Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mykonos: “The Piano Bar” of Little Venice

Discovering The Montparnasse Piano Bar, one of a dozen of so chic bars that light up Little Venice from dusk-to-dawn during this island’s madcap tourist season, is one of the high points of our trip to Mykonos.

Although our time on the island was short, we managed to get in two visits to this legendary watering hole that has cultivated a loyal following among locals, tourists and ‘big names’ alike since its opening back in the early 1980’s.
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Little Venice - Mykonos Island, Greece
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But first a bit about Little Venice, one of the most romantic – and certainly among the most photographed – spots on Mykonos:
The 18th Century buildings with wooden balconies that make up the area served as homes of sea captains or pirates, depending on what version of the story you’re told. Some are still homes (and available to rent) and others are filled with bars and boutiques. You explore the area following a winding maze of narrow walkways as old as the buildings themselves.

It is fun to explore at any time of day, but it wasn’t until this trip that we learned how much fun it was at night.

We’d likely never have discovered ‘The Piano Bar’ had it not been for our American friend and novelist, Jeffrey Siger, who spends half his year on Mykonos – writing books.
(We’ve introduced you to him and his books in earlier posts.Click the link to see them.) Over breakfast at the hotel our first morning, he tipped us off to the bar’s seasonal reopening just the night before.

The bar – and its real life owners, longtime personal and professional partners, Nikos Hristodulakis and Jody Duncan – has appeared in the fictional crime mysteries Jeffrey writes as well as in the posts he contributes to the blog, Murder is Everywhere.

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Arriving at a rather unfashionable early hour for Mykonos nightlife - 9 p.m. – we were given a warm welcome by Nikos and Jody (pictured above). With few ‘early birds’ they had time to share laughs and stories with us as though we had been regulars for years; a warmer welcome than at some places we have frequented for years.

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David Dyer - pianist
The pianist, David Dyer from Colorado, who has been a springtime featured performer at the bar since 1987, began playing at 10 p.m. and had we not had an early morning outing scheduled  the next day we’d have stayed much longer listening to his repertoire.

His music was exceptional and brought us back to sit at the bar – just like regulars - the next night. The place reminded us of “Cheers” the bar featured in the U.S. television comedy (1982 -1993) where ‘everybody knows your name’.

That evening we made the acquaintance of a longtime visitor from Sussex, England who regaled us with tales of traveling in Mykonos decades ago - back when there wasn’t even a ferry dock and passengers got to shore aboard tenders.






I’ve long advocated the fun of doing ‘novel’ research for our travels. Often times visits to locations appearing in fiction stories make for some of our best travel experiences. And this bar didn't let us down.
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The Scout, Nikos and Jeffrey Siger
I couldn’t decide if the artwork that fills The Piano Bar walls highlights the old wooden ceiling or vice versa. The Piano Bar which got its start at another Mykonos location moved in 1994 to the present location, that of Montparnasse, an art gallery that opened in the late 1960's and quickly became a gallery and bar.

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Candle light and flowers accented the bar and lounge areas and added to the bar’s welcoming atmosphere. It is definitely worth a visit should you find yourself in Mykonos. (And travel tip: its lounge provides a great place to watch those postcard sunsets!)

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While today we focused on drink, we’ll be back Tuesday serving up some photos of our food finds. Hope you’ll join us then for another taste of Greece. Until then, “Happy Travels” and a big welcome to our new subscribers! Linking up with Noel Morata's Travel Photo Monday

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A Few More Reasons, “Why We Love Greece”

I posted a series of photos titled, “Why We Love Greece” on Facebook during our trip.  They were short little snippets of life in Greece and not the things you necessarily see in tourist brochures.

Because not all of you are on Facebook I thought I would periodically post similar photos here just to give you a sample of what makes Greece so special to us. These are the things we think of when asked, “But, what is there to see?”

