Showing posts with label Travel Safety. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Travel Safety. Show all posts

Monday, March 14, 2022

The Night Elli Danced Again

 Elli danced one night last week. 

It was then that I knew our world was righting itself. 

We are returning to normal, real normal, not new normal.

Elli danced last week

Elli, is Elisavet Nikoloudi, who runs Elli's Restaurant in our fishing village in Greece's Peloponnese.  Everyone for miles around knows her -- and most everyone has eaten many times at her place in Agios Nikolaos. Every houseguest we've ever had has been introduced to her culinary skills early on in their visit. Most have asked to return again before their visit ended.

A Time to Dance Again

In the pre-pandemic world Elli would feature local musicians once a week and her restaurant would fill with the sound of all that makes traditional Greek dining such a magical experience: music, clapping, singing and dancing. At some point in the evening a particular song would prompt her to put down her serving tray, raise her arms, snap her fingers and start twirling around the room - to the delight of all.

Elli hasn't danced like that for a long time as result of Covid and its lockdowns and restrictions on businesses and behaviors. In fact it hasn't been very many weeks ago, that while restaurants and tavernas were again operating, they weren't even allowed to play recorded music, let alone to offer live music.  

A Time to Celebrate

But Greece, like the rest of the world, is slowly lifting restrictions. The Greek government has allowed us to quit wearing masks outdoors and when we walk inside restaurants. We've been able to sit inside for some time now, but music had been banned and masks required. 

That Time in Between Normals

Eating from Elli's during lockdown

Elli's was one of a handful of businesses that remained open for 'paketo' as take out food is called here. The government allowed businesses to provide food and drink but nothing to be consumed on premises. The photo above was taken in March 2020 - shortly after businesses were shutting down normal operations, as lockdown was introduced, and before masks were mandatory. Instead of reading her extensive menu, we would call in advance and see what Elli had cooked that day, place an order and pick it up -  it was just a bit different eating it on a seawall along the parking lot.

Our last U.S. visitors dined at the side of the sea in a parking lot

Little did we know that as lockdown got stricter, even this wouldn't be allowed. Paketos were taken home and eaten there. Gatherings of friends in private homes was also forbidden. 

We've had several sets of new expats arrive during this on-again, off-again lockdown period. Sometimes for a month or so we'd have a few freedoms and then they'd tighten up again.  On the occasions we were allowed to get together, we found ourselves sounding like old-timers as we reminisced about how it 'used to be' before Covid. 

'There was life and music and happiness in this rural corner of the Messinias region. . .', we begin, as we'd tell stories of:

Aris and Dora masked up Easter Saturday night

Aris and Dora Christeas hosting a full moon party at their Vesuvius Restaurant each month on the night the moon was its fullest. Tables were full of diners waiting for the globe to rise over the Taygetos Mountain range. There were fireworks, food and dancing into the night.

Vesuvius Restaurant in Agios Nikolaos

For a time they resumed the parties last year. We are certain they will be featured again when the eatery opens for this season. 

Julia and Bill hosting events again at Hades

Julia and Bill, down the street at Hades Bar, hosted special events that filled the tavernas interior and outside patio. Special dinners, art festivals and fund-raisers.  And then with Covid restrictions, it became one of the few places serving food and drink 'paketos'. 

Easter dinner came from Hades during our Covid year

An annual fundraiser for The Marti Fund, a spay and neuter program for homeless animals, took place at Hades each spring - with the exception of  'that Covid year'. The event is back this year on April 16th promising to be even bigger and better. 

Gregg (right) gives a Greek coffee lesson to our U.S. friend Greg

Freda, Gregg and Kathy at Gregg's Plateia held special buffet dinners each week as well as being the meeting place for the once-a-week gathering of talented ladies called the 'Stitch n Bitch' handiwork group. And they filled their place on other days with Scrabble competitions.  
Gregg's during Covid lockdown

They were shuttered during the long Covid restrictions but have reopened with gusto and special meal nights have already returned to their schedule.

The Real Normal

Pantazi Beach soon will welcome tourists again

We in the expat community are back to planning for visitors and houseguests. Pre-departure testing is no longer required for vaccinated travelers.  The Passenger Locator Form is soon to be history. The first non-stop Delta Airlines flight from the United States for the season arrived this last week in Athens. Two flights from Germany arrived in Kalamata. 

Restaurants are opening early

Restaurants are opening up earlier than their usual Easter Weekend kickoff this year. The number of caravans and over-landers (RV's to those of us from the States) continue to arrive, stay and depart with regularity.

The Greek tourist authorities just announced that Royal Caribbean cruise line will be running winter cruises from Athens beginning in 2023 - the anticipated itinerary being ports of call in Cyprus, Israel and Egypt.

The Elephant in the Room

The elephant's name is Ukraine. Since my last post, A War in the Neighborhood, I have been asked by readers about whether we feel safe being in Greece.  

