Sunday, May 29, 2011

Weekend Festivals

With Summer’s arrival, all the local festivals and fairs are kicking into high gear, which means lots of junk food and then more junk food for dessert. This weekend is the first big one that supports the farm/school program, which introduces kids to agriculture on a firsthand basis. We worked at the past two events, first with TT and then at the pizza stand. It was a lot of work, though I’d rather be a helper than a bystander.

This year, we were not planning on really doing much, but I was contacted by the volunteer committee to see if I was interested in helping out, and I figured why not? I would always like to help, and again, being a part of the action is much more satisfying than simply attending as a guest. Not only do you get to hang with the in-crowd, but you’re helping out for a great event, and it’s a chance for the kids to join in, too.

We’ll see how this works out, but I’d love to join in on the party. Sure, I won’t get anything done around the house, but at least I’ll be having fun.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Jeffrey Collingwood for the pic.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Former T-Ball Dad

When we signed N up for t-ball, I was dreading the prospect of being head coach, but was willing to take the plunge if they had no options. I told the director that I would help out, but again, the idea of leading the charge does not appeal to me.

Furthermore, we were away for the first 3 weeks of the season, so I couldn’t really pull it off. They found someone to do it, and he’s a much better candidate. Now I sit on the sidelines, and have offered to help out, but they seem to be well in control. It dawned on me that it works out for the best, in the end, because it’s good for N to not have his overbearing dad in on the action. I feel a little restless just sitting on the sidelines, but as long as the kids are having fun, that’s all that matters. Plus, I’m there and ready to yell at the coach if N isn’t getting enough playing time... just kidding.

Ah, you gotta love Spring and the start of baseball season. It really brings back memories of my youth. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to lkwolfson for the pic.

Learning to Say No

I was asked, of all things, to partake in another community organization, one that I really believe in and think is a wonderful group. The man in charge I have a great deal of respect for, and think is a great guy. They do a lot for the community, and of course I’d be honored to help out in any way I can, but as usual, find myself too busy to really be an effective part of the team.

My first impulse is to say yes, and then kick myself for getting in over my head. This time around, I asked for time to think it over, and then decided that, at least at this moment, I simply can’t do it. I did, however, leave the door open to join in on the fun at a later date, and that worked out fine. Best of all, I didn’t automatically say yes, and then live to regret it. I love when that happens.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to WR-Fife for the pic.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Writing Life

Feels good to be back in the saddle in terms of writing. No jobs lined up yet, but somehow I feel better about at least making an effort in that direction. The beauty of it is that when you write, there are countless opportunities to feel like you’re furthering your career when in fact all your doing is squandering away your time. Who needs to actually write when you can live the illusion? Displaced energy, at its best.

I do have several queries in the making, however, and we’ll see how those go, if in fact they go at all. Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Zsuzsanna Kilian for the pic.

Dumplng Day

Market day is about two weeks away, and we need to start making dumplings. We actually did a stand-up job, and it was a family affair, to say the least. The kids jumped in and were incredibly helpful, not to mention good at what they do. As for the operation, we knew that we had to get started at some point, and it was easy enough to put it off. Finally, we went into the basement, dusted off all the equipment, and set up for the day.

We spent the first week back from vacation gathering up all the supplies, trying to remember what went into each dumpling. The biggest chore is getting the beef, which requires a trip out to Pomfret. If we had other things to do, we could be more organized and get other things done, but it’s harder when the only thing you’re going out there for is the beef. Then again, it sure is good meat.

Once we had the stuff together, we were ready to roll. We’ve decided to set aside Sunday as dumpling making day, and figure that we’ll get nothing else done. Over time, we’ll streamline our operation, and I think it will be even more efficient. I woke up and started making the fillings, and by the time everyone was awake, we could start shaping the dumplings. The kids even jumped in and helped.

At one point, I had to break away and start cooking, which meant setting up the tent and stove, and then getting everything ready. It worked out fairly well, and by early afternoon, we were finished, sort of. We got the biggies out of the way, i.e., beef, chicken, and veggie. That left apple and black bean, but I can do that during the week, and we still have one weekend before market. Also, when we get more organized, things will get done in a more timely and efficient manner, I think, or should I say, I hope?

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to lekyu for the pic.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hurt Again

Talk about getting old.

I was in karate class last night and while I was sparring PC, I hurt my darn foot, again (at least I got some good blows in). Actually, I hurt the other foot, but it hurts, still the same. Last time I was out for about a month when I kicked sensei H in the elbow. The pain was excruciating, but the x-ray came out negative for a broken bone.

This time, I hurt the left foot, and I can’t even recall when it happened. It didn’t hurt last night, but by the time I went to be, I could hardly walk on it. Not a good time to be laid up with a bad foot, but is there ever a good time?

Thanks for reading, and thanks to Chris Hoell for the pic.

What’s Up with the Weather?

I think I’ve seen the sun for about 1 hour since we’ve been back, and it has been raining non-stop. What’s going on here? The weather has been a bummer, to say the least. In addition the drab and weary mood it brings, I haven’t been able to work as much outside, and the kids are not as inspired to go outside. I can’t say I blame them.

For all it’s worth, the temperature has been tolerable, not too warm, maybe a little cool, if anything, and I don’t mind that. I can’t take the heat, though it does make for damp circumstances.

