Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Mumbai: Magic Mixed with Madness

A crush of humanity, over-zealous sidewalk touts, waves of  taxis, cows tethered to street light posts, the synchronized dance of the dabbawalas, 94-degrees and humidity to match. . .


Mumbai, India, home to sprawling slums and glitzy Bollywood, was sheer madness. 
Mumbai was sheer magic.

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A holy man on the steps of a Hindu Temple - Mumbai, India

We had two days in this city that up until 20 years ago was known as Bombay. It was one of  two ports of call in India on our 34-day Oceania Nautica cruise from Bangkok, Thailand to Istanbul, Turkey. 

We’d opted on our first day to take a cruise-sponsored shore excursion that  gave us an overview of India’s second largest city; a place said to be home to more billionaires than any other place in the world. Cruise sponsored shore excursions are not inexpensive. This eight-hour tour cost $209 per person and that's why I recommended in the 'repositioning' cruise post last week that benefits like on-board credits which can be used toward the cost of these tours are important.

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Cows on the Corner

As we rode in the air-conditioned comfort of a large tour bus we enjoyed a  kaleidoscope of scenes and everyday settings ranging from classic British colonial buildings to Hindu Temples, a public market and museum. We set out on our own the second day.

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Families on the Sidewalk - Mumbai, India
Some of the most striking Mumbai memories were those of  street scenes like the ones above. . . street corners hosting family gatherings or cows tethered to light posts.

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Mumbai, India

While we didn’t do extensive research about the place before we visited, I’ve since spent a bit of time reading about its history since our return home. One of the best concise accounts was written by Leo Mirani, for The Guardian newspaper in 2008:

“Bombay was ‘discovered’ by the Portuguese in the early 16th century, ceded in dowry to the English in 1661, and transformed into a thriving metropolis over the next 300 years by the East India Company, the Crown, Parsi, Gujarati and Jewish businessmen, mills, movies and money.”


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Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel - Mumbai, India
Two days here was simply not enough. We did regret not taking advantage of the independent explorations allowed on this cruise and wish we'd spent a night on land at the legendary Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel. This was another grand old hotel on my ‘bucket list’ and remembered as we entered it, watching the horrifying images on news reports of smoke billowing from it as result of terrorist attacks in 2008.

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Interior sitting room near the pool area - Taj Mahal Hotel
I can assure you its interior common areas are again awash in luxurious beauty.  Everyone enters through metal detectors and bags are screened as they enter the lobby (we’ve found this a common practice at most major hotels in the Middle and Far East these days).

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The floral arrangements were spectacular - Taj Mahal Hotel Mumbai, India
YangontoSafaga2015 252The original hotel was the first harbor landmark, built before the Gateway to India and it was home to the first licensed bar in the city.

That iconic Gateway to India (pictured on the left) just across the street from the hotel was built in 1911 to welcome King George V and Queen Mary. As we approached the Gateway we were swarmed by tourist touts; several who came up while I was taking a photo to tell me not to bother – I could buy one from them.

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We didn't need a warning to keep us from eating street food in Mumbai, India
One of the most interesting stops was to catch a bit of the daily routine of the city’s famous food distributors, the Dabbawalas.


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Dabbawalas at work outside Santacruz train station - Mumbai, India
More than 5,000 dabbawalas, clad in white ‘Gandhi’ caps, cotton shirts, trousers and sandals, deliver made-at-home lunches to the office workers each day. Their name derives from the ‘dabbas’ or metal tiffin boxes that they deliver to the office and then return back to the home each day. More than 130,000 dabbas are delivered daily.  The photos above show the dabbawalas setting off from outside Mumbai’s Santacruz train station.

Our ship's tour was of Old Bombay and it was when we stopped at Khotachiwadi I knew more research about the history of this amazing city was in order after I got home. Such an interesting stop it was, it deserves its own post which is coming soon.

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As we lost track of days and locations the Ship's Navigational map was helpful
Leaving Mumbai our Magic Carpet Ride of a cruise did a two-day crossing the Arabian Sea heading to the true Middle East, heading to our next port of call in a country I'd had to look up on the map before our cruise: Oman . . .the next door neighbor to conflict-bedraggled Yemen.

We weren’t in Kansas any more, Toto! as Dorothy would have remarked about Oz.  We were heading to the HRA – High Risk Area and it was time to turn our thoughts to security aboard the ship and on land . . .but that’s another story. . .

