Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Greece ~ Cats, Culture and Conflict

Those cats of Greece. Gatas, (yatas) they are called here. Every visitor here has a cat tale to tell.

It might be how you avoided them or how they captured your heart. Maybe it is how cute their photos on souvenir calendars and postcards or maybe you encountered some so desperately hungry they were foraging in garbage bins or begging tableside at a restaurant.

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"Mom" Cat just days before giving birth to kittens - Spring 2016
“You can’t have a cat,” The Scout admonished me (I am one of the world’s greatest cat lovers) way back while contemplating a Greek house purchase. We’d be part-time residents – not conducive to having pets. But during our short time as part-time ex pats we’ve learned cats really aren’t ‘pets’ by that cushy definition and lifestyle they lead in the United States.

And it wasn’t a case of me having ‘a’ cat.  It has become a matter of how ‘many’ cats have us. That’s where culture and conflict come into play.

"Muffin" short for Ragamuffin - new arrival Spring 2016
While I’ve written of the challenges and rewards of absorbing a new culture, the one topic I’ve skirted is that of those determined felines who’ve recognized ‘those Americans’ as easy marks and are causing severe conflicts between our heads and our hearts. Even The Scout, (also an animal-lover), has forgotten his earlier admonishment and has been taken in by them as well.

Today, 36.1 million U.S. households own one or more cats,
for a total of more than 74 million pet cats.
--American Veterinary Medical Association.

Stray - but well fed cats - in Monemvasia, Greece
Our first cultural difference and conflict: Cats are not considered pets, they are animals with a job to do. But there are simply too many of them. In Greece spaying and neutering – is expensive – and not the rule. They multiply rapidly. Their job is to keep down the vermin – that would be rats, mice and snakes who make their homes in the olive and citrus groves that carpet the land. Some are 'lucky' and live in villages; kept alive by local restaurants and well-meaning tourists who sneak food to those brave enough to sit near the tables. It is those gatas in the rural areas who tug at the heart strings as they struggle to survive while keeping down the pest population.

Sign in a restaurant in Trahilio - The Mani
“Unlike dogs, cats have become purely domestic pets only very recently, within the last 50 years. For most of their history, cats weren’t pets. Cats lived in and around human villages for millennia, but there is no evidence they lived in our homes.”
-- from “The Trainable Cat” a book by Dr. John Bradshaw

"Bob" for his bobcat ears - another new - desperately hungry - arrival at our house
In Greece abandonment is widespread and our picturesque area is not immune.

“Six puppies abandoned in Ag. Nikolaos Monday, Aug. 10.
Six kittens about two weeks old dumped at Pantazi Beach the same day.”
-- from MIAO, Mani International Animal Organization

Pantazi Beach below our home is a popular spot to 'dump' unwanted cats
Sometimes, even well-meaning tourists contribute to the abandonment. They arrive and spend a season, love them (feed them) and leave them at the end of their visit. We were guilty of abandonment at the end of our first stay at The Stone House on the Hill and I fretted so much about ‘my cats’ after that stay, that we’ve since hired our gardener to come and feed and put water out for the cats (‘ours’, ‘others’) when we aren’t in residence - whether the garden needs attention or not. Our neighbors – two sets of full-timers – also feed them. 

"Mom" with her grown kittens last fall 2015 use my 'shelter'
While my head told me that they got along fine before we arrived on the scene, my heart had fallen head-over-heals for each flea-bitten, tick-laden hungry one that has shown up at our house. Our behaviors as well as theirs have become quite predictable:  we refuse to feed the new arrivals for at least a few days, we shoo them away from those we are feeding.  But then they are so desperate that we give in . . .as with Bob, pictured above.  He was so frightened of us and the other cats he’d wait until the bowl was empty before venturing over to lick its surface. The heart won out. . .Bob was invited to eat and drink.

"Tom" on the table, "Princess" in the chair
Longtime readers will recall my cat tales of "Princess" (The Cat who came for Christmas) and her brother, "Tom" who arrived at The Stone House on the Hill shortly after we took ownership.  Both appeared to be homeless but somewhat taken care of and well-versed in how-to-win-the-hearts-of-the-new-owners. (As I've noted, we were easy marks.)  We eventually began feeding them.

Tom and Princess sleeping on our couch
When we returned to the house several months later, both showed up at our door within hours of our arrival. Tom, had a reputation in the neighborhood as being a bully and a Romeo, so we took him to the vet and a few snips and hours later, he was a new man, in a manner of speaking. Then we came back but Princess didn't; instead "Mom" cat arrived and has been a regular since.