Strange weather we’re having, and I don’t see any signs of it letting up. We could use some sun, let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Dovile Cizaite for the pic.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Reflections on Istanbul

Now that we're back, I just wanted to share some thoughts I had about our trip. The fact that we were going to Turkey definitely brought out a chorus of concern from many of the people we knew, and to some degree, I understand. In retrospect, the worries were completely unfounded (hindsight is such a beautiful thing), but you begin to realize that in the midst of all this skepticism and anxiety, it is incredibly easy to give in and not do the things you want to do. In fact, it takes a fair amount of strength and resolve to forge ahead in the face of such negative scrutiny.

When I had first told people we were going to Turkey, most people were supportive or at least feigned interest, but a few people definitely thought it was a bad idea, with our kids, no less. I have to confess, I understood their concern, but also felt it was expressed without really knowing the facts. Turkey is a fairly exotic location and I'd only met one person who had actually been there. He loved it, and was extremely supportive about the trip. Otherwise, I think most people see Turkey in the same light as Iraq/Iran, extremist countries where they hate America. Turkey is in fact a secular, albeit Muslim, country, and one that is trying really hard to become part of the European Union. So far, they are doing a great job, but don't ask me, I'm not European.

To add to the drama (like we need more), we departed the day after bin Laden was killed, increasing the level of concern. When I saw the headline, even I asked, "Why now?" However, Turkey was such a nice place, the people were amazingly warm and friendly, and I was a little embarrassed that I thought that our lives might be in danger. If anything, I felt safer in Istanbul than I do in LA. There were even people in Turkey who expressed support for the US for eliminating bin Laden and intervening in Libya. Whatever be the case, it really highlights the strong desire to never leave the borders of this country, where it's safe and comfortable. There is an incredible amount of inertia that you have to overcome to travel abroad, and that's a shame, because it prevents most of us from every making that trip, and the rewards are immeasurable. Plus, there are places in the US where my life would be in much greater jeopardy than most cities in Europe and Asia.

On our second go-around of Istanbul, we felt much more comfortable and aware of the city, and that made it really fun and exciting. There were still mountains of things to learn about Turkey and Turkish culture, but at least we'd been there before, and had some sense of how things worked. We finally managed to find a place to eat where it was cheap and there were no surprises, and where it appeared the locals ate. We wanted to get some Turkish souvenirs, but were turned off by the persistent nature of the vendors trying to get you to buy their wares, but finally mustered the courage to go in and not only browse, but drive a hard bargain. In retrospect, we talked the guy down, but then felt a little ashamed that we were nickel and dime-ing the guy over a dollar or two, when in fact he's probably not a rich man. Then again, who knows how much money he was making on the deal.

Finally, on our last night at the hotel, we had a triumphant moment. We were swimming in the pool and N's tooth, which had been loose for what seemed like months, finally popped out. The problem was, it popped out in the pool, and he had no idea where it might be. How funny is that? Now we could have simply said it was lost and we'd work something out with the tooth fairy, but such actions are not part of our playbook. We were going to search for that tooth, even if we had to stay another night. We all had swim goggles, and we must have been quite a sight as all four of us scoured the bottom of the pool looking for that tooth. In the end, R scored and found it, it was amazing. Literally finding the needle in the haystack, kudos to her.

With the tooth in hand, we could now return home with good vibes all around from our amazing trip, which we would never have known about had we not taken the plunge, in the face of skepticism, and gone for it. It wasn't a radical event, where we threw caution to the wind, because believe me when I tell you, nobody is more neurotic and overbearing as a parent than me. It's just that when you get below the surface of it, most fear is based on nothing more than fear itself, and yet it holds such a strong influence over us. I wish it weren't so, though the media doesn't help, but that's an issue for another time.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Grateful Dumpling Awakens From Hibernation

I’m not sure if this is necessarily a good thing, but here we are, another season for the farmer’s market, and we’re wondering what exactly have we gotten ourselves into. It is time to make dumplings, the market is two weeks away, and we haven’t done much in the way of preparation. Today is going to be the big push day, just to see where we stand and to somehow remind ourselves why exactly we are doing this.

In the meantime, I have fillings to mix, and dumplings to make, so excuse me while I jump in head first. I think we can use our traveling sign, which would make life easier because it's much easier to transport, especially since we don't have my Mentor's Explorer anymore. This makes for a more complicated logistical process, but with greater challenge comes greater reward, right? Or at least greater headache.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to RIC for the pic.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Fun Coincidences

I realize I'm reading way too much into this, but a couple of things struck me as coincidental since we've been back. First off, I went to the store to buy food for the house, and went to the dairy aisle and found Greek Yogurt. Now I know they make this stuff and you can find it at the Coop, but we're talking the Windsor Price Chopper, where selection is severely limited, and I've never seen Greek Yogurt there in the past. Never. What do you make of that?

Second thing, and I realize this is a pertinent issue in the news, but when I first turned on the radio to VPR, what story were they covering but the issue of Turkey's entry into the EU. Wow, someone is trying to tell me something. What it is, I have no clue, but it's something.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to takis kolokotronis and ömer ipekçi for the pics.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Back in the Saddle

When you get back home from vacation, you realize that the world goes on without you, irregardless of whether or not you are there. Case in point, our house, including the millions of projects that are a part of it. While we were soaking up the sun and olive oil of the Mediterranean, things that needed to be done around here weren't getting done. Now why do you suppose that is?