As always we appreciate the time you spend with us and thank you for recommending us to your friends.  And to those who’ve shared links to TravelnWrite on Twitter and posts on Facebook, more thanks. Those shares are the highest forms of compliments. Until the next time, happy and safe travels to you and yours ~

Linking up this week with:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox 
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening
Mersad's Through My Lens
Photo Friday - Pierced Wonderings
Wordless Wednesday

Monday, September 21, 2015

Repositioning: Steal-of-a-Deal Cruises

The 34-day spring cruise aboard Oceania’s Nautica that took us from Bangkok, Thailand to Istanbul, Turkey was a repositioning cruise.

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Oceania Nautica on the Indian Ocean
The four-day fall cruise aboard the Ruby Princess that took us from Vancouver, British Columbia to Los Angeles, California this week was also a repositioning cruise.

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Ruby Princess on the Pacific Ocean
The two were vastly different cruising experiences: one aboard a small ship with not quite 500 passengers that took us to exotic places we’d probably have otherwise never visited and the other a ship of 3,500 passengers that took us on a long-weekend-like getaway to familiar places.

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Sailing from Vancouver, B.C. - sunny, but cold

What was similar was the fact they were ships being repositioned from one part of the world to another for a new sailing season.  The Princess ship, for example, was moving south from its summer Alaska sailings to California, and warm-weather destinations for the winter season.

Thus, the name “Repositioning” cruises; and offered in the spring and fall when ship’s are being moved. The cruise line offers deals so that they make some money while moving the ship and passengers benefit from the deals they offer to fill the ships. 

After I posted on the TravelnWrite Facebook page about our little cruise, I had so many questions that I thought  it time to highlight them again. They’ve been the subject matter of several posts  in recent years because they are among our favorite cruise types; so much so, that I wrote about them for the Seattle Times.

Short Pacific Northwest Getaway cruises

We’ve taken a number of short getaway cruises on the ships that sail the waters between Seattle, Washington or Vancouver, BC and Alaska during the summer months. They range in length from overnight to four- or five-days.

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Our mini-suite on the Ruby Princess
The most recent, a three-night sailing with no ports of call, took us from  Vancouver, B. C. to Los Angeles. The price had been the enticement – a mini-suite for just over $500. The mini-suite featured a sitting area, two-flat screen televisions, a king-size (and very comfortable) bed, walk-in closet and full bathroom (double the size of our Oceania ship’s bathroom).

We rented a car in the Seattle suburb, Bellevue, WA for $60 and dropped it off in Vancouver, B.C.  We were traveling with another couple, so it was cheaper to rent the car than to pay for four Amtrak train tickets. We returned home to Seattle from LA on Alaska Airlines for $99 per person. We spent a night in Vancouver but could have driven up the day of the cruise, saving the cost of the hotel and meals.

Note:  It is important to factor in these additional costs when considering cruise deals because they do add up. In the case of our Oceania cruise, entry visa costs for various countries added to the cost calculations. India, for example is $369 per person while Turkey is $20 per person.

Exotic Ports of Call and Days At Sea

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Yangon, Myanmar, a port of call on Oceania's Nautica sailing
Repositioning cruises can often take you to out-of-the-way places that would be difficult and expensive to reach otherwise and they offer long days at sea.

The affordable, reduced, price and extremely generous on-board benefits ($1,800 in on-board spending, pre-paid gratuities –a savings of about $800 -- and daily unlimited internet – saving about $900 )-- when coupled with an array of exotic ports of call were what enticed us to take the Oceania Nautica last spring.

We visited 10 countries, unpacking at the beginning of the cruise and packing at the end – no hauling bags, no airports, no muss, no fuss.  We were able to experience a high-end cruise line and visit a number of places that would have been both difficult and expensive to reach had we gone to them on our own. Some we need not return to, but others are now on our list for a return visit and longer stay.

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Celebrity Solstice in Sydney, Australia's harbour
There were long stretches of days at sea on the 23-day repositioning cruise we took aboard the Celebrity Solstice from Honolulu, Hawaii to Sydney, Australia.  The ship was repositioning from Seattle, but we opted for fewer days and flew to Honolulu to board (it also cost less from there). A number of fellow passengers were from Australia having also flown to Hawaii to sail home.

