Showing posts with label Boomer Travel tips. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Boomer Travel tips. Show all posts

Monday, April 22, 2019

Athens Grande Bretagne ~ The Butler Can Do It. . .

We declined the doorman's offer to carry our bags the short distance from the taxi into the palatial lobby. Our two bags were small - we were in Athens for a long weekend. We could manage.

Lobby - The Grande Bretagne (GB) - Athens

But when the young receptionist, who looked like a Greek Goddess reincarnate upgraded us to a junior suite and said, "Your butler will take your bags and show you to your room," who were we to refuse?

The Butler, with our bags in tow, led us to our 7th floor junior suite on the 'Butler Floor' of the undeniably posh Athens Grande Bretagne Hotel.

Less than 10 minutes into our stay we knew why this property is part of the Luxury Hotel Collection and consistently rated by travelers as one of the top hotels in Athens.

This stay was going to be memorable.

Let the Butler Do It

'The Butler' was one of several staff members assigned the responsibility of responding to the wants and needs of those of us staying on the designated butler floors. He seemed a bit bellman and concierge rolled into one.  Anything we needed 24/7, just call his number, he said as he handed us his business card.  He'd shown us about our spacious room, opening curtains, explained the wi-fi and the room-card operated electricity (common throughout Europe).  Did we need reservations? Recommendations? Help with anything. . .just call.

Problem was that when one lives their lives without a butler, it is difficult to think of something we needed 'buttled' as we referred to his services from then on.

Our suite at The GB in Athens

"Why doesn't our house look like this," asked The Scout with a big sigh as we inspected our Athenian digs. 

"Well, for starters our interior walls molded while we were gone this winter and now we have the ant problem on top of it," responded his sidekick, The Scribe, who was thinking, 'I could live in a hotel like this.'  

Suffice to say, the room itself -- had we never stepped outside its door -- would have been a treat of a getaway. 

Welcome: Liquor and chocolates by French  pastry chef Arnaud Larher 
The attention to detail was amazing. Take that down comforter on the bed in the photo below:  When made up by housekeeping the top is folded about 45 cm towards the foot of the bed then rolled back over itself to 5 cm from the edge of the fold. This, I learned from the in-room hotel magazine, lets the guest snuggle into the bed using the minimum amount of effort. My kind of bed! Housekeepers  use a 10 point checklist when inspecting the made beds.

A linen rug, slippers and chocolate at night

If Only the Walls Could Talk

The hotel stairway a metaphor of its layers of  history
The layers of history at this hotel are almost dizzying. And that was a stronger enticement for us than the luxurious accommodations. 

Ambiance is unbeatable in the GB Winter Garden

As we dined in the Winter Garden, off the lobby, we wondered how it looked in 1842 when it was built as the 90-room 'Stadtpalais' (majestic residence) of Antonis Dimitrio. His home was constructed across from the Palace of King Otto barely more than a decade after Greece achieved its independence from the Ottomans.

18th Century tapestry in Alexander's Bar at the GB

Or as we sat at the bar in Alexander's Bar, in the shadow of the hotel's treasured 18th Century tapestry of Alexander the Great entering Gaugamela, we pondered the massive effort undertaken  by Savvas Kentros, who purchased the home for 80,000 drachmas and converted it to a hotel.

Who's walked here before us?

We wished the walls could talk about the decade of the 1940's when first the hotel was evacuated in October of 1940 to be used as governmental headquarters of the King, the Armed General Staff and the Allied Forces.

Or April 1941 when the invading Germans took it for the headquarters of their Wehrmacht.

Greek flags in the morning sun from the rooftop restaurant
Then, with the liberation of Greece in 1944, it became the seat of the new interim government and British forces.

By the late 1950's the hotel was back to being a hotel, renovations and ownership changes marked the subsequent decades. Its most recent $100 million renovation in 2003 created the property as it today. 

