Piso Livadi

Piso Livadi, you have my heart.

Back in the nineties my brother and I visited the Greek Island of Paros when we were in college. We only spent a few days there, but it was enough time to start a love affair with the island.

One of the best days was spent exploring the island by car. We drove wherever we felt like, taking little unmarked roads not knowing where they would lead. Sure enough, they all led to paradise, usually in the form of some of the most beautiful, undisturbed beaches in the Aegean Sea.

One particular road led us to the little fishing village of Piso Livadi and a little piece of my heart was left behind, waiting for me to return one day.

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On a recent family trip to Paros I finally had the opportunity to retrieve it. Although I’ve made trips to Paros since that first visit in the nineties, this trip was my husband’s first. I insisted that we make the trek to the little fishing village that has occupied a special corner of my memory for over twenty years. Despite constant griping from the rest of the group, I put my foot down and would not relent. My brother didn’t remember it and thought there were better things to do, yet he humored me. My father, on the other hand, grumbled loudly that we were wasting our time.

We found the turnout for the little fishing village on the eastern side of the island and, despite the gripes, took the little road. We drove down the hilly road through a patch of trees and, as we approached the waterfront, the path narrowed to a single lane. As my excitement grew, so did my apprehension. What if my memory was deceiving me? What if we really were wasting our time and the fantastic village I remembered was actually just a rundown smattering of houses on a dirty beach?

I pushed the negativity aside and brushed off the continuous barrage of complaints. “There is nothing here!” “Why are we wasting our time?”

As the trees gave way to a few traditionally white-washed island homes, the complaints abruptly stopped. The narrow lane suddenly opened up into a bustling little fishing village with a calm pristine lagoon and a beautiful stretch of sandy beach. The waterfront was lined with shops, restaurants, bars and coffee shops, yet the vibe was laid-back and not in the least touristy.

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We had found the Piso Livadi of my memory, almost completely unchanged from our last visit over twenty years ago. The complaints quickly turned into praise for the beautiful spot I had found for the family to stop and enjoy an afternoon meal. We quickly parked the car and walked along the waterfront until we picked a lovely little restaurant where we feasted on one of the best meals of our trip. We enjoyed steamed mussels, grilled pork belly, and a family favorite – grilled octopus.

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While some of the family felt the need to round out their meal with a traditional Greek coffee in a local cafeneion, I grabbed my husband for a dip in the lagoon. As the gentle waves lulled us, we soaked in the refreshing waters and late afternoon Greek sun.

Eventually I had to face the reality that we couldn’t stay there forever, although to this day I have my doubts. Rather than collecting the piece of my heart that had been awaiting my return for over twenty years, I decided to leave it there for the next time. After all, I will return again. There isn’t a doubt in my mind. How can I possibly not?

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The Little Hotel on The Rocks

 

IMG_4843When you first walk off the ferry on the Greek Island of Paros the sights and sounds can be overwhelming. The excitement of a vacation in the Cycladic Islands is suddenly overshadowed by hordes of locals offering rooms for rent or looking for loved ones, not to mention throngs of tourists wandering around aimlessly trying to get their bearings.

If you are a first timer, it is easy to succumb to one of the many offers of cheap rooms and, if you’re lucky, you may end up in satisfactory accommodations, but once you’ve visited the island a few times you know exactly where you want to wind up once the commotion of a ferry landing dies down and you are ready to start adjusting your body to the circadian rythms of the island.

Head to the right once you disembark and follow the waterfront through the port town of Parikia until you reach an island landmark, the giant windmill on a rocky bluff overlooking the town. The windmill, tattered and worn from years of sea spray and trademark Cycladic winds, is something of a marker for the Pandrossos Hotel, which is nestled just behind it.

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Upon arrival, stop to enjoy the view and let the island breeze wash away the stresses of travel so your vacation can finally begin. From the outdoor bar/sitting area situated in front of the hotel, the entire town of Parikia can be seen. By day the Aegean Sea stretches out endlessly in front of you and the Portes, the famous doors to the island (two giant rocks jutting out of the water that mark the entrance to the port as well as a tragic shipwreck) can be clearly seen. At night the sparkling lights of the bustling little port play out in front of you while the sound of waves crashing against the rocks below you lull you into a hypnosis that is unique to the Greek Islands.

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Cornelius and his wife Mary have been running this little family-owned inn for years. They run day to day operations personally and treat each guest like family. Whether it be arranging for a rental car or recommending the best place for fresh seafood on the island, they help with all the particulars. Their attention to detail makes everyone feel right at home – that’s why customers return year after year. My family has been visiting Pandrossos for more than a decade now and we have no intention of stopping.