Note: Again we were able to visit multiple places including three South Pacific islands and New Zealand en route to Australia while not having to deal with air travel (and its cost), packing and unpacking at each stop.

Getting to and from Europe

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Canary Islands - a port of call on repositioning cruises

One of our favorite types of repositioning cruises is transiting the Atlantic Ocean, either going to or returning from Europe. Any number of cruise lines offer these sailings; we’ve crossed on Holland America and Celebrity ships. The ports of call usually include one or two stops on the United States side of the Atlantic and three or four on the European side with six or seven days at sea.  One of the best deals we nabbed was a balcony room for $125 per night.

Note: The plus side of these cruises are the stops in places like the Canary Islands and Madeira – destinations that would require expensive and long flights and multiple connections for travelers like us, living in the Western United States.

Long Days At Sea and Weather Considerations

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Repositioning cruises involve long, lovely days at sea
Because ships are being moved from one area of the world to another, repositioning cruises often involve long stretches of days at sea – no land in sight, no ports of call. Even our little cruise from Vancouver was two days at sea with no ports of call.
NOTE: Cruise lines go overboard (pun, intended) in lining up activities, events, classes, lectures, promotions, games, music and dance to keep passengers busy on those days.  Some, like us, prefer to laze away the time with a good book and watching the waves. 
If you are not able to deal with days at sea  and being confined to the ship, you might want to think twice before taking a repositioning cruise, no matter how good the deal.

Weather on these shoulder season cruises can be good, bad, or a bit of both. Our first day out of Vancouver was a blustery rainy and windy day and our second day allowed us to bask and burn in California sunshine. You'll want to check weather sites and pack accordingly.

“The Scout’s” Deal Finder

“The Scout” is credited with finding all the repositioning cruises we’ve taken.  He uses a number of cruise web sites. We booked our three-day cruise using Vacations To Go. They have a link to repositioning cruise deals.  CruCon Cruise Outlet is our usual ‘go to’ site as they’ve often offered benefits that tip the scale in their favor, even if the cruise price has been the same as offered elsewhere.

That’s it for today.  If you have specific questions, ask them in the comment section below or shoot us an email.  Hope it is smooth sailing ahead for you and your family until we see you back here. We’ll return to tales from our repositioning spring cruise with a stop in Mumbai, India.

Linking up with:

Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox 
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening
Mersad's Through My Lens
Photo Friday - Pierced Wonderings
Wordless Wednesday

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Spicing up the trip in Cochin, India’s Jew Town

Travel, we’ve decided, simply upsets preconceived notions about people and places.  Take India, for example.

Our ship, Oceania’s Nautica, had sailed past Chinese fishing nets as we arrived in the port city, Cochin, aka Kochi, giving it a more Asian than Indian flavor – at least based on  my preconceived notions of India.

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Off to tour Kochi, India
The scenes along the the waterway had whetted our appetites for what we would see on our independent shore excursion.

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Tiny Tuk Tuks - Cochin, India
We’d decided to go it alone in this city so after clearing customs and disembarking the ship, we arranged our day’s travels with the driver (pictured above) of this auto-rickshaw, aka Tuk-Tuk.  Locals use them much like a taxi, with various rates to various destinations. We traveled for a set price and duration, negotiated and paid before we set off from the dock.

Our driver obviously had transported tourists before though because he set off for the old historic part of town. . .an area simply called Jew Town, once the hub of the Kochi spice trade.

First a stop: Kochi’s Public Laundry

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Kochi, India's  Public Laundry
Several dozen tourists had been disgorged from tourist buses at the laundry before we arrived. And despite telling our driver that I really didn’t want to take photos here, he couldn’t quite comprehend it. So here are the photos – which I was uncomfortable taking and tried to avoid people shots, but did catch this smiling lady who didn’t seem to mind being the focus of many cameras. I reasoned out that they must be proud of this system of ‘laundromats’ or they wouldn’t be bringing us all to see them. (The laundry was also part of a ship’s tour in Mumbai.)

Cochin/Kochi – A Quick Bit of History

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Modern Cochin, India

Before India’s independence in 1947 Kochi, in southern India’s Kerala state,  was ruled by the Portuguese (1498-1663), the Dutch (1663 – 1795) and British (1797 – 1947). Maritime traders seeking Keralan spices, sandalwood and ivory are credited with setting the stage for today’s blending of cultures and the rather cosmopolitan look of the city.

