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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.

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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).

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The Boston Globe Newspaper’s Travel Show heats up a Chilly Weekend

giveaway-banner-azoresGive away twenty-four vacations and promise untold discounts to vacation hungry and they will come, and they did come.  The winter season provides the inspiration to the masses and the purveyors of varieties of travel near and far produce.  The anchor vendors to the 2014 Boston Globe Travel Show on February 7th, 8th, and 9th on the harbor front bring the warmth of the Caribbean, Europe offbeat retreats, Asia and the Pacific, while New England regions champion the cultures of food, the sea and mountains and day trips away to inns.

The hunger for taste and drink sets the stage.

07_NSTourism_010924Nova Scotia, Canada may be imposing in the dead of  winter but the heart and humor of the province comes through in the culinary specialties of the near neighbor. The taste of the sea and the wealth of the vines combine to give the attendees flavors that excite. Chef Jason Lynch of Le Caveau Restaurant and sommelier Amy Savoury of Tidal Bay Wines take you on a culinary journey featuring Nova Scotia scallops and wine.  Nova Scotia is now recognized as a culinary tourism destination and the trade has stepped up to provide. Local cheddar cheese, seafood and white wine round out the preparations with samples for the many throngs eager to partake.photo4

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Pan seared Atlantic sea scallops served over a wild beet puree, beure blanc sauce and a hint of creme. The  wine was white and crisp.

Your coupon may just be the ticket.

Area 2 bustles with dozens of Travel Booths dedicated to the warmth of the Caribbean Sea.  Salsa  music lilts  in the aisles and the Dominican Republic triple booth has swarms with activity.  Winning drawing gifts of bottles of Brugal Rum and on-site hand-rolled cigars, as well as island vacations under palm trees is good reason for the buzz.  Attendees sign up at the many terminals and the business is brisk.

The Boston Globe Travel Show offered a  successful season to present the best of values and creative ideas for winter weary vacationers.

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compliments of PhotStock

Ocean Elders convene to save the Caribbean
The Necker Island, British Virgin Islands’ retreat, serves as the location of a symposium for corporate leaders and government officials to save an industry. That industry is the 80 Billion dollar tourism and fishing trade of the Caribbean Islands. The perceived destruction of the infrastructure that supports the ecology of the region and the blatant disregard for the preservation of the most visible sea life is the highlights the discussion.

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compliments of PhotoStock

Led by Virgin Group Ltd, Chairman, Sir Richard Branson and co-chaired by the Prime Minister of Grenada, The Right Honorable Keith Mitchell, lead a group of industry stalwarts of Disney, Starwood Resorts, Sandals Resorts, The Nature Conservancy and a host of Caribbean Goverments. The outcome is promised as a significant agreement to preserve the island water’s resources. These “Ocean Elders” from St. Kitts, Jamaica, Barbados, Puerto Rico, Grenada and more gather to hammer out the desire of the G-20 the save the pelagic species that are so rich to the draw of over 25 Million Visitors each season.

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Shark Reef, Bloodybay, Jam

A start is the ban on the hunting and fishing of those species at most risk. The prohibition of shark hunting and the fishing of the eagle and manta ray for two years are to kick off the moratorium. The management of energy ecology will be considered. Regions near the breeding grounds of whales could be directed toward marine reserve status. Waters off of Haiti have been recognized as breeding grounds of the sperm whales. As the tourism industry promotes the Caribbean sea and build the vessels to carry 4000 at one time to the ports, the stresses are evident. These and further discussions of Goverments and leaders, Ocean Elders, if you will, are imperative.

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 Living Santorini Greek Wines: Let the Lava Flow

My first remembrance of this mystical island was the Byzantine chants drifting on Sunday morning through my open window on the edge of the caldera. The chanting Greek priests in the Cathedral of  Thera set the bar high for further Santorini experience.  Several visits in the coming years proved that a surprise was welcomed around every corner on those September island vacations.

