Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Perfecting the Art of Slow Travel in Crete

We’ve traveled from the northeastern shore of Crete to its southwestern coast.

We are now in Chora Sfakia (Hora Sfakion) where we will stay until catching the ferry on Friday to Loutro, the small town just down the coast accessible by boat or on foot. We’ve opted for the boat.

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We spent last night in the beautiful coastal town of Plakias, about an hour from here.  Some of you saw the photo I took at sunset on FB and for those who didn’t; that is another view of it above. (Thanks to those who commented and ‘liked’  the FB photo!)

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We could have stayed in Plakias longer – a lifetime perhaps -- but this morning meant it was time to head west because we had reservations for tonight in Sfakia.  So we hit the winding, road up over the mountains;  roads by their very nature that make for ‘slow travel’ (that new popular approach to tourism) – you simply can’t drive fast or you’ll kill yourself on a curve.  But then you hit a straight stretch and are reminded again of the wonders of slow travel, as we were this morning:

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You can guess who has the right-of-way here, can’t you?

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Notice there isn’t a human in sight?  They simply herded themselves and as they passed our car, then crossed the road behind us to continue on their journey.

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So we are now settled in at anther of our old favorites. We’ve got a killer view of the Libyan Sea and the coastline. . .and a deck from which to enjoy it.  The cost is 37-euros a night (because we have a small refrigerator as well – it would have been 32 without that luxury).  Our hotel – as it did the last two times we’ve stayed here – claims to have  wi-fi ‘in the rooms’. Still not sure what rooms those are as we’ve never managed to have them. As time permits we’ll head to the lobby for internet. .  . for now we’ll enjoy the view (and chill the wine!)

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Chasing Windmills ~ Travels in Crete

“It is not what we have, but what we enjoy
that constitutes our  abundance.”

                     ~Epicurus, born 341 BCE (80 years after Plato)

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Our Grecian travels moved from the Peloponnese to Crete this week and we  found ourselves back in Elounda, on Crete’s northeastern shore.

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It hadn’t been our plan, but then when you travel without a plan, anything is possible. So here we are again in Corelli Studios – our third visit to these well-placed vacation studios.

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And when you travel with a flex schedule (and in off-season) you can pretty much pick the number of nights you stay after you arrive. We’d decided to stay two nights, but our host, Gianni, told us we should stay three. So we did. But with a view deck  like this for 40-euros a night, it didn’t take much convincing. We have a peek-a-boo view of the island of Spinalonga, the long-ago leper colony made famous in English writer Victoria Hislop’s novel, The Island.

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What we are finding most difficult on this trip is deciding when to leave a place.  We’ve found several spots where we would be most happy to settle in for several months – not just days; Elounda is high among them.
But we’ve reached the point in the travels where we do have a sort of timetable. 

We will be returning to Maria’s pension in  Loutro for Easter (next weekend) and with our old friends at Stavros’s Hotel in Chora Sfakia for three nights before that.  We want to visit Georgios (my bead making friend on Crete’s south coast) and must try out a small place called Plakia. . .all of which means, we must leave this wonderful spot tomorrow. . .

I had wondered during our 24-hour air travel day – somewhat briefly, but still had pondered -- whether this desire of mine to come to Greece for a birthday present might prove to be a disappointment. Could I have let my fondness for this country grow in the memories of previous trips? Was I still seeking those Greek windmills from Walt Disney’s Moonspinners – a movie dating back to my childhood?

Crete2013 042 Doubts disappeared days ago. . .I can assure you this is proving to be the best gift imaginable!

Springtime in Greece is even more spectacular than was autumn.  The warmth of this Mediterranean sun is surpassed only by the warmth of the people we’ve met along the way.

And you know what? I am finding  those Hayley Mills/Eli Wallach movie windmills everywhere we go. . . this one is just across the street! 

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Greek ‘ferry’ tale

We’d debated up until the last minute, the best way to get to and from Crete now that our time exploring the Peloponnese has come to an end.

Should we fly? Should we island-hop? Should we take the overnight ferry?

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Finally we opted to book a cabin on the overnight ferry to Iraklian (Heraklion), Crete from Piraeus, the city that serves as Athen’s port.

