Thursday, June 12, 2014

Chasing Windmills ~ Finding Mykonos Magic

When Greece comes to mind don’t you immediately picture a sun-drenched island, dappled with white-washed villages under brilliant blue skies?  In my more skeptical moments I sometimes wonder if those travel magazine and tourist brochure photos that put those images in the psyche aren’t ‘doctored’ (okay, in this day and age, ‘Photoshop-ed’) to look as picture-perfect as they do. After our stop on Mykonos though, I realize there are places that are as perfect in reality as they are in the imagination. . . 

Mykonos Windmills

It was the windmills that tipped the scales in favor of Mykonos on our first trip to Greece several years ago.

Many of you know Greece landed on my travel list back at age 9 when Hayley Mills and Eli Wallace frolicked among the windmills in the Walt Disney movie “The Moonspinners”. I'd had Greece on the mind since the movie had swept me off my feet, so this Cycladic Island, known for its glitz and glamour. . .and windmills, was added to the itinerary. I got my dose of windmills but we remember that stay as windy, wet, and cold in a pricey place far removed from town.


We’d not returned again until this spring and what we found was red, white and blue magic. . .and those lovely windmills, of course.


Staying much closer to town than that first trip, we set out after dark and it felt as if an enchanted spell had been cast on the place – candles and soft lighting at the many cafes that set up on the small pedestrian ‘streets’ added to the ambiance.


Those narrow walkways, however, were just as interesting in the daytime – many so narrow you can extend your arms and touch the walls on either side of the ‘street’.


Red, white and blue. . .the vivid colors were mixed and matched in every setting imaginable.

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Restaurants and walkways were decked out in them against the near blinding-white background of the buildings.

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Red doors called out welcome.


Although the tourist brochures plant that image we described in the opening, we’ve  found that each area we’ve visited in this vast country seemed to have its own ‘trademark’ building styles and colors; the whitewashed Cubist-style buildings in the Cyclades and the Stone Tower  style in the Peloponnese, are two distinctly different examples.

Have you been to Greece? What colors or styles did you find in the area you visited? Or for those of you who live there, how would you describe your area? As always, we appreciate your time today – hope you’ll come back again soon!


Map picture

Mykonos is a hub island for ferries from Athens and those to other Cycladic Islands. It’s cruise ship/ferry port is a large modern affair just outside Mykonos Town. The island has an airport; flights are less than an hour from Athens. Easy Jet flies direct from London from May to September.

Linking Up:
Travel Photo Thursday
Travel Photo Discovery on Monday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Sunday, June 8, 2014

WAWeekend: Paintin’ The Town ~ Toppenish

With the apparent return of Spring in the Pacific Northwest, we are resuming our WAWeekend feature highlighting some of our favorite Washington State places:
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Yakima River Walkway - Yakima
I grew up in Central Washington’s Yakima Valley; about a 30 minute drive from today’s featured town.  Three decades ago this small farm and livestock center was simply a town you passed en route to the Tri Cities on the Columbia River or points further south in Oregon.

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Wine grape vineyards that have put the Yakima Valley on the map were still in the infancy stages. That ‘Washington Wine Road’ that now brings thousands to the area these days was just a plain old highway.

There was no reason to go to Toppenish unless you were employed at the huge U and I Sugar processing plant located just outside town – sugar beets were a big crop around the area back then.
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U and I Sugar Plant remains - 2010

Then the sugar plant closed in the late 70’s. The town’s crime rate was high, its mid-century buildings run-down and graffiti-covered. And then a group of enterprising folks had an idea. . . fast forward. . .

Toppenish 2014: "Where the West Still Lives"

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Toppenish, now with a population of some 9,000,  says it is the place "Where the West Still Lives". It does - in the old west murals - some 75 of them on buildings in its revitalized downtown – so many, that the tourism folks have created a map to help visitors find them all (a link is provided below).

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The first weekend in June each year a new mural is created during the town’s Mural-In-A-Day celebration. A 5k fund-raiser run kicks off the event, and then spectators watch from bleachers as a new mural is created.  This is the Mural Weekend in that small town and the newest creation, number 76,  will be installed at the U and I sugar plant – it will greet visitors arriving in town from the exit off Interstate 82.

