Saturday, July 9, 2011

Saturday’s Satchel: London, Hawaii and Greece

This weeks tips and tidbits:

London: The Courtyard at 51 is celebrating summer with a series of musical performances. That would be the courtyard at the 5-star 51-Buckingham Gate, Taj Suites and Residences, -- the posh digs formerly known as St. James Court -- tucked away on a side street between Buckingham Palace and Westminster. 

Tickets for the musical events are priced from 75L and include a three-course dinner and signature ‘51’ cocktail. 
Hawaii:   If you are planning a visit to Hawaii think about going for Oahu’s 2011 Food and Wine Festival being held in a number of locations including Waikiki Edition, Halekulani and Hilton Hawaiian Village, Sept. 29 – Oct.1, 2011.

We can only imagine the culinary wonders that will be created by chefs from the U.S., Canada, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia will take part. For ticket information, click the link above.

Symi, Greece:  This comes from Symi Dream, one of our favorite blogs written about one of our favorite Greek islands:

The Symi Dreamers Exhibition runs through October 2011 at the gallery of the same name as the blog.  Artists who are visiting the island are invited to bring a piece of art to display that has been inspired by the island. (Contest rules can be found by clicking the link above). And if you make it to the island (which, drat, we won’t this year) stop by the Gallery and meet James and Neil.  They also offer photo walks of the islands – which will be high on my list when we return.

Symi Dream is a great source of information about activities and life on this island, just a short ferry ride from Rhodes.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Reality Travel: Where ‘Unsettled’ Happens

Over coffee with a friend, I said we missed Greece and were thinking about a return visit.
“Greece?!! It is rather unsettled right now. . .are you sure you want to go there?” she asked, obviously influenced by the recent media reports of Athens' protests and riots.  

In reality, many of our favorite places are 'unsettled' right now.  Some just don't make headlines back home as does Greece.  For example, our trip to Spain this spring:  

solsticetransatlantic 031 In Malaga. . .
. . .a popular cruise port on Spain's Costa del Sol, we experienced, first-hand, a Spanish work 'slow down'.  We'd signed up for a ship-sponsored "Granada on Your Own" tour (a two-hour bus trip each way, with refreshment/rest stops mid-point). On our return trip we were perplexed by the driver's delay in finishing his coffee - our agreed upon 10 minute stop found us all sitting in the bus, waiting, and waiting and waiting for the driver. 

We simply figured the guy was a flake; his -- make that, their --message was lost on us.  Later arriving shore-tour passengers, however, got the brunt of the delay, with long waits at security that finally required our top brass to intervene in order to sail away on schedule.  

madrid2011 018 While in Madrid. . .
. . . Spain's magnificent capital, we were closer to protests than we ever have been in Greece. (With the protests there centered in Athens, we've avoided mayhem by heading directly to their calm, laid back islands.)

We watched a Madrilenos' manifestacion (protest) in the city's famed Puerto del Sol grow to tens of thousands in just a few days. Spain's elections were being held near the end of our stay and lots of folks, it seemed, had a message for the candidates. Puerto del Sol, the very heart of Madrid,  had been the gathering place for families, young lovers (and of course pickpockets) on our first stroll through it, but by the end of our stay, the crush of manifestacion crowds and media trucks had made it a place to be avoided.  
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Our route often took us past the Syrian Embassy, a few blocks from our apartment. For several days we noted a  group of peaceful protesters who stood across the street from it; their sign boards demanding human rights for those in their country. 

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As we passed the Embassy one morning we noticed the red paint splatters that soiled the front of the building. Upon our return two hours later, they had been removed.

Just down the road, a more amusing group of protesters were Madrid’s firefighters who'd set up a camp ground of sorts along the upscale Paseo del Prado.  Their message, it seemed, was unhappiness with their lot in life but set amidst a 'glamping' sort of camp with frequent trips to the nearby Starbucks for coffee and treats, again, their message was lost.

Another day we heard music playing and saw a small group dancing on a sidewalk. Their signboards were were a party pink.  It wasn't until I was taking a photo of what I thought was this street celebration that I  realized it was a protest; an outcry against children who are living in rat infested conditions.madrid2011  

These 'unsettled' scenes aren't limited to Spain or Greece.  We  found those in Madrid to be interesting - not threatening or unsafe. And for each of the photos in this post, I took dozens more showing peaceful, beautiful scenes in the same city.  

