"" Writer's Wanderings: December 2012

Monday, December 31, 2012

Chill N7

It’s always a joy to find something new as we travel and this time we found it near Cutler Bay, Florida, thanks to our son and his wife. They took us out for ice cream but not just any ordinary ice cream. This ice cream was made with a unique technique that sets it apart from anything else I have ever tasted.

The ice cream shop looks like any other small novelty shop but the minute you peruse the menu of taste choices on the wall you know something is different. Each choice is listed with a symbol that resembles the periodic chart of elements. From the list we chose Nutella and added M&Ms to the mix.

Our server poured a measured amount of cream mix into a stainless steel bowl, added the flavors and used a mixer to begin mixing it. The real magic happened when liquid nitrogen was added and amid a vapored cloud of cold, our mixture became ice cream—the creamiest ice cream I have ever tasted.

They say the nitrogen freezes the cream so quickly that there is no chance for ice crystals to form and thus the creamy texture is maintained. As far as we could determine, this is the first and only shop so far but if word of mouth works, can franchises be far behind?

If you are in the Miami area, check it out. The address is 8271 SW 124 St. For now their website only shows the hours open and several pictures of the process. You can find them on Facebook and Twitter as well.  
Move over Coldstone, Honey Hut, Handels and any other ice cream shop you’ve seen. Chill N7 is going to come to towns all over. It can’t miss.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Books For The Road - The Racketeer by John Grisham

Intriguing. Engaging. This new story, The Racketeer by John Grisham, slowly draws you into it. I felt a bit mesmerized to start, wondering when the action would start, but drawn into the story and not minding that it wasn't a high action plot.

The story is told by the main character, Malcolm Bannister, a lawyer who finds himself embroiled in a racketeering scheme by association with one of his clients. He is spending ten years in prison unless he is able to pull off a deal with the government and judicial system which will set him free, solve a crime, and even solicit a little revenge on those who convicted him.

Grisham cleverly lays out the plot giving you a taste and then a bite and just when you are swallowing, he brings on the next course. By the middle of the book I was so totally hooked by the story that I gave up on my to-do list and decided this was my priority. Pretty daring considering it was the Christmas season. I think this is one of Grisham's better books.

An interesting note: At the end of the book Grisham, in his acknowledgements says research was not a priority. "Accuracy was not deemed crucial. Long paragraphs of fiction were used to avoid looking up facts." Then he goes on to disclaim some of the people and places he created as being anything near reality. I did feel a few areas seemed a little stretched but I do allow that a fiction writer writes just that--fiction.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

No Gift of Travel Under the Tree? Try This

You've gone through all the wrapping paper, empty boxes, and ribbons scattered on the floor just to be sure you didn't miss that gift certificate for the cruise, the trip to Hawaii, the island getaway, or the ski vacation. Nope. Not there. You sigh. Well, Santa's budget was tight this year and with all the Fiscal Cliff stuff being talked about it just wasn't a good time to commit to a pricey trip any where. But wait! There's still an opportunity to get away and it doesn't have to cut into the budget for reindeer feed.

Travel doesn't have to take you half way around the world to be interesting and fun. Have you ever explored what is in your own backyard? People often live in an area for years, sometimes a lifetime, and never see all there is to see in their own hometown. Let's do a little exploring.

To start, plan this as you would any other trip you wanted to take. Start with a comfortable, medium priced place to stay in your area. Maybe there's a nice bed an breakfast nearby. If you have kids, pick a place with a swimming pool especially if it's indoors and you live in a cooler area of the country.

Next, look at your town or city through the eyes of a tourist, a visitor who wants to see the sites, experience the food, and learn the history. If it helps, think about what you would want to show a friend visiting from another country that will help them to understand more about the place where you live. We all have history. Is there a historical society in your area with a museum? Is there a bus tour that will show you the architecture or the history or just an overall view of your city. Check out the local community theaters for an evening of entertainment. Concerts? If you get stuck for ideas, visit a local hotel and check out their rack of pamphlets of things to do in the area.

