Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Finding Fokianos, Greece

“You might be disappointed in my village – it is very small,” George cautioned about visiting the small Peloponnesian town high in the hills above his Hotel Byzantinon where  he’d been born and raised; a place he  still visits regularly to tend to his family home and vineyard.

“You should go to Fokianos. Drive straight through my village. . .follow the road for another 12 kilometers.”

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With so much beautiful coastline, we pondered how we would know the picturesque beach George had proclaimed a ‘not-to-be-missed’ destination.

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Up  into the hills we went on the narrow little road (pictured above ) that pinched together at sharp curves, then stretched into gentle loops, and finally lead us straight through a little village that we hoped was George’s (the signs, you recall, were all in Greek).
Some kilometers beyond the village, as we rounded a curve, and just as George had promised, we saw Fokianos:


Our paved road gave way to gravel on its winding descent through ages old olive groves  to the white-crescent beach.


On this April morning the normally busy beach was empty but for a half dozen fishermen.

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Their  muted conversation, mixed with the water’s rhythmic gentle lapping, and an occasional bird call was all that broke the silence.

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George had told us that in summer the bay is often filled with yachts of the rich and famous, but on this morning, fishing boats at anchor were the only vessels in sight.

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Two tavernas stood side-by-side on this otherwise unpopulated  bit of paradise.  Only one of the two on this ‘pre-season’ morning showed signs of activity. It was there we sought lunch.

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“We’ve got a single portion of fish,” said the owner (who had grown up with George in the small hilltop village).  It was the same dish he and a friend were sharing at a nearby table. We ordered cheese as well – the owner provided bread and olives. The dish, an octopus stew, served warm as is the style of Greek cooking, was perhaps the most authentic Greek meal we ate during our travels.

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And we certainly had a table with a view from which to eat our feast. By now awnings are stretched over those skeletal frames, tables beneath probably filled with holiday makers, but on that day, the beach  and the view was ours alone.

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That’s it for this week’s Travel Photo Thursday. Don’t forget to stop by Budget Travelers Sandbox for other destinations.

If you Go: 

Driving in the Peloponnese: 
GreecePt12013 251We picked up our rental car at the Avis office in Naplion.  There were no requirements for an international drivers license. US license, passport and credit card (‘non-chip’ worked just fine) were all that was required.

Rental Cost: about $22US a day.
Regular unleaded gas: $9US a gallon (we were pleased this little guy got such good mileage!)

Greeks drive on the right-side of the road, like in the United States.  They also recognize the need to drive slowly on their hairpin curves. The roads lacing the Peloponnese are in many places narrow ‘back roads’ twirling around curves and climbing high into the mountains (not for those with a fear of heights or amaxophobia, fear of riding in a car).

GreecePt12013 284Fokianos: is about 33 kilometers (20.5 miles) south of the town of Leonido.  Drive toward Plaka. After about 17 km of climbing, the road flattens and you reach a junction (where the road sign is in Greek).  Go left (toward Pigadi and Fokianos). It will be an approximate 15 km more before you reach the dirt road to the beach. Note: the beach is about 25 km from the nearest gas station. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Greece: Coffee and Computer Culture

Po Po Po!!!*  There’s been a cultural revolution (the good kind) taking place in Greece the last few years and so focused has mainstream media been on the country’s economic crisis, they’ve failed to tell us about it.

Perhaps coffee and computers are so common-place in newsrooms that reporters didn’t recognize it, however, the change has been dramatic in areas we recently revisited.

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So let us -- who hail from Seattle (The Land of Starbucks) and Microsoft (Bill Gates and Gang) –  tell you:

Greeks are wired (the state of being resulting from ingestion of large amounts of caffeine) and at the same time unwired (by Wi-Fi.)

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Based on our previous trip’s experiences, we arrived with our pound of coffee and filters, prepared to use the hot pots provided in our rooms to ‘brew’ our java. Being of the Starbucks habit, we weren’t fond their mild, instant Nescafe – served everywhere as coffee three years ago. (Okay, it is still popular and used in drinks such as chilled Frappe's.) 

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Lattes and cappuccinos had been rather exotic and hard to find.  That's all changed as coffee shops now line the streets. In Iraklion, Crete, for example, (above) we found so many chic, upbeat coffee shops (including Starbucks) that was hard to choose between them.

