Saturday, March 15, 2014

WAWeekend: ‘Coasting’ in Washington

We are in the betwixt and between travel season . . .

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KoOlina - O'ahu, Hawaii

. . .not quite ready to give up the afterglow of winter in Hawaii and just about ready to start packing for our return to Greece later this spring. . .

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Pireaus, Greece April 2013
. . .so we decided to head to the Washington State Coast for a quick getaway this last week.

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Ocean Shores, Washington State

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And did we ever time it right!

Although still brisk enough to wear a jacket, we had sunshine and blue skies – every day!!

The photo to the side illustrates what the coastline usually looks like: wet and rainy. In fact, that was the weather two years ago when we visited Iron Springs Resort on Copalis Beach. This year we stayed a few miles south in the city of Ocean Shores.

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View from Quinnault Resort - Ocean Shores

Both times we’d gone to the shore to watch the winter storms and each trip held its own kind of beauty; one showing the gray foreboding wet, wild side of the sea and the other its cheerful bright side.

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Dogs and Drivers are welcome on Washington State Beaches

We’ve decided it is impossible to pack the correct clothes because you never know what might greet you. Once on a near 80-degree sunny mid-July day in Seattle we headed to the beach only to find it fogged in and so chilly we turned around and came home instead of pitching the tent in which we’d planned to spend the night.

Travel DEAL:

Generally, The Scout, seeks out the ‘deals’ but sometimes they appear in our inbox as well, as did this offer from Iron Springs Resort, a collection of cabins on a beach side bluff that were purchased, refurbished and reopened two years ago. 
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Interior of one cabin at Iron Springs Resort

They are so nice that it was difficult to pass them up this trip to try something new, but reluctantly, we did.  However, had this deal been going on I know we wouldn’t have been able to pass it up:

Three nights for the price of two!
April 1, 2014 - June 15, 2014
Enjoy two nights at Iron Springs and we’ll spring for the third*! 
(Call 360.276.4230 or 1.800.380.7950 for details)
*The Three for Two package is available for stays between Tuesday, April 1, 2014 through Sunday, June 15, 2014. Offer not valid for stays between May 23, 2014 through May 26, 2014. Additional nights available at our standard seasonal rates. Standard taxes, cleaning and dog fees apply. Reservations made prior to March 11, 2014 are not eligible for this special. Book this package by calling 360-276-4230 or 1-800-380-7950. Online booking not available for this promotion.

If you go:  Ocean Shores and Copalis Beach are about a two hour drive from Seattle. 

Stay safe where ever your travels take you this weekend.  Thanks for the time you spent with us today.   Hope you’ll join us again on Foodie Tuesday – when we are serving up a taste of Greece. 
And  if you aren’t receiving our posts in your inbox, just sign up in the box to your right to do so – it is free.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Lana’i: Laid-Back Luxury

I’m always a little leery of  booking ‘luxury’. . .

Will it be too over the top?   Worse thought: Will it even reach the top?

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Leaving Lahaina, Maui bound for Lana'i

But -- based on our own experiences with our Four Seasons timeshare in Arizona, and the endorsement of  friends who had stayed at this island getaway – I filed away the misgivings as we set off on the high speed ferry from Lahaina, Maui for our Hawaiian trip’s climax: the five-star Four Seasons Resort, The Lodge at Ko’ele.

MauiLanaiSF2014 126What we found was a resort that not only reached the top - it pole-vaulted the top!

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Relaxation began with registration

Footsteps from the ferry we were greeted and draped with leis by Four Seasons Resort staff and directed to the shuttle bus that travels at regular intervals from ferry dock and airport to the resort.

As we stepped through the entryway of the Lodge we were served pineapple lemonade and ushered to a comfy leather couch where we completed the check-in paper work that yet another attentive staff member brought to us.   (Yes, those first impressions do count!)

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Standard garden view room - Four Seasons Resort Lana'i

Our ‘standard garden view’ room was so large (406 sq. ft./38 sq. m.) that I thought we must have been taken to a suite by mistake.  Decked out in floral print drapes and bright striped carpet and bright yellow walls – it made us smile each time we entered it. And that window seat and king-sized two poster bed (with pineapple finials) were as comfy as they looked.

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Stepping outside – the advantage of a ground floor room at this resort – we had ourselves a huge deck and steps that lead to a fairy-land park setting – perhaps the most beautiful resort setting we’ve ever experienced:

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That's a grove of Royal Palms behind me 
If the daytime vistas weren’t enough to numb our senses, night time brought a downright magical feel to the place.  While we enjoyed the sunset and sipped wine at the outside fireplaces near the fountain, the housekeeping staff was turning down our bed, and refreshing the bathroom.