Then Princess and Tom and Mom returned – looking healthy and not hungry when we came back in the fall.  By then they’d put a strangle hold on our hearts. Mom had kittens to attend to, but we let Tom and Princess inside for a cat-nap or two.

"Princess" napped while I worked in the garden
A very pregnant Mom Cat greeted us immediately but Princess was slow in arriving last spring – we’d been there several weeks before she came to the door. (We’ve learned her real name is ‘Sula’ and she belongs to someone else up the road but apparently likes to holiday at our place when we are there). Tom never returned. I fretted. . .hoping we'd see him this fall.

It turns out Tom is my first Greek heartbreak, (sadly, I am certain he won’t be the last).  Our neighbors learned that Tom had been hit by a car on the road not far from our house, was found by a Greek lady and was in such bad shape that the animal protection group was called and Tom was put down. That tug between head and heart continues . . .

PicMonkey Collage
My tribute to "Tom"
The good news about Greek cats (and dogs) is that there is a group of residents – ex pats and Greeks – in our area who do care about the stray animals.  They’ve established feeding stations (like at Pantazi Beach, and volunteers make regular runs both to feed the animals and help those which are distressed, as they did for 'our' Tom.

Called, MIAO, the Mani International Animal Organization, the group even helps relocate unloved and unwanted dogs to foreign countries. They’ve offered rewards to help find individuals guilty of poisoning animals (yes, poisonings do occur). 

A little stray watched us eat from this window sill in Monemvasia
A Google search for ‘Greek cats’ returns 11 million results. Among them are sites that offer suggestions for ‘Greek cat names’ (which range from Adonis and Antigone to Zephyr and Zeus) and other links that link to animal organizations like the Greek Cat Rescue and Greek Cat Welfare Society

Should you find yourself in Greece, I’d suggest attending one of the animal group's fund-raisers as it is a great way to meet locals and it helps them help the animals. Or donate that small change you don’t want to carry home to them - many have collection jars at local businesses.

That’s it for this week. Hope you are enjoying the last of the season and looking forward to the next.  As always, we appreciate the time you spend with us and thank you for sharing our posts with friends and family. Our travel season has begun, we are on the road hope . . .hope you'll join us next week!

Linking up with these amazing groups this week:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Reverse Thrusters! Middle East to the Mediterranean

Carpe Diem,seize the day!  Carpe Deal,seize the deal! 

Those are the philosophies guiding our travels these days. Which means sometimes we just never know where we might end up. Only two weeks ago, I  was telling you about that cruise we’d booked, the round-trip Abu Dhabi, Arabian Sea adventure. And that's where we were headed, until a week ago when . . .

The Scout and I were on our back deck enjoying our Friday afternoon ‘coffee break’ (a carry over from our 8–to–5 work-world; now just a relaxed time of sipping Starbucks and a bit of conversation) he off-handedly mentioned,

“I found a cruise you should take a look at.” (You know how The Scout is always scouting for deals and destinations).

Celebrity Constellation
He proceeded to show me a Celebrity cruise that departs Rome, Italy on November 2nd and ends up in Athens, Greece 12 nights later.  It is the Constellation; the same ship sailing to and from Abu Dhabi and the one on which we crossed the Atlantic a few years ago. She’s affectionately called, “Connie” by repeat guests.

The routing
The routing (shown above) appealed because it  included stops in some of our favorite Mediterranean places, but it was the price that jolted me far more than the java I was sipping: only $849 per person for a balcony room.  Ocean view, $723, and inside cabins only $653.  Were they kidding? Or was it a series of typos? Those were incredibly good prices!

Athen's Acropolis from the Electra Palace Hotel
Hmmmm. . .it ends in Athens. “That would be convenient,” I said. We could get a rental car at the port and drive home. (Short flights and easier travel in Europe was one of the factors we considered before buying our Stone House on the Hill in Greece.)

Now admittedly it ends in Athens because Celebrity has pulled out of Istanbul as result of recent unrest there and it does have three days and nights in Israel and one in Turkey (Kusadasi). Each of those stops could still be could be changed on a moment’s notice as result of safety concerns, but then any port can be pulled for a variety of reasons on cruise itineraries, even weather. If so, some other interesting port would be substituted or we’d spend another day at sea.  Not tough duty anyway you look at it.

