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DSC_6269There is something about the tropics that has always kept me happy.  It starts with the flora.  Aside from the senses getting ramped up from the colors, the scents, and the attractions of the many species that need these plants for home, food, and a safe haven for life, I especially love the sounds of the tropical plant leaves that rustle in those balmy breezes. Coco Palms in the moon-light do that job for me.  So my relocation to these tropics and the ensuing pleasure of photographing the dozens of different flowering plants in my spring bloom steps away is my mission.  Perhaps, the Bird of Paradise, shown above, outside my door, will keep my Cannon clicking.  Here are a few more flowers.

Greece2015 MykonosThe Word Is: Cash is King! Discounts prevail, pensions and small hotels give most value; bus it to the beach; eat gyros and souvlaki and an Alpha Beer daily.

Euros and major credit cards are no problem for the savvy traveler in 99% of the venues.  Lock your Cash in a sealed envelope in the Hotel room safe or the Hotel front office safe with any good jewelry. Take only what you need for the daily missions.  Keep only one credit card on your body.  Inform your card company bank that you wish to be informed of any purchase over $XXX.xx dollars via text.

Greece2010 125Most of the restaurants on the Greek major tourist islands bring the Card Billing Machine to your table for you to swipe your card.  Use the visible ATM machines in the front of the local bank windows.  Avoid the ATM in Gas Stations or Beach Bars.

http://www.pensionhotel.co.uk/

Greece2015$100 to $200 per day will get you  a room in a pension, perhaps with a continental breakfast for two people. These prices are quite normal.  The room will be in a smaller building with close proximity to the harbor, bus stations, restaurants and the port of Mykonos. Expect twin beds that might be a tad firm.

Here is the news on the ground: there are definite rip-off. Example this: Paranga Beach, on the north side of Mykonos Island is  a great sandy cove beach with a small traverna.  The beach vendor maintains the beach and offers Chaise Lounge Bed (2) and one umbrella at the sea edge. The ripoff price is 120 Euros.  What?  These should be no more that 5 Euros each  or 25 Euros max!  I would expect a full body massage at those inflated prices.

Greece2010 193A cocktail at the Little Venice area in Mykonos Town, a trendy nightlife spot, will set you back $20.00. Note, the tip is included, thank goodness.  Shopping will be a task in the evening well-lit narrow white cobblestone streets of Mykonos. Look for up to 20% cash buyer discounts on jewelry and clothing.

The Mykonos traveler will find that they are in an insulated world from the confusion and news of the day.  Make the most of it and like Zorba, ” live for the day”!  Opa.

My Mojito

    This is My Mojito… Now that I’ve  got your attention, …

There is a small cookbook that was willed to me from a dear relative.  The dust cover is a bit tattered.  Over the years, I have opened it and searched for ideas that pre-online searches failed at horribly.  The oak bookshelf for these little treasures, as this book is, contains several aged cookbooks that are rare or out of print.  Many are softcover gems on ethnic cuisine that were gathered on exotic islands or at their airports’ gift shops in a last-minute purchase. Dog-eared pages, stained with gravies, give evidence of their importance to me.

Gram or Liter, Cup or Pinch

A lack of Celsius temperatures on the oven dial does not remotely cover the variety of measures, temperatures and rules in many of my cookbooks. Aside from baking, my rule is alway 325 degrees fahrenheit.  I can deal with liters, but grams baffle me, excepting hashish talk, of a prior age, of course.  In the old days, “sprinkle” was uses a lot. One book, a Betty Crocker three-ring binder, has a wonderful section on “Happy-Hour Cocktails”. In this section the talents of a chemist come to be, as exact measurements of Angostura Bitters  fulfills the perfect flavor and color of the Classic Manhattan. Holiday Punch for the wassail bowl lists a dozen ingredients.  These retro times demanded the chef to pay attention.  My simple mojito has simple rules: freshness in all ingredients and simple sugar syrup with Cachaça Brazilian White Cane Rum. Simple.

