Wednesday, August 20, 2014

When Travelers Need a ‘No-Brainer’ Vacation ~

Sometimes even die-hard travelers like us - who find the months of research prior to a trip as much fun as the trip -- need a no-brainer vacation. That’s what we decided a few weeks ago.
You’ve probably sought the same kind of get-away at one time or another.
The kind of vacation that requires little planning.
A kick-back, “I don’t care about anything” kind of trip.

Beach - Lanai, Hawaii
Those of you who follow our travels know we traveled to Greece this summer to buy a home. It was a high octane trip. We didn’t go with the intention of having a restful, relaxing time and our expectations were on target. (Of course, we did plan to buy a house and we didn’t – but that’s an old story now. . .)

So back in the Pacific Northwest, The Scout and I decided to wrap up the summer’s chores, put Greece on the backburner for a bit and head out in the early fall on an R and R vacation. . .

Celebrity Solstice - South Pacific 2013
Step One:  The Scout embarked on what he does best ~ conducted a quick search for deals and destinations.

He found a cruise which sailed from Seattle. The plus: no flight and 30 minutes to the ship. And there is certainly a no more carefree way to travel than walking aboard, unpacking, being entertained, fed regularly and traveling to some exotic ports of call. The minus: a lengthy flight back . . .a maybe a bit too much travel?

PicMonkey Collage
Istanbul Scenes - 2010
He found good airfare to Istanbul – a delightful city, to our way of thinking. The fare wasn’t quite as great as the $608 round-trip one I told you about last spring, but good.  That would mean another series of long flights as it takes nearly a 24-hour day to fly that far from Seattle when one considers connections and wait times.  We nixed that idea as well – far too much ‘seat time’.

PicMonkey Collage
Scenes from Central Washington State
We considered close to home road trips, but that required us to think up a route we wanted to take and figure out where we wanted to stay along the way. . .too much thought required for that one.

Maui, Hawaii
Long-time readers know of our love affair with Hawaii, so you’ve probably already guessed the destination we’ve chosen. . .

. . . a place that in terms of flight time from Seattle is less than six hours. . .

. . .where sitting on a beach requires little effort. . .

. . .sipping Mai Tai’s at sunset requires even less effort. . .

. . .and packing a few tee-shirts and shorts – a snap. . .

. . .eating poke and plate lunches a bit of fresh fruit ~ heavenly. . .

The Scout found us a steal of a deal on accommodations. We are using an Alaska Airlines companion fare ($99 ticket anywhere Alaska flies, issued once a year to Alaska Airline credit card holders) which bring the airfare to a ‘reasonable’ one. 

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Lana'i Island and island scenes

What’s even better is that we are returning to a place that we’ve not been to for 25 years.  A trip down memory lane is on the itinerary. Where are we headed? Well, stay tuned. . .I’ll let you know when we get there! And I’ve still have plenty of Greek places to tell you about in coming weeks as well.

A big welcome – and Aloha -- to our new followers and subscribers – how nice it is to have you join us on our travels! And thanks to all of you who've traveled with us for some time now! 

If you have the time to add a comment tell us where you would go for a  ‘kick-back’ R and R destination?

Linking up this week:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Travelers Sandbox
Weekend Travel Inspirations – Reflections En Route
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Peek at 'Paddy’s' Place ~ in Kardamyli

KARDAMYLI - Our time in Greece was spent not far from “Paddy’s place” as the locals refer to his home.

Paddy, is Patrick Leigh Fermor – the British writer; a near legend in Greece for the part he played in World War II in Crete.

He’s also a legend in some literary circles worldwide. You might know him from the series of books he wrote about his two-year trek on foot as a young man in the 1930’s from Holland to Turkey or from the numerous articles and other books he penned during his lifetime.

Around here his most well-known book is, MANI, Travels in the Southern Peloponnese.

Taygetos Mountains - Peloponnese
He came to The Mani – the vast, sparsely settled area in Greece’s Peloponnese by pack mule somewhere near the mid-20th Century. They didn’t have roads to the region back then and the trip required crossing the soaring Taygetos Mountain range. Note, that even the present-day road (in the photo’s lower left corner) through the area isn’t a super highway.

Kalamitsi in the foreground, Kardamyli in the back
It was The Mani, in an area called Kalamitsi,(the cluster of buildings to the right center above) just south of Kardamyli, where he and his wife, Joan, chose in the 1960’s to build their home.

