Athens re-cap, one month later

Tracy,

Browse archives for November 1, 2018
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The trend continues, having my final blog post always delayed. Because returning home and getting back into the rhythms of real life and work take over. So here now, finally, are my musings from my 2 days in Athens.

The massive ferry boat from Paros to Athens was a trip. Total insanity. Happily Aimee’s skills at online research before the trip served us well. She’d been warned that this was often jammed full of people (to the point of not having seats for everyone on board sometimes). Her research also found that renting one of the small cabin rooms was only an additional 20 euro each, so we decided that was an indulgence worth taking. And it was. It was the standard chaos of boarding (yet it somehow always works) then you have to go find the concierge area to check in, where they issue you cabin keycards. Having never been on a cruise before, I imagine this is maybe similar. It had two bunk beds and a tiny toilet area, with one small porthole window. I was a bit worried about motion sickness, as that’s often an issue for me in any case, and the winds/rough seas of the last few days were continuing. But I camped out in the corner of my small bunk, facing out the tiny window at the horizon (and took my dramamine, of course) and it worked out well. I’d get queasy when lying down, but I managed to sleep a bit sitting up/lounging like that. And I had my podcasts to keep my company. *smile*

Landed at the port that afternoon. Our hotel had arranged for a driver to pick us up for the long-ish drive into Athens, and he was wonderful. Very gregarious and welcoming to his city, telling stories in a booming voice with expansive hand gestures (but always one hand on the steering wheel!). Finally into the city and checked in to our rooms. Great location, near Syntagma Square, so easy 1-2 mile walks/wanders to lots of the big sights. Weather was lovely. And, in a fun bit of happenstance, Aimee’s parents were in Athens at the same time. (They’d booked a package tour of mainland Greece, but one of our Athens evenings overlapped). So we made plans to meet them for dinner. Wandered around the area that afternoon. Encountered several of the aggressive street sellers (scammers?) who try to force “free” bracelets or roses or CDs on you, and then demand payment. Even though I knew better, this guy was so insistent that I take his bracelet of “harmony and love from Jaimaca” that I said, “I do not have any money on me. I cannot pay you for this, but if it’s genuinely free, than alright.” After they tied it on our wrists, the demand for a “donation” came. I repeated, “as I told you, I don’t have any money on me so cannot give you money” and then he instructed his buddy to take our bracelets back, which we were fine allowing. It’s just frustrating when you know it’s a scam but somehow want ones clearly stated words to actually be honored, and they’re not (because, again, it’s a scam). It did help us dissuade the other guys who kept trying this. “Your friends already gave us bracelets and then took them back when we didn’t have any money.” They’d shake their heads, “oh, they shouldn’t do that. This is supposed to be about harmony and love.” (But you’ll notice they didn’t give us a “free” bracelet either. Not that we needed one). The area was vibrant and lovely, with lots to see and do. And with so many centuries of history, there are ruins everywhere and architecture from so many different styles. And some great graffiti and modern stuff, too. So cool to look all around.

  

Google Maps showed “Hadrian’s Arch” was nearby, so I dragged my pals over to see that. Which was very cool, as looking through the arch shows the Acropolis on the hill, and the sun was in that “golden hour” time.

Then we were off to meet Aimee’s parents for dinner. The restaurant had a great view of the Acropolis and nearby hills. Athens is huge and striking, with these giant hills everywhere. Great sunset during a meal of laughter and shared stories, as we were re-capping our trip and her folks were just beginning theirs.

Back at our rooms that evening, and the hotel provides a selection of fresh fruit daily (we were gifted some watermelon slices upon check-in). I was beyond delighted to find a pomegranate on offer. Not only do I love them, but there was something so extra wonderful about getting to eat one IN ATHENS! Even if they are a bit tricky/messy at times.

The next morning was my only full day in the city, so the others graciously let me set the itinerary (as they had another 1.5 days after I flew home). I’ve never taken a “Food Tour” before on my travels, but at dinner, Aimee’s folks mentioned one of their fellow travelers had done a “beyond feta” tour and raved about it. That company was booked, but thanks to TripAdvisor, we found “Athens Walking Tours” offered a small group food tour for the following morning. So I was able to book it that evening for the following morning. That morning, we wisely skipped breakfast and walked over to the meeting space. While waiting for the rest of the group to arrive, our lovely guide Georgia pointed out a Starbucks nearby. I’m always fascinated at the difference between global chains when traveling. (For example, while in Greece we saw several Starbucks’ advertising their new cheesecake bliss drinks). But this was our first time going inside. Loved seeing the different types of foods on offer. And it was hilarious to receive drinks with their names written in the Greek alphabet…except for Amy, because apparently they knew how to spell Amy in the roman alphabet, but not Liv? Liv got her cup first, so Amy was super excited, and then understandably dissappointed to just see “Amy” on the cup.

The food tour was very cool, and we got to try so many different things. By the end we were stuffed and unable to finish it all. I particularly loved all the information we were given. Georgia, as a lifelong Athenian, really loves her city, and loved explaining the cultural and historical influences and meaning behind the different dishes, etc. We wandered through farmer’s markets, and tiny tiny shops that only specialize in making one thing. We stopped in a great local place for a wonderful selection of mezze plates.

And the others in our group (maximum group size is 14) were also lovely. Loved learning people’s stories, and many exchanged contact info afterwards. Alix has always wanted to go cage diving with Great White Sharks in South Africa, and the couple from Capetown had such great advice and gave her their email. The women from Australia kept going back for more of the flavored alcohol shots (at 9:30am). It was just lots of fun, and took us into parts of the city we wouldn’t have explored (or even known to explore) on our own.

Our guide also took us into the Church of Ayioi Theodoroi. We’ve been in several Greek Orthodox churches on our trip, and they’re amazing. Chandeliers and gorgeous icons and these small metal tags attached to shrines.

But most have had a “no photos” policy, which we’ve respected. So it was delightful to learn that we were allowed to take photos in this church. It was amazing to respectfully wander the aisles and see everything. And we learned that the metal tags each have a specific image (eyes, leg, baby, etc) as that’s the specific item the person is praying for/hoping for the saint’s intercession on their behalf. I learned a lot. Also, man, that incense smell is such a wonderful nostalgia catholic mass memory.

Then, on our own, we wandered through several of the shopping markets (I bought a “genuine designer leather” small backpack for only 8 euro, to be my carry-on, so I could check my backpack on the way home. You’ll all be SHOCKED to learn that the zipper started to break the second time I unzipped it. Ha. But it did the trick for my flight at least). Then we wandered over towards the Acropolis Museum, intending to do the museum first and then climb the hill to the site itself. But I remembered that several of the other sites throughout Greece had actually closed much earlier than the closing time listed online. So we asked the museum employee, and she told us that the Acropolis itself was indeed closing sooner than it said online but the museum was open later, so with 1.5 hr until it closed, we took off for a sweaty fast walk. Stood in the long line for tickets. And then began the climb up up up. Tragically (for me) we couldn’t explore the theatre, because they had a concert scheduled for that evening. So that was a bummer, not getting to be in that space. Still, I did get to look down into from atop the hill. I may have said a few quotes from Antigone: “All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride.” and “There is no greater evil than men’s failure to consult and to consider.” felt particularly apt. And more hopefully: “It is my nature to join in love, not hate.”

Then more climbing. All the marble steps everywhere (and not just at the Acropolis site, which makes sense). The sidewalks of modern streets in Athens have marble curbs. Is it so abundant it’s actually cheaper than concrete here? Or is the city choosing the extra expense to make a statement? In either case, it was very cool. (Although some of the marble pathways up/down hill were a bit too slippery for my tastes). Seeing the parthenon was amazing, but I was more struck by the views from atop this hill. I hadn’t quite realized how MASSIVE Athens is. The city just unfolds in all directions. It’s truly impressive (I guess that’s what millenia of being a city will do to urban sprawl). And approaching sunset, it was particularly striking.

I’d been considering skipping this site in favor of seeing something else, but I’m so glad that I changed my mind and actually went. It was very cool. And then we found ourselves (along with a few hundred others) being shoo’ed out and back down the hillside, as they were closing. Then we had another brisk walk back to the museum, which was closing in an hour. So there wasn’t time for a “read all the signs” exploration, but it was still super cool. And the new design of the museum is great. Portions of the floor are glass and one can look down through 3 stories to the excavated ruins beneath the building. The informative video had useful information, but dear god do they need a better copy writer. It was the most dry awful way to deliver this information. Made me itchy with how bad it was. One doesn’t need 3 minutes of just listing the dimensions and number of columns, for fuck’s sake. Ugh. Let’s get a new script, with some sparkling adjectives and vibrant details, and a better voice actor, and this thing would be so much better. Still, the history of the space was great to learn. I didn’t know that much, and hadn’t realized how many times it’s been attacked and destroyed and rebuilt and looted. Again, millenia of wars and empires taking over and changing religions, etc.

Now it’s my final hours in Athens (for real. It’s 9pm and I leave hotel at 3am for my flight). We stop at a place for a cocktail “farewell to Athens” toast. Then a stop in this very popular asian stir fried noodle place. Pick your noodles. Pick your sauce. Pick your veggies. And then wait in this chaos of hip people for them to call your number. But it was the perfect final meal. Fast and tasty and spicy, and portable, in a folded paper container with chopsticks. Then back to the hotel room to pack up, and to try to get 4 hours of sleep (I managed 2.5 hr. Couldn’t turn my brain off to get to sleep). Ugh. My taxi driver to the airport was a sweet old man, but holy crap he was falling asleep at the wheel and I wasn’t sure I’d make it. Super scary. I kept trying to cough or make some noise to try to wake him up. Eek! When we finally got to the airport, he asked me a question or two and I responded with my few words of Greek and he LIT UP. Honestly, so excited about it. Darn, I should’ve asked him a question in greek at the beginning of the 45 min drive and maybe he’d have stayed awake. Ah well. Checked in for Turkish Airlines flight from Athens to Istanbul. Then 5 hr layover at the Istanbul airport, which was very cool. If it’d been 6 hr apparently the airline will provide a free day tour of the city. But I had to stay in the airport (I could’ve paid for a visa and taken a taxi to the Blue Mosque and then rushed back, but that seemed to stressful to attempt by myself, on 2 hr sleep). The airport was actually super cool. So much amazing people watching (being a major hub, a connection point between Africa, Europe, and Asia). So many sights and sounds and wonderful foods to try. They’re scheduled to be opening a new airport soon, because this serves too many flights for its size.

Oh, waiting to board the 14 hr flight to San Fransisco, we had to pass the second security screening at the gate (I’m thinking this is a US requirement, but might be a Turkish choice). Then I notice some hullabaloo. Turns out a passenger had unplugged the giant industrial power cord that serviced all the security screening computers and metal detectors at the gate, so he could plug in his phone. Like, what?!? I’d get using an available plug, but to UNPLUG something that’s already there, especially when it’s this super thick industrial cord, that’s crazy to me. The security guy was just so frustrated and disappointed in the man who’d done this. “Why would you do this?!? Now we have to re-boot the whole system. The flight is going to be delayed now.” Ugh. We were only about 25 minutes late, thankfully. The air crew on Turkish Airlines were amazing. They took very good care of us, and the food was pretty great (for airplane food). I was sat next to THE WORST MAN in the world, but the flight itself was fine. Honestly, he was just this loud drunken boorish old man, sexually harassing the flight staff, being loud and rude, he spilled his drink, he kep throwing/dropping things that would then roll around the cabin floor, he kept poking me to try to ask me questions (as I’m wearing giant headphones watching a movie). Then, because he’s the type of old white guy who won’t get hearing aids but needs them, when I’d respond, he’d loudly exclaim, “Huh?!? I can’t hear you.” He passed out halfway through dinner (yay!) but with a toothpick still in his mouth (boo!!). I kept having visions of him aspirating the tooth pick and we’d have to make an emergency landing somewhere. So when he jolted himself awake from his snores, I told him to remove the toothpick. Sheesh. Oh, and he kept offering me his sleeping pills. And with all of his gross unwanted harassment, etc, those offers sure seemed like, “Here, would you please roofie yourself?” No thank you! And I was most upset that others might think we were traveling together, as he kept talking to me. Barf. I’m the kind of person who spent 30 minutes watching Youtube videos at the airport so I could say “thank you” in Turkish, so being incorrectly associated with such a rude entitled gross asshole…yuck! Still, the flight staff were great. And they offered this amazing non-alocholic raspberry drink. Super refreshing. And I managed to get about 4 hours sleep. And then the flight staff let me stand in the galley area for about 2 hours, writing on my phone. I just can’t be seated for 14 hr straight.

Then a few hours at SFO (one of my favorite airports). I was able to get a decent (but pricey) pork banh mi sandwich (yay for good airport food). Then the final flight to get home. My September 20th had 34 hours in it and I was awake for 28 of them. Ugh! It was really really good to be home. I told my dad that I wanted to honor his birthday SO MUCH that I arranged to have an extra ten hours of it. Ha.

