Monday, October 31, 2011

Spain: A Land of Fact and Fiction

“Why Spain?” we are asked by those who add, “You’ve already been there, haven’t you?”

DSCF0673We have been there several times if you count cruise ship stops; those tapa-sized tastes of a country that leave you wanting a full-meal-deal size experience.

Our week in Madrid last May scarcely gave us time to see the town, let alone anything nearby.
And so we’ve chosen to return to Spain to continue consuming its history, sights, culture, and of course, its food and wine.   We’ve been studying – both fact and fiction – preparing for this trip.

Spain “. . .for the greater part . . .is a stern, melancholy country, with rugged mountains and long sweeping plains, destitute of trees and indescribably silent and lonesome. . ."  Washington Irving wrote in his Tales of the Alhambra in the mid-1800’s.
The Wall Street Journal last week reported that Spain’s jobless rate has hit an all-time high (21.5%) and that the number of households without any income hit 3.2% of the country's population, or 559,000 families.
Spain’s elections are scheduled to take place the day we board the cruise ship in Barcelona to head home.  We know that a major terrorist attack occurred prior to elections there in 2004.

DSCF0664In reality, it’s doubtful we will see the poverty, politics or protests up close.  We will – as do most travelers  – visit historic sites, marvel at the architecture, stuff ourselves with tapas and paella, and wash it all down with copious amounts of inexpensive, but excellent, Spanish wine. 

Oh yes, and we won’t forget those famous Seville sweets – a specialty of the Monasterios’ bakeries – thanks to a tip from Carol, a travel writer friend of ours. (Click the link for her sweet look at Seville.)

In a manner of speaking we’ve already spent a few months traveling through Spain’s history and countryside, reading – in addition to guidebooks and news reports --  of fictional characters whose stories brought history to life. Two books, Victoria Hislop’s The Return and  C. J. Sansom’s Winter in Madrid each took us into Spain’s Civil War and the Franco years. The Seville Communion by Spanish author Arturo Perez- Reverte provided an entertaining murder mystery set in the city we’ll be visiting.

Yes, we are returning to Spain - our previous tapa-sized tastes are bringing us back for more adventures in this land of fact and fiction.

Note:  The books mentioned above and others we’ve read on Spain now appear on our Amazon carousel on the Travelnwrite homepage.  Clicking on them will take you to reviews of the book; and in full disclosure, if you buy one from our page we will earn a few cents.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Saturday’s Satchel: Travel Tips, Bits and Pieces

washington wednesdays 005The travel satchel has several tips and tidbits in it today thanks to you who’ve responded to recent posts:

Half-Price Haute Cuisine: prompted Paula in Kirkland to send a reminder about Happy Hours’ half-price  drinks and food as a good way to save travel dollars. As an example, she says, Kirkland’s Milagro Cantina’s Happy Hour fish tacos are only $3.

Our favorite Happy Hour stop in Vegas: The Trevi Fountain Restaurant in Caesar's Forum Shops. Their “Trevi Time” half price bar menu and drinks keep bringing us back at least once during each trip to sunny ‘Sin City’.

Packing Tips: brought an email from Teresa in Seattle who said safety pins are a key item to pack for a number of reasons.  They can be used for instant mending needs,to secure bandages and even hold up arm slings if necessary.  I’ve grabbed some for our ‘kit’.

Spain Travel Tips:  Christine* in Phoenix sent us off to a Yahoo travel site for some recommendations in Barcelona, noting that the city has been named on of the travel destination hot spots this year.

Soft Landing _3 (1)* A  tidbit: (Christine Sandifer, is a long-time friend of ours and an artist in Phoenix. During our recent trip we finally had some time to learn more about her art and her studio.  She creates hand-pulled monoprints such as the one pictured to the left. I love its title, “Soft Landing”.  She uses real leaves when doing these pieces – pretty amazing stuff.

If you’d like to learn more about her monoprint process or see more of her work, visit  her website The Town.)


TravelnWrite News: 
0006100-R1-039-18Those of you who receive our posts in your inbox  may not have seen TravelnWrite’s new pages. 

Links to the pages are under the homepage photo:  About Us, Deal Finder, Our Favorites, Pacific Northwest Travel and Contact Us.  We added these pages to help answer the two questions most often asked us: 

“How do you find those deals?” and,
“What would you recommend?”