Before we had left, I knew that the lawn was going to be a mess, and thankfully the lawnmower started without too much pain and suffering. I managed to cut the log pile into blocks, but that only means that I have to relocate it and then split it. I think this Winter's wood will be completed within the next few days, and then I can procrastinate on year 2. On a brighter note, I did hear from TB about getting another truckload, and he gave me a thumbs up, but not until Summer. Fine with me, the later the better.

There was food to be re-stocked in the kitchen, which meant shopping at P/C and Coop, and then going back to get the things I'd forgotten, which always happens. This is a bit more interesting now that we're back because our diets are Euro inspired, i.e., smaller meals and more bread and cheese.

I need to get back on the writing treadmill since I essentially got nothing done on vacation. I had this crazy notion that I'd have all this free time on the islands to write the Great American Novel, but no such luck. I was too busy soaking up the sun and taking naps. Now that we're back, I need to take this a little more seriously, but we'll see how this one goes.

The kids will have assorted camps coming up, not to mention sports, particularly for N. T-ball started while we were away, so we've missed about 3 weeks. The silver lining of this is that I got out of being head coach, not that I was able to. N will have to slip in a little late, but that shouldn't be a problem because we can practice plenty in our spare time. There are also piano/drum/guitar lessons to resume, and assorted fun activities (pottery, tennis, etc.) that we'd like to rekindle. Boy, I need a vacation from my vacation.

Oh, and let us not forget about dumplings. Or maybe it would be better to conveniently ignore that one... I don't think so.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to RIC for the pics.

Keeping Greece Alive

In honor of our trip to the Greece, we’ve been going a little Greek crazy in terms of food. The fact is, the diet over there is good for warm weather, and we’re on the cusp of Summer over here, even though I’ve yet to see the sun since we returned. In fact, according to what I’ve been told, the weather for the past two weeks has been lousy - cool, cloudy, and rainy. The forecast calls for more of the same for the next week. Bummer.

With this in mind, we sort of lucked out in leaving when we did, because it was sunny and warm in Greece, sort of. Since we’ve been back, we want to continue with the healthy eating, and had Greek food. Bread, fruit and tzatziki for lunch, Greek salad and Sifnos chick-pea soup for supper. When we were in Sifnos, we learned that the island is famous for its chick pea soup, which they only serve on Sundays. It's apparently a big deal, and they make it in their famous clay pots. We were leaving the island on Friday and were going to miss out, so we decided to make it ourselves.

It actually turned out rather nicely, and was fairly easy to make except that it takes along time to cook. They bake it in an oven overnight, but we just simmered for about 6 hours. This makes the peas nice and soft, and it was a hit. A good idea for a future supper, I might add.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Naoko McCracken for the pic.

Jet Lagged

Boy are we jet lagged. Our first night home, we arrived late, went to bed, and proceeded to wake up at 4:00AM. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, except that we had a rough day of traveling the day before. When we got home, we hadn’t gotten enough sleep, and felt a bit dazed throughout the day. Napping would have helped, but that would have made sleeping that evening all the more difficult, so we stuck it out. I managed by constantly moving, either by working in the yard (mowing, firewood) or in the kitchen (we made Greek food for lunch and supper)

By the time evening came, we were almost too tired to even eat, but not quite. The goal was to eat and then hit the sack, but going to bed too early would work against us, because then we’d wake up too early and the cycle would begin anew. However, we were tired and irritable.

The kids fell asleep by 7:00, and we weren’t too far behind, but again, this is going to take a few days. Until then, we’ll be waking up before the sun. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Leslie Collingridge for the pic.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Home Again

Okay, we're back, and it sure feels good to be home. However, the weather has not been ideal. In fact, it's been downright lousy from what I can gather, and it continues to this day. The forecast calls for more of the same for the next week.

One thing about all this rain is that the place sure is green. Amazingly green, in fact. Since I couldn't mow for the past three weeks, the grass is getting lush, though in need of a coiffing. The trees are in bloom, the mud has dried up (sort of), and the place looks beautiful. I was a little surprised at how cool it was, I assumed we were done burning wood, but sure enough, I've fired up the stove and it sure feels good. Looks like I'll have to fill the wood box one more time.

First things first, though, and that means getting to the store for vittles, and then laundry and thinking about stuff around the house. I'm sure glad I cut all that wood, because now I get to haul and split it. If we get a break in the weather, I'd like to cut the grass, but one thing at a time, right? I also need to bake bread, and we think we'd like to give a go at the traditional chick pea soup that we missed out on - they only make it on Sundays on the island of Sifnos.

Thanks for reading.

Day 17 - The Long Road Home

We've had such an amazing vacation that we haven't spent much time thinking about home, but once it's time to head back, you really begin to get into the "going home" mindset. Now it wouldn't be a trip home without some sort of drama and intrigue, and for us, getting home always has some of both, in a good way, of course.

Flying is also a long haul when you live in the woods, because it involves several stages. We had to fly out of Istanbul to Munich, where we would connect with a flight back to Boston. From Boston, we had to catch the bus to Vermont, and from the bus depot, a long drive home. We also had to consider the very real possibility that our car was not going to be there. Remember, when we left, they told us (there are signs, also) that there is a two week limit, after which I assume they impound you. We were gone for 17 days. Plus, since the whole drama of leaving, we had to catch the bus in New London, which is about 30 extra miles away, so getting impounded down there was much more difficult because it's out in the middle of nowhere, no offense to the residents of New London.