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Santa Cruz Basilica - Cochin, India
Our Tuk Tuk tour took us through a portion of the historic Fort Kochi/Cochin area and we had plenty of stops at places like the Santa Cruz Basilica, (pictured above), one of the oldest churches in India. The original structure was destroyed by the British and this building constructed in 1905.

[Now why I didn’t expect Chinese fishing nets to be followed by Jew Town and reminders of the Portuguese, Dutch and British influence in India, I’ll never figure out. But next time I’ll be doing a lot more research about our destinations before I see them and not after so I can more fully appreciate what I am seeing.]

Off to Jew Town

Kochi Jews are descendants of Jewish refugees who had fled from Palestine 2,000 years ago. Jew Town got its beginning back in 1524 when a Hindu Raja (another version says, King of Kochi) granted them land to them near his palace.

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Today's Jew Town - a mix of old and new - Cochin, India

Jew Town, a thriving enclave in the 1500’s is today a still-bustling area area between Mattancherry Palace (built by the Portuguese in 1555 and remodeled by the Dutch in 1663) and Pardesi Synagogue (built 1568).

Although still a busy area, most of the Jews who lived here emigrated to Israel after its creation in 1948.  Several recent news articles say the numbers of Jews in Jew Town these days have dwindled to double digit figures and there is concern that its rich history will be lost to future generations.

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Goats wandered streets and sidewalks - Cochin, India

Lonely Planet describes the streets as being ‘thick with the smell of the past’ and those smells were an intoxicating blend of ginger, cardamom, cumin, tumeric and cloves.  Huge gunny sacks of spices piled high on delivery trucks and in doorways.

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Squeezing through spice streets - Cochin, India
On a day when both the temperatures and humidity hovered in the mid-90’s the combination of the two intensified the smells of spice as our driver putted along narrow streets squeezing us between delivery trucks and the small spice firms operating out of dilapidated storefronts. We inhaled deeply – the smells were an intoxicating, exotic blend of which we couldn’t get enough.

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Unloading spices - Cochin, India
We left the open-air comfort of our Tuk Tuk and strolled through an area of small shops selling tourist goods, and antiques; an area where even a moment’s hesitation would bring an eager salesperson to our side inviting us in and offering ‘good prices’.  Their enthusiasm, mixed with the sun’s intensity, drove us into a restaurant at the water’s edge where we sipped ginger water and ate  ginger ice cream.

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Ginger water and ginger ice cream - a respite in Cochin, India
As we were leaving the restaurant another ‘notion’ was knocked to the wayside  in a most delightful way: 

Our pre-arrival port information cautioned, “. . it is considered offensive to photograph local women and courtesy demands to ask permission before taking pictures of men.” So I didn’t intentionally take aim at women, nor did I ask men if I could take their photos. 

What they hadn’t prepared us for was being approached by a twosome of beautiful young women who asked if they could take OUR photo. . .(btw, now we know how that feels and it is rather strange!) 
So we posed for them and they snapped away with modern cell phones.  But then it was our turn - one more photo. . .

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Photos are fun - no matter what the country! Cochin, India
Our Magic Carpet Ride heads a bit further north in India next week and lands in Mumbai! Hope you'll be back and until then, safe travels to you and yours ~ and as always many thanks for the time you spent here today! 

Linking up with:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox 
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening
Mersad's Through My Lens
Photo Friday - Pierced Wonderings
Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Cruising to Cochin ~ Our Gateway to India

The, already intense, early morning sun was a spotlight focused on the giant Chinese fishing nets that lined the waterway. A most striking sight to be sure, but not what we’d expected.

After all, we were in India.

The stillness allowed voices to carry from those on the fishing nets- distance and dialect making them indistinguishable – as our ship headed towards the cruise port.

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Fishing nets - Cochin, India

It didn’t matter whether we could understand the words, as we consider these distant voices an unofficial call of welcome as we approach a port of call. And on this morning we were gliding to Cochin, our gateway to India.

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Fishing nets believed introduced during the time of Kublai Khan - Cochin, India

Cochin, (Kochi, as it is more commonly called  there)  is often called “The Queen of the Arabian Sea”.

