Monday, October 24, 2011


Santorini was every bit as fabulous as I remembered it - even with the stormy cold weather we experienced for most of days we were there.  The view speaks for itself, doesn't it?  That was our private deck off the back of our villa.  A good portion of our days we just sat in the jacuzzi and watched the boats go by and of course the sunset (Santorini is famous for them.)

On our one sunny day though we took the bus from Oia where we were staying to Fira where the cruise ships dock.  We walked down the long trek to the port, ate lunch and then rode the donkeys back up.  It was cheap entertainment and also fun!

The best part about Greece though, we decided, is the people.  They are hands down the happiest and friendliest we've encountered.  The whole country was actually striking while we were there, protesting the austerity measures being considered by their near bankrupt government.  The strike created travel delays and large piles of trash everywhere, but it didn't seem to negatively impact anyone's mood.  Wilder was particularly enamored with the airline stewardess that kept giving him chocolate.  We were all a little amped up having already discovered our plane out to the island was a prop.

I know I've already given out the award for the world's nicest vacation home owner, but I'm going to have   to recant as Matina in Santorini surely deserves the title.  When she found out our plan was to take the bus from the airport she insisted on picking us up (she also drove us to the port when we departed.)  Our delayed flight didn't arrive until almost 10pm, but upon arrival at the villa she pulled a homemade Pastichia (sort of like a greek lasagna) out of the oven and whipped us up a fresh greek salad to go with (we ate these pretty much daily while in Greece).   She had also left enough food for several days.  I am not exaggerating here - there was milk, wine, bread, ham, cheese, cake, yogurt, honey and the biggest fruit basket you've ever seen.  She also offered us her personal car to drive around the island (we declined for fear of damaging it.)  She even had a parting gift for us.   Our gift to her was help setting up a blog for her beautiful Sunlight Villa.  The last photo in this series is of the family giving me a standing ovation for securing this amazing accommodation.  It's so nice to feel appreciated!

The villa also came complete with a begging cat that didn't care for milk, I discovered, but loved ham!

Here are more pics of beautiful Oia (pronounced ee-a), a nice shot of Peyton, and a rare one of all four of us together.  I'm having a harder and harder time getting anyone to pose for a picture these days.  Usually when I point the camera their way they cover their face or run away.

After four days we tore ourselves away from Santorini and took the ferry to Crete.  There we had a restored villa in the Turkish section of the old port town of Chania.  Our favorite part was the roof top patio where we would eat our meals and overlook the city and, in the distance, also the sea.

One of the most interesting things about Crete and even Chania in particular is that it has existed as a city for over 5000 years.  That's a little hard to wrap your brain around.  We saw lots and lots of ceramics etc. that date from 3000 BC.

On Saturday we went to the weekly market.  It seemed like everyone in Crete was there.  And once again they were so nice.   Mark bought a jar of what we hoped was tomato sauce from one woman (it wasn't.)   She was very happy and proud to tell him she made it.  I bought green beans to go with our planned spaggetti dinner.  We also ate what turned out to be pork chop on a stick from a street vendor.  Not a bad breakfast for 1 euro.  We also shopped in the central market and made lots of home cooked meals to try and save some money. Some were good - some not :(

One day when Mark and Peyton weren't feeling great Wilder and I took a glass bottom boat trip out of the harbor.  Wilder snorkeled and the captain found an octopus and attached to his shoulder.  I was kind of freaking out because Wilder kept swimming back and forth underneath the boat - luckily he didn't get stuck.

Next we fly to Athens where we will meet up with my parents (yay!) and board our Eastern Mediteranian cruise.  We booked this cruise before we left home, primarily because it will give us a few days in Israel and Egypt.  We will also have two Grecian ports and one in Turkey.  At the end of 12 days we dock in Rome and spend the night before heading to London to catch our plane to East Africa.   We have a small problem though that we will have to solve first.  Somehow we've managed to misplace the ziplock baggy containing our antimalarial meds (also the antidiareahals but that isn't quite as important.)  The current plan is to try to find a travel clinic in London that can replace them, as going without isn't really an option.

