Tag Archives: travel

Point Park and Downtown Pittsburgh – Summer 2016

Point Park and Downtown Pittsburgh – Summer 2016
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My Big Fat Greek Vacation Photos of Rhodes

My Big Fat Greek Vacation Photos of Rhodes

From a previous trip……

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My Big Fat Caribbean Vacation Part I

My Big Fat Caribbean Vacation Part I
Glass Chandelier

Glass Chandelier




A walking zombie – that’s what I was going to become but Andrea and I agreed to stay up from Saturday night into Sunday morning and beyond. We arrived at Pittsburgh International Airportaround 2:00or3:00 a.m.Sunday, December 30, 2012.

I kind of snoozed on a couch on the upper level or watched people arriving to do the same thing I was doing. I’m naively surprised at the number of people flying at that time of night (or is it day)? Eventually, we went down to get zapped for weapons of mass destruction otherwise known as a security check and then headed to the waiting area for United Airlines.

I tried to snooze in the flight to Houston,Texas but it was uncomfortable. It couldn’t be because I slept sideways in my seat.

Once we arrived at George Bush Airport, I had to go hunting for Royal Caribbean employees who were to guide us to the motor coach which would take us to Galveston.

After much searching and telephoning, he found us. We chatted with a couple from Edmonton, Alberta until we boarded the bus.

The drive to Galveston is about an hour and a half long so I figured I would see the realTexas. The real Texas is flat. Living in Pittsburgh, I always notice flat terrain. Other areas of Texas may not be but this stretch of road was flat. Grassy areas were brown but there was a lot of greenery otherwise. There was an endless series of strip malls, auto repair shops, hotels, palm trees, restaurants and a Big Fat Greek Orthodox Church. The round gold dome and the mosaic icon over the doorway told me this was definitely not a restaurant. Next to it was a couple of white buildings with freestanding white columns. Well, some were standing and the rest lay on the ground. I guess the columns gave the property an “ancient ruin” look.

We zipped through the city of Houston for about 10 minutes. My third snooze was interrupted by our arrival at Galveston harbor. Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas was docked next to a ship from the Carnival line. Waterslides stood on top of Carnival’s top deck ready for those passengers who didn’t suffer from vertigo.

The customs house in Galveston was painted white with blue trim. It was a far cry from the dingy customs house in New York harbor that I remember from my childhood. There must have been thousands of people checking in and boarding their respective ships but the lines kept moving.

Once on board, we went straight to our stateroom. It was small but nice with a TV and a safe. We looked around the ship. It was beautiful and even elegant. Each deck is decorated differently and there are lots of sculptures, paintings, watercolors, bas relief, vases, prints, ceramics….There are marble floors, hardwood floors, carpeting, tile….

There are two sets of elevators: one is enclosed while the other is all glass. From the glass elevator you can see the core of the ship which consists of decks 3 through 8. (Below deck 3 is uninteresting although the ship’s doctor is located there.) Above 8 is one more floor of staterooms and above that is the pool area. The pool area has two decks (9 and 10) and the gym, spa and game room are on that upper deck, too. The very top (which we never got to see) contained the miniature golf course, basketball court, etc.

 When we first boarded the ship we entered via the Top Hat and Tails Restaurant which looks exactly what its name implies. It’s no burger joint. The waiters held wine lists which they were eager for us to look at.

(“I’m putting on my top coat; I’m tying up my bow tie, dancing my tails…” Fred Astaire sang in Top Hat. Check out all his dance routines on YouTube.)

Our next stop was deck 5, called the Promenade. The area was decorated with a giant Christmas tree and other holiday decorations. From deck 8 where our room was located you can see several floors below with a huge colorful cascading glass chandelier that I came to photograph a lot as its centerpiece. The chandelier has several components as it hangs from deck 8 down to deck 3.

We ate lunch at the Windjammer, the super duper buffet of the Mariner.  Purell hand sanitizers grace the front entrance and the hosts practically insist you use the sanitizer before you enter the restaurant.

The shops weren’t scheduled to open until the ship sailed so we went to check out the pool area. It became our favorite spot, or one of them, during the trip.  There’s a giant TV, two bars on each level, hot tubs, deck chairs galore and a pool, too.

A band was playing and an activities leader (whatever they call them) was teaching the crowd line dances. I didn’t participate but Andrea did only she didn’t need the lesson. It was fun to watch, though a lack of sleep was starting to up with me.

