Resorts

International TravelThings You Should KnowWining/Dining

SANTORINI, GREECE — Last stop for a milestone birthday

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Thank you to the Greek weather Gods for allowing us to arrive in Santorini to glorious sunshine.  Beautiful blue skies against the white abodes literally built into steep hillsides provide gorgeous contrasts.

Every room has it’s own terrace.
Dining area at the resort.

Our last resort for this trip was in the town of Oia (pronounced “e-a”), about 40 minutes from the ferry in Fira.  Naturally the resort — Mystique — is steep as well, just like pretty much everything else on the island.  The view of the caldera is quite stunning.  “Caldera” refers to the vast opening from the long-ago volcano eruption which formed Santorini itself along with several much smaller islands.  One could sit facing the water and do nothing else.  Of course, navigating up and down the steps required to get anywhere provides added incentive to stay put.  And there’s no “ADA” provisions; it’s simply climb or else.

Our resort with another right above it.
50 steps so far; about a million to go. No handrails.

We did walk into the town to browse around and have lunch at Mezzo Cafe.  It was like the U.N. there with very close tables that lent to conversation.  French folks (from Lyon) to the left and a group of Aussies to the right provided a wonderful opportunity to chat and hear respective impressions of the landscape and life in general.  Our French neighbors immediately asked if I was ok sitting next to their dog.  My response:  “As long as he doesn’t smoke,” which is hardly guaranteed in these parts of the world — especially sitting at an outdoor cafe.  We lucked out on all counts and had a thoroughly terrific time.

Mezzo Cafe
Go-to lunch: Chicken sovlaki with tzatziki, pita and “chips”

Much like our arrival in Santorini (described in the previous post), we experienced a similar “your driver was delayed” challenge upon leaving for a particularly ideal spot to view the sunset.  In this part of Greece, sunsets are like a religious experience.  But they must be well-timed.  We were booked at Ovac, a beautiful spot we were told was best for viewing.  We had a pre-arranged pick-up at 6:15 for a 6:30 arrival at the restaurant, giving us a solid 30 minutes until the sun fully set.  And then it’s 6:20, 6:25.  Tick tock.  Two hotel courtesy cars were waiting, but both had other commitments.

Mind you, I am not walking back down to get to the main office, because I’ll have to walk back up!  Three phone calls later (from a borrowed cell), one of the cars finally took us (ours was still “delayed”), driving at breakneck speed around the curves and we arrived with enough time to get our photos, but not nearly as relaxing as we had hoped.  We did have a delicious dinner and were glad for the experience.

Amazing salad at Ovac.
That view. That sunset.

I’m now convinced not much runs on time in Greece.  In fairness to our two other stays, both had excellent staff and great service (King George Athens and Bill & Coo Mykonos).  But Santorini had some issues to say the least.  Is it Greece in general?  Hmmm.  The country is not exactly stellar in many aspects.  Maybe with this exquisite location, the expectations are lower.  Good question to ponder.

The final day of our stay in Greece was spent at the resort — reading, spa and a wine tasting in their cellar — really a cave of sorts.  Greek grapes are interesting; they are grown without any water other than rain, humidity and/or mist from the sea.  The volcanic earth retains the moisture.  We tasted four local varietals:  sparkling, white, red and a dessert wine, accompanied by various cheeses, fruit, nuts, etc.  It was a lovely experience followed by a small dinner.

Wine tasting a deux.

Fortunately we were back in the room before the anticipated rains came for we would have not been able to negotiate either the steps or steep slope to our room.  It positively gushed water — and it supposedly only rains 20 days per year on the island.  Timing is everything.

Moderate rain flowing past our room.
The deluge a bit later.

For the journey home, American/British Air booked us via our miles from Athens to an overnight at Heathrow then nonstop to LAX.  I’ve complained before about really disliking BA’s biz class (Club World) configuration of front/back seating and having to climb over the aisle seat from the window seat.  However, we were on a brand new plane and it was really “quite lovely” as the Brits would say.  Next year that seat configuration goes away, and everyone will be facing front.  Hopefully staggered.  Better yet, single seating next to the window.  That is the best!

My cubby for 11+ hours. Plenty of room.
That privacy screen was up after the photo!
International TravelThings You Should KnowWining/Dining

GREECE FOR A MILESTONE BIRTHDAY – Part 2 Mykonos

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It takes a grand total of 20 minutes in the air to fly from Athens (visit in previous post) to Mykonos.  Other modes of arrival are by cruise ship or ferry from a neighboring island (most likely Santorini, our next stop) or via one’s yacht (sigh).  But flying was the least amount of total time required and the ticket is very reasonable via Agean Air.