(Although we were here for The Scout’s birthday celebration, it was me who was vowing to never go home by the second evening of such pampering. . .)

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The grounds alone were enough to take your breath away - but then you stepped inside to be surrounded with the laid back elegance of the resort’s interior’s design and décor. The kind of place you pinch yourself and ask, “Whoa! Am I really here?”

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Clockwise from top left: the Library, the Great Hall/Lobby, porch chairs and Trophy Room.
We were so busy enjoying the island that we almost didn’t make it to the pool. On our last day we decided it was much too inviting to miss. The pool attendant let us to the cushioned lounges that had already been prepared for us with coverlets and towels.  He then kept a steady stream of complimentary treats coming: finger sandwiches, sliced pineapple, a small mango smoothie.  

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BTW, We decided to have the The Scout’s birthday dinner at the Lodge.  Following a main course of pasta topped with a wild boar, wait staff brought a dessert topped with a candle while the restaurant’s musician sang “Happy Birthday”

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(I suspect his birthday wish was to celebrate his next birthday in the same place!)
That’s it for today.  As they say in Hawaii, “Mahalo” or 'Thank You' for the time you spent with us today.  Have you had an over-the-top luxury experience? Hope you’ll tell us about it in the comments below.

For other posts about this gem of an island:
A Taste of Lana’i
Lana’i Paradise Found

If You Go:

Map picture

Both Four Seasons properties on Lana’i are undergoing some major renovations:

Room renovation is underway at the Manele Bay Resort  (jackhammers and heavy equipment noise filled the air the day we visited). Before booking ask about the construction progress.

The 18-hole golf course at the Lodge at Ko’ele is being redesigned and reconstructed. Until it re-opens in early 2015,  golfers must take the 20-minute shuttle to Manele Bay Resort and use the course there or use the 9-hole community course, adjacent to the Lodge.

Lanai2014BF 055Getting around the island:

Shuttle:  There was an automatic $47.50 charge per person added to our hotel bill which gave us unlimited rides on the shuttle. 

Walking: the Lodge is an easy 20-minute walk from Lana’i City; Manele Bay was far enough away to take the shuttle.

Renting cars:  With only 30 miles of paved roads on this island, a Jeep/4-wheel drive rental is recommended. It is wise to reserve in advance as none were available when we tried a ‘walk up’ rental. Cost about $150 a day. Gasoline was $6 a gallon.

[For  you curious ones: this wasn’t a ‘comp’ed, free or hosted stay – The Scout had found another  screamin’ deal on one of the discount sites we often recommend on this blog and we snapped it up.  Check out his Deal Finder page for links to those sites.]

Linking up:
Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sail Away Sunday–See the World (for a lot less!)

Another rain-drenched Sunday morning in the Seattle area has us dreaming of sun-drenched far-away places. . .the South Pacific. . .a luxury cruise ship. . .ahh, (sigh) yes, that’s where we’d be today.

And we are – in a manner of speaking – thanks to a feature article I wrote that appears in today’s Seattle Times Travel Section.

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Tahiti's Black Sand Beaches were as spectacular as the views from them

There’s no better time than now to start shopping for some great cruise deals. I  tell you where to look for them in the package of articles about repositioning cruises I wrote for the Seattle Times today.

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Pape'ete our first port of call as seen from our Celebrity Solstice ship

There are exotic ports of call to be discovered inexpensively from the ease and comfort of a cruise ship on what the industry calls a repositioning cruise; when ships are moved from one part of the world to another for a new season of sailing. 

That was the type of cruise we took last fall on the Celebrity Solstice, a cruise that introduced us to French Polynesia, New Zealand and Australia. (In fact the reverse of that cruise, 18 days, is only $2,400 per person on one of the sites I list in the article.)

Solstice2013BFuji 329As part of the package I wrote I’ve provided a list of great money-saving web sites to use when booking (or researching) a cruise.

And a list --that’s designed to tempt  those in the Pacific Northwest in particular -- of some great repositioning cruises – ranging from overnighters to 30+ days that will arrive and in the fall, depart from Seattle or Vancouver, British Columbia

Click this link to the story at Seattle Times Travelthere are great deals out there just waiting to be booked! 

Happy Travels! And a big welcome to our new followers and subscribers – and thanks to you all for the time you spend with us.