Then it was announced that everyone had to attend a mandatory fire drill. All it involved, though, was having the passengers walk down the steps to their designated area (ours was the Sound of Music Restaurant) where we learned how to use a life jacket.

Our designated restaurant for dinner was the Sound of Music Restaurant which displayed costumes from the play/movie (reproductions, I’m sure). There was one discreet Purell hand sanitizer stand at the entrance. We have a preplanned reservati on for6:30 pmevery evening. I thought that it was beautifully decorated much like Top Hat and Tails. The waiters/waitresses wore black pants, white long sleeved shirts and black vests. Andrea giggled when the waiter placed a napkin on her lap and held out her chair for her to sit. 

I chose a bottle of white wine, a Pinot Grigio to be served every evening until it runs out. I sniffed the bouquet and tasted the wine before the waiter poured me a glass. Since I only drink one glass per evening if at all, it should last a while. On our first evening, I had the catch of the day which happened to be bass and it also happened to be a low calorie selection.

 Andrea selected a vegetarian Indian dish. I had the watermelon gazpacho soup and she chose the Tortilla soup. No dessert for either of us although I had to have a cup of coffee. I hadn’t had coffee since the morning of December 29, 2012!

Our ship finally sailed at5:00 pmto no fanfare. I expected to hear bells, whistles, fog horns, and/or fireworks…something. We pulled away from Galveston which gave us a landscape view of the city. It is nondescript (no hills) but I snapped a photo as we sailed away. It’s a town that exists because of the harbor, IMO.

The shops opened and we did a little bit of shopping. All the stores are located on the Promenade deck. We were looking for conditioner. the first shop we went into didn’t have any. What?! No hair conditioner? Panic set in! But we found some in another shop.Whew!  Other people were shopping for hair conditioner, too.

We also visited several lounges (two more days before Andrea can legally drink) just to see what was going on for a while and then we crashed.


Tomorrow: New Year’s Eve




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My Big Fat Greek Vacation II

My Big Fat Greek Vacation II

The airport in Rhodes was crowded when we left. There were mostly people from northern Europe and a lot of chain smokers. I changed my seat in the waiting area a million times to get away from the smoke. Phillip Morris will never go out of business. Those of you who are from northern Europe on my email list, I love you all, but I’m allergic to the stuff.

Beach Chios, Greece

Beach Chios, Greece

By contrast, the airport in Chios was crowded with Greeks. Our driver met us and took us to a hotel in Vrondatos which is right outside of Hora, the capital. The drive through Hora was interesting because it was busier, bigger, and more crowded than I realized it would be. There is a paralia (coastline in Greek). Here it is a place where you can walk for the evening or whatever. The paralia runs the length of the coastline and passes by waterfront, hotels, tavernas, shops, and two Internet cafes. (Information provided by Mike.) There are many boats of all descriptions in the waterfront and some medieval ruins. My favorites were the three windmills standing together in a row. Further inland is the fortress that once encircled the town. It is not whole like the one in Rhodes and the old town apparently was not preserved.

We arrived on the eve of the Feast Day of Agia Markella, the patron saint of Chios. The hotel where we stayed was also called Agia Markella, and it is an old fashioned hotel. The front (which you access by climbing steps!) is filled with large clay pots of flowers and a small, very blue pool. I can best describe it by calling it Old World. Chios is like that, too.

Our concierge informed us that a rental car was not available even though the poor woman made a lot of phone calls for us. The cars were rented because everyone was going to the Monastery that night and the next day, to worship. Instead we secured a driver who agreed to take us to Kardamyla, my mother’s birthplace, Nea Moni monastery, and the Mastihohoria (the “Mastic villages”). We decided not to go to Agia Markella monastery because my husband would not have enjoyed the zoo atmosphere created by the swell of people.

We decided to walk the paralia and look for a restaurant. We found two that had no patrons (no one eats dinner early, that’s why) so we decided to keep looking. I asked an old man if he knew of any. Before he could answer a woman overheard him and offered to walk with us to the nearest one. We chatted about Kardamyla because her aunt lived there but we didn’t recognize each other’s family names. Anyway, we reached the restaurant and had a delicious dinner. The dessert was provided by the owner at no extra charge: fresh plums and miniature pears (home grown, I’m willing to bet). PS: The owners were not relatives of the woman who took us there. (Surprise! No kick back!)

Our driver, Vasilis, picked us up on time (another first) the next morning and drove north through Daskalopetra (the Rock of the Teacher). We saw the (big) Rock of the Teacher which is where Homer taught his students. He was allegedly born there.

