Saturday, June 15, 2013

WAWeekend: Walla Walla’s Original Wine Road

Washington State is crisscrossed with ‘wine roads'. Fanning out from Woodinville in the Seattle suburbs to all points north, south, east and west; they even lace the San Juan Islands in the Puget Sound.

The original wine route, as we call it, takes you directly to Walla Walla (wah-lah wah-lah) in south central Washington. It remains the ‘granddaddy of wine growing areas’ and that fact alone is reason enough to add it to your travel bucket list.

If wine isn’t your thing, here are a few other reasons to add this vibrant college town near the Oregon/Washington border to your travel destinations:

1.  Walking through History. Founded in 1862, the town celebrated its first 150 years in 2012. History is so treasured here, that you’ll notice it the minute you stroll along its tree-lined downtown sidewalks. Walla Walla has been named one of 12 Distinctive Destinations by the National Trust For Historic Preservation. Speaking of trees, it’s also been honored many times as a “Tree  City U.S.A.”

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Take a tour using the free Walla Walla Heritage maps.  They include a Downtown Historic Trail Guide, Fort Walla Walla and other sites in the area including Boyer and Pioneer Park historic homes (some of which are pictured below).

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(The photo in the lower left corner is of a mid-century art-deco service station that’s been turned into a nifty restaurant.)

Those of you who’ve read about  the U.S. explorers, Lewis and Clark,  might already know that their expedition first passed through Walla Walla County in 1805. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman were missionaries who came to the area to minister to the Indians.  To learn more, make it a point to visit the Fort Walla Walla Museum.

2.  Celebrate Agriculture. You can get a taste of the area at Walla Walla’ Farmer’s Market, held downtown on Saturdays and Sundays from May to October, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.  While most of the area’s acreage is wheat fields and vineyards, there’s plenty of truck garden and fruit to be found. . .don’t forget to buy a few pounds of those famous 'Walla Walla Sweets' (onions). 

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3. Stay a few days.  There are many hotels, motels and Bed and Breakfasts from which to choose in Walla Walla but our favorite stay is at the grand old Marcus Whitman Hotel, right in the heart of the downtown.  Simply park your car in the hotel’s lot and set out on foot – you’ll find dozens of retail shops and restaurants nearby.
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We were in Walla Walla celebrating our anniversary last year so we upgraded ourselves to a suite in the old tower, (pictured above). It really didn’t cost that much more than the standard room. The rooms in the old tower have been modernized with all the comforts of the new wing, but the old mid century ambiance remains:

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From our suite, we had a magnificent view of the fields that carpet the nearby hillsides.

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If You Go:

Map picture

It is just over a four hour drive from the Seattle; over Snoqualmie Pass and then through some of Central Washington’s  wine country.  Alaska/Horizon airlines has flights from SeaTac Airport.
For more information:  Click on Tourism Walla Walla.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Crete: Sunday Morning at - not 'in' - Church

On a Sunday morning in Elounda, on Crete’s northeastern shore we were reminded that sometimes the message can be as powerful outside the church as inside . . .

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The small Church of Agios Loukas (Saint Luke)  hadn’t changed since we last visited three years ago. From Elounda, we’d crossed a narrow causeway to Kolokytha Peninsula, where it sits on a knoll overlooking the turquoise waters of Mirabella Bay. 

On this morning, as had been the case on our previous visit, we were alone – our arrival announced only by the birds whom we’d disturbed.

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The bell rested in its tower, ready to call the faithful.

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The intricately carved and polished wooden doors were locked, but it really didn’t matter . . .

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. . .because sometimes you don’t need to be in a church . . .

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Thanks for spending a moment or two with us in Greece. Hope to see you back here soon! It's Travel Photo Thursday. Head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox and do a bit more armchair traveling.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Travel Tuesday: Scottsdale’s “Club Grub”

Scottsdale2013 055Whew! We just crossed the finish line after a nine day eat-a-thon in Scottsdale, Arizona. Let me tell you. . .

There is just something about the food in Arizona's 'Valley of the Sun' that makes us throw our Diet2Go out the window. And this trip,contributing to the culinary temptations that snugged up our clothes, is what we’ve dubbed, “Club Grub”.

Not “Pub Grub” –  “Club Grub.”  I am talking a whole new food source:  eateries tucked away in golf courses; some in clubhouses and others in freestanding restaurants.

We don’t even play golf – but we spent a lot of time ‘at the course’ this trip!  Note: these aren’t the members-only places -  all three of our recommendations below are open to the public!

The Grill at the TPC Scottsdale

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While munching lunch at The Grill, we had this view over the 18th hole of the Stadium Course at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Hotel. 

Scottsdale2013 185Tucked away in a corner of the clubhouse, this place has more than 50 craft beers, cocktails, a gastro-pub style menu, patio (with fire pits – not needed this time of year) and a Happy Hour.

The Grill is located at 17020 N. Hayden Road.

Troon North

Scottsdale2013 050 Our Seattle/Scottsdale friends, Mike and Joanne, told us to try Happy Hour at the Troon North Golf Club and for that we owe them big time!