Traveler's Tip

We often sing the praises of hotel and airline loyalty programs. We are long-time members of the Marriott Hotel's loyalty program, which has become BonVoy the loyalty program of the merged Marriott and Starwood Hotel chains. The upgraded room was part of the loyalty program benefits and an example of the benefits that can be had from such programs.  The room we booked was in the 250 euro ($280US) per night range; the junior suite on the Butler Floor we were upgraded to was about 350 euro ($393US) a night.  

We used accumulated loyalty points -- 60,000 a night for 180,000 total - to pay for the room. Our out-of-pocket cost was 4 euro a night for the room tax levied in Greece on hotel stays.

Acropolis from the Grand Bretagne

If you find yourself in Greece - even if you don't stay at the hotel - we'd recommend a drink or a meal at either the Grande Bretagne or its sister Luxury Collection Hotel, the King George, next door. Both are across the street from Syntagma Square.

That's it for this week.  We are back at our Stone House on the Hill in the midst of springtime projects. We are keeping busy and that is good because we can't leave Greece.  No joke. And not our idea.  But that's a topic to tell you about next week. Hope to see you back then and bring a friend or two as well.

Safe travels to you and yours. 

Linking with:


Monday, April 15, 2019

Athens ~ Merchants Markets and Mezes

'The traveler sees what he sees,
the tourist sees what he has come to see.'
             -- G.K. Chesterton

Waiting to cross a street near Syntagma (Constitution) Square in the heart of Athens, a person focused on his mobile phone while balanced on a lime green scooter came whizzing down the sidewalk behind us. A car in front of us speeded up, ran a red light and could have taken out a few pedestrians had we not been slow to react to the 'walk' signal. To our side the 'hop-on, hop-off' buses vied with a parade of taxis for a spot to stop near the famous square.

On this Saturday afternoon the streets were crowded and the sidewalks were crammed with shoppers - we could tell they were shoppers by the name-brand logos printed on the bags they carried. Chatter and laughter wafted from tables at open-air cafes.

Cafe and taverna tables are filled in Athens these days

A decade after the economic crisis sucker punched this country, you can feel the vibe, the life, perhaps even the soul of this popular central area returning.  This part of downtown is night-and-day different from even a few years ago when shops were shuttered, businesses closed and the streets in once-busy commercial areas empty.

Time and time again during a long-weekend here earlier this month, we were touched by this upbeat rhythm in the neighborhoods we explored. We avoided the 'tourist' sites this trip and set out to see the 'every day'. To be sure, there is a lot to Athens and economic recovery isn't going to be achieved uniformly or immediately but we could tell the areas of the city we visited are on a definite upswing.

Syntagma (Constitution) Square - Athens
Staying in a hotel at Syntagma Square we remarked on the quietude of the place that less than a decade ago gained notoriety -- much like Cairo's Tahrir Square during their Arab Spring -- when Athenians protested and rioted here as the economy tanked and European Union economic sanctions kicked into gear.

Friends who witnessed first-hand such riots from the same hotel in which we stayed say they'll never return to Athens. It is a shame, that attitude - because that was so then, this is so now.

Ermou Street - Merchants

We headed west from Syntagma Square on Ermou Street, one of our favorite routes in this sprawling metropolis. The 1.5 kilometer road, named for Hermes, the god of commerce, leads  to  Kerameikos, (ceramicus) the old potters' quarters archeological site.

The street, ranked among the top five most expensive shopping streets in Europe and among the top 10 world-wide, begins as a pedestrian zone at Syntagma Square, a feature that makes for excellent 'window shopping'.

Shop until you drop on Ermou Street in Athens

Stretching for several blocks are stores selling shoes, jewelry, specialty items and brand-name children's, women's and men's clothing. Street vendors set up shop in front of the stores offering everything from eats to books. You really could shop until you drop and never leave this street.

Street Vendors are up and open long before stores on Ermou
We love to walk it before the stores have opened when the sidewalk vendors are just setting up shop and again late in the evening when the buskers set up to entertain late into the night.

Night - bucker's delight on Ermou St. Athens

And then several blocks later there sits in the middle of Ermou Street an ancient church. Once you pass this small square, it isn't long before the pedestrian zone ends and you are back on rather narrow sidewalks. This Byzantine Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea is believed to have been built about 1050 on the site of an ancient temple to Athena or Demeter.