Relaxation and Exploration on Paros Island

Tracy,

Browse archives for September 21, 2018
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(I’m typing this on one of the flights home, from Istanbul to SFO, and I can already tell I’m in prime danger of rambling high faluting language, more so even than normal. You have been warned. Ha).

Guys! We did such a good job picking places to go. It was so overwhelming, with over 100 islands to choose from. But we decided to spend our final island stop on Paros. AND, this time for four nights (previously it was just 3 nights each location) which really allowed us to sink into maximum relaxation. The ferry system here is surprisingly efficient, especially when it often looks like a stampede of chaos. Also, they are super punctual about departure schedule, which is antithetical to all the “Greek Time” anecdotes. Hordes of visitors and luggage are driven down the small Rocky cliff roads and dumped at the Port. There, a variety of different LARGE ferries arrive and depart, with minimal announcements. Everyone stands around, a little uncertain, and a lot hot/sweaty, then suddenly a boat lands, the deck lowers, arriving guests are shoved off the boat and those of us departing rush up the deck, dump our luggage in a big pile to the side, and then scramble upstairs to try to grab a good seat (hopefully near a window with a small table). The sail to Paros was lovely, and once we landed, things were immediately different than Santorini. The crowds are smaller, and the island towns abut the ocean, rather than being atop giant volcanic cliffs. So it’s a more traditional ocean view, with accompanying wind and smells and sounds. We found our shuttle driver and took the short 20 minute drive to seaside town of Naousa. (Befuddlingly sometimes spelled Naoussa on official street signs, but sometimes only one ‘s’)

Frigging charming. Our hotel welcomed us with a bottle of wine, Martha gave us a map where she circled all her favorite beaches, and we also all stared longingly at the first swimming pool of our trip. I took a quick post-travel shower and we walked into town. It’s another pedestrian only village, with these amazing Giraffe-spot-patterned stone walkways, and white washed buildings. (I’m sure it’s not officially designed after Giraffe markings, but it always reminded me of that and made me smile).  Twisting alleys, and flower pots and gorgeous flowering vines providing charm and color. And some of the friendliest street cats ever.  More in number than in Santorini, and also much more interactive. If you so much as made eye contact, many would wander over to demand pets and attention. *smile*
Also, many of the winding alleys will open up to a gorgeous view of the harbor and the Sea. Majority of restaurants are just outdoor tables and chairs, many with amazing views of the water all around us. And offering all kinds of super fresh seafood. Including the octopus they have out drying in the salty sea air. (although those mostly seemed to attract wasps, which made it less appetizing of an option).

After wandering through town, we found ourselves at Mediterraneo, one of the many cute patio table restaurants with harbor view. Happily this place offered a few options beyond just seafood (as some of our group aren’t fans and reasonably didn’t want to eat chicken souvlaki for 100% of their meals). Turned out to be a GREAT spot for people watching, too. There was some type of event with chairs happening a block away (we’d guessed maybe a wedding, but when we went to investigate, it was an outdoor historical presentation at the museum, complete with sideshow, but it was all in Greek). One of the reasons I’d thought wedding was the lot right next to restaurant (between the presentation and us) was being set up for an event. I quite enjoyed watching the crew string overhead twinkle lights, as well as hoist a giant lighting rig up to second floor balcony. I sent a photo to my sound engineer/event pal, and her quick text response “needs sand bags” was on point, as it wasn’t weighted/secured at all.

Dinner was nice. The mussels were so fresh and full of garlic, and my shrimp (giant prawns in size) were super sweet and fresh, too. And we learned that fried croquettes is a common Parian (I feel this word should be Parosian, but it’s not. The adjective for things of Paros is Parian.) dish, so we enjoyed the zucchini balls with tzatziki. The table next to us was full of several Greek families with several small children. Watching their antics (being kids, running around screaming, getting into fights, squealing with delight, climbing all over the wood pallets) was great fun. And my heart was lost to the small boy (maybe 5 or 6) who lovingly cradled his xylophone, taking it with him, setting it down so gently, bonking it carefully with the small hammer, then hugging it to his chest again. I also tried the local Parian beer, 56 Isles. They’ve only been brewing/bottling it for a few years, but it’s right clever of them, and they put thought into the bottle design/label with an eye towards the tourist market, I’m sure. And it worked. The bottle is a lovely dark blue glass, with a nice light blue label. It makes for a pretty Instagram picture for sure, and a great label to peel off and stick in one’s journal. *smile*

We were also treated to a phenomenal sunset over the harbor. And then a very pleasant walk back in the twilight. The only slight bummer is that it’s all up hill on the way back to the hotel. A fact I regretted at the end of each day. But you’re also climbing the hill towards the gorgeous Greek orthodox church, which is lit beautifully by spotlights at night, so it’s a nice visual “goal.” And the climb isn’t really super strenuous, just steadily up up up.
Also, at the top of the hill, we saw at least two dozen street cats lounging around in an 8 foot radius. It was wild and little strange/spooky. Why have they all gathered here? What is their mission?!? As soon as went near to take a photo, over half of them got up and trotted over, rubbing against our legs, seeking affection that we were happy to give. (what’s a little risk of fleas among friends?). Then off to bed with no morning alarms and no schedule. Huzzah!

Oh!!! We also saw several of the moth hummingbirds and it is the freakiest thing ever. So so tiny!! And with wings that are a bit more moth than bird, but definitely bird body and head. And super tiny, flitting between all the flowering vines. Woah! Too small and too fast to photograph, but do a Google image search. Wild.

Our first full day in Paros was a lazy morning, made even easier because our hotel included a rather decent breakfast spread, including some of the freshest breads and pastries, hard boiled eggs, yogurt and fruit, and some European style cold cuts. Yum. So I guess we did have to set the alarm for 9:30am because breakfast only went until 10am. After feeding, we put on our swim suits and hit the pool for relaxing and discussing what we wanted to do. Decided THIS was the island where we might brave renting a car. Liv and Aimee had gotten their international licenses before we left. What hadn’t been thought about was the relative scarcity of automatic transmissions in the rest of the world. Which meant Liv was our only driver who knew manual and had the license. Although it’d been several years since she’s driven stick. But she did so so good!! While waiting for the hotel and car rental place to make arrangements, we had two lazy hours poolside. Well, the others were poolside. I was pool-in. Wearing my long sleeve rash guard, of course, sunscreen on my face, and still mostly hiding in the corner of pool under the shade tree. It was lovely. I spent the first twenty minutes just back floating around. Then I wanted to read (foolishly, I only packed my kindle, which isn’t water friendly. But the Santorini airbnb had a sharing library shelf, so I’d picked up an Italian Art thief mystery paperback to be my water book). And I decided to try a thing I’ve never done before. It was a little awkward and not sure I’ll do it again, but I was quite proud it worked. Because my back floating was going so well, I decided to try reading in the pool while back floating. Turns out my arms are a vital part of that stability, and a few times I’d find myself floated into the deep end when I had to turn the page (always the most dangerous part) with fears of going under and trying to hold the book aloft. But it worked and was more fun than it should’ve been. And after half hour, I went to side of pool and read standing in the pool, like a slightly more normal person. 

Now it’s 2pm and we have the car. Time for adventure. We pack small beach bags and head out to Kolymbithres Beach. It was frigging lovely. The water so amazingly crystal clear. Great carved boulders and interesting landscape. So great to swim and float around, and lovely to read under the shade umbrella on the beach, too. Very active beach, full of all types of groups having fun. But a very friendly supportive and laid back scene (not an Instagram selfie, judgy scene!). The whole beach watched/got invested when a couple arrived with their Labrador, and the woman jumped off dock to go swimming. Poor dog was running up and down the dock, between the man and her, whining in concern. But when the man and dog jumped in, it seemed to be better for the dog. Although he did keep having to swim back and forth between his two people, and I was slightly worried he’d get too tired. Sweet pup. And a very sweet beach spot for the late afternoon.

I named our bright red Skoda Calliope, because something Grecian felt appropriate, and the muse of song and eloquence seemed a great choice. and Callie proved a great little trooper, taking us all over. And Liv was fantastic as our driver/captain. 

The next day we decided to use our car to drive around the whole Island. Aimee and I most looking forward to visiting Lefkes, which is pitched as this artisan village in the mountains, selling things you won’t find elsewhere in Greece. The drive was an adventure. Especially when Aimee’s GPS had us suddenly taking what turned into a small one lane dirt road winding through the hills, with a Cliffside beside it, and no turn around or shoulder to speak of. Clearly we’d gone so far off the beaten path, we weren’t sure where we were. This thing was basically a glorified goat path, and none of us felt our small Skoda was up to it. I checked my GPS and while it said this road would technically get us there, our destination was also reachable by the main paved road, and we’d missed a turn somehow. So Liv bravely found a spot where we could safely get turned around (barely, lots of maneuvering required) and climb back down this dirt path towards civilization. Huzzah!! Then when we arrived and found parking (Lefke is pedestrian only, although locals are allowed to drive through), we began our hot hike through town. Some serious elevation changes, as it’s all built on hills. While the buildings were lovely, we weren’t encountering any type of shop, or really even other people.  We worried maybe there isn’t anything open on Sundays? We made our way to the big church, where we found a large French tour group, so maybe things ARE open on Sundays? Although the two cafe in front of the church were closed/empty. Again, these churches are gorgeous inside, and so many chandeliers!! And now it’s approaching noon, and super hot, and we don’t quite know where to go. We hike through more streets, occasionally seeing other tourists, but no shops or vendors of any kind. Then, a sign for jewelry. Hooray.

And here we met the nicest man. Originally from Ireland, although he’s spent the last 32 yr in Greece. He’d always thought he’d go back to get his pension (& better health care) at this point in his life, but he acknowledged his pals back home have lived 3 decades of life without him, and he just couldn’t see facing the cold dreary climate without an established social circle. And he really does love his life here, even if it is with less safety nets. He and his partner run two shops in town, with their cute little rainbow flag decal in the corner. When we first walked in, I had my usual “hello, how are you?” exchange of Greek greetings. Then when we inevitably got beyond the few phrases I knew, he was quite impressed with my pronunciation. (I heard this from two more folks on the trip. I guess I correctly mimic the “how are you doing” intonation quite well. It’s when I’m trying a few other phrases that I get the expected blank looks. The internet had told me that Greek, being a tonal language, is tough for English speakers. And reminded me that Greeks aren’t being difficult/snooty when they don’t understand you. They legitimately don’t know what you’re saying if your tone is off). In any case, this guy says, “Man, I totally thought you spoke Greek there. It’s very good.” *pride* (although not too much pride. As there were some phrases my podcast tried to teach me that I wouldn’t even attempt. I cannot roll my R’s to save my life). So we chatted about learning Greek. “It’s a bloody awful language, isn’t it? All those tenses!! I’ve been here three decades, and I’ll speak Greek to the locals but they all respond in English.” Except for one older shopkeeper woman who he clearly adores who would have full Greek conversation with him. He asked if we were Canadian. No, American, from Seattle. “Oh good. From the civilized part of America at least. It seems the coasts are okay, but that part in the middle is just full of savages, isn’t it? Just brutal, the new reports we’re getting.” We had to agree and talked some more about politics and food and life. He was this great oasis, after wandering too hot with no stores, to find a cute little shop (with a small fan for a breeze) and a charming shopkeep. Nice.

He was also able to give us advice of how to find some more shops. Which we happily did. Although still, it wasn’t very many, and they weren’t stocked with noticeably unique or crafted items. Some local jewelry, but mostly the same stuff we’ve seen everywhere. Still, a fun enough outing. So we still wonder if most of the artisan shops don’t open on Sundays? Or if we just didn’t walk the right streets? Then a mid-day stop for a drink. The others ordered milk shakes which came with sprinkles around the rim, and the grumpiest service ever. I got a mango granita (I do love me a slushie!!).  Then it was time for more beach!!

Drove out of the mountains (hills, really. Crete is the only island with mountains that actually get snow, ya know?) to Golden Beach, where we got to watch lots of kite surfers, including several beginners. And more swimming and floating in the crystal clear waters. This beach had some gentle waves (& more intense wind), which are always great fun to float/bob along. Then Liv and I cowered/relaxed with our books under the shade umbrella while Alix and Aimee worked on their tans. It was great for about an hour, until the wind starting sand blasting us and made holding our books difficult, even!!