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The same was true in city after city we visited.  On a Sunday at the Ministry Music Bar in Sparti, the heart of the Peloponnese, tables were packed long into the night with caffeine-consuming patrons – all of whom seemed to be checking their computers and mobile devices because. . .

Wi-Fi has come to Greece.  Signals sometimes can’t compete with centuries old stone walls of which many structures are made, but generally it is available everywhere.   Our jewelry-making friend George Chalkoutsis, living in the tiny hamlet of Kastri on Crete’s southern coast exemplifies the change.  At the time we met, he didn't have a computer because. . .

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Three years ago there was no computer access in Kastri. We traveled up a  looping road to a village perched high on a hill above and then sought out its sole internet café to check our emails.

I expressed surprise during this visit to see that George had a laptop in his studio.  “But, of course,” he replied. “Computers have come. I am on Facebook – and Skype. Are you on Skype? We could chat after you get home.”

Po Po Po! I had to admit we don’t yet have Skype – nor the skills to use it if we did.
*Po Po Po!  The phrase is a popular one in Greek.  It is a multi-purpose sort of exclamation covering surprise, wariness, disapproval or approval – depending on the tone, the accompanying look and the situation in which it is used.

Hope to see you back again later this week when we take you to one of Greece’s most beautiful beaches.  To receive our posts in your inbox, just sign up on our home page,

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

George’s Story: Our time at Byzantinon

GreecePt12013 193This is the story of George Kritsidimas, his family and their Hotel Byzantinon. The story is set amid an olive and orange grove overlooking the Myrtoan Sea, at the foot of the eastern Parnon Mountains in Greece’s Peloponnese.

Getting to know the family while staying at their hotel is one of those experiences – the kind so rich, that trying to wrap it up in words is difficult. 

Perhaps, it is because it is the story that happens when places become people.

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The Scout found Hotel Byzantinon, located in the small village called Poulithro, while web surfing prior to our trip to Greece. We knew nothing of the area; hotel reviews were positive. It was one of the few places we booked ahead of time.

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Little did we know then, what a goldmine of accommodation and experiences he’d found for us.  Our studio was spacious and luxurious. 

GreecePt12013 163The bed’s comfort and sheet quality appeared to rival that of a Marriott hotel, we remarked to each other, as we settled in. (Sometimes Greek mattresses can be firm-to-rock hard)

For that matter, pretty much everything in the unit was something of “Marriott quality”. The studio’s size, in fact, much larger than those of Marriott Vacation Clubs in which we’ve stayed.

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After so much Marriott talk, we were a bit surprised when we set out to explore the common areas of the hotel and found this - part of a framed display -- on a stairwell:

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That would be Bill Marriott, CEO of Marriott Corporation on the left and George next to him in the middle. That medal he’s holding in this photo is the one he’s wearing in the opening photo.

GreecePt12013 273It wasn’t until later in the day, when George returned from tending his vineyard high in the hills beyond the hotel, that we learned about the Marriott connection.

Turns out that in 2003 George was one of 12 out of Marriott’s some 4,000 employees world-wide to receive the corporation’s Award of Excellence.

He was the only employee so named outside the United States that year. The photo display highlights other moments that he and his wife shared during a whirlwind award trip to the ceremonies which were held in Washington DC.

You see, George, age 67, opened his Hotel Byzantinon after retiring from the Marriott Corporation. He’d ended a 30-plus-year career as the doorman at Athen’s Ledra Marriott Hotel. If you stayed there or even walked past it during his tenure, you might recognize the uniformed George in the photo below:

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Memories and stories. George has many from his years meeting and greeting travelers from all stations in life.
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Our incessant questions finally prompted him one morning to dig out a memory box filled with photos, the medal, and additional award certificates he’d received for outstanding service over the years. George took us on a trip down memory lane with him -- a most special moment in our Greek travels.

GreecePt12013 191Bill Marriott would continue to be proud of this Marriott-ambassador (pictured here with his son, Christos). George speaks  highly of the corporation and warmly about the Marriott family. 

Because in George’s heart, there is nothing more important than family. Maybe that’s why he made us feel so much a part of his.