Bill & Coo Resort in Mykonos

Anyone else wonder why every building on the island is white?  Aesthetics?  A means of keeping buildings cool in hot weather (yes, that’s a main factor).  How about because it’s the law?  Yes, every building is required to be painted white.  Best part about that is touch-up’s are a cinch because your neighbors all have the same paint!

From the resort toward Mykonos town.
Sunset view from our balcony

The island population is a mere 10,000, but approximately one million visitors experience Mykonos annually during “the season” — April through early November.  Obviously the bulk visit during the true summer months which is precisely why a late September visit was ideal (for us, anyway).  Mykonos town is a series of very narrow, pedestrian-only streets — more like pathways.  It’s hard to imagine navigating during the height of the season when it’s really hot and really crowded.

Classic Greek style

I checked the weather from home and saw mid-70’s.  When we arrived, however, the winds were really strong — gusts up to 35mph and the temp more like the high 60’s.  Planes and ferries were canceled for two days due to the rough waters and winds.  Sitting by the pool was out so that allowed for more time for pure relaxation which is the point of being on vacation.  Fabulous massage, reading, walking to the nearby town for shopping, great food, people watching, etc.  Then there was following the news at home — baseball and hearings.  We didn’t leave the planet after all.

Choppy waters all around
Justin Turner (separated-at-birth) lookalike, complete with Dodger cap
Deep contemplation at sunset

Fortunately, our scheduled ferry to our next and last destination, Santorini, was available, more or less as planned.  The ferry itself was very nice with spacious seats on the top level.  When we departed Mykonos it was quite rainy.  But all that gave way to glorious sunshine upon arriving in Santorini.  Hooray.

Our Mykonos departure with some soggy travelers.
On the ferry

 

Hip, hip hooray! On approach to Fira in Santorini.

Alas, the sunshine was about the only good part of the arrival.  Our luggage was stored in the ship’s lowest level, right next to where the cars park.  Everyone was crowded together, gathering their bags, and tightly packed in waiting to exit.  Curiously, they were boarding passengers at the same time we were exiting.  Total chaos even before we all were on land searching for our respective transportation — either large groups finding buses, or individuals like us looking for our drivers.  An absolute mass of travelers all trying to get out.  Total travel time door-to-door:  Seven hours!  Most of that was spent on the Santorini end.

The traffic snafus as a result of the over-crowded ferries were remarkable.  The line of vehicles to get their passengers was backed up probably a good two hours.  There’s only one very steep road (think California’s Highway 1) to the ferry dock area with continuous hairpin curves, usually with two enormous buses passing simultaneously — one down and one up.  We saw quite a few people obviously so concerned about missing their departing ferry that they gave up and WALKED down the road with their luggage.  They deserve a lot of credit for that!

But we made it to a beautiful resort.  My report on our Santorini stay in the next post.

At Kalita Restaurant in Mykonos, absolutely empty at 8pm except for us (the Americans!)
Fabulous fresh sea bass with zucchini ribbons in foamy sauce. Yum!

Below — what I’ve read so far.  Two wonderful books.  Two wonderful love stories.  Lots of tissue required.

 

International TravelThings I Love

THE MAGNIFICENT MALDIVES (Part 6 in a series on recent Journey)

Sharing with people that one is fortunate enough to visit the Maldive Islands typically garners one of two reactions:  1) Where is that? -or- (more commonly) 2) Oh, that’s on my bucket list!! I can’t wait to go there!!!  In answer to number 1, southwest of India. In answer to number 2, there is a very good reason for that reaction … 
Upon making the decision to visit India, the proximity to the Maldives made it nearly automatic to include this exquisite location in the itinerary. The biggest decision was how much time to allocate and how much time we could afford.  This destination is not for the faint of wallet, so the decision became four days/three nights of splendor.

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e flew Sri Lankan Air from Delhi en route to Male.  A schedule change had us at the airport in Colombo (Sri Lanka) for roughly nine hours. Brilliant move on the part of the airlines to add a nice, clean hotel attached to the airline lounge that literally books by the hour — $10 USD.  I reserved the room in advance and followed their directions.  We did not have to pass through immigration so it’s a breeze.  We checked our bags all the way through from Delhi to the Maldives, got a decent night’s sleep, boarded the continuation of our flight and were at the resort by 9am. Win/win all around.

