Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Summer Sojourn ~ Novel Destinations

As summer stretches out before us and the suitcases start calling out for a sojourn, we’ve been ‘researching’ some novel  -- and not so ‘novel’ -- destinations.

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I revisited Tuscany with Frances Mayes’, “Under The Tuscan Sun” the real-life story of her home purchase in Italy now some 20 years ago. Where did that time go?  Seems only yesterday I was reading the book published in 1997 for the first time – so envious of her adventure.  Now those olive trees she and Ed were working to save, produce enough olive oil that they sell a line of it, they’ve renovated another home in Italy and a Southern estate in the United States. 

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Then I traveled to Seville with Karen McCann’s “Dancing in the Fountain”.  I ‘met’ Karen in the blogosphere (she writes and her book is a bigger, more detailed but equally funny and informative account of how she and her husband – who started out in Spain with a plan to stay a few months to learn Spanish now, nearly a decade later -- live most of each year there.

Eiffel Tower

The Scout traveled to “Paris” with Edward Rutherfurd, one of our favorite historical novelists.  He has authored a number of similar books including London and New York. This, his latest, just came out in paperback (and yes, we still prefer to read real books with paper pages!)

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We both re-visited those white-washed islands – Greece’s Cycladic Islands – by re-reading Jeffrey Siger’s “Murder in Mykonos” and “Target Tinos”.

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Seattle's Space Needle
That’s a few of the places we’ve traveled – and never left the comfort of our Pacific Northwest home.  Of course, we have been inspired to start packing.

Do you have any ‘novel’ destinations to recommend? If so, we hope you’ll make note of them in the comments below or send an email.  Happy Travels – whether actual or armchair and Happy Summer to you all!

Note:  All of those books can be found on our Amazon Carousel on the blog's front page (for those of you subscribers just open this link ) and scroll to the bottom. You can read reviews of the books by clicking on them and even purchase them if you so desire. Full disclosure: we make a few pennies on the books sold! More Disclosure: we have yet to sell a book!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Crete: Hiking through History

From those iconic whitewashed buildings in the Cycladic Islands of Greece we told you about last week, we move south to the southern coast of Crete. The area is laced with hiking trails that wind up stark hillsides and through lush gorges – leading through the island’s ages-old history.

DSCF1275Many of those trails begin or end in Loutro, the small village where we stayed on Crete’s southwestern coast.

Some are what we consider  ‘soft hikes’ – those that don’t require hiking boots or other equipment and could be considered more ‘stroll’ than ‘hike’.

One of our favorite such stroll/hikes snakes along the hill – a backdrop to the village – and leads back more than a century ago; a time of Turkish occupation of this area. . .

The trail in April was lined with spring wildflowers and the hillside carpeted in greens.

Up, up, up the hillside, we left the village and its crescent-shaped harbor far below. For those in moderately good physical condition – the pathway with an easy grade (a hiking pole would be nice, but not required). Trail markers like those below are posted on rocks and signs along the route..

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We’ve visited this area three times in recent years and the setting has remained as enchanting as the first time we saw it.


As you crest the hill you step back into a time of Turkish occupation – a time when the koule, or small castle, dominated the hill top. Back then this fortress was probably a hub of activity while nowadays only goats laze and graze among its ruins.

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Sometimes we’d pass another hiker or two and we’d nod a greeting – no one wants to break the silence that envelops you here. . . it’s broken only by the hollow clang of the goats’ bells,the buzz of the bees and the rustle of leaves.


The remains of the Turkish koule are unattended – it isn’t a tourist attraction that requires security or entrance fees. Only those who hike between Loutro and Phoenix, as the neighboring harbor is called, are even likely to know it is there.


This area was once the base for Saracen pirates who were driven out by the Venetians and later the Turks drove out the Venetians.


The solitude here is so enveloping that just a short visit can refresh the soul and clear the mind.  I chuckle though each time I see this modern-day addition: a labyrinth. . .I guess it’s for those who need a kick-start in absorbing the solitude.


