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: travelnwrite@msn.com

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.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Umbrellas unfurled ~ An Amsterdam Weekend!

The good news is that I still fit the long pants I wore to Europe a month ago and can even wear my silk long johns (I thought for weeks I had needlessly packed) under them.*

The bad news is that I am wearing long johns after a month of romping through Greece in shorts and tee-shirts. 

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But we’ve left that 80-degree Mediterranean sunshine behind us, packed away the shorts, and have dug to the bottom of the suitcases for warm clothes, unfurled those Seattle umbrellas and set out to make the most of our weekend in Amsterdam.

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Today’s temperature is about 55-degrees, a cold wind blowing and rain often. Somewhat unseasonably cool, we were told by one local this morning. Certainly cold to those of us who last weekend were taking afternoon siestas to avoid the heat of the day – today’s siesta is to warm up and dry out before setting out again.

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The good news about their colder weather is that it delayed the tulip season so we’ve managed to see some of the famed-blossoms along our morning’s route which took us to the flower market and then into the street markets of the Jordaan district.

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We booked our stay here using Hotwire (the web booking line that tells you the class of the hotel and its location but not the name until after you book). We are in the NH City Center Hotel  - a spacious ground floor room, ceilings that are nearly 20-feet high, a view of one of the city’s many canals and two bathrooms, as in two toilets; one in a room with a tub and sink and one n a smaller room with a sink.

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I have to tell you it was difficult leaving Athens yesterday and had we not booked a non-changeable reservation here, we’d have been tempted to stay there longer. Wednesday it had been difficult to leave Crete. Greece has won our hearts – again! Although, I must admit, Amsterdam is charming in its own wet, gray way (flowers, cats, good food and wine). And it helps prepare us for our return home on Monday.

*The asterisk in the opening sentence means the Diet To Go, got up and went while in Greece. Far too many potatoes and fresh bread temptations to pass up while there. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Traveling ‘n Writing at TravelnWrite

Sometimes there is a time to travel and sometimes a time to write.

 In the case of the last week, travel has won out.  I’ve plenty of travel tales to tell and a few tips that you might find useful – but they will have to wait. . . for this is the time to travel ~ there’s a lot of magic out there just waiting to be enjoyed. . .hope you find some where ever you are in the world. 

Here’s some of the magical places we’ve found:

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Travel a different road this weekend. . .you never know what beauty might be just around the corner!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

In Loutro ~ Come Saturday Morning

I write this Saturday afternoon on my deck looking out on  Loutro – so small its main ‘street’ is a sidewalk that bisects restaurants and gift stores that line its crescent-shaped shore.

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Being back here is such a treat that I can’t help but wonder if we didn’t unintentionally save the best for last on this sojourn of ours through Greece.

I’ve allowed myself plenty of idle day-dreaming time on this picture-perfect afternoon during which I’ve pondered  the speed with which our time here has passed.  The trip that, in its planning stages, seemed to offer endless days has come to a place of being able to count our remaining days in Greece on one hand. (I can assure you that the only thing getting each of us on that plane next Friday  – is the commitment we’ve made to each other to return again.)

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The surrounding countryside is harsh, home to goats and sheep that graze on its acres of wild thyme. Hiking trails cross it, looping past remains of structures dating back to the time of Venetian and Turkish occupation and providing  water views so stunning that you must pause to absorb them.  On our last Saturday in Greece as we followed one of those trails, I couldn’t help but think of this song from the 70’s by a group called The Sandpipers. . .

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“Come Saturday morning, I am going away with my friend. . .

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We’ll Saturday-spend till the end of the day. . .

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just I and my friend.

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We’ll travel for miles in our Saturday smiles . . .

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and then we’ll move on. . .

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But we will remember, long after Saturday’s gone.”

Happy Easter to all of our friends in Greece. And happy Saturday to you all. Hope you will also have a Saturday that you remember long after it is gone.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Hora Sfakia ~ On the Libyan Sea

I write today from Hora Sfakia a small harbor town in southwestern Crete overlooking the Libyan Sea.  Here we are  further south than Africa’s Tangiers, Algiers or Tunis.

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Our Greek travel itinerary was designed to include a return to this remote  little spot – our third time here -- where even after a three year absence we remember waiters, store owners and others we came to know during earlier visits. Much to our surprise, we too, have been remembered!

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We are staying in the same hotel, Stavris, as we’ve stayed in previous visits.  It is a laid back place with basic rooms that are a favorite with the many hikers, backpackers and others who flock to this area for the hiking opportunities in the Samaria Gorge – the largest, longest, deepest gorge in Europe with walls 1,500 feet high in places. (We didn’t pack the boots or we would have also hiked the gorge this trip.)

So we’ve done some ‘urban’ hiking in this tiny town of 302 residents, but as you can tell by the photo above the in town views are pretty spectacular.  Only a handful of cars squeeze through the narrow streets so the only sounds we hear are children playing, and goat and sheep bells and their bleating songs  from the hillsides.

And speaking of views, this is the view from our room:

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During the time of Turkish and Venetian rule, this town, being an important maritime center, was the nucleus of the Cretan struggle for independence.

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And Hora Sfakia played a major role in WWII because it was the place from where more than 11,000 Allied troops were evacuated by ships in the middle of the night over a four-night period the end of May following the Battle of Crete. This memorial commemorates that evacuation.

Further up the hill a memorial brings yet another war time remembrance.  The clear portion at the base of this memorial houses human skulls; those of local residents who gave their lives during the war. . .

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The plaque next to it reads:

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Our journey continues through Crete as we move further west this coming weekend. Hope you’ll continue traveling with us. Today is Travel Photo Thursday so head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for more travel tales and photos.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Perfecting the Art of Slow Travel in Crete

We’ve traveled from the northeastern shore of Crete to its southwestern coast.