Thera, Santorini pathwaysA very fond encounter, on one hectic noontime visit in the village of Thera, made  friends for life with Yannis and his mother, Ruella.  The touristic streets and paths in the center of Thera were filled with the Cruise Ship visitors, yet the littlest shop under the steps near the postoffice proved to be the perfect refuge.  It was the strumming guitar and the humming to a Greek fisherman’s song that drew me in to sit and listen. Captain John, Yannis’ friend,  put down the guitar and we all greeted each other. The postcards, lottery tickets and the aging souvenirs on dusty long forgotten shelves were behind Yannis.  His diploma of Notary and the religious icon art on the walls, and the stacks of documents in organized piles proved the 60-year-old man was more than perceived. Yannis lived on Santorini his entire life. He and mother, Ruella, perhaps at age 80, lived steps away in the vine-draped whitewashed house, situated on a narrow path in a Greek courtyard.  A rusted and dented Vespa motor scooter gave Yannis his mobility.  The shop was alway open.

The full white beard and the stock of white flowing locks contrasted with the well tanned face and arms on his near five foot frame.  St. Nicholas in khaki shirt and pants was more of the total vision of his appearance.  Yannis spoke english, though a nod and the Greek expression, “Nai” or yes, always with a smile, made most conversation flow.  The visitors to the shop were steady and regulars of local commerce, some farmers, fishermen and several realtors.  In island government, Yannis made the official transactions happen. He knew them all.  Captain John, the guitarist, but also island real estate developer, was a fine friend. In fact, Yannis had dozens of very close friends, very few local family members, and was a life-long bachelor.

The ability as an outsider to be humbled with acceptance into the home of a proud and stoic traditional family on Santorini is very special.  The thongs of tourists and day trippers that come to this speck in the Aegean Sea, an angelic perch above the crater of a still active volcano, dominate a very short island season.  The year-round families and businesses endure for the considerable “off-season”, in an isolated and protective life.  Ruella, on her four and one half-foot height, and dressed for decades in her widow’s black, maintained a simple house.  Discarded olive oil tins hang filled with fresh herbs, amongst the red bougainvillea flowers that climb the front porch.  Cats sit on the stoop and canaries sing in the wire hanging cages in and out of the house.  Cycladic dark cedar furniture, linens and religious icons fill the house.  The china cabinet and several  fine porcelain vases fill the one wall with the photograph of Ruella’s second son, Father Vlavianos, the Greek Orthodox Arch Bishop in Chicago, IL, USA.  The invitation to eat dinner and join with Captain John,  at their home with Ruella to cook was easy to accept.

My beautiful pictureI love all Greek food.  I will try anything, yet, much of the local foods of Santorini are imported, with exception of produce and some fishing.  Yannis’ household was all natural: locally caught, locally grown, and most importantly locally pressed and bottled!

The night began with a dram of raki.  The distilled spirit had a tendril of fennel immersed in the thick bottomed aged glass wine bottle. It was potent and hot on the throat, made to open the senses. Yiamas was the toast to our health.  Soon Ruella’s icebox was opened to produce the dark green unlabeled wine bottle from Yannis’ vineyard.  Yannis proudly talked about his father and grandfather’s grape vines.  Several acres on a track of land toward the caldera road to the Village of Pyrgos is the location of the vineyard.  The soil is ocher, appears very dry, contains one small cinderblock tin roofed structure and a wire fence encircles it with one gate.  Tourbuses on way to Akrotiri rumble past this nondiscript location without fanfare.  The grapes are white Assyrtiko and Athiri.  The rows of Yannis’ grapes are non existent, as the land is planted in clusters.  The vine stems are now ancient and five-inch base stems throw off the vines each year in the volcanic soil of Santorini.  The morning air is rich in moisture up from the sea far below in the crater. The heat of midday pulls the sugars up into the grapes. Very little rain in the summer and fall months requires the porous subsoil to give up the winter deposits from deep below the surface.  These characteristics make a dry, citrus aroma, hinting of salt, acidic full-bodied wine.