[Traveler’s tip:  by booking the overnight, you save  the cost of a hotel room and if you book round-trip tickets you also get a discount. It is a long haul between the two ports  – we left at 9 pm and arrived at 6 am]

Because when I’ve told some of you that we prefer to travel by ferry in Greece and your response has been of skepticism; a wrinkled  nose at the thought of some basic, run-down boat, I thought today I’d take you on a tour of our Anek ferry:

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This is the hallway and entry to the ship’s casual dining (self-service -  buffet style) restaurant.

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Joel is walking past one of the casual coffee shop/bars on board

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Need a dress? Or a shirt? Flip flops or a hat? A leather bag? Hat? Just head to the shop on board. Much like those on a cruise ship, just a bit smaller.

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Safety? Plenty of tenders (life boats) both the kind pictured above and also the inflatable type.

We also had a swimming pool, hot tub and kiddie’s pool (all empty – but then it was an overnight trip.)

We took an escalator up two flights to reception, where a steward met us and led us to our cabin – we took an elevator up two floors to reach it.

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Towels were plush, sheets of heavy thread count (and ironed) and the beds were some of the most comfortable we’ve slept in since our journey began.

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The bathroom, like those on a cruise ship was functional – and spotless.

But then you don’t have a lot of time to spend primping in it – they announced our arrival at 6:05 and by 7 a.m. we were off the ship (along with all the other passengers – many who had chosen to sit in seats.)

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Our room with a view – looking out on Piraeus before we set sail.

Part 2 of our adventure now gets underway in Crete.  Hope you’ll come along. And this is our contribution to Travel Photo Thursday, an event hosted by Budget Travelers Sandbox.

Monday, April 22, 2013

“Jackie O., Billie Bo” and Maria

Sometimes the people you meet when you  travel warm your heart – sometimes they not only warm it, they expand it as well.

Such was Maria, owner of  the wonderful hotel, Les Sirenes, attached to her equally wonderful seafront restaurant, Harilaos (pictured below).

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We’d not planned to stay at Maria’s when we stopped for a quick look around the town of Kardamyli. We were considering her restaurant as a place we would likely return for dinner one night during our time in the area.

“Where you from?” she asked as we entered the restaurant and she approached me.

Seattle, we responded as Maria, by then, had reached me; cupped my chin with her hand and patted both cheeks –  then wrapped me up in a hug.

We decided to look at a room. . .and not long after, decided to stay as long as we could.

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While showing us the room, Maria asked our  names.
“Jackie,” I said.
“Jackie O!” she proclaimed, “just like Onassis.”

Joel was a more difficult one for her, so The Scout explained “like the singer Billie Joel”.  Ahh, but Maria version was 'Billie Bo'.

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“Jackie O. and Billie Bo,” she named us on the spot and that is what we were called during the three delightful nights we spent at her place.

When Joel  asked if she needed a credit card she wrapped her arms around him in a big bear hug and kissed first his left, then his right cheek.

Maria is simply like that, we quickly learned.  She greeted us each day with hugs and kisses.  As we finished dinner each evening, she walked us to the door and hugged and planted a goodnight kiss on each of our cheeks.
She was at church when we left Sunday morning to continue our explorations in the Peloponnese.  It was good we didn’t see her to say goodbye. I know I would have cried. 

PorosPt1 069 And we’ve learned that in Greece if you don’t say goodbye, it means you will return one day.

In Maria's case, I certainly hope so!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Kalimera from Kardamyli

Good Morning from Kardamyli, the town which is our home away from home for the next few days.

The photo below is of our deck and a portion of the view we have from it. That’s the top of a fig tree you see and a small lemon tree grows below it at water’s edge.

We are in a small studio with kitchenette and more cooking tools and flatware than I’ll ever use. (Cutting fresh cheeses, slicing vine-ripened tomatoes and fresh bread from the bakery doesn’t require much more than a knife and plate.) The cost is 40-euro a night, about $52 US.

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Our ‘home’ as we call it, is just ‘around the bend’, (the point you see in the photo below),  from Patrick Leigh Fermor’s former home.  He’s the writer of many books about his travels through Europe, and this part of Greece, The Mani. ~ He loved this place in the Peloponnese  so much that  he and his wife lived the last half of their lives here.