We are all looking forward to seeing my parents.  I in particular am happy to be moving on to a portion of our trip where I can just follow the leader (the cruise and then our safari).  Independent travel involves a lot of decision making and right now I'm tired of making them.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Dracula's Castle and More in Romania

Our week in Romania was quiet, beautiful and relaxing (and yes sometimes also a bit boring.)  If Prague reminded us of fairytales then I would say Sinaia reminded me of The Nutcracker - and of course we also were in mind of vampires being so closely located to Transylvania

I know you are sick of hearing this, but our accommodation was fabulous!  Poem Boem is a 4 story house in the mountain village of Sinaia about an hour out of Bucharest.  This area became popular in the late 1800's when then King Carol built his summer palace here (Peles Castle).  Soon all the wealthy Romanian's of the time built summer houses here too, and we are lucky enough to have stayed in one of those.  Of course the Communists took all the fabulous houses away from the wealthy, but now the previous owners are working though the courts to get them back.  Our house was renovated by a wonderful couple named Marius and Ioanna.  Ioanna picked us up a the train station, drove us around town, to the bank and grocery store and pointed out the important sites.  It was a wonderful and warm welcome.  The house, which is beautiful, was filled with fresh cut flowers, crystal chandeliers and fluffy white down comforters.  She also left us with a very good bottle of wine and a tin full of yummy cookies.  We have officially moved from "not roughing it" to spoiled rotten.

Wilder's Room - the Attic

The day we arrived in Sinaia was sunny with a high in the 40's.  Two days later however the high dropped to 20 and we woke up to snow.  This made it sometimes hard to leave the house as it was so warm and cozy inside (with everything we could need) and while we each have a coat, we are not really prepared for weather this cold (hats, mittens etc).  A couple of days I only left the house to fill the pewter pitchers with cold water from the spring fed fountain in the yard (definitely the best tasting water of our trip.)

Still, we found walking up hill warmed us up and so we did manage to get out to see some sites.  Peles castle was built in the late 1800's and so is quite modern for a castle.  It has forced air and radiated heat and no fireplaces.  It is really beautiful though in a completely over the top way.  My biggest complaint about Romania is they have this irritating habit of charging the equivalent of $10 for the privilege of taking pictures inside of places you've already paid to get into.  I didn't pay at Peles and regretted it the whole time.  Every room was different (decorated in a different style) and they were all stunning.  Sorry, you will have to settle for seeing the outside.

Sinaia is a ski resort in the winter.  Mark and the kids were sad we were too early for that, but they did take the cable car to the top for the great views.

To get to Dracula's castle in Transylvania we had to take a train, a bus and then another bus to arrive in the town of Bran.  Of course Dracula is a fictional character, and this castle didn't even belong to the real individual purported to have inspired him (Vlad the Impaler).  The castle certainly does look like Dracula could have lived there though and we enjoyed touring it, reading about it's history (both real and imaginary) and walking around the very pretty grounds.

Slightly sketchy bus

Cool Secret Passageway

On our last day the kid's boycotted any more educational outings and stayed home to play Monopoly.  They missed out because Mark and I went to the Sinaia Monastery.  It had two churches, one built in the 1600's and the other, the "new" church built in the 1800's.  They were both beautiful.  16 monks still live and work there.

Overall I would say we liked Romania.  It is certainly a beautiful country and you can tell that the people are cultured.  The mountains are stunning and the prices very good.  At the vegetable stand the first day I picked out 4 potatoes, 4 cucumbers, 2 tomatoes, an onion and a red bell pepper.  When told the price I tried to pay the equivalent of $10 (32 lei.)  The lady nicely explained to me the cost actually was the equivalent of $1 (3.2 lei.)

Prior to departing Romania we took a train to Bucharest, the capitol of Romania and spent the night.  Below are a few pics from our short 20 odd hours there.

They had perfectly comfortable beds in the next room

Today we take a flight to Athens with a 6 hour layover prior to continuing on to Santorini.  I'm excited to show my family one of my most favorite places from my previous travels.  So-long Eastern Europe.  Hello Greece!