Saturday, April 28, 2018

Sunlight Serendipity ~ Frances Mayes did it again. . .

“Life offers you a thousand chances. . .
all you have to do is take one.”
--Frances Mayes

Our village, Agios Nikolaos at sunset
Well she did it again. That ne’r-met friend of mine, Frances Mayes, showed up last week in the village and in a subsequent rather wild and crazy turn of events and emails we are off to the place she made famous, Cortona, Italy next week. . .

A Bit of Backstory:

Under the Grecian Sun

Long time readers of TravelnWrite  know I am enamored with Frances Mayes’ books. I credit her “Under the Tuscan Sun” (that tale written more than two decades ago about having the courage to buy a home, Bramasole, in Italy and making it her own) for planting one of the seeds that has led us to our full-time Greek residency.

Her later, “A Year in the World” has become a rag-tag travel bible of sorts, that has a permanent spot within easy reach on my nightstand (first in the States now next to the Greek bed)  In this one she’s set loose the travel bug through her tales of long-term stays in far-away destinations. She’s sung the praises of spending enough time somewhere to really get a feel for a ‘sense of place’.

Mediterrenean doorways fascinate - Kythira, Greece
Six years ago her “Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of Italian Life”, a retrospective look at her Italian experiences, offered some poignant observations about the passing of time and life itself. It came along at a time I had just lost a couple of dear colleagues to illness and I too was pondering the fleeting passage of years and relationships.

You long-timers here know I refer to her as a ‘friend’ and do feel that she is a friend  – despite the fact we’ve never met and likely never will. Her ‘friendship’ is much like that I have with many of you whose written words have provided both encouragement and understanding; like that of any friend, near or far.

Sometimes among the most encouraging and understanding friends, I am learning, are those I’ve never met face-to-face.


Staying in touch with long-time friends
So my comment that Frances 'appeared in the village' really means her latest novel that I had ordered arrived at our mail table in the local taverna.

Women in Sunlight” is a novel that caught me up in the storyline just as has her non-fiction.  Perhaps it is because it involves three women in their 60’s who decided to chuck the safe and sane approach to aging and set off for Italy for a year-long adventure (I can relate.)

The narrative, with its thread of friendships made along life’s way, has an Italian village for its backdrop and is punctuated with her signature references to food, wine, and la buona vita, the good life.

Women in Sunlight comes from one of the major joys of my life – my friends. On every page, my love goes out to them,” she writes at the book’s end.

Sunlight Serendipity

Exploring the world - a 'sense of place' 
The Scout and I have been contemplating a week-long getaway (remember, we moved here so we could explore more of this side of the Atlantic). We could fly to Budapest, or Vienna, or Rome, we said. Or we could go somewhere within Greece. All are rather easy getaways with flights only two or three hours long.

We simply couldn’t decide where to go and were about to give up the idea.

In between pondering travel and reading, I’ve been catching up on long over-due correspondence. One long chatty email was to a friend in Seattle. I’ve been missing my friends ‘back there’ – the lunches and coffees, giggles and conversations.  Frances had reminded me again in her book of the importance of those relationships.

Among the topics I told my friend, Sharon, about was the book I was reading.

A secret spring on a spring day
Sharon wrote back saying that she and a friend were traveling next Tuesday as part of a group tour to  Tuscany and would, in fact, be based for a week in Cortona (the town made famous in “Under the Tuscan Sun”).

And yes, she said, they are both fans of Frances Mayes fans; their decision to join this group was sparked in part by their love of her books.

Setting off for serendipity

“Wouldn’t it be fun to write Sharon and suggest if she had a free evening that we go to dinner with her and her friend in Cortona,” I off-handedly suggested two days ago to The Scout. I wrote her and asked for her schedule – luckily there was some free evenings built in to their activities.

“Hmmm. . .said The Scout, “We could catch the train to Florence, spend a few nights there and then head to Cortona for a few nights, a final night in Rome. . .” And hour or so later we were booked!

So that Frances did it again.  She appeared at just the time I needed a reminder about friendships and she was again a spark for getting us out to explore a place we've never been before. Just like any good friend, she gave me the nudge when I needed it!

That’s it for this week at The Stone House on the Hill. I’ll be back next week with a report from Cortona and maybe I’ll be a few days late checking in with you all.  I might just be busy next week raising a glass with Sharon in toast to Frances and to friendships far and wide ~

Linking up this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Best of Weekend

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Aphrodite’s birthplace and other Greek ‘ferry’ tales. . .

Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love, sex, and beauty.
According to those on the island of Kythera, she was born there.

Their claim is based on the myth by Hesiod, a poet who lived about the same time as Homer. (Actually I checked and Hesiod claimed she was born of the sea (think of that image of her on that big clam shell) and she floated past Cytherea (Kythera) and emerged at Cyprus. 

Myth and reality. You get a dose of both when you travel in Greece.

We were reminded of that fact when we took a road trip last week to Kythera, a seasonally popular destination – and  possibly Aphrodite’s birthplace. Some travel writer’s have labeled it the perfect Greek island with just enough tourism to keep it prosperous and hopping 'in season' but not yet over-run.

Ferry to Kythera leaves from Neopoli

Road trips to Greek islands involve the ubiquitous Greek ferry experience; one that merges both myth and reality. The Greek ferry is a great mode of transport if you have a flexible schedule and itinerary. (We love the romance and adventure of Greek ferry travel and have tried every size and shape of ship. Remember when I debunked that myth of how dangerous they are in this post?)

The reality of ferry travel is: Schedules vary and can change at the slightest bit of inclement weather. Sometimes they operate and sometimes they don’t – with or without reason.  And they are not necessarily a cheap way to travel these days.

Kythira - a stone's throw from the Peloponnese

Take our trip, for example:   There’s a ferry to Kythera from Gythio, (right side middle finger on the map above) a town about an hour and a half from us. Or one from Neopoli (left side of right finger) a town three hours drive away. We’d preferred the Gythio departure but no one – including the travel agents who sell the ferry tickets – could tell us whether it would be running on the date we planned to travel. That's reality.

Upper car deck was empty on the ferry the week after Easter
We drove to Neopoli, where the ferry journey of an hour and a half, takes place every day, sometimes twice a day. The ticket from there was the same cost as for the longer Gythio sailing: 45-euro for our car and another 26-euro for two passengers ($87US) each way.

We were off. . .to an island similar in size to Malta and boasting a population of 4,500 residents living in or near some 64 small villages.  Its shores are washed by three seas: the Ionian, the Aegean and the Libyan. Mountains and valleys rise and fall in the island's center. Its coastline offers a host of beaches that attract sun and sea worshippers, many who take the 45-minute flight from Athens.

Kythera/Kythira island
Between travel writers singing its praises and various friends who’ve remarked about its wonders, we were eager to explore Kythera, (also Kythira), which seems a little orphan from the Ionian island group  to which it belongs – all the rest are to the northwest of the Peloponnese.  This little guy decked out with sugar-cube shaped buildings painted the famous white with blue trim looks a lot like he belongs in the Cyclades island group, further to the east of us.

But as the ferry approached this reputedly gorgeous destination, I started wondering if we were at the right place: two shipwrecks greeted us as did a scattering of buildings that constituted the harbor ‘town’ on the island.  Hmmm. . .an interesting introduction.

PicMonkey Collage
Introduction to Kythera

The island’s history, like so many places in Greece, dates back to the Minoans, through the Myceneans and Phoenicians. In more ‘recent’ history the Venetians dominated from the 13th to the 18th century and the British laid claim from 1815 until 1864.

The British built bridge dates back to the early 1800's
User reviews on Tripadvisor led us to a hotel located on the northeastern side of the island. Our drive from the ferry dock was through high plains type country that looked a lot like Arizona.

When we stopped for afternoon cappucinos in the town of Potamos the island’s enchantments began to emerge. It was quiet as we were there the week after Greek Easter and before the sun-seeking tourists arrived. But the warmth of welcome and the architectural charms were already winning us over.

Potamos town
The hotel we’d chosen – thanks to reviews by previous guests – couldn’t have been better. The Easter weekend tourist crush was over and we nearly had the family-owned Pelagia Aphrodite in the village of Agios Pelagia to ourselves.  From our room and its two balconies we had a view of the sea and the Peloponnese 'finger' from where we had sailed. The price was 85-euros a night which included a full breakfast, with eggs-made-to-order each morning. Honey and homemade jam from the family farm was our favorite!

PicMonkey Collage
Hotel Pelagia Aphrodite

P1070234One evening I was admiring the bouquets of fragrant cut roses that decorated the lobby – they were from the family's farm as well.

When we checked out, there was a rose bush from the farm - a gift -- so that I could  grow my own fragrant rose bouquets (and that was even better than hotel loyalty points!) For you flower buffs out there these roses have 100 petals per bloom, smell heavenly and are used in cooking.