We think a lot about his place and his history here each time we’ve visited the area. It’s the kind of place that writers consider hallowed ground; the place of pilgrimages. Paddy and Joan hosted many an event and guests – artists and writers among them -- at their home during their years here. A Google search will result in a treasure chest of photos that captured those times. Joan died in 2003 and Paddy at age 96 in 2011.          

Oh, to have been among those guests. . .

The old port - Kardamyli
Kardamyli (kahr-dah-mee-lih), where they made their home, has a population of about 400 residents and is one of the most beautiful places in the Peloponnese.  It might well be our favorite town in the area.

PicMonkey Collage
The Messinian Bay from Kardamyli
It is snugged up against the bluest of water in the Messinian Bay with the Taygetos Mountains serving as its backbone.  No question in our minds why it was said to be one of the seven cities offered to Achilles by Agamemnon.

The snow-covered Taygetos in springtime 
In his book about The Mani, published in 1958, Fermor wrote, “The quiet charm of Kardamyli grew with each passing hour.” 

One of my favorite buildings on Kardamyli's main street
He continued, “It is too inaccessible and there is too little to do there, fortunately, for it ever to be seriously endangered by tourism. No wonder the nereids made it their home”

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(L - R) Fountain in Kardamyli's square, street scenes and view from a favorite coffee shop
Paddy would likely be surprised at the numbers of hikers – primarily from European countries – that are these days trekking to the area to experience some of those same old donkey trails he likely used to reach the area. They are now popular hiking routes.  He’d probably be floored to know that America’s well known tour guide, Rick Steves also offers a tour that includes a one night stop in Kardamyli. He’d be stunned at the number of modern bars and restaurants that sit side-by-side with those traditional tavernas in town. But he is correct – mass tourism, thankfully, hasn’t altered the area's charm.

Aquarella, one of the newest bars in town opened this spring
After last week’s post saying we’d gotten back in the saddle again and gone house-hunting after our failed home purchase this summer, I got a note from my blogging buddy, Vera Marie over at A Traveler’s Library (she shares our love of Greece and for Fermor’s books) in which she jokingly asked if we’d considered Fermor’s home.

Sadly, we’ve never gotten any closer to the home than from a roadside viewpoint high above Kardamyli.  I’ve zoomed in with each stop we make to get a better view of the house that matches those identified as his on internet sites. (My photos below match those identified as their home.)

PicMonkey Collage
Kalamitsi - Patrick Leigh Fermor's homesite
I  have to admit I would love to own Paddy’s place – especially after seeing photos on the internet of the home’s interior. I could imagine entertaining guests as he and his wife had done in this wondrous place.
But the home isn’t for sale.

All news reports say he left the home to the Benaki Museum in Athens and that plans are to one day use it as a writers retreat.  However, there is no reference to it on the museum's web site.

Patrick Leigh Fermor's home - Kalamitsi 
Last year a movie, Before Midnight, the third of the Before Sunrise trilogy was filmed in the area, and included scenes shot at Paddy’s. The DVD can be ordered from Amazon – I just did so as it might be the only way we’ll ever see this place close up!

That’s it for this Travel Photo Thursday. Thanks for joining us today.  And a big welcome to our new followers!

I have added a few of Paddy's books and the DVD to our Amazon carousel found on our home page. (Legally I have to tell you we make a few pennies from each sale from it and honestly, I have to tell you, we've never sold anything from it!)

Linking up:
Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox
Weekend Travel Inspirations at Reflections En Route
Mosaic Monday at Lavender Cottage Gardening

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Where Kalamata is More than an Olive

“The olive? . . . Isn’t that the name of an olive?” we’ve been asked when we start singing the praises of Kalamata.

DSCF2262Correct! It is an olive to be sure.

But it is also the name of the second largest city in Greece’s Peloponnese; a place that won our hearts this summer.
And Kalamata lends its name to this plump, blackish-purple olive sold in deli’s worldwide. The leaves, like the olives are larger than other varieties.  Kalamata olives can’t be picked green. They ripen in late November and must be hand-picked to avoid bruising.

Early morning in Kalamata, Greece

Kalamata, with more than 50,000 residents, is a vibrant city offering festivals and musical events in the summer when tourists flock to its beaches and fill the dozens of hotels along the waterfront. It is a market town with a variety of stores, hospitals and medical centers. Its airport – with an increasing number of flights this year – is a gateway to this area of the Peloponnese.