If you aren’t yet  receiving posts in your inbox, simply sign up in the box on the right side of the home page.  You won’t get spam from us – just posts. . .and they are free!


It seemed appropriate for us to be ‘on the road’ in Arizona when a guest post I’d written for Dick Jordan’s Tales Told from the Road appeared. Dick ran a series of guest posts about how the attack on 9/11/2001 affected various travelers.  The end result was an interesting compilation of travel experiences.  Ours can be found at:  Italy Delayed.

And thanks for reading!  We’ve had more than 30,000 page views with readers hailing from more than 100 countries.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

TP Thursday: London’s San Pancras Station

We love traveling on Europe’s trains.  And we love their historic train stations. 

One of our favorites is  London’s San Pancras International Station, home to the Eurostar (fast train) since 2007. 

The castle-like gothic structure was the largest station in the world when it opened in 1865.  Time took its toll and over the decades it fell into disrepair, coming close to demolition in the 1960’s. A group of visionaries should be thanked for saving it.

Work in recent years has transformed it into a Grand Dame of rail stations – a destination in itself with: a  new Marriott Renaissance Hotel (opened in the station this year),  and nearly 70 retail outlets, restaurants and pubs – my favorite: it’s home to Europe’s longest champagne bar (90 meters/270 feet).

Friends told us not to miss the statue in the Train Shed’s south end – and that would have been hard to do. It’s a  20-ton, 30-foot-tall (9 meters) statue, “The Meeting Place” by British artist Paul Day.

londonparisiceland2011 012

The two young lovers are so overwhelming that what you could miss are the stories told in the designs that circle the base of the piece. We both got a chuckle, though, after Joel noticed this one:

londonparisiceland2011 013

Explore other destinations from around the world through travel photos, by clicking the link to  Budget Travelers Sandbox, Nancie McKinnon’s  blog where this all began.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Departure Countdown: Ka-choo, sniff, cough

londonparisiceland2011 023“Well, better here than on the road,” we keep saying.

Sniff. . .
ka-choo. . .
cough. . .

Those are the background sounds to our departure preparation activities of late:  gathering clothes, making yard care arrangements, securing the house sitters, and all those pesky other routine pre-travel tasks.

“The Bug” as we call colds and flu in this part of the world, nailed us a few days ago. In my case, the little pest snatched my voice – it’s been gone for three days. (I think even Joel is beginning to miss it – I certainly do.)

Being sick while preparing to travel does dampen the enthusiasm a bit, but there’s also the bright side that it happened here and health may return before we board the plane. 

At least here we know how to find the doctor and the pharmacist and it is comforting to know that both speak English.We’ve each experienced travel maladies and agree such things are much easier on familiar territory. Once in Thailand Joel was stricken with ‘traveler’s tummy’ (to put it nicely).  I remember our frustration when we resorted  to rolling our hands in front of his stomach when trying to buy medicine; then not being sure of what we’d purchased or how to use it. 

A few years ago I had an allergic reaction to mosquito bites while in Mexico resulting in dozens of huge welts (not pretty).  I finally had to show those welts and then demonstrate the flight and bite of the pesky creatures to the amusement of those en la farmacia as I tried to buy relief.

washington wednesdays 005Pack the Drugs

Our illnesses and maladies provide both amusing memories and valuable lessons.  These days our travel gear always includes:

1. Cold medicine with Antihistamines (the antihistamine also can be used to counter allergic reactions to bug bites.)

2. Throat lozenges/cough drops (these can usually be found at magazine kiosks and in tobacco shops throughout Europe, but it is still good to have some on the plane.)

3. Imodium or other anti-diarrheal medication for those ‘travelers’ tummy’ moments.

4. Stool softener – for the opposite of #3.

5.  Band-aids (Peter’s [Travel] Principle: shoes that are fine at home will give you  blisters when you set out sightseeing).

6. Antiseptic cream – for those cuts and scratches that happen when you least expect them.

7. Aspirin or other pain killer (travel can cause headaches).

8.  Prescription medications – We make sure our supply is enough to last until we get home and always packed in a carry-on.

9.  Eyeglass/contact lens prescriptions: We always carry current ones.  (Some take an extra pair of glasses.)

10.  Doctor and optometrist phone numbers:  With cell phones, smart phones and iPhones these days, the doctor really is a phone call away (keep the time zone changes in mind) if something serious develops. 