Make an itinerary just as you would for any trip to a place you want to see. Keep it relaxed but fill it with some fun things to do. Try out an ethnic restaurant or one that you wouldn't usually frequent. Agree that if it doesn't look good, you'll snack at McD's on the way back to the hotel.

I'm sure once you get started, you can think of lots more things. Staying close to home will cut out any air fare, a big savings in itself, and certainly cut back on the cost of gas for a road trip. And the savings might even go into Santa's piggy bank for next year.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Mary's Journey

It's Christmas time. While I rejoice in the birth of Jesus, my thoughts often travel to Mary. As a mom, I wonder what she felt. Did she know all that lie ahead? And then there was that journey to Bethlehem.

Much has been been debated over whether her mode of transportation was a donkey or not. Tradition says it was. Does it really matter? She was nine months pregnant--or at least far enough along to be delivered. Whether by donkey, by camel, or by foot, it was a long journey. Today she wouldn't even be allowed an airplane flight for fear she would deliver mid-air. And would her doctor allow the x-ray security check?

Then they arrived in Bethlehem to find that there was no room left for them. We once ran into that problem when we decided to leave a day early for our trip with the kids to Niagara Falls. It was a four hour drive and we thought we'd drive halfway, find a place to stay and then get an early start the next day. What we didn't know was that there were several festivals between us and Niagara Falls and rooms were booked for miles. We raced a van to the last hotel with a room and lost. We turned around and went halfway home, found a rest stop and slept in the station wagon with the kids that night. And I wasn't pregnant. I can't imagine the dismay of not having a bed to rest in and finding yourself in a stable.

Tired, dusty, worn out and probably without familiar female help to assist in the delivery, Mary's pains began. Her son, the one the angel had promised was from God, would soon be born. What an ending to a long journey. But for Mary, the journey was only just beginning. Her son, God's only son, would become the savior of the world. She would witness it all.

When she packed her bag to begin that journey to Bethlehem, did she know?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Bring Us A Figgy Pudding

As we travel the world, we are fascinated with the foods of different nations. Christmas traditions at home are a mix of our backgrounds. My dad's side was Bohemian thus our pork, sauerkraut and dumpling meal. My husband's side is rooted in England so there is always the alternative goose or turkey.

This year as we started singing our Christmas carols, I became curious about figgy pudding. Why did the carol demand figgy pudding? Here's what I found.

Figgy pudding is a pudding in the traditional British sense of the word. Most people know of figgy pudding from the Christmas carol “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”. It dates back to medieval times and is a descendant of frumenty, a rather unappetizing dish from the looks of the ingredients. Another source has figgy pudding being related to plum puddings of old.

We know figgy pudding today from the popular song, We Wish You a Merry Christmas. So if your carolers begin to sing, "Bring us a figgy pudding!" here's a really easy recipe for it.

10-12 ounces of dried figs
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 box carrot cake mix
¼ cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup raisins
grated zest of one orange
1 tablespoon orange marmalade

Place the figs and the water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let sit until soft, a few hours. Once soft, remove the figs from the water and place in a bowl. Save the water and add the sugar. Bring to a boil and let reduce slightly. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Chop the figs finely, being careful not to pulverize them.

To the boxed cake mix, stir in 1 ¼ cup of the sugared fig water, the oil and eggs. Set aside the remainder of the fig water. Add the cinnamon and nutmeg. Mix well using a mixer on high speed for 2 minutes. Stir in the walnuts, chopped figs, raisins, orange zest and the marmalade.

Line a large (4 quart) metal bowl with foil. Use enough foil so that you have a big collar around the edge of the bowl. Spray the foil with nonstick spray. Pour the batter into the bowl and place in an oven that has been preheated to 350 degrees. Bake for 30 minutes and then fold the foil collar over the top. Continue baking for about 1 ½ hours more, or until a wood skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool overnight.

To serve, take the reserved fig water and add ½ cup of brandy or rum. Heat, and if you wish, (carefully!) ignite the sauce and pour over the pudding. Serve in wedges with whipped cream.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Books For The Road - The Guest Book by Marybeth Whalen

Lately I've been trying to find authors new to me. While I know Marybeth Whalen by name and association with some of the writers groups I belong to, I don't recall having read any of her books before. If The Guest Book is a good sample of her writing, I will have to devour a few more.

