Saturday, April 20, 2013

Kalimera from Kardamyli

Good Morning from Kardamyli, the town which is our home away from home for the next few days.

The photo below is of our deck and a portion of the view we have from it. That’s the top of a fig tree you see and a small lemon tree grows below it at water’s edge.

We are in a small studio with kitchenette and more cooking tools and flatware than I’ll ever use. (Cutting fresh cheeses, slicing vine-ripened tomatoes and fresh bread from the bakery doesn’t require much more than a knife and plate.) The cost is 40-euro a night, about $52 US.

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Our ‘home’ as we call it, is just ‘around the bend’, (the point you see in the photo below),  from Patrick Leigh Fermor’s former home.  He’s the writer of many books about his travels through Europe, and this part of Greece, The Mani. ~ He loved this place in the Peloponnese  so much that  he and his wife lived the last half of their lives here.

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Another writer, David Mason, wrote a memoir about his time also living here, for a time a neighbor of Fermor’s.  His book, “News from the Village” is a must read for lovers of this area. I wrote him before our trip and asked for any recommendations he might have for us in this town that is said to be one of the seven cities offered to Achilles by Agamemnon.

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He responded to my questions and I’ve quoted several times since our arrival the sentence with which he closed his email to me: “In honest truth, no matter where you go, you will not go wrong. Beauty is everywhere.” 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Peloponnese: “So. . .where do you think we are?”

“So, where do you think we are?” I asked The Scout.
“I guess we are where ever we are!” he responded.

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That Winnie-the-Pooh-like conversation is how we’ve sounded since leaving George and Vasiliki’s place and setting out to explore the Peloponnese without set destinations or reservations.

We began by heading high up into the mountains following a route that took us south along the eastern coast of the eastern finger of  the Peloponnese. We wound our way across, up and down the high plains, dotted with small villages.

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It didn’t take long to realize that many of the villages don’t have signs to tell us their names and  when one of the few road signs came along it was written in Greek
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“That goes left, I think we need to go right,” The Scout, and The Driver would say. Or, “There’s the sea. That’s the way we want to go.”

On that first day we went south then crossed ‘the finger’ and went north, looping our way into the ‘middle finger’ or The Mani – the place we planned to spend most of our time.

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And ultimately we found a town large enough to buy a map written in Greek so that we could match the letters on the map to what we saw on the signs.  It worked perfectly!  We know what this sign is pointed to now.

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We’ve been heading north up the western coast of The Mani for the last two days.  Often not passing another car for significant periods of time. The art of slow travel, you might say as we’ve stopped to admire the views along the way.

We decided to stop at the small fishing village suggested to us by  Jeff Siger, our writer friend from Mykonos.  We planned to have coffee there and continue north. . .

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Not so fast . . .instead we rented a room above the cafe – it cost us only 30 euros.  And we’ve both agreed this may well be one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever visited.  One night wasn’t enough, and we will definitely be returning to this place. I'll tell you more about it soon.

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That’s it for this update from Greece.  And I think it is Travel Photo Thursday so head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for more photos. And if you are thinking we should have had GPS, forget that idea.  The area is so remote there is nothing to connect to (we tried it using our Lloyd, the Droid.)  As wi-fi connection allows I will keep you posted about our whereabouts. . .

Monday, April 15, 2013

In Pan’s Playground

Pan, that wily god of wild shepherds and flocks, nature and mountain wilds is said to have lived in the Parnonas Mountains; the range that frames our little beachfront town of Poulithra.

He’s the fellow with the hindquarters and legs of a goat who romped with the Nymphs.  And his playground high above us called out yesterday. . .we ventured into Pan’s Land.

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We climbed up into the clouds on winding, twisty roads that cling to the hillsides – dizzying heights, I assure you.  The good thing is that all drivers take the corners with great respect for the sure death that would await if they were traveling too fast.

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Pan's pathway led us to a picturesque mountain village, Kosmas. A place where the small stone buildings on the town square house small inns, cafes and gift shops – and those we visited were heated by fireplace or wood stoves (and all were in use – we were at a mountain top).

