Monday, June 26, 2017

Mykonos, Greece!

After another tender to shore, many day tours were available through local vendors and the cruise company. On other cruises, we’ve taken “hop on hop off” bus tours in ports, but we didn’t see too many of those (none) on this trip.
Many religious icons are packed into churches and monasteries. Along with their faith life, we were told that the mascot of Mykonos is a pelican, so some tourists set about to search for the pelican. After wandering around for a long time looking for a good lunch place, then finding one, who is hanging out in the doorway to the restaurant after the meal is ordered, but the pelican? Waiters walked around the pelican as they entered and exited the restaurant kitchen. In order to get to the customer restroom, you have to pass near the kitchen, and exactly past the pelican, who is apparently supervising the cooks!
I could have spent several days on Mykonos, finding it beautiful and more relaxing than Santorini. Maybe if I had traveled beyond the capital city of Fira on Santorini, I might feel differently (it could be more relaxing there, too). Gee whiz, maybe I’ll have to go back to both places for a few days each, to re-test which island I like better!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Santorini, Greece!

Arriving by cruise ship, you take a small “shuttle” boat, known as a “tender” from your floating hotel to the shore. If you look closely at the photo below, you can see a zig zag line up the cliff, just about in the middle of the picture. That is the walking path/staircase! There was such a long line for the cable car to the top, that it was not worth standing in line in the hot sun. So, grab a water bottle, hat, and sunscreen for the hike up!
The views were gorgeous, and the donkeys I didn't ride sure looked tired. No water in sight for them.
I know a tourist rip-off when I see one, but sometimes you pay too much for the best “tzaziki” on the planet (cucumber yogurt dip) with fresh pita bread, in exchange for a rooftop terrace table with free wifi and a rest room! I’m sure that outside of town, snacks would have been less than half the price, but it sure was a nice break in the heat of the day.
While other cruise passengers may have booked excursions or even taken the public bus to other places on the island, walking through narrow passages of Fira and admiring local arts, crafts, and cats, was an enjoyable way to spend the day (did go on excursions on 2 other islands).
My observation about this cruise was that the time in port seemed to short. Maybe I’m becoming more European after living here for 2+ years, but 6 hours on Santorini was not enough. The woman who sits next to me in my German choir went to Crete for a week! Now, I’m not sure about spending an entire week on the same small island, but I could probably figure something out if I had to (down time, day trips, etc.). We actually had less than 6 hours per port, once you figure out the time it takes to get from your ship to the destination, such as tenders, hiking up a cliff, or taking a 20 minute bus ride to old town (Dubrovnik, Croatia), plus getting back in time before sailing!
I’m still grateful for the opportunity to enjoy the sun, food, and local culture! Stay tuned for photos from Mykonos next.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Venice: only somewhat off the beaten path

The best part of planning a vacation (for me) is researching the destination, and hoping that the decisions you make ahead of time are the right ones, leaving enough undecided for spontaneity. Maybe some of you can arrive in a city without hotel reservations, but I like reading reviews and looking at maps to find a good place to stay. It feels great knowing where to go when we arrive, and having some idea of what to expect.
Because the weekend before our cruise was a festival weekend in Venice, we elected to stay on the nearby island of Murano in a larger, quieter room, at a better rate, compared with Venetian hotel rooms. I would highly recommend staying on a nearby island unless you become seasick on water. We had clear directions on which water transportation to take from the airport to the island of Murano, and we wheeled our luggage to the B&B without climbing over canal bridges. Even if you don’t stay on Murano, go see it if you have time. The first evening, we just walked around Murano and had a terrific dinner of asparagus soup, pasta, and of course gelato!
The next morning, we took another ferry boat over to Venice, just a short distance. We walked 5 miles that day, through clean, narrow alleys, along the grand canal, and cut across lovely, sunny squares with restaurants and cafes. The prices of most meals and snacks were high, since we wanted to sit down for a few minutes and use the establishment’s restrooms, rather than grabbing a snack on the run. Portable sandwiches and ice cream cones are not too pricey.
Although I don’t mind bargaining, the gondola rides were a fixed price, and gave us a good view of every building’s back door. There were plenty of touristy shops with souvenirs made in China, but we were thrilled to discover some gems of truly local wares, such as a tiny place selling ONLY items with BLACK CATS on them. HELLO!!!! The artist who painted some of the items had a black cats in Venice calendar, which I will turn into framed prints after each month in 2018.
I wish we had longer in Venice, but it was a wonderful chance to add a few days to our cruise vacation. We didn’t mind at all that the boat from Murano to the cruise terminal took over an hour, stopping at many points of interest all around Venice. I wouldn’t consider staying anywhere else other than Murano in the future.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