The first thing to take care of, and the most important, was breakfast. The breakfast buffet at hotel (the Serkeci Konan) is amazing, with lots of local cheeses, killer olive oil (very important), regular breakfast fare, amazing selection of breads and pastries, fresh fruit, cold cuts, and hot dishes like eggs, sausage, and quiches. I love it, very Euro. Now I hate to make a pig of myself at buffets, it's so bourgeiose, and pegs you right away as an American tourist, but I can't help it. The food was calling my name. I engorged myself, and was ready for the trip.

The people at the hotel were so nice, and they all stopped what they were doing and came to the door to say goodbye. It was great, and I feel like we really made some connections with these guys. They even gave us a nice little Turkish tea set for a goodbye gift. We are determined to go back again, it really was one of the nicest hotels I've ever been in. The cab was fine, and we got to see all the things we wanted to visit but couldn't. If only we had more time and money. We checked in for our flight, and we were off. This time, we only had about an hour to kill. I had 20 lira in my pocket, so we weren't in dire straights. We got some ice cream and drinks, and then boarded the plane.

Now the flight over to Europe was a little brutal. Somehow the plane was old and uncomfortable, and the flight tarnished my opinion of Lufthansa a bit. This flight, on the other hand, was thoroughly enjoyable. The planes were nice (we had a connection in Munich), the food was good, and the service was impeccable. Hats off to Lufthansa, they did an amazing job. The flight from Munich to Boston was particularly nice because the plane was a new Airbus, they had TV screens at each seat (very important), and again, the food was good and the flight attendants super nice.

Once we landed, we quickly got our luggage and just squeaked onto the penultimate bus home. The last bus to NH is at 7:55, and we got the 6:55. The ride was fine, the kids slept and I tried and failed, and then praise be to Nero's Neptune, our car was still in the lot. Amazing. We had to come up with a backup plan, which entailed staying on the bus until Lebanon, then catching a cab home, and then going back to get the car at the impound yard. Fortunately, we didn't have to implement said backup plan, though the extra drive from New London was a drag.

We got home, hugged our cats, and then went to be immediately. I was so hungry, but we had no food in the house, and it was late. We hit the hay, glad to be back, but a little disappointed that it's so rainy. PV, our house sitter, said during the time we were away, there were only a few days of sun, the forecast calls for rain for the next week. Yikes. It seems like just yesterday that we were in the hot Mediterranean sun... probably because we were.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to RIC and Fred Fokkelman for the pic.

Day 16 - Quick Notes on Santorini

I just wanted to comment on the hotel in Santorini. It got great reviews on TripAdvisor because it was beautiful but also because it was a good deal. That's why R chose it. I'll say this, it really made the experience a great one. Just a word of advice for anyone going to Santorini, which should be everyone on the planet, make sure you make the effort to get a hotel along the edge of the calder, which means basically along the cliff. You have to have the view of the cliffs, it makes it all the better. It's more expensive, but worth it.

At the Delfini in Santorini, Sima made our stay wonderful. Besides loving children and being an incredibly warm and friendly host, there was local Greek wine and strawberries waiting for us, and the place was simply beautiful, not to mention the view. Plus, with kids, a swimming pool is key, and a jacuzzi an extra added bonus. I can't say enough how much we really enjoyed the place.

Finally, in all my travels throughout Europe, I have never, not once, been to a hotel that actually provided 110 volt converter. For those who don't know, Europe, and I think much of the rest of the world, use a different voltage than we do. They have 220 volt outlets, so in addition to having a different plug design, the higher voltage will set your electronics on fire. You have to get not only a Euro adapter, but a converter, as well to do things like charge your laptop, cell phone, or batteries.

Sima at the Delfini was the only hotel I have ever been to that provided one. That alone makes it worthwhile to stay there.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Day 16 - Sad to Leave Santorini, Happy to Be Back in Istanbul

To add to our woe of leaving Santorini, we had a miserable flight that was leaving at 6:50AM, so that meant catching a cab at 5:30, and therefore waking up at 5:00. Brutal. We didn't have an alarm clock, and weren't sure if we were even confirmed or if there would be a cab waiting for us. We finally tracked down Sima, and she had arranged everything, bless her. The cab would come at 5:20, the guy would take our bags around 5:10, and hopefully wake us up if we weren't up. Sima even lent us a clock.

Waking up was tough, but we managed. Kudos to the kids for being such troopers and being ready to hit the ground running. We didn't even have time to eat breakfast, so we really felt bad for the kids. Early flights are especially hard on them, and then there are the long hours of travel. The valet showed up to take our bags, and it was unnecessary, because I could have easily done it, but I was glad he showed up because there was always the chance we wouldn't have awoken. Also, we weren't the only ones leaving, there were other cabs, and other families in our hotel. Misery loves company.

It was actually a nice quiet ride, and the airport was not as far as the ferry landing. The place was hopping, all sorts of tourists catching planes back to Athens, and lots of Americans. It's always interesting hearing English for a change. The flight was actually very pleasant, mainly because it was short and sweet, and the plane was clean and nice. It lasted about 30 minutes, and before we knew it, we were back in Athens, and it was hot. From there, we had a long layover. For whatever reason, they booked us on a 6:50 flight, but we had a 2:00PM connection. That meant hours in the airport, short on Euros, tired, hungry, and miserable. R picked up a snack for the kids, we checked in, and then went to our gate. Now I noticed this with the smaller flights in Europe, they often stick you in no-man's land. The gates have nothing in the way of food or drink, and are barren and depressing. We were not in the best frame of mind.