So the world is 'unsettled' these days, that's the reality of travel. But instead of musing about Greece we should figure out a way to get back to it AND Spain. . .as soon as possible.    

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Washington Wednesday: Stehekin


Stehekin, a small outpost at the head of the 55-mile long glacier-fed Lake Chelan in Central Washington State is one of our favorite getaway destinations.

DSCF0577Accessible by boat or float plane (or for the outdoors enthusiasts) by trail; this remote treasure has been ‘discovered’ in recent years by Sunset and Martha Stewart magazines - yet, it remains a place where the biggest excitement of the day is the ferry’s arrival at The Landing.  (That bus in the photo provides the shuttle service up into the Valley – a must trip if you go.) 

Getting there: Most visitors depart for Stehekin from Chelan, about 180 miles from Seattle.  This  small town wraps around  the foot of Lake Chelan (consider staying there at least a day to visit its wineries).  Note: You can  also catch the ferry at Field's Point, about mid-way up the lake but you'll need a car to get there.

The nearest airport is Pangborn in Wenatchee, some 35 miles from Chelan.  From there you’ll need to use public transportation or rent a car. The route from Wenatchee follows Washington’s Columbia River.  If you are driving, a stop at Rocky Reach Dam visitor's center, just a few miles north of Wenatchee shouldn't be missed.
The Lady of the Lake – a bit of lake history in itself – and the Lady Express are our favorite forms of travel  between Chelan and Stehekin. (I snapped this photo of the Express stopping at Field’s Point to pick up passengers.) For day-trippers, there's time for a long lunch (a trip to the Stehekin Bakery is a must) before heading back to Chelan. 

Accommodations:  In the Stehekin Valley range from cabin rentals to ranch stays and hotel type rooms at The Landing.  (Click the link to see photos, availability and prices).

Activities:  Way too many choices: hiking, horseback riding, waterfalls and meadows.  You can rent bikes (seasonally) or simply set off walking – the road to the bakery and beyond is level and paved.  Disconnect: There’s limited computer access at The Landing and a public phone.  Turn off your cell – it won’t work anyway. Don't forget your camera!

Have you been to Stehekin? Got a recommendation?  Share it with us in the comments below.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

America’s 4th of July!

“From the mountains. . .
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“To the prairies. . .
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“To the oceans, white with foam. . .
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. . .it's America! Our home, sweet, home!
                                    Happy Fourth of July!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Travel Tidbits from Saturday's Satchel

Satchels are small bags, some with over the shoulder straps, that make for great places to put the small stuff, your travel tidbits.  So this week we introduce Saturday Satchel, brief tidbits from the Travelnwrite satchel:
  • Travelnwrite turned two in June. Now, 300 posts later,we send a big 'shout out' (that's techno speak for "Thank You") to those of you in 50 states and 83 countries who've "joined us"on our journeys.
  • Last week Travelnwrite -- in honor of its second birthday-- got a new look.  Those of you who get TnW posts by email should take a peak at Travelnwrite.
  • More changes are in store including the addition of: Saturday's Satchel and Washington Wednesdays to the line up of summer posts.
  • We've expanded our travel tales and tips into the micro-blogging world of Twitter . You can follow us: @Travelnwrite
  • I was one of 25 travel bloggers at the TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange) conference in Vancouver, B.C. invited to submit a travel tidbit (it's #14) to BTW, although Evelyn Hammond's site is focused on solo woman travel, the tips are useful for all travelers.
  • A review we wrote about our Madrid apartment appeared this week on They added some great photos to it, so take a peek at our Spanish digs.
  • If you've got a travel tip, lesson learned, or recommendation you want to share, in a future Saturday's Satchel, send it to us at: or simply write a comment below.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

So, who dines at The Captain's Table?

Have you ever been on a cruise and wondered who was dining at "The Captain's Table"?
I have.