We are off to do some winter storm watching on the Washington Coast – how about you? Off exploring this week?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ukraine: When Travel brings Headlines Home

Travel not only makes the world feel smaller, it also brings the headlines home.  And with this week’s headlines, we are taking a brief break from our Hawaiian tales, to take you with us on a trip down our travel memory lane:

Back to Sevastopol, Ukraine.

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It has been three years since a Black Sea cruise introduced us to  Sevastopol, the city established in 1783 by Catherine II after Russia gained control of the region.

We spent but a few hours in this port city that figured prominently in the Crimean War (1854-55) and the Bolshvik Revolution.

Those few hours were far long enough, we had thought back then. 

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It was autumn. An incessant rain fell from a leaden sky. The sky and sea the same gun metal gray as the military ships docked not far from our pleasure craft.

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But have you ever found in your travels, there are a few places you visit - if even ever so briefly- that leave a  hauntingly vivid memory ~ the kind that keeps details alive in your brain and your soul? Sevastopol was such a stop for us.

As most of you know by now, we prefer to set off on our own to explore our cruise ports of call and this stop was no different.  We saw the usual ubiquitous influences of the Western World. . .

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They were ‘lovin’ it’ at McDonald’s and this hotel, (pictured below) the Best Western Hotel Sevastopol, was housed in a stunning building.

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We didn’t walk very far from the well-groomed flower beds of the park to find ourselves on  real neighborhood streets.

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It was the emptiness of the streets and the people,or the small numbers of them, we encountered that created the most vivid memories.  The rain perhaps kept people inside, but it was those few people we encountered that we we won’t forget.

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As we approached one trio I commented to The Scout that they had been staring at us – the hard penetrating kind, not the curiosity gaze - from the moment we came into view.  As we neared them, I smiled and they raised their eyes, focusing on some far distant spot over our shoulders; as if we’d ceased to exist.

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Another trio stood talking on the sidewalk outside this church – until I paused to take photos of the façade. They quickly disbanded. (I took this photo to capture the bullet holes that you see in the upper right hand corner.)

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In watching the news this week, I think back to the somewhat Pollyanna-like observation I made to The Scout as we walked back to the ship, “Gee, these people aren’t very friendly. They don’t even make eye contact or smile at us.”

To which he replied, “Think of their past.” 

Today, I wonder if it perhaps it wasn’t the past, but their present and future that caused their behavior?

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The last photo I took of our stop in Sevastopol was of the submarine off our side as we set sail.

Have any of your travels brought headlines home? Or did some place send you home with hauntingly detailed memories of it?

We’ll be back soon with more tropical tales for you. We appreciate your time and interest and would love to hear from you. And please come back again soon! 

Linking up:
Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Island of Lana’i ~ For a Flavor of Old Hawaii

We took a step back in time and place when we arrived two weeks ago on the small island of Lana’i.

Here -- unlike its neighbor island Maui where traffic jams and shopping malls have become the norm and from where we had just spent a hustle-bustled week – we found the Hawaii we’d been seeking.

Take the Plantation Store for example. It is the only place selling gasoline on the island. The island’s only car rental agency is located at the back of  the store.

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On this island an afternoon stroll could lead to the horse stables and corrals; a place where the island’s paniolos (cowboys) hone their calf roping skills.

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But the real flavor of old Hawaii was strongest when it came time to dining. 

Because that’s when we’d join locals at some of the many restaurants, housed in the small wooden buildings built during  yesteryear’s pineapple heydays.

They are the kind of places you must remember to hold the screen door or it will slap shut announcing to all that you’ve arrived.  

One of our favorite eateries, 565, (pictured to the left and below), exemplifies that old time charm.

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Why, 565? Well, because the name is easy to remember.  It is the prefix for telephones on the island!  We learned that the day we stopped in for lunch, lured in by the banner reading: Korean Katsu Chicken.

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Served as a traditional ‘ plate lunch’, it came with two scoops of rice, and that Hawaiian trademark, macaroni salad. We’ve eaten a lot of Katsu chicken in our day but this was by far the best ever! Moist white meat in a crunchy honey and sesame crust. . .oh my mouth waters just writing those words. . .

So good was lunch that we asked about dinner.  Yes, it was served. No, they didn’t serve alcohol but that was no problem, said the owner, just go to the store and buy a bottle and bring it with you.

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So it was off to Richard’s Market  that evening where the chilled wine was kept in the back – all four bottles of it.  Joel chose our bottle, paid for it and then. . . .

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. . .served it as any good wine steward would do! 