Then off to explore Parikia, the main town on the island. We went to the Church of 100 Doors, and it was gorgeous. And meant we had to do some research online after to discover what everything meant. Typical 17th century outside church, but when you walk in, there’s this much older gorgeous stone building, with amazing old stone decorations. And the same glimmering icons, etc. And Liv noticed some live basil plants around, inside the church (as offerings?) at the base of some of the saintly pictures. Google tells us about this Paros tradition “in memory of ninth-century nun Osia Theokisti, who lived alone on the island for 35 years after escaping from pirates, surviving on wild basil and holy water” Wild, and rather sweet way to honor local Saint. In the floor of the church, near the center, are two large clear plexiglass spaces, under which we can see two large pillars/columns. Again, our friend Google let us know that this space used to be a temple to Aphrodite (that’s the pillars). Then there were some early early Christian baptisms/worship here. We’re talking 4th century, claimed to have been done by Emporer Constantine’s mom; at least done in her honor. Looking into the “hundred doors” thing was a bit stranger. There are all kinds of legends and stories, many of which have been debunked. But apparently there are only 99 doors. The 100th door is hidden and will reappear when Constantinople is once again under their control. This may be a long time coming, as They Might Be Giants reminded all of us decades ago, it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople.

The shopping in town was great. Wide selection, and I found a pair of earrings I love. But there was no price on this set, although the similar smaller chain earrings did have a price. We’d also been chatting a bit with this shop worker, she was very sweet. “Are you from Paros?” “No, I am from Kalamata. Do you know it?” “Well, I know your olives. They are quite famous.” She seemed bemused (although Liv maintains she was charmed). In any case, after Aimee got a great pair of earrings and Alix a ring, I approached her about my earrings. “There’s no price on these. This smaller pair is marked €49 so would you take €60?” (I really liked them but wasn’t sure I could justify spending beyond that). “Oh, I am not sure. Let me call my boss.” After an extended phone conversation, in which I’m pretty sure I’ll be walking away from this without a sale, she ends the call and announces, “I can sell them to you for €52.” Sold! In my head I’m laughing to myself, never had a bargaining situation end with the seller offering a price lower than my offer before. Then, after she’s boxed them and everything, the phone rings. My heart sinks a little. I’m sure this is the boss calling back to change the price. And when the woman starts opening the box, I’m sure of it. But she explains her boss has asked her to take a few photos, as this is the last one of this kind. Phew!! So that’s how I ended up with new earrings!

Noting that sunset was around 7:30pm the previous night, and Liv would reasonably rather not drive after dark, we head for dinner. Super cute Mana Mana where I had some amazing falafel and hummus. We enjoyed watching a very fat (possibly pregnant) cat waddle down the street. And then jump onto our bench and curl herself up between Liv and the pillow. There she sat, purring away, the entire meal. We’d thought there might be food stealing (at least begging) when our plates arrived, but nope. Kittie just wanted some company. The waiter told us she does this all the time and we can shoo her away, if we don’t like it. But we DID like it. Then a hurried rush to the car and a twilight drive back to our smaller seaport town, about 20 min away.

Oh! One of our meals in Nausuo was at a delightful pasta place. After dinner, they provided us with four free shots of Raki (the Cretan spirits that Aimee and Alix found way too strong but we were continually gifted in Crete). As he was putting it on the table, he sniffed the shot glasses and said, “oh no. This is the wrong one. It’s strong! You know Raki?” So then he calls the bartender to also bring us four shots of this pine flavored liquor that was sickly sweet and not as pleasant. And this is how Tracy ended up doing two shots of Raki and the one of the gross pine stuff. They also gave us four free chocolate mousse desserts. Alix, for whom food texture is a big thing, didn’t love it. “Yuck. It’s like phlegm.” to which I replied, “It’s pronounced ‘Flan’.” And I’m still pretty damn proud of that terrible joke. No offense to fans of flan, but that custard texture is unpleasant to me, too. But I thought the chocolate mousse was great. Although I had just done several shots of free liquor.

Our last full day in town was, once again, started without an itinerary. Huzzah. And the only alarm was the one to make sure we didn’t miss breakfast. We only had the rental car until 2pm, so we’re trying to decide what to do. Did we want to try yet another beach? It was decided to head into Parikia for some more shopping and a quick lunch. Shopping and exploring was great fun, and suddenly it was 12:30 (& restaurants are not hurried affairs in Greece). So we grabbed a quick gyro pita at the Port. It was tasty, and the first one I’d had that wasn’t the chicken souvlaki, so I was quite surprised to learn the gyro meat was pork!! Not the beef and lamb mixture I’m used to. Interesting, and tasty. I gambled with my canned beverage, choosing the “non carbonated orange” hoping it would be juice. But it was more like flat orange soda (gross!) with maybe a hint of Sunny D fake orange flavor mixed in (double gross!). Aw well. Should’ve just grabbed the Pepsi can with Messi on it. 🙂

We made it back to town at 1:50pm, but chiding ourselves for worrying so much at the “due by 2pm” timeframe, as this is Greek time. Only, holy cow, that’s the car rental guy standing in the hotel lobby. Ha! I guess it’s a good thing we’re rule followers. Then some more swimming pool time!

That evening, into Naoussa for our last night. High winds again, making for rough seas, even in our harbor. Several of the seaside tables/restaurants were not open, as a wave would splash up every few minutes. And the ubiquitous boat tour operators all had “closed due to weather” signs. Very dramatic to watch the waves, and the sunset was, once again, lovely. Discussing dinner options, highly rated Yemeni was determined to be more money than we wanted to spend. And it was now after 8:30, so getting a table would be harder. Town was hopping busy, especially for a Monday night. So we decided to eat at the quirky Greek place across the street from our hotel. As it’s outside of town, prices are great. And they always had a good sized crowd, and live music on the weekend. It had been lovely on Sun night, writing postcards on our deck that overlooked the restaurant, hearing their live music, while Alix and Aimee squeezed into the one person jacuzzi. Ha.

While shopping, Alix mentioned that this corner cocktail bar was always a lively scene every time we went past. I did some TripAdvisor research and found it was highly rated, too. AND happy hour went until 9pm (it was 8:30). So we grabbed a nice bench with comfy pillows and ordered fancy €7 drinks. Very nice way to continue our unwinding. Then we ambled back out of town, for the final time, taking the route past the school so I could see if my favorite street cat was still out. And she was, so I got to give her some good bye head scratches.

And off we went to the quirky little restaurant, with the handwritten sign, informing “cash only. banks are vampires.” Menu is smaller but there’s some decent variety. Except when we try to order, we’re informed that the kitchen is basically out of Everything. “It was too busy for a Monday night” he tells us. So it’s basically more pita sandwiches. Liv wanted the zucchini balls again, but he explains, “oh no. We only have three of them left, and an order is Four.” then he went to the kitchen to check on something else (yep, they were also out of the dish that Alix wanted). I asked if they couldn’t at least serve the three zucchini at a reduced price. He seemed baffled by that but said he would ask. Liv said, if they can’t do the zucchini, she’d take the Greek salad. Well, you guessed it, she ended up with both. Ha. But I was glad of it, as the zucchini was quite tasty, and very different from the ones we’d had earlier. Those had been in balls, these in flat patties, with very different spices. Both tasty, and fun to have tried both. But in general, this was a meal more about the personality of the place rather than the quality of the Food. It was fine, but nothing very memorable. Price point was super friendly, though. If only we hadn’t been surrounded by tables chain smoking, we mightve lingered longer.

And that was Paros. Dang, I love that my entry for the days when we arguably did the least, I’ve written so much. Mostly written on my phone as I paced the airplane aisle, or lurked in a corner of airplane. After managing about four hours sleep, I needed to stand for at least an hour or two. This 13 hr flight is no joke. And it’s kept me entertained on this flight, so that part is great, hope the reading of it is also entertaining.

 

 

Santorini with twenty thousand new friends

Tracy,

Browse archives for September 15, 2018
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(I have no idea why some photos are uploading upside down and sideways. Maybe my sister can edit that for me, as I can’t figure it out on mobile. In any case, dear reader, you should still get the idea)

Oia, in Santorini, is beautiful. Full of iconic views and sweeping Vistas, and long winding Cliffside narrow passageways. 

It is also possibly the most crowded place I have ever been. Or at least, more crowded per square foot. In fact the crowds are getting so bad that this summer Grease had to cap the number of daily cruise ship visitors allowed to come to the island. Throughout most of the day three to four people across were jammed into the narrow walkways that only comfortably fit two people across. This has made pickpocketing a bigger problem, too. It did make for some amazing people watching, as folks from all over the world are trying to have their “Santorini experience.” Particularly hilarious watching people trying to get the perfect Instagram pose and photo of them in front of a blue dome, or winding staircase, and every time someone stops to take a photo, it forces the 10,000 people behind them to also stop. And so much careful camera angles to give the illusion that you don’t have 800 people frustrated all around you. As there are no vehicles in the Cliffside town of oia, and the winding passageways go up and down with irregular footing (and sometimes stairs), there are a number of porters and delivery men trying to move tourist luggage, cases of water, frozen seafood, and other supplies to the businesses in town. Watching them try to maneuver their loads makes one very grateful to not have to be doing the same.

. It would be hard enough carrying these items up and down the roadways, but having to wind their way through thousands and thousands of people, it just looks very frustrating. One young man, carrying a dolly full of cases of water kept shouting, “Make way! No brakes!!” as he descended. We crammed ourselves into a doorway, and I told him “Kali Tihi” (“Good luck”). Thanks, he says with a laugh, I will need it!!

Still, the Airbnb Cliff House that we rented was truly gorgeous. It was amazing having this little patio space right above one of the main walkways. The people watching was great, especially one evening when a donkey took a crap right near our doorway, and because there is so much to see very few passerby ever looking down at their feet as they walk along. Most noticed in time, but watching them squeal and jump out of the way was hilarious. Schadenfreude at its best.

There’s donkey poop on that walkway

Also near our door was one of the food and water stations for the cats around town. Some seem to have specific owners, and some seemed more wild, but all roamed freely everywhere. Including the cheeky little bugger who jumped up to our patio and stole a piece of my cheese right off the plate. And then came back to lick some yogurt off my finger. He was very sweet, actually, and became our buddy for the evening.

Our first afternoon when the long travel day and the hungry took over, we just stopped in the first available restaurant we found, and surprisingly it had quite decent food. And again, the views across the water are breathtaking. My roasted eggplant that was stuffed with cheese and tomatoes was divine. And with this many visitors and these Prime locations, these places would not have to be serving good food to stay in business. So it was nice to find that they mostly were.

We joined the crowds that first night to try to catch a glimpse of the famous sunset. Thousands line the tiny walkway waiting to watch the sun sink into the ocean. However there was some significant Haze on the horizon line, so we watched the Sun go down a bit and then disappear behind the clouds. 

But it was still very pretty. And took on a reddish color, reminiscent of the Sun in Seattle during terrible forest fire season.

Having our own adorable little kitchen, we often chose to dine al Fresco on our patio a few times. Continuing our sampling of different Grecian Cheeses, along with yogurt and gorgeous fresh fruit, some digestive biscuits for good measure, as well as trying different unique flavors of potato chips. So far the oregano potato chips have been underwhelming, but I have quite enjoyed the paprika flavored. The Balsamic Vinegar chips we found were also lovely. And these little title lemon cookies. 

One morning we had breakfast at Melenio, and their baked goods are no joke. Lovely space, with a view out of the water, and the portion sizes are huge. And the chocolate brioche which was just part of the meal was the size of someone’s head. And then the wait staff seemed the most concerned that Alix had only eaten a third of it. “Did you not like it? Should we bring you something else?” “No. No” we assured, it was just way too much food. So they insisted on getting a to-go container, and that leftover brioche joined our potluck breakfast the next morning. The baklava was lovely, dripping in honey yet still had a nice crispness to it. Their display of different cakes in their Bakery was beautiful, too. I had visions of making an early morning bakery run for the group, but those visions left at the same time I didn’t get up early for Sunset. *laughs*

We learned another lesson about the importance of booking ahead in Greece, especially in a destination as insanely popular as this one. We tried to book a sunset catamaran Cruise. The company that we had wanted to use did not have any sailing availabilities for the next several days. Well, they had a cancellation so two people could have gone but not the four of us. There are many companies that offer this type of thing, so we went to try one of the other ones. We were able to find availability, which is great, but it was not the most ideal route for our location. The sale we were able to book departed and came back from the entire opposite end of the island. So it was over an hour on a shuttle bus to get to the boat. Also the boat did not go to Amoudi Bay or a few of the other destinations we had wanted to check out. And then after the sail, it was another 1.5 hour ride back to our town. I was already a bit hesitant due to motion sickness concerns, but it was mostly all right. A nice older couple from California were celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary, and on our cruise. Anya was originally from Russia and not a fan of small boats. So she and I became Dramamine Buddies!!! And while I wasn’t unbearably sick, I was consistently queasy enough that I never felt like climbing off the boat to go swimming at any of the three swimming spots. Aimee went once, and Liv went all three times (even to the volcanic hot springs that they warned could stain white swim suits). Alix didn’t swim, but was very comfortable moving about on the boat, walking to the front and riding into the sea spray and climbing all over. I mostly just sat in one spot in the shade near the back. Ha. Still the Bay that we stopped in for dinner was calmer, so I was able to partake in the rather lovely meal the crew prepared. They barbecued the chicken and pork on a little Grill on the boat, and prepared a lovely Greek salad, rice with shrimp, tzatziki sauce, and stuffed Dolmas leaves. My favorite!!! They even supplied some yogurt mixed with sour cherries for dessert. Then we got to watch the sunset (with a carefully curated soundtrack, including Nina Simone), and the impressively red-colored sun. It was nice. Also on our cruise was an adorable Chinese family with a young girl, and listening to her squeals as she went swimming was wonderful. And a young man from New York who had been working in Crete and decided to extend into a vacation. He was traveling solo today but his husband would be joining him in a day or two, to celebrate their honeymoon. He was great fun to chat with. During the sunset, he suddenly had the realization “Crap!! I should have waited to do this. My husband really would have wanted to go on this trip. Oh crap.”