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And these days, I’d be the first to tell you that a stop in this town is a must when traveling the Washington Wine Road through Central Washington. In addition to the murals, you’ll find close by:

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Yakama Nation Cultural Heritage Center - Toppenish
* The Yakama Nation Cultural Heritage Center (museum, restaurant and RV park);
* The Yakama Nation’s Legends Casino
*A Hop Museum (which is well worth a visit whether you are a fan of brewskies or not).

If You Go:

Tourist Information:

Map picture

Follow this handy map of murals:

Linking up with:
Weekend Travel Inspirations

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

That Dovecote Day on Tinos Island

“Don’t miss the dovecotes!” we’d been told before our arrival on Tinos, the Cycladic Island best known for its church – that enormous one -- we featured last week.
Tinos is the third largest of the17 islands that make up the Greek Cyclades. Shaped somewhat like an arrowhead, this island is accessible only from the sea.  It’s about an hour ferry ride from neighboring islands of Mykonos or Syros; 4.5 from Athens. (Fast ferries take half the time and cost twice as much.) Its early name, Hydroussa was derived from ‘hydor’ water and ‘ofis’ snakes. Some say the present-day name is from the Phoenicians’ ‘tannoth’ another word for snakes.
Dovecote. Quite frankly we weren’t quite sure what it was, let alone what we were looking for until that day we set out to explore the island. . .

. . .and then we spotted these small structures looking like fairy tale castles, but in fact were dovecotes, the rather elaborate homes for doves and pigeons.


There are still some 700 dovecotes on this island and they date back to the 18th and 19th Centuries; most built after the Venetian rule here ended. The raising of birds was such an important endeavor – they provided both meat and droppings (fertilizer) -- that in the Middle Ages a special law, Droit du Columbier, dictated that only feudal lords had the right to possess a dovecote.


It is said that they 'remained in the collective conscience as a symbol of social excellence'. That might explain their elaborate stone ‘embroidery’ which decorates the smooth walls and made for little doors. The walls coupled with their elevated height and a sun drying yard on top kept snakes, cats and rats away.


By use of the ‘embroidery’ each dovecote has a design unique to that structure. While strolling through one of the island’s villages, we noticed a ‘modern’ 1998 building, a home, we think (pictured below) which gave a nod to the island’s history by adding a ‘dovecote decoration’ including fake birds to its exterior.

Our drive on the island’s narrow ‘highway’ (pictured below) was punctuated with exclamations, “There’s one!”, “Oh look. . .over there!” and, of course, my favorite refrain, “Stop! I need to take a picture!”


Some appeared to be almost new structures and others showed the ravages of time. They were built near water in areas protected from the north wind (which can be fierce here) and in open spaces where the flying was good.

One of the most ornate was in the heart of downtown Tinos town on property not far from the Church.

And this one had real birds making use of it. . .or at least posing for me to take their photo!


As I wrap this up I can’t help but think, “Isn’t it amazing what you can learn when you travel?” Those dovecotes, combined with the island’s villages, made our day’s outing one of those that you wistfully look back upon as ‘magical. So magical, that we’ll ‘take you’ to some of those villages soon. Until then, thanks so much for the time you spent with us today!

Tinos: If You Go:

Map picture
Rental Car: We paid 25-euro for a 24-hour rental. Rental agencies are along the waterfront near the ferry dock.
Hotel: Our room overlooking the harbor also had views of the island’s towering Mount Tsiknias, 40-euro (off-season).
Ferry to Athens: About $50 US per ticket.
Tip:  Take a hike on the path of the dovecotes in Tarambados, not far from Tinos town.

Click the links below for more armchair travel. We’ll be linking up with:
Travel Photo Thursday
Travel Photo Monday

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Greece’s Tinos Island: Oh Come all the Faithful. . .

The magenta-colored carpet we were looking for was more a dirty tan.

But it was there, just as we had been told it would be. Stretching a half-mile uphill from the harbor in Tinos town – on the Cycladic Island of the same name – it provides a cushion, of sorts, for those humble pilgrims who crawl to the church at the end of this holy pathway.

Not just any church, mind you, but to the island’s centerpiece, the Holy Church of Panagia Evaggelistria of Tinos, or Our Lady of Tinos.
Panagia is the Eastern Orthodox title for the Virgin Mary. Evaggelistra, refers to the Annunciation when the angel Gabriel announced to Virgin Mary the incarnation of Christ.