The story is intriguing. Macy Dillon returns to her family's favorite beach house with her mother and brother. It evokes pleasant memories but also feelings of loss as this had been her father's favorite place to bring the family and he has been gone now for ten years. In her youth, Macy had drawn pictures in a guest book at the vacation house and her pictures had been replied to with other pictures drawn by a boy her own age. After a tumultuous relationship with the father of her daughter, Macy wonders if returning to the beach house will answer her question of who the boy, now a man, was who drew the pictures in the guest book and will there still be a connection between them?

As I read it, I kept thinking of the Nicholas Sparks books I've read and loved. While this is a romance, it's not a formula romance and there is a wonderful sense of mystery to it. Whalen's characters are believable and invite you into the story. It's a great book for the road or just a good mind escape from the winter cold.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Caribbean Christmas - St. Lucia

The majority of folks on St. Lucia whose historical roots are French and British are Roman Catholic and celebrate Christmas in a big way. There is midnight mass, singing of carols, great parties and of course, lots of food.

One of the more unusual practices is called "bursting the bamboo." From November 30 and continuing until Christmas, you can hear the sound of exploding bamboo during the night. Men use kerosene, rags, and sticks as fuses to make cannons out of large pieces of hollowed out bamboo. Apparently this activity is not confine to just men as I found a posted video of boys bursting the bamboo on the playground. It never does go off in the video but can you imagine this activity on a playground near you?

Monday, December 17, 2012

10 Gift Ideas for the Traveler

Know someone who loves to travel? Looking for a good gift? Here are some great ideas:

  1. A multiplug adaptor to use in several different countries. One plug serves all works best. I've found that we tend to lose the ones that come with several different plugs.
  2. Know a cruiser? Find out when their next cruise is and on what ship and you can give an onboard credit for them to use on an excursion, in specialty dining, gift shop, etc.
  3. Find a novel or a great travel story that takes place in a country where they've visited or plan to visit.
  4. Noise canceling headphones. These are now coming in smaller sizes so they aren't as bulky to carry or wear.
  5. A small travel umbrella. Pick the lightest one in weight. You don't want to add too much weight to a suitcase.
  6. A small flashlight. We were caught in the dark one night at a resort when power went out and the only light we had was the computer screen. I now try to remember a flashlight on our trips.
  7. For the traveler who needs to take meds but doesn't want to carry the medicine chest with him, get a couple of pill organizers. It also helps them remember to take them when the brain goes on vacation too.
  8. Good baggage tags. Some of the online photo sites make them with pictures. Grandparents can easily ID their luggage with those smiling faces.
  9. A 3-1-1 bag. This is a quart size ziploc bag. Buy several sample sized toiletries that are 3 ounces or less like shampoos, conditioners, toothpaste, deodorant, etc. and put them in the bag for your traveler's convenience in getting through TSA.
  10. And last but not least, the one we have over and over again used and been thankful to have--a luggage scale. It's a little hand held scale that hooks to the handle of your suitcase. You lift it and in about three seconds or so it beeps telling you exactly how much your luggage weighs. It saves those embarrassing moments at the check-in area where you need to open suitcases and redistribute the weight because one suitcase is too heavy.
Happy shopping! Joyous giving!

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Photobook for the Traveler

Know a traveler that just can't seem to get their pictures organized? Here's a suggestion for a gift.

For Christmas one year we gave a really fun gift to my mother-in-law. Yes, this is the same lady who makes angels in the snow (see the story in A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts). She was a member of the Robbins' Antarctic Adventure in 2006 which was undoubtly one of the best trips we have ever taken. I don't know that she ever got her pictures organized into anything other than the envelopes they came in from the drugstore developer. So I set about making her a photobook.

There are several websites to choose from for making photobooks. The one I started out with was Shutterfly.com. They have an easy online program which allows you to follow one of their templates or get creative and design your own pages. They supply all the backgrounds to choose from and the page layouts and fonts and colors, etc. All you do is upload your digital photos and click and drag them to the pages. Or you can just let the program fill them in for you. The books come out looking very professional. Prices are not bad. Most of the books I've made have ranged between $15.99 and $30.00. They run specials every so often.