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It was Easter Sunday in Loutro, Crete. We were at one of the village’s sidewalk cafes having a glass of wine before moving on to the nearby café for dinner when we noticed one of the small boats putting around the harbor. 

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Were we seeing things?

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Not at all! I zoomed in on this little Captain and he was taking his job as seriously as any adult.  However, he did start crying when his dad took over as they headed back to tie up at the dock. . .that is until dad put him to work learning how to hand off the rope.

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Another ‘reason why’ occurred that same evening. We’d just moved to the nearby cafe and as we were ordering dinner the electricity went off. Not just at the restaurant but throughout the village. 

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The place went completely dark. . .two restaurants had small backup generators which provided about as much light as powerful flashlights. 

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That’s when the ferry, Daskalogiannis, that you also see in the background behind the little Captain in the photo above came to the rescue. The ferry runs between four small towns on the southern coast of Crete and at night –sometimes, this time of year – stays in Loutro. It cranked up the lights and lit up the harbor.

That’s it for this week’s Travel Photo Thursday. I’ll have more tales and tips coming from the trip, but we just last night arrived back in the Pacific Northwest and if you’ve ever had jet-lag, you know our brains are just a bit jumbled.  More soon. Happy travels to you. Stop by Nancie’s Budget Travelers Sandbox for more armchair travel today!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Road Warriors need a Bath. . .Turkish, that is!

We’ve been on the road (or in planes, ferries, buses or trains) for nearly six weeks now. One of our longer European expeditions is coming to an end with our return home on Tuesday.

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The image you probably have of us -- with more than a month in Greece --  is that of a deeply tanned Apollo and Venus with sun-streaked hair; each emanating a golden glow – poster children for boomer-age rest and relaxation. Not so, this trip.

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TravelnWrite does Ios Island

We have more of a wind-blown look about us, like the photo above (my hair was pretty much always standing on end).

On this final afternoon in Istanbul we’ve scheduled Turkish baths at our in-hotel ‘hammam’. The thought of having someone else scrub our bodies from head to toe and then massage us with a magic elixir of restorative oils seems the perfect way to end this exhilarating, but sometimes tiring, adventure.

We’ve felt at times – and probably looked like as well - road warriors. Our hair has grown long and certainly is lighter, but not sun-bleached. (You boomers understand that one.) Joel has visited barbers twice along the way. Our skin has been both sun-kissed and rain-water washed resulting in a nice reptilian scale effect.

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Slow cooked beef in tomato sauce with feta cheese
  
We’ve eaten and drank far too much fabulous Greek food and wine. I don’t plan to weigh myself for at least 10 days after returning home.

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Loading up in the Lobby of Hotel Nef - Nafpaktos, Greece

We’ve lived out of those 22-inch TravelPro suitcases and the limited wardrobe they contained for what seems a l-o-n-g time. Even with limited clothing we brought, we’ve both been saying we must cut the weight of those on future trips.  Hauling them up subway steps or onto ferries, just has to be done on trips like this one, so the lighter the better.

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My newly adopted cousins, Eva and Sofia in Kardamyli, Peloponnese
 This trip has renewed and rejuvenated us – just like the Turkish bath will do to our bodies. Our brains and hearts are on overload and in overdrive. Too many wonderful experiences, too many drop-dead-gorgeous-views, too many wonderful people along the way. A road trip in a foreign country is not necessarily a relaxing one – but it certainly is one that awakens your ‘life-sensors’.

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Venetian port - Nafpaktos, Greece
  
At times during the trip we’ve remarked that we felt decades younger and at other times, decades older. We believe we have grown from our experiences.  We’ve chased those daydreams I wrote about in an earlier post; we caught them and released them, depending on the day and our mood. Our world of friends has expanded. Our passion for travel has intensified.
 
So we will repack those bags after being rejuvenated in the hammam and prepare to return to the other world in which we live. . . I suspect it won’t be long before we are planning another road trip in this part of the world – there’s still a lot left to discover. . .and we are not quite done with those day-dreams either!

