Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A London Stopover– On Airline Miles and Hotel Points

When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life;
for there is in London all that life can afford.
                                -- Samuel Johnson

While song writers seem beguiled about springtime in Paris, we found London to be equally as enchanting. It didn’t take long for this jolly ol’ capital city with a population of more than 8.5 million to wrap us in its charms during our brief visit in May.

Those London phone booths are icons of the city
Because we were returning to the States from Greece earlier than originally planned to deal The Scout’s, medical matter, he was tasked with finding us a reasonable and affordable routing for this rather spur-of-the-moment trip. 

Speaking of icons, there are those double-decker buses as well. . .
The best option he found was flying via London, using some of our accumulated airline miles. (There are no direct flights between Athens and Seattle, so you need to stop somewhere. Sometimes depending on flight connections the layover could be a matter of hours and other times, overnight at least).

We purchased tickets on Aegean Airlines for our trip from Athens to London. We then used Alaska Airlines miles,a regional U.S. carrier, to fly on one of its partners, British Airlines.

Traveler’s Tip: We booked two one-way tickets London – Seattle, in Premium Economy, that rather comfortable section that isn’t quite Business Class but certainly isn’t Economy Class. The price 42,500 air miles PLUS $432US a seat in taxes and fees: (85,000 miles + $864US) AND THEN an additional $169US to select the seats we wanted to sit in – two seat side by the windows (and assure ourselves we weren’t stuck in the middle of a center row).

While all those extra $$$ were equivalent to what we would have paid for a regular economy class seat it does make one wonder about using airline miles for ‘free’ travel.

That London Stopover

London, London, London
It occurred to us that we could make lemonade out of the lemon he’d been handed by using some of our horded hotel points to pay for a stay at the Marriott’s Park Lane Hotel. It’s located across the street from Hyde Park,in the rather posh and privileged Mayfair District.

Traveler’s Tip:  Even using discount sites, the price of a room here hovers at $500 a night, plus another $100 per night in taxes and fees.  We paid nothing more for our room than 180,000 points,(which we’ve earned on previous Marriott stays and credit card spending).

Because we have stayed in Marriott hotels enough nights to qualify for their ‘elite’ level benefits, we had access to the hotel’s Executive Lounge were we ate breakfast daily, and drank happy hour wine and an afternoon espresso drink each day – all complimentary which further saved us a great deal of money. A British pound was at the time equivalent to $1.46US.

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Marriott Park Lane - London
After arriving at Heathrow Airport and caught the Heathrow Express train to Paddington Station, 32 kilometers, or about 20 miles away. Paddington has been the London terminus of the Great Western Railway and its successors since 1838. The high speed airport ‘shuttle’ trains leave the depart every 15 minutes. More than 16,000 passengers use the train daily.

Catching the train was a snap as they’ve simplified that process since the last time we’d visited London. A young woman was standing just outside baggage claim selling train tickets and we had only to follow signs posted in the airport to find the train platform.  Two round-trip train tickets: $105US

Heathrow Express at Paddington Station
From Paddington it was a short taxi ride to the hotel. Once settled in to our room, we set off to explore.  We walked 33.5 miles in the 4.5 days we were there and next week, we’ll show you some of our routes through London’s neighborhoods.

A London Park
Before signing off this week, we want to thank all of you who wrote emails or comments on last week’s post about The Scout’s trip through the medical worlds of Greece and the U.S.  Your kind wishes and ‘sighs of relief’ were most welcome.

Those ‘medical moments’ whether experienced at home or while traveling do make travel experiences just a bit more precious.  Booking a one-way trip instead of round-trip because you don’t know when you will be able to return was a good reminder to us to keep traveling as far and wide as we can – while we can! In other words:


Hope to see you all back here next week! Until then safe and healthy travels to you and yours~

Linking up:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Greece ~ Those best laid plans. . .

Life is something that happens to you
while you are making other plans.
         -- Margaret Millar

20160614_143248-1_resizedOur plan had been to spend a couple months this spring at The Stone House on The Hill, our home in the Greek Peloponnese. We’d return to the Pacific Northwest in June.