What about you?  Any suggestions for fellow readers?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Half-price Haute Cuisine

Or,  'Ways to take a bite out of travel dining costs.'

A friend asked if we ever eat out on our travels as I’ve been so focused on ways we save travel dollars by eating ‘at home’ on the road.

Of course, we do eat out - just not every meal.   

polotowersscottsdale 020 Recently we've discovered such a great way to enjoy haute cuisine – for as much as half off, that we just had to tell you about it.

First a disclaimer: I’m not a ‘coupon clipper’ (a popular money saving activity in the United States in which food manufacturers offer coupons for discounts of varying amounts on grocery purchases).  It’s not that I don’t like the concept, it’s just that when I have clipped them, I put them somewhere so I won't forget them, then can’t find them when I head out to the store and by the time I do find them, they've expired.

But a number of social media sites have been tempting us with coupon deals that we've been unable to pass up. These types of coupons must be purchased within a designated time frame and then you print the coupon when you are ready to use it.

It was friend and fellow travel enthusiast, Tara, who suggested we start watching these sites for deals in cities that we might be visiting. So now we have coupon offers arriving in our inbox from Groupon, Living Social, Amazon, Juice in the City, and yes, even Travelzoo.  

We tested the ‘coupon-dining’ close to home at Purple, a wine bar and cafe in Kirkland. We had a great meal and glasses of wine for $15 - half the usual price.
polotowersscottsdale 021
It was Travelzoo that tempted our palate with a deal at “Comme Ca” fine dining French Restaurant in the Cosmopolitan Hotel, City Center, Las Vegas: (Comme Ca is like the French phrase, Comme Ci, Comme Ca,--  kohm see, kohm sa, -- ‘like this, like that’)

We purchased for $79 a coupon for two three-course dinners (including a $30 bottle of wine) – regular value, $140. And then hoped the restaurant would recognize the coupon when we tried to use it.

polotowersscottsdale 019
We shouldn’t have worried. . .not only did they recognize it, they had so many 'coupon diners', they’d printed a special menu for Travelzoo customers. (Our waiter said 1,100 coupons were purchased in the four hours the coupon was available).

polotowersscottsdale 022 The photos I've included in the post take you from the French onion soup (a meal in itself), to the Beef Bourguignon, and of course, we couldn't resist sampling each of the desserts. All of which paired nicely with the dry French rose wine the waiter recommended.

Another Money-Saver:
We have joined a frequent diner club, Lettuce Entertain You, that offers discounts and points for dollars spent at a number of restaurants throughout the country – from Washington, DC to Las Vegas and cities in between.  We've used it primarily when dining in Vegas and have already accumulated enough points to have a significant discount on a future meal. We've also used 'my birthday' coupon for a $15 discount last July at one of the participating restaurants.

So how about you?  Have any tips to share about ways to save dining dollars?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

TP Thursday: A Poros Morning


It's been a year and still the memory of the stroll we took on Poros is as brilliant as was the morning we took it.

The day simply dazzled the senses. We wound our way from the harbor, climbing higher into neighborhoods on narrow pathways that looped between houses; the shutter's snap, the sound of  birdsong and an occasional dog’s bark were all that broke the silence.

Map picture

This Greek island, about an hour from Piraeus (Athen's neighboring port city), is part of the Saronic Island chain near the Peloponnese coast.  You can see on the map the narrow strip of channel that separates Poros from Galatas.

We’ve spent a  lot of time this last year rememboring Poros: the people we met, the dogs that befriended us, the places we ate, the long walks we took, the hours spent watching boats and ferries come and go, and we speculate about the possibility of returning for a much longer stay. . .weeks. . . perhaps a month. . .perhaps more.  It could be done, we think.

There are places like that in the world that draw us back to them, the Greek islands of Crete, Symi and Poros among them. 

What about you?
To where do you dream of returning?

It is Travel Photo Thursday and to see more photos from around the world visit Budget Travelers Sandbox, creator of this project.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Going cruising with “Connie”

Now that we’ve finished the Southwest road trip, our suitcases are in the early stages of repacking for our upcoming fall adventure . . .