Yannis explained the family church.  Most older family landowners retain a small church on their property.  It is used for religious events from year to year and maintained with the proper icons and candles and offerings.  Yannis takes the harvested September grapes to his church and spreads them to air dry on the stone pavement adjoining the church for ten to 14 days. Covered with gauze to protect from birds, they mellow and concentrate the sugars ready for pressing.  Soon the grapes are brought to a local press and filtered and barreled.  They are stored near the church and some are bottled.

The dinner was wonderful. The start became a hit as a filefish was baked in garlic and olive oil and the crusty local bread combined well.  Ruella grows the special baby white eggplant, unique to the IMG_1733island.  These were sliced into discs and fried in light egg and flour batter.  The finish was the morning harvested local rooster, baked on Greek oregano stems, and feta cheese cubes over warm slices. Horta greens were bathed in lemon juice, salt and olive oil.  The desert was local pastry shop, daily baked, sweets.  The local made wine was two years in the process and paired perfectly with the food.  It was a couple of percentages more in alcohol, but refreshing to taste.  The night went a bit longer that imagined.  We all laughed and Captain John played more guitar.

20130428_22When September comes the vineyard owner must act.  Three days after the dinner we went to the vines.  The time was right.  Yannis opened the little structure, we took wicker baskets, hook-shaped paring knives and we headed to the closer grapes.  The vines are twisted into wreath like circles.  Inspecting the grape bunches was a shocking treat.  Those nearer the ground were so robust in swollen juice, that each grape pressed against its neighbor into a cubic block of grape bunch. A flick of the wrist and the block fell into the wicker, then on to the next.  Several baskets finished the task.  At noon, the work was, well, hard.  A breeze was blowing off the lip of the crater’s edge.  We transferred all to the little church, said a prayer, and had a sip of last years wine out of a plastic liter jug, a little warm but alright.  All was perfect to finish a great day.  I am certain the grapes seasoned and were pressed into a fine batch.  Yannis was a perfect host this visit.

Yannis hopped onto his Vespa and had plenty of people looking for him back at his little shop.  The restaurants on Santorini are supplied by several commercial wineries. A carafe at a favorite taverna is the way to go.  I especially like the dry wines of Santos Winery, and Boutari assyrtiko white is readily available away from Greece.  Prices have risen some over the years but the cost is worth the pleasure.

Down the Caldera My beautiful pictureMy beautiful picture

PyrgosChurch

 

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No Problem, Mon, Every ting is Irie!

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My purchase of the vinyl record Rastaman Vibrations in 1976 got me started.  The rest all fell into place, as I picked up guitar, and listened to the Bob Marley lyrics.  Sure, I remember the “ska” tunes of Desmond Dekker’s  The Israelites, and the My Boy Lollipop by Millie Small.  Each had the lilting sway of the island beat and the swagger of Reggae roots.  But, Jimmy Cliff, the Marley Clan, and those Jamaican pioneers of the 70’s showed that one did not have to be a Rastafarian to feel the vibe.

The tribute to artist Bob Marley for the 2013 55th Grammy Awards Ceremony and the emergence of a slew of media advertisements featuring artist Jimmy Cliff at the 2013 Super Bowl Championship for Volkswagen is an image of respect to two of the Jamaican culture’s strongest emotions.  Harmony and independence are summed up in the Jamaican Nation’s independence motto:   Out of Many One People.

Negril Beach posseProfessor Dr. Carolyn Joy Cooper, literary scholar of the Department of Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona Jamaica has worked  for the preservation or as she says: ” of the vernacular – that the genuine Jamaicans embraces so wholeheartedly. The class structure is of such that some considers others to be illiterate if they embark on the illumination of the common language of the locals.”  Patois is the distinctive Jamaican language or as ‘Patwa’ being the preferred language of youth.