Church of Panghia Kapnikarea - Ermou Street, Athens.

The Markets - Ancient and New

We love markets - those public gathering places where farmers and producers gather to sell what they have grown, raised or created. When it comes to such places, you can't beat Athens for having a selection of both ancient and present-day venues. All are walking distance from Syntagma Square:

Tower of the Wind - Roman Agora - Athens
Ancient Agora - once the hangout for the likes of Plato and Socrates, this historic site is a popular stop for tourists.  So large and encompassing are these old grounds between Monastiraki and the Acropolis, that Lonely Planet guidebook's self-guided tour advises it will take two hours to complete.

Just a short distance away are the ruins of the Roman Agora, a commercial center dating back to the first century BC. Julius Caesar started the project and Caesar Augustus finished it.  Perhaps the most famous of its remaining structures is its Tower of the Winds, a handsome eight-sided marble structure that once served as a water clock, sundial and weathervane.

Strawberries are in season in Athens

Our focus this outing was on modern-day markets so we bypassed the ancient. We began with a stroll through Monastraki Square, named for the 'little monastery' that sits to the side of its square.  While the square still has a fruit vendor or two and boasts a weekend 'antique' market, the rest of its small shops could better be described as a tourist-shop arcade. You want a souvenir? You'll find it on the narrow street flanked by shops offering everything from key chains and post cards to mass produced art work, 'traditional' leather sandals, and women's wear. If you want Army camouflage gear, you'll find it at a shop here.

Antique/flea Market Saturday at Monastiraki Square
You'd need hours to rummage through the display tables that sprout on Saturday mornings  in the plaza. There are bona fide antique stores that front the plaza and operate daily but the weekend brings a hodge-podge of sellers who display piles of old used 'stuff' on folding tables. Somewhere within them, there's likely an antique but we didn't have the desire or patience to try looking.

Meat and fish and veggies at the Dimotiki Market

We left Monastiraki and strolled several blocks on Athinas Street to Athens' enormous Central Municipal Market that also goes by the names of Dimotiki (public market) and Varvakeios (a long ago hero) Market.

Now this was real Athens - not a tourist item in sight and no arts and crafts. It was serious food for serious shoppers.  We did spend a lot of time strolling the aisles - which is best done in closed-toed shoes as they are wet and somewhat slippery on the meat and fish side of the street.

Mezes and other culinary delights

One of three market cafes - Dimotiki Market Athens
We suspected the food was excellent at the three small cafes that operate within the market but we were saving ourselves for dinner with friends, long-time Athenians. And were we ever glad we did as they introduced us to a café tucked up in the Plaka area near the Roman Agora - a café that got its start back in the 1930's and is still incredibly popular today. It served authentic Greek 'village' food -- and Taverna Platanos is one we'd recommend if you find yourself wanting a bit of good 'home-cooked' flavor and presentation.

Good Greek food served at this historic taverna
Now before I sign off, I need to circle back to that mention of the lime green scooter that I told you about in the opening paragraph. Electric Lime Scooters debuted in the city in January.  Using an app uploaded to your phone you can unlock a scooter, use it and leave it on the street at the end of your ride. The cost is 1 euro plus .15 cents  for every minute.  They can travel at a rate of 25 km an hour - yikes!  We still prefer walking but keep it in mind if you find yourself in Athens.

Electric Lim Scooters have come to Athens
There's a lot more to discover about Athens and one day we'll head back for another adventure.  Hope that if your travels take you there you'll allow yourselves a few days to experience as much of the city as you can cram into your schedule. As Matt Barrett, who writes an online travel guide to Greece, has said,

'The true wonders of Athens may not be in the dead past, but in the very alive present.'

Hope to see you back here next week when we'll indulge in a bit of the luxurious side of travel in Greece.  Until then, thanks so much for the time you've spent with us and safe travels to you and yours ~

Linking this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Too old for travel or expat life? 'No Way!', you say. . .