To add to the drama, we still weren't sure if our hotel was confirmed, and if there was going to be a cab waiting there to pick us up. Truth be told, we could have found our way to the hotel, there are cabs everywhere, it's just nice to land and have a cab waiting. The hotel usually takes care of it. During the interminable gap between flights, we finally managed to get an email through to the hotel, and they said a car would be waiting, and our room was confirmed. The situation highlighted the benefits of having a working cell phone when you travel. Our new Trac phone works beautifully in the states, but doesn't work in Europe. I learned later that you can get cell phones that work in Europe by simply changing the chip, which you can get almost anywhere in Europe, I saw them. Something to think about.

After what seemed like hours, we finally boarded our plane, and we were off to Turkey. Again, the flight wasn't long, and we landed in Istanbul, and our car was waiting for us. Keep in mind, the Turkish Lira is weaker than the dollar, not like the Euro, so they treat you well for about half the price, so it's a bargain. Turkey, like Greece, was finally hot. The sun was out for what seemed like the first time in Istanbul. The previous time, I don't think we saw the sun once. It was nice to see the city all brightly lit, and people were out in force, hanging in the park and swimming the bay. For record, I'm not sure I'd swim where so many ships anchor.

It was great to be back at the hotel, and everyone there was so nice and happy to see us. We were thrilled to be back. We went immediately to tea time, wolfed down several finger sandwiches, and drank several cups of Turkish Tea. Then it was off to the pool. We were all exhausted, but it was really nice to be back in Istanbul, and back at the hotel that we really love.

After swimming, we showered, got dressed, and hit the town, this time a little bit more savvy. We were ready to see the city in a new light now that we were seasoned Euro travelers. We were determined not to get scammed, and to pick up some souvenirs from the vendors that we had become friends with, but more on this later.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to RIC and Kriss Szkurlatowski for the pics.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Capitalist Instinct

Did I say nothing but good vibes in Santorini? Well, there was one area that let me down a little, and I think you can blame the Capitalist instinct for that one. As I mentioned, I couldn't find stamps for our postcards. My bad, I know. We should have gotten them earlier, and since we waited, I now had to scramble and all these vendors wouldn't sell them to us without first buying their cards. It really bummed me out, but their in business, what are you going to do?

It reminds me of when I lived in Venice beach, which is a tourist haven. All these eateries cater to the masses, but they won't give you a napkin unless you buy their food, first. We're talking a negligible expense, believe me, I know. We are in the food service/consumer industry. We know what it's like to deal with customers and freeloaders, but there are some things that simply not worth doing battle over.

Either way, one thing I found really interesting was the significant presence of Chinese tourists. They are the new Japanese tourist, flush with money and wanting to spend it, except that Asians can be amazing frugal. A bit of culture clash with European "joie de vivre" sensibilities, but very amusing to witness firsthand. In fact, there was an interesting situation going on throughout the Greek Islands, and for a guy like me, it wreaked of conspiracy. In certain situations, we were short on Euros and wanted to charge things like big meals. It makes life easier, rather than holding large amounts of cash. Plus, when you withdraw money, they stick you with all sorts of charges, including the exchange rate, international fees, and bank fees, which are usually a double whammy because you get charged by the bank you're getting money from, as well as your own bank for taking money out of somewhere else. When you charge something, all you pay for is the exchange rate. BTW, the dollar is taking a beating from the Euro.

Anyway, there were several instances, in fact all of them, where the places would make excuses that they couldn't take the CC. The excuses were all over the map, from not knowing how to use the CC machine, to the electricity going out, the machine not being turned on, and my favorite, not understanding what I was saying. At one restaurant, the older woman said she couldn't work it, so I actually ran the car myself. I sure hope I did it right. Fortunately we had enough cash, but it was all a bit too coincidental. Even the rental car guys gave me their sob story.

At some point, you begin to get suspicious, and I'm guessing the Chinese tourists were onto it. There is a great article in the New Yorker about Chinese tourists in Europe, and it was very applicable to this situation. You have to give them credit, they come informed and are prepared to do battle. This is war. At one of the restaurants, a couple wanted to pay for their meal with their CC, but the waiter said the electricity was out and he couldn't process it. He also kindly informed them that there was an ATM just down the street. Funny how that works. They weren't buying it, and said they didn't have any cash. The waiter dug in his heels and said it make take awhile for the machine to be back up and running, and they were more than happy to wait it out. They simply rested their heads onto the table and went to sleep. The waiter had to give in. I was impressed, I wouldn't have the wherewithal to pull that one off. Best of all, after they'd clearly won and they took their card, they went back to sleep. You gotta love it.

I personally think they should just say no CC. They all say they take them, then give you the runaround, it's completely disingenuous. I realize they save money this way, and I'm sure there are other perks, but it's still sneaky. Besides, they should know that when you're dealing with Asian tourists and their money, it's a losing battle.

Oh well, that's the world of capitalism. Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to peter lammers and Lotus Head for the pic.

Day 15 - Full Day of Santorini

We spent our first and only full day in Santorini just soaking in the sun. The weather has been unseasonably cool and it has contributed to an overall slow season on these islands. You hear it from everyone, though especially in the big touristy areas that really rely on a continuous flow of new people from all around. Factor in the bad economic conditions in Europe, especially Greece, and there's a bit of a dark cloud on the whole affair. It's on everyone's mind. I don' think it's sever on the smaller islands because they tend to draw a more loyal cliental, whereas the bigger more commercial islands must rely on the whims of less regular group of people.