A balcony room on the Constellation
The Scout pointed out this cruise is three nights longer and cheaper than the one we had just booked in the Middle East.  Airfare to Rome from Athens (with the checked bag fee included) is $154 for the two of us. . .another cost savings over the flights to and from Abu Dhabi.

Sunsets at Sea can't be beat
We refilled the coffee cups and grabbed the calendar. We were still well outside the final payment (90 days in advance in this case) of that Arabian Sea cruise we’d just booked.  We’d get our entire down-payment back; in fact we’d just transfer it to this cruise.  Downside of this cruise: we are within the 90 days so full payment was required at time of booking. And no changing our minds once that happens. . .

Hora Sfakia, southern coast of Crete
We discussed the pluses and minuses of the two cruises. One would sail us into whole new worlds and the other would take us back to old favorite places.

Then we talked about that pizza we’d eaten in Naples on our last cruise visit there several years ago. “Oh, there’s that wine bar near the Spanish Steps in Rome. We could go back there,” I suggested.  The Scout noted that we’d have time in Crete to rent a car and drive down to the village of Hora Sfakia on the island’s southern coast and visit Greek friends there.  Israel, with an overnight stay in the port of Ashdod puts us near Tel Aviv and all the attractions it offers visitors. Kusadasi is the gateway to Ephesus. . .

Sea Days are among my favorites
Two hours later we’d 'reversed thrusters', and with the final payment made on Saturday morning, we are set to sail the Mediterranean ~ we’ll get back to the Middle East one of these days!

Before You ‘Carpe Cruise Deals’

There are deals to be had in Europe (land and sea) now. I checked and the deals are still available for this cruise if anyone is interested.  We use a few filters before jumping on a deal - just to make sure we aren't blind-sided later. Here are some of our considerations:

Basking in the Mediterranean Sun - Celebrity Constellation
-- Cost of the airfare? Consider how much your airfare will add to the cost of the trip before signing up for a cruise deal. If you find a fly/cruise package check to see if booking your air travel separately might save you money.

-- Cost of hotels? It is best to schedule your arrival for a cruise one day early as it gives you time to get over jet lag if coming a long distance, retrieve luggage that might have been delayed and simply  enjoy the port city and not view it from the back of a cab racing to the ship.  It does mean you’ll need to add the cost of a hotel stay to your projections. We've decided to stay two nights in Rome because of low hotel rates.

-- What is the real cruise cost? Does the price quoted include port charges and taxes?  These can be significant additional costs. What are the terms of cancellation? (That's important if you change your mind as frequently as we do.)

-- What are the onboard benefits?  We are receiving a $450 on-board ship credit (which can be used to purchase excursions, beverages, internet, for example), and had our choice of a beverage package for two, prepaid gratuities, or free internet.  The on-board benefits represent significant cost savings.

-- Is a better deal available through a different agency?  Now some of you are loyal to ‘your’ travel agent and would never change and we understand that.  However we have found deals vary between on line agencies that specialize in cruises.  We have used Cruise Compete to compare prices (as everyone can do) and we’ve seen differences of several hundred dollars in costs or on-board benefit packages. We routinely use Vacations To Go and Cru Con on-line agencies.

Cabin location on a ship can afford interesting views - here we watched the refueling operation

-- What is the category of the cabin and where is that group located on the ship?  An ocean view room that is at the waterline won’t provide much view nor is a ‘view obstructed balcony/veranda’ going to be much fun either.  Find out the category of the room, then go to a layout of the ship (found on the cruise line’s web site) and check for that category’s location and deck. Often times the agency has particular rooms on hold, so get the numbers, look up the location and then request a specific room.

-- Will you feel safe in the ports of call?  A number of you’ve responded to recent posts, saying you aren’t comfortable with travel to certain destinations right now.  So before booking a ‘deal’ make sure you really want to visit the places on the itinerary. If you aren’t going to get off the cruise ship, do you really want to take the cruise?

-- On your own or cruise ship excursions?  Check the price of the excursions offered by the cruise ship – they are generally expensive and can add significantly to the total trip cost.  You don’t need to participate in those groups, you can tour independently or find smaller groups being organized by fellow cruisers who participate in the on-line, Cruise Critic, a cruiser user-group.

Lazy days at Sea
That’s it for this week – hope you’ll be back soon and bring a friend or two with you.  Thanks for the time you’ve spent with us ~ as always we appreciate it!