We spent a full day wandering through town, befriending all the island’s dogs and cats. Went for a nicer dinner at Fino, a restaurant off the main strip. Found they didn’t open until 6:45 (we were trying to dine unfashionably early). But this meant we found an adorable wine bar, which allowed us to taste test several of the “supposed to be a famous” volcanic wines of Santorini. I was underwhelmed but Liv quite liked hers. It was interesting to try, but none are bottles I’ll need to take home. I did love the herbed goat cheese, though!!) And the waitstaff were super cute, too. And so personally offended when Alix confessed she doesn’t like wine (she’d wanted the sparkling, but they were out of it). So she pretended to like the glass of white wine he picked out for her. 

Then to dinner at Fino. Fancier than we’d been expecting, but happily everyone was able to find a meal they liked (Alix and Aimee have several foods they don’t like, so we have to use care in choosing restaurants). Alix’ pork pasta dish with sweet sesame sauce was unexpected on a menu in Greece, but amazing. My sea bass was delicate and gorgeous. Aimee’s chicken was fine, but the star of her dish was an Avocado Salad (kind of like a twice baked potato, only not baked). And Liv’s burger was decadent with truffle oil and goat cheese. And their cocktails were super fancy. It was also fun watching the wait staff interact with each other and diners. While we were off a bit outside of town, apparently you could see a tiny strip of the sunset through the parking lot, and all three of them had to go get their phones to take a photo. And then when some Street Cats started a fight, they had to get their cameras and take a picture of that too. Charming. It was a very pleasant dining experience.

So, winding our way through the crowds on these tiny walkways atop the volcanic Cliffside, there is NO escaping that Mediterranean Sun!! And after a day watching people in all types of outfits, I decided to absorb the “when in Rome” philosophy, and spent a day in my sun dress (with big floppy sun hat, & with my sarong wrapped around me so that none of me was exposed to the sun). It actually worked surprisingly well, and I might end up wearing the dress again this trip. Please enjoy this shot of me at the post office. *smile* 

My favorite part of asking someone in Greek “miláte angliká?” (do you speak English?) is that they’ve all responded “ligo,” (which means “a little”), but it entertains me greatly that they don’t say “a little” in English. Ha. And it allows me to respond in Greek that I only know “ligo ellinikí” (a little Greek). Then a shared smile and with a good attitude, we’re able to make ourselves understood. Bonding!! And in truth, as we’ve mostly been in tourist areas, most everyone speaks very good English.

It’s truly hard to take a bad picture in Santorini, but the extreme overcrowding was just NOT for me. Also, as everything is mostly atop the volcanic cliffs, there’s no easy beach access. And seeing all that gorgeous turquoise water and not being able to easily take a dip was torturous. (Happily our next island, Paros, will have many beaches, and a more laid back vibe). It does feel magical and unreal, and getting to wander in the early morning was perfect!!! (Before all the cruise ships disgorge their thousands upon the island). As a few locals and shopkeeps start to open up, and the street cats and dogs wander over for a pet (the dogs mostly had collars, but were definitely allowed to roam freely, even if they had a home-base). I was told the sunrises were spectacular, too, but sleeping past 7am was on my agenda, so I left the sunrise to the others. Sure makes a great picture, doesn’t it? 

And while this was never a dream destination of mine, and I often found it easy too crowded and way too hot and way too fake, still there were some truly lovely moments, and I’m glad to have seen it, and I did make friends with some of the locals!

Just hanging out with my new best friend

 

Cretan Adventures: Ancient Minoans and a Monkey!

Tracy,

Browse archives for September 11, 2018
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Exploring Chania and Heraklion.

When we last left out intrepid travelers, they were going to head out for dinner on Sat night. Feeling confident, having used the combined wisdom of Google maps and TripAdvisor, there was a lovely local Taverna only a half mile away, serving amazing local Cretan dishes at reasonable prices. Once found, Tracy semi-confidently used her Greek language skills to ask for a table for four. And the kindly woman informed us they were all booked up for the next two days, but they had some availability on Monday. D’oh!! Hadn’t even occurred to us that reservations might be required (or that others might also be able to use TripAdvisor reviews). Ha. Wandered down a few more charming twisting alleys in the lovely twilight and Aimee’s Google skills told us that the picturesque outdoor seating nearby had good reviews. And so Noone starved that night. Actually, we dined very well. Feeling a need for greens, we decided to order the two different starter salads to share (pomegranate, and rocket, which is arugula, apparently). Turns out they were more entree sized!! And we got the baked feta appetizer. And an entree each, with amazing lamb meat pie, and a zucchini layered dish, and some grilled shrimp (except for Alix, who wasn’t feeling well, but valiantly kept us company at the table). And some local beer. And a bottle of wine. Our table was overflowing, and we didn’t manage to eat everything. Took some of the leftovers with us to add to our beach picnic meal supplies.

I am the Captain now.

Up early the next morning, to meet the Taxi2Crete driver we’d hired. Michalis was very nice, and we were grateful to not be on the giant coach busses trying to wind their way through the tiny mountain roads. Zipping along the often one lane along the cliffs in his Mercedes taxi, I only had to close my eyes a few times. Seemed a very competent driver. “And here we are approaching the famous town of Topolio.” Oh really, what is it famous for? He laughs, “nothing. It is very tiny. But they have this one lane tunnel we must use. That is why it is famous.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The countryside and mountains and gorges of Southwestern Crete were really impressive.

Then we stopped at Agia Sofia. A tiny church built inside a cave way up the Cliffside. It’s something like 250 steps up. My calves were FEELING IT. But the views were amazing!!  And as a giant coach bus would pull up and disgorge another 80 people, I’d find myself even more pleased we’d hired a private transfer for the day. It was only $25 more per person. On the climb up/down, we passed some goats tied up by the small Cafe. And we smelled those goats and goat droppings. And they disturbingly smelled of goat cheese (something I normally love) but learning how much of the olfactory experience is shared between animal and the cheese it makes, well, Liv admitted its put her off goat cheese for a little bit. *laughs* I can see that.

Next we stopped at Chrysoskalitissa Monastery, overlooking the Libyan Sea. Legend has it that a farmer had a vision of the Virgin Mary in the 700’s and the spot has been holy ever since. This Eastern Orthodox monastery dates from the 1700’s and is still used by monks now. We walked past one of their dining rooms and enjoyed the mouth watering cooking smells coming out the window. We sooooo wanted to join them for their meal. But didn’t. (later I had the chance to be horrified at another tourist who took some of the holy bread pieces from the church and started just munching on it. Walking outside the chapel, tearing off pieces of bread to eat. Then went back for a second slice. Yikes. That clearly seemed set out for ritual purposes, not casual snacks). Lovely potted succulents along the ramparts (probably not called ramparts when in monostaries) as well as some giant pots of fragrant basil. And the turquoise color of the Libyan Sea was truly awe-inspiring. Felt like an Instagram filter but this was real life!!! And it was an amazing scent memory when we walked through a waft of incense. Turns out Greek Orthodox uses the same incense scent (flavor?) as Catholic mass. Instantly transported me. Oh, also the Greek Orthodox churches we’ve been in here (other than the one inside a cave!!!) all have multiple elaborate chandeliers suspended from the ceiling. All the gilding and iconography I expected, but not many chandeliers. It’s very cool. (But it’s not okay to take pictures inside the church). 

Then to Elafonisi Beach, which was lovely. Although the “pink sand” was over-sold/hyped in the descriptions. While we did end up finding a few spots and it was truly striking against the turquoise waters, most of the beach just looked like regular sand. *smile* But that didn’t matter because the water is the true star here. Happily there were still some rentable beach chairs and umbrellas available, so we set up “base camp” and then into the water. It was amazing, gorgeous, and super salty. So floating was even easier, but certain swim strokes more difficult, as ones legs kept floating up. Although most of the area is so shallow (calves to waist deep) actual swimming wasn’t really a possibility. Still, I spent most of my time floating along. Lovely!! I’d purchased an umbrella in town, and was wearing my long sleeves rash guard, so had envisioned “a goth’s day at the beach” with me seated in the water, in my black long sleeves, holding a black umbrella above my head. All this sun and me, a little black cloud. However it was too windy to even try opening the umbrella. The wind was pretty intense but refreshing, and we got to watch some amazing kite surfing. ( talking to locals later about the wind, we learned on “actually windy days” one can’t even go to the beach. It’s like being sand blasted the whole time and really unpleasant. Happy to have missed that.

Then it was time for our picnic and it was great. Grapes and oranges and some amazing local cheese and this delicious sesame bread and olives. Yum! And amazingly, we didn’t end up with a lot of sand in our food (which is a normal beach problem, on the Pacific Coast). So that was even better. Wandered through the waist deep water to the island/nature preserve to explore some more. The shades of turquoise and azure and cerulean and other blues… Just unbelievable. Eventually our 3 hours were up and it was time to head back to find our driver. Who we found in swim trunks and a Tshirt (he’d been in a suit when he picked us up that morning). Turns out there’s nothing to do really in the area other than the beach, so he enjoyed some beach time too. And he said he could tell that we wouldn’t care if he’d changed clothes. We agreed, said it was too bad we hadn’t known he was around because we’d have shared lunch with him. He complained he was on his phone the whole time, the trials of being a business owner and running a small transport /taxi company.

Then we began our 2.5 hr drive back across the mountains of Crete. Lovely again. We saw goats!! Including the impressively horned local wild goats. And many road side stands in the tiny villages, all selling local honey and olive oil. As Michalis explained, it is bad luck if each family isn’t producing at least its own wine and olive oil. So you must have a few trees. The drive and stories were great. And then, in possibly one of the MOST GREEK THINGS ever, there was a unique road rage incident. Most of the roads are only two lanes (one each direction) & some only one lane for both ways!!! Most of the drivers tend to drive half on the shoulder and half in the lane, so cars can use the center for passing. As we had a professional taxi driver, you can bet we were passing most people. But at one point, another driver took exception, started honking, and then pulled alongside us. This was on a larger paved highway and everyone is going quite fast. And our driver rolled down his window and the angry car rolled down its window, and they proceeded to have an extended back and forth shouted argument, while both driving side by side along the highway. I’d expected a short “you’re a bum!” kind of thing but this was a lengthy verbal fight. When the other car finally drove away, our driver says, all exasperated, “The worst part is, he still thinks he’s right!!!” Ha. And then there was a tense energy for a few minutes, because Michalis was clearly frustrated and in a bad mood, and we all felt awkward. Happily in a few minutes, some bit of local flavor came by and he gave us a small anecdote and the energy was restored to an easy going vibe. I asked about the small church shaped shrines along the highway, whether they were maintained by an individual or a town. “Shrines?” I explain more. “Oh. This is a problem,” he says, and goes on to explain that they are roadside memorials for car crash deaths. “Sometimes it is happy and someone puts one up when they walk away from what should’ve been a fatal accident, but mostly, the driving is a problem.” Yikes! And again, we were grateful we hadn’t tried to rent our own car. Ha.

After showering and de-beaching ourselves (un-beaching?), we wandered off for dinner. Alix had done a previous cruise to Greece and remembered there were some great crepe places. We found a trendy 24 hr place (Salt and Sugar) that was actually in town (not the ancient marina area), so that was some interesting new stuff to look at and great local people watching.  And tasty crepes at a dang reasonable price. Cheap beer and hard cider, too. Rather than take the direct route back, we wandered until we hit water and followed the shoreline. Saw the end of sunset and several old timers fishing. And the same little kid street musicians, banging a hand drum and singing “Despacito” while asking for cash. I got some postcards (as my list of pals, and pals’ kiddos, is growing). The man was a bit derisive while ringing me up, “you like donkeys and cats?!?” “Well, the little ones who are getting the cards sure do.” Then he smiled and asked if they had cats at home. I agreed that some of them did. “But not a donkey?” he chuckled. “No, but I’m sure they’d love to have one.” And he said he could arrange that. Ha. (Also, I wish I had had the cajones to say, “yes, as a matter of fact, I DO like donkeys and cats!” And it’s pretty judgy of the dude who is stocking/selling these postcards, which also were next to the naked sexual postcards, too. Harumph!)