We spent our island time exploring the villages; spending a full day driving from the north end to the south, stopping at uniquely charming places along the way.  We didn’t even start to explore the many beaches that border the island – that  adventure will be for a future trip.

One of our favorite spots was the village of Avlemonas where the rental suites and hotels were still shuttered and only a handful of visitors sipped and supped on the taverna’s terrace overlooking the sea.  It was the type of place that stirs the imagination and I could envision writing a book cloistered away in this place.

Picture-perfect Avlemonas
Speaking of cloistered, there are some 300 churches scattered about the island dating back to the Byzantine era.  Some of them are such architectural wonders that you can’t quite wrap your mind around them, such as the one built into the cliffside overlooking the beach village of Kapsali.

PicMonkey Collage
How does one get here?
If you are wondering – no, we didn’t go explore this one!

Kapsali village
This photo of Kapsali illustrates another myth/reality about travel in Greek islands.  While the tourist brochures always feature blue sky days and wine dark seas, the reality is that clouds and blowing sand from Africa can turn a seascape into a dull gray tone that isn’t as inviting as those postcard perfect scenes. We had one of 'those day's during our visit.

PicMonkey Collage
Hikers take note - this trail leads to water mills
If churches, beaches and exploring Greek villages isn’t your thing, you could always do some hiking on its many trails.  The island has some of the best signed and mapped trails we’ve found on our travels and the island’s tourist map also offers descriptions of them as well.

Agia Pelagia
Then again, it is a perfect place to sit and do absolutely nothing. . . but stare at the sea.

That’s it for this week from The Stone House on the Hill.  As always, we appreciate the time you’ve spent reading our latest ‘ferry’ tale. Hope to see you back here again next week for another dose of something Greek and until then, safe and happy travels to you and yours! 

Linking this week with these writers from around the world.  And most happy that we’ve been featured this week on Best of Weekend – a great collection of travel news, do-it-yourself-projects, home decorator ideas and some great recipes. Do check it and the others out by following the links below:

Monday, April 9, 2018

Life in Greece ~ Running Away from Home

Sometimes these short changes of scenery are called ‘getaways’. Other times ‘road trips’.

Sometimes it is simply an act of ‘running away from home’ adult-style.

Gerolimenas, Peloponnese Greece
Such was the 30-hour escape we had two weeks ago.

There was a break in the schedule of projects and chores at our Stone House on the Hill.  The weather continued to tease with spring then slap us back into winter with another storm. Seeds had been planted but not yet sprouted. We had a window of opportunity. . .

The Stone House on the Hill, The Mani, Greece
And we had been remarking – well, truthfully, I may have snarling --  that we’d moved here as a base for travel and the furthest we’d gotten it seemed in recent weeks was to the hardware store in the neighboring village.

So on a Sunday morning when the fickle weather offered brilliant blue sky to the left and storm clouds to the right, we gathered a change of clothes, our hiking shoes (‘just in case’) put out extra cat food, locked our doors and headed out.

"Our point" in the Peloponnese
The nice thing about the Peloponnese is that something of interest is never very far away. So an escape of 30 hours – as ours was – took us on a very satisfying getaway without much muss or fuss.

We first went south to Gerolimenas for an overnight stay (less than two hours drive time) then across the point and up the east coast next morning (leisurely drive took all morning). Lunch in Githio and back across the point and the trip was done by 3 p.m.

Our Destination: The Hotel Owned by the ‘People from Seattle’

Kyrimi Bed and Breakfast, Gerolimenas, Greece
Yes, while many ‘back there’ think we’ve moved to the ends of the earth, there are a remarkable number of us “Puget Sound folks” in this area of the world.  Among them are Kostas and Linda Kyrimis of West Seattle, owners of the Kyrimi Bed and Breakfast, a small hotel overlooking the harbor in Geroliminas.

PicMonkey Collage
We could have lived in this spacious room at Kyrimi

Our Kirkland, Washington friends who moved to Greece and live down the road from us, tipped us off to the hotel as they have have friends back in Kirkland, who are also friends of Kostas and Linda.

The old phrase ‘timing is everything’ came into play as we arrived as they were packing up and heading out for a flight to Seattle. We had a brief ‘small-world-isn’t-it visit’ and promised to reconnect either here or there later in the year.

We didn’t unpack the hiking shoes – instead, we settled in to storm-watch.