“The key to successful aging is to pay as little attention to it as possible.”
Judith Regan

Wow! You do have some thoughts on 'boomer' lifestyle and travel!  Your response to my most recent post made that very clear. . .

Elders in Tripoli, Greece reading the news

In that post (The Night I Danced with the Barmaid and other tales.  . .)I wrote of the juxtaposition of  my experiences in dancing with a barmaid in a Greek taverna and falling over a suitcase at an airport with my first U. S. Medicare Wellness Exam. While neither of the falls I took had given me cause to think about ageing and health, the exam certainly did. 

I began pondering if 'a woman my age' (that phrase doctors start using when you turn 50) just might be getting too old for the adventures we have been having as full-time expats in Greece and avid world travelers.

Aging playground in the village of Trachila, Greece

Ending that post with the question, 'what do you boomer travelers and ex pats think about the impact of aging on your lifestyle. . .or do you think about aging?' we didn't expect such an outpouring of thoughts.

Boomers are ready for new vistas and discovery

For those getting Travelnwrite delivered as an email, you miss the richness of the comments that are added by readers to the blog post. If you respond to the email you receive, we are the only ones who see it. Those of you not on Facebook also miss the comments posted there. And for that reason, your most recent comments -- which deserved to be seen by more than the two of us --  prompted me to shelve my planned post on updates from The Stone House on the Hill and instead share a sampling of your thoughts on boomer travel and lifestyle choices.  And I've included links to the blogs written by many who left comments - I'd recommend them all!

Kalderimis - ancient Greek roads make excellent hiking paths

 Anita Oliver, co-creator of the blog No Particular Place to Go, a friend and fellow American ex-pat who lives in Portugal wrote:

We've talked in the past of common experiences we share but this post lands on the top of the list! I've tripped over chairs in restaurants, fallen off bikes and down stairs, skidded across gravel and rocks when walking and yes, sprawled over my own damn suitcase in front of crowds of people. 😁 All you can do is laugh and be thankful that nothing's broken. I couldn't agree more with your words, "... they've made me appreciate even more our decision to live differently; to dance, to travel, to climb stairs without handrails and to walk on uneven surfaces for as long as our old bodies and minds allow us to do so." How boring our lives would be if we didn't challenge ourselves to search for new experiences and adventures rather than play it safe

Boomers are ready to travel new roads

Philadelphia-based traveler Suzanne Fluhr, who authors the blog, Boomeresque wrote:

My Medicare card just arrived effective April 1, the month I turn that age. Is it cheating if I start memorizing those words before my Medicare Wellness Exam? I wish I could honestly say I travel with as much abandon as I did when I was younger although some people might think I'm still a little cray cray. However, with apologies to the country music singer whose name I can't remember ;) , I still dance like nobody's watching at every opportunity, especially if frozen mai tais are available.
Greek village of Stoupa at sunset

Fellow American ex pat in The Mani Linda Jackim Werlein, writer and one of the creators of Write Club The Podcast Group summarized her thoughts on aging and ex pat life:

I love living in Greece in large part because of the pace of life. We're not necessarily expected to show up on time (unless you're going to an affair hosted by other Americans), and the cashier doesn't panic if you don't have enough money with you ("Don't worry. Bring it later.") and nobody dresses up for much of anything. Everything is down to what's really important: Are you comfortable? Are you happy? Do you need help with anything? . . ..

Life here is good, people are friendly and generous, and the landscape is unspeakably beautiful. I'm 74, Hal is 81, and we wake up grateful every day for the privilege of living here. And hell no, we don't feel old!!