The charming hotel offers all the usuals including an in-room fridge, free Wi-Fi, and a refreshing pool to refresh you after a long day in the Greek sun, but it also nurtures your soul. Sitting on your personal balcony or in the common outdoor bar area, your cares are washed away and your worries are quickly assuaged. At Pandrossos, as is generally the case on the Greek Islands, time seems to slow down and the problems of the outside world seem to melt away.

 

Pandrossos is not only romantic and charming, but convenient as well. From the hotel you can easily access the whole island – it is walking distance from the Parikia shopping district and just minutes from the main road. The fact that Paros is a small island doesn’t hurt, either – you can travel all the way around the island in just a few hours and have plenty of time to stop and enjoy yourself along the way. One of my favorite ways to explore Paros is by driving along the coast road and stopping at random beaches, hoping to find the best one on the island. In fact, I highly recommend this method when visiting any Greek Island.

No matter how you spend your day on the island, make sure you are back in time for the sunset. In Greece the sunsets are supremely important – and just one sunset seen from the porch of Pandrossos will make you a believer. Relaxing with a drink in hand and loved ones all around you while the sun makes its nightly descent into the depths of the sea is the epitome of relaxation – Greek Island style.

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Sadly, all good things must come to an end, including those unforgettable Greek Island vacations. Each time I prepare to leave Pandrossos I find myself planning my next visit and taking note of my hotel room number so I can ask for it next time (in case your wondering the best room in the house is room 213!), and instead of ‘goodbye,’ it’s more like ‘see you soon!’

The Importance of Sunset

One never knows what each new day will bring but one thing can always be certain. Before the night comes and a new day prepares to dawn, there will be a sunset.

By day, the sun is worshipped. It gives us light, warmth, and nourishes our bodies and souls as well as the planet we live on. It is a symbol of the constant renewal of life as it arrives with the dawn of each new day. At the end of each cycle this enormous fiery orb must continue on its perpetual route into the horizon, only to be reborn the next day. This event, sunset, is a truly magical time of the day. It is an event that has captured the heart of an entire country – the Mediterranean haven of Greece.

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The people of Greece put a lot of effort into finding the absolute best places to view the sunset, and most have a ‘favorite spot’. There are locations that are famous for the amazing sunset views they offer. Seaside eateries covet their prime coastal real estate for guests to have a drink while they enjoy the show. Websites are dedicated to tracking the precise times of each sunset and the internet is teeming with lists of great places to view the sunset in Greece. As the sun begins its daily descent into the horizon, the coastline is dotted with couples snuggling up to enjoy the romance of the pending performance.

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Sunset is the time of day when Greeks begin to unwind from their hectic routines and renew their spirit. As daily schedules begin to wind down, preparations begin. Couples, friends, families and tourists alike begin to scope out their ideal place to relax and decompress. People arrive at their chosen locations early so they can lay claim to the best seats with unobstructed views. Drinks are ordered and meze (appetizers) are prepared so that they can be shared with friends and loved ones while mother nature does her thing.

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As the bright yellow star begins its descent from the sky, the blue hues of daylight deepen into shades of crimson, purple and orange. For those lucky enough to view this stellar performance over the sea, they are treated to shimmering beams of fire that sparkle like jewels on the water. Like a giant egg yolk melting in a frying pan, the fiery globe continues its gradual descent into the dark abyss of the ocean until it is finally swallowed by the horizon.

Sunset is my favorite time of day. It evokes so many emotions in me, but mostly something I  call a happy sadness. It is a very personal emotion for me, something I find hard to explain to others. As the sun goes down, signifying the end of the day, I am overcome by the feeling that time is running out, which it is for all of us in a way as we are only given a precious short time on this Earth to make the most of.  However, it also brings with it hope and promise and energizes me to look forward to all the things I have yet to experience in this world. Plans can be made for the next day, which brings a world of promise with it, as well as the coming night, which can be full of fun and surprises – a whole new way to enjoy the time that I have with friends, with family, or with my solitude if I so choose.

Do I have a ‘favorite spot’ to view the Greek sunset? If I were pressed to answer this question, my answer would be vague. If I had my way, I would spend every sunset on a beach watching the sun melt into the ocean while the sound of waves lazily crashing against the shore soothes my soul; but in truth, anyplace where this precious time of day can be spent with friends and family is the best place to be.

 

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Aliens in Wyoming?

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During our trip to South Dakota my husband and I realized we were within a short drive from several other states. With a goal of visiting all of them together, we heard opportunity knocking and hit the road in our little rental car.