Since I started, I've also found Lulu.com with a similar program. I have made serveral books for grandkids when they visit or we visit them. A couple of years ago, I made one for the big brother and sister when the newest arrival came. Lulu had some very colorful backgrounds suited for a kid's book. I put together the pictures of things we'd done while Mommy took care of the new baby and added a storyline so that it read like a simple children's book. Prices here were similar to the other sites I found.

If you don't mind downloading and installing a program from the net, Picaboo.com has a terrific design program that is easy to follow and allows for lots of creativity. You can even put a picture as a background on a page. It's very flexible in what it allows you to change on the page layouts. I had a terrific time putting together a nice book of some of my travel stories with my own pictures.

My mother-in-law was delighted with her photobook of Antarctica and has it displayed on her coffee table. Think of all the ways you could make someone smile with their very own travel book.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Guest Susan Muira Shares Key West, Florida

So happy to welcome Susan Muira again to guest post on my blog. Susan has a great blog called Taste The World where she shares places and recipes as well as writing news. She is a contributor to Falling In Love With You, a collection of real-life love stories from around the globe.

Just in time for the snow birds to travel south and others to wonder where to escape to for a few warm days, Susan shares a bit of Key West, FL, with us.

Chillin’ in the Keys

Sun and sand, aquamarine water, sea turtles, watercolor sunsets and food to die for. The Florida Keys has it all…and so much more. I returned to Marathon this past July for a week-long family vacation, and left wishing we had at least another week to do more of our wish-list activities. Such a place! The kind where sunshine dances on the water, colorful creatures glide below, and the palms gently swish in the island breeze.

In Key Largo, we snorkeled in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, an amazing national marine sanctuary and North America’s only coral barrier reef. It is famous for a 4,000 pound bronze sculpture, The Christ of the Abyss, but we were not allowed to see it due to rough waters that could potentially slam a snorkeler into the sculpture. We did, however, see a few barracudas and a variety of colorful fish and coral.
Down the block from our resort in Marathon was the Turtle Hospital, a must-see because we missed it the last time around, a faux pas our daughter has never forgiven or forgotten. We learned some fascinating facts about sea turtles, then met the hospital’s residents. Many were recovering from injuries sustained by boats, sharks, or swallowing fishing lines or plastic six-pack rings. Some will eventually be set free, while others will make the hospital’s waters their permanent home.

Key West is always a fun destination, and we went twice. The first day we visited the aquarium, built in the early 1930s. Noticing an ocean theme here? It’s a beautiful little aquarium that only takes about 45 minutes to peruse. Open tanks with stingrays, sharks, starfish and horseshoe crabs seemed to be the big draw for the younger crowd. There’s a variety of stores in Key West, but most of them have touristy prices, so we didn’t buy anything. Great restaurants, though. One of our favorites was Amigo’s Tortilla Bar – Home of the Square Taco! Really fresh ingredients; excellent Mexican cuisine. Also loved Red Fish Blue Fish. Fresh, fantastic seafood. Imagine a shrimp and bacon club, loaded with huge Gulf shrimp. Or a shrimp po boy jam-packed with, you guessed it, huge Gulf shrimp.

Our two favorite beaches were Sombrero in Marathon and Smathers in Key West. At Smathers, you can pay approximately $70 for a full day of using the equipment, which includes a catamaran (with a lesson), paddle boards, inner tubes, kayaks and more. It also includes a parasail ride. The best beach in Key West is supposed to be Zachary Taylor State Park, but we never seem to get there.

If you haven’t been to the Keys, check them out. It’s a great spot for all ages, and definitely worth exploring!