We’d planned several road trips and had completed one.

We’d scheduled some projects at the house. During our spring stay we anticipated visits with friends and neighbors who make up our new world.

Those were the plans. . .but we all know – and as the saying above reminds us, that sometimes life and plans are two different things.

Our plans changed . . .or, you might say, were changed for us. We took a journey of sorts through a part of Greece that we certainly hadn’t anticipated seeing. Now, two months after its start, we can say it was interesting and we learned many things, but we are happy it is over.

Setting Forth

The Journey began
Even before buying the house, we’d heard about our village doctor, Doctor Sofia.  An obviously respected and loved physician who no one called by her tongue-twisting full Greek name. She is simply, Doctor Sofia. Fellow ex pats described her as one sharp physician, a very kind woman and not one to leave anything to chance.

“Someday we should stop in and meet her,” we told ourselves. That is how things are done in the village. Can you imagine ‘stopping in’ to meet a doctor in a large city medical center in the States?

The opportunity to meet presented itself after The Scout had spent a couple weeks suffering from a head cold and swollen gland in his neck. The cold went away, the swollen gland didn’t. It was time to meet the doctor and get a prescription for antibiotics.

Dr. Sofia's Office

Lesson One:  You don’t make ‘doctor’s appointments’. You can, but you sort of aim for that time and check to see how long the wait might be. We dropped in to make an appointment.

Lesson Two: Those stories about nothing in medical clinics being private here are true. The receptionist desk is in a corner of the waiting room, – therefore a conversation with her is heard by all. (All waiting rooms we were to visit on this journey were configured this way). On this day, the lady who was waiting to see the doctor, overheard the conversation and told The Scout to go before her. She, an ex pat from Northern Europe, and I struck up a conversation (something else never done in US medical clinics) while waiting and had exchanged names and phone numbers by the time The Scout re-emerged.

The real journey begins - unknown territory ahead

Hand-drawn maps have always led us to interesting places
Instead of a prescription, he carried a sheaf of papers; two were rather long notes of introduction to other doctors hand-written by Dr. Sofia and the third was a hand-drawn-by-the-doctor map of an area in Kalamata, the large city with a population of about 100,000 about an hour north of us.

In our years of travel, hand-drawn maps have taken us to some of the world’s most fascinating places. In this case, they would take us to a radiologist’s office and a nearby Ear, Nose and Throat specialist (ENT) because Dr. Sofia hadn’t liked the location of that ‘swollen gland’ and wanted to have it checked further.

Pedestrian-friendly Kalamata
Off to Kalamata we went the next day. This time with a set appointment at the radiologist, and a ‘sort-of time’ for the specialist, both of whom had offices near the pedestrian-friendly downtown. 
We appreciated its pedestrian-friendly layout as we bounced back and forth between the two offices for the better part of the day: first an exam by the ENT doctor, then an ultrasound at the radiologist’s, then with ultrasound photos in hand we returned to the ENT who reviewed them and sent us back to the radiologist who aspirated the cyst. Cell samples were sent for testing at the medical laboratory in Athens. Both specialists believed there was nothing to be concerned about – it appeared benign.

If you want to make God laugh,
tell him about your plans.
         -- Woody Allen

Lesson Three:  I stayed in the waiting room at each visit as is ‘normal’ in the U.S. After all, even if it is a close relative, it is their health and, well, it is personal . . . you know, private.  On our second visit to the ENT the receptionist told me that family members – no matter the number – go in with the patient.

Lesson Four: Coming from the U.S. where the recent Affordable Care Act has sent our insurance premiums and co-pays into the ozone, we had braced ourselves for what these visits and tests – all done by private physicians would cost. We were paying out-of-pocket.

Brace yourself, before your read this next line:

Five doctor exams, two per specialist and Dr. Sofia, one ultrasound, one aspiration, one lab test and courier costs to get the sample to Athens: $345 US.  Read that out loud: only $345US!!