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Another writer, David Mason, wrote a memoir about his time also living here, for a time a neighbor of Fermor’s.  His book, “News from the Village” is a must read for lovers of this area. I wrote him before our trip and asked for any recommendations he might have for us in this town that is said to be one of the seven cities offered to Achilles by Agamemnon.

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He responded to my questions and I’ve quoted several times since our arrival the sentence with which he closed his email to me: “In honest truth, no matter where you go, you will not go wrong. Beauty is everywhere.” 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Peloponnese: “So. . .where do you think we are?”

“So, where do you think we are?” I asked The Scout.
“I guess we are where ever we are!” he responded.

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That Winnie-the-Pooh-like conversation is how we’ve sounded since leaving George and Vasiliki’s place and setting out to explore the Peloponnese without set destinations or reservations.

We began by heading high up into the mountains following a route that took us south along the eastern coast of the eastern finger of  the Peloponnese. We wound our way across, up and down the high plains, dotted with small villages.

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It didn’t take long to realize that many of the villages don’t have signs to tell us their names and  when one of the few road signs came along it was written in Greek
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“That goes left, I think we need to go right,” The Scout, and The Driver would say. Or, “There’s the sea. That’s the way we want to go.”

On that first day we went south then crossed ‘the finger’ and went north, looping our way into the ‘middle finger’ or The Mani – the place we planned to spend most of our time.

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And ultimately we found a town large enough to buy a map written in Greek so that we could match the letters on the map to what we saw on the signs.  It worked perfectly!  We know what this sign is pointed to now.

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We’ve been heading north up the western coast of The Mani for the last two days.  Often not passing another car for significant periods of time. The art of slow travel, you might say as we’ve stopped to admire the views along the way.

We decided to stop at the small fishing village suggested to us by  Jeff Siger, our writer friend from Mykonos.  We planned to have coffee there and continue north. . .

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Not so fast . . .instead we rented a room above the cafe – it cost us only 30 euros.  And we’ve both agreed this may well be one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever visited.  One night wasn’t enough, and we will definitely be returning to this place. I'll tell you more about it soon.

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That’s it for this update from Greece.  And I think it is Travel Photo Thursday so head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for more photos. And if you are thinking we should have had GPS, forget that idea.  The area is so remote there is nothing to connect to (we tried it using our Lloyd, the Droid.)  As wi-fi connection allows I will keep you posted about our whereabouts. . .

Monday, April 15, 2013

In Pan’s Playground

Pan, that wily god of wild shepherds and flocks, nature and mountain wilds is said to have lived in the Parnonas Mountains; the range that frames our little beachfront town of Poulithra.

He’s the fellow with the hindquarters and legs of a goat who romped with the Nymphs.  And his playground high above us called out yesterday. . .we ventured into Pan’s Land.

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We climbed up into the clouds on winding, twisty roads that cling to the hillsides – dizzying heights, I assure you.  The good thing is that all drivers take the corners with great respect for the sure death that would await if they were traveling too fast.

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Pan's pathway led us to a picturesque mountain village, Kosmas. A place where the small stone buildings on the town square house small inns, cafes and gift shops – and those we visited were heated by fireplace or wood stoves (and all were in use – we were at a mountain top).

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We then stopped at Monastery Panagias Elonis, which hangs off a sheer cliff a few miles outside Kosmas.  It is said to have been built in the 14th Century by Kosmas residents after they saw an image of the Virgin Mary on the hillside.

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The stairway leading to the monastery was solid and wide but when you looked over the edge. . .yikes! That ribbon below - far below! -- is the road we would descend down after leaving this religious site.  I can now understand why at least half of Pan had goat legs.

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Thanks for coming along on our Greek adventure.  Our internet connection has been a bit spotty and as we go further south  I suspect it may get even more unpredictable. . .I’ll be back when I can ( I have loads of tales to tell you!)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Writing from Byzantinon

Two Greek singers at a taverna on the other side of the olive grove are entertaining diners there on this laid-back  Sunday afternoon in the place called Poulithra, on the southeastern coast of the Peloponnese.  