That’s it for now.You'll hear more about George in future posts and I’ve got a ‘honey’ of a tale about his son, Christos – so hope to see you back here soon!  It is Travel Photo Thursday so head over to Nancie’s Budget Travelers Sandbox for more armchair travel. Then check out Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom?

GreecePt12013 172Click the link for more information on Hotel Byzantinon. And, for those curious ones out there: we paid 60-euro a night, about $75US. Our rate included (a fabulous!) daily breakfast. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Travel Technology: 'Lloyd the Droid' does Europe

Let me be quite upfront about this post:  it doesn’t have tips for great apps nor for enhancing photos.

This is a reality travel post written by traveling ‘techno-dino’s’  for “techno-dino’s” (those who are several leap-years behind current technology). If you are teetering on the edge, not sure whether to ‘take the plunge”  or if you took the plunge and find yourself in a whole new world, this post’s for you.

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It is about that colorful little guy above, “Lloyd the Droid”, the newest addition to our travel team ~ the smart phone we acquired 10 days before setting off for Greece.  We finally gave in to society’s pressures and friends’encouragements (not to mention the lure of all those apps that would enhance our travels and even better, save us money).

Shortly after bringing this ‘being’ home (smart phones didn’t get that name out of thin air, they aren’t phones, they are little brains packaged into small metal and glass casing)– I named our Droid, Lloyd.

Our little gifted one has so many talents (sorry about the bragging, but you know how it is. . .) include an ability to talk: he calls out “Droid!” in a croak much like a frog to alert me to a new FB post (sometimes I think he just likes to hear himself talk). Lloyd corrects me when I tried writing with him (sometimes choosing words that aren’t correct, but he never gives up) and the little fellow even responds to our voice commands to write text messages, find a web site or make calls for us!

And then came our trip to Greece and AmsterdamAmsterdam2013 001. . .

1. First thing our service provider advised, cautioned, warned and admonished us to do was to turn off half of Lloyd’s features as we boarded the plane – all mobile data was shut off to assure we wouldn’t have those astronomical charges based on international roaming. 

So, we had no phone nor text ability until our return, but we had Lloyd! 

The only time we could have used a phone was at the Amsterdam airport  to connect with our waiting driver and that resulted in some Keystone Cop type antics before linking up. When we finally met up, he suggested we get a phone to use while traveling. Sigh.

(We had purchased an add-on package that allowed us to make calls at some still-ridiculously-high cost in case of emergency – thankfully, we didn’t need to activate that plan nor did finding the driver constitute an emergency.)

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2. Lloyd is equipped with GPS – but that also proved to irrelevant as we found ourselves in the midst of the Peloponnese and Crete, on narrow, looping roads that took us into, up, down, and around mountainous areas – places way beyond GPS connections.We used a paper map – in Greek/English (so that we could ‘read’ the road signs).

A fellow traveler in the Peloponnese from North Carolina rented a car equipped with GPS. She reported that it kept calling out, “Turn left ahead” as soon as they left the major freeway. (It wasn’t just Lloyd).

3.  Lloyd was a great backup for internet access.  We checked emails, Facebook and used other social media and the few travel applications we had loaded. (Lloyd did take photos – although limited in style and technique –and it was simple loading those to FB and/or Twitter. If I could do it, any techno-dino could!)

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By taking our Netbook (which I used for writing and posting) and Lloyd on which Joel could check the internet – we cut our computer time in half, giving us more time for travel. Sharing the Netbook always required one of us to be in the ‘waiting’ mode.

Note to you writers out there: Lloyd is great for consuming information – he will never replace the computer keyboard for producing written communication or the camera for photos.

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4.  Finding those great deals : we did book a room using Lloyd during our trip.  For these two old techno dino’s with fat fingers, it was a laborious and irritating process – we hope our skills improve over time, because. . .
There are hotel and other travel deals being offered to ‘mobile app’ users – savings of up to 10% in some cases and in others, offering ridiculously cheap last minute hotel rates. (Expedia and Hotel Tonight, among them).
As for Lloyd. . .he’s part of the family now. We won't be leaving home without him.

Are you a techno-dino who took the plunge? What were your experiences?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

TravelnWrite’s Sunday Snippets and Snapshots

With oh-so-many things to tell you about Greece and other delightful destinations, we are starting a series of Snippets and Snapshots.