Rose Louise Sorce was native to her Italian heritage, and  a resident of Milwwakee in the early 1950’s.  Her recipes were handed down from grandmother to mother to her. A state fair booth in Wisconsin got her started on writing, according to an old Milwaukee Journal story by their staff.  La Cucina from Twayne Publishers in 1952 was the rollout of years of work.  I refer to this book from time to time.

Let’s call up some friends; like 1000! Perhaps you have a church basement around?  Can we find several 12 gallon steel simmering pots?

Can I have the left-overs? Enjoy.

Rose   sorce1recipe1000

Good Eating: Tangy Soul and Rustic Ribs

sweetpbbq_2    You must start with good ingredients: Tenacity, Funk, and Smoke.  The Sweet P’s Barbeque & Soul House just might have the right combo.  As many may know, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA, offers a glimpse into the mid-south culture of their University of Tennessee, pickup trucks, country tunes, white church steeples and kickback eating.  I have eaten fine BBQ worldwide. I have even served on an award-winning barbeque team in Memphis, TN.  My home cooking of this fare can be pretty tasty.  Enough about me, this is about religious experiences: or, Pork, Brisket Beef and all the fixin’s.  Put the formula under an umbrella of old school soul music and the high-end smoker ovens of Sweet P’s and all works well.

A rolling countryside of the Maryville suburb draws many to the drifting scent of burning hardwood, a low-key one story restaurant and kitchen with plenty of staffers. Trimmed St. Louis slabs of pork ribs from the smoker, rich with the crust of dry-rub seasoning and moistened from the well-balanced soul sauces will start a plate.  Adding the combinations of side dishes create a vision that fills a full cafeteria tray. The steamed collard greens, unique with onions, carrots, beans and spice are smothered in flavors.

sweetPs

Lacquered picnic tables, sporting old school soul record album covers, set stage for James Brown songs pumping out of their speakers or weekly live artists on the weekends.  The price to chow down is reasonable, so warm seasonal temperature spill the diners out to the patio and tents near the smokers.  The chalkboard menu makes all easy, as the team give you your filled tray and you pay.  The  beer list is extensive. Energy is high and the turnover is brisk.  Takeout and catering round out the mix. Perhaps a long ago Food Network showing of a Man vs. Food episode opened some eyes, but this place had it together.  I suggest the half-rack, fixin’s, of mac-n-chesse, collards and a brew, like Sweetwater IPA. Wait, get some smoked chicken wings first! Drizzle the blend of soul and hot sauce on all.  The folks of Sweet P’s can be found at 3725 Maryville Pike, Knoxville, TN 37920 and http://www.sweetpbbq.com.  This place is smokin’.

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Dollar Strong, Island of Mykonos Awaits

Greece2010 109     The brisk breezes that move the windmills will soon usher the savvy visitors to the most famous of the Aegean Sea’s Greek island of Mykonos.  Whether you arrive by ferry-boat, hydrofoil vessel or jet, the options that will open up to you on this whitewashed mecca of bliss will keep you poised to return each year.  The European Bohemians that uncovered the Cycladic isle in the 1960’s, welcomed the yachting set, and in turn they turned up the energy several notches. Today, Mykonos is a melting pot of race, color, creed and capital.  Accommodations will vary broadly and many choose the countless bed & breakfast inns in the village, Hora, of Mykonos Town. Others may rent the lovely villas scattered among the cliffs and hillsides or find the seaside hotels on the shores of the many cove beaches. Most are affordable to each desire and disembarking ferry passengers will  be greeted by innkeepers with placards at the port.  Find your lodging and head to the cafes that ring the town harbor for the first frappaccino or Mythos beer.

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Get around this island.  Many use the mopeds, but I love the Smart Cars.  Buses from the top of the village cost a few euros and will get you each late morning to the beaches. A network of fishing boats converted to passenger ferries, or Caiiques, will take dozens to the outlying cove beaches for a similar fee. The captains are a colorful breed and will sing, laugh, or shout and swear. Not much is needed on the beachfront. Perhaps a bathing suit could be brought, but that is your call. All else is found at the tavernas on each beach. Beach club bars set the tone, as late morning hours require new age tunes to awake from the late late night activities, while three PM brings in the techno disco and the volume increases exponentially.  Peace may still be found making the right choice of beach.