My curiosity came long before I ever cruised. . .way back when I'd watch the rich and famous munching along with Captain Merrill Stubing on the Love Boat , the popular American TV sitcom that aired from 1977-1986. (Click the link for a taste of the show)

Now many cruises -- and dinners -- under our belts later, we still don’t know who dines with ‘the’ Captain, but we've got a better idea of who dines at the Captain’s Table, at least on Celebrity cruises: they are normal people just like us!  In fact it was us.  . .not once, but twice, on the Solstice. And this is how we ended up there:

Prior to our sailing, I had arranged to interview some of the ship's staff for this blog. Celebrity reps also arranged (unbeknownst to me) for us to participate in activities and events usually available to those in Celebrity's frequent cruiser loyalty program, Captain's Club (think perks, like airline frequent flyer). Among the invites was one to dine at  the Captain’s Table being hosted by Environmental Officer James Mitchell (center of table below).

solsticetransatlantic 013We joined three other couples -- all who had logged many cruises in their travel journals and who kept the conversations lively with travel tales, restaurant and destination recommendations and of course, cruise stories. Officer Mitchell met us in a lounge where we sipped pre-dinner champagne and then led us to The Captain's Table which on the Solstice was in the middle of the main Grand Epernay dining room. (pictured above).
solsticetransatlantic 022  A few nights later at a cocktail party for Captain’s Club  members we met Staff Captain Panagiotis Kiousis, the second in command of the ship and part of the Bridge Team.  He divides his time between the ship, his California home and his home in Spetses, one of Greece's Saronic Islands; an island where we had spent a few days last fall. 

We three decided to meet for coffee some time during our Atlantic crossing to talk more about Spetses. Instead, Captain Kiousis called and asked us to join him at the Captain’s Table the night he hosted it. 

We'd learned that on long sailings like the one we were on, the officers all take turns hosting the table at each of the evening's two seatings and guests at the tables are invited for any number of reasons. 

On the appointed night we joined other invitees for pre-dinner drinks; among them, a lady born in Greece, and a couple who’d dined with the Captain on a previous cruise. But our host was a no-show. . .thanks to the Spaniards work slow down in Malaga that day:

Donna Trembath, who organized all these type functions on the Solstice, explained that our host was on shore with the Captain trying to get our remaining passengers there back on board and through some dreadfully long - purposefully s-l-o-w - security lines.
solsticetransatlanticSo, in stepped our Associate Hotel Director Tom Brady at a moment’s notice to host our group. The ship's operations are divided between the Captain's 'get us there' side and the Hotel side to keep us comfortable and busy while getting there. Tom was second in command of the Hotel side of the cruise operation.  

While we're sorry we didn’t get to 'talk Greece', but we, again, had great dinner companions and a fabulous time.

Now that we've completed our first cruise on Celebrity, we are members of the Captain's Club. . .and it will take a few more cruises with them to get us back to the Captain's table but we will get there one day. And someday I will answer the question, "Who dines with the Captain?"

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

D2G: The Gourmet Galley Gauntlet

“Homemade meatballs and fettuccine, hold the fettuccine, and a side of broccoli, please,”  I said one evening to our waiter in the Celebrity Solstice Grand Epernay dining room.
He lowered his notepad and asked, “Hold the fettuccine? You don’t want the pasta?!” 

He'd heard me correctly.  Our D2G, (Diet to Go) had met its challenge with the gourmet (mouth-watering-want-one-of-everything) array of food we had on our transatlantic crossing.

Before you start rolling your eyes, about passing up that pasta, let me assure you we ate. . .and ate. . .and ate a lot on the cruise.  Celebrity -- perhaps even more than other cruise lines we've been on -- seemed to emphasize quality – not quantity. Although we could have ordered multiples of each meal and been served them, (that's the way it works on cruise ships) we opted for single servings; each which appeared looking like a culinary work of art (lamb shank below):