Street-scene Kalamata
Lesson Five: Be prepared for the unexpected.

The lab results were returned two business day's later in early May, which this year was Easter Week in Greece, a time when most business slows and vacations are taken.  Luckily all of the doctors were still working as the report surprisingly concluded: ‘probable cancer cells’.

We paid another visit to the radiologist, to the ENT and to Dr. Sofia – I’d adopted ‘the Greek way’ and was 'going in' with the patient.  All three doctors still seemed surprised at the finding  – the ‘lump’ as we called it had disappeared with the aspiration and not returned. (No charge for any of those follow-up consultations).

I always say don’t make plans, make options.
                             -- Jennifer Aniston

We came upon two roads - which one to take. . .

All three doctors at that point  – to eliminate any possibility – talking biopsy and upper body scans.  All procedures were best done in an Athens hospital, they said. Or, we thought, back in the U.S. Either option required travel, hotels and logistics.

The Scout at this point was consulting via email with his U.S. doctor who wanted the ultrasound results and lab reports. 

The actual ultrasound copies fit in a legal-sized manila envelope, but at the neighboring village post office they were deemed were too large for the Greek postal system to send via express mail (go figure that one). If they made that day's flight it would take 10 days via mail. "It is Easter Week, you know," the postal agent told us.

A special courier would charge 55-euros and delivery would take five days.

We had them scanned and emailed them.  A brilliant idea, we thought. Until. . .

Sigh. . . Seattle’s big city medical center, has such internet security systems in place that they were unable to open the medical records sent via ‘the cloud’. 

Dr. Sofia had taken the Greek lab report home one evening because her clinic schedule is so full and translated it to English so that it could be sent to the U.S. doctor (can you imagine your doctor doing that??).

Time to ponder what to do (this is the visiting Princess Cat on our deck)

Lesson Six: Think it through. Ponder the options and outcomes of this journey.

The U.S. doctor said tests could be done in Greece and if treatment was required he recommended returning to the States for it. However, we decided, we’d likely have to have all the tests re-done in the States if that were the case. 

If tests were done there and treatment started in Greece we had only that 90-day Schengen Treaty tourist visa window in which to get it completed. (Click the link for a post I wrote about it in April)

In the U.S. we have insurance but whether it would cover a Greek operation and hospital stay was questionable.

And sadly, as much as we love Greece, we had to consider the impact of that country’s propensity towards labor stoppages and strikes.  One patient of Dr. Sofia’s had joined in a conversation we were having with the doctor in the waiting room about The Scout’s situation (no privacy, for sure) and said she’d had surgery in Athens a few years back but it had been postponed a day or two by a strike.

Hmmmm. . .sometimes those group medical conversations can be enlightening.

On the road to Athens
We opted to return to the States, cutting our stay at The Stone House on the Hill to less than half of what we’d planned. Neighbors and friends in Greece stepped in to keep an eye on those projects we had scheduled and offered help with anything else we needed. 

We used air miles to buy our one-way tickets home – we had to be realistic. We didn't know when we might return to this daydream life of ours. We burned some accumulated Marriott hotel points and treated ourselves to five nights in London en route back to the U.S. Again, not knowing when we might again travel, we following the advice of Horace, who said:

Mix a little foolishness with your serious plans.
It is lovely to be silly at the right moment.

Journey’s End:

0911800-R1-007-2 [630928]
Seattle - known for its cancer-care facilities

At 6:45 a.m. the morning after we arrived in Seattle, The Scout underwent a series of scans at Seattle’s Virginia Mason Hospital.  All showed no signs of cancer. 

However, 'the lump' returned three weeks ago. It was surgically removed last week and he had an overnight stay in the hospital.

The ‘lump’, a cyst in the parotid (pear rotted) gland, a salivary gland, was benign.  We’ve booked our return trip to Greece. We are pondering future cruises. Travel planning is underway again.