Our final morning in Chania, wandering down to the marina for breakfast with a view. Went to restaurant “Aroma” and it was really really delicious (our previous marina breakfast was mediocre at best, all about location, so I hadn’t had high hopes). I had a common Cretan breakfast of tomatoes and feta atop bread, that they also served with a fried egg. Yum! And Greek coffee. Which I didn’t know anything about. And I’m so glad Aimee told me you’re supposed to wait to drink it because all the coffee grinds have to settle first) because my first sip was gritty and terrible. Oops. And it came with a small rose flavored Turkish Delight. Well, the Greek version (Crete is still pretty irritated with their former Turkish colonizers so I can’t see them calling it that). Some of you, my friends, will have heard my RANTS over the years about how crap Turkish Delight candy is, and why it enrages me even more that, in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Edmund sells out his siblings for such an absolute crap candy. Gross!!!! Although some pals have told me that the real genuine stuff is better than the mass produced version I’ve had. And I will say this was pleasant. Still not going to go out of my way for it, nor would I SELL OUT ASLAN AND MY SIBLINGS TO THE ICE QUEEN OVER THIS STUFF…But it was tasty and delicate. (The Bushwick Book Club in Seattle included a man who wrote a song about how crap a candy it is, but I can’t seem to find that link right now. So please enjoy this other song from that show that’s still related, and hilarious!! https://youtu.be/mKIUFoabJoQ)

We also ordered this pita stuffed with myzithra, lightly grilled, and topped with honey, and OMG!!!!!! So yeah, definitely going to eat that all the time now, and shall try to make it at home, too.

We checked out and trekked through town with our luggage to the bus station. Caught the bus to Heraklion. So another 2.5 hr through a different part of Crete. Most of it very lovely, and the bus was rather pleasant with decent enough temperature control.

Arriving in Heraklion was interesting, seeing the outskirts of a large port city, and the large functional but not pretty or nice housing. A reminder that it’s not all picturesque villages and Venetian harbors. The bus station is right in the middle of the chaos, as Heraklion is the major port for cruise ships and the airport, too. After a much needed lunch stop, off to the Heraklion Archeology Musuem to see all the Minoan treasures that were found at Knossos (& elsewhere). It was super cool. Always been one of my favorite ancient civilizations, and there’s still so much mystery around them (as we can’t yet translate their writings, and because they basically were wiped out/faded away after the devastating volcano that sank half of Santorini (it used to be round, and now is crescent) and the tsunamis that took out their sailing fleet and resulting climate change, etc). Super super cool. Oh! Also, the security at the Musuem was intense!!! Their was a bag screening machine that was very thorough, and I was required to “coat check” my sunscreen bottle. Huh. The frescoes were particularly arresting. And…. MONKEYS!!! In a small carving and in two of the frescoes. Presumed to have been gifts from Egypt (the monkeys, not the frescoes). So that was fun, and unexpected, and a nice way to fulfill the title of this blog!! 

Then we found a taxi to take us to the Knossos site, where we eventually agreed upon a price for the tour guide (the internet suggested €27 & she was trying to tell us €40. We settled on €30 with a request we not tell the other people the price she gave us. Ha!) So we joined a couple from New Orleans. Partway through the tour she ended up adding more visitors to her tour, too. Very good hustler, she was. The site was interesting, and the landscape particularly lovely at 6pm as the sun was hitting golden hour. Also it wasn’t crowded at all… Apparently all the cruise ship groups leave by 5pm. Online had told us the site was open until 8pm, but they hustled us put of there at 7 on the dot. So extra glad for the one hour tour, so we got to see everything. Including the over 4,000 yr old clay drainage pipes they had at the palace. 

That evening we wandered a bit around Heraklion. It has a very happening city center. Lots of trendy outdoor bars and cool little juice shops and ice cream places and shopping and rooftop bars projecting the soccer match on the wall. A very cool vibe.

Back to our hotel Olive Green. An eco friendly chic place, with actual olive trees in the lobby. And the most comfortable beds. And a free loaner cell phone (with local data, maps, etc, you can use aprund town). And did I mention the beds were great? This was extra appreciated because our beds in Chania were rock hard!!! The hotel also provided a free bottle of Raki (local Cretan spirit) and some bread with olive oil and salt. Huzzah! They won’t murder us in our sleep, now that they’ve fed us bread and salt!! And Aimee and Alix do not enjoy the burning Raki, so Liv & I had a hotel room party in our room.

It was great, actually. Especially as she and I only met a few times before this trip, we stayed up way too late, sharing stories and anecdotes. Serious topics and silly, we managed to solve most of the world’s ills. Now if only everyone would just do what we say, we’ve got this. Ha.

Today was a travel day. Up for breakfast, then off to the Port to catch the “Super Ferry” 3 hr ride to Santorini. I was able to start my blogging there, but quickly the boat movement became too much for my motion sick prone self to be staring at my phone. So I’ve typed the majority of this from our awesome rented cave house in Santorini. We get to stay here for the next three nights. Yay!

 

 

Greek beginnings :in search of the minotaur

Tracy,

Browse archives for September 8, 2018
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Peggy Middlebrook
Keep them coming Tracy. Love them
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So, end of last year, my pal Aimee says she wants to take an epic trip for her 40th. I’m all in as a travel “plus 1,” always. Then two of her other pals are coming too. Woo-hoo! And as there’s been a lot of trials and tribulations in my life these last 3 months, it’s been so amazing having this to look forward to. I’ve never really done a relaxing based trip before. I mean, we’ll do stuff, but it’s all maybe more leisurely. There’s less of an itinerary of daily things to do. Instead we’ll spend a few nights on 3 Islands. Should be great.

Crete is a truly special place, and we’ve barely scratched the surface. When planning this trip, Teh Internet and travel forums kept saying, “if you can’t spend at least two weeks on Crete, don’t bother.” To which we said, “you’re not the boss of me!” I mean, come on! I get that it’s relatively large, and it’s full of many many many amazing things. But we decided we’d still like to visit, and we’ll just focus on our time in Chania, with one day in Heraklion. This does leave lots left to explore, but one can’t do all the things all the time!!! But I do understand where the internet was coming from. Trying to decide what things to do is overwhelming. It’s a very nice problem to have!!

Also, I want to state, for the record, that I love being different places. I don’t always love the actual GOING part of getting to other places. (& I know I’m a butt for complaining when I’m lucky enough to get to go on this trip!!) This was a particularly brutal flight plan. Our original departure from SeaTac was 7:30am (which is already too early) but 2 months ago they switched it to 6am. Which makes 3 hr early to airport 3am!!!! But looking online, United counter doesn’t even open until 3:45am. So that’s when we planned to arrive at airport. Which meant leaving the house by 3am, so that 2:15am alarm was brutal! Wasn’t even sure it was worth going to sleep beforehand. Ugh. But our driver Arman from Aces Town Car was a delight. A wonderful story teller, he’s from Armenia and had so much folklore and tips to share about the region. He’s got me convinced to come back and check out Cyprus and Georgia next time. *smile*

Had several bumps and last minute problems all around for this trip. Aimee’s dog was throwing up and had to go to emergency vet the night before our flight. I got an infection and had to go to the doctor before. Alix has come down with a bad cold. And Liv somehow avoided a last minute problem!! Other than her flight being delayed (&she already had a tighter connection time for our final flight from Athens to Chania in Crete). We all were sweating it, but they managed to get their bags, clear customs immigration, check in to new flight and clear security in 1 hr 10 min. Phew!!! The travel path for Aimee and I just had so much waiting!! Happily we both managed to sleep for a few hours on that early red eye from Seattle to Newark. Then we had 4.5 hr to kill there. I will say, the newly remodeled United concourse at Newark was very impressive!!! Had no idea it was even a thing. But it’s bright, and full of interesting food stations, and lots of self serve mini marts with snacks from around the globe, and lots of nicely designed seating areas (with nice fake plants, or fake French bistro, or whatever). Definitely the most pleasant visit I’ve had to Newark (the tiny concourse where they stick Alaska Air flights is the worst!!!). We spent 1.5 hr at a Cafe that happened to be near the Tel Aviv boarding gate. It has its own second security gate screening area. Made for some great and interesting people watching. Especially all the folks on other flights who didn’t read the signs and were super pissed they had to walk around because they weren’t allowed to go through the special security section. Also, apparently the golf cart airport transport don’t have horns anymore. So the poor airport employees are making “beep beep” noises with their mouths to try to get people to move out of the way. Ha.

Then the almost ten hr flight to Greece. We synchronized our movie start time so could both wach “Love, Simon” together and cry together. But Aimee’s screen had a slightly longer delay every time it came back from pausing during air crew announcements, so by the end she was a significant portion behind. Sweet little film, though. Continuing my tradition of crying at airplane movies. Dinner was super uninspired spinach ravioli for me and the general tso chicken for Aimee. Then we both tried to sleep. Managed to get 2 hr (Aimee got three) but that’s not nearly enough when we’ve been up for basically a full day. Landed in Athens. 7 hr layover so we considered leaving airport. But getting our bags took a long time, customs was quick, then checking in for our evening flight to Chania took a long time!! So with only 5 hr to wait, we decided to just hang in the airport. We were so tired and starting to get loopy. The airport did have some nicer shopping options and a super tiny archeology museum (which took up ten min of our wait time). We even played MASH, in which the holy goddess of sleepovers predicted Aimee will live in a Shack in Paris work as a garbageman and have a pet tarantula. Ha. Aimee decided that wasn’t going to be able to fill the remaining 2.5 hr so bought a deck of cards (I’d packed two decks but they were in checked luggage). Our brains were so tired and disoriented, all we could play was “War.” it was pretty pathetic, in that “so tired we can’t see straight” phase. Then worrying as Liv and Alix’ flight was delayed. But it all worked out. They made it to the gate with 20 min to spare. Then we boarded the bus to the tarmac, where we climbed to stairs to our Olympic Air flight. I do always enjoy getting to walk outside to a plane. Here’s a photo of us, being super exhausted but excited for this final short flight.

I’d really been expecting a tiny propeller plane for such a small regional airline. But it was a very nice Airbus, with cute employee uniforms, and they even gave us beverage service and a small sesame seed honey cake as a snack… On a 50 min flight!!! Apparently Liv and Alex didn’t even get complimentary beverage service on their 5 hr flight from London to Athens.

And now, no more airplanes for many days. Just ferry boats and busses. Our taxi driver from Chania Airport was listening Weird Al, which was strange but hilarious. I thought it must be his own music, but turns out that was just regular programming on Chania Radio. Wild.

The last 8 hr, all I could dream about was showering and getting out of the airplane clothes. And it was marvelous, even if our corner shower is so tiny I almost don’t fit through the door, and the floor drain doesn’t work well so the water is quickly up to ones ankles. Still, it was glorious! And then we wandered a bit jet lagged and fuzzy headed through the Venetia harbor area. PICTURESQUE AS F*CK!!!

We ended up stopping at a super tourist centric outdoor table situation, in which we had charming personable service and mediocre food. But we didn’t care. So happy to be off of airplanes and getting food in our system. We each placed a drink order and then Alex asked about sparkling wine options. Waiter told us it was €10 for small bottle with one glass worth or €20 for large bottle with four glass worth. She said she’d take the small but he cajoled into getting the large because it was better value. We asked to cancel our individual glasses of wine and beer, and we’d all share the prosecco. Whelp, instead, we were each served our original drink plus the bottle. Which he shook up and opened table side so that it sprayed a good third of the prosecco on the sidewalk. Huh. But the waiter was so proud of himself and his “showmanship” that we went along with it. 🙂

This morning we learned we’ll basically be getting up at 7:25am as that’s when the Greek Orthodox church next door starts blasting I s bells. Ha. Wandering around town, everything is lovely and charming. So much to look at.

Chania lighthouse and Mosque from 1600’s

Mid-day, I did find myself scurrying from shade patch to shade patch, as this sun is NOT messing around. But it was a fun low key wander. Discovered the Saturday outdoor market, a chaotic and overwhelming scene, full of locals trying to do their shopping and a few clueless tourists like us. My extremely limited Greek language skills did help a bit. Happily there are four of us, as “tesseract” is one of the only numbers I can remember. So “good day. How are you? we would like to buy four oranges, please.” (for our picnic tomorrow.) The older gentleman seemed tickled at my terrible language attempts and gave us a 5th orange for free. Only 80 cents for all the citrus! Which I guess means we were hugely overcharged (rather than a little overcharged) in our other purchases. Which were still only a few euro. And our beach trip tomorrow will feature some delicious cheese and bread and olives and grapes and oranges!!! Our room has a mini fridge, too, so storing the cheese is easy.