solsticetransatlantic 007
But our Diet to Go, D2G(see earlier posts for D2G details) made it easy to navigate through the gourmet gauntlet the culinary staff created.  All we did was to modify some little things:
  • like sending away the basket of bread that appeared at dinner and skipping pastas every so often;
  • skipping the 'traditional' brewskie we shared before dinner on previous cruises;
  • and skipping dessert most nights and satisfying the sweet tooth with the candy we found on our pillow each night;
  • ordering breakfast from room service for automatic portion control (no temptations from the Lido buffet).
What we did do:
  • we drank wine – lots of wine,( more than we would have at home).  
  • We ate chocolate and nuts.
  • We visited the Gelateria - once - each ordering one scoop and several times drank luscious latte's at the adjacent coffee shop, Al Bacio, next door.
  • Actually ate the fruit from that bottomless fruit basket they provided in our cabin
  • We headed to the Lido deck's salad bars for lunch.
  • And we ate huge amounts in the two specialty restaurants we tried while on board (these places have a surcharge). The photo below was taken in Murano as the sommelier advised us on the wine we should drink with our meal.
solsticetransatlantic 011 That Cote du Rhone she recommended paired perfectly with Murano’s fillet Mignon:
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We dined so well in the regular dining room (like frog leg appetizers) that it was hard to leave for another specialty place but we did; and, in the Tuscan Grill, restaurant had fillet Mignon with horseradish flavored mashed potatoes (yes, we each ate some of the potato - not to mention a dessert).

While in port it was easy to get the 35 minutes a day of exercise that we needed on 'the diet' but we had nine days at sea so we made this place a regular morning stop.
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So six-months into our culinary journey. . . we report SUCCESS: 
  • Joel came back from the trip weighing 2 pounds less and I had lost 1 pound. 
  • Total pounds lost: Jackie 12 and Joel 6. (We would likely have lost more had we not been traveling and 'fudging a bit' but then that wasn't the purpose of the D2G anyway).
In full disclosure, Celebrity hosted our dinner  in Murano – we paid only for the wine. We paid the full tab in  Tuscan Grill.
Those wanting to know more about the basis of the D2G, should check the Glycemic Load Diet book by Dr. Rob Thompson on the Amazon carousel on the right hand corner of the blog homepage. (More disclosure: if you buy the book from the carousel, we make 40-cents!)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Celebrity’s Captain Quipster

It’s been a month and we are still talking about the guy.solsticetransatlantic 030
And maybe it is because we liked him so much – although we never really met, beyond a handshake or two, that is; like when he and his top brass welcomed us back from a day in Lisbon.

I am talking about our Solstice cruise ship Master: Captain Gerry Larsson-Fedde, (furthest left in photo). 

Larsson-Fedde, a graduate of the Norwegian Naval Academy,  served in the Norwegian Navy, and held officer positions within Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Celebrity’s parent company, before taking over as Master of the Solstice.

Master is a good way to describe him, as he has mastered the art of being the ship's commander, an obvious inspirational member of the team and having a great since of humor as well.

Remembersolsticetransatlantic 025, I told you he stole the show one night when he rocked out on stage with his guitar? (post: Entertainment with a Capital E!)
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 On the last sea day, somewhere in the Mediterranean, he led the crew team in a fast-paced water volleyball game against a team of passengers. When they announced his name the audience went wild as did the ship itself.  Cheers and horn blasts echoed across the water.

This game took place the day after he’d had to show his serious side, when he took charge of a situation on shore in Malaga, getting us all back aboard when the locals decided to pull a ‘work slowdown’ protest of some sort. 
solsticetransatlantic 035 
‘Captain Quipster’s Sense of Humor

A cruise  ritual we’ve come to enjoy – no matter what the ship -- is the noon announcements usually projected throughout the ship in a rather serious tone, beginning with, “Good day, this is your Captain speaking. . .”  then updates on our location, distance traveled and that left to go, and weather/wind conditions.

At noon on the Solstice, our captain began, “Hi. It is me again. . .” followed by the updates.  But what caused everyone to stop talking and listen each day was his closing quip:

This sampler is best read out loud:
Why are ships referred to as ‘she’?  
Day 1: “It takes a strong man to handle her.”  Day 2: “Because when they arrive in port they head to the buoys.”\
Another day: “Man who eat many prunes, get a good run for the money.”
And: “A man who fight with wife all day, get no peace at night.” (Think about it – there was a moment of silence and then a burst of laughter throughout the ship).

When we sail Celebrity again we hope to have Captain Quipster at the helm. . .and the microphone!


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