Ambles through Andalucia

We’ll fly from Seattle to Spain’s interior, beginning our trip in Sevilla, departure gate to the New World a half dozen centuries ago - the perfect place to delve into both culture and history. After a few days poking around the city,we’ll hop a train out into Seville province's countryside to spend a few days in Osuna, population 18,000. Then we head south to see the mark of 20th Century tourism and the Costa del Sol.  In the port town of Malaga we’ll meet friends, pick up a rental car and head out for the trendy, touristy Marbella on Spain’s Costa del Sol

A week later a train will take us north from Andalucia to Catalunya, where we will have a couple of days to explore Barcelona.  We’ve been here before, but always on a cruise ship stop that allowed only a few hours exploration, this time we’ll have plenty of time to ramble through its Barri Gotic and Las Ramblas and to ponder Gaude's architectural handiwork before we meet:

‘Connie’. . .

. . .  the cruise ship that will be our floating home for the two weeks it will take to reach the United States.

We are already thinking of the ship as ‘Connie’, the nickname given her by her former passengers/admirers. Formally, she’s Celebrity Cruise LinesConstellation, a 965-foot long (think 2.5 football fields) luxury liner.

Our 13-night cruise will take us from Barcelona, Spain to Fort Lauderdale, Florida; with stops in Alicante and Malaga, Spain; then after passing through The Pillars of Hercules, we’ll be off to Funchal, Madeira, and Tenerife, in the Canary Islands followed by seven ‘sea days’ as we  cross the southern Atlantic.

Map picture

We’re sold on repositioning cruises for a number of reasons: they are a good travel value, and they provide a mix of ports of call and plenty of ‘sea days’ to kick back, relax and enjoy all the ship has to offer.

We had such a great first time experience with Celebrity on their Solstice transatlantic crossing last spring going to Barcelona, that our expectations for Connie are high.  As we did on the Solstice cruise we will tell you about ship board life and introduce you to folks we meet along the way.

Note:  We’ve listed a number of agencies and websites that we’ve used to nab some incredibly good cruise fares on our TravelnWrite Deal Finder page.  It isn't too early to think about spring repositioning cruises. Some, like the transatlantic crossings, can take a couple weeks.  Others, like one we took from Vancouver, B.C. to Seattle, was a one-night 'crossing' and made for a fun Pacific Northwest getaway.

Back to Spain and our cruise: Do you have recommendations for us?  Restaurants? Flamenco shows? Tapas bars?  Send your tips by email or leave a comment.  And what about ‘Connie’ – are you a member of her fan club?  I'll compile your responses in a future post.

Monday, October 17, 2011

TravelnWrite: "Pack a Book" for the Road

Scottsdale - (c) Jackie Smith, 2011
While the High Plains Drifters were seeking sun in America's Southwest, we also were enjoying Spain. . .thanks to the books we were reading - one a novel and one a narrative - both set in our next destination.

Pre-trip 'research' is half the fun of our journeys.  And our bags, no matter how small, will never leave home without a book or two tucked inside. Yes, the printed-on-paper-kind of book that whisks us into the history of the place or that is set in a place we may be visiting one day. Really it doesn't matter if its about a place we are visiting, might visit, may-never-visit. Books provide us a window on the world.

We are armchair travelers and armchair shoppers as well.  Nothing like Amazon or Book Depository web sites to search for new reads. But often those are a game of chance: sometimes we find something and other times not - just like visiting the local bookstores.  How often have I lamented, "If only there was a place that had all those books in one spot so I could spend my time choosing between them and not searching for them."

And then a few weeks ago while reading a favorite blog of mine, A Traveler's Library I was introduced to a virtual travel book lover's paradise, . Created by London-based Suzi Butcher, this site groups books by country: novels, memoirs, and guidebooks. Countries range from Afghanistan to Vietnam; Bosnia to Brazil, Thailand to Turkey and dozens of others in between.

Packabook also has a great on-line book club, One Country One Book.  Each month a country and a book are featured.  The first week the novel is introduced, the second week the country is the focus, the third week offers travel ideas and the month wraps up with reviews and ideas for the next destination.  This month's book/locale is, "The Guernsey Literary and Sweet Potato Peel Pie Society." It's free and fun - I highly recommend signing up.

Me on "Zoba's' Beach - Joel Smith photo
Packabook has an accompanying blog of the same name.  And I can't tell you how much fun it was to add our reading recommendations after Suzi invited TravelnWrite to be guest bloggers.  Read our guest post to see where we followed Zorba and other novel characters on Crete.


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