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We then stopped at Monastery Panagias Elonis, which hangs off a sheer cliff a few miles outside Kosmas.  It is said to have been built in the 14th Century by Kosmas residents after they saw an image of the Virgin Mary on the hillside.

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The stairway leading to the monastery was solid and wide but when you looked over the edge. . .yikes! That ribbon below - far below! -- is the road we would descend down after leaving this religious site.  I can now understand why at least half of Pan had goat legs.

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Thanks for coming along on our Greek adventure.  Our internet connection has been a bit spotty and as we go further south  I suspect it may get even more unpredictable. . .I’ll be back when I can ( I have loads of tales to tell you!)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Writing from Byzantinon

Two Greek singers at a taverna on the other side of the olive grove are entertaining diners there on this laid-back  Sunday afternoon in the place called Poulithra, on the southeastern coast of the Peloponnese.  

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Lucky for me, their voices and the traditional Greek bouzouki songs are wafting to our deck, where I sit trying to paint a word picture for you of this charming place.

It was Hotel Byzantinon with its great reviews that brought us to this magical little spot wedged between the Mrytoon Sea and  the Parnonas Mountains.

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An olive and orange grove wraps around this small 11-suite hotel; its trees a playground for swallows that dip and soar between the branches.  The view beyond the grove is an expansive sweeping view of the sea -  in the distance, the island of Spetses.

Bird song was the only thing that broke the silence before the music began – so quiet it is here that the lap of the water against the shore can be heard although it is two blocks away.

Last night as we walked to the hotel from the taverna at nearly the midnight hour – having just finished dinner, like any good Greek would do – we walked under a starlit sky with some bizillion stars lighting the route; the air heavy with the scent of orange blossoms.

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One of my favorite travel declarations (as many of you know) is, “It just doesn’t get any better!” And with great regularity it continues to really get even better!  I’ve been making that announcement again since we arrived yesterday for a two-night stay. . .(by today, we’ve already extended another night).
I’ll tell you more about this magnificent little hotel and how George the owner knows Bill Marriott (yes, the hotel Marriott) – it is an amazing tale he has to tell so come back soon!

P.S. It DID get better. We went to the taverna and have spent two delightful hours watching the Greeks, sing and dance, arms upraised, swaying, clapping and snapping (a la Zorba on his beach – only this was real life, not a movie). . .yes, Sundays don’t  get any better than this Sunday has been!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Greece ~ Unwrapping the Gift ~

Greece, the birthday gift I’ve chosen for this year has been waiting for me -- a bus, train, three planes, and another bus -- away from our Pacific Northwest home. And here I am - time to put the planning into action!

A trip to Greece is one requiring time and distance that can make the youngest of travelers weary: we’ve  hurtled some 39,000 – feet above the earth as Delta whisked  us some 4,868 miles to Amsterdam. There we boarded another plane for the three hour flight to Athens.

Buses, trains and ferries will all be used on this trip. And I can't tell you the joy in finally looking out the plane's window and seeing Athens below!  Total travel time: 24 hours from our front door to check in at our hotel in  Piraeus, Athen's port.

Through time zones and climate changes we’ve traveled to reach this gift  ~ a trip that’s been in the back of our minds since we last visited in 2010.  “You must really like Greece,” observed friends who can’t quite get beyond this country’s economic  upheaval; one so severe that it has rocked world markets.

We know the world has changed – Greece in particular – since we last visited.  And we have wondered in what state we will find the country that has wrapped us up in its spell. We wonder whether the charming mom-and-pop places we’ve committed to memory will still be there to welcome us?  How will those few folks we remember so fondly  be doing?

Our trip really is going to be like unwrapping a gift ~ one that I suspect will hold all sorts of surprises. Come along with us as I continue to see what surprises it has for us! (That's me at the port, waiting for this ferry to take us to Poros. . .more from there soon! And today is Travel Photo Thursday so head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for more photos and travel.