Looking online I’d become quite enamored of this day trip to visit several of the small villages in the mountains nearby, and the monastery, and an old fort, and a bread making course. It sounded like an amazing day of cultural stuff. Until I saw it’s not available on Sunday, darn it. So instead we’re going to visit one of the famous beaches. It’s over 2 hr away, but our driver has two other sites to show us on the trip, and it’ll be super cool.

We’re taking a siesta rest in our room (I am ever so grateful the other women convinced me we should stay in a place with AC!! It’s 89* all days). And then we’ll have ad out for dinner later.

The coffee has been amazing, and the food pretty great, too. Except when stopping at an obviously super tourist trap spot, and even then, mediocre Greek food is still pretty great.

The next 11 days are gonna be amazing! 

 

Cousins overnight in Leavenworth

Tracy,

Browse archives for August 23, 2018
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Courtney Lyons
Yay cousins!
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Woo-hoo for creating new traditions. After last year’s overnight on Orcas Island, we’ve decided the three of us should do an annual overnight. This year, the Bavarian Wonderland that is Leavenworth. I’m always so impressed that this tiny dying logging town was able to reinvent itself into a super popular tourist destination by going ALL IN on a theme. The “Bavarian” signage on big chains (76 gas station, McDonalds, etc) always entertain me. And the bonus is some dear pals own a place out there, and graciously share their home (and pool!!) with their pals. Thanks again, Erika & Marcin! We were also blessed with a small break in the weather and forest fires. While mostly having heat over 100*, it was a more pleasant 87* while we were there. And the forest fire smoke/haze was only just starting to enter the town.

Our morning started by meeting in the north end around 9am (Courtney had to get up the earliest, as she was driving down from Bellingham). We pile into one car and head off, stopping for gas and at an ATM. And thank goodness we did, because as Reagan gets out of car to get some cash, she realizes SHE”S NOT WEARING ANY SHOES! Apparently managed to walk outside barefoot and not notice. Ha! So we make the 20 minute drive back to the parents’ house (our meeting spot) to grab her footwear. So we’re finally on the road around 10:30am. Stopped for Restaurant Breakfast in Monroe at a cute Main Street Cafe, where breakfasts come with choice of toast or TWO FLUFFY PANCAKES!! Genius!! Also, two pancakes as a side to breakfast is too much pancake, but the girls were happy to help. Then back on the road, with only minor squabbling over music choices. The drive along Highway 2 is much prettier than I-90 (and made more sense as we had someone coming from Bellingham, but I was a little sad we wouldn’t be going through Cle Elum for Owen’s Meats to get some amazing turkey jerky and dilled green beans).

Afternoon arrival, in the sunshine, to our friends’ home and swimming pool. Task one, put on swimsuits. Task two, inflate this silly Snap Chat beach ball we’d brought as a Thank You gift for our hosts. Only, as we start blowing into it, it quickly becomes apparent that this beach ball is UNREASONABLY HUGE. For real. See the photo! So instead of gifting a small cute pool toy, we’ve now gifted a CHORE. Here, have fun storing this huge thing. Oops! It was extra hilarious, though. Especially because apparently Reagan has super moist breath (or it had something to do with inflating it in the cool basement) because there was all this condensation inside the beach ball, which was super gross, and had us laughing to hard to keep inflating it.

Pool time! Laughter and fun was had. Reagan wore her Snap Chat glasses in the pool, which stressed me out, because if they went underwater, we’d lose all those photos! But it worked out.

Then changing and heading into town, as we’re hungry! I detour us first to the yellow Bavarian Bakery (my favorite in town, although it’s across the street from the main shops) to get a pretzel. Which is how we discover that Blue Spirits Distillery has opened a new fancy space. Like, brand new space. It’s lovely. So we do our spirits tasting, always fun here, as they mix tiny cocktails to enhance your tasting experience.  (Apparently if you go to their old spot in town, you get a discount coupon for the new space. But if you wander into the new space first, no coupon. Aw well). Then off to bakery and into town. It’s definitely “mad dogs and Englishmen” mid-day sun time. Ugh! The insane christmas store is more insane in summer time, with their $6,000 animatronic singing reindeer. Woah. Wine tasting! Including wine slusshies at Kestrel (which were too sweet and weird, but we managed to drink all of them). Got chocolates at SChocolat, which also led to us being silly and adding the letter S to the front of all of our words for awhile. Great fun. Wandered the random outdoor art market. And a full on Bavarian dinner at Andreas Keller, where large beers on top of our wine tasting led to several giggles.

Then a lovely post-dinner ramble along the river. Signage informed us of bear sightings (mother and cub) in the area. Courtney had actual bear knowledge, having lived in Alaska for some many years. But what she says to us, after reading the sign, is, “If a black bear is ever charging at you, Punch it in the face!!” Blank stares from Reagan and I, and I ask for clarification/context. Apparently while a Grizzly will do feint charging, Black bears only charge when they’re planning to attack for real. Not sure how good I’d be at punching a bear, and I never hope to find out, but yeah, okay, guess at the point of being charged, throwing a terrible punch is better than nothing. But really, this signage means we just need to keep talking and making our presence known ahead of time, so we don’t surprise any ursine neighbors. Which meant, during conversation lulls, we’d sing Disney songs. So that was lovely.

Back to Erika and Marcin’s house, for a relaxing evening of conversation, chocolates (some from Poland, courtsey of M’s sister), and board games.

Sunday morning was about waiting 40 minutes for a table (stupid Sunday brunch people!) but then a tasty egg dish to start off the day. Reagan announces she’d prefer to leave town after lunch (rather than staying through dinner) which is reasonable. We wander through the other half of town, checking out newer fancy-pants expensive winery tasting from Boudreaux Cellars, and then ending at my favorite in town Stemilt Creek. Their wines are approachable and lovely, and their staff is always great. Plus, it’s a little less crowded as it’s at the end of town. And almost always, the strangers sharing wine tastings there share conversations and laughter, too. I think this is because their staff is great and the design of the long curved counter encourages interaction. (last Christmas, ended up exchanging emails with a couple for grad school/law school advice and planning). This was no exception. As we walk inside, there’s a couple tasting with this adorable 40-pound squat dog (with blue heeler coloring) lying on his side. Dog immediately lifts his top leg, to show off his belly for scratches. I’m happy to oblige. I learn his name is Jackson, and his owners are pretty great, too. Jackson is my new best friend. Anytime someone stops scractching his belly, he quickly stands up and quietly rests against your leg to implore you. As soon as anyone looks down and makes eye contact, he flops back down and raises his leg for more belly scratches. Adorable. Then another couple join us, and they’re originally from the South, been at Lewis-McChord for a few years and will be relocated to Fairbanks in a few weeks. Courtney’s decade in Alaska coming in handy once again, she’s able to give them some pointers and recommendations. It was just lovely, and I picked up two bottles of their Rose, which is often sold out during my annual christmas visit.

Fun with photo editing

We’re wandering back into town to hit the Cheesemonger’s shop before heading home (Mom had given us a cheese shopping list before we left, and I’ll always need to pick up some fancy gouda-style cheeses. Midmight Moon and Ewephoria for sure, and some of the wonderful Steve’s Hot Smoked Cheese. Get the “hot” kind. The regular smoked cheese is decent, but the one with peppers is amazing! His smoked salmon is also some of the best ever. Yum!). Also, why aren’t more things called Monger? Cheesemonger. Warmonger. I feel like there’s a huge range in between that we’re not utilizing linguistically. Similar with the ending -atrix. From Aviatrix to Dominatrix, there are so many other professions that would be awesome to add an -atrix at the end.

En route to cheese, Reagan’s eye catches the “old timey bavarian photo studio” sign and she wants to go inside. I remind her it’s a little after 1pm and she’d wanted to leave. Nope, now full of wine and good times, she wants MORE BAVARIA!! We wander in, learn it’s $39, and are asked to return at 2pm for the photo shoot. Yay! Wander a bit more, and stop in at the awesome brand new Whistlepunk Ice Cream place. Get to chatting with the owner, and he’s delightful. Also impressed to see a commitment to compostable and reusable products out here. (Their tasting spoons are small metal spoons!!). I really think this designer ice cream shop will be a success in town. I sure hope so. We’ve still got time and want something a little more substantial than ice cream for late lunch, so we get sausages at the Leavenworth Sausage Garten (featuring the tasty sausages made at Cured). Their outdoor misting system from the ceiling is on FULL BLAST. It’s a bit ridiculous/insane (maybe on a 100* day, I’d have wanted it this strong). I mean, refreshing, but coming so strongly, you’re actually getting wet (not just misted). And the line is long enough/crowded enough it takes awhile to get our sausages, so we end up taking them to go, eating them slowly on the short walk back to the photo studio.

And then we do the most tourist-y thing ever. And it’s a delight. And the young women working there seemed to find us delightful too. The one teenager with Goth sensibilities (although they’re both dressed up in the uniform of Bavarian costumes) is sooooo enamored of Reagan’s home-made Punk inspired Furiosa shirt (with a laced corset top and some stylistic rips, etc. Reagan’s giving her tips on how to make her own goth/emo clothes, but she basically just wants to buy Reagan’s shirt. But my sister loves her shirt too much to part with it. Our “old timey” photos are wonderful, too.

Throughout our trip, the timing just seemed to work in our favor. We’ve often enter relatively empty stores and find a LONG line as we depart (because we are trend setters!!). When we did our 2pm photo shoot, prospective old timey photo buyers were told the wait time was now 3.5 hours!! And even in the cheese shop, we were able to avoid long lines, too. Some yummy cheese tasting and then buying ALL THE THINGS, including the landjaeger sausage. Then it’s time to finally begin the drive back home. It was a really great overnight adventure. Cousins!!

NYC Spring break, final days

Tracy,

Browse archives for April 19, 2018
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My goodness, what a trip. Typing this on the long flight back home. Tired but satisfied, with loads of memories made. Pilot informs us we’ll face lots of turbulence over the Great Lakes, but otherwise smooth sailing. While I appreciate the info, as this isn’t an international flight with screens in the seatbacks in front of us offering flight path maps, I’m not sure how we’re supposed to know when we’re approaching the Great Lakes. A compass and a foldout map of the USA? Hmmm, that’s a thought. Do compasses work the same at 35,000 feet, or will that change the magnetic forces? I mean, presumably we’ll know because the flight will start getting super bumpy. Ha.

Have I mentioned how sweet the housekeeping at HY36 Crowne Plaza have been? Super nice, brand new hotel, convenient location.  Although strangely the room doesn’t have a closet. (There’s a small cupboard with room to hang up 5 items (after we removed the ironing board and shoved it under the bed). But your suitcase and coats just have to sit beside your bed. I mean, it was fine, just a bit surprising.

Fri morning we headed off to get brunch in Brooklyn. After looking at tons of options on our phones, decided to try Polish diner Teresa’s. But on our walk there, the kid says to me, “I’m just thinking something light and fresh for breakfast. With vegetables.” Me: *blank stare* So, NOT the polish diner, then. Ha. But as we were walking through the Dumbo neighborhood, we had many options! Found a cute place that even offered a market vegetable platter (choose 4 veggie side dishes from a long list of veggies for $15). She chose the cherry tomatoes and brussel sprouts, and I added the cauliflower and plantains!! So that was very tasty to go along with our sandwiches. (I tried not to let my sadness over missed eggs and potatoes show. In truth, it was a very nice meal, we just haven’t yet had a traditional breakfast).

We were so spoiled with the weather!!! Ended up being 80* on Friday!! So we dined on the patio. Then wandered the Fleuvog shoe store, and all kinds of funky art stores and trendy things. Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop was a cool find, too. And I ended up having to pay way too much to buy sunscreen at the super hipster “Modern Chemist” pharmacy (only option around). I was wearing one of those peek-a-boo shoulder shirts, too. So not only is a sunburn a bummer, but I’d have had super weird tan lines, too. After exploring the area, we walked along the Brooklyn Bridge back to Manhattan. Gorgeous weather with a refreshing breeze along the way.

Wonderful views. Lots of crowds and great people watching, too. And many of these folks had very little situational awareness, so it was simultaneously entertaining and terrifying as people are stopping/standing in the bike lane. Then wandering through the city, knowing we were seeing a show in Soho that evening.

Gisele suggested we find a Gelato place (told you the girl was a genius!). A quick Google search found one a mile away. But when we arrived, crushing disappointment. It was a clothing store that had Gelato in its name. Shame on them! Boo! Also shame on Google! But by this point we were in Nolita (“northern little Italy”, I think) so actual Gelato places existed. Visited il laboratorio del gelato which had several really insane flavors. The woman at the counter was generous in letting us try several (it was only after ordering that we saw the “strictly two taste limit!” sign, but glad that wasn’t enforced). Gisele got a sesame flavor, and I quite enjoyed the orange hibiscus.