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Thanks to those of you who’ve come along on our adventure, especially those who’ve taken the time to write emails or jot a comment. They’ve been most appreciated! Please stay with us as we have some wonderful people and places to introduce you to in future posts.

 Note: We’ve just returned from our Turkish baths (reptile skin is now baby soft and we can’t remember being this relaxed). . .an incredible experience. If you get to Istanbul you really should try it!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Greece: As this Odyssey comes to an End

By the time many of you read this our time in Greece will have come to an end. We fly to Istanbul Friday afternoon.

As I write this, though, we are still on Tinos, one of the most picturesque of the Cycladic Islands, awaiting the high speed ferry that will zip us to Athens’ port of Piraeus; a trip of  less than three hours.

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Windmill on Mykonos Island

My writing is interrupted though by the distraction of watching one of the several large vehicle-carrying ferries that regularly serves this island pulling away; our harbor front room providing us a perfect vantage point for watching the transportation activities. Tinos doesn’t have an airport – the only way to get here is by water. This ferry is bound for Mykonos, the island where we spent three nights prior  to arriving on this, our last island of our five-week-long Greece Odyssey.

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Porto Kaglio - Peloponnese

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Cretan Countryside
Our late March arrival coincided with that of spring. A fickle spring it seems as our weather has been a mix of warm, sunny days and others that had us wearing our silk long johns (or using those Seattle umbrellas we luckily had with us.) Spring flowers have carpeted our route through the Peloponnese, Crete and the  Cyclades.  

We have eaten some of the most fabulous food imaginable. . . wild greens from the mountains, or grown on the family farm, fresh made cheese, breads just out of the oven, olive oil that was pressed ‘just down the road’. . .you get the idea.

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Pavlos Restaurant - Loutro, Crete

Each meal holds a special memory but one we won't soon forget was eaten in the kitchen at Pavlos’ Restaurant in Loutro, on the south coast of Crete. This was one of those ‘long johns’ nights – it was far too cold to sit outside in this open air restaurant so Tonya (the chef) and Pavlos, the owner, set us up in the kitchen. That is a chopping block to The Scout’s  right. (We told them that in the U.S. people pay big bucks for such private dining – and that absurdity made them laugh!)

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Goats and historic ruins - a favorite scene, this is one in Crete

The Greek countryside and its islands are among some of the most beautiful lands on earth, to our way of thinking.

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We’ve covered a lot of kilometers on this trip and seen some of the best of the best – yet have barely touched the surface of all that Greece has to offer. It surely calls out for a return. . .

 peloponnese2014 218 And the warmth and welcome we’ve received in Greece is so fabulous that you must experience it to understand that statement.

It isn’t often that I hug and kiss hotel owners upon leaving their establishments back home in the States - let alone tear up as we drive away. On this trip I’ve done it so many times, that I’ve lost count. 





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Approaching Athens Airport from Istanbul in March
Our next report will be from Istanbul, or Constantinople, as it is still referred to in Greece.  Hope you’ll still be with us as we bring this trip to a close there. 

We’ve tales and tips to tell you about the people and places in Greece – hopefully, we’ll convince some of you to try some of the out-of-the-way (charming and inexpensive) places we’ve discovered along the way. . .
. . .as always thanks for the time you spent with us today. And a special welcome to our new followers of the blog and those following TravelnWrite on FB ~ many of you we've been lucky enough to meet on this trip!

Linking up with Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Greece: Cat ‘Tales’ from the Cyclades

We’ve been in Greece for a month now and while I’ve been trying to give you real time snapshots of our travels, it occurs to me that I’ve been remiss in writing about one of Greece’s most ubiquitous features:
 its cats.