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Sunday, April 7, 2013

WAWeekend: Spotlight on Seattle Hotels

This weekend our spotlight shines on a couple of Seattle hotel’s that have some money-saving deals for visitors to Washington State’s Emerald City:


Hotel 1000, in downtown Seattle, now offers guests complimentary calls to anywhere in the world during their stay.  And having just checked the price of making calls from Greece to the U.S., we can assure you, this is one great perk, especially for international travelers who want to stay in touch with home.

“Part of the experience is to not ‘nickel and dime’ our guests, but to include as much as possible in the room rate. We’ve done this in the past by offering complimentary, high-speed Internet since opening [six years ago] and are now continuing this with free calls to anywhere in the world,”says Denny Fitzpatrick, the general manager.

Another plus is that Hotel 1000 does NOT charge that pesky ‘hotel fee’ that some properties like to tack on to your stay. Your room rate includes: free calls and Wi-Fi throughout the hotel for “as many devices as you can carry,” as well as a complimentary newspaper, coffee in the Lobby and Library (Keurig in guestroom or French press upon request), sparkling wine at check-in, Business Center access color printer and ‘Mighty-O Donuts’ in Studio every morning

For reservations:

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Seattle’s Alexis, Vintage Park and Monaco hotels (all part of Kimpton Hotel group) are pitching out deals for guests in this sports-crazed city. And the deals run the length of the Mariner’s baseball  season (April 8 – October 31):

For reservations:

And use rate code: SCORE to get:

· Valet Parking  - whatever the Mariner’s opponents score in the game the night before* is how much the guest pays for parking (for example, 2 runs=$2, 0 runs=free parking, etc). You’ll also get:
· 2 bottles of a Northwest craft beer
· 1 bag of Tim’s Cascade (local) potato chips

The reason this is a great deal is because the normal rate for valet parking is $39/night at the Vintage Park and Monaco; $40/night at the Alexis!

*This promotion is good any day..the most recent game the Mariners played will apply.

For the record:
* these aren’t ‘sponsored’ posts (meaning no one has paid us to run this information.) We just think these are great deals and why keep such good information to ourselves when we could be telling you?

*that stadium pictured above is Century Link, the Seahawks' football stadium, our baseball stadium is behind it and I didn’t have a photo of it to use!

Hope you’ll join us again next week for more tips and tales!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Gift of Greece

If you’re a regular to these pages, you know that traveling to Greece is how I am choosing to celebrate the July arrival of my 60th year.

In planning -- I use that term loosely --our trip we've gathered a list; a kaleidoscope of old favorite places and new discoveries that we may or may not get to, but which at least have defined the perimeters of our itinerary. In the process, I’ve decided this trip isn’t so much a celebration as it is a gift. . .

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. . .because it will take us back to the Peloponnese (pel-o-pon-ih-sos), the mythical land of Greek gods where we had but an appetizer-sized visit two years ago  - enough to bring us back for a full serving this trip. The Peloponnese is the part of mainland Greece that looks somewhat like an open hand with three fingers extended. We'll be heading for the middle finger this time ~ The Mani ~ the land near and dear to the heart of 20th Century writer, Patrick Leigh Fermor.

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. . .it will take us back to not only a favorite island, Poros, but to the the Manessi Hotel where we've booked ‘our room’ (the one next to the Greek flag in the photo above). Poros, about an hour by fast ferry from Pireaus (Athen's port city) is a stone's throw across a small channel from the Peloponnese.

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. . .it will also give us the chance to ride Greek ferries, our preferred mode of travel in Greece.  While the more airplane-lile high speed ferry will take us to Poros, sometime along the way we’ll likely be perched at the top railing of a Greek ferry like this one, the size of a cruise ship, as we make our way south from the Peloponnese to Crete, Greece's southern-most island a few hundred miles north of the African coast.

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. . .it will take us back to Crete . . . that, in itself, is a gift.  One guidebook likens the island to Picasso in his prime, ". . .a dramatic quilt of big-shouldered mountains, stunning beaches and undulating hillsides blanketed in olive groves, vineyards and wildflowers." We'll be exploring new territory on our Cretan trip but will return to favorite places that draw us back with their own special magic. Places like Loutro, accessible only on foot or by boat;  is here we will celebrate Greek Easter. We will return to Maria's pensione where for 35-euro a night we have this view from our balcony each morning. . .

