Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Easter comes but . . .twice . . .this year!

After meshing use of those frequent flier miles with Greek weather forecasts – and the travel plans of English friends – this spring’s Big Birthday trip is looking like reality. 

And one of the best parts of this upcoming adventure is that we will be there for Greek Orthodox Easter, May 5th. 

We’ll celebrate the holiday twice – once at home on March 31st and again five weeks later in Greece -- where this  more-important-than-Christmas celebration will undoubtedly trump those  in the Pacific Northwest. 

We were introduced to Greek Easter a few years ago on the Greek island of Mykonos. . .


It was an oft-times overcast, rainy weekend.


A time when cold, blustery winds  introduced the blue skies that made but cameo appearances. So cold, I wore the silk long johns that I (now) routinely pack for any spring or fall European trip.

But it would take more than Mother Nature’s cold shoulder to detract from the magic of being on the Greek island and watching their holiday preparations. 


On Easter Saturday while we  aimlessly strolled the narrow walkways past iconic blue shutters framed in brilliant blossoms. . .


. . .there was a crescendo of  preparations taking place. Scenes like the one at this small bakery were being played throughout the town.  Dyed eggs – blood red - were delivered by the crate while dough was kneaded and then twirled and twisted  for the  Easter biscuits.


The red color symbolizes the blood of Christ and the egg itself, rebirth.  Custom dictates it is the first food eaten after fasting (although we suspect that might not be the case these days).

Returning to our hotel, we found this basket with Easter biscuits and eggs had been placed in our room.
To eat the eggs, according to tradition, they should be cracked, big end to big end or small to small.  As the cracking takes place, one person says, “Christos Anesti!” and the other replies, “Alithos Anesti!”  (Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!)


We’ll tell you more about Greek Easter celebrations after  this year’s. We plan to be on Crete’s southern coast , most likely in Loutro, for this holiday.

Jeff SigerWant to know more about these two Easter celebrations? I’m including  this link to an excellent explanation written by novelist Jeffrey Siger    (He lives on Mykonos a good part of each year and his first four murder mysteries are set in the Cycladic Islands of which Mykonos is a part.)

And this is our contribution to Travel Photo Thursday – head to Budget Travelers Sandbox for more photos and tales.   If you’ve not yet ‘liked’ TravelnWrite’s Facebook page, click this link to do so! We’d appreciate it.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Travel Tuesday: ‘Trusted Travelers’ Down Under

The United State’s Trusted Travelers Program* just got better!

(*aka Global Entry/PreCheck that we've told you about in earlier posts – click the blue link above) 

KOandSeattle 041First, I must tell you that we used the Trusted Traveler fast-track Pre-check lines at Seatac and  Honolulu airports in January.
And what a snap!

Laptop and our quart-sized bag of liquids stayed in the carry-on bag; we wore our shoes and jackets. There was no one else in line . . . were through security in less than five minutes! 

Trusted Travelers  ‘Down Under’

Note: The following information is from an email we received last week from the Department of Homeland Security:

KOandSeattle 046“Visiting Australia is now easier than ever for U.S. Trusted Travelers. Late last year, Australian Customs and Border Protection opened up access to its automated border processing system, SmartGate, to U.S. Trusted Travelers. Now when you arrive in Australia, you can bypass the passport processing queues and self-process using an ePassport¹.

How does it work?

SmartGate uses facial recognition technology and biometric data to perform the customs and immigration checks usually conducted by an Australian Customs and Border Protection officer. You can still choose to talk to an Australian Customs and Border Protection officer if you prefer, but as long as you have a U.S. ePassport¹, you have the option to use SmartGate.