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Being cat lovers, those furry felines make up some of our favorite memories. Take the foursome that lived in Hotel Vardia in Kardamili:  Owner, Voula, was as smitten with them as were we, and during our stay she was busy treating one for a cold and  attempting to ‘capture’ that wily white one (above) who kept avoiding her despite the fact he needed a bit of much needed medical work (Voula finally won out  - he was at the vet when we left). 

peloponnese2014 168 Of course, the smallest one immediately wrapped us around his little paw by running to greet us and following us to our room, much as a loyal puppy would do. It was difficult leaving him behind – he was my choice for a souvenir but then he was quite happy at his hotel home.

In each of our stops, the homeless furry ones have nearly caused us heart attacks as they nonchalantly crossed streets without concern for drivers or motorcyclists who came within inches of hitting them.



Then there was the trio, who lived at the Island House Hotel on Ios. Their ferocious cries and snarling made us think we were living below a huge, on-going cat fight as they spent their days and nights in the bougainvillea that framed  the slated roof of our deck.

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It seemed two were always ‘picking’ on the third.  The Scout broke up a ‘fight’ one day and sent them on their way.  The next day we realized it had been simply a lover’s quarrel and they were back ‘together’ again, a menage a trois both literally and figuratively.

We arrived Friday in trendy, touristy Mykonos. Last night as we were munching on a gyro pita at an outdoor cafe  the quietest little cat showed up at the foot of the stool on which I sat.  I’d been people watching and didn’t notice from where it came.  Noiselessly it sat, its stare an intense one.  So compelling was it, that I slipped large portions of the pork  from my pita and would drop chunks when the owner of the place turned his head.

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What a con artist was that one!  Dining done, it walked across the small walkway and jumped up onto his cushion to bathe -- outside the jewelry store where he obviously lives!

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And then once the beauty ritual was over it was time to hop on its chair and wait to be adored by nearly every passing tourist!

We walked past the store again this morning. . . breakfast, I believe, was about to be ice cream!

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Happy Travels to you all and thanks so much for being with us as we wind up our time in Greece. We’ve got one more island to visit before we are off to Istanbul.  We’ve appreciated the comments and emails our tales have prompted.

For you animal lovers out there:  there is a Greek Cat Welfare Society (with a Facebook page) and a Dutch Foundation operates a Greek Cat Rescue with a web page of the same name. Both offer donation options via the web.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ios Island: History, Homer and Easy Hikers

On the island of Ios, with its hilly, rocky landscape, a history that dates back some 500 million years and a population of less than 2,000, is where we find ourselves this week. 

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Tucked away between the more well-known Mykonos and Santorini in the white-washed Cycladic Islands of Greece, this island has an ‘in-season’ reputation of being a rocking, late night party place – a magnet for young travelers. In this off-season time it is quiet here – many stores and restaurants have yet to open  and its narrow streets are relatively empty – making it a delightful place to explore.

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The pathway to Homer's Tomb
Ios (pronounced EE-ohs) holds the distinction of  being Homer’s final resting place. His tomb is atop the wind-swept hill pictured above. He’s the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey back in the 8th Century, in case you’ve forgotten your Ancient Literature teachings. His resting place was documented by 5th Century writer  Heridotus, who traveled these lands and is considered ‘the father of history’. It is a ‘must visit’ on this island!

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From Left: Thomas, Christos, Jackie, Marlys, Michael and Joel

We decided on a whim to come here last week and where pleased to learn that travel’s serendipity was bringing two of our long-time favorite France-based bloggers, Michael and Marlys Schuermann of Easy Hiker to the island at the same time.  As an added bonus we met blogger Thomas Dowson, also from France who writes Archaeology Travel.


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For at least two years I’ve read Easy Hiker and been inspired to take so many of their recommended hikes, but never in a million years did I think I would ever do one with them. . .well, until yesterday when they invited us to join them. They were headed up that hill pictured above to visit those churches. So off we went and what a wonderful hike  climb, it was:

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Ios is known for its churches – there are 365 on this island, one for each day of the year (some speculate there are more). Half of them are open to the public but most are private chapels – as were these four – and are open by invitation only.  As the other three writers were guests of the municipality, the invitation had been extended to look inside. The pathway though is open to the public.