DSCF0009 It is just a bit more than a three hour drive from the Athens Airport on a modern-freeway with toll booths and rest stops (with gasoline stations and restaurants) at regular intervals along the way. The freeway circumvents Athens so it is an easy-drive even for those on a first-time road trip.

You can't get lost on this road trip: the freeway from Athens ends at Kalamata. From here travels in The Mani are on two-lane roadways.

Sidewalk cafes line the pedestrian-friendly city center
DSCF0216On the Greek “cute-o-meter” the buildings in Kalamata can’t compete with the likes of postcard perfect Santorini and Mykonos.

On the other hand those two islands weren’t leveled by an earthquake as was Kalamata in 1986. Of such a magnitude, it killed 20 people and destroyed 10,000 homes. Evidence of the damage is still visible on buildings in the downtown.

Amazingly its 13th Century Ayii Apostoli (Holy Apostles) church in the heart of the city’s historical district required repair but remained standing. It is said, that in 1821 The Greek War of Independence from Turkey was declared at this church.

Ayii Apostoli Church
The town is built on the site of ancient Pharai - so old a place that it is described by Homer as subject to the kingdom of Agamemnon. There’s a long story surrounding Kalamata, its modern name, but the short version is that its from a miracle working icon of the Virgin Mary known as ‘kalo mata’ (good eye).

Unlike our visit here last spring when the streets were empty and the town seemed dead, the place was simply hopping with beach- and sun-loving tourists this summer:

PicMonkey Collage
Sun-bonnets and hats are displayed for sale throughout the town
While we spent our time in town working on tasks related to the failed home purchase, we still could enjoy the beach and marina before and after trips to the bank, government offices and other such destinations.

Pharae Palace Hotel on Kalamata's waterfront
In fact, we stayed twice this summer at a hotel called Pharae Palace, where for 70-euros a night, we had an ocean-side balcony room and the price included free wi-fi (that worked!) and a lavish buffet breakfast – one of the best we’ve had in Europe served in its rooftop bar and restaurant, The Loft, a place that offered 180-degree views.

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Views from The Loft
History buffs will want to visit its three museums: The Archaeological Museum of Messenia – where displays are divided into provincial regions; a Historical and Folklore Museum of Kalamata that highlights the town’s bygone days; and a free Military Museum (where all the signage is in Greek).

If You Go:

For more information:

As always we appreciate the time you spend with us! And thank you so much for recommending TravelnWrite to others and sharing links to the blog on Facebook!! Hope your travels continue to be good ones whether actual or armchair.  See you back here again later this week.

Linking with:
Mosaic Monday
Foodie Tuesday

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Greece ~ Unexpected Joys Off-the-Beaten-Path

We did get back in the saddle again last month after our Greek house deal fell through and resumed our search for homes and/or property in The Mani.  And I have to tell you, searching for real estate in a place with the history and mystery of the Peloponnese is simply a task punctuated by unexpected joys.

PicMonkey Collage
With our realtors, on our own and with friends our search continued

From olive groves to gorges, we spent our last few days in Greece exploring "possibilities' with our realtors and even with friends who were kind enough to escort us. We also set out on our own several times. The one thing that becomes very clear when searching for property is:

When you get off the beaten tourist path there is always a treasure to be discovered!
The Gulf of Messina and Kardamyli
High above the small village of Kardamyli on the Messinian Gulf where we were staying, is an equally small – actually, smaller –  ancient village called Proastio.

Proastio is known for its many churches. You can find them in every size, shape and condition.

Our destination was an area just outside the village.  We set off on a rather bumpy dirt road because that is often where you find the most interesting of houses for sale.

It wasn’t long before we came upon a small brown directional sign that alerted us to a church somewhere ahead that obviously had some historical significance. 

By this point in our home search/purchase process we were easily swayed from our task. We decided to table our search to find and explore the church in this scantily populated area.

We parked the car under the shade of this ancient olive tree and set out in the direction of distant, but distinct, goat bells; their dull clanking calling us to the old church where the animals grazed. . .


As was the case in so many places we visited – wonderful, enchanting historic sites – we were the only ones there. In this case we had  two or three grazing goats who had greeted, then, ignored us.


Signage explained the structure was the old Katholikon of Agio Theodoroi, (Saint Theordoroi) and dates back to the 13th Century.  At some time in history it was severely damaged by an earthquake and restoration measures have brought it back to its present condition.  Sadly, its door was locked as its interior is decorated with murals also dating as far back as the 13th Century.

DSCF2460This newer church sits behind the old one but there were no signs to explain its more ‘modern’ history or age.