 Shrimp and Crabmeat Chowder

1 stick butter
3/4 cup sliced carrots
3/4 cup sliced celery
3/4 cup chopped green onion
3/4 cup chopped sweet green bell pepper
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
3 ears roasted corn
(roast corn on grill then cut kernels off cob)
1/2 cup flour
3 cups half-and-half
2 cups whole milk
1 can chicken broth
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 pound cooked and peeled Florida shrimp
1 pound special or lump crabmeat
6 tablespoons sherry
Salt, pepper, Tabasco and cayenne pepper
to taste

Melt butter in large soup pot. Add all vegetables and sauté until tender. Add flour and blend well. Add half-and-half, milk, chicken broth and then the rest of the ingredients. Slowly simmer until creamy.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Busy Places Those North Poles!

Yes, Virginia, there is more than one North Pole. In the United States there are actually four places with the name North Pole.

The most unlikely place is North Pole City, Oklahoma, which is actually located within the Oklahoma City area. After researching, I think it is mainly an area that thrives on Christmas revenues during the season.

The next two are a little more believable as North Poles since they are located a bit farther north and  might even generate the snow to make them more believable. In Idaho, just a little north of Coeur D'Alene. There is a Christmas cruise you can take on the lake there to visit the North Pole. I guess it must be something like the Polar Express but on the water.

North Pole, New York, is located near Lake Placid. Again, an area that is prone to snow. The Olympics were held near there. Its claim to fame as far as I can tell is a historic amusement park called Santa's Workshop. I found mixed reviews on it.

But the town I like best is nearest the real North Pole. It's North Pole, Alaska. Now we're talking snow. The Christmas season is busiest for the post office there that puts its postal stamp on letters sent to them for that purpose. There's an opportunity to get a letter from Santa sent to you from the Santa Claus House. The history of North Pole, Alaska, is recounted at the North Pole website and is quite interesting.

I'm sure there are several more North Poles tucked away that I haven't found yet and some that appear and disappear as the Christmas season grows and wanes each year. But that's the magic of the season and the legend of Santa.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Books For The Road - In A Pickle, and more

Here it is. Friday the 14th with only a little over a week for Christmas shopping. Thankfully mine is done. I'm not bragging just needed to have it done early so we can travel. I thought you might need an idea or two or three so I'm listing my own books as ideas for last minute gifts. There's still plenty of time to get them delivered from your favorite online bookstore.

Of course top of the list is In A Pickle especially if you want to give some humor mixed with tender moments and a little suspense. Here's the back cover blurb:

Annie Pickels, a 65 year old widowed pickle entrepreneur is in real trouble. One of her city farmers is growing marijuana on his rented plot of land. Annie, thinking it is marjoram, uses it as a secret ingredient in her pickles.

Insisting Tommy is a nice young man, Annie discovers his beloved Mary Jane is not the name of his girlfriend after Annie is arrested for cultivation and sale of marijuana. But Annie knows God always takes care of her. On a cruise aboard the Queen Mary 2, Annie meets the man who might solve her impending legal dilemma, Arnie.

Elma, Annie’s best friend, knows that Arnie is just what Annie needs in her life. But is he?

Annie’s niece thinks Arnie is out to fleece her aunt. Is she right? Or is Arnie the one who can get Annie out of the pickle she’s in?

And here is what some are saying about In A Pickle:

"Confession, forgiveness, subtle wit, love, mystery, and humor are mixed together in this delightfully tasty read."~Brenda Nixon

"Annie Pickels reminds me SO much of my own grandmother, for better or worse... Which is to say that, while overall Annie Pickels is very lovable, there were parts where her thoughts or actions were endearingly annoying, in the way our own families can sometimes be. This book left me longing for my own family... and lots of pickles!"~Toni Stutler

" I left my copy on the table at work and the other girls were reading it behind my back till they just had to tell me how much they were enjoying it."~Adele Yuncker

"If you are looking for a simple, feel-good story that you can pick up at anytime, this is the book for you!"~Hillary Cerny

Is there someone on your gift list who enjoys cozy mysteries? They might enjoy the first book in my Casey Stengel Series, Murder Among The Orchids. Here's the back cover blurb:

Kathleen Catherine O’Shaughnessy Stengel, or Casey as she is called, is a Household Manager not a housekeeper as many would label her. Her only resemblance to baseball’s Casey Stengel is her love of the game. One morning, she discovers her employer, Mr. Popelmayer, sprawled across the potting bench in his greenhouse full of orchids. He is obviously dead. Casey calls 911 and quickly finds herself involved in a homicide investigation.