It’s now 80*, our feets are sore, and it’s 4pm (show is at 7:30 & we’re not hungry for dinner yet). Sort of “done” with museums at the moment, and we’ve already logged over 7 miles of wandering around (after two days of 11 miles each). So we’re off in search of a coffee shop or someplace where we can sit and linger and rest our feet and hopefully avoid the heat. But the dream of an air conditioned spot with big padded chairs proved unrealistic for the neighborhood. So Gisele suggested Bluestockings, and this all volunteer radical bookstore and cafe was exactly what we needed. Nice selection of teas, chairs near the windows for a breeze, a “free to borrow books” while in the store policy. Great selection of feminist, queer, and other empowering books. And it gave us a chance to research some Soho dinner options (realizing it’s Fri night and many places will need reservations). Happily we were looking for an early dinner, so lots of places still had space at that time. Plus we got to overhear the first date happening at the table next to us. Entertainment!

After reading/relaxing for an hour, we headed off to wander through some of the super fashionable clothing stores in Soho. Some very strange stuff. Some cool stuff, too. But definitely not my scene. Then a decent enough Italian dinner. And off to see Hannah Gadsby’s show “Nanette” at Soho Playhouse. 


Holy crap, this was an amazing, hilarious, and intense show!! Gotta send all the thanks to Neil Gaiman, actually. Saw a random tweet of his last week promoting the show. Realized we’d be in town during those 3 weeks so did a small bit of research. Won awards at Edinburgh, great reviews, and learned Hannah Gadsby is quite a popular comic in her native Australia and in Europe. And with good reason. This is her first time performing in the states, and I sure hope it won’t be her last. Her stand up writing is so sharp and clever, I found myself wanting to write down/quote the entire thing to people. The show starts off with hilarious jokes and then turns in to so much more. She then provides some clever dissection of how standup works, thoughtful and fascinating and funny. Then some really intense serious stuff, discussions we need to be having in society, questioning whether she can even continue with comedy. Here. I’m just going to quote a few paragraphs from the New York Times Review:

Her self-mocking nebbish is a familiar persona, but there comes a moment when she drops and deconstructs it, and that turning point makes you re-evaluate everything you saw before. “Do you know what self-deprecation means coming from somebody who exists on the margins?” she asks. “It is not humility; it is humiliation.”

Then she goes on the attack, cheerfully smashing pieties like the one about comedy being the best medicine. “I reckon penicillin might give it a nudge,” she says. “Your baby is sick? Just give it a tickle.”

Breaking down comedy with mathematical precision, she explains that good stories have three parts (beginning, middle and end) while jokes require two (setup and punch line), which means that to end on a laugh, comics often need to cut off the most important and constructive element, where hindsight, perspective and catharsis exist.

“A joke is a question, artificially inseminated with tension,” she says, before explaining the mechanics of her job. “I make you all tense and then I cure it with a laugh. And you say: ‘Thanks for that, I was feeling a bit tense.’” Then in one of many tonal shifts, she raises her voice, irritated at the audience’s hypothetic gratitude: “But I made you tense!” Then she points to the audience and back at her and quips, darkly: “This is an abusive relationship.”

Justified rage and sadness and pointed commentary, still with lots of laughs and bringing the audience along, and offering some concrete steps for how we can and must move forward as a society. Just amazing stuff. And clearly demonstrating how good she is at her craft, as she’s shown in the early jokes, and then explained how she controls the crowd in the deconstruction, and then bringing down the tension (or intentionally NOT) throughout the more meaningful final 3rd. A master class, so much to think about, great fun and powerful and inspiring. (But dang, those seats had so little leg room. My poor knees were being crushed against the seats in front of us. I had indents in them for hours after. Worth it, but not super comfortable). Word is that this show was filmed in Australia and should be released on Netflix, so you all should definitely watch it!!!

Also, turns out NEIL GAIMAN re-tweeted me, when I gushed about how great the show was. So, there’s that!

Saturday morning and our final day. The plan had been to get up around 8am again to get a start on the day. We’d be seeing Hamilton at 2pm, so if we wanted to leave midtown, needed to do that earlier. But then, neither of us really wanted to get up when the alarm went off. So we spent 1.5 hr just lounging in the hotel room, reading in bed. It was nice. And as I’ve been devouring KB Wager’s “Behind the Throne” series, I appreciated the time to read more of this page turning political science fiction thriller with some great “heist movie” plots in the 2nd book. Then off to find breakfast near Bryant Park. The place we’d planned to eat apparently stops serving breakfast at 11am and we were there at 11:10am (it was a Saturday so I’d assumed brunch would be available until at least 1pm). Darn. But wanting eggs at least once this trip, we searched for options nearby. Ended up at a thoroughly mediocre and kind of expensive diner. Location location location. But the food was warm, and we were seated at the counter so got to chat with the bartenders, which was fun. Then a sunshine-y walk through Bryant Park, and off to explore the New York Public Library. Iconic lion statues created a strong emotional response I hadn’t expected. Just a nostalgic feeling for a place I’d never been before.

The library is huge and gorgeous and I love that folks use it for actual library purposes, as well as for tourists to look around. They also have small informational exhibits, too! So that was cool to see, and kind of the perfect way to spend the hour before it was time to walk over to Richard Rodgers Theater for Hamilton!!!!

The show was, of course, very very good. We were seated towards the very back of the balcony, but Broadway houses are much smaller than our big theaters in Seattle, so we could still see faces, etc. Gisele got a big kick out of the “adult sippy cups” they give you to take drinks into the theater. $7 for a soda isn’t cheap, but at least one gets a free Hamilton souvenir cup out of the deal. Daniel Breaker was fantastic as Aaron Burr. (I’ve been a fan since “Passing Strange,” which y’all can watch on DVD because Spike Lee filmed this musical in 2009. Might be streaming some places, too). At intermission, Gisele spoke about how live show more clearly frames it as Burr’s story/journey. When she’d listened to cast recording, only really focused on Hamilton (and Laurens/Phillip *smile*). James Monroe Iglehart (who I knew as the Genie from Aladdin) offered a really fun new take on Lafayette/Jefferson. And boy can Michael Luwoye SING! His performance as Hamilton was wonderful and gorgeous. Good times. Exiting the theatre to a lineup of 12 peddle cabs all ringing their bicycle bells to entice departing patrons was an unexpected but hilarious sight.

We’d planned to grab a slice or two of pizza at Patzeria across the street. I knew it was tasty from my previous trip (and Lin Manuel Miranda has shared photo of the guy holding his Tony Award after we ate there in 2016, so it was obviously Hamilton crew approved, too). But they were closed. Online said they were open all day, and there was a guy inside making pizza, but the door was locked and he shook his head when we indicated we wanted to come in. Maybe they’d run out of pizza and closed until they cooked more? *shrug*

We ended up going to Joe’s, reliably tasty and great value. And I greatly enjoy all the fuzzy and often unflattering photos of different celebrities who’ve had their pizza. Afterwards, I’d thought maybe we’d head down to Chelsea to explore and walk through Highline Park (old elevated train tracks that were converted to green space. It was pouring down rain my last trip, so I haven’t been there yet). But Gisele wasn’t really interested. Instead she wanted to explore Times Square some more and do some shopping. Not really my scene at all, but as fine a way to spend our last night as any. Being early evening on a Saturday, it was insanely crowded. Which is probably “part of the experience.” Full of amazing people watching, at least, even if these types of crowds irritate me. And overwhelming for the senses. About 7pm, we started to make our way back to the hotel. She was in favor of an early night in, relaxing and reading in hotel room (as we had to leave at 6am to catch our flight home). I had “a moment” as we walked past the Hello Dolly theater (Bernadette Peters is only 100 feet away from me!!!!!). Then she had “a moment” seeing the “Lobby Hero” theatre across the street (Chris Evans is only 100 feet away from me!!!!). Hilarious.

We then walk past the Anastasia theater, and she’s gushing about how much she loved that movie. And how I have to be sure to tell her when the tour comes to Seattle because she so desperately wants to see it. “Do you want to see how much tickets are for tonight?” Lots of nodding. So we go ask about tickets for their 8pm show. They have an amazing pair, main floor center, 6th row. But they’re not cheap. (cheaper than Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen, but I’d been hoping they’d have a cheaper option). So we start to walk away. Gisele says she’d be willing to contribute $100 towards the cost of her seat. Are you sure? *emphatic nodding* Also, “that means we won’t be back to hotel until after 11pm, we have to pack up and the alarm is set for 5:30am.” But again, she’s all smiles. So we walked back and bought the tickets. And it was great. The seats were gorgeous, and definitely THIS was the show to be up close. Those turn of the century Romanov costumes, and Russian nobility, and then 1920’s Parisian fashion. So much beading and intricate costumes. It was very cool. And a cute little show. With an audience who was 100% HERE FOR THIS! The cast seemed genuinely surprised, in a great way, at the insane amount of hooting and hollering during curtain call. Gotta love a Sat night crowd. 🙂

So that was an excellent last minute adventure. And meant we saw 4 shows in our last 3 days. Ha!! My kind of NYC trip! Just hadn’t been sure she’d want to do that much performance stuff. Overall, just a really lovely adventure. We ate well. Explored much. Experienced great theatre and standup. Met some cool people. And were so lucky in our weather (as we just dodged the snowstorms happening right before our trip).

Oh, we’re about to land, so I’ll have to upload this later.

Spring break in NYC with a teenager

Tracy,

Browse archives for April 13, 2018
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New York City

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So last June I found myself with yet another Alaska Air $99 companion fare coupon about to expire. You get one annually with their mileage card, but I don’t take a domestic flight annually, so can’t always use them. Or I’ve used them for flights to CA (thereby only saving $50). So I was wishing I had a cross country flight upcoming, to “maximize value,” and it occurred to me I could take my 17 yr old niece to NYC. A few calls to her mom to coordinate, and to her to make sure she was interested (she was!!!) and we were set. And then had to wait 9 months!!! Although I did buy the Dear Evan Hansen tickets back in June, as they’d just won the Tony and were selling quickly.