Lesson Seven:  In case you are wondering, our experience with the Greek medical system exceeded our expectations, with the exception of the questionable lab finding. The doctors with whom we dealt spoke English and were clearly professionals in their fields. The interactions we had with them were like ‘the old days’ when you were a name and not a number. The costs were incredibly affordable. And every procedure and recommendation that the Greek doctors offered were similar to that which was recommended and eventually done by the U.S. doctors.

Don't put off to tomorrow. . .
Lesson Eight: This one is for all of you boomer-aged male readers of ours  – the U.S. doctor told us that too often men of 'your ages' find such lumps, or other questionable bumps in their necks and don’t have them checked figuring they ‘will go away’. For too many, they've waited too long.

Those little bumps/lumps can be harbingers of something very serious. Get them checked early.

Hey, next week we'll lighten up and take you on a whirlwind tour of London! We walked over 40 miles in five days and have a lot to show you! As always thanks for the time you’ve spent with us today. Safe – and healthy! -- travels to you and yours ~

Linking up this week with ~

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Greece ~ Going full circle? Just maybe . . .

Some youthful memories are better not revisited,
but sometimes you can go home again.
-- unknown

We were looking for new adventures when we purchased our Stone House on the Hill in Greece’s southern Peloponnese. Travel from there to an array of European travel destinations – only a few hours and a few euros away – added to the temptation of having a part-time home base there.

PicMonkey Collage
Europe's travel candy: London, Istanbul, Cairo, Jerusalem only a few hours away
Now that we are two years into our ‘here/there’ lifestyle we find we like being in Greece so much that we aren’t as tempted to fly off on these short excursions to other countries as we thought we’d be. We are having too much fun in Greece.

Every day is a new adventure, even doing the most mundane of chores. We find the lifestyle is causing us to rediscover old skills and apply them in a new setting. Many of those skills were learned in our mid-20th Century childhoods.  We are just a bit rusty but slowly that lifestyle is coming back to us. . .

Often times we remark of the similarities of this simplified, slower pace Greek lifestyle and that of our childhood. Skills we learned and used way back when are being dusted off and used again. Whether it is because it is all still so new and somewhat foreign to our biorhythms or because it it is bringing us full circle, back to our carefree days of our childhoods, really doesn’t matter. Whatever the case, as Yogi Bera, so aptly quipped, ‘it is deja vu all over again’! 

                I know they say you can’t go home again.
                 I just had to come back one last time.
                         -- Miranda Lambert
Regions of Washington State

Born and raised in small towns in the central part of Washington, a state tucked up in the northwest corner of the United States, we smile when our Greek friends shake their heads, admitting they’ve never heard of the state, let alone the towns in it. Agriculture, btw, as when we were kids, continues to drive the economy in the central and eastern parts of the state.
Like other mid-century ‘boomers’ the ‘new technology’ of our childhoods was the television. Telephones, with chords, were wall mounted. We grew up eating home grown vegetables from the garden and eggs collected daily from the chicken coop.  Computers didn’t exist in our youthful world – we entertained ourselves by reading books or playing outside.

Needless to say, like many small town kids, we could hardly wait to grow up, get jobs and live in the 'big city'. Ultimately, we moved to the Greater Seattle Metropolitan area on Washington State’s Puget Sound.

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Seattle skyline from Elliott Bay

Now, after nearly three decades of big city surroundings, we have embraced Greek village life with the force of a bear hug! We love its pace, culture, people –  and its food! -- as we’ve told you repeatedly on these pages. 

So here we are in a house above a small village on a Greek hillside, living a lifestyle not unlike that of our childhoods. We seem to have come full circle. . .the major difference being how we embrace the lifestyle that we once could hardly wait to leave.

I had the urge to examine my life in another culture and move beyond what I knew.
                               -- Frances Mayes, author, Under the Tuscan Sun

Let me give you a few examples, beginning in the vegetable garden. As a child I dutifully pulled weeds and helped harvest, but back then I considered those vegetables-- on the rare occasions we had them -- out of a tin can from the grocery store the real treat. 