These slow-passing scenes that come with arrivals and departures are among our favorite parts of cruising. We find them far more interesting than the thud of an airplane’s wheels on the runway and the hustle through an unfamiliar airport.

TYangontoSafaga2015 103wo weeks before, we’d set sail from Bangkok, Thailand en route to Istanbul, Turkey, a 34-day journey -- a Magic Carpet Ride -- aboard Oceania’s Nautica.  

We’d finished three languorous days at sea crossing the Bay of Bengal (the largest bay in the world) and passing Sri Lanka as we headed to Cochin, located on the southwestern tip of India.

We find that approaching and departing cruise ports is much like watching an old-fashioned photo slide show; a glimpse at how people live and work in the place (which is to us often more interesting than highly touted tourist attractions).

Sometimes like in the photo below, you see both the beauty and the not-so-beautiful side of places.
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Garbage and Gondolas - Cochin, India

While we hovered at the ship’s railing not wanting to miss anything we noted  very few of our fellow passengers had gathered to watch this arrival. Maybe it wasn’t as fascinating to them as it was for us – this was our first glimpse of India!

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Morning commute - Cochin, India
Of course, many of our fellow cruisers might might have been packing as a large group was traveling from Cochin to the Taj Mahal and wouldn’t return to the ship until four days later in Mumbai (as I’ve noted in earlier posts, the land options were many and varied with this cruise line).

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A passing scene - Cochin, India
The passing scenes provided snapshots for us of the area’s history beginning with those giant Chinese fishing nets, called Cheenavala, and believed to have been introduced here by traders from the court of Chinese Ruler Kublai Khan (who reigned from 1260 to 1294)  to architecture reflecting both the influence of the Portuguese and British.

It all was a far cry from our preconceived notions of how India would look: a crush of people and traffic, rushing about dirty streets:  Why the water here was finally blue; not the murky polluted stuff we’d been sailing through in Southeast Asia!

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Tourist boats line the waterway - Cochin, India

Our departure that evening provided the same sense of serenity – ferry passengers found our ship as interesting as we did theirs:

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Ferries - Cochin, India
As we sailed past, we picked out places that we would like to explore in more detail on a future trip (yes, we’d love to return to this place that ranks the 6th best tourist destination in India):

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Scenes of sail-away - Cochin, India
A day in Cochin was simply not long enough! We didn’t make it to the modern part of the city, and we’d not had enough time to explore the areas lining the waterways.  We’d spent our time visiting the city’s historic district; the one with a mix of ancient mosques, a 400-year-old synagogue and the remains of a once-flourishing Jewish community and bygone era structures influenced by both the Portuguese and British occupancy.

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The TravelnWrite Duo Exploring Cochin, India - up close and personal in an autorickshaw

And we did it as any daring adventurers might: on our own as passengers aboard a teeny, tiny auto-rickshaw, (or tuk-tuk) pictured above. In our next post we’ll take you zipping along with us through the streets of Cochin! Hope to see you back again and until then, happy and safe travels~

Linking this week with:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox 
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening
Mersad's Through My Lens
Photo Friday - Pierced Wonderings
Wordless Wednesday

Monday, August 24, 2015

An Update on Greece ~ Because you’ve asked. . .

We are interrupting our tales of sailing from Asia to Istanbul this week because so many of you’ve asked about our stay at The Stone House on the Hill following the cruise and how we are faring in light of ‘the situation’ in Greece.  I’ve had so many things to tell you about Greece that I thought of starting a second blog, but since that hasn’t happened, here’s a recap and I’ll be back to cruise posts next week . . .

I’ll begin at the end. It was very difficult to leave The Stone House on the Hill after our stay this spring. Four weeks simply weren’t long enough. Since purchasing our home in The Mani area of the Greek Peloponnese last December we’ve spent nearly two months in it; three weeks last winter and our most recent spring stay.

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"Our" Mani Agios Nikolaos in the foreground and Stoupa in the background

“The Situation?” you asked . . .

Our departure for the U.S. from Greece turned out to be only days before the banks there closed and their economic world turned upside down. Had we been there, we would also have been under the same withdrawal limitations on our Greek bank account as were the Greeks. The banks have reopened as has their stock exchange, however, we are still unable to wire funds from the United States to that Greek bank account of ours.