We begin with something fishy about feet in Crete:

It seemed the craze in Crete -- from its large city Heraklion to its tiny southwest coast village of Agios Roumeli – is the fish pedicure. I’d read articles about this type of beauty treatment (one, a 2008 article in the Seattle Times, reporting Washington State had deemed them both unsanitary and illegal) but until visiting Crete, we’d never seen such a salon. 

While our sandal-calloused feet would have been a tasty treat for them, we couldn’t quite bring ourselves  to stick our travel-tired tootsies in a tank with these tiny (toothless?) technicians. 

Would you have tried it? Or have you tried it?

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Saturday, May 18, 2013

WA Weekend: Wenatchee's Summer Sips and Savories

We’re taking a quick detour from Greece to tell you about a couple great reasons to put Wenatchee, Washington on your summer travel list. First there’s:

Ohme Wine and Food Gala, July 13th, 5:30 – 8:30 p.m.

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We attended this event last summer which is set in the midst of Ohme Gardens, a lush treed oasis high overlooking Wenatchee, offering stunning views of the Columbia River Valley as well. We are still talking about what a fantastic time we had there!

This year,12 Wenatchee Wine Country wineries will provide the sips to go with savories from 12 of the top chefs in North Central Washington, using locally farmed food. We can assure you, they start planning the pairings weeks in advance to give you the most amazing array of tastes.

CashmereVictoriaBC 064Live musicians provided the background music as we strolled through the terraced gardens sipping and sampling. They’ll be doing it again this year.

Note:  while it is an extremely popular, well-attended event, you don’t find yourself tooth-to-jowl with fellow attendees as can happen at similar events near Seattle.

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Attendees will experience the pairings of: Viscontis  and Jones of WA Winery; Cured and Malaga Springs Winery; Tastebuds  and Horan Estates Winery; Ivy Wild and (Beaumont Cellars; Smokeblossom and Martin-Scott Winery;  Shaktis and Crayelle Cellars; Windmill and Stemilt Creek Winery; Iwa Sushi and Voila Vineyards; Cashmere Cider Mill and Baroness Cellars; Inna’s Cuisine and Saint Laurent Winery; The Eatery and Esther Bricques Winery;  Chateau Grill and Chateau Faire le Pont Winery; and Cave B and their Tendrils Restaurant.

Ticket info: The gala is a benefit for Ohme Gardens so the price is: $60 per ticket if purchased by June 30; $70 July 1-12. Tickets can be purchased at, Ohme Gardens, or the participating wineries.

The New Pybus Public Market has opened –

After more than a year of dreaming, planning and construction,Pybus Public Market, the second-largest, covered year-round market in the State, opened its doors last weekend in a remodeled 1940’s building in the heart of Wenatchee. Food vendors aplenty are filling its stalls, check the link below for details. 

Soon it will be sporting a bright neon red sign similar to Seattle’s Pike Place Market, the largest covered year-round market.

CashmereVictoriaBC 044The Wenatchee Valley Farmers Market, located in the west parking lot of Pybus Market, also opened last weekend.

(They do have wine tasting at this market – a ton of fun.)

Pybus Market will be open seven days a week starting at 7:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m. on Sunday. Tenant hours will vary. A list of tenants and their business hours is available at  Grand opening: Saturday, June 22, 1 p.m.

Getting to Pybus Public Market, 3 North Worthen):

Wenatchee is about 150 miles from Seattle by car. Flights from Seattle on Alaska/Horizon air.

CashmereVictoriaBC 055(Easiest tip: It is walking distance to the Columbia River bridge, pictured to the left.)

Wenatchee Ave traveling South: Take a left at 2nd Street down to Columbia. Turn right and follow Columbia south to Orondo. Turn left at Orondo and cross the railroad tracks. The entrance to the market is straight ahead.

Wenatchee Ave traveling North: Take a right (east) on Orondo Avenue and cross the railroad tracks following it right down to the market.

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Happy Travels! We’ll have some more Greek tales for you on Sunday’s Snippets and Snapshots.
If you’ve not signed up to receive our posts, just head to the home page,  Sign up box is in the right-hand column.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

That Easter in Greece ~

We may never experience another Easter like the one in Greece. . .