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. . .and we'll also visit the tiny blip on the map, Kastri, a bit further east on Crete's southern coast, where I will seek out my jeweler friend Georgios and then eat moussaka (pictured above) at this, one of our favorite restaurants on the island.

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. . .and no matter where we go we will be charmed by the photogenic Greek cats.  This fellow was relaxing in Loutro . . .

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. . . and this one was snoozing in Hydra during our last visit. . .their presence adds to what I consider a  simply purrr-fect gift!

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We've made room reservations for only six of the 35 nights we will be gone. . .that tells you we plan to go where the winds blow us and won't really know where we are going until we get there. Please come along and help us unwrap the Gift of Greece.  And today is Travel Photo Thursday so make sure to visit Budget Travelers Sandbox for more photos!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Arizona: Take a Hike! Or a Walk in the Park . . .

Pinnacle Peak is a neighbor of our Scottsdale timeshare.  And we had only last June’s  100-degree temperatures to blame for not getting acquainted then. We finally met in December.

A Walk in the Park

PFourSeasons2012 009innacle Peak is the centerpiece and namesake of the 150-acre Scottsdale city park Pinnacle Peak Park that abuts the  Four Seasons Hotel and Residence Club Troon North.

We aren’t talking a slow stroll through an oasis of green with leafy trees and carpets of lawn. We are talking a 1.75 mile, (moderate-difficulty) trail of naturally decomposed granite that took us to an elevation of 2,570 feet.

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The trail is an IN and OUT trail, not a loop – so what you walk going in will also be your route out and you’ll be walking 3.5 miles if you do it all.  And its wide, 4 – 6 feet in most places which is good as signs tell pedestrians to yield to horseback riders (as if we wouldn’t, right?)

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Pinnacle Peak is a granite summit that rises 600 feet from the valley floor to a height of some mountain passes in Washington State at 3,171 feet. 

The trail elevation rises only to 2,570 feet and it takes about two hours at a leisurely pace to complete the hike in and out.

Several passed us who were jogging its length and others were sucking air within minutes of starting the climb – know your limitations!

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We posed at the trail's summit, our dress, as you can tell from the photo, was for sun protection -- hats, sun glasses, sleeves  -- as well as for ‘critter and bush’ protection – long pants and closed-toed shoes.  We didn’t encounter any critters but the place is home to several varieties (rattlesnakes, Gila monsters and coyotes to name a few). I carried bottled water in that bag at my side; water and restrooms were available at the trail head.

Take a Hike! (but know your limits)

So inspired were we by Pinnacle Peak that we decided on a subsequent outing to try the newly-opened Tom’s Thumb Trail head, a few miles away in the heart of the scenic 21,400-acre McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

FourSeasons2012 067In October 2012 the new trail system opened with five miles of new multi-use trails that include the Marcus Landslide Interpretive Trail.

There is no water available here and despite being only three miles off Dynamite Blvd., a main thoroughfare in Scottsdale, the area is remote.  The view’s literally for as far as the eye can see:

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That’s the roadway leading to the trail head that bisects the photo above.

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Unlike Pinnacle Peak, this trail – as we learned after we got there – has a vertical climb of 800-feet, it is steep and the decomposing granite makes for a slip-sliding experience (bring a walking stick and hiking boots for this one.) 

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The Interpretive Center has restrooms and signage but no vending machines for beverages or water – you need to bring your own.

If you Go:

Pinnacle Peak Park, 26802 N. 102nd Way (Jomax Road).

Tom’s Thumb Trail head, 23015 128th St. (three miles off Dynamite Blvd.)

Information about both at:

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 Thanks for stopping by today.  Hope to see you back again on Travel Photo Thursday when we head to. . . (you’ll just have to come back to see where we are off to next!)

Until then, happy travels.


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