Couple of housekeeping notes:  I've noticed a number of you have signed up to receive our blog posts as weekly emails but you haven’t taken the second step to make that happen: 

After you've entered your email address in the box on the blog's home page, you’ll receive an email (in your regular or junk mail) from “Feedburner” asking you to verify that you did sign up, you must respond to that email to actually sign up.

And a disclaimer about the sites listed above:  We are recommending them because we use them - we don't get any payment or benefits from recommending them to you.

This week we are linking up with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Summer’s Novel (and not-so-novel) Destinations

The morning sunrise seems softer and the green leaves are showing hints of red and gold – both sure signs that August is leading us into an early autumn in our corner of the Pacific Northwest. It is the time of lazy afternoons on the deck soaking up the last of summer  ~ a time of travel to novel, and not-so-novel, destinations without leaving the chaise lounge.

Armchair, or deck chair, travelers, this post is for you. No packing or security pre-check required. Sit back as we are off to. . .

Jerusalem. . .

Jerusalem, Israel
“Jerusalem is the universal city, the capital of two peoples, the shrine of three faiths; it is the prize of empires, the site of Judgment Day and the battlefield of today’s clash of civilizations. From King David to the 21st century, from the birth of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to the Israel-Palestine conflict, this is the epic history of three thousand years of faith, slaughter, fanaticism, and coexistence.”opening line of Amazon’s description of this book

We visited Jerusalem on one of those one-day-see-everything-you-can cruise ship tours last year. It was the one city of all the magical places we’d visited that didn’t ‘grab’ us.  Perhaps we’d seen too much before arriving there, perhaps the crowds were too enormous, perhaps any number of things caused us to be less than ‘wow’ed’ by this place. 

The glimpse we had - though hasty - of its historical places left us wanting to know more about it: the conflicts that make up its history, how that ‘real’ history meshes with the Biblical version. . .we needed to fill in some blanks and answer some questions.

And one of the best books we’ve found to do that, is the book pictured to the right by Simon Sebag Montefiore.

At 704-pages it is not a light read in any sense of the phrase. But it is an easy read and a fascinating journey.

Middle East. . .

Wadi Rum - Jordan
She has been called the female Lawrence of Arabia, which, while not inaccurate, fails to give Gertrude Bell her due. She was at one time the most powerful woman in the British Empire: a nation builder, the driving force behind the creation of modern-day Iraq. – Amazon books

Our fascination with the Middle East continues, even now, months after our introduction to it on that Magic Carpet Ride of a cruise last year. 

While images of Lawrence of Arabia came to mind while we traveled there, it wasn't until this year that we read about Gertrude Bell. I have to admit that it was not until I was channel surfing for movies aboard a transatlantic flight a few months ago, and landed on one called,“Queen of the Desert” starring Robert Pattison and Nicole Kidman, released in 2015, had I ever heard of Gertrude Bell and her mark on history.

After reading this book, I don't think the movie does  justice to this woman’s amazing adventures and contributions! Before she conquered the desert she climbed a few mountains. Too bad they didn’t have ‘blogs’ back then – hers would have had millions of followers.

Egypt. . .

Diwa Bookstore - Cairo, Egypt - a must for visitors
I know many of you swear by your Kindles and electronic books, but for us there is nothing better than discovering a bookstore in a new city and spending a good deal of time there looking at covers, flipping through pages.  That was the case with Diwa Bookstore in the Zamelik district of Cairo.  We couldn’t resist buying three of the oh, so many, titles that tempted. . .many by writers of whom we’d never heard of before but whom we've since found on Amazon (so you don't need to go to Cairo to find the book).

This sweeping novel depicts the intertwined lives of an assortment of Egyptians--Muslims and Copts, northerners and southerners, men and women--as they begin to settle in Egypt's great second city, and explores how the Second World War, starting in supposedly faraway Europe, comes crashing down on them, affecting their lives in fateful ways.

Central to the novel is the story of a striking friendship between Sheikh Magd al-Din, a devout Muslim with peasant roots in northern Egypt, and Dimyan, a Copt with roots in southern Egypt, in their journey of survival and self-discovery.  - Amazon books

This book may have been one of the best ‘reads’ we’ve had this year.  The other two books, not novels, pictured above, were also excellent.  On the left, ‘The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: A Jewish Family’s Exodus from Cairo to the New World” (2008) is written by Lucette Lagnado about her family’s relocation to the United States from Cairo. An amazing tale.