What killed Mr. Popelmayer, her employer, is bizarre. South American Dart Frog poison. But who gave it to him in his coffee?

Even more bizarre is the appearance of his ex-wife at the reading of the will. She was supposed to be dead. Along with her is a grown son, Jake, whom she claims is another “object of his natural bounty” and she wants him to receive his inheritance.

The list of suspects grows as Casey and her new detective friend, Max Dugan, struggle to put the clues together. Is the murderer Priscilla, Mr. Pop’s second wife who seems to be quite familiar with the family lawyer? Or his daughter, Cattelya whose boyfriend is of questionable character? Or perhaps Garo, the son with the gambling addiction?

Casey and Max discover the real value of Mr. Popelmayer’s bounty was in the orchids he so dearly loved. One of them was cause for murder.

Here's what readers say:
"I really enjoyed "Murder Among the Orchids" and look forward to more by Karen Robbins. It was a read from start to finish!"~Sheila Burrows

"I enjoyed this book! The characters were well defined and the story line was easy to follow. My only complaint is that I didn't want it to end."~Diane Sheffer

And finally, for those who enjoy beautifully illustrated pages of heartwarming stories, recipes and holiday tips,  consider A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts, the book I coauthored with five writing friends. Those who read it commented that it was delightful, creative, heartwarming, unique. It is designed as a scrapbook and would be a wonderful addition to a coffee table and/or a bookshelf.

Happy Shopping!!

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Adventures in Santorini - Day Four

Sadly it was our last day on Santorini. We were scheduled to fly back to Athens at 7:30 p.m. There was still a day to look at a few places we hadn't seen yet but a lot depended upon whether we could leave our luggage at the B&B. We didn't want to leave luggage in the car that could be seen. Our host was so gracious. She suggested that since they weren't expecting anyone until late that night, we could stay until 6 in our room.

We packed our things, leaving some clean clothes out to change into before the flight home and started out to explore the part of the flat side of the island that we hadn't seen yet. The road we took followed the eastern shoreline. We passed through one area that appeared to be somewhat industrial. Then a section where it looked like the wind had carved a modern sculpture out of the sandstone.

As we neared the airport, we found another black sand beach only this time it truly was sand. Obviously this was also the windward side of the island. The surf pounded against a small breaker of boulders that protected the beach area. While the sand was nice, the beach area was not nearly as nice as the one by Kamari we had seen the day before. But if you were looking for a place with fewer people, this would be it.

The main sight for our day's outing was the wine museum. I expected us to spend a couple of minutes looking at a few old wine presses and then move on. I was pleasantly surprised. The museum was built below ground level and took you through several long hallways punctuated with vignettes of historical wine making processes. Many of them even had animated models in them. (One animatronic female was going through the motions of kneading bread.) The price of admission included an audio guide in several languages and was narrated quite well--just enough to tell you what you needed to know and not so much that you were tired of standing to listen.

The museum traced the history of wine making on Santorini from the viewpoint of the Koutsoyianopoulos brothers who founded the winery. They were in a sailboat trying to make it to another island to sell their oil when a storm blew up and they put into the safe harbor at Santorini.

At first they used Santorini only as a market place for their olive oil that they produced on mainland Greece but eventually due to the "clever sharpness of their minds" they started the first winery on Santorini in 1880. Between the two brothers, they had twelve children, two of whom they say became scientists which probably led to some of the advancements made in the wine making there.

One of the old wine presses in a display showed someone helping to crush the grapes with his feet and sure enough, there next to the display was a picture of how they did it back then.

The tour answered one of the questions we had about the vineyards we had seen on the island. Most of them did not have posts and wire for the vines to be tied up on. As we read and looked at the displays we discovered that the winds that whip across Santorini at times are not good for the grapes and so instead of tying them up, they wind the vines in a circle, almost making a basket and the grapes are protected in the center. It cuts down on the amount of grapes produced as opposed to the other method but otherwise they would not have good grapes if any for their wines.