Our deck at Kyrimi Bed and Breakfast, Gerolimenas
It was far too cold and blustery to enjoy our spacious deck so we huddled up inside, venturing out to have dinner next door at the Kyrimai Hotel, that is owned by a relative Alexandros Kyrimis. Both places offer spectacular views of the harbor and the sea.

Kyrimai Hotel, Gerolimenas, Greece
The weather reminded us of winter storm watching on the Pacific Northwest coasts in Washington and Canada’s British Columbia.

Across the Point

The storm had heralded in a blanket of African sand that dimmed the horizon the next morning and our sightseeing was through a hazy sepia colored atmospheric lens.

Off from Gerolimenas, heading south
Along the west coast a bit further south then over the southern end of the Taygetos Mountains to the east coast of ‘our’ point.

Wild flowers brighten a wild-fire sticken area on the east coast 
Through small villages and past an area that had recently been ravaged by a wild fire. . .our blue sky obliterated by the sand.

Gythio, on the east coast of our point
By the time we reached Gythio and our favorite restaurant, 90 Moires, the sand was beginning to drift so the day brightened considerable.  Following a quick stroll on the waterfront, we headed home – we had some chores to do, but by then were ready to do them!

But first we went to the car wash – Hi Ho Silver had gotten a bit dusted!

African dust
We are off again this week on an island getaway. Our chores and projects again in hiatus.  We've never been to the island that seems a stone’s throw from the Peloponnese coast. We’ve been saying we needed to go – now it is time. Next week I’ll tell you about it. Our thanks for being with us and wishes for safe and happy travels!

For those who might be heading this way and want to know more about the hotel run by ‘those people from Seattle’, I am adding this photo: You can reach them in the U.S. by calling 206 938 3348.

Contact information 

Linking up this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
Travel Photo Thursday –  
Best of Weekend

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

O’ahu, Hawaii ~ Hunting HIdden Gems

Even moving to Greece wasn’t going to change our annual winter migration to our timeshare life on O’ahu, Hawaii. While increasing our commute sizably, it remains an annual journey that is worth the time and effort it now requires.

View from our Ko Olina home
Somehow, in the blink of an eye, ten years have passed since we took the plunge into timeshare life. And it happened right there at the Marriott Vacation Club in the Ko Olina planned development on this island’s west coast.

We’d been among those whose mantra was, “Not us! We aren’t timeshare people!” We’d simply taken the sales pitch offer for a good deal on a few nights stay and to prove to ourselves that we’d never buy a place there. Famous last words. 
It has become our ‘home resort’ – a place where we are guaranteed three weeks of Aloha Life each year.

And ‘home’ has taken on a new meaning since that initial timeshare purchase.

PicMonkey Collage
Our Ko Olina home
Now that we are technically homeless in America, this interval ownership provided as much a U.S. home base as we have these days. I have to admit we looked forward to ‘the familiar’ it promised: shopping at our ‘local’ grocery stores, eating at our favorite restaurants and spending time with our same-time-next-year friends who return to this tropical  ‘neighborhood’ at roughly the same time each year..

Doing it Differently

As nice as that bit of familiar was, our goal this year was to do the island differently. We seldom venture into the big city of Honolulu; gateway to the iconic Diamond Head (which really is quite magical) and Waikiki (which really is over-run with tourists and we avoid it like the plague).

We were doing a treasure hunt of our own design – a search for the island’s Hidden Gems . . .those special lesser-known places and those often frequented by locals but overlooked by visitors such as ourselves.

Our treasure hunt map
I’d promised the Seattle Times travel editor that I could find them and he was expecting an article and photos from me in February featuring them.  The challenge was on:

Research began in December while we were still in Greece.  I contacted friends who’ve lived on the island and asked for their recommendations. I began reading up on the places they suggested. Then, as we traveled about the island and met locals, I told them of my quest and they also had more suggestions of ‘not to miss’ places.

received_10216745011564600_resizedSince I know many of you didn’t see my article I decided that I’d share a few of our finds in today’s blog post.

I can tell you this was one of our best trips to Hawaii – made so by these special places. I know we plan to return to them in future visits..

I don’t have space to write about them all, but among those places we ‘discovered’ were a naval air museum, a centuries hold Hawaiian temple, an eatery and a rum factory.

The Naval Air Museum at Barber’s Point

(91-1299A Midway Street, Bldg. 1792, Kalaeloa Airport, 808-682-3982,

The Scout with Brad Hayes

Signage is limited and they keep the security fences locked so you don’t just drop by the Museum at Kalealoa Airport, formerly the Naval Air Station, on Barbers Point, near Kapeolei on O’ahu’s west coast. You have to schedule your tour in advance.