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It was a series of paved steps that led up the hill and not as difficult as it had looked from below.

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So we all did what any travel blogger/tourist would do: snapped photos like crazy and exclaimed over the stunning vistas:

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It was one of those travel days that we’ll file away in the extra special file because it was filled with the best that travel has to offer: new friends, old treasures and great adventures.

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In case you are wondering, we did make it to the top, this photo is of the upper most church. The final portion of the climb was over open grass and dirt. . .

Thanks again to our fellow bloggers for including us on their outing. And thanks too, to Christos, who was the Municipality’s tourism representative who led us up the hill.  (He’s 72 years old, by the way!)
Linking up today with Budget Travelers Sandbox, Travel Photo Thursday.  As always the time you spend with us is most appreciated! Hope you join us this weekend when we will be. . .(check back to find out ;-)!)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

It is Easter in Loutro, Crete

Easter arrived in the village on the south coast of Crete with much the same fanfare and celebration as it did when we were here last year. And that is one reason we returned to this special little place on the Libyan Sea this year.

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Long recognized as the most important celebration of the year in the Greek Orthodox religion, the traditions surrounding Easter are  particularly special in the small places like Loutro.

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In the evening on  Good Friday, Megali Paraskieve,  (the Friday before Easter) the flower-covered bier (shown in the first photo) was carried in a processional through town to near the ferry dock where a brief ceremony was conducted by the village priest, Papa Geogious (Father George).  There are no vehicles here. The processional made its way along  ‘main street’, the sidewalk that bisects the dozen restaurants, hotels and stores that line the harbor.

The umbrellas were due to the inclement weather this year – the rainfall was heavy and it was such a chilly evening that we donned our long johns to keep us warm. . .in the restaurant and our room!
Holy Saturday, Megali Savato, dawned bright and sunny and by noon “Judas” had appeared on the beach to await his fate later in the evening. 

(We had a good chuckle during a morning hike outside the village when we encountered a tourist from a  neighboring hamlet. He was coming from Loutro and upon learning we were staying there, asked, “Say, did you notice the chap hanging from a noose on the beach?” We assured him it was Judas. . .)

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As Saturday afternoon arrived, so did the boats, water taxis and ferries bringing families and friends to the small village. Not as many, we noted, as last year but then Easter fell two weeks earlier this year and this sleepy little village has barely arisen from its winter’s hibernation. 

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At 8:30 p.m. the church bell began ringing and it was time to gather for there for the service that culminates with the priest announcing “Khristos Anesti” (Christ is Risen)!  We missed it last year as we expected it later in the evening, but like many of those similar ‘ midnight’ services throughout the world, it has been moved up to an earlier hour.

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The church in Loutro, sporting a new whitewash, is small as one might expect in a tiny hamlet. Its grounds are dirt and stone, a single bell hangs from the bell tower. The priest is elderly – very elderly – and very revered by locals and we outsiders alike.

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The next half hour was pure magic – and not all church services we’ve attended over the years on Easter could be described that way. The church and church yard filled with the faithful to hear the priest -- his voice sometimes halting with the cadence of age as he told the centuries old story of Easter.  And then the call, ‘defte lavata fos’ (light the candles):

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Here it isn’t about chocolate bunnies and baskets filled after backyard hunts with Easter eggs (some plastic ones filled with coin) like back in the United States, here it is about celebrating Easter and its meaning while surrounded by family and friends.

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And as for Judas, as soon as the call went out, “Khristos Anesti” and the bell rang the news, (prompting much hugging, kissing and hand shaking) it was time to move to the beach. . .

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We hope where ever you are and if you are celebrating Easter that it is as memorable as ours has been.  We’ll tell you more about Loutro in a future post and tell you where we’re headed this week. (And we’ve just learned that a favorite fellow travel blogging duo will be there . . .so you will have to come back and see who it is and where we are!)  Happy Easter!

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