And now we’re here, and it’s been lovely!!! Gisele is a great travel companion. Cheerful and kind, quick to laugh, super chatty and easy going. The only hard part is choosing what to do, as this city is overloaded with experiences!!! Early morning flights are the worst. Ugh! But there was a security dog with TSA, which always makes me happy, because dog!! (Even though I have to repeat to myself, “You can’t pet that dog. That dog has a job. You can’t pet that dog.”) And then TSA told us to keep out shoes on and keep everything in our bags for a new program, which made security less hassle. “keep your shoes on. If the alarm beeps, then you’ll have to take them off. But everyone gets to try with their shoes on first.” The Woman in front of us got a beep and took off her shoes, but I stopped Gisele from taking off hers. And that’s when the TSA woman said I won the Stellar Passenger Award for actually listening. (Not gonna lie, still feeling proud of it. Ha! Getting recognition for paying attention and following rules!! It’s kind of perfect for me. If she’d also somehow told me I was right, that’d be the perfect trifecta!)
Airport Starbucks’ misspelled name game was on extra that morning. As Gisele’s cup read “drezel.” I think the 4 hr of sleep may have contributed to the hilarity, but come on!! They even used lower case ‘d.’ We both managed to nap for about an hour on the plane, thank goodness. And Gisele’s mom (my older sister) had sent us with a care package of pastries and salad for the plane!) We were given the good news at takeoff that we’d be arriving about an hour early!! However, apparently Newark couldn’t handle us early. We had to spend 24 minutes circling in the air. And another 30 minutes waiting on the tarmac after landing, until our originally assigned gate was free. Then into the city to check in, and off to dinner. Went to Khe-yo (because Lindy West mentioned it was her favorite NYC restaurant in the Eating Out video). And damn, it was amazing!!!!!! Very cool spot with lots of delicious food and a hip waitstaff and diners. Waitress suggested two small plates and two large plates. We ordered 3 small and 1 large and were too full even before the large plate was served. (They bring you a complimentary sticky rice and amazing spicy Bang Bang sauce to start) It’s Laotian inspired and bursting with vibrant flavors and lots of spice. The coconut crispy was amazing, the beef was so great, and the tuna poke special with prawn chips were lovely (which was served with a piece of bone marrow AND one of the best foi gras I’ve had. Swimming in butter and so rich). While it was suggested we mix them with the tuna, we ate them separately and drooled! Although I worried at the price tag (as it was a “special,” I feared these extra fancy ingredients/components would be a way to justify an insane price). But pricing was on par with the other menu items. I mean, it’s a fancier place and it’s in new york, but we spent actually far less than I’d budgeted for this meal).
We ended up taking the pork curry noodles “to go,” and they made for the most amazing breakfast ever in our hotel room the next morning!! Truly, yum! And they’d packaged all the fresh veggies and herbs and lime separately, so we got to dress up our bowls with bright crisp flavors.
After our spicy noodles soup breakfast, we were off to explore the Met. Subway up to natural history museum (with a quick stop in to the lobby to see some dinosaurs). And crisis averted when I tripped and fell going up the marble stairs. Much better than falling down stairs, I just have some minor bruising AND managed to not break my camera which I was holding. So, yeah, embarrassing and minorly painful, but totally fine. And so I have implemented Tracy’s Rainforest Rules, which means I can’t be looking up at cool stuff and walking at the same time. Because, clearly, I can’t. So I need to “pull over” to the side of the trail (sidewalk in this case) and temporarily stop walking to look up at things. Ha! Then the sun came out. It was in the 40’s but gorgeous as we walked across Central Park to museum mile. Even saw some turtles!
“So, what exactly does The Metropolitan Museum of Art have?” she asks me. “Um, it kind of has everything, I think.” Boy, was I right. It’d take days to see it all. But we sure had fun trying. AND she ran into a friend from her high school, who was in town for college tours. Fun. I’d like to point out that the 17 yr old’s snapchat story was lovely and informative selection of cool stuff. And I used my snapchat to celebrate butts! Or rather, celebrating the statues who so clearly want you to celebrate their butt. I didn’t think of this until our last 30 minutes, but then this lion-dog statue was so clearly excited about showing his butt to visitors that it became a theme. And I giggled like a maniac all day. 
After, we ended up walking 50 blocks up to Sylvia’s in Harlem for some delicious southern cooking. Thanks again for my buddies Joseph and Michelle for telling us about this place last time!! This trip I learned Sylvia’s Vegetarian option is just your choice of 4 of their side dishes. Which are one of the best parts. Gisele suggested we order a meat entree (which comes with 2 sides) & get that, and share… So we’d get 6 sides. 
I had to text Michelle about what a genius my niece is. Michelle responded, “Give that girl all the scholarships!!” And told us to get cookies at Levain on our way back. Dude!!!
So we had amazing cookies to start the day today. Ha! Then back to Museum Mile/Central Park because Gisele really wanted to go to Cooper Hewitt Industrial Design Museum. It’s located inside Carnegie’s former house (mansion?). It was cool, with some great interactive options (guests are given a stylus/wand that let’s you save different items to a specialized website to view when you get home, as well as get to design your own wallpaper, hats, buildings, tables, etc). And they had a special exhibition on accessibility which was very cool. Honestly, though, I was done after an hour, and super bored after 2. But darn it if the kid wasn’t loving it still for almost 3 hours. It’s NOT a very big museum. Honestly. The internet says most people spend one hour here. When we were about to leave, at a security guard recommendation, we went into the basement to try the spinning chairs, which were cool. But then Gisele spent 24 minutes reading every single poster board sized info board about different items. They didn’t even have the items on display. It felt like former exhibit explanations, just used to decorate the downstairs lobby. But she read, and loved learning about, all of it. Ha.
Then more wandering in Central Park, and to eat the other half other half of the bagels we’d gotten for breakfast. I’d felt required to order the insane looking “rainbow bagel” from the bagel shop at 91st & 3rd, because who ever saw such a thing?!?  Not the adorable elderly couple on the bench next to us, who’ve lived in Central Park West since the early 70’s. It was quite a conversation starter. I mean, it is a visually striking, not necessarily appetizing, but striking appearance. Tastes like a normal bagel. And this couple was a hoot. (Gisele bragging about how her bagel has the most delicious smoked salmon. “You must not be from around here. Nobody calls it smoked salmon. It’s lox.” Ha.) The wife had to leave after 10 minutes, but Mr Katz talked to us for over an hour, slinging wisdom and cliches and colorful anecdotes from a life well lived. And advice for college and life in general to the teenager. This lecture wasn’t on the agenda, but it was wonderful. At the end of it all, Gisele asked for his email and he hoped she’d keep him informed about what college she ends up attending. It was a bit hard to say goodbye and leave the conversation though. We’d thanked him, shaken hands, stood up from the bench, and he just kept talking, with each parting story for us sparking a memory for him that strung itself into another story. At least I could keep up/contribute to the Henry V quotes (Prince Hal has long been my Shakespeare crush. Him, and Edgar from King Lear). Very cool, and much more interesting/special than our original plan of Gisele doing some shopping in Times Square).
Back to the hotel to change, and into the theater district for Dear Evan Hansen. I knew I was gonna be in trouble when I started crying a little during “for forever” (only the 3rd song in Act I) because some of the Act II songs make me cry just listening to the cast recording. It was a super great show. And I may have cried so hard my bra got soggy. But whatever.  Very cathartic, and we both felt wrung out after the powerful emotional show. Phew. Then a pleasant walk back through all the madness of Times Square. Dang,  I’ve been typing this up and, holy crap, it’s now midnight. So I’m going to stop now. I’ll probably not post this until tomorrow, because I have to add pictures,  or my “look at my butt” Met experience can’t be fully appreciated. *laughs*

10 hr drive for 24 hr on Oregon Coast

Tracy,

Browse archives for November 21, 2017
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Cannon Beach

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Man, I’ve been to Cannon Beach a bunch in the last few years. I’m not complaining. I love this place. Our folks were spending a few weeks in a cabin in September when my mom called, wondering when my sister Reagan and I were coming down to visit. This was NOT a thing we’d planned. Both of us are super busy, and we both had spent time independently on Oregon Coast in August. But mom’s heart was in full-on-nostalgia mode (as we’d spend 2 weeks every August at the ocean when we were growing up), so we arranged our schedules with the intention of driving down Fri after work and heading home Sun. Short but sweet. Also, our aunts from California had flown up to stay with the folks for the week, so we’d get to see them Fri night, too (even if that meant we’d have to use the bunkbeds Fri night).

But then, we both got hit with truly awful colds. And didn’t want to infect our parents or aunts. So plans were on hold. My virus cycle started earlier, so I was feeling better, but Reagan was still pretty sick on Weds (although on the mend), so we all decided we probably wouldn’t go. But we’d play it by ear and possibly drive down Sat morning for the quick 24 hr turn around. Then I get a call from dad Fri night, “What time are you girls driving down tomorrow?” “We’re not, because of germs.” “I’m not scared. I’ve had my pneumonia shot. Come on down.” (Putting aside the fact that that’s NOT how the pneumonia vaccine works, I agreed). And Reagan even said she’d be willing to get up stupid-early so we could squeeze in more ocean hours. But that seemed a terrible idea, especially for someone getting over sickness, so we compromised and left around 8:30am (which is still way early for Reagan’s tastes, but not the insane 6am she originally offered). We missed seeing our aunts, which was a bummer, but would’ve been bad to expose them to our germs, too.

It was a lovely drive, for which I was super appreciative (After the 9 hr nightmare of traffic accidents from my August dog trip). We sang along to musical soundtracks, and Reagan’s custom roadtrip playlists. Arrived in town just in time for lunch at the Driftwood Inn (which had seasonal pumpkin decorations. Shasta dog was unimpressed, but the humans thought it was a fun autumnal touch).

Then back to the cabin, which had an amazing view. We read our books, played with the dogs, and had some fierce Canasta battles! Dad watched TV. Basically all the things we normally do on family trips. I was dominating the first game of Canasta, which led Reagan to abuse her powers as scorekeeper and draw censorious cartoons in the margins.

But check out this view!!!!!!!!!!

We started discussing where to go for dinner (a place that is tasty and dog friendly, although it was chillier weather so the patio needed to have good heat lamps) when dad announced it was an evening Husky football game, so he wanted to stay to watch that. Reagan and I took “to go” orders, loaded up the dog, and went to order food at The Wayfarer. Which has a radically redesigned menu. Instead of a wider variety of mid-range price points, they had a smaller select menu with much more expensive options (although they were willing to still cook up burger for mom, which is only on the lunch menu). While waiting for our food to be cooked, we went to explore the ocean with the dog. (Full disclosure, it was dark, so no photos. Instead, please enjoy this beach photo from earlier in the afternoon, announcing that the ocean is broken)

Then as we’re paying for our dinner, we notice we’re short a box. Turns out they’d forgotten Reagan’s steak. Oh no! But she didn’t want everyone else’s food to get cold while waiting for them to cook her entree (and she hadn’t been super excited about anything on the new menu, anyway). On our drive back to Tolovana, we saw a “Fresh pizza” sign so she was able to get a slice for dinner. Then on to the Husky game.

The next morning, we’re discussing breakfast options, as restaurant breakfast is the best thing ever!!! But again, dad doesn’t want to go anywhere because of the soon-to-start Seahawks game. So he pours himself a bowl of cereal, and Reagan and I head back into town to get delicious restaurant breakfast take out for mom and us. Yay! Some more card games before football on TV. Then we headed for home in the early afternoon. So yes, we did drive for over 10 hours to spend only 24 hours in Cannon Beach). And then we ended up mostly just hanging out with our parents inside their rented cabin, watching TV and playing card games. These are, of course, things we could easily do back home.

But what a view outside the window, with the balcony door open, listening/smelling the ocean. It was lovely, even if it was rushed. And the sun was shining for the entire ride back. And I got to reminisce about our encounters with “Pig” on last year’s drive home and Reagan continuing not to understand how exciting that was. (Details here ) AND we got to eat the amazing fish and chips from BowPicker in Astoria (it’s a food-boat, not a food truck) http://www.bowpicker.com/  They’d been closed when I drove through in August, so that was a wonderful bonus for doing this trip again, so quickly after having just done it in August. And hooray for family time and tradition!! Tradition! Tradition!

Cabin in the mountains

Tracy,

Browse archives for September 26, 2017
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I found myself the winner/purchaser of 5 nights in a cabin in Skykomish, Washington. I was the opening bid at a charity auction with no real intention of winning the prize, just liked getting the ball rolling on this silent item. But as the auction end date neared and it became apparent nobody else was bidding, I figured I better look up where the heck Skykomish even is. *laughs* It’s the last stop before Steven’s Pass, FYI. And it’s so close to some really wonderful outdoor exploration opportunities. The cabin was great, quite large with 3 bedrooms and a loft area. Really nice kitchen. And the owners were kind enough to let us know to plan our meals/bring out groceries with us (as options nearby are slim to none). I packed up a box of board games and a box of wine bottles, and we were ready to go *laughs*

Wonderful friends’ getaway. Hiking the Iron Goat Trail with 4 and 6 yr old.   Had a great post-hike picnic lunch, including quinoa, feta, & veggie salad, and all the fresh fruit. Thanks to Teresa for packing such great hiking snacks!

Had ice cream at Steven’s Pass. Then Sidewalk chalk.

Tall tales and story-telling with the locals at the tiny home-based Mount Index Brewery & Distillery. Pro-tip: They serve FREE soup on Sundays…this one included meat from the Black Angus cows the owner raised herself. She showed us photos on her phone. Had a really interesting sour abbey ale with an alder smoke ice cube added to it.

Exploring Deception Falls.  

Clearly a FOREST MONSTER (not a log)

Board games and bottles of wine. “Sushi Go Party” is ridiculously fun. Tiny train rides in Skykomish. Then twelve hours of Bavarian-themed adventures in Leavenworth, and Laurena drove up to join us for the day. 

Wine tasting, including the always wonderful Stemilt Creek Winery as well as wine slushies at Kestrel. (Some wonderful pals let us use their swimming pool in the hot afternoon, and Laurena is some kind of mad-genius when it comes to making up silly swimming games/competitions. Endless laughter). Followed by an amazing dinner at Andreas Keller.

We ordered ALL the food (including two pretzels with cheese as a starter) and then we were all so full we weren’t sure we could climb the stairs to exit the restaurant. Sharing secrets and laughter. Frisbee in the backyard and grilled fish tacos. Microwaved s’mores because of the burn ban. PARTIAL ECLIPSE OF THE SUN (including “partial eclipse of the colander” photos). 

Sharing of eclipse glasses with neighbors and a family traveling from Israel. Bear scat on a morning run, reminding friends to keep up a loud conversation for safety. So many dogs to befriend! Helping the two middle-school train volunteers learn to use the cash register at the Skykomish Train gift shop. Rides on the tiny train. Freshly picked blackberries everywhere.

Hearing Nichole say “I wonder if adults can fit in here,” then rounding the corner to see her stuck. “Nope,” she says.  But she did later manage to squeeze into the “Harry Potter Suite.”

Making lasagne, drinking wine, accidentally saying “Manera” instead of “Marina” and deciding that would be an excellent name for our metal band.

Baby birds all over the rafters of the historic Skykomish hotel (currently closed for renovations). Sarah getting a napkin and rescuing a fallen baby bird from the street, tucking him into a shaded corner under the rafters.

Getting to spend 5 nights in the mountains with dear friends. So awed by the beauty of Washington everywhere we turn, continually proclaiming, “Our state is the best state!” The best.