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Lucky for me, their voices and the traditional Greek bouzouki songs are wafting to our deck, where I sit trying to paint a word picture for you of this charming place.

It was Hotel Byzantinon with its great reviews that brought us to this magical little spot wedged between the Mrytoon Sea and  the Parnonas Mountains.

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An olive and orange grove wraps around this small 11-suite hotel; its trees a playground for swallows that dip and soar between the branches.  The view beyond the grove is an expansive sweeping view of the sea -  in the distance, the island of Spetses.

Bird song was the only thing that broke the silence before the music began – so quiet it is here that the lap of the water against the shore can be heard although it is two blocks away.

Last night as we walked to the hotel from the taverna at nearly the midnight hour – having just finished dinner, like any good Greek would do – we walked under a starlit sky with some bizillion stars lighting the route; the air heavy with the scent of orange blossoms.

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One of my favorite travel declarations (as many of you know) is, “It just doesn’t get any better!” And with great regularity it continues to really get even better!  I’ve been making that announcement again since we arrived yesterday for a two-night stay. . .(by today, we’ve already extended another night).
I’ll tell you more about this magnificent little hotel and how George the owner knows Bill Marriott (yes, the hotel Marriott) – it is an amazing tale he has to tell so come back soon!

P.S. It DID get better. We went to the taverna and have spent two delightful hours watching the Greeks, sing and dance, arms upraised, swaying, clapping and snapping (a la Zorba on his beach – only this was real life, not a movie). . .yes, Sundays don’t  get any better than this Sunday has been!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Greece ~ Unwrapping the Gift ~

Greece, the birthday gift I’ve chosen for this year has been waiting for me -- a bus, train, three planes, and another bus -- away from our Pacific Northwest home. And here I am - time to put the planning into action!

A trip to Greece is one requiring time and distance that can make the youngest of travelers weary: we’ve  hurtled some 39,000 – feet above the earth as Delta whisked  us some 4,868 miles to Amsterdam. There we boarded another plane for the three hour flight to Athens.

Buses, trains and ferries will all be used on this trip. And I can't tell you the joy in finally looking out the plane's window and seeing Athens below!  Total travel time: 24 hours from our front door to check in at our hotel in  Piraeus, Athen's port.

Through time zones and climate changes we’ve traveled to reach this gift  ~ a trip that’s been in the back of our minds since we last visited in 2010.  “You must really like Greece,” observed friends who can’t quite get beyond this country’s economic  upheaval; one so severe that it has rocked world markets.

We know the world has changed – Greece in particular – since we last visited.  And we have wondered in what state we will find the country that has wrapped us up in its spell. We wonder whether the charming mom-and-pop places we’ve committed to memory will still be there to welcome us?  How will those few folks we remember so fondly  be doing?

Our trip really is going to be like unwrapping a gift ~ one that I suspect will hold all sorts of surprises. Come along with us as I continue to see what surprises it has for us! (That's me at the port, waiting for this ferry to take us to Poros. . .more from there soon! And today is Travel Photo Thursday so head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for more photos and travel.

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Sunday, April 7, 2013

WAWeekend: Spotlight on Seattle Hotels

This weekend our spotlight shines on a couple of Seattle hotel’s that have some money-saving deals for visitors to Washington State’s Emerald City:


Hotel 1000, in downtown Seattle, now offers guests complimentary calls to anywhere in the world during their stay.  And having just checked the price of making calls from Greece to the U.S., we can assure you, this is one great perk, especially for international travelers who want to stay in touch with home.

“Part of the experience is to not ‘nickel and dime’ our guests, but to include as much as possible in the room rate. We’ve done this in the past by offering complimentary, high-speed Internet since opening [six years ago] and are now continuing this with free calls to anywhere in the world,”says Denny Fitzpatrick, the general manager.