We saw the progression of storing the wines in wine skins and then to bottles. Before the donkeys were carrying people around, they were carrying wine skins.

 After WWII, they began bottling their wine but they did it manually as there was no electricity on the island until 1967. 1967? I did a double take and sure enough a little farther on was a display of old electrical boxes from when electricity was first introduced to Santorini and the date was 1967.

We spent much more time there than we expected. It was all done very well and was quite interesting. Back in the gift shop and main tasting area that had lots of tables to accommodate tours, we sat at the bar to enjoy a taste of the wines made there. Our 7 Euro ticket to the museum included a taste of four different wines: a white, a red, and two dessert wines one of which was extremely sweet.

As I looked over some of the fancy bottles they now have I thought to myself that they had certainly come a long way from those old wine skins.

By the time we were done, it was time for lunch and we decided to return to Kamari and eat at one of the restaurants along the beach. We picked one arbitrarily--they all looked good. On the menu was moussaka, another Greek traditional dish and something we'd never had. Now I knew it had eggplant in it and neither of us is fond of it but we were both game to try the dish. We ordered one to split in case we didn't like it and Greek salads on the side.

We should have ordered two. It was heavenly. I can't begin to tell you exactly what it tasted like. There was some mild cheese, a little eggplant, a sauce with meat (kind of like a Bolognese sauce) and it was baked like lasagna in a small casserole. Later, before leaving for the airport, we ordered moussaka again at a restaurant near our B&B but it wasn't quite as good. It was a little dry and didn't have the beautiful flavor of the earlier one.

AT 5:30 we checked out, thanked our hostess, Maria, again for taking such good care of us and with a small tear in my eye, we left for the airport. We would spend the night at the Athens airport hotel and fly home in the afternoon. It had been a wonderful three weeks exploring Spain, the Black Sea, and the paradise they call Santorini.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Adventures in Santorini - Day Three

With a little fear and trepidation, I looked at the mountain ahead of us as we drove from Imerovigli to our planned outing for the day. Profitis Ilias (Prophet Elijah) is the highest point on the island boasting a view from almost 1600 feet above sea level. The mountain gets its name from the monastery that was built there in 1712. We've driven up mountains in several countries and more than once to the top of Haleakala on Maui. How bad could this one be?

I read somewhere on a travel site that if you were prone to motion sickness and wanted to make this drive, you might want to take something before you start out. Good advice. The switchbacks were some of the best I've seen but thankfully the road leading up was good and we didn't pass any huge tourist buses.

We arrived at what looked like a parking area and nuzzled into a spot. The view was spectacular and we weren't even all the way to the top yet. Not knowing if it were possible to drive to the monastery (it was) we walked up the rest of the way. The walk was kind of fun since we were enjoying the warm sun and the cool breeze from the ocean. In the middle of summer though I don't think it would have been as enjoyable.

The courtyard to the church at the monastery was open as was the church and we slipped in through a doorway in the wall that surrounded it. The monastery actually looks like a fortress of sorts but I think if you build something that high up in the middle of an island that lies in the middle of the sea, you want to buffer the wind.

There were only a handful of people wandering around and the courtyard was so peaceful, you wanted to linger. We enjoyed the views. Now more familiar with the island, we could pick out points of interest where we'd already been.

Inside the small church, the gold accented icons and furnishings gleamed in the morning sunshine that peeked in through small windows. At one time the monastery apparently owned its own ship and conducted private business for the monastery. Later it became a school where the Greek language and literature were taught. Today it houses a collection of artifacts from the Greek Orthodox religion.

On our way back to the car, we were stopped by a couple on a four-wheeled ATV. They asked if we spoke English. Bob's answer: No. American. They got it. The Aussies always do. We had a great conversation with them about what we'd seen and tried to help them navigate their map. Bob tried to get them to convince me that the ATV was the way to see the island but somehow looking at the wife on the back I wasn't convinced--not at my age anyway.