Sfakia2Amster2013 046Greek Orthodox Easter is considered more important there than Christmas. We were fortunate this year to be in Crete and experience first-hand Easter Sunday, May 5th.

As with any holiday, decorations and preparations were the prelude to the event. This Easter wreath decorated a restaurant entry in Chora Sfakia, the small harbor town on Crete’s southwestern coast where we spent part of Easter Week.

Holy Thursday – Megali Pempti

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In the early evening, as we walked past our favorite bakery, run by our friend Niki and her husband, in Chora Sfakia, she invited us in to see the production of Kalitsounia, the special cheese pies made for Easter. 

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Her mom, pictured with her above, was taking the lead on the baking. Her sister, on the right, was also called into duty.

Sfakia2Amster2013 060We were honored by getting to sample some from the first batch out of the oven.

(I must tell you – this was one of the highlights of the trip!)

Holy Friday – Megali Parskievi

In the early afternoon, not long after we disembarked the ferry that  - in 30 minutes - had taken us further west along the coast to the small village of Loutro ; the place we would celebrate Easter, we couldn't help but notice that ‘Judas’ had been strung up on the beach awaiting his Saturday night fate.

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As we sipped a libation late Friday night at one of the waterfront cafes, the sound of chanting alerted us to an approaching  processional.

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Led by the priest, along Loutro’s ‘main street’, (a sidewalk bisecting  the waterfront businesses and cafes), a flower covered  Kouvouklion, representing Christ’s tomb, was carried to the ferry landing where additional prayers were said before it was carried back to the church.

Among the Easter traditions. . .

Sfakia2Amster2013 167Easter eggs are dyed a deep rich red, signifying the blood of Christ, most are plain but this basket’s eggs had religious images on them).
They weren’t made of chocolate nor were they hidden as part of a children’s game – they were eaten as part of the traditional Easter feasts on Saturday night and Sunday.

Holy Saturday – Megali Savato

The traditional Easter feast features roast lamb. And by late afternoon  Saturday the air was thick throughout the village with the smell of wild thyme and oregano-scented roasting meat being prepared for the late night feasting that would take place at every restaurant. (The front skewer is filled with pork, peppers and onions.)

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Sfakia2Amster2013 111Judas was hanging not far from the church, where the Saturday‘midnight’ (actual time 9:15 p.m.) service was held.

At the conclusion of the service, the bell clanged repeatedly as its rope was pulled, announcing the Priest’s proclamation: “CHRISTOS ANESTI!” (Christ is Risen!).

Then, in a scene much like a New Year’s Eve, the jubilant people filling the church and its courtyard began hugging and kissing, fireworks echoed across the bay, and candles were lit for the processional to the beach.

And then Judas burned.

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Flames shot high in the sky and the crowd fell back as embers, like fireworks began falling.

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We stood spellbound watching until the flames died and it was time to feast.

You might think this Easter story ended there. Ah, but, not so fast. . .


En route home, we spent a day and a half in Athens. Last Friday morning during a short walk near our hotel we happened upon a picturesque old church.

Sfakia2Amster2013 476Entering, we found ourselves with three priests and another gentleman, (a church deacon or senior warden type, perhaps.)

It quickly became apparent that he had been asked to take the priests’ photo. Even more quickly, it became apparent that he wasn’t quite sure how to use the digital camera he’d been handed. 

So, I did what any shutter bug would do: I offered to take the photos. 

By then, their camera battery needed to be changed and while we waited, the younger of the three clergy, who spoke perfect English, explained to us that the week following Easter was still considered Easter Week – the Easter service was performed each day from Easter Sunday until the following Saturday. 

He told us about the church and its history – its murals dating back to 1100.  Then ‘the photo shoot’ began;  I took group shots and individual shots.  I took a quick one with my camera as well:

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“Thank you,” the young priest said as we finished.  Then, as we were leaving, he called out,

“God Bless You! Christ has Risen!”

Yes, as I said, we may never experience an Easter like that one in Greece. . .

Map picture

This is our contribution to Budget Traveler’s Sandbox, Travel Photo Thursday.  Head over there for more photos and come back to TravelnWrite for a few more Greek tales. . .


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