On approach to the main city of Male (above); new resort construction (left) visible from the plane.
It is a 25-minute boat ride to the Four Seasons Kuda Huraa, one of multiple options for the company in the area.  I deliberately picked this one for the proximity to the airport. Depending upon flight arrival time, one might have their resort arrival delayed and I wanted to take advantage of every single minute.  Indeed, we were met after collecting our bags, and in our room a short time later.  Nirvana.  
View from the room.  I know (WOW factor).  All accommodations have their own small pool.  Through the shrubs was the white sand beach.

 

Above left:  phenomenal snorkling right in front of the property;  Above right:  beach service awaits with the press of a button. 

 

 

So what does one do in the Maldives?   Not much, which is kind of the point.  Of the 1,100+ islands, less than 200 are even inhabited.  The area is busy for avid divers at certain times of the year.  We happened to stay during a slower period, which was quite fine.  Lots of gazing at the incredible colors, swimming, enjoying terrific food, etc. But I was particularly fascinated with the resort’s Marine Center, where turtles are rescued and nurtured by trained biologists in the most comprehensive manner.

Some are missing one or both front fins but seem to manage pretty well. They are treated for various infections, weighed and measured regularly, and hand fed fresh fish via tweezers.  They hit the turtle lottery in this regard! 
Clockwise from top left:  kids are carefully petting a turtle; one is being examined; big guy clocks in at 70 lbs; interesting names for the turtles with their vitals noted.
Among the activities offered, there is shark feeding at dusk each evening. The black-tip sharks are quite small, safe, and seem to know when it’s chow time as a lot of them showed up.

 

 

 

By the over-water bungalows
Don’t you decorate your bed at home with fresh flowers?!
Dusk at the main pool

 

Madives takeway: It’s a safe bet that the various luxury properties here — one per atoll or small island — such as One and Only, Taj and others, offer excellent service. But we can only speak for the Four Seasons where not a thing was missed.  Best of all was not only getting into our room at 9am, but likewise being able to stay in the room until departure time at 6pm.  Four FULL days. Cannot thank the resort enough for making it so easy on us. The Maldives are indeed magnificent. Expensive? No question. We’re feeling quite fortunate for the experience. Next up: Three flights to Perth!
 

 

Thank you Chef Junious for this delicious and inventive dessert:  Red velvet cake with raspberry-studded frozen yogurt and edible sponge cake depicting the local coral.  Amazing!

 

International Travel

CABO IDEAL FOR QUICK GETAWAY

It’s no secret that Cabo San Lucas, just a two-hour flight southeast of LA, makes for an ideal getaway. What’s astonishing is the massive growth that continues to occur unabated.
The iconic Cabo arch
The hubby surprised me for a major birthday back in 2004 with the first trip to Cabo. The locals were thrilled that the first Costco had just opened up, and they could purchase essentials like bread and milk for significantly less than the area markets.  We stayed at Las Ventanas which was a splurge to say the least. Infinity pools were unique back then so entering that gorgeous resort seemed staggering as the pool “fell” into the ocean beyond.
The next trip was for our daughter’s graduation in 2009.  At the time, the area was just desolate due to fears of kidnapping and the like.  We had a great time and never felt the least bit unsafe.
Flash forward to 2017.  Unlike the first trip where five-star properties were just three — Las Ventanas (Rosewood), Esperanza (Auberge) and One & Only Palmilla — there’s now La Pedregal, The Montage, The Cape and a Ritz Carlton still under construction. And that’s just the high end.  The growth is at least 10% annually, and up to 20% at times.  Three thousand rooms will be added in 2017.  During the high season (November through May), there are sometimes 40 commercial flights on Saturdays and Sundays.

 

It’s not just the high end experiencing growth (multi-million-dollar vacation homes), but the huge amount of “all-inclusive” resorts that are very affordable and abundant.  This trip was the result of purchasing a three-night stay (at a charity auction) at Fiesta Grand Americana.  Personally I am not a fan of all-inclusive — typical of cruise ships and the like — where one almost feels obligated to indulge because “it’s free.” I’d rather think twice about consumption while paying as I go. To each his own.