I began to learn Patwa twenty plus years ago on the beach from Jamaicans. Back-a-Yard, the gathering place of family life, board games, BBQ and Redstripe is the proper place for complete Patwa education. The commitment in the preservation of the Jamaican Creole dialect needs to be supported as true Jamaican Tongue.

IM NEVA NAA BADDA MI, FI WHA GWAAN BACK A YARD IM A JAH KNOW.  ZEEN?   That’s the attitude:” Mind your business and your neighbor’s issues are between he and his maker.” “Do you understand?”

Elvis rules the beachIn that VW Commercial the blonde Tow-Haired Fellow from Minnesota pulls the Beetle into the Managers parking spot after a too long lunch hour and says: EVERY TING CRIS ( “groovy”), BOSS MON?  That is: “Go with the flow, Volks.”

How can you not love this Language.  Want to learn more?  Take a couple of mile stroll along the seven mile sugar sand beach of Negril, Jamaica one day.  For now , ” Respec’, Brudder Mon!”

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A Tiny Greek Island Delivers Big Benefits without Stress

Flying Dolphin GR The desire is simple: hop on a little comfortable vessel, have a coffee in a roomy armchair, watch the scenery whizz by, and dock next to pure bliss.  These are the beginnings to a fulfilling getaway on the island of Hydra, Greece.  The spring months open the tiny Aegean Islands to the tourist trade and Hydra, a mere hour and one half sea trek from Athens, is well prepared for  international visitors and savvy Greeks.  The draw to the several square kilometer parcel a short distance off the coast of Greece’s  Peloponnese is twofold: no motorized vehicles and a comfort oriented infrastructure.

Mules and Sporty Motorboats

IMG_2046HYDRA The Port of Hydra is bustling with action, as the visitors make their way over cobblestone whitewashed paths to the numerous guesthouses and very small hotels. Want a taxi? Grab a Mule and driver to move you and luggage to the comforts of your Bed and Breakfast perched over the harbor slopes. A breeze is alway found in the town from the western direction and the mountainous southern peninsula of Greece.  The local sea is regularly calm and commercial trade moves on it between the mainland, the port and several little villages. Caiques can be hired to move the tourist from the harbor to several picturesque coves. Beaches abound, though some are pebbles,  and others have amenities of tavernas and changing facilities, and chaises and umbrellas. The network of pedestrian pathways lace the seaside and countryside and make casual walks very easy and true hiking objectives very manageable.

Grilled Meats and Homemade Wine, A Room with a View

hydra_tavernaHydra_ hillsPhaedraHotelHydra

Wild hare stiffado, baby lamb chops, braised field green in lemon, pistachio ice cream, washed down by carafe upon carafe of white wine from the courtyard’s oaken barrel is a start. The locals know the seasonal foods and the several great little restaurants accommodate, as all are quite good,  Seafood is alway available and a mullet or seabass grilled in olive oil and Greek oregano, bathed in lemon juice, surrounded by crispy chips is a best choice.   Christina’s Taverna is an outdoor courtyard leader and Hilda, owner at the Phaedra Hotel will point you in the right direction for the best daily activities and nighttime dinners to your liking.  The morning meal is perfect on their rooftop plaza and the comfortable rooms add to the pleasure.

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My fondest pleasure is the morning wake up call; well, not a call, but the sound of the “clop-clop” of the Donkeys on the cobblestone village path. Out of the canopy double bed and up to the balcony for a Greek coffee got my day going just fine.  No mopeds, no SUVs, no tour buses, all kept the day perfectly aligned.

Take the Flying Dolphin line from Pireaus Port to Hydra, secure advance accommodations, pack light and wear hiking shoes. The evenings are certainly casual and the visitor will want a sweater at night in the shoulder seasons. Value here is very good for the benefits, but bring a few extra Euros to splurge. Ya’ sou!  ~ Ron

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