I can assure you that life is going on as normal here - in fact, better than it has been for the last two years.  Costs are high, but they were higher than normal before the conflict began and can't be blamed entirely on the unrest. Gas in the village hit $9.75US a gallon this week, food prices have been higher than normal since long before the conflict in Ukraine.  

Back to Bologna . . .soon?

We are not cowering in our homes fearing fallout (both literally and figuratively) from the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.  Speaking for the two of us, we are not at all thinking of packing up and leaving. . .well, except for another trip to Italy that we plan to take in the near future.

But each traveler must determine their own level of comfort. Afar Magazine ran an excellent article this last week on the topic of the safety of travel in Europe - it wasn't a Pollyanna sugar-coated enticement to travel  nor was it Chicken Little screaming that the sky was falling.  I encourage you to follow the link and read the article if you have concerns about travel to Europe.  

Again we thank you for the time you've spent with us today. Safe travels to you and yours whereever they take you~ Hope you will join us soon for another travel tale. . .bring some friends with you!

Linking soon with:

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Departing Cairo ~ A ‘touch’ and go affair

Gently her hands circled my breasts before moving down my rib cage, then up my back and front in a seemingly unbroken motion of discovery. She’d averted her eyes as we stood face-to-face barely inches apart, her concentration focused on what she was – or wasn’t – feeling. Her palms down my arms, around my wrists; up the leg – all the way – and down the other. Front and back, round and round.
It reminded me of some of the massages and the Turkish bath that I’ve willingly shelled out big bucks to experience. This was, however, free and to my way of thinking, had a much bigger potential health payoff:  it just might just keep some nut from boarding my flight and blowing it out of the sky.

View from the plane as we depart Cairo, Egypt
That wasa portion of the security check we underwent just inside the newly renovated Terminal 2 at the Cairo Airport. The terminal, scheduled to open in late 2015 had been only open for two weeks before our December 2016 departure.

Still so new it looks almost empty - Terminal 2 Cairo Airport
The sleek, modern building is expected to boost annual passenger capacity by 8 million. It’s expanded capacity, which will include accommodating those enormous double-decker A380 planes, is hoped to play a role in luring travelers back to Egypt. In articles about the new terminal tourism officials said that in addition to enlarging the terminal they were taking steps to make visitors feel safe while visiting the country.

Plenty of eateries from which to choose - one day anyway
If our experience at the airport is any indication, they are taking that safety and security business seriously.

That first security checkpoint was footsteps inside the front doors. Bags, coats, and shoes went into bins and through an enormous scanner (we find it curious that after the ‘Shoe Bomber’ incident a few years back we often are NOT required to remove shoes when going through airport screening on that side of the Atlantic).  Here shoes were off then humans walked through a scanner, then were hand searched as I described above.

New shop being readied in Terminal 2 Cairo Airport
That was the first of four such thorough security checks we would encounter between the front door and our boarding gate. A second one was done after obtaining our boarding passes and checking bags. British Airways required boarding passes be issued at the airport, you couldn’t print them out in advance.

Business Class lounge - Cairo Airport
The third screening was just outside the Business Class lounge that serves several airlines.  The lounge was spacious and comfortable and made waiting for the flight a pleasant experience. However, just steps outside the lounge we again ran bags through screening machines, walked through a scanner and again each of us was ‘patted down’. (We had to wait a bit until they could round up a woman to ‘pat me down’ at this checkpoint.)

New terminal 2 at Cairo Airport
We entered the waiting area at our gate by walking through a scanner and there officers ran a swab over our clothes and bags – all belongings -- then checked the swab for traces of explosives. By then we’d had enough screenings; I’d announced the glamour days of travel were long gone. We’d pulled out and replaced into our bags our computer and the plastic bag of carryon liquids enough times for one day (although we did it again in London). Our passport and boarding pass had been scrutinized by many. . . enough, already!

Waiting area Terminal 2 Cairo Airport
Intimate and intense pre-boarding security checks aren’t new to us and like other frequent travelers we could probably tell a horror story about the process encountered at any of the major European and American big city airports.  But because I’ve devoted a number of posts to the wonders we’ve encountered in Egypt, I felt I needed to tell a bit more of ‘the rest of the story’. Airport security is intense if not tedious, but after two recent plane crashes of undetermined-but-suspected-terrorism causes, it should be.

We’d been home only a few days when the Seattle Times newspaper ran an Associated Press story, about the crash of the EgyptAir flight last spring.

It was headlined, Explosives found on crash victims of EgyptAir flight
'CAIRO – Traces of explosive have been found on some victims of an EgyptAir flight from Paris that crashed in the Mediterranean Sea in May, Egypt’s government said Thursday, a find that could deal another major blow the country’s tourism sector.'