 

So what to do in a short time span?  Visit the spa!  An 80-minute deep tissue for $90 works for me (after some sort of discount plus gratuity).  But the big outing was whale watching via Cabo Adventures ..
We were given the choice of either a small but very fast boat (which was like a life raft) holding 26 plus 3 crew, or a very large double-decker.  We opted for the small one, which adventure was called “Whale Safari.”  Having experienced an African safari last year, I get the connection:  both vehicles go very fast and communicate with other vehicles when game (in this case whales) are spotted. This thing flew over the water! No wonder we were asked if we had any back issues beforehand; I was indeed reminded of the safari jeeps.
Sea lions sunning themselves
It was worth it to catch multiple glimpses of these beautiful creatures, both full size and young-in’s.  Taking photos is challenging, as the action is swift and the boat rocky.  But you get the idea .. happy I got just one!
Absolutely worth mentioning are the following restaurants: Los Tres Gallos was a last-minute decision that was amazing. Delicious food, with some unexpected twists, in an indoor/outdoor setting.  We also loved Mi Casa, with traditional fare in a lively atmosphere.  Both spots are in downtown Cabo, close to the marina.
Mi Casa had fabulous margaritas (mango in particular) plus carnitas

and mole (ole!).

           Open kitchen at Los Tres Gallos plus some
           delicious courses we enjoyed. 
 It’s the thought that counts from housekeeping —
the letters were formed from rice.  Buenas noches!

 

International TravelThings I Love

PERFECT ISLAND PARADISE POST ELECTION

An island jaunt proved to be just the thing one needed, especially with an early-morning departure November 9th.  Nothing like gorgeous white sand and pristine turquoise water to provide a respite from all the noise that surrounds the never-ending news (especially in my political household).
 
Five glorious nights in Turks & Caicos, just 1-3/4 hours southeast of Miami. Only wish it had been longer, but I’ll take whatever time we had.    
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Turks & Caicos — located in the North Atlantic,
southeast of the Bahamas
Does it seem like a long way to go for a relatively short trip?  Maybe. Perhaps for some.  But when you think about one longish plane ride and one very short one with little time in between, it passes quickly. Since the Hubby and I decided several years ago to add a November trip that would be the antidote to the non-stop movement of our big April trip (i.e., pretty much find white sand and do nothing), it’s been fun ticking off various island resorts visited.
Waking up with much anticipation after an evening arrival is fun … will the setting be as gorgeous as depicted on the website and in magazines? Happily that answer is yes! Grace Bay Club (part of Leading Hotels of the World) is one of three T&C resorts offered via Amex Platinum Fine Hotels.  An Aman property is at the top of that list, but their rates are staggering. Nothing in T&C would be considered “affordable” by most (more on that later).  We discovered from our patio doors, it was a straight and short path directly to the beach. That’s about as close as one can get!  The accommodations are not the most luxe experienced (even with the upgrade to a one-bedroom suite), but very spacious with a comfy bed and vast cable selection on two SmartTV’s.  No, we’re not here to watch TV but it’s nice to have that available. College football is in the thick of the season, and the hubby was happy to watch important games late at night (local time is an hour later than east coast). But I’m thinking someone quite tall came up with the idea to locate the room safe on the closet’s top shelf — not the best idea.
            Straight from our patio to the beach.  Pool is off to the left.
     In the relaxing and quiet “Adults Only” pool —
there is another one for families
Service is attentive, welcoming and very friendly but not what I would consider polished (like blowing our wake-up call).  We were given a cell phone with a direct line to our duo of dedicated concierges who help with anything and everything … typically restaurant reservations and outdoor activities.   All accommodations include a mini-kitchen (coffee maker, small fridge, microwave and even 2-burner cooktop).  I literally run from hotel rooms equipped with anything that reminds me of what I do at home, but it can be convenient — especially with a simply curated checklist of staples ready to be acquired and delivered (milk, cereal, diet coke, spirits).  Careful, though — the cost for the aforementioned soda six-pack was an eye-opener.  In fact, with just three things native to T&C — conch, lobster and sand — costs are high as everything must be imported.  
Two conchs right out of the shell.  One is male and one is female.  Pretty obvious which is which.  Most of the front portion is removed and thrown back in the sea (eaten by fish); the rest is deliciously evidenced in the ceviche (below)
  
Having no agenda other than pool time and a spa visit (excellent), we were fortunate to encounter T&C guru Marty at the pool for restaurant recommendations (CoyabaCaicos Cafe; Le Bouchon, Coco Bistro)  We figured he knew the area fairly well as he had just made his customary return to the resort from his home in Boston .. for the entire winter. He provided excellent guidance, needless to say.  

T&C, while officially a British Overseas Territory, could easily be a part of the US.  It is on the US currency and electrical current (no adapters or converters!), and everyone speaks English.  Yet one distinctly feels that they have left the country for sure.