Can I use SmartGate?
You can use SmartGate provided you are:
  • flying into Australia;
  • 16 years or older; and
  • traveling on a valid U.S. ePassport¹.
There is no additional enrollment process to participate in SmartGate and it is open to all U.S. citizen Trusted Traveler members enrolled in the Global Entry, NEXUS, and SENTRI programs.
Tips on using SmartGate in Australia

Australian Customs and Border Protection has produced a new fact sheet to help US Trusted Travelers use SmartGate with confidence. The fact sheet is available at:

Australian Customs and Border Protection would like to hear from you

Have you tried SmartGate in Australia? Australian Customs and Border Protection would like to hear about your experience. Please email your comments, suggestions or any questions about SmartGate to
For more information on using SmartGate in Australia, visit
¹ For more information on ePassports, please visit

And TravelnWrite wants to know if you’ve tried Global Entry yet?  What have been your experiences? If you are a subscriber and want to leave a comment, click the blue TravelnWrite link or the headline on the article to reach the blog's comment section.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

WA Weekend: A bus trip to “The Center of the Universe’

While the gray damp days continued to envelope our Seattle-area, an article I was writing for another publication forced me out of hibernation last week and to ‘The Center of the Universe’.

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Really . . . I hopped the King County Metro bus at the stop near my Kirkland home and less than an hour later I was standing at the sign that marks Fremont, a Seattle neighborhood, as the self-proclaimed, Center of the Universe.

KOandSeattle 052The area has several distinctive landmarks, like the circa 1950’s cold war rocket that’s been part of the Bitter’s Building at Evanston and 36th since the mid-1990’s.

It had previously been attached to a Belltown (another Seattle neighborhood) business and its dismantling there, provided the opportunity for its new home in Fremont.

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Then there’s the Lenin statue. . . one of those ‘love-it or hate-it’ pieces of art. 

This 7-ton Vladimir Lenin was created by Slavic artist Emil Venkov. It was installed in Poprad, Slovakia in 1988 then toppled during the 1989 Revolution.   A Pacific Northwest man is credited with buying and saving this towering piece of history.

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Perhaps the art icon of the area – at least the one most highly decorated (literally!) is the 1979 sculpture, Waiting for the Interurban created by Richard Beyer as a tribute to the light rail inter-urban that connected Seattle neighborhoods in the early 20th Century.  And then there’s the troll under the bridge. . .

. . .and their festivals -- like the Moisture Festival, Solstice Parade, and  Lenin Lighting -- span the year.

Streets in this rather eccentric, fun-loving neighborhood on the northern bank of the Lake Washington Ship Canal are lined with one-of-a-kind shops and eateries. Each Sunday more than 180 vendors and hordes of shoppers flock to its year-round outdoor European-style street market. I can’t tell you any more than that because it’s the gist of the story I wrote for someone else, but I will show you one storefront to tempt the shoppers out there:
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If You Go:

Metro bus:  From downtown Seattle’s Third Avenue, take 28 or 40.  From Kirkland take 255 into Westlake Center.  Tip: Ask for a transfer and you won’t need to pay for the connection to Fremont.
Use Metro’s Trip Planner:

My find:  Wine Tea Chocolate, a wine bar, coffee shop, tea house and chocolate shop all rolled into one at 3417 Evanston Ave. N. #102, 206-372-4747, This kid-friendly place (just down the street from a chocolate factory) has been open only five months and is already a local’s favorite – I only wish I lived closer to it. Definitely worth a visit!

More details:

What about you? Any places to recommend in Fremont?  How about your favorite neighborhood. . .use the comment section or jot us an email to tell us where it is and why it’s a favorite.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

On the Road in Tuscany. . .

Just saying the word, Tuscany, brings back memories of our day trip through Italy’s stunning countryside last fall.

As travelers you know those kind of memories; those images tinged with a just bit of regret because you didn’t .  . .

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. . .breathe a bit deeper. . .

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. . . linger a bit longer. . .

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. . .appreciate more the experience as it was happening.

The kind of trip not dictated by a GPS, in fact, one not clearly defined on paper either. . .

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. . .where the direction doesn’t matter. . .

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. . .your route doesn’t disappoint . . .

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. . .where your destination isn’t set. . .

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. . .where you find unexpected treasures along the way. . .

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That’s the kind of memories I am talking about.  Have you taken that type of carefree approach to trip planning lately? If not, give it a try – you might be surprised by what you find!  And if you’re ready for some armchair travel, head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for Travel Photo Thursday.