We chose a weekday morning and ended up having a private tour led by Brad Sekigawa, historian and Brad Hayes, executive director.

It was an amazing, simply, amazing two hours.

Brad Sekigawa, Museum historian
We were able to get up close and personal with airplanes and helicopters, going into some, standing under others, touching, photographing and asking questions. Trucks, tanks and fire trucks as well as helmets and flight gear are on display. Vehicles, aircraft and equipment that saw war duty. Some have been used in movies.

In leiu of an entrance fee donations are: $15 for adults, $10 seniors/military, $8 under 18.. To avoid the intense mid-day sun on the tarmac, booking early morning or late afternoon tours are recommended.

Pu,u O Mahuka Heiau – Hawaiian Temple

(Pu,u O Mahuka Heiau Road, off Pupukea Road [Highway 835], Pupukea, 808-587-0300,

Views from the open air temple
Frankly we were both skeptical as we set out for the Hawaiian temple. 'Ancient', several articles called it. Not ancient compared to Greece, we thought. But, oh my! What it may have lacked in centuries, it made up for in magic. The view of Waimea Bay and the channel between O’ahu and Kaua’i from high atop the hill where the temple was located was breathtaking.

And on the day we visited, we had the island’s largest heiau, ancient Hawaiian temple, to ourselves.

The old temple, several centuries old as a matter of fact, is believed to have been dedicated as a luakini, or sacrificial temple, where ceremonies involving animal or human sacrifices were conducted.

Offerings at the temple
A slight tropical breeze -  maybe the the breath of long-lost rulers - caused goose pimples as we stood on this sacred site.  Entry is free; limited on-site parking.

Manulele Distillers – the Rum makers

(92-1770 Kunia Road, #227, Kunia, 808-649-0830,

Manulele tasting room

So tucked away amidst the sugar cane fields was this small distillery that we drove past it on our first try. Ready to give up, we backtracked our route and were certainly glad we’d persevered. This farm-to-bottle rum distillery is making a name for itself with its production of Ko Hana Hawaiian agricole rum; made from sugar cane, not molasses.

The distillery is surrounded by cane fields that are still hand-harvested. It is housed in what was once the Del Monte (cannery) company store. Several tours are offered daily; adults, 21 and older ($25 per person) and children ($15 for ages 6 – 20, under 6 free). At the tour’s end adults taste rum and youngsters are served gelato.

Tiffany Tubon, assistant manager, explains the types of rum
The distillery’s display garden near the tasting room entry showcases the varieties of heritage cane plants – it was amazing to walk among the varieties of cane that go into the making of this rum.

Kahumana Organic Farm, Café and Retreat Center 

(86-660 Lualualei Homestead Road, Waianae, 808-696-8844,

Kahumana Retreat Center
By far the biggest surprise we had was the meal we ate on our last evening on the island at the cafe in this retreat center.

A late afternoon rain caused us to eat inside the covered patio
It serves as an on-the-job training program and revenue generator for Alternative Structures International, the non-profit organization that operates the retreat center and provides social services for the disadvantaged.

‘Kahumana’ is interpreted as, “Guardian of the Life Forces”, derived from the Hawaiian words ‘kahu’ a spiritual leader, healer, or priest and ‘mana’ life force.

PicMonkey Collage
Our meals were 'broke da mouth' good!
Our entrées, each less than $20, included Macadamia Nut Pesto topped pasta and veggies crowned with grilled Mahi Mahi and a Coconut Dahl lentil chicken curry with rice and fresh vegetables. The Lilikoi (passion fruit) Cheesecake was so good, I forgot to take a photo!

Alcohol is not served but BYOB for adults is fine. Dining reservations recommended.

This one was a perfect dining spot for those staying out on the west coast.  It would be a rather long drive for dinner from Honolulu but they do serve lunch as well.

Kite surfer on the North Shore
Kite surfing beaches, cliff top hikes, coffee and chocolate factories were among the other gems we found.  I’ve already gone far beyond the recommended number of words for blog posts, so will add a link to my article that appeared in The Times for those who’d like to read more.  Thanks, as always, for the time you’ve spent with us on this treasure hunt on O’ahu. The Times travel article.

It is Holy Week, the week before Easter in Greece. Next week, I’ll tell you about how we celebrated it in this village.  Until then, safe travels to you and yours ~

Linking this week with some or all these fine bloggers:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration
Best of Weekend


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...