Springtime in The Man

From Viet Nam, Elena, slow-traveler and co-creator of Traveling Bytes blog writes:

I’d been slow traveling around the world for the past 7 years. I noticed that outside of the US, there is a very different perception of what “age” means. My host in Sicily was a tiny lady with boundless energy. Once, in a conversation, she mentioned that she was born a decade before Mussolini came to power. Ouch! I needed a break in the middle of hot summer days, but she didn’t. In rural Japan, during my morning runs along the river, I often saw a gentleman effortlessly (and tirelessly) running back and forth. As it transpired, he was training for an upcoming marathon. He mentioned that his wife joked that at 82 he would be the only entry in that age category. He was pleased that his tenacity and wise approach to training produced results that put him in an almost half-a-century younger bracket. I wonder if whoever put together questions for the “Wellness Visit,” ever saw stairs of homes in Amsterdam or knew that elevators are a rarity in many French buildings. In my yoga class, here in southern Vietnam, half of the participants would qualify for Medicare in the US. However, they do not get any different treatment than others and would be puzzled if somebody asked them about feeling unsteady while walking. Cheers!

“Maybe it's true that life begins at fifty. 
But everything else starts to wear out, fall out, 
or spread out.”
Phyllis Diller 

Stairs without handrails are normal in this part of Greece

Goatdi who raises La Mancha goats and a few chickens on '42 acres of paradise at the most southern tip of the Cascade Mountain Range and who writes New Life on the Farm Last Chapter, said:

When the folks who run the rules and regs at Medicare volunteer to help me haul and stack a load of alfalfa bales for my dairy goats (125# per bale ) we will talk. 

Mani in the Springtime

Forest Ranger Gaelyn who writes Geo Gypsy Traveler travel blog from various locations in America's Southwest replied:

I just got signed up for Medicare and haven't taken that test. Please don't ask me to stop dancing, sauntering and traveling. Who is that wrinkled Ranger in my mirror? I will do what I do until I am unable.

A springtime sunset over Messinian Bay

An email from long-time reader, Sue C., who is a tireless 'can do' volunteer with whom I've worked in civic and political efforts in the Seattle suburb where we used to live, provided more food for thought:

I just got an email that said "How old would you feel if you didn't know your birthday? ".  Food for thought.  Luckily I sure don't feel 77!  I can even do stairs without railings!

Greece and olive groves - timeless

Cindy Carlsson, fellow travel enthusiast and author of Exploration Vacation blog, responded:

I'm younger, but my spouse passed the Medicare milestone the other year and, of course, my mother deals with these questions all the time and that nagging fear "am I too old to do this?" For many people 65 is simply not old anymore and we shouldn't be rushed to stop living our lives because "something might happen." Something could happen to anyone at anytime - especially if you are klutzy like I am. I love that you've decided to live life on your terms and not society's expectations and I try to do the same. I just hope that when they do the memory test they don't ask me what day of the week it is, because I never have a clue - why would I need to know if I'm not living every moment on someone else's schedule?! Keep those dancing shoes handy just in case!

Spring wild flowers carpet olive groves in The Mani

From Israel, Dina, author of Jerusalem Hills Daily Photo blog, observed:

I think the best way for us not to get old is to hang on to our sense of humor. :) 

Taygetos Mountains frame The Mani

Tom Bartel, who along with his wife, Kristin Henning, created Travel Past 50 blog, wrote during their current travels in Cambodia:

And yes, I too, passed the memory test. At least I think I did. I can't remember. We're in Cambodia right now and I haven't so much as seen a hand rail yet. However, we do also have rugs on hardwood floors at home, and we measured them and got thin rubber pads non slip pads for them. Cheap insurance. At least cheaper than Medicare.

A toast to boomers everywhere!

“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, 
the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. 
When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.”
Sophia Loren 

Our sincere thanks to all of you who take the time read our blog and share your thoughts in return. The richness of the discussion is what makes the blogosphere so interesting!  We wish you safe and happy travels.  Carpe Diem and hope to see you back again soon - bring some friends with you!

Linking with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Heading to the Other 'Home' ~ Make that, 'Hale'!

Hale ~ ‘Home’ in Hawaiian

As the pilot announced our approach to the Honolulu, Hawaii airport on Sunday, the person next to me shifted and stretched as he observed, 'Boy this is a rather long flight, isn’t it?’