Hope you enjoyed our stroll through history – as always, your time is much appreciated. Hope to see you back here again soon!

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IF YOU GO:  Crete’s northern cities, Heraklion and Chania, have ferry connections to Athens and other Greek ports and airplane connections from Athens and other European airports. Buses, taxis or rental cars could be used to reach the southern shore.  Loutro, however, is accessed only by boat (there is a local ferry) or on foot.

Hiking: The trail we wrote about is part of the European long-distance path, the E4, a network of some 11 long-distance paths that stretch across countries in Western Europe and were developed by the European Ramblers Association (made up of walking groups throughout Europe). In Greece, it stretches across the Peloponnese and then takes up on this island. The Hellenic Federation of Mountaineering and Climbing established and maintains the trails. They also produce a multi-language pamphlet with information about the trails. 

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Linking up:
Travel Photo Thursday
Weekend Travel Inspiration
Travel Photo Monday

Monday, June 16, 2014

Greece: “But, what do you eat there?”

There are certain people we know who don’t share our enthusiasm for travel.  They list the logistics and planning or those unknown experiences . . .like eating  different food as reasons for not setting forth.

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Easter pastries - Greece
I can tell you – and our bathroom scales reconfirm this – we love the foods (and drinks, of course) we discover on our travels!

Some of our favorite food is Greek. We found so many culinary delights as we traveled around Greece this spring that I am serving up a two-part report; beginning this week on our food-fest there and starting with perhaps the most recognizable dishes:

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Pita Gyro: This fast food is the cheapest ‘full meal deal’ in town.  Thinly sliced lamb, beef or chicken, tomatoes, onions, French fries, yogurt with paprika (pictured above) or tzatziki, a yogurt sauce comes wrapped in hot pita.  The cost usually under $5 US.

Greek Salad: Unlike the versions we are served back home in the U.S. here the bowl is filled with chunks of tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, whole olives with pits and slabs of feta, seasoned with oregano and olive oil and vinegar mixtures.  Usually in the $5 – $7 US range and enough to share between two.

loutro to kirkland 121Hummus: While we call it a dip in the U.S. it sometimes is listed under salads here – other times as a meze, or small plate. 

This traditional mixture of garlic, olive oil, garbanzo beans and tahini, is one of our favorites. In the photo to the left, the restaurant served it with sautéed onions.  Less than $5 US.

loutro to kirkland 165Two other sauce/salad/mezes: are the traditional – tzatziki, (left side of the plate) yogurt, cucumber, oft times a bit of grated carrot and varying amounts of garlic and garlic salad basically garlic and mashed potatoes mixed together and served cold or at room temperature.

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Greek meatballs rival that of their Italian neighbors.  Here, however, they aren’t served with pasta.  Instead, potatoes – slow roasted in the oven with oregano, olive oil and lemon juice – share the plate.  (And thank goodness, those baskets of bread are served as a routine part of every meal. This one came  in handy for dredging through that olive oil and lemon sauce!)

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Stuffed grape leaves – served as mezes here, are a tart lemon-flavored treat filled with rice and served at room temperature or barely warmed.  We ate many of these but I am featuring the ones served at The Nest, a restaurant (known for its traditional Greek food) tucked in the maze of the Old Town, Chora, on Ios Island

This family-owned restaurant  and the food it served, captured our hearts (and stomachs) and drew us back two of the three nights we were in town.  Among the many dishes we sampled were these grape leaves. The owner said that the leaves are grown in his cousin’s garden and each morning his mother comes in to make them ~ now who could resist that?

Note:  The opening photo is of pastries (some of you saw it on Facebook)  - a gift for Easter from Maria, the lady who runs Pension Loutro Bay, on the southern coast of Crete, where we spent the holiday this year.

Thanks for your time today – we hope you’ll be back later this week!

Linking up:
Foodie Tuesday

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!


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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:

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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:

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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


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