We only had a few days, which meant we wouldn’t be able to visit too many states on this trip. Wyoming was the clear winner since the drive would take us to through Sturgis (thankfully not during the famous motorcycle rally when the roads would have been completely packed!) and across the beautiful rolling hills of Northeastern Wyoming.

A quick drive through Sundance, home of the Sundance Kid, led us to the awe-inspiring Matu Tilipa, more commonly known as Devil’s Tower. The tower is a unique geological formation located smack dab in The Middle of Nowhere, Wyoming. Created from molten lava millions of years ago, the tower juts straight up out of the plains and has uniform columns running the lengths of its sides.

According to Indian legend, seven Indian girls were playing on a rock one day when they were attacked by a bear. Fearing for their lives, they prayed to the rock to help them and it responded by growing straight up out of the ground, carrying the girls to safety from their attacker. The bear, who was unable to climb the sheer sides of the tower, was unable to eat the girls but left his claw-marks embedded in the rock all around the tower. The girls were saved from the bear but were stranded on the top of the tower, eventually becoming the Pleides, or seven sisters, constellation in the night sky.

The tower is now a great place for night-time camping and star viewing. Located in the virtually empty Wyoming countryside, it is a great location to view the night starts thanks to the lack of light pollution. The nearby town of Huelett has an airport which works hard to respect the tower by having flights take off in the opposite direction from the monument.

The tower became America’s first national monument in 1906, thanks to then-president Theodore Roosevelt. He recognized the true glory of this site and realized it needed to be protected.

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The tower has another legend as well, and it also includes the night sky. Lore has it that Devil’s Tower is a local landing spot for UFO’s, which is, if I must be honest, the real reason we made the trip. My husband, something of a UFO fanatic, wanted to see this one for himself (our next trip will probably be to the black mailbox outside of area 51). Made famous by the movie ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind,’ UFO enthusiasts travel from all over to visit the site. In September nearby Huelett hosts the Devils Tower UFO Rendezvous Festival and Convention, complete with a parade and costume contest in homage to the tower and its alien affiliation.

Check another state off our list, thank you! We enjoyed the brief, yet awe-inspiring trip to Wyoming. I know there is much more to see in this beautiful state but we are one step closer to completing our 50-state bucket list. (And my husband enjoyed a brief commune with his alien buddies!)

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Winding Down in South Dakota

My husband and I have a combined bucket list goal of visiting each of the 50 states together. This goal equates to a whole lot of traveling. We both hold down demanding full time jobs (me as a social worker and him as an alarm/fire system technician) so an all-out road trip across the country, albeit our dream come true, is completely unrealistic until we retire. Instead we settle for little excursions here and there, as often as possible.

When I gave Chad first choice for our recent vacation, Mt. Rushmore was his priority, so expedia became my best friend while I searched vacation deals. Pretty soon we had 2 plane tickets, a rental car and four nights in Rapid City for less than one economy ticket to Europe. Score!

Coming from Los Angeles, Rapid City was a bit of a shock to the system. It is the 2nd largest city in South Dakota but manages to maintain an endearing small-town feel. The laid-back vibe was admittedly a shock to our Angelino systems but we began winding down from our busy lives as soon as we pulled out of the airport and realized we were in the American heartland. Windows down, we breathed in the clean country air and enjoyed the sights of deer grazing lazily on the hillsides.

We used our smartphones for mapping routes and were confused by the heavy traffic indicators. Where our phones indicated congested areas, we found just a few cars. In Los Angeles, a heavily congested indicator means you might want to bring a book! Finding restaurants open past 10pm was a bit of a challenge but, with a bit of effort, we learned our way around quickly. I was ecstatic to find an endless supply of cheese curds at practically every eatery. A child-hood favorite of mine ( growing up,we often visited family in Wisconsin), they are practically unheard of in California!

Rapid City may be located in western South Dakota, but the best sites in the state are all within driving distance. Mt. Rushmore, our draw to the state, is just a mere 30 minute drive from town. So close, in fact, that it’s worth doing the trip twice – once to see it during the day and enjoy a beautiful nature hike along the trail, and again at night to see the founding fathers lit up in all their glory! The monument is lit nightly from 8:30 to 11:00 during peak season and is accompanied by a presentation about its history and the presidents it features. Definitely not to be missed!

Located in the heart of the Black Hills National Forest, Mt. Rushmore is surrounding by a seemingly endless amount of attractions. From the Crazy Horse Monument ( a Mt. Rushmore-like sculpture that has been in the works since the 1960’s) to Custer National Park with its picturesque scenery and impressive array of resident wildlife, you can wander the entire forest at your leisure. The roads are not only well-maintained but are sometimes tourist-attractions themselves. The Iron Mountain Road, connecting Custer State Park with Mt. Rushmore, is an 18 