We had some of the best- tasting and best-priced margaritas in this restaurant (also tucked away in a beautiful clubhouse), that we’ve had anywhere in Scottsdale. The HH price $4.50 (as compared to the Happy Hour $10 margarita at the nearby Four Seasons).

Troon North also offers full menu options but there were so many temptations on the Happy Hour list we never got beyond it. 

The photo below is of Dynamite Flatbread, $6, a mouthwatering chicken, cheese combo on  focaccia bread, just one of the HH offerings.

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Troon North is located at 10320 E. Dynamite Blvd., Scottsdale.

Tonto Bar and Grill at Rancho Manana

The interior of this restaurant has such a wonderful Spanish/Old West feel to it, that it is difficult to choose between sitting inside or on the patio. Both provide beautiful views of this Cave Creek golf course. 

The menu also has so many choices that it should be difficult to choose between them but I have become so enamored with their Southwestern Cobb Salad that I always order it.  (Going there for lunch means I will take enough home  for dinner as well. As you can see from the photo below. . .it is rather large).

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This place, like we've noticed at other restaurants, offer a choice of protein toppings for the salad. Mine was chicken and The Scout chose roast pork from the half dozen choices; price depends on the protein chosen.

Tonto Bar and Grill is located at the golf course at 5736 E. Rancho Manana Blvd., Cave Creek.

If you go:  A good source of Arizona golf course information is:

Your turn!  Do you have any “Club Grub” recommendations for the Phoenix/Scottsdale area?  How about any for golf clubs near where you live or in places you’ve visited?  Tell us about them!

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Saturday, June 8, 2013

WAWeekend: Heavenly!

While airplanes aren’t my favorite mode of transportation, I have to admit that they provide a ‘heavenly’ view of the world. . .especially when flying over Washington State. 

Just last week en route to Arizona we passed one of our state's ‘purple mountain majesties’ as the song says. . .this one, Mt. Rainier:

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And within minutes of passing that state icon we were reminded of the size and beauty of the winding Columbia River and the song we sang as children, “roll on Columbia, roll on. . . “:

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Do you have a favorite 'heavenly' view?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Found! The best pizza in Napoli. . .

Napoli, (aka Naples on this side of ‘The Pond’) is the birthplace of pizza.

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For that reason, we told ourselves prior to last fall’s cruise, that we would eat pizza there during our few hours in this ‘love-it or hate-it’ Italian town on Italy’s western coast.  (The photo above of Mt. Vesuvius was taken during our Celebrity Silhouette’s early morning approach to the harbor.)

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We’d braved the morning’s rain and set out, umbrellas unfurled, to explore the dizzying, congested streets, and by noon had worked up a pizza-sized appetite. We were far off the main road on one of our direction-less wanders off-the-beaten-tourist-path, when we happened upon this place:

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It was one of a trillion or so similar Pizzaria’s that line the sidewalks of this ages-old city.  What made this place stand out for us, was the crush of customers inside. Tiny tables within elbow’s reach of each other were filled. We were tucked into one of the last remaining in a snug corner of Ristorante e Pizzeria da Attilio* .

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While most dishes were prepared in an industrial looking kitchen in the back, the pizzas were prepared by a culinary artist (as I prefer to think of him) just  inside the front door.

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And since every artist needs an admirer or two, I headed to his gallery to watch him prepare our pizza.

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Dough was stretched, toppings in place and he turned the creation over to his assistant whose job it was to cook our pizza in his incredibly hot oven. And within minutes. . .

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. . . Mama Mia!  Our pizza was served; the best pizza we have ever eaten, perhaps the ‘best in Napoli’! Or was it?

 That afternoon, back at the ship and resting up from that pizza, we headed to the pool and hot tub.

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That’s where we struck up a conversation with a couple who told us they had just eaten ‘the best pizza in Napoli’ for lunch and described a place no where near where we had eaten.  They said they knew they had eaten ‘the best pizza in Napoli” because that is what travel guru Rick Steves had said of the pizzeria located on one of his guidebook’s ‘on-the-beaten-tourist-path walks’. . .

Hmmm. . .I wonder who did eat 'the best' pizza in Napoli that day?

Are you one who ‘goes by the guidebook’?  If so, what guidebooks do you use? Or do you allow yourself the opportunity to make discoveries on your own?

SilhouettePt12012 039That’s it for this week’s Travel Photo Thursday – head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for more photos today and stop by here this weekend when we will have more tales and tips for you.

*If you get to Napoli, try Da Attilio Pizzeria, Via Pignasecca, 17,  - we think you’ll like it!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

WAWeekend: Getting High at Lake Chelan

It’s called “The Butte”. No fancy names. Not a lot of tourist-hype. Looking somewhat like a resting elephant, its highest point rises 3,835 feet (1,168 meters) to the south of  the town of Chelan and Lake


The Scout, born and raised in this Eastern Washington town, has ‘been there, done that’ when it comes to The Butte.  Maybe that is why, despite several visits a year there over the course of three decades, we’d never taken the time to explore it until a couple years ago.