Tourism in Egypt has tanked thanks both to a well-publicized revolution in 2011 and those two airplane crashes not to mention a couple other attacks on tourists. Many of you have written comments saying that safety concerns are keeping you from visiting.  And while I’ve written glowingly of our explorations, both with guides and on our own during our last two visits, the environment is one that not all travelers – no matter how well-traveled – may want to tackle.  However, we are already excited about what we will do in Egypt next March when we fly via Cairo to get back to Greece! 

A final smoggy view of Cairo from departing flight
It’s a new year and we hope it is filled with travel adventures for you – whether real time or armchair.  We do want sincerely thank you for the time you’ve spent reading our posts, sharing them with others (the icing on the cake!) and for taking time to comment or send an email about them.  Our world is better because you are a part of it!  Until next week, stay safe and be happy!

Linking up:

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

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Egypt: Tourism vs.Terrorism

It wasn’t a question of whether we would visit Cairo, Egypt as it’s been on our bucket list for a long time.

Luxor Temple - Spring 2015
It was simply a question of when. A question that surfaced more frequently after our cruise through the Middle East last spring gave us a appetizer-sized introduction of Egypt. That two-day snapshot whetted our appetites for a larger serving of this amazing country tucked into the northeast corner of the African continent.

View of the Nile from our hotel room in Cairo
Your responses back in November to the news of our return to Egypt; specifically, Cairo, were a mixed bag: a surprising number told us of your own recent travels there and offered suggestions of things to do, places to see ~ others sent well-wishes to be safe.

Tahrir Square - site of the 2011 Arab Spring - was a rather empty, non-descript area
As we booked the trip, I have to admit that visions of Pyramids and Antiquities competed with scenes of Tahrir Square during the 2011 Egyption Arab Spring revolution and the October 2015 Russian plane crash in Egypt’s Sinai – its cause, perhaps the result of an act of terrorism.

Stepping into history - Pyramids at Giza
So, we could have kept Cairo on our ‘someday’ list. . .but in reality, when intrepid travelers reach their 60’s – even with good health and can-do  attitudes like us – they have to be honest with themselves. In our case that included asking: ‘How much longer do you wait to do those things you’ve always had on the bucket list? How long will you be able to climb those pyramids?’

And waiting until a destination is ‘safe’ these days, well, . . sadly, as daily headlines remind us, may be a very unrealistic approach.

Downtown Cairo - 'Paris on the Nile'
So the adventure began Saturday before Christmas we were on an Egypt Air flight (less than two hours from Athens, ticket cost: $175 each)  from Athens bound for “Paris on the Nile”, as Cairo, Egypt was once known.

That same Khevide Isma’il (the one I introduced you to last week in the “palace” post) was so taken by Europe’s grand cities that he sought out a Parisean city planner, Baron Haussman, to lay the framework for this core district. It does have the feel of a European city’s layout.

PicMonkey Collage
Street scenes taken while shopping in Cairo's core district 
With traffic circles and building facades, Cairo’s downtown definitely felt European but it also felt a bit crusty. Buildings are dirty and power-washing is long overdue. Smog from some eight million cars can do that to the best of buildings, I guess. While not the showstopper it could be with a bit of cleanup, we felt safe and comfortable everywhere we explored.
“Improving Egypt’s tourism sector depends on improving the view of the country’s domestic situation, as many countries believe that Egypt has no security or stability for the time being,” Elhamy el-Zayat, chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Federation, said last September in announcing a new marketing campaign. “The biggest challenge for Egypt is to shift this perspective, especially since Egypt is the heart of the Arab world, which has now become a source of news of violence in the world.” -

Cairo Marriott and Omar Khayyam Casion on the Nile River
The bottom line is: we felt safe everywhere we went in Cairo, whether on foot, by taxi or by private transfer or tour.

Our Cairo Marriott Hotel’s location, on an island in the middle of the Nile River, put us in walking distance of the Egyptian Museum, Tahrir Square and the Cairo Tower. We used  taxis a couple of times to get to and from the downtown area, had a private car/driver/guide tour of the Pyramids, and arranged private transfers from the airport to hotel,and between the Marriott and the JWMarriott for our last night’s stay.
“I often get asked ‘is it safe to go to Egypt?’ and I say ‘a weekend in Paris isn’t exactly safe.’ . . . None of us can guarantee our safety on planet earth – it all has to be put into context.”  -- Professor Joanne Fletcher, BBC’s Chief Egyptologist, who has completed a four-part documentary on Egypt, now airing in England.
 Cairo traffic - this roundabout to the bridge was a maze of merging cars
The Real Danger in Cairo

Frankly, the most danger we faced was in crossing the street. Cars don’t stop, nor are there pedestrian crossing lights.