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The day may end at the beach, yet with a nap and a shower, the night opens up to adventurous escapades back in Hora. The restaurants and cafes are open past midnight and at that time the clubs are just about to find their rhythm. Many are outdoors in the courtyards of the town or spill out onto balconies. There is a reasoning on Mykonos that this island has over 365 whitewashed churhes. The season begins the weekend of Easter and will continue through the second week in October each year.  Prime season is most active from June to August end, but my season is the first two weeks of September.  The “September Club”, as I call it, finds a certain mellowing out of the people, and the vibe grounds me to drink in the best of Mykonos.  I do find a moment to search out  a little church perched over the blue Aegean Sea, sit and pray for next year’s visit.

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IMG_5494The central area of Athens, Greece, near the Governmental Parliament Building, offers a wealth of joy to the visitor or the local.  This area has something for everyone.  From the people watching, to food, to touristy trinket stores, and to some fine specialty stores, all engage the traveler on foot.  The narrow and cobble-stoned streets warrant good walking shoes.  The vendors of the small establishments often lean outside the doorway and beckon the foot traffic. Smaller side paths lead to more treasures and more obscure wares.  A store that is a wall on which hang antique door-knockers could be a good example. The owner would be a specialist in that trade.  Commerce is brisk in many shops, as there are lots of people.  As it is said, “better buy it now, as it won’t be here next time”, is very true in the Flea Market.

Take a stroll through this area. Getting to the flea market is easy. If you are coming from Syntagma Square you will be walking down Metropolitan Street, past the Cathedral and the square of shiny marble. There is a small Byzantine church in the shadow of the cathedral that you should take a look at called Agios Eleftherios.  I love the peace and solemn quiet in this space. The church has an Icon inside which they say performs miracles. There are some cafes in the square and this is where Pondrossou Street begins. This section of Pondrossou is the high-end section of Monastiraki. There is a lot of touristy stuff here. I bought a wonderful Bouzouki guitar here from John’s Music Store.  But in my opinion, the really cool stuff is on lower Ermou and across on small streets. If you seek originality and real antiques leave Monastiraki behind and wander around Psiri.

If you continue through the square you will come to Ermou and if you cross into Psiri there are people selling there too. The further you go the weirder it gets and by the time you get down towards Pireos Street you have very poor people buying and selling from piles of rags and little gypsy children running barefoot.  Some shops are not even stalls, only things hanging a some wall. All is for sale.  So… Gypsy, bad, bad, bad!

vendorGypsies are skinny and invisible to the human eye. They know where every wallet is in the world. Then they are quicker than the fastest I have ever seen, ( personal ). Your Sock “might” be safe.  Here is an example of one stealth group gypsy action, [sadly from personal experience, from a time ago] : I don’t look like a tourist, just a Westerner, Plus, I stay away from the logos on the clothing and designer accents. These are a beacon of light to the gypsies. The thieves work the odds and the angles.  Groups in skinny teams quietly surround the mark, i.e., the Metro train commuter, a narrow cafe; close in, as in a crowded space; press against the (now) victim; and fleece every zipper, pocket, nook and crannies. When the train opens at the station, the Gypsies evaporate and all is gone. Do not get in that position ever. Hint: position a mouse trap in your back wallet pocket! Wait for the …snap and scream!

Check out the morning meatmarkets, if available to your schedule in Psiri.  In the evening, the tavernas, ouzeries, and little restaurants are authentic & the nightlife is excellent ( Cab it back to the hotel in a metered vs. “Gypsy Cab”).

The Tourism Police are an integral part of the Hellenic Police (ELAS), consisting of men and women especially trained and competent to offer tourists information and help, whenever they have any problems. They are also competent to solve minor differences between tourists and enterprises. They all speak foreign languages. You can recognise them by the shoulder badge Tourism Police on their uniforms. Tourism Police operate an emergency telephone line on a 24 hour basis (just dial 171 any day, any time, from all over Greece).

“Hey Mon, Would you like to see my jewelry?”

A: “No, I’m all set.”