This carved stone basin just outside its door caught our attention.

What was it used for?

Holy water?

When had it last been used?

We peered and poked around – desires to look at real estate completely forgotten with this treasure to be explored. We didn’t touch the walls so fragile looking that it seemed the slightest touch could topple them, yet obviously strong enough to withstand centuries of wear and tear.

PicMonkey Collage

Our curiosity satisfied we returned to our original task. . .but we’ll long remember this topsy-turvy treasure that we discovered off the beaten path:

Katholikon of Agio Theodoroi
Have you had the courage to venture off-the-beaten tourist track? What was it you discovered?

We are giving a big shout-out today to our new followers and subscribers!  And another shout-out to those of you who recommended TravelnWrite to them! We appreciate all of you who take the time to read TravelnWrite very much~

Linking up:
Budget Travelers Sandbox – Travel Photo Thursday

Sunday, August 3, 2014

WAWeekend: A Taste of the Ol’ West

Prior to heading off for Greece this summer we took a quick road trip to the Yakima Valley, a part Central Washington’s wine country, and had a taste of the ol’ West at a new eatery in an ol’ building in the heart of downtown Prosser.

So join us for lunch at the Horse Heaven Saloon. The Scout will even hold the door for you:

PicMonkey Collage

The doors by the way are made of Brazilian Purple Heart wood, a wood used in area hop kilns which are the processing plants where hops are prepared to use as flavorings in beer.  For you gun enthusiasts out there: The photo on the left shows the door handles which are replicas of the Old West Cavalry single revolver with seven inch barrels. The two inside handles are models of an 1897 25 –32 caliber Winchester and a 1970’s model 32 caliber.

PicMonkey Collage 
The bar has been made from repurposed old growth Douglas Fir and old combine wheels.  (Combines with wheels like these were used in the harvest of hay and grain in the Yakima Valley and are the precursors to the modern-day mammoth versions).  Here those wheels separate the bar seating from the restaurant seating, making the place family-friendly. . .kids can eat in the restaurant which is separated from the bar per Washington State’s rather goofy law on the subject.


The walls are covered with murals that pay tribute to the Saloon’s name, Horse Heaven Hills. The name, by the way, is attributed to a Valley pioneer, James Gordon Kinney who in 1857 is said to have noted the knee-high grasses covering the rolling hills in the area and the large herds of feral horses grazing there.  “Excellent forage and comparative isolation. . .This is surely a horse heaven!” he is credited with pronouncing.

This one pays homage to the old beer truck deliveries.


Being a cat lover I had to include this one.

If the d├ęcor wasn’t enough reason to head here, the food is.  And the menu describes it as a Western-themed gastro pub. The chef, Laurie Kennedy creates a variety of dishes that could include seared ahi to specially prepared chicken gizzards.  While the full bar provides any type of adult beverage, you might want to try a Horse Heaven Hills Brewery beer handcrafted by Gary Vegar.

PicMonkey Collage

We were there at noon and decided to share a sandwich and each have ‘just’ a cup of soup. . .both were so large that we could have skipped one or the other but the food was so good we managed to eat it all without a bit of hesitation!

If you are in Central Washington, this eatery – now open for just under a year – is worth a visit.

Prosser is about a 3.5 hour drive from Seattle. The nearest airports are in the TriCities and Yakima.

Horse Heaven Hills Saloon
615 6th St. (Main Street in this small town)
Check their web site for hours and menu and some fun photos or find them on FB.
Linking up:
Inside Journeys – Foodie Tuesday

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

That Greek House ~ Waking from A Daydream

“Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die,
Life’s a broken-winged bird,
that cannot fly.”
                               --Langston Hughes
In this post, we continue to sidestep a bit from “travel” but then what travelers haven’t once or twice imagined themselves chasing a daydream of owning a home in some foreign location. . .

"That stone house on the hill. . ."
We’d arrived back in The Mani in late June to close in on that daydream of ours: owning a home in Greece. The purpose of our month-long trip was to purchase ‘that stone house on the hill’—the one on the far right in the photo above to be exact. We’d examined it twice last spring along with several others. It was ‘the one’.

DSCF0226Our offer had been accepted, a down payment made and a closing date set before we left the U.S.

By noon our first day in Greece we’d opened a bank account and secured tax ID numbers (both necessary for home ownership in this country).

A few days later we toured the house with its current owners (we’d met them last spring) and had a tutorial on details like power and water sources, and olive grove maintenance.