(And thanks to those who let me know you couldn’t leave a comment last week because of Google’s fickle support of its blogging system.  I don’t know what caused the problem nor how to fix it, but thanks for letting me know. . .if it continues, please let me know at

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Travel Tuesday: Sailing to Oceania

“You are sailing to where?!” 

Oceania. . .you know, that region also called the South Pacific

We’ll be boarding our old favorite, the Celebrity Solstice this fall in Honolulu bound for Sydney, Australia.  Our journey by sea to the land ‘Down Under’ will take 19 days to complete.

As shown on the map above, our route will take us through the Pacific Ocean with stops at a few of the islands that make up French Polynesia, give us a sneak peak at New Zealand and provide two long, lovely stretches of leisurely days at sea. 

As seekers of great adventures at great prices, you know we sometimes have to have patience while waiting for the travel gods to bring those concepts into sync.  We’ve had this routing on the radar for at least two, maybe more, years.

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And, as seekers of great adventures at great prices, we know we  must be able to act when opportunity knocks on the computer screen.

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It rapped while we were in Ko Olina last month.  There it was in an email announcing the week’s Top 20 Travel Deals sent by Travel zoo. 

Even better, it was offered by our friends at Crucon, the New Hampshire on-line cruise agency that we’ve used (and recommend highly) for our recent cruises.

The Scout did a quick comparison of other cruise web sites we use, we checked dates and within hours of reading the email had made a deposit to hold the room.  We’ve learned good deals go fast.

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The Good Deal:  The price of $2,199 per person guarantees us an outside balcony cabin, (my favorite place on the ship!) and includes prepaid gratuities ( a savings of about $450) plus complimentary alcoholic and specialty drinks (a savings of about $900 per couple over purchasing the cruise lines “drink package.”)

This illustrates our mantra: There are travel deals to be found out there.  Check TravelnWrite’s Deal Finder page for other tips on finding deals.  We’ll see you back here for Travel Photo Thursday!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Travel Planning: Moving Daydreams to Dates

We’ve been living in Hawaii this last month – watching palm trees sway before an azure sea and sky; a most pleasant change from the dark, gray (and very wet) winter days that exist at our more-full-time Pacific Northwest home.

VeniceSanJuanIsl 248But no matter where we are, January is a time to get serious about the year’s future big-trip travel plans. 

We used our laid-back days to move our daydreaming to dates on the calendar.

As all travelers know, nabbing frequent flier seats and booking rooms on hotel points, isn’t something that can wait until the last minute.

And travel – despite continuing dire economic reports in the media -- is on an upswing. If you don’t believe that, just take a walk through Waikiki – or book a hotel room there (and prepare for sticker shock).

I’d set my sights on Greece for a spring trip and so focused on it were we, that quite frankly we hadn’t been thinking about fall until The Scout found us an incredible deal while Web surfing. 

A springtime trip to our favorite places in Greece was my day dream for celebrating my summer ‘Big One Birthday’.  The Scout has nailed down the frequent flier miles and purchased tickets that will get us to Athens and back. We are using the ‘where the wind blows us-or the ferry sails’ approach to travels after reaching Athens.

And then there’s the Fall trip. . .you won’t believe where we are headed or the deal that we got! I’ll tell you about it on Travel Tip Tuesday. 

In  the meantime, a number of you’ve asked how we go about finding deals.  To check The Scout’s favorite resources, visit our Deal Finder page.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valentine’s Day: A Re-Told Tale ~ Love and Legacy

Carnival to San Jose 072

On a ‘cool, slightly overcast’ Friday, March 23rd, 1956  -- the Italian freighter, Eugenio C, set sail at 8 p.m. from Dock 5, in Brooklyn, New York  heading to Genoa, Italy.

Among its passengers were a Central Washington State daily newspaper reporter and her photographer husband, Phil and Dean Spuler.

Carnival to San Jose 067Following their April 8th arrival in Italy and a few days spent with friends on the Riviera; they boarded a train in Chamberey, France bound for Milan, Italy.
(photo of the Spulers departing France.)