Whatever be the case, the weather was not bothering us, though it did make it harder to swim when it was cool and breezy with not much in the way of sun. That all changed on our one day in Santorini, where it was about 80 degrees with a light breeze and no clouds. Just beautiful. I woke up early and had my instant coffee, which is about as good as it gets for me right now. Otherwise, it means a trip over to the bakery for a cup and croissant, which sets you back enough Euros to discourage the likes of me from doing it every day. Besides, I rather like the instant Nescafe espresso. It sure beats the coffee at the hotel in Sifnos.

I spent most of the morning just sitting on the deck, drinking my coffee and writing on my laptop. It's nice spending time out there, the view is fabulous, and just right for staring out into the sea, at least in the AM. At some point, everyone else started to stir, and it was time to think about getting some chow. We headed back into town, picked up bread, yogurt, and some fruit, and went back to our room and ate on the deck.

I ended up returning to the room late because I ran into this whole rigmarole trying to find stamps for A's postcards. I always encourage the kids to send their cards, if they want to send them, as early as possible, because the longer you put it off, the harder it is to find the stamps and the post office. We pretty much had one more day, I figured if it came down to it, we could send the cards at the airport, but it's a hassle finding the post office boxes. Better to get it done in the big city. A had her cards and they were written and addressed, we just needed stamps. The first problem was that our one day was Sunday, and everything government-wise was closed.

I met an American couple (there are tons of Americans on this island) who told me that they got stamps at the souvenir shops where they sell cards. Great. I went to several of them, and they all shot me down in flames. Something was up, and I realized that they won't sell you stamps unless you buy the cards from them. One woman said right to my face, and I even offered to buy a couple of cards if she sold me 5 stamps, and she said NO! I couldn't believe it, the bloody capitalists. I will say this, I'll never buy a souvenir off of her. I must have gone to about 10 shops before one guy was nice enough to take care of me. I was grateful. Of course, I made a big blunder and had the keys, so R and the kids were waiting for me at the room, unable to really start eating because they couldn't get in. It's always dad's fault. A even gave me a hard time, and I had to remind her that I took so long because I was getting her stamps. Oh well, parenting is such thankless work, but we knew the risks when we signed on.

We had a really nice breakfast, and by then it was getting hot, which of course meant time to hit the pool. The pool is small, but a really good size for the kids, and if there's one thing they love pretty much more than anything except ice cream and TV, it's swimming in the pool. Who cares that we're in Greece? Let's go swimming. The weather was perfect for a swim, and we really had fun, though being the whiner that I am, the water sure was cold. We also met a really nice couple (also American, but young and hip) from Texas who were world travelers. They had just been to Thailand and Cambodia, and were in Greece en route to, of all places, Istanbul. We talked at length about traveling, and it was nice. Plus, they were nice to the kids, which is always a plus for me. You could sense, and they even alluded to it, that kids were going to be a part of the near future.

After the pool, we dressed and hit the town. Since we were so high up, there are no beaches per se that were nearby. The only way to get to the water is take the bus or cab down to the shore, or take a long walk down this incredible stairway. Of course, we opted for the stairs. It's about 250 steps, and we decided to go for it, though our timing wasn't so good. We should have opted for the early AM, or evening. We made it down okay, but going up was a bit of a chore. The kids were troopers, but were looking forward to recovering on the deck, looking at the sea.

Since it was Sunday, it meant church, and they take church seriously in Greece. In fact, we learned that on Sifnos, they have 365 churches, one for every day of the year. It's neat to see the priests walking around and the congregation leaving the church with all the ladies departing in their Sunday best, usually all in black. It must get hot.

We had lunch/supper at a restaurant recommended by the hotel owner, Sima, and it was nice, though now that we're Greek salad officianados, we thought this one was mediocre. The hotel owner said this place was where more of the locals ate, and it was good, but being the cynical guy that I am, I sometimes wonder if they are somehow in cahoots. We did, however, get good vibes because the owner came out and chatted with us, and he loved the kids. He said something in Greek, and they brought us out this plate of ice cream. Yet another example of how being with kids opens up certain doors that would be closed if you were just adults. We also experienced this in Italy.

We headed back to the hotel for, you guessed it, another swim, though as the sun set, it was getting cool. We swam for a short bit, but going against our hardened New England sensibilities, finally decided it was too cold and jumped into the jacuzzi. Life was good. As we basked in the beautiful sunset and warmth of the hot tub, in the back of our minds, we knew we had to deal with our travel plans for the final leg of our trip. This meant arranging a cab to the airport, then confirming our flights and our hotel for the final night in Istanbul. There was another dark cloud over this planning because we had a 6:30 AM flight the next day, and weren't sure if we would wake up, or if there would even be a cab there waiting for us. We were having a hard time contacting the owner of the hotel, we don't have a Euro cell phone (more on this later), and we ended up emailing her and hoping she'd respond. Also, we couldn't contact the hotel because, once again, we didn't have a cell phone, and they weren't responding to our emails. What to do? Time was running out.

Then again, what's traveling without a little anxiety and drama? Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to RIC for the pics.