They were busy packing their belongings to ship back to their homeland, England. Their big boxes would leave several days before closing. They would leave Greece July 17th.

PicMonkey Collage
The house's front deck and view from it

As they prepared to leave; we prepared to arrive and function – if even on our planned part-time basis – in this new world.  We were learning to think of temperatures as Celsius, not Fahrenheit; measurements using the Metric System (cheating by using a dual tape measure we’d purchased that had both millimeters and inches) and we spoke of prices in terms of euros – not dollars. We were immersing ourselves in another culture – just what we had hoped to do with the purchase of a house here.

View from the bedroom deck
We all moved toward the closing date – the day we would take occupancy of this vacation home of ours: July 10th.

As we would have only 12 days in our new property on this trip we established a timeline of projects that would be undertaken or possibly completed before we returned to the U.S.

The 17-tree olive grove, pictured below, in need of some major trimming, was The Scout’s focus while I had my eye on painting interior walls and getting some new furniture in place.

PicMonkey Collage
I had brought the paint chips with us
We’d decided this home set amidst olive groves would do well with a bit of country rustic and had decided upon these pieces as ‘probable’ for the house that had both dark stone accent walls intermixed with plaster walls in its main living area:

PicMonkey Collage
The furniture we'd chosen
We were ready! Our funds were in the bank and all our paperwork completed except for ‘that document’ that I mentioned last week. So we set off to explore the Peloponnese peninsula’s most western tip during the few days we had before closing.

~ Waking from the Midsummer’s Daydream ~
Upon our return from the road trip we learned the closing date was going to be delayed a few days. The owner’s civil engineer hadn’t yet filed necessary paperwork for the property’s registration – it would ‘surely be done’ by the following week. Then ‘that document’ we’d been waiting for could be prepared and closing could still take place before the owners left for England.  (Perhaps on my July 16th birthday? Now, that would be memorable!)

Scene on island of Kefalonia

So with more days to fill while we waited we set off on a second road trip, this one took us to the Ionian Island of Kefalonia – an amazingly beautiful land mass in the Ionian Sea. I’ll feature it in an upcoming post.

Town square in Argostoli, Kefalonia
On our second evening on the island, as we were settling in on the town square to sip some wine, we received what shall forever be known as the daydream ‘wake-up’ call (that’s The Scout on the phone in the upper right hand corner) from our realtor:

New problems had just surfaced. . . other paperwork – several years worth of income tax reports, necessary for the sale of the house, hadn’t been filed by the owners.

(Note: If you own property in Greece you must file annual income tax returns whether you generate income there or not – in fact, you must file documentation each year to show from where your funds do come. You must file other income tax forms reporting the ownership of property.)

The owners -- who’d lived there for years apparently hadn’t known that—they’d never filed a report. It would delay the closing a minimum of another 10 days to 2 weeks. The owners would search for those documents after they returned to England as that’s where they believed the documents were.

And they also needed to find proof of their purchase of the house. . .it, too, was believed to be in England.

Bougainvillea blooms and blue skies on Kefalonia
Our flight back to the U.S. was July 22nd.

If found, none of their new documentation would even be submitted for review until the first of August. If approved. . .

So, it was that lovely warm evening on Kefalonia that our daydream got away from us. As we calculated the growing list of “if’s” that loomed ahead and the mounting costs of this already pricey trip, we called the deal off.

We had been so concerned about bringing all the appropriate paperwork we needed for the sale, it hadn’t occurred to us to ask if the sellers had all the paperwork in place that they needed – after all, the house had been on the market for more than two years. . .

Instead of closing in on that daydream, we spent a portion of my birthday at our Greek bank completing paperwork to return our money for the house purchase back to the U.S.  (It arrived a few hours before we did the following week.)

The owners left for England on their scheduled July 17th.

The freeway between Athens and The Mani
We left The Mani, drove to Athens and flew home on our scheduled date.

Instead of the decade or so we’d envisioned, our daydream ended up lasting only a month. But had we not acted on it, we’d have always wondered if we would have had the courage to do it.

This trip proved we could . . .

We came so very close.

And so ends the daydream tales from Greece – for now. We will get back to reality travel tales with our next post.  Thanks for joining us today ~ it always is fun to have friends along on the journey; especially when they don’t go as expected!

Linking up:
Budget Travelers Sandbox – Travel Photo Thursday
Sunday’s Weekend Travel Inspirations and Sunday Traveler
Mosaic Monday


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