Grace Bay beach in front of the hotel 
Snorkeling is always at the top of the list for a beach trip.  Island Vibe Tours literally pulled up in front of the resort for a half-day outing. We enjoyed chatting with folks on board from all over the US and a couple of avid travelers from Sweden as we collectively marveled at the turquoise water.  After a few stops we ended up having an opportunity for a last dip via diving off the boat (maybe 15′ from the top) or with the water slide. We all encouraged one another and got quite chummy. Somehow everyone knew the hubby by journey’s end, as evidenced when we got off the boat to “Bye, Bruce! Take care, Bruce! Nice to meet you, Bruce!”  Yep, I’m forever “Bruce’s wife.”   

 

One of the nearby cays visited on the snorkel boat

 


Below:  I look like I’m saying a prayer just before descending — the man in the red trunks is on the diving board from which the hubby jumped (as did I).  What the hell were we thinking??? 
 

 

After the above activities, believe me, I was tempted!
Fortunately cooler heads prevailed.
  • Are you thinking about going somewhere but are stuck getting started?
  • Do you need some ideas and/or expertise in planning your next adventure?  an
  • Instead of spending your valuable time, send me an email (travelwithterib@gmail.com) — and let me help you with all your travel needs!
Things I LoveWining/Dining

ROAD TRIP!

 

Lest anyone think that California doesn’t have extremely diverse weather conditions, think about this:  When the hubby and I set out on a week-long CA road trip from Studio City on a fine July day, the route was via Santa Barbara for lunch, then through Lompoc to Pismo Beach along the coast, back to the 101 through Paso Robles, and over Highway 68 to the ultimate destination of Pebble Beach, the temps ranged from a low of 59 to a high of 103 .. and that was in one afternoon!  Both sunburn and chills all in one fell swoop … crazy!
In the beginning …
Sony Walkman for the 21st Century.  That thing has 40,000 songs on it and the hubby knows every one … I do not.
The Inn at Spanish Bay, one of three Pebble Beach properties and our first destination, has simply stunning views.  The sun sets at 8:30 this time of year, with a gradual departure over the Pacific Ocean.  At 5:30 each evening, a bagpiper plays as he walks across the course and one feels like they are at Scotland’s St. Andrew’s — both in sound and view.  We visited there a few years ago … it is a very cool experience, even for us non-golfers.

Dinner at the hotel’s authentic Peppoli started out nice enough with personalized menus noting our anniversary (yep, still milking the upcoming 30th).  Regrettably, it was unacceptably loud for a fine dining room, so much so that the hubby’s impaired hearing was offended.  The manager promptly set us up at a private table in the adjacent wine room, and we then enjoyed a fine meal plus were treated to amazing Affogato dessert.

Lovely greeting in the room …
Just one hour south via the stunning Highway 1 coastline is Post Ranch Inn in the Big Sur area.  Lunch is always an amazing experience, not only for an incredible view but for just fabulous food at Sierra Mar. This is probably a fourth or fifth visit to the restaurant, while never having stayed at the property which is priced rather astronomically ..
 
Clockwise from left: chicken, trout, dessert with pistachio “sponge” cake; view of the completely covered ocean from the restaurant.
Nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea is fun for shopping/browsing with a good selection of restaurants.  I always like going into the art galleries as well for some great home decor items. And of course a trip to Pebble is never complete without experiencing the 17-Mile-Drive.  Since the entire area of Pebble Beach is restricted, there is an entrance fee ($10) if one is simply making the drive while neither playing golf nor staying at one of the properties.  I can’t recommend it highly enough so as to be a looky-loo at the magnificent homes along the drive.  You alternately feel  like you are either directly on a golf course and/or about to go into the water … 
Views from the 17-Mile-Drive
In the interest of full reporting, I was less than thrilled with the Inn at Spanish Bay. Yes, the views are spectacular.  Having said that, for the $$$$ rates, the property definitely seems a bit “long in the tooth,” and in need of updating.  There was a lengthy conversation with the manager upon departure who was most receptive and responsive.  Hey, if no one reports back then how will they know? Just doing my “job” here …  To be continued as we head up Highway 101…
 

  • Are you thinking about going somewhere but are stuck getting started?
  • Do you need some ideas and/or expertise in planning your next adventure?
  • Instead of spending your valuable time, send me an email (travelwithterib@gmail.com) — and let me help you with all your travel needs!