We are now in Chora Sfakia (Hora Sfakion) where we will stay until catching the ferry on Friday to Loutro, the small town just down the coast accessible by boat or on foot. We’ve opted for the boat.

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We spent last night in the beautiful coastal town of Plakias, about an hour from here.  Some of you saw the photo I took at sunset on FB and for those who didn’t; that is another view of it above. (Thanks to those who commented and ‘liked’  the FB photo!)

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We could have stayed in Plakias longer – a lifetime perhaps -- but this morning meant it was time to head west because we had reservations for tonight in Sfakia.  So we hit the winding, road up over the mountains;  roads by their very nature that make for ‘slow travel’ (that new popular approach to tourism) – you simply can’t drive fast or you’ll kill yourself on a curve.  But then you hit a straight stretch and are reminded again of the wonders of slow travel, as we were this morning:

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You can guess who has the right-of-way here, can’t you?

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Notice there isn’t a human in sight?  They simply herded themselves and as they passed our car, then crossed the road behind us to continue on their journey.

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So we are now settled in at anther of our old favorites. We’ve got a killer view of the Libyan Sea and the coastline. . .and a deck from which to enjoy it.  The cost is 37-euros a night (because we have a small refrigerator as well – it would have been 32 without that luxury).  Our hotel – as it did the last two times we’ve stayed here – claims to have  wi-fi ‘in the rooms’. Still not sure what rooms those are as we’ve never managed to have them. As time permits we’ll head to the lobby for internet. .  . for now we’ll enjoy the view (and chill the wine!)

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Chasing Windmills ~ Travels in Crete

“It is not what we have, but what we enjoy
that constitutes our  abundance.”

                     ~Epicurus, born 341 BCE (80 years after Plato)

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Our Grecian travels moved from the Peloponnese to Crete this week and we  found ourselves back in Elounda, on Crete’s northeastern shore.

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It hadn’t been our plan, but then when you travel without a plan, anything is possible. So here we are again in Corelli Studios – our third visit to these well-placed vacation studios.

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And when you travel with a flex schedule (and in off-season) you can pretty much pick the number of nights you stay after you arrive. We’d decided to stay two nights, but our host, Gianni, told us we should stay three. So we did. But with a view deck  like this for 40-euros a night, it didn’t take much convincing. We have a peek-a-boo view of the island of Spinalonga, the long-ago leper colony made famous in English writer Victoria Hislop’s novel, The Island.

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What we are finding most difficult on this trip is deciding when to leave a place.  We’ve found several spots where we would be most happy to settle in for several months – not just days; Elounda is high among them.
But we’ve reached the point in the travels where we do have a sort of timetable. 

We will be returning to Maria’s pension in  Loutro for Easter (next weekend) and with our old friends at Stavros’s Hotel in Chora Sfakia for three nights before that.  We want to visit Georgios (my bead making friend on Crete’s south coast) and must try out a small place called Plakia. . .all of which means, we must leave this wonderful spot tomorrow. . .

I had wondered during our 24-hour air travel day – somewhat briefly, but still had pondered -- whether this desire of mine to come to Greece for a birthday present might prove to be a disappointment. Could I have let my fondness for this country grow in the memories of previous trips? Was I still seeking those Greek windmills from Walt Disney’s Moonspinners – a movie dating back to my childhood?

Crete2013 042 Doubts disappeared days ago. . .I can assure you this is proving to be the best gift imaginable!

Springtime in Greece is even more spectacular than was autumn.  The warmth of this Mediterranean sun is surpassed only by the warmth of the people we’ve met along the way.

And you know what? I am finding  those Hayley Mills/Eli Wallach movie windmills everywhere we go. . . this one is just across the street! 

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Greek ‘ferry’ tale

We’d debated up until the last minute, the best way to get to and from Crete now that our time exploring the Peloponnese has come to an end.

Should we fly? Should we island-hop? Should we take the overnight ferry?

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Finally we opted to book a cabin on the overnight ferry to Iraklian (Heraklion), Crete from Piraeus, the city that serves as Athen’s port.

[Traveler’s tip:  by booking the overnight, you save  the cost of a hotel room and if you book round-trip tickets you also get a discount. It is a long haul between the two ports  – we left at 9 pm and arrived at 6 am]

Because when I’ve told some of you that we prefer to travel by ferry in Greece and your response has been of skepticism; a wrinkled  nose at the thought of some basic, run-down boat, I thought today I’d take you on a tour of our Anek ferry:

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This is the hallway and entry to the ship’s casual dining (self-service -  buffet style) restaurant.

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Joel is walking past one of the casual coffee shop/bars on board

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Need a dress? Or a shirt? Flip flops or a hat? A leather bag? Hat? Just head to the shop on board. Much like those on a cruise ship, just a bit smaller.

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Safety? Plenty of tenders (life boats) both the kind pictured above and also the inflatable type.

We also had a swimming pool, hot tub and kiddie’s pool (all empty – but then it was an overnight trip.)

We took an escalator up two flights to reception, where a steward met us and led us to our cabin – we took an elevator up two floors to reach it.

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Towels were plush, sheets of heavy thread count (and ironed) and the beds were some of the most comfortable we’ve slept in since our journey began.

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The bathroom, like those on a cruise ship was functional – and spotless.

But then you don’t have a lot of time to spend primping in it – they announced our arrival at 6:05 and by 7 a.m. we were off the ship (along with all the other passengers – many who had chosen to sit in seats.)

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Our room with a view – looking out on Piraeus before we set sail.

Part 2 of our adventure now gets underway in Crete.  Hope you’ll come along. And this is our contribution to Travel Photo Thursday, an event hosted by Budget Travelers Sandbox.


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