The drive along the coast was just as breathtaking, in my opinion, as the drive around Rhodes. The mountains are rocky and stark in their beauty and the sea below was a true blue. The sky was clear and the sun was hot and getting hotter.

We drove past many small towns and saw the small island of Inoussa off the coast of Chios which is where my goddaughter’s family is from. We didn’t go there but some day……We finally reached Kardamyla from the top which is called Pano (upper) Kardamyla. It is your typical village with stucco houses and narrow, winding (paved) paths. We passed the church which was celebrating the liturgy. The windows were open so that the men in the coffee house across the street could hear the service and have their cup of java at the same time.

Then we entered Kato (lower) Kardamyla which is our neighborhood. It is by the waterfront and so picturesque with the boats bobbing in the sea and the cafenia (coffee houses) lining the paralia there. As always, as I came to realize, there is the requisite bust of Some One Important to the Town. I didn’t chance to find out who it was but I saw my mother’s family house which sits partly in the water and partly on land. I don’t see how eight kids plus two parents ever fit in that house. We didn’t linger but took some photos.

Among the many horia (“villages”) that we saw was the village of Anavastos which sits on a mountain top. It can be covered by fog in winter and it is invisible from down below. It is surrounded by mountain tops that are higher than it is and that probably contributes to the invisibility. On top of the mountain a medieval fortress and the town which surrounded it are still standing. The houses are not the worse for wear. We stopped to look and take pictures and I bought rose petal preserves and home made honey. There are a lot of honey bee hives in Chios – little boxes which are often painted blue.

We also a saw a monument built in memory of the villagers who were killed by Turks during the War of 1821. Another village is a popular weekend destination for Chians. The houses are not stucco but built out of the rocks and stones of the mountains.

Occasionally, we would see an old man riding his donkey. This is something that you just don’t see frequently anymore.

We saw Nea Moni (New Monastery) from the mountain top and entered the property as we descended. It is surrounded by tall fir trees. The monastery is not in the best condition but it has an interesting history and a collection of skulls and bones of our Chian ancestors from the massacre. These are real and are housed in a chapel near the church. The blood stains are still evident on the floor of the church, too. Andrea saw a stray cat and befriended it.

There are dozens and more stray cats and dogs in Greece. We got some holy water for a neighbor and continued to the Mastic Villages. They were a lot of fun for me. The mastic tree only grows in Chios. Mastic is used for making gum among other things including a liqueur called Mastiha. (The best way to describe it is mastic flavored ouzo. Good for various ailments.)

The tree’s trunk literally glitters because the mastic comes from the sap of the tree. The younger the tree, the better the sap, and you can only harvest the tree a few times. Then you have to move on to another tree. In these villages the old medieval streets are better preserved although smaller than in Rhodes. We ate at an outdoor cafe which gave us a shot of Masticha liqueur on the house which was fresh and excellent. I haven’t tasted it in years. We bought a handful of souvenirs and walked round the old town. More stray dogs and cats.

(BTW, American and Chinese scientists have been to and are returning to the Mastic villages to research the possible cancer curing properties of mastic.)

Then we headed for the ceramic villages but we didn’t stop. Our last stop was St. Minas which also houses skulls and bones and the blood stains on the floor to the old church. The original edifice was burned down during another massacre.

Our trip lasted eight and a half hours. We circled the whole island and I think Vasili, our drive,r was wonderful. I think we wore him out. He was so informative and very professional.

That night we went into Hora to see the parade of people along the paralia and to eat dinner under the stars. The coast of Turkey is illuminated cross the water. The breeze alone is wonderful considering we were battling 95 degree heat during the day. Upon reflection, Chios is the real Greece, not Rhodes which is beautiful but overrun with tourists. (Although who really knows?) I overheard an old man complaining about them in old Rhodes city and he was right. But Chios is unspoiled and is still the Fragrant Island. (Our hotel even had a small orchard in the back.)

I forgot to mention two things about Chios. The beach near our hotel had sand as well as rocks and no nude bathers (!) We passed a town, Pyrgi, which was once the (temporary) home of Christopher Columbus. He married one of his two wives there. The outstanding thing was the architecture of the stucco buildings. They were painted with geometric designs and I did not see this anywhere else on my trip.

The next day we left for Athens. I said goodbye to my wind mills but I promised myself I would return. Even Mike said so! To be continued…

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