The Chelan Butte Unit, as it is called in Washington State’s Department of Fish and Wildlife covers some 9,097 acres, stretching from Lake Chelan to the Columbia River.  It’s home to wildlife (including big horn sheep) to wildflowers (some more than 5-feet tall as  I illustrate above), with a few snakes and other critters thrown as well.


The 4.5 mile distance from town to the summit is paved for the first 1.2 miles. It becomes a narrow, dirt road which is rutted and rocky – and muddy in inclement weather, and many  leave their vehicles at lower elevations. Even in good weather an SUV would be better than a conventional car, although our Camry made the drive, albeit very slowly.


Currently it’s a favorite among hikers who want to explore the trails that lead to old abandoned mines, bikers and in winter, snowshoe enthusiasts. There’s also a hang gliding group or two that use its upper peak for projecting themselves out over the Columbia River Gorge.


We had the place to ourselves the day we drove to the end of the road; the communication towers on the uppermost ridge. Parking there is off-road; no formal lots. Then it was time to enjoy the views:


To the south – the Columbia River Gorge, in both the photo above and below.

And to the north over the 55-mile long, glacier fed lake to the North Cascades Mountain range in the distance.

We told ourselves we won’t wait another decade or so to make a  return visit to “The Butte”.

For You History Buffs:

The 1938 fire lookout tower that was once atop The Butte was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990 and in 1996 moved to the Columbia Breaks Fire Interpretive Center, just down the road in Entiat.

And did you know there was a Gold Rush on Chelan Butte in 1907? Take a look at this link – it’s mighty interesting!

If You Go:
Follow Highway 97A and at Millard Street in Chelan (between milepost 232 and 233) turn south.
Note: Parking at The Butte now requires a Washington State Discover Pass ($10 a day/or $30 annually).
For more information visit:
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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Finding Fokianos, Greece

“You might be disappointed in my village – it is very small,” George cautioned about visiting the small Peloponnesian town high in the hills above his Hotel Byzantinon where  he’d been born and raised; a place he  still visits regularly to tend to his family home and vineyard.

“You should go to Fokianos. Drive straight through my village. . .follow the road for another 12 kilometers.”

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With so much beautiful coastline, we pondered how we would know the picturesque beach George had proclaimed a ‘not-to-be-missed’ destination.

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Up  into the hills we went on the narrow little road (pictured above ) that pinched together at sharp curves, then stretched into gentle loops, and finally lead us straight through a little village that we hoped was George’s (the signs, you recall, were all in Greek).
Some kilometers beyond the village, as we rounded a curve, and just as George had promised, we saw Fokianos:


Our paved road gave way to gravel on its winding descent through ages old olive groves  to the white-crescent beach.


On this April morning the normally busy beach was empty but for a half dozen fishermen.

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Their  muted conversation, mixed with the water’s rhythmic gentle lapping, and an occasional bird call was all that broke the silence.

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George had told us that in summer the bay is often filled with yachts of the rich and famous, but on this morning, fishing boats at anchor were the only vessels in sight.

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Two tavernas stood side-by-side on this otherwise unpopulated  bit of paradise.  Only one of the two on this ‘pre-season’ morning showed signs of activity. It was there we sought lunch.

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“We’ve got a single portion of fish,” said the owner (who had grown up with George in the small hilltop village).  It was the same dish he and a friend were sharing at a nearby table. We ordered cheese as well – the owner provided bread and olives. The dish, an octopus stew, served warm as is the style of Greek cooking, was perhaps the most authentic Greek meal we ate during our travels.

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And we certainly had a table with a view from which to eat our feast. By now awnings are stretched over those skeletal frames, tables beneath probably filled with holiday makers, but on that day, the beach  and the view was ours alone.

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That’s it for this week’s Travel Photo Thursday. Don’t forget to stop by Budget Travelers Sandbox for other destinations.

If you Go: 

Driving in the Peloponnese: 
GreecePt12013 251We picked up our rental car at the Avis office in Naplion.  There were no requirements for an international drivers license. US license, passport and credit card (‘non-chip’ worked just fine) were all that was required.

Rental Cost: about $22US a day.
Regular unleaded gas: $9US a gallon (we were pleased this little guy got such good mileage!)

Greeks drive on the right-side of the road, like in the United States.  They also recognize the need to drive slowly on their hairpin curves. The roads lacing the Peloponnese are in many places narrow ‘back roads’ twirling around curves and climbing high into the mountains (not for those with a fear of heights or amaxophobia, fear of riding in a car).

GreecePt12013 284Fokianos: is about 33 kilometers (20.5 miles) south of the town of Leonido.  Drive toward Plaka. After about 17 km of climbing, the road flattens and you reach a junction (where the road sign is in Greek).  Go left (toward Pigadi and Fokianos). It will be an approximate 15 km more before you reach the dirt road to the beach. Note: the beach is about 25 km from the nearest gas station. 


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