IMG_6663The cottage industry, Roaming Beach Vendors, aka, the band of people who stroll the resort sands past the chaise lounges of relaxing tourists perched under the midday sun, deserves the respect it never gets. Find a country, island, beach cove, or open expanse of seashore and you will experience the creativity of the entrepreneur. Free trade is a curious thing. Put it on the internet and (if legal) it is a normal part of our culture. Put it on the beach during the primetime of your well-deserved vacation, and something changes.

The West Indies Islands are remarkable in creativity from the local merchant, homeopathic herbalist attendant, masseuse, artist, watersports sales agent, food vendor/cook, and brownie salesman.  Oh, did I mention wood-carver?  Not only have I been engaged by one of these energetic trades, but I have searched them out in various lands. Fondly, the strong palms of the Thai masseuse, clad in white linen, head to toe, with that genuine smile, remains in my memory.  On a chaise under an umbrella steps from the lapping waters on the salty shore is the perfect place for the back and shoulder rub down in the fifty or so minutes.  What value, too.  And, there’s more.  Who might pass up the opportunity to listen to the comical stories of the beach comic, as he tries out a string of his latest jokes on the sunning tourists.  Shouldn’t that act be worth a few shekels ?  Many of my beach vendor friends have many jobs.  Take my comic friend, ” the Mighty Bassman”, as his real job is to pace the full several miles of beach promoting with a bullhorn the merits of attending the nightclub /beach bar for that evening.  ” It’s going to be Hot, Hot, Hot!  Come to the Party at Alfred’s Bar. Remember, Ladies are alway free! Hot, Hot, Hot.”

20121028_37 It is hard work, as the Jamaicans call it: Hustlers or Chiselers. I am certain the downturn of the North American/ European  economy has touched the livelihood of many of the vendors. From firsthand experience, I have seen the numbers of unused beads amass in the hands of the hair-braiding ladies. Fewer little corn-rowed children roam the classrooms after vacation week.  Belt-tightening certainly affects all the vendors. Music prevails on the beach, as the creativity of these local artist come through. Put three guys with dreadlocks, Hawaiian shirts, an aged tambourine, Guitar and old bass fiddle in front of you, playing a Bob Marley song.  As the bass fiddle is held together with ducktape, and the songs are in key, I open my wallet.  These artists become my regulars, or I, theirs.  I may be easy, but I like it.  Perhaps, I may be convinced to begin a foundation for the advancement of beach vendors, or to establish the Beach Vendor Senior Citizen Home.  In any case, I have grown with the beach vendors, heard their stories, watched them age, and have seen some leave us, like BanjoMan.

IMG_6656Negril Beach is seven miles long and the best beach in Jamaica. BanjoMan would begin his day on one end and finish the full distance and return at day’s end.  All was under the hot sun. He weighed a mere 140 pounds and wore khaki shirt and pants, a floppy straw hat and carried that ole -timey four string banjo, on bare feet.  I could guest that I first met him at his age seventy.  He lacked several teeth; top and bottom. He could play and he could sing.  BanjoMan wasn’t much of a talker, but I think it was his humility.  He could play:” The Harder they come, the harder they fall” and all the others.  The beach vendors mostly adored him, as I did. One season BanjoMan hung up his instrument for all time.

Who invented Aloe?  Yuck, these beach vendors roam the sands with aloe fronds in hand, looking for hapless idiots to smear a substance of rubber cement on those bodies.  The goop is sticky, yes, can’t wash off and will stain your favorite “T”-shirt. Then, they want you to give them money?  No thank you.  Then I think: ” I just don’t get it”, as the cardboard box on the beach vendors head is full of little reef fish. They are all beautiful in color; sargent majors, parrot fish, tiny grey angel fish. Tourist do not buy fish on the beach. Every week he fishes and offers his catch. He is still in business.

See, the All Inclusive Resort Business on many West Indies Islands has put a dagger in the hearts of these vendors.  Guests do not bring money to the chaise lounges at water’s edge.  One price and then the package is sealed. I say, that you need to bring those dollars. Buy that coconut palm hat that you will alway wear.  Go parasailing several times.  Bring home those Flip Flops.  Have them sing out for you: “Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot”.  And, support your Beach Vendor. You will be glad you did.  Thank you.
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