Day 14 - Nothing but Good Vibes in Santorini

We love this island. I have to admit,it's much different than we imagined, and somehow it has a lot to do with this hotel. When we first arrived, the cab was there to pick us up, and thus began the long journey to the other side of the island. The road was scary, winding up cliffs that were 1000 feet up. I looked this up on Wikipedia. What's really crazy is that road is small, barely big enough for two cars, and there are these massive tour buses that go up and down. Santorini is a big stop for cruises, so they all come ashore and pile into these buses, which then tour the island. They can barely make the turns.

To add to the fun, our cab driver was nuts. He was flying, passing cars like it was nothing. I kept thinking to myself, slow down, we're not in any rush. When he couldn't pass people, he would get right up on their behind. It was a little nerve wrecking, but we made it to the hotel in one piece.

We'd also heard that Santorini was the big, commercial, touristy island, and that did not appeal to us. We weren't that keen on being on a shopping island where cruise passengers come, take over the town, and then leave it shambles. On the drive over, sure enough, there were stores everywhere, selling all sorts of hip fashions and state of the art electronics. It was like driving through an island shopping mall, complete with hip and fashionable people, like reading a celebrity magazine. The traffic was a little crazy, with mopeds, cars, and ATVs all over the place. The cab driver didn't blink an eye, though we were all fascinated.

The hotel just blew us away, as I mentioned, and we spent the next hour or so just investigating it and checking out all the cool rooms and touches. They even left us a bottle of local wine and a plate full of strawberries, and though I'm not a drinker, R and I had a glass of wine, which intrigued our kids to no end because they never see us drink. Also, we've been having a hard time finding fresh fruit on the islands. Also, as I said, this island is a popular destination for honeymooners, and our room seemed to geared towards that, though the owner loved the kids, and there were two small beds for them to sleep in. I guess when couples come, they arrange the place differently.

We swam in the small pool, then got dressed and did what everyone in Santorini does, which is walk to the end of the cliff and take a picture of the sunset. It was quite a crowd out, there must have been 50 people with their cameras ready. The sunset was nice, no doubt, if not a little crazy. Afterward, it was dark, so we stopped at the store to get some cheese and then to the bakery for bread and maybe some sweets. We had a nice little feast on terrace, which included this amazing walnut pie, a local tradition. It was so good. Then we put our suits back on and jumped into the jacuzzi right on our balcony. How cool is that? The water was scalding hot, but felt good in the cold night air.

The warm water put me to sleep, which was good, because we had a busy day planned ahead. Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to RIC for the pics.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Day 14 - On To Santorini

Our last day in Sifnos was spent returning the rental car and then having breakfast. We enjoyed our stay at the Delini hotel, especially with the breakfast, but it can be awkward at times being one of only a few guests at a place. It's slow season, so there weren't a lot of people in town, not yet at least. We like this fact, but it has its drawbacks. First, not everything is open. Second, the hotels are not full, which is usually a good thing, except that you become the focus of the hosts, and our hosts seemed intent on getting us to eat at their restaurant. We, on the other hand, wanted to explore and eat in the different towns. It got to be really awkward, and as a traveler, I kind of resent being put in that position. It would be better if they just left it alone and made it a non-issue.

Also, and I can't be sure about this, but as I mentioned, the coffee wasn't very good, and I think they were serving me yesterday's coffee. The only reason I think this is because, in addition to the awful taste, I was there in the early morning and drank the coffee and it was cold. Now how do you brew coffee that isn't at least lukewarm? The coffee eventually got hot, but the fact that it was cold made me wonder. Also, I was the only one drinking coffee, and the had this big vat of coffee just for me. Did they toss it out every day and make another 5 gallons just for me? They would have been better off just making a small pot, but at least making it fresh. If they did in fact give me re-used coffee, that's a terrible thing to do in a service business, and something to keep in mind.

Either way, it was time to catch a ferry. I had to go into town to make sure I got a receipt for the rental car return (such a paranoid American), and then we waited for the boat. We ran into a pair of nice English women who were touring the islands as well. They were older, probably in their 60s, and just checking out the islands on a whim. They didn't have an itinerary, and were making it up as they went along. You have to love Europeans, they are such great travelers. In fact, we saw many Euro families, many with young babies. They're fearless, and just go for it. I rather like that, and am glad that our kids have traveled as much as they have. It's nice when you consider that they've both been to Europe 4 times, and I never went until I was about 35. Plus, they've camped across the good old U.S. of A. and I never camped as a kid.

The ferry was fun, though a long ride. From Sifnos to Santorini it takes about 4 hours, with several stops in between at some of the smaller islands. It's a great chance to see some of the smaller islands, which unless you were touring them all, you'd probably never see. The boat was, like all the others, way more interesting and luxurious than I thought they'd be. The ferries are reasonably priced, and they are very comfortable. You can sit on the deck, where it's really nice, or be inside and nap, eat, or read. A worked on her website while N and I played and hung out on deck with mom.

We were told that the approach into Santorini is impressive, and believe me, it was nothing short of amazing. The cliffs are towering, and there are towns embedded into the cliffs. The houses are like caves, literally dug out of the rocks, and they line the ridges of the island. Since it's a volcanic island, the towns revolve around the caldera, which is what the ferry rides into. It's like entering a fortress, just beautiful.