PicMonkey Collage
My Greek garden - growing vegetables and vocabulary

20160502_163055_resizedNow I can’t spend enough time in the garden!

This spring I spent hours working to enlarge the two existing planting strips into a larger garden, now crammed with beets, lettuce, onions and potatoes.

Our first lettuce harvest last December was cause for joy as I served a salad with both our homegrown lettuce and our olive oil!

As for the olive oil, I finally got around to bottling some of it (using sanitized recycled ale bottles from one of our friends who runs a taverna) and labeling it with our own Stone House on the Hill labels. An adult ‘arts and crafts’ project – skills from childhood again came in handy!

20151215_184948 (2)

Off to the left of my veggie garden stands the wood pile.

The Scout restacking the wood pile

As kids we both helped stack wood – a fuel used in both our homes.  Can’t say it called out to us then, but now we’ve stacked and re-stacked wood to get it ‘just right’.  That wood you see in the photo is part of our olive harvest: branches are trimmed from the trees during harvest and then are cut for use in fireplaces and wood stoves.

                                                                           Myprize: my clothes line
To the other side of my garden stands something I’ve missed for decades: a clothes line. One of my favorite childhood chores was hanging clothes (when I got tall enough to reach the line). Living in ‘modern-day big-city United States’ means no clothes lines – some cities and sub-divisions ban them. Here clothes, bedding and towels are dried outside. Only on rare occasion would we take these items to the commercial laundry for washing and drying (there is no such thing as self service laundromats in the area).

Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.James Baldwin, Giovanni's Room

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Lemon harvest at The Stone House on the Hill
Long dormant skills learned during a childhood spent working in his parent’s apple orchard have come to life for The Scout. While never having ‘worked’ an olive grove before, he amazed me, as he stepped into this new environment with knowledge about the spraying, pruning, watering, and harvest that is required for the new adventure of ours.

PicMonkey Collage
Spring wildflower carpet is cut for summer fire danger protection
And like his long-ago apple orchard, the olive grove goes through seasons just like all fruit bearing trees: a time for pruning, a time for mowing down the grass, fertilizing, watering and ultimately harvest.  While we are there, we take care of the grove and hire a fellow to take over in our absence.

Where we love is home, home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

Playing house - grownup style
My childhood included a ‘playhouse’ – part of our woodshed. It was near the ‘playhouse’ (a cleaned out chicken coop) of my best-friend-next-door-playmate, Mary. We spent hours in those make-believe ‘homes’ of ours, honing our domestic skills. Every so often The Stone House on the Hill brings out the child in me and I need to ‘play house’ – each time I do, it reminds me of those childhood dinner parties I once held in that play house of mine.

PicMonkey Collage
'Entertainment Center' and 'Great Room' of the Stone House on the Hill
We don’t – yet -- have a television at the Stone House. Much like we recall the debates of our parents, we ask ourselves whether we ‘need’ one. So far, the vote is: we don’t. We do have internet (something not even dreamt of in our childhoods – and it keeps us connected with world news, except when the mouse chews through the cable on the roof). 

When not going about daily chores or running errands or socializing with friends, we read books and spend time outside – just like when we were kids.

While in so many other ways that  this ‘here/there’ world  is providing new adventures and behaviors, it is just maybe bringing us full circle as well.

Each day is a journey
and the journey itself is home.
              -- Matsuo Basho

That’s it for this week from The Stone House on the Hill.  Happy and safe travels to you and your family.  As always, we appreciate the time you spend with us!

Check out the writings of other travel and lifestyle blogs at these linkups:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Souvenirs ~ Decorating The Stone House on the Hill

sou·ve·nir  [ˌso͞ovəˈnir], noun,
a thing that is kept as a reminder of a person, place, or event.

We long ago quit buying knickknacks, postcards, key chains and other nonsensical items on our travels. In recent years we’ve been cleaning out our Pacific Northwest home of such collections and discarding the travel memory clutter.
‘If we can’t eat it or drink it – we won’t haul it home’ has been our rule of travel.