More than a million faithful each year come to this island with a population of about 8,500 to seek blessings, healing, or miracles (all of which have been recorded as having been granted over the decades) from the Megalochari, (Great Grace), the unofficial name of the Holy Icon for which the church is home.

Unlike those faithful, we chose to walk to the church which gave us an opportunity to ’window shop’ at the many stores that line the route selling religious souvenirs. Others sell candles – huge candles as evidenced by their size in the photo below – to be use as offerings. They also sell ‘tamas’ metallic pieces that represent the reason for your visit. We’ve seen similar metallic pieces called ‘milagros’ or ‘miracles’ in Spanish offered at cathedrals in Mexico.

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Why this Church is Special:

It’s believed that in ancient times, a temple to the Greek god, Dionysus, once stood on the site of the present-day church; a church considered to be one of the most important orthodox shrines of pilgrimages in Greece. But somewhere along the ages, the Christians came along and turned it into a church.


What makes the story more interesting is that the Megalochari which came to Tinos during the Byzantine times, is believed to have been one of three icons painted by Saint Luke during the lifetime of the Virgin Mary. . .many believe it’s miracle-working power came directly from her blessing it.

But the icon vanished when Saracen pirates invaded and burned down the church – back in the 10th Century.

DSCF1593It wasn’t found until some 900 years later after a nun named Pelagia, had three recurring visions about its location and convinced townsfolk of where they needed to dig to find it. 

They dug, found evidence of the temple, but no icon, so they quit digging.

Then a cholera epidemic hit.

Was it cause and effect?

Whatever the case, they resumed the digging and found the Megalochari on Jan. 30, 1823.

Sister Pelagia became Saint Pelagia in 1970.

At the bottom level of the church there are three vaulted arcades where the icon was believed to have been found. It is the site of many baptisms.


The church is a financially independent charitable foundation, governed by a 10-member committee made up of nine elected directors and the Bishop of Syros-Tinos.  It is operated separate from the other Greek Orthodox churches and monasteries in Greece. It’s support comes from donations and offerings of the faithful – it is the donated works of art that fill the church’s museum and then some.

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Photos are not permitted inside the church or of the hallways that lead to offices and the church museum, or apartments (which are used – free of charge – at three-day intervals by pilgrims). So I was left to photograph the intricate mosaic that makes up the church’s courtyard.

DSCF3856We spent three nights in Tinos as a result of some of that ‘novel research’ I am always promoting. 

You know we are both fans and friends of Jeffrey Siger who spends half of each year on Mykonos writing crime novels set in Greece.  His, “Target Tinos” with a plot-line involving this church had peaked our interest in the island.

And as we pondered our ‘next stop’ while in Mykonos, he was kind enough to give us a wealth of travel tips about Tinos.

We set off for Tinos aboard a ferry from Mykonos. Water is the only way to reach this island, which in retrospect, was the most ‘Greek’ of the islands we visited. By that, I mean we encountered many who spoke as much English as we do Greek. We were fortunate to be there during the off season and in fact, were but a few staying in the multi-storied hotel we'd selected on the water front.

It was also one of the most stunning Greek islands we’ve visited. The countryside was magical ~ We’ll take you on a tour of it soon.

That’s it for today’s Travel Photo Thursday. Head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for more armchair travels. And if you want to do some novel research on Greece, check out Jeff’s book:

Hope to see you back here later this week. And, as always, thanks for the time you spent with us today! 
Also linking to:
Travel Photo Monday
Monday Mosaics

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Hora Sfakia: An Afternoon at Despina’s

Some of the best travel memories are those made from life’s simplest pleasures ~ like that afternoon at Despina’s on the waterfront in Hora Sfakia, Crete.

Hora Sfakia - Crete
Hora Sfakia, as I’ve told you in earlier posts, was a hub of activity in World War II, (click here for that post). These days this small quiet village on Crete’s southern shore is a stopping off place for hikers heading to or from the three nearby gorges: Samaria, Imbrios or Aradena. There are some people like us, who don’t hike, but simply adore the town and think a trip to Crete is incomplete without a visit here.