“Six Days: How the 1967 War Shaped the Middle East” is an almost hour-by-hour look at the six day war that took place way back when we were too young to understand war or how it would shape the Middle East. Written by Jeremy Bowen, who from 1995 – 2000 was the BBC’s Middle East Correspondent, the book is a must for anyone trying to understand what has led to today’s conflicts there. It doesn't provide all the answers, but it certainly puts them in perspective.

Australia. . .

Sydney Opera House from our cruise ship deck
After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.                    – Amazon Books

To tell you much more about this novel than the summary by Amazon would simply tell you too much about the plot. A friend loaned this to me while we were in Greece and I am ever so glad she did.

 This has to be one of the most powerful, and yet dark, books – a look at love and at human nature; good versus bad – that I’ve read in a long time. A bit of a tear-jerker as well.

One of the most unusual narratives and the setting so remote. . .you actually could feel the loneliness. . .

Seattle. . .

0911800-R1-007-2 [630928]
Seattle as seen from a ferry on Puget Sound
Inara Erickson is exploring her deceased aunt's island estate when she finds an elaborately stitched piece of fabric hidden in the house. As she peels back layer upon layer of the secrets it holds, Inara's life becomes interwoven with that of Mei Lein, a young Chinese girl mysteriously driven from her home a century before.  -- Amazon books

This book has a 4.5 star out of 5 rating on Amazon with more than 600 reviews, so don’t just take our word for how good this first-novel by Seattle writer, Kelli Estes, is!  Another friend gave me this book for Christmas and again I am so glad she did.

Amazon’s review doesn’t do justice to the book that tells an amazing love story based on real life tragedies in this city’s past.  Just as Jamie Ford’s “The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” told of the injustices committed her against the Japanese in Seattle during World War II, Estes tells of the treatment of the Chinese immigrants through a narrative that bounces between the present and the late 1800's.

Greece. . .

Entryway at our Stone House on the Hill
Sofia’s love life has ended in disaster. Having lost her London home, she now lives with and cares for her Greek grandmother, matriarch of the family, astute business woman, and widow of an English man. Sofia hears stories from the past, of her grandparents’ meeting and life in the remote coastal village of Galini on the Greek island of Tritinos. When her grandmother dies, she bequeaths to Sofia the family house in Galini, with one condition attached.   -- Amazon Books

Sofia's House by [Gordon, William]
Now you didn't think I could leave out Greece, did you?

Long-time readers of Travelnwrite will remember the English writer and his editor wife, Bill and Val Kitson, who we met by chance several years ago on Crete’s southern coast in a tiny village called Loutro. We’ve stayed in touch and since the initial meeting have rendezvoused in that village to celebrate Greek Easter a short time ago.

While Bill has any number of novels to his Bill Kitson name, he also writes as William Gordon. And some of those 'pen name' novels are set in Greece, like Watering the Olives. Late last year were honored to have him select a photo of mine of our Stone House on the Hill to be the cover photo of his Greek novel, Sofia’s House.

If you just need a bit of romance on a Greek island -- with a plot twist or two thrown in -- this is the book for you!

That’s a bit of our ‘summer arm chair travels'. How about you?  Any good novel – or not-so-novel – destinations to recommend to others?  Send us an email with the name of the book, the author (where and how to buy it) and why you recommend it. If I get enough responses, I’ll do another post featuring your recommendations for arm chair travels.

Again, we appreciate the time you spend with us. Thanks for sharing our posts on FB!  Hope your summer is going well and that your travels continue to be healthy and safe.  See you next week – bring some friends and family with you!

Disclaimer:  In the beginning I displayed books to purchase from Amazon on this site, then I realized I was simply taking up valuable blog space. I am technically still an Amazon Associate - however, I've never sold a book thus never earned a dime. So I am recommending these books because they are good reads in our opinion - not because I am trying to make a few pennies off a sale of a book.

Linking this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

One ‘Suite’ Stay in Cairo

We didn’t sleep in tents. Nor did we burn camel dung to stay warm at night.

Camels are a reason to visit the Middle East and North Africa
Yet, when we talk of our desires to return to Cairo, Egypt, we often get the furrowed-brow, less-than-enthused response, 'You really liked it there?'  The kind that we know was prompted by images of us sitting in a tent with sand blowing about. . .roughing it in a barren landscape a la Lawrence of Arabia.

