, to provide habitat for migratory birds, especially waterfowl. The lakes and marshes are a rare sight in this part of Nevada.

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Our plan was to reduce our travel time from four nights on the road to three – if road conditions permitted.  So far, so good, we thought.

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From expansive vistas to winding our way through towering cavernous walls we sped north. . .

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We planned to spend our first night in Ely, Nevada, a small community where mining provides the economic foundation, where the third generation pharmacist works in the independent pharmacy that opened in the 1940’s and where the County Courthouse that belongs in a Norman Rockwell painting, serves three of the sparsely populated counties around it.

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It wasn’t until we were within minutes of  Ely, that rainbows and raindrops and sunshine gave way to snowflakes.  As we crossed Murray Summit, elevation 7,312-feet (more than twice as high as Washington’s Snoqualmie Pass) we encountered the first snow of the trip. Luckily Ely was only minutes away. . .

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Eight hours, 609 miles later we concluded Day One’s in Ely –  I'll take you there later this week and then we’ll set a course north through Oregon as we wind down the Winter Western Roadtrip. 


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