Another plus is that Hotel 1000 does NOT charge that pesky ‘hotel fee’ that some properties like to tack on to your stay. Your room rate includes: free calls and Wi-Fi throughout the hotel for “as many devices as you can carry,” as well as a complimentary newspaper, coffee in the Lobby and Library (Keurig in guestroom or French press upon request), sparkling wine at check-in, Business Center access color printer and ‘Mighty-O Donuts’ in Studio every morning

For reservations: http://www.hotel1000seattle.com/

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Seattle’s Alexis, Vintage Park and Monaco hotels (all part of Kimpton Hotel group) are pitching out deals for guests in this sports-crazed city. And the deals run the length of the Mariner’s baseball  season (April 8 – October 31):

For reservations: www.kimptonhotels.com

And use rate code: SCORE to get:

· Valet Parking  - whatever the Mariner’s opponents score in the game the night before* is how much the guest pays for parking (for example, 2 runs=$2, 0 runs=free parking, etc). You’ll also get:
· 2 bottles of a Northwest craft beer
· 1 bag of Tim’s Cascade (local) potato chips

The reason this is a great deal is because the normal rate for valet parking is $39/night at the Vintage Park and Monaco; $40/night at the Alexis!

*This promotion is good any day..the most recent game the Mariners played will apply.

For the record:
* these aren’t ‘sponsored’ posts (meaning no one has paid us to run this information.) We just think these are great deals and why keep such good information to ourselves when we could be telling you?

*that stadium pictured above is Century Link, the Seahawks' football stadium, our baseball stadium is behind it and I didn’t have a photo of it to use!

Hope you’ll join us again next week for more tips and tales!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Gift of Greece

If you’re a regular to these pages, you know that traveling to Greece is how I am choosing to celebrate the July arrival of my 60th year.

In planning -- I use that term loosely --our trip we've gathered a list; a kaleidoscope of old favorite places and new discoveries that we may or may not get to, but which at least have defined the perimeters of our itinerary. In the process, I’ve decided this trip isn’t so much a celebration as it is a gift. . .

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. . .because it will take us back to the Peloponnese (pel-o-pon-ih-sos), the mythical land of Greek gods where we had but an appetizer-sized visit two years ago  - enough to bring us back for a full serving this trip. The Peloponnese is the part of mainland Greece that looks somewhat like an open hand with three fingers extended. We'll be heading for the middle finger this time ~ The Mani ~ the land near and dear to the heart of 20th Century writer, Patrick Leigh Fermor.

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. . .it will take us back to not only a favorite island, Poros, but to the the Manessi Hotel where we've booked ‘our room’ (the one next to the Greek flag in the photo above). Poros, about an hour by fast ferry from Pireaus (Athen's port city) is a stone's throw across a small channel from the Peloponnese.

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. . .it will also give us the chance to ride Greek ferries, our preferred mode of travel in Greece.  While the more airplane-lile high speed ferry will take us to Poros, sometime along the way we’ll likely be perched at the top railing of a Greek ferry like this one, the size of a cruise ship, as we make our way south from the Peloponnese to Crete, Greece's southern-most island a few hundred miles north of the African coast.

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. . .it will take us back to Crete . . . that, in itself, is a gift.  One guidebook likens the island to Picasso in his prime, ". . .a dramatic quilt of big-shouldered mountains, stunning beaches and undulating hillsides blanketed in olive groves, vineyards and wildflowers." We'll be exploring new territory on our Cretan trip but will return to favorite places that draw us back with their own special magic. Places like Loutro, accessible only on foot or by boat;  is here we will celebrate Greek Easter. We will return to Maria's pensione where for 35-euro a night we have this view from our balcony each morning. . .

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. . .and we'll also visit the tiny blip on the map, Kastri, a bit further east on Crete's southern coast, where I will seek out my jeweler friend Georgios and then eat moussaka (pictured above) at this, one of our favorite restaurants on the island.

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. . .and no matter where we go we will be charmed by the photogenic Greek cats.  This fellow was relaxing in Loutro . . .

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. . . and this one was snoozing in Hydra during our last visit. . .their presence adds to what I consider a  simply purrr-fect gift!

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We've made room reservations for only six of the 35 nights we will be gone. . .that tells you we plan to go where the winds blow us and won't really know where we are going until we get there. Please come along and help us unwrap the Gift of Greece.  And today is Travel Photo Thursday so make sure to visit Budget Travelers Sandbox for more photos!


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