At the base of the mountain, we followed the signs for Kamari, the town where there was a large black beach. Kamari was definitely a beach town. The road that ran the length of the beach had lots of hotels and restaurants on one side and open air cafes and smaller restaurants on the beach side. It was too early to eat lunch but it was too inviting to pass up a chance to sit and enjoy the fresh air. We found a cafe with cushy chairs and ordered two cappuccinos.

The black beach is a little rough to lay on since it is mostly pebbled but there are lounge chairs and umbrellas for as far as the eye could see available for a rate of 5 Euros for the day. You pick your spot and go to the hotel or restaurant that hosts the spot and pay for the use of it. If I were going to spend a day at the beach in Santorini, this would be the place. There were showers along the beach and here and there a booth to change clothes in. And lots of places to enjoy snacks and a meal.

Apparently not having his fill of switchbacks and cliff side roads, Bob decided we needed to see the other port on Santorini. It's a newer one and has access by road making it a little easier to get tourists on excursions into a bus and on their way. If you have an excursion by coach, this is where your tender will bring you. Your ride up will be thrilling. This is also the port where the large ferries come in from the mainland and probably other islands. It's a pretty fast ferry but it still takes about five hours from Athens to Santorini. We had considered taking it but understood that sometimes due to weather the runs can be canceled and we didn't want to be delayed.

The temperature was climbing and we had already decided that we were going to spend the afternoon just being lazy. We drove back to Imerovigli and our B&B, Casa Bianci and parked. Just around the corner from the little school where we parked, we had seen a supermarket. At home it would be considered a convenient store but we found some great cheese, a fresh loaf of bread, and a sweet delicious apple to munch on for our lunch. It was our concession to our diets. Are you buying that?

The afternoon was spent reading and downloading another book from the library at home. (Love my Nook).  We took a short walk--after all, exercise and diet go hand in hand. We were being so good. Then we freshened up, put on long pants and grabbed a sweater for our evening in Fira. I know that sounds crazy but once the sun went down, we found the evenings cooled off considerably.

In Fira, we parked in the public lot and walked past the cathedral where people were already gathering for the sevenish sunset. We wanted to find the restaurant that had been top-rated on TripAdvisor.com. Unfortunately it was not along the cliff side where you had a view so we doubled back  to search out a spot for the sunset.

We were near the funicular that transports people up and down the cliff side to the old port. On a previous cruise stop, we had taken it to the top. It was the alternative to riding a donkey up a stepped trail with lots of those wonderful switchbacks. I remember the ride in the funicular well because the woman sitting next to me was so scared that she shook violently all the way to the top. Can't imagine how she would have survived a donkey ride.

There was a spot we claimed in one of the cafes where we ordered a couple of tropical drinks and again watched a beautiful explosion of color as the sun dipped below the clouds on the horizon. Then it was off to the restaurant. What we didn't know or expect was that it was also the end of the day for the working donkeys. As we rounded a corner, they were all waiting in a small courtyard to be led home. Suddenly, we found ourselves pinned against a wall as the donkeys began following their owner. Closer and closer they came to us. I wanted to stare one in the face and say, "Hey, look. I didn't ride your back today. Don't take it out on me."

They eventually passed and we crossed the street to our restaurant unscathed and hopefully not smelling like donkey. The restaurant was on the second floor and looked out over the corner of two narrow streets. We ordered a Greek dip called tzatziki that came with pita bread. It was a cucumber and yogurt mixture. Delicious. I was feeling a bit adventurous. Actually, we had tried to order one thing each meal which was truly Greek and I knew that sardines were a specialty of the area so when I saw them on the menu, I decided to try it out.

The sardines were grilled in olive oil and were a bit crunchy mostly because of the little bones in them. There wasn't a whole lot of flavor but they weren't bad--just not as good as most of the other things I'd ordered in the past few days. I smothered them with lemon and ate them all.

While we were eating, another bunch of donkeys were making their way home. They looked weary. What a life.

After dinner we strolled through some of the narrow pedestrian streets where shopkeepers were still open. I wondered if that was because there were still cruise passengers out and about or if Fira just stayed open late because there were so many people milling about.

This would be our last evening in Santorini. I wasn't sure I was ready to leave yet.

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