Because April's visit was our fourth here, we were looking forward to seeing folks we’ve gotten to know – or at least recognize – from our earlier visits.  Most of the shop keepers and restaurateurs call out greetings both to new-comers and ‘regulars’ like ourselves from their entryways in this pedestrian-friendly area of town.

One of the most welcoming is Despina the owner and operator of a small café and patisserie along the waterfront here. . . she’s also the creator of those wonderful goodies in the display cases pictured above and below.

Despina’s has been open year-round here for 15 years..  In the high season (summer) she opens at 8 a.m. and closes at 11 p.m. then she goes to work making the new creations that will fill her shelves the following morning. (She admitted that often times she gets but a couple hours sleep each night during the height of the tourist season.)


The temptations that fill the refrigerated shelves usually include the likes of her cheese cakes and apple pie, chocolate souffle, tiramisu cheesecake, mocha amaretto and traditional Kataifi, a pastry that looks like shredded wheat, stuffed with nuts and drenched in honey.  During our recent visit, however, it was a lemon cake in an incredible lemon sauce – both made from fresh lemons that kept calling out each time we passed.


In past visits our will power has steered us past her cafe, with just a tingle of the sweet tooth. Sometimes we’ve had coffee there or a raki the local 'fire water' or two to end our evening’s pleasures. We’ve managed to resist the Sweet Siren.


Like many of the restaurants that line the waterfront in this small town, the kitchen and inside seating is separated from the ‘deck’ seating by a walkway/driveway.  While not many cars pass by, when they do, they are close – but that just adds to the ambiance of the experience.


But this time that lemon cake was too much to resist.  I’d like to have shown you how big a piece it was that we shared, but I barely remembered to pull out the camera before we had wolfed it away completely. . .


That is our  Foodie Tuesday tale this week for our linkup at Inside Journeys.  Hope you’ll join us Thursday when we “Target Tinos”. (Yep, you have to come back to figure that one out.) Thanks for the time you spent with us today~as always, it is appreciated.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Greece Road Trip: Bridging the Gulf

The area in which we live in the Pacific Northwest is laced with rivers and lakes. The bridges that cross them for the most part are nondescript concrete structures lacking both style and personality. Little attention is paid to them - unless one collapses, as happened about a year ago on a major state highway. 

So, we didn’t give much thought to the bridge we would cross as we left the town of Patras in the Peloponnese and set off for Western Greece,  . . .that is, until we approached the Rio-Andirio Suspension Bridge


The bridge links the town of Rio in the Peloponnese to Andirio on the Western mainland, thus the bridge's name. Until it was built, ferries transported cars across this body of water where the Corinth Gulf meets the Patraikos Gulf. (While down the road that stretch of the Corinth Gulf and its narrow canal gets all the tourist-hype, we found this area to be equally deserving of attention.)


Its official name is the Charilaos Trikoupis Bridge, named after the statesman who envisioned it, although it is seldom referred to as that, even in guidebooks.


At 2,900 meters (9,514 feet – just short of two miles) in length, it is either the longest cable suspension bridge in the world, or tied for first place, depending on your source.


Construction began in 1996 and the toll bridge was inaugurated in 2004. The price of crossing it in a passenger vehicle is costly: $13-euros each way. But oh, what an experience it was, like driving through a giant sculpture.


Luckily the town in which we spent a night after crossing the bridge wasn’t far from it so we had a bit more time to enjoy this Grecian architectural wonder.

Map picture

Have you traveled across a memorable bridge? If so, where was it and what made it memorable?

Hope you’ll be back next week when we will make one ‘sweet’ stop in Crete on Foodie Tuesday. Until then, thanks for your time and happy travels ~

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Grecian Road Trip: By the Numbers

Go ahead. Admit it.

When reading or hearing about travel – no matter how inspiring the trip might be – doesn’t it spark a few questions that you’d really like to ask, but don’t know how to quite go about it. Questions like,

"How long were you gone?"
"How far did you go?"
"How much did that cost?" 
"How did you do that?"