It had taken six hours to travel from Seattle to this island state in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Ko Olina on O'ahu's western shore from the airplane
I simply nodded. He wouldn’t have comprehended that this was just the final leg of our 8,700 mile journey which had begun days before on the other side of the world. This flight simply marked the end of our journey and our arrival ‘home’ – albeit the short-term variety.

This is the 10th year we’ve journeyed to Hawaii in January for a month of tropical living. What makes this year’s trip different is that this is the only 'home' we have left in the United States.

Our Stone House on the Hill, far right small gray stone home in this photo
Our full-time home is on a rocky hillside at the edge of an olive grove in the Greek Peloponnese. We moved there last fall after selling our home on the outskirts of Seattle. And in doing so, made our ‘commute’ to the timeshare life we’ve lived for a decade a whale of a lot longer. But this segment of the 'old life' was one we weren't ready to give up.

PicMonkey Collage
The journey between homes is a long one
Our journey began with a four-hour drive to Athens and an overnight stay at the airport hotel there. An early departing Aegean Airlines flight the next morning got us to London’s Gatwick airport where we had another overnight stay.  Wednesday morning we boarded another early morning flight from Gatwick to Seattle.

Norwegian Airlines flies Boeing 787 'Dreamliners' to Seattle from Gatwick
We could have shaved some time and hotel stays off that by flying British Air from Athens but it would have come with a much higher ticket price. Instead, we’d opted to try Norwegian Air, the European low-cost airline, that is taking that side of the world by storm.

Even though we knew it was popular, we were surprised at how large its presence is at Gatwick.

Norwegian Airline counter at Gatwick
In September the budget airline, which flies to 150 destinations world-wide, began flying between Seattle and London four times a week. Flying this airline to Seattle can cost as little as $500US or less, round trip in economy class, with an additional charge for food and beverages ordered on board and for bags checked.

Affordable Luxury

PicMonkey Collage
The Lounge at Gatwick
Being a low-cost airline, it doesn't have a Business or First class section, yet it offers what we consider 'affordable luxury' in its Premium Economy class. For a trip as long as we were taking, that's what we wanted for at least a portion of this journey.

Premium Economy offers large reclining seats, with food and beverage service provided as part of the ticket price. We also had access to the Business Class lounge at the airport.  Our cost was about $1,300 per ticket – several hundred less than the price of Premium Economy tickets on British Air and we had no extra charge for seats (British Air charges for advance seat selection).

Two seat side, bulk head - perfect!
Waiting for takeoff  with feet up and not yet fully reclining, it had already exceeded our experience flying British Air Premium Economy last fall.

A Mimosa or a Buck's Fizz by any name, is tasty
Wine and beer are complimentary in Premium Economy and our flight attendant made sure that my Mimosa (or a 'Buck’s Fizz' as it is called by our British friends) was as generous a pour as The Scout’s club soda! A second round was offered before meal service commenced. We had a choice of fish, meat or chicken entry. We chose the fish which was flavorful, not overcooked, but steaming hot and tasty (on an airplane! - can you believe it??).

Dinner was served
The lights were dimmed as were the windows (the Dreamliner’s features include enhanced air filter systems, mood lighting and extra large windows that turn dark instead of closing completely.)

Lights and windows dimmed 

We set off for The Land of Nod and hours later awakened to the second round of food – this one a cold plate was just as tasty had the first had been.

Second meal service as tasty as the first
Had we flown in the Economy section we’d have made our food choices from the screens at each seat and the flight attendant would have brought the order from the galley and payment would have been made by credit card.

Menu choices included food and drink
As you can tell, we were pleased with that experience and are singing the praises of the new airline. I should note, that our praise is not based on any compensation we received from the airline for saying good things about them. . .they don't even know we are raving about them. But we wanted you to know as many of you are contemplating travel to Europe and it might be worthwhile to check out this airline.

That’s it from our Pacific Paradise this week.  Welcome to our new readers this week (thanks for getting in touch with us and letting us know how you came across TravelnWrite!). And thanks to all of you for the time you spend with us.

We are linking up this week with:
Best of Weekend
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration


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