What is even more amazing is when you get off the boat and drive into the villages. I can't even describe how cool it is, and our hotel is nothing short of fabulous. I love this place, and don't want to leave. The bedroom is fantastic, I think it's a honeymoon suite. All that's missing is the heart shaped bed that vibrates when you pump quarters into it. The view is to die for. This island is popular for honeymooners, I'm told, because it is really romantic, and so incredibly beautiful. And this hotel just blows me away.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go swimming with the kids, and thanks to RIC for the pics.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Day 13 - Making Connections in Sifnos

It was recommended to us that we pay a visit to the town of Chryssopigi, which is home to what they said was the most photographed church in the world. The town is tiny, consisting of two restaurants and one lodge, but it apparently has a big following. People really love coming back time and again, though I have to confess, it was a little quiet and sleepy for me. We even saw our Norwegian friends there, and had a chat.

The town is on the South side of the island, and it was sheltered from the wind, which made it warmer for swimming. The beach is covered with flat rocks, and all three of us got to practice our rock skipping, which both A&N have become experts. We swam, played on the beach, and then at supper at the tavern on the sand. We had our usual, Greek Salad, Tzatziki, fresh bread, and chick-pea balls. They also had this amazing chicken in lemon sauce that was killer. Great food. It's wild because this town, like Vathi, are so small and obscure, I don't know how people find these places, but they have a loyal following.

After supper, we hit the road back to town searching for dessert. The kids had their minds set on milkshakes, which were advertised in the local town pub called the Old Captain Bar. This is a well known meeting place for frequent and regular visitors to the island, and is a bit of a legend around here. They were out of ice cream, though, but the woman behind the bar said she could make the kids a strawberry smoothie, which made them happy. The smoothies were impressive, and the kids were happy.

The woman working at the bar was also from America, and good source of information. She was from Oklahoma, and she said she'd been on the island for 12 years. Pretty impressive. She chatted with us for awhile, it's fascinating meeting ex-pats and hearing their story. She splits her time between here and Athens. Not a bad life.

R and I sat in the beach chairs and watched the kids run in the sand literally until it was dark, and then we headed for home. What a nice day we'd had, though it was our last. We were sad to leave the island, we'd made so many nice connections with people, but Santorini was awaiting us, and to tell you the truth, though we loved Milos and then Sifnos even more, we were totally blown away by Santorini. That, however, is a story for another time.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Day 12 - Discovering Sifnos

According to the people who know, there are sections of Sifnos outside the main part of town that are even nicer. I like the main part, mainly because I like to interact with people (when they're nice), and you get a lot of that in town. Either way, there is a tourist office, and the woman there, Sophia, was very helpful, and spoke good English. She said that if you like the town of Kamares, then you will love the rest of the island even more. High expectations.

We rented a car, a Chevy no less, and decided to investigate. First off, we wanted to learn more about the pottery, as well as the local food and cooking scene. We stopped again at Symos and introduced ourselves to the proprietor, a lovely woman they refer to as Mrs. Symos. I am not sure about her first name, I wrote it down, and will get back to you on that one. She was so nice, and invited us into her kitchen to see how it all gets made. She gave the kids candy, and let us take all sorts of pictures, introducing us to her daughter and her son. It was really cool.

We then went in search of more knowledge about the pottery. As we mentioned, some of the guys make the stuff right in town. We stopped by one guy's store, but his stuff was really fancy and expensive, and it turned out he made the stuff in Athens and brought it over. Cheater.

We then walked up a back alley and into an open door, and there inside was one of the artists working at the wheel. He was super nice and invited us, then stopped what he was doing and showed us around his showroom. Really warm and nice guy. We didn't want to hold him up, so we told him we'd return later.

We then headed off to an area that people say is worth the trip, the town of Vathi. I think I spelled that right. The town is rather rustic, but not in a bad way. There are villas to rent, it's very clean and has a beautiful beach right out front. We learned that it had just gotten electricity about 15 years ago, and the road in was built within 5-10 years. Before that, the only way to get there was by boat. There is definitely a scene of people who come back year after year, and we got to meet some of them. There was a couple of Norway who said they came to Vathi every year for the past 27 years. Can you believe that? They were so nice, and we chatted for quite awhile. We also ate at this great restaurant right on the water, with the chairs and tables in the sand. You can't beat that. I couldn't even tell you the name, something Greek, but the people were again very warm and friendly, and we just fell in love with the place.

Our friends from Norway told us of another section worth seeing, and that there was a famous church that was the most photographed church in the world, though that seems a bit hard to believe. Either way, it's a good story. We sat at the table literally for hours, nursing our mineral water while the kids played in the sand and water about 50 feet from us. We had killer Greek salad, chick pea balls, this amazing piece of fish in lemon sauce, and pork kabobs. We also go to feed the cats, which has become a tradition. Afterward, she served us this amazing piece of lemon-yogurt pie, simply fabulous. Then with the check, she brought us almond cookies. I've noticed that most of the restaurants here give you a complimentary sweet after supper, usually yogurt with candied fruit, or some sort of cookie. I rather like this process. Also, they never rush you to leave, and won't even think of bringing you the check unless you ask for it. We're being so Euro over here.

After several hours, we headed back to town for ice cream and cookies, and then walked around town to learn more about the local flavor. Though it takes years to learn it completely, we're definitely getting a taste of it, and it sure tastes good. Also, we've been lucky in that in addition to the sand and surf, every island has had some sort of playground, and that's good to entertain the kids for about half an hour in the early evening, before we walk back home for bed.

Sometimes A&N connect with the local kids, and it's cute to see them all trying to get a sense of one another. Kids speak the universal language of having fun. On the island of Milos a few boys even worked up the courage to come up to N and ask him if he'd like to play "football" with them. He politely declined, he's not a soccer player, but it was really nice that they asked.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.