We refocused and redefined 'souvenir' when we purchased The Stone House on the Hill and began decorating it. We wanted a home that reflected ‘us’ and might inspire and entertain those who stayed with us. What better reflects ‘us’ than travel? Why not start buying things for the house on our travels? Practical, or useful souvenirs, you might say. We've seen it used in those decorator magazines for years. . .

P1010802You long-time readers probably recall we had an extra suitcase on our Middle East cruise which was designated for those types of purchases and. . .then. . .

. . .added yet another filled with Turkish rugs.  We hauled more luggage that trip than we've ever taken anywhere! 

So many of you wrote saying you wanted to see our souvenirs and how they’ve been put to use in Greece, that I thought this week I'd take you on a home tour of sorts and show you where some things and have come from and where they are being used:


Let’s start with those Turkish rugs we bought at our last port of call, --  Alanya, Turkey, that magnificent place with the stunning old fortress wall --  on our Magic Carpet ride of a cruise through the Middle East last spring:

Alanya, Turkey at night from our Oceania Cruise ship Nautica
We purchased three rugs, one for in front of the fireplace, one for a hallway and one for the den.

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Turkish rugs for the den, hallway and living room

Petra, Jordan - a favorite highlight of the cruise
One of my favorite rugs came from Jordan – where Petra and the Wadi Rum were highlights. The purchase of the rug helped support the foundations and charities that are favorites of Queen Noor. (Queen Noor of Jordan is an American woman who is the widow of King Hussein of Jordan. She was his fourth spouse and queen consort between their marriage in 1978 and his death in 1999.)
The purple and green in its design matched perfectly with the colors of our ‘guest level sitting room and bedroom’.
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Guest room at The Stone House on the Hill
We also found an easy decorating item and souvenir to bring back is a pillow case.  The day bed in the guest room has pillowcases in the center that we purchased in Singapore. The goal is to fill that bed with ‘travel pillow cases’.

Pillow cases make great souvenirs
While in the guest level of our home, lets move into the sitting area and . . .


We went local and rode tuk tuks to see Cochin, India
Our first cruise port of call in India was Cochin, where we explored the town independently from the back of a tuk-tuk, similar to the one above. On one of our stops we couldn’t resist this throw and pillow that now decorate the beige couch in the guest suite.

Throw and pillow from Cochin, India


Safaga, Egypt our port of call 
Our introduction to this fascinating country of Egypt came with a cruise tour that took us from Safaga to Luxor and during that trip our guide told us the story of the importance of the Scarab beetle in Egyptian myths and legends. She held up a papyrus painting and I immediately ‘had’ to have one.  It only cost $7US and the framing (done in Greece) was another 20 euros – it is one of our favorites.

PicMonkey Collage
Scarab beetle brings memories of Egypt 
While 'de-cluttering' the Pacific Northwest, I happened upon some oversized postcards that I purchased several years ago in Provence, France. Instead of dumping them, I took them to Greece and got them framed (35 euros) by the two talented ladies who run my favorite gallery in Kalamata –  and they now are on display above the kitchen table.


A taste of Provence
While we’ve prided ourselves in purchasing ‘useful’ souvenirs for our Greek home, I have to admit – we did give in to temptation and filled our refrigerator door with . . .magnets, one from each country in which our Magic Carpet landed. They surround my favorite saying:
Life is not measured by the
number of breaths we take,
but by the number of moments
that take our breath away.
Now, every room in The Stone House on the Hill features something to remind us of those breathtaking moments!

Memories to take our breath away
That’s it for this week.  Thanks for coming along on the tour and we hope you’ll be back again soon.  I’ll do another post one day and show you some of the items we've found during our travels in Greece that now are part of our furnishings and decorations.  Do you collect souvenirs? If so, tell us about them in the comments below or shoot us an email!

Safe travels to you and yours~

Linking up this week with:

Mosaic Monday – 
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration


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