Unlike the reports you’ve seen on headline news around the world, our friends and neighbors there assure us via emails and Skype conversations that the cash machines in our area of Greece have funds, the grocery store shelves are stocked and medicines are readily available.

Tourists, according to Ekathimerini, the English-language newspaper published in Athens, reported yesterday that tourism is going to hit record numbers in 2015 if the upcoming Greek elections result in a stable government. Estimates are that more than 25 million foreign tourists will visit. Arrivals during the first six months of this year show U.S. visitors increased by 41.6%, Germans by 23.5% and British by 21.2%.

The Stone House on the Hill . . . what did we do there?

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The Stone House on the Hill - Sunset, June 2015
Certain areas of The Stone House on the Hill or its gardens and grove were torn up during our stay, put back together and then another spot torn up and put back together as work progressed to make it ‘our home’ – one that reflected our colors, tastes and designs.

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After out with the old comes in with the new
There were several days during our stay that we made shopping trips to the big city and then a few days later The Scout would drive down the hill to meet delivery trucks from Kalamata and lead them back up to the house as you might recall, we don’t have an address so deliveries can be a bit of a challenge. Then there was the matter of getting items to the house – a good workout!

Many of those items required assembly and we discovered we were able to read directions and ‘build’ things, as well as paint walls – all of which was admittedly work, but also labors of love.

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Small bedroom on its way to becoming a den with bookshelf put together by us
Several major projects were completed while we were 'in residence' including replacing the buckled and water-soaked Formica gold-swirled kitchen counter and marble window sill with black granite. These projects we turned over to professional craftsmen who worked wonders with not only the counter top but also the window sill (which was a gift – no charge). An electrician hooked up the new stove and exhaust fan we purchased to replace the ones that weren’t working:

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Kitchen re-do Spring 2015
Many of the projects had been completed between our winter stay and our return this spring and only needed some decorative touches, like the stairway linking the upper and side garden. The previous owner had used a ladder to get between the two. Made a great place to start my potted herb garden!

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New stairway and herb container garden
One area that really took shape this spring – perhaps my pride and joy -- was my Lemon Tree Wine Patio. When we’d first seen it last year it was so overgrown I had thought it a small patio maybe large enough for a small table and a chair. We rolled up our sleeves, put on the work gloves and were reminded of what a bit of cleaning and clearing can do!

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Lemon Tree Wine Patio debuts
The house came with a small olive grove – 15 trees – and it was so overgrown that we’d never been able to walk through it.  Prior to our arrival, the orchard grass was cut and we had stairs constructed between the terraces . . .the idea being that guests might like to stroll through the grove and someday there will be table and chairs down there so we can entertain a la Under the Tuscan Sun style with long afternoon meals with visiting friends. . .

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The Grove at The Stone House on the Hill
Our days were busy and happy at The Stone House on the Hill.  We continue to be glad we chased and then caught that daydream in Greece. And how we are looking forward to our return this fall! To those who’ve asked about ‘the situation’  - your interest and concern are most appreciated. I'll tell you more about the house and 'hood in future posts. The photo below was taken from our main deck - sunsets like this made every evening spectacular.

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A Messinian Sunset
We’ll resume our tales next week of our time in India and then we’ll head west to the Middle East in subsequent reports.  Happy and safe travels to you and yours ~

Linking this week with:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox 
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening
Mersad's Through My Lens
Photo Friday - Pierced Wonderings
Wordless Wednesday

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Stay in Myanmar’s Grand Old Strand Hotel

“Dear Mr. Smith,

. . .You share our Guest Register with the likes of George Orwell, Sir Peter Ustinov, Somerset Maugham, David Rockefeller, Sir Noel Coward, Rudyard Kipling and HRH Kin Taufa’ahau Tupou IV of Tonga (in 1936), who have all stayed at The Strand.

Enjoy your ‘Burmese Days’ and the magical experience that is Myanmar and its wonderfully friendly people.”

That excerpt from the welcome letter from The General Manager was to set the tone for an extraordinary stay at The Strand Hotel, Yangon, Myanmar.

Stepping into the lobby – admittedly small in stature and d├ęcor when compared to today’s 5-star behemoths – with its marble floors, rattan furniture and lofty ceiling felt as if we were stepping back more than a century in time into the British Colonial Far East.