Our Lonely Planet Egypt guidebook warned of the traffic and suggested that crossing a street with locals; having them act as a sort of buffer for you might be the best way to cross. “Never, ever hesitate or turn back once you’ve stepped off the sidewalk, and cross as if you own the road. But do it fast!” it advised.
The calm Nile a contrast to the traffic next to it in Cairo
That sounded reasonable, until put to the test. We set out for Tahrir Square and strolled from our hotel along the serene Nile River to a point it became necessary to cross six lanes of traffic.  Twice I stepped off the curb, took a step or two, then hastily retreated back to its safety when I saw the cars barreling towards us, four lanes from the left and two from the right. (Might I add The Scout, was becoming somewhat frustrated with me at that point.)

Warm and Welcoming

What happened next is an example of the warm and welcoming people we encountered in Cairo. As I was about to start whining, “I can’t do it!” a man hustled toward us through the traffic from across the street, and asked in perfect English, “Where do you want to go?” My rather lame answer, “Just across the street.” prompted him to motioned for us to follow him into the traffic – this time he stretched his arms in traffic guard fashion to slow the oncoming vehicles.  After he got us across the street he jogged back to his parked taxi where he’d apparently been watched our antics.

Tourism in Egypt has dropped from 17 million to 9 million,
according to Egypt’s Tourism Authority.

PicMonkey Collage
Crowds? None - on this morning visit to the Pyramids

Our visit, the week before Christmas and during Prophet Mohammed’s December 23rd birthday holiday, usually ranks as the busiest tourist week of the year. But it wasn’t. Terrorism seems to have struck a harsh blow to the already dwindling number of visitors since Arab Spring. Even during this usually-busy week we found the ‘crowds’ sparce at key tourist attractions like the Pyramids and the famous Egyptian Museum. Good for us who enjoyed the space and freedom to roam, but definitely bad for Egypt’s economy. Those crowds, we’d read and heard about, simply were not there. The only large groups at the Pyramids and the Sphinx during our mid-morning weekday visit were bus loads of Egyptian school children.

And how glad were we as we photographed  from inches away King Tut's mask, stood transfixed at the Sphinx or stepped up onto the Pyramids that we hadn't let 'fear of possibility' keep us from visiting. How about you? Have you ever let the fear of possibility keep you from traveling somewhere?

You've told us that you want more about Cairo which is good because like Scheherazade, we do have more tales to tell. Hope you’ll be back for more of our adventures in this Land of the Pharaohs. . .

Map picture

A big Happy New Year and wishes for great adventures and safe travels to you and yours in the coming year ~ Our sincere thanks for being with us in 2015! A big welcome to those who’ve just happened upon TravelnWrite for the first time. Hope you'll stop by often~

Linking this week with

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Travel Tip Tuesday: Packing, Pickpockets, Part 2

DCVegasSeville2011 157Prior to our Greece trip I wrote about packing and pick pocket prevention. Several of you responded with comments that bear repeating:
An anonymous  reader suggested: “Instead of the plastic hangers, you might want to check out "flocked" slim hangers. Available at all kinds of stores like Target, Bed, Bath and Beyond, etc.
What I like about them is: much thinner than plastic so they fit better in a suitcase, nothing slips off of them, and best of all the hanger top swivels so you can hang them over doors or on bi-fold closet door hinges.”

I couldn't find any prior to our trip so took the plastic hangers and clothes pins - and used them many times. But will find some prior to our next trip.

From South Korea, Nancie McKinnon who writes Budget Travelers Sandbox added:
“I throw a door stopper in my bag. If I end up somewhere where I think security is not that great, I can pop it under the door. I also carry a small foot brush. It's especially great when you are walking around in sandals, and cleaning up after a long hard day of sightseeing.”

Canadian blogger friend, Leigh at Hike Bike Travel where I first read about Clever Travel Companion security pocket tee shirts, wrote that she has worn them and predicted we would like them.

We did wear ours - several times in Greece - and called them 'the Piraeus shirts' a reference to The Scout's previous pickpocket incident on the Metro from there. The front-and-center zippered pockets comfortably held a passport, money and credit cards. The downside of the shirts was they are made of a blend of material which makes them stretchy and the sizes run small. That combination made it feel like wearing a body girdle (a hot one at that).  I would recommend ordering a size larger than you usually wear - but for peace of mind, they were fabulous!

Karen McCann, (a native Californian who moved with her husband to Seville, Spain ‘for a year’ in 2004 and still lives there) writes the blog Enjoy Living Abroad, and recently wrote a post on travel security tips that was so informative I told her I was going to direct you all to it.  Believe me it is full of good tips;  check it out by clicking on:  Enjoy Living Abroad

washington wednesdays 005And if you’ve got a tip or two for saving money, packing and/or keeping yourself and your belongings safe, please add them in the comment section below on the home page or for you subscribers send us an email:

I’ll make sure they get shared with everyone in future posts. If you missed that first post, you can click here to read it.


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