We certainly have them. It's not just because we are nosy; knowing those things about other's trips can help us plan our future travels. Because so many of you've mentioned that you are either heading to Greece or have it on the bucket list, we thought today we’d tell you a bit about our trip by looking at some of the numbers:

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Greece and Turkey 

Destination: Greece via Istanbul, Turkey. (Remember, last fall I tipped you off to a travel deal: The Scout, nailed us a $608 round-trip airfare (taxes, fees included) from Seattle to Istanbul on Lufthansa Airlines; a steal compared to flights to Athens averaging $1,200 per ticket. The internet deal was available for about a week.)

Our round-trip flights between Istanbul and Athens were about $250 US per person – still less than a direct flight to Athens and gave us a chance to explore Istanbul.
Incidentals: $40 US for two Visas, valid for 90 days to enter Turkey (purchased at Ataturk Airport after arrival in Istanbul).

Yikes! Unbelievable Checked Baggage charges: 25-euro ($35 US) per bag to Crete from Athens on Aegean Airlines; 35-euro ($49 US) per bag Athens to Istanbul on Olympic Airlines.

Near Leonidas - Peloponnese Greece

Duration: 42 nights. A three-week road trip through the Peloponnese, a week in Crete, a week in the Cyclades Islands, couple nights in Athens, five in Istanbul.

Transportation: eight airplanes, five ferries, four rental cars.

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Greek ferries

Ferry travel in Greece isn't a cheap way to get around - but it is fun, more comfortable than airplanes and doesn't require any security screening!  We traveled by 'fast boat' those sleek modern hydrofoils that nearly sail over the water, by the larger cruise-ship sized ferry, and the small one that is legendary on the southern coast of Crete. Prices, in euros, ranged from $4 US (Sfakia to Loutro, Crete) – $70 US (Tinos Island in the Cyclades to Athen's port of Piraeus), depending on ship and destination.

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Our 'wheels' in Greece

Rental cars: On the flip side, those itty-bitty cars we rented did seem reasonably priced, averaging about 22-euros a day, everything included. Note: None of our rentals required an International Driver's License.   Those little cars fit those narrow, winding roads well. On several occasions we squeezed past on-coming vehicles, maneuvered around goats or cattle lazing in the road, or inched our way through small town streets.

Gasoline. . . Gasp!  Prices ranged from $8 US - $10 US a gallon.  It sometimes took 50-euros, or $68 US to fill the small tank.

This room cost 40-euros a night, kitchen, large bathroom and deck  - Ios Island Cyclades

Accommodations: We stayed in 15 hotels.  Prices varied but were generally in the 35 - 40-euro ($48-$55 US) range and the places were charming. Most had kitchenettes which allowed us to eat a couple meals 'at home' each day - a real money-saver. The least we paid was $38 US for a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment with fireplace and sweeping views in Astros, a town in the Peloponnese. The most, at $200 US a night, was the five-star hotel (booked on Expedia and still a deal compared to regular prices) a block of Syntagma Square in Athens where we spent two nights.

Greek style Greek Salad - Heraklion, Crete

Food and Drink: This is where the travel dollar savings are unbelievably good in Greece!  We spent about 22-euros ($30 US) which paid for multi-course meze meals, a half-liter pitcher of wine and tips.

Porto Kagio - Peloponnese
Wine: for 3-euros ($4.50 US) we purchased excellent wines in one-liter plastic bottles at farmer's markets and grocery stores. The 'fancy' glass bottles with corks could be had for 7-euros and up.  For 3-5-euros we drank half-liter pitchers of wine at restaurants.

Two 'filter coffees' - Tinos Island, Cyclades

Coffee: Greece has gone coffee crazy in recent years and coffee shops proliferate in cities and small towns alike.  Cappuccino and filter (pressed, usually) coffee for two was 5-6-euros.

Street Market open daily - Heraklion, Crete

Street market shopping: It was a joy to do our grocery shopping at local street markets. We saved an enormous amount of money and had some of the freshest, best tasting food imaginable.  Two examples:  strawberries 3-euros ($4.50 US for a kilogram, 2.2 pounds) and oranges, fresh picked, 1-euro per kilogram.

Mykonos Island - Cyclades

What are the questions you wish bloggers and travel writers would answer about places? (BTW, if you've got questions these numbers didn't answer, send them our way.  If you have some money saving tips for future trips, add those as well.)  That's it for today - as always, thanks for your time! Hope to see you again soon!

 Linking up with Travel Photo Thursday and Mosaic Mondays and Travel Photo Monday.


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