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Lobby of The Strand - Yangon, Myanmar
For three days and two nights we’d get a taste of the genteel grandeur of British-influenced early 1900’s in the still developing Rangoon, Burma, as it was then called. Today it is Yangon, Myanmar, one of the ports of call of our Oceania cruise that took us from Bangkok, Thailand to Istanbul, Turkey last spring.

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The Strand, Rangon, Myanmar, left, Raffles Hotel, Singapore, right

Because the cruise line allowed for on-shore stays, we’d planned to stay in this historic haven since booking our cruise. This neo-classic charmer was built in 1901 by John Darwood, and was later acquired by four Armenian brothers – the Sarkies – as part of their early 20th Century luxury hotel collection that included The Strand, the Eastern & Oriental in Penang and the Raffles Hotel in Singapore.

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Serenaded at checkin; we sipped watermelon juice with another couple from the ship
‘Genteel’ became the operative word for this stay. Doormen greeted us and the reception staff ushered us to cushioned rattan couches and served us fresh watermelon juice while we listened to live music and another staff member completed the paperwork for our stay. No long lines or impersonal registration counters here.

A Brief Hotel History

From its beginning this three story hotel, “was regarded as ‘the finest hostelry east of Suez’ and Murray’s Handbook for Travelers in India, Burma and Ceylon, 1911 edition, says the hotel was patronized by ‘royalty, nobility and distinguished personages’,” according to Philippe Delaloye, the current General Manager.

However, during the intervening decades, the British Colonial period ended and Burma became an independent country (1948). The once-luxurious hotel served as a home for Japanese soldiers during Japan’s occupation in World War II and then fell into a state of disrepair in the 1960’s. A Burmese businessman purchased it in 1988 and commissioned its extensive renovation. There were no new towers, fitness clubs or pools added; it was simply restored to its once-luxurious self. And a few modern conveniences like free wi-fi and  flat screen televisions have been added.

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Fresh blooms and toiletries in our bathroom
It reopened in 1993 as a 31-room, all-suite, 5-star hotel and is currently the only hotel in Myanmar to be part of the prestigious Leading Hotels of the World.

We were shown our second-floor suite by the butler assigned to our floor.  A butler (or two) are assigned to each floor 24/7 and simply await a call from guests ~ they open your door for you when you return to your room, push elevator buttons, and lock up your suite when you leave.




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The Butler's station was manned 24/7 on each of the hotels floors
Double doors led from our suite's entry hall into an oversized bathroom with separate shower, tub and toilet area. At the end of the hallway we entered an enormous bedroom with king-sized bed. A separate sitting area with sofa, chair and coffee table was the perfect place for afternoon coffee and cookies – served . . . by the butler, of course!

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Suite 102 The Strand, Yangon, Myanmar where treats were left each night by the butler
My favorite spot in the room was the large desk where I could imagine literary giants of yesteryear penning novels that would transcend the decades and continue to tantalize readers like us with tales of the British Colonial period.

Dining at The Strand


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Dining was a delight at The Strand from breakfast to dinner
Several of you – who read the earlier post on drinking water served from communal cups attached to water tanks along the streets – asked about the food.  We didn’t try street food and ate one (very good) meal at a British pub a few blocks from the hotel. The majority of our meals were eaten at the hotel. Breakfast was included in the price of the room. The menu offerings included items like fresh banana pancakes and fruit for breakfast.

The hotel’s specialties included Onn-Not-Khao Sive, a chicken in light coconut gravy with egg noodles, crispy noodles, boiled egg, shallot and lime (pictured lower left) and the Strand Mohinga, a signature dish, a lemon-grass and ginger infused fish soup, not pictured. We tried them both - they were excellent!

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Enjoying the genteel life at The Strand, Yangon, Myanmar
Our time at this hotel, named for its address 92 Strand Road, was far too short.  We vowed we’d have to return. With any luck we will one day. 

That’s it for our visit to Myanmar. We returned to the ship and that evening set sail for our next port of call, Cochin, India. We’d have three ‘sea days’ while crossing the Bay of Bengal, the largest bay in the world before finally setting foot in India.  Was the hassle we had with getting an India visa worth it? We’ll let you know in our next post!  Happy travels to you and yours until we meet again~

Linking up this week with:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox 
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening
Mersad's Through My Lens
Photo Friday - Pierced Wonderings
Wordless Wednesday

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