While I hate to burst the worry-bubble of well-meaning friends, let me just say, ‘Au contraire. . .

Hotel chandelier - Cairo, Egypt
The reality is that we’ve had a rather ‘suite’ time in Cairo on both of our visits to the city. As result of their drop in tourism in recent years, very nice hotels come at very nice prices.

Athens is but a short flight from Cairo

Those of you regulars here know that since we’ve begun ‘commuting’ between Seattle and Athens, we have found that flying from that side of the Atlantic is much less expensive than starting in Seattle. That means 'Somewhere-Seattle-Somewhere' is cheaper than 'Seattle-Somewhere-Seattle'.  And one of the best departure cities we’ve found is Cairo, because it is inexpensive, its exciting and it is only a short flight away from Athens. Even with that short flight, we’ve saved big bucks by using Cairo as a hub city.

Morning traffic Cairo en route to our hotel there
But Cairo, with a population of more than 9 million, is so large a city that you want to stay near the airport if you have an early morning flight. (Or set out for the airport at 3 a.m.)

A welcome on our room's television screen in Cairo (it was promoting Kuwait City)
That’s why we’ve spent our night-before-the-flight from Cairo at the five-star J. W. Marriott, near the airport. The cost for a night there isn’t much more than we are paying this summer at the decidedly more basic Fairfield Inn and Suites here in Washington State.

PicMonkey Collage
J.W. Marriott - Cairo, Egypt
A plus of the J.W. is its free shuttle to and from the airport. A hotel representative met us in baggage claim and ushered us through the immigration/visa checkpoints.  A most welcome service after 20+ hours of flights and layovers.

While the entry and hotel exterior is rather plain looking, it is what awaits inside that makes for the treat! It simply feels like entering a palace.

Lobby J.W. Marriott - December 2015
In fairness, I must mention hotel security. Many of the large hotels we’ve stayed at on the other side of the Atlantic (not just in Cairo) do have strict security measures in place.

Often before the taxi or shuttle pulls onto the hotel grounds armed guards check the vehicle with the assistance of bomb-sniffing dogs. They open trunks and look under the vehicle. 

They also have x-ray machines for hand carry bags at the lobby entry.  At the J.W. Cairo our large suitcases were run through a separate x-ray machine. 

Early on in our travels, I’ll admit I found it a bit unnerving, but now – especially now -- I see it as rather comforting and mention it only because it is part of the reality of today’s travel, no matter how luxurious the hotel might be.

The Suite Life

PicMonkey Collage
Our 'suite' J.W. Marriott - Cairo, Egypt - December 2015
We booked ‘a room with a king bed’ on each of our stays. In December we arrived at our room and found we'd be staying in a suite with a bathroom alone as big as a hotel room!

Marble elevators - J.W. Marriott, Cairo, Egypt
And did I mention the interior of the hotel elevators were marble from top to bottom?

Our return leg of our round-trip ticket (Cairo-Seattle-Cairo) brought us back in March. We’d had a flight delay in Paris – one of their annoying hour-long airport strikes – which made our arrival in Cairo very late. We figured we’d be lucky to get any room and didn’t expect another ‘suite’ stay. 

PicMonkey Collage

Once again, that genie must have rubbed the magic lamp because this time not only did we have a suite, we had a two-story suite! (I didn’t know they even had such accommodations in hotels!) It was so late and we were so jet-lagged tired that we didn’t get a chance to luxuriate for very long. Early the next morning we were up and off to Athens.

Still, our stays there make for 'suite' memories. . .

You would sit here to get your shoes shined at the J.W. - Cairo, Egypt
As I said last week, we are in the midst of travel planning season so it is time to think about booking flights back to the States, even though we haven't yet headed back to Greece.

And I’ll bet it wouldn’t surprise you, if I said Cairo is tempting us again. . .of course, there’ll be that matter of getting there from Abu Dhabi, but I’m leaving those details up to The Scout.  I’ll just tell you about them after he figures them out!

That’s it for this week.  Hope your summer has been filled with adventures and fun travels.  Tell us about them in the comments below.  And hope to see you next week – bring some friends along! As always, thanks for joining us~we appreciate your time and hope we are inspiring you to stretch the comfort zone a bit, just as we’ve been doing.

I suppose I should add a disclaimer to this one: We pay the same prices at the hotels as you would, we are not 'comp’ed' for these stays nor are we paid for writing reviews of them. We are members of Marriott's rewards/loyalty program and therefore qualify for room upgrades if available -- a pretty 'suite' perk!