London, not at all off the beaten path

I had such a wonderful weekend in London, and didn’t have the chance to write a post because I had a business trip the week afterwards. Then I hesitated to share because I felt badly about the incident in London, which took place long after I had left. But I refuse to stay put and not travel at all, so I’d like to share some photos and tips.
We stayed at a hotel in Trafalgar Square, which is a busy part of town. The benefits are that you can really walk to most of what you’d like to see in a weekend, and the trains run extensively (but we didn’t use them). The disadvantage of staying there is that there is quite a bit of city noise (no surprise there!), and it is more challenging with luggage from the airports late at night or very early in the morning.
The food in London was much better than I thought it would be, and I now regret my negative recollection of British food, from a trip there 19 years ago! We didn’t have any meal that was bad, but we did try some perhaps “non-traditional” places, such as an Italian restaurant, the Jaimee Oliver place in Covent Garden, outstanding salads at “Pret a Manger” and a great snack at “All Bar One” at Leicester Square.
We went up in the eye, and I marveled at the engineering (can’t help it, daughter of an engineer!). We walked all over the first day, and took the hop-on-hop-off bus the second day. We enjoyed a beautiful choir concert at St. Martin in the Fields church, and admired the carriages at the royal stables.
We saw a couple having their wedding photos taken outside Westminster Abbey, and were curious about the building we saw behind the couple. While we were disappointed that churches, including St. Paul’s Cathedral, charged admission to view the interior, we were pleased that the building behind the couple being photographed was a high court with lovely architecture, and they allowed us to take a self-guided tour for free! 
There are many other areas of the UK to explore, but London is especially worth a weekend trip on a discount European carrier from  within Europe. Having lived in Germany for more than 2 years now, I just loved walking into a book store where everything was in English!!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The 4th cat?

Last October, our cats shared their latest goings-on. That post included a photo of an outdoor cat who was hanging out on our back porch. 
He’s still here, and is hanging out quite a bit, much to the great annoyance of our cats (members of the “permanent party”). He is quite chatty, greeting us loudly in the morning, and yodeling some hellos in the evening. Here he is in March, along with the green crate from our weekly farm share.
What to do with a stray cat who makes googly-eyes through the glass door? One person here says, “feed him, he’s obviously hungry. Oh, and give him a bowl of water, too.” Another person here says, “three cats is enough!” The cats say, “get outta here!”
Your comments are welcome!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Hello, new luggage!

Good-bye, old luggage! Someday when I am bored (aka no time soon), I will calculate how many thousands of miles our luggage has travelled in recent years. During 2015, I flew across the Atlantic 9 times (the odd flight was moving to Germany). We flew to Norway, Denmark, and Ireland last year. Plus prior years of travels!
Our two-wheeled suitcases and carry-ons served us well, but I had recently noticed other airline passengers with four-wheeled suitcases, gliding effortlessly across miles of airport lobbies. Once the handle of our faithful suitcase stopped pulling out all the way, and the rubber tires of the old carry-on broke off (resulting in loud clacking noises with every step), we decided to upgrade. One zippered lock on an older piece of luggage had snapped entirely.
I will report in on the upcoming travel adventures with a full-sized 4-wheeled suitcase and a 4-wheeled laptop bag as a carryon. We noticed passengers on discount European airline flying to Ireland without a checked suitcase, but with a strictly-measured carryon mini-suitcase, so we will try that idea out on our next weekend trip with rock-bottom airfare.
Of course the cats were not happy to see more luggage show up in the house! It took me so many months to post this after drafting it, that I can report back two successful transatlantic flights with the  full size and carryon 4-wheelers! We are fine, just busy with day-to-day things (maybe I should post about that, but it seems kind of boring)!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Cologne, Germany

We drove up to Cologne last month to see the magnificent cathedral and several of the markets. If you go in December, we’d recommend taking the train, as the entire area near the cathedral is blocked off to vehicles. It took us nearly 3 hours from Kaiserslautern due to the heavy traffic once we got off the Autobahn near Cologne. The train time had originally been equal to drive time, not including traffic delays.
The church is beautiful. The surrounding areas were quite crowded, but we’re glad for the chance to see it and parts of the city. In my opinion, it is worth an overnight if you’d like to see a concert or a show (we just did a day trip). There are river cruises in warmer weather as well.
Much of the markets were the usual suspects of vendors, but we have three shops to recommend: the cathedral gift shop (just outside the actual church building) has neat greeting cards with delicate paper cut-outs of the cityscape. One vendor at the market directly next to the church sold coffee cups with black cats painted on them, along with names of cats- and customizable!
The market furthest away from the cathedral that we walked to was a couple of blocks beyond the crowded shopping streets. The market itself was also wall to wall people, but we really liked a vendor selling foot-high carved wood trees with matching colored ornaments already hung and included. The trees were painted in various colors. There is surely much more to see in Cologne, but we were ready to head home after dinner and a short stroll along the river promenade.