We had the outside seating to ourselves as we sipped the wine waiting for our blackened mahi-mahi with fresh pineapple salsa to be served. 

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If You Go:

* We had several restaurant choices in Lana’i City – far more than could be visited during our four-night visit here. 

* The win-win in Maui County, of which Lana’i is a part, is that if a place doesn’t have its own liquor license you are free to bring a bottle with you – which you must open and serve yourself.  And at $19 for the bottle, compared to the $14 a glass and more, at the Four Seasons Resort where we stayed, it also kept the travel budget in the black.

*The meals pictured were less than $20 and one serving was plenty for two people.

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If your idea of ‘perfect Hawaii’ is the hustle and bustle of Waikiki Beach on O’ahu or Ka’anapali Beach on Maui, this wonderful laid-back place may not be for you. For us, this was the Hawaii we’ve been seeking. We will be back – and we will be coming hungry!

Thanks for the time you spent with us today and we hope you’ll come along as we continue our Tales from the Pacific

Linking up today:
Foodie Tuesday at Inside Journeys
Sweet Shot Tuesday

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Finding Greek Treasures in the South Pacific

Okay, so no one in their right mind, would think twice about taking a South Pacific cruise, right?

Well, we did. 

Of course we've always wanted to visit Sydney and Auckland and French Polynesia, but the problem with committing to heading that direction meant we wouldn’t be going anywhere near our favorite destination: Greece.

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At least our Celebrity ship had a tie to Greece: it was founded in 1988 by the Greek-based Chandris Group and merged in 1997 with Royal Caribbean. That “X” you see on the ship is Greek for “chi” – the Chandris Group.

But little did we know at the time that the Travel Gods out there had a bit of serendipity up their sleeves and we were in for some very special Greek surprises:

It turned out that our ship’s Master (the Captain) and the Staff Captain (Second in Command) and the Chief Engineer (the VIP in keeping the ship running) were all from Greece.

Let’s Start at The Beginning. . .

This story actually began two years ago when we met the Staff Captain, Panagiotis Kiousis, (‘Captain Panos’ ), aboard the Celebrity Solstice as we sailed to Europe on the ship’s transatlantic crossing. . .

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We met at one of those big ‘meet and greet’the ship's officers cocktail parties and had a brief conversation about the island of Spetses; a place we had visited and from where Captain Kiousis hails. During that visit I took the photo above of him and The Scout

He subsequently invited us to be among the 9 – 10 guests at the Captain’s Table he was to host later in the cruise - we planned to continue our Greece discussions then.

Unfortunately on the night of the dinner a work slowdown by port workers in Malaga, Spain kept all the top ranking officers on shore while the nine of us who’d been invited to the Captain’s table met with our substitute host.  He was a wonderful fellow but not Captain Panos. . .who we didn't see again on that cruise.

Fast Forward to last fall on the South Pacific. . .

We were delighted to learn that ‘our’ Staff Captain "Panos' Kiousis was an officer on our cruise ship. And we were flabbergasted when we reintroduced ourselves at this cruise’s ‘meet and greet’ cocktail party and  he remembered us, even recalling me taking the photo above.

Because of the many sea days we had, we suggested that perhaps we meet for coffee and finally have that talk about Greece.  He suggested we dine together and talk about Greece. 

The Captain’s Table. . .

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The evening spent with Captain Panos was the highlight of the cruise.  We told stories about our travels in Greece; he told stories about living in Greece. We talked of his family – the wife and children who live in America and his siblings and parents who live in Greece. He told us of his travels and we told him of ours. It was a special evening. And unlike the previous time, we’ve exchanged contact information and have stayed in touch. 

And the Other Captain’s Table. . .

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I think word was out that there were a couple of Greece fans on board because a few days later we were invited to join the ship’s Master, Captain Yannis Berdos at the Captain’s Table on the final formal night of the cruise.

SolsticePt22013 222Captain Berdos makes his home in Piraeus, Greece when not sailing the world at the helm of a Celebrity ship.  During that dinner we talked with him about that bustling port city and our experiences there as well as the island of Poros – a favorite of ours --  the island from where his father and his wife come.

The old saying, “It’s a small world after all” seemed to have held  true for us on this cruise.  And it made us realize once again why it is so important to be open to new adventures; you never know what surprises they might have in store for you.

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And one of these days we hope to dine with Captain Panos again . . . in some small taverna on the waterfront in Greece. We will sip some wine and visit long into the night. . .talking about Greece, of course, and reminiscing about our friendship that began far away aboard a cruise ship! And if not, who knows, we might sail another sea together!


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