Linking this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Travel Planning in a time of terror ~

Plan(noun) an intention or decision about what one is going to do
Planning (verb) decide on and arrange in advance: Ex:"they were planning a trip”
                                                                     -- Oxford dictionary

Mt. Rainier, Arriving Washington State
The next best thing to travel itself is planning it, to our way of thinking.  So much so, that we think of life as having two seasons: the planning season and the traveling season. 

Agios Nikolaos, Peloponesse, Greece - 'our' village
Sometimes though circumstances beyond our control can impact both the ‘plan’ and the ‘planning’ as we learned when we cut our spring stay short in Greece and raced back to the States to deal with a medical matter. 

Not only was our immediate plan impacted but planning for future travels was put on hold. It was a strange time for us.

Because, travelers like us, simply don’t think about not traveling unless some event – whether personal health or world event – forces them to do so.

To Travel or Not. . .

Not whether to go, but where to go? is the question
And there’s no doubt that world events are impacting travelers – headlines on a much-too-frequent basis remind us that any place, any activity can be a terrorist target:  Paris. Orlando. Brussels. Nice. Istanbul. San Bernardino. Munich. Japan. Watching fireworks. Dancing at a nightclub. Shopping at a mall. Transiting an airport. Attending a party.

Which poses the question, how much impact should these random attacks have on travel planning?

Terror – (noun)
-a very strong feeling of fear:
something that causes very strong feelings of fear : something that is terrifying:
violence that is committed by a person, group, or government in order to frighten people and achieve a political goal
                              -- Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

That impact was the dinner conversation we had with fellow travel enthusiasts this week. We’ve all been to Istanbul, Turkey and were discussing both its attractions and the double-whammy tragedies in Turkey; recent terrorist attacks and the military coup attempt. “I suppose you two are heading back there though,” one friend said to us. 
Istanbul, Turkey street scene
July 21, 2016
“U.S. Consulate General Istanbul advises U.S. citizens in Istanbul that it has encouraged its staff to consider limiting non-essential travel throughout the city, especially to public areas or sites frequented by westerners and/or foreigners. Extremist organizations may seek to take advantage of the aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt to conduct near-term terrorist attacks.”
Istanbul  has been our ‘go to’ airport since purchasing our Stone House on the Hill in Greece.  Round-trip tickets from there to Seattle have provided significant cost savings in our commute between the two worlds in which we live.  It is such a vibrant, exciting city that we try to spend at least a night or two as we commute between continents.  But, no. We are not planning to transit Istanbul. . . for now but probably not forever, it’s on hold. [Well, we weren't when I wrote that sentence, but we've found a great airfare on an airline we like. . .maybe it isn't on hold. We'll see.] 
 Putting plans in Place. . .
But those headlines also remind us that bad things can happen anywhere, anytime, so the notion of staying within the United States and not traveling outside its borders is absolutely an absurd thought (especially for those of us who consider two countries as home). While we are enjoying our summer stay in the Pacific Northwest, we are planning our return to Greece and subsequent  adventures.
Arriving Athens, Greece
We’ll be heading back at The Stone House on the Hill for olive harvest. We are traveling via London – but only because we are able to fly directly to Kalamata from Heathrow this fall and we are eager to try the closer, quicker route.   We’ve decided not to book a return back to the States yet as we aren't sure when we are returning.  What we have done is booked a short cruise on that side of the world. On that adventure we’ll be setting sail from . . .

Abu Dhabi on the Arabian Sea
. . .  Bet you didn’t expect that one, did you!?
Map picture
Magic Carpet is getting ready for another take-off
Yes, we’ll be heading to the Middle East from Greece. We’ll board a Celebrity cruise ship – the Constellation - in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates for a 9-night Arabian Sea cruise. We sail to: Dubai, also in the United Arab Emirates, Muscat, Oman, Khasab, Oman and back to Abu Dhabi. The ship overnights in all the ports but Khasab, so we’ll get a taste of Arabian Nights as well as days.

Salalah, Oman
We are starting our research and look forward to hearing from you if you have recommendations for any of our ports of call. Hope you’ll shoot us an email or a leave suggestions in the comment section. 
That’s it for this week.  Hope you are having a great summer where ever you are spending it. Safe and healthy travels to you and yours. As always, thanks for stopping by – hope to see you again next week. And bring a few friends along!

Linking up this week with:

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


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