In Milan they purchased two Lambretta scooters, (earlier versions of the one pictured here),
1A1[1]that would carry them on a year and a half  journey through Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, England, Scotland and Ireland.

But their story really doesn’t begin nor end with this journey . . .

Phil and Dean Spuler

Phil (who never used her given name, Phyllis) and Dean  had met in the late 1940’s while students at San Jose State College in California; both worked on the campus paper, the Spartan Daily. Times were tough, money scarce. Romance bloomed, they married and began their careers at the paper now known as the Yakima Herald-Republic in Central Washington State.

It was at that paper, in the early 1980’s, that as a ‘cub reporter’ I worked with -- and became friends with -- the Spulers. They were the seasoned professionals and as such, mentors, in a newsroom bursting with several other just-out-of-college-journalists. They’d returned to the newspaper at the conclusion of their European adventure (and stayed until their eventual retirements).

Carnival to San Jose 065

Their European Adventure
It was never clear what had sparked their desire to sell most of their belongings and head to Europe. Perhaps inspired by writer Ernest Hemingway who had returned to Paris in 1944 or Julia Child, of cookbook fame, who arrived in France four years later. . .they never said. Regrettably, I never thought to ask.

Their travel budget was $5 a day and that included all food, lodging and travel expenses. They stayed in youth hostels and rode their scooters in both good and bad weather.

Carnival to San Jose 070Their travel journals tell of spending  the winter in Paris where they enrolled in a French language school, and spent time exploring art galleries, sidewalk cafes, and attending plays and operas.

Spring found them in Berlin. They returned to the United States the summer of 1957 on a small Italian passenger ship.

Their Love and Legacy

Our friendship grew over three decades and during that time their travels – although shorter and more luxurious than their Europe trip – included cruises and excursions to foreign lands. They drove “dune-buggies’ through the desert surrounding  their Arizona retirement community until age and health finally curtailed their dare-devil outings.

Then, they told us, they lived vicariously through our travels.

Carnival to San Jose 073Prior to their deaths – now, a few years ago – they set forth their wishes to help other journalism students at their alma mater, San Jose State University.

Since then we’ve had the pleasure of working with the university to make that happen: Each year two scholarships are available to journalism and photojournalism students. They endowed an annual symposium.

Carnival to San Jose 038Author’s note: This post originally appeared in April 2012 after we spent a day with the students and staff of the media and journalism department at San Jose State University. We'd attended the Annual Spuler Ethics in Media Symposium, we visited the college newspaper and magazine.

This year, the 5th Annual Spuler Ethics in Media Symposium will be held Tuesday, March 19th, from 6 – 7:30 p.m. on the San Jose State campus.  This year’s focus: Advertising Ethics.

We’d encourage your attendance at this free event if you are in the San Jose area.  And this is our contribution to the Valentine’s Day edition of Travel Photo Thursday. Stop by Nancie’s Budget Travelers Sandbox for more photos and tales.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Quick! Feed the Lions. . .

The Lions are on the prowl in Hawaii. Actually, they are dancing their way around the island of O’ahu in anticipation of Chinese New Year  - the Year of the Snake –  which begins February 10th.

VegasHawaii2012 258It is advisable to ‘feed’ the lions with a bit of money usually put in a red envelop (if you’ve got one handy). And in return the lions promise to bring good luck and prosperity.

Last week some 10 Lion Dance teams participated in a Choy Cheng ritual (‘Choy Cheng’ means picking greens) and the Lions picked fresh lettuce attached to the cash stuffed envelopes along a route through Honolulu’s Chinatown.

Honolulu celebrates the Chinese New Year with gusto and a series of fun events, like Choy Cheng. Next year we must get ourselves into town to participate!

VegasHawaii2012 257

According to local reports, the ritual dates back to the Han Dynasty (220 – 206 B.C.)  Although lions weren’t indigenous to China, they had a mythical lore – representing the positive characteristics of success, strong business and courage.

Last year the Lions danced at Ko Olina one Sunday afternoon entertaining guests and staff members.  Perhaps they’ll return again today – I’d think they are hungry again!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Oh, the stories they could tell. . .

A college journalism professor once cautioned my class of ‘Pulitzer-prize-winning- wanna-be’s’ that we’d likely begin our newsroom careers writing obituaries. For that reason, we were  to both read and write them as classroom assignments.

When the resulting collective groan clearly indicated the task sounded worse than death itself, he added:

“That obituary is likely the last story that will ever be written about that person – it might be the only story. . .and everyone’s story is important, so write it well!”

Maui2013 073

Decades later, I still regularly read obituaries – everywhere we go.  And to illustrate my journalism professor’s point, today I want to introduce you to some of the folks I’ve ‘met’ in the obituaries during our stay in Hawaii.

If only I’d have met them in person . . . oh,the stories they could tell: 

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A couple weeks ago, we tried for the first time, Honolulu’s Liliha Bakery’s famous coco puffs. Back in 1987 the baker there was assigned the task of creating a new cream puff; he filled the shell with chocolate filling and topped the creation with Chantilly frosting. The bakery that had sold a couple dozen puffs daily back then now sells hundreds of these gems daily.  Kame Ikemura, 80, was the baker who created the morsels, I learned from his obituary which appeared not long after we’d tried the pastry.

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Returning from a day-trip to Maui on Sunday our flight followed the coastline of Molokai,.You can’t see Molokai and not remember the stories of  it’s Leper Colony and famous Father Damien. Sister Richard Marie Toal served those leprosy patients as well on Kalaupapa for more than 40 years – even for five years after she retired; until a stroke hindered her ability to do so. She died on Sunday, age 96.

Others I’ve ‘met’ didn’t have large write ups but their stories were likely just as interesting. . .

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“age 101, retired Dole Plantation worker. Born Philippines”  

“age 80, retired Del Monte Company papaya packer. Born Hilo.”

“age 87, retired candy maker for former Hawaiian Holiday Macademia Nut Company and field worker for fomer Manakua Sugar Company. Born Kukuihaele, Hawaii”

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“age 92, retired lei maker. Born Honolulu.”

“age 93, retired master lau hala* weaver and teacher. Born and died in Kuakini Medical Center, Honolulu.” *(tree leaves woven into baskets and/or mats)

“age 103, homemaker. Born Honolulu.”

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“age 89, retired Royal Hawaiian Hotel bellman. Born, Maui.”

“age 87, retired assistant bell captain Kona Hilton Hotel and coffee farmer. Born, Hawaii.”

‘age 84, retired jewelry saleswoman at several Kaanapali Beach hotels. Born Tokyo, Japan.”

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“age 85, retired Hawaiian Airlines crew scheduler, Born, Hawaii.”

“age 83, retired Pearl Harbor Navel Shipyard boilermaker and Korean War Veteran. Born, Honolulu.”

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“age 83, retired surfer and surf board maker. Eva, O’ahu.”

“age 88, former noodle factory worker. Born Honolulu.”

“age 96, Territory of Hawaii Board of Health employee. Born Honolulu.

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Nearly all of these folks were born and died in Hawaii. Some lived a full century here, others almost that  long. They were part of a generation born:
*  Shortly after Hawaii became a U.S. Territory in 1900. 

* After the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (now Dole) was established in 1901 and the first pineapple was planted  by James Drummond Dole in the Wahiawa countryside.


They would have been children or teens when:

* Earl Derr Biggers wrote his Charlie Chan book, “House Without A Key” in 1925, giving life to Honolulu’s famous fictitious detective.

*When the Royal Hawaiian Hotel opened in 1927. 

*When the first inter-island flight took off in 1929.”

They would have been young adults when the Japanese bombed Pearl harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.  And heading towards middle age when Hawaii became a state on August 21, 1959.

Everyone does have a story – and that’s what makes travel so interesting ~  the people and their stories.

(And you know what? My professor was right about those obituaries!)

And that’s it for Travel Photo Thursday. Stop by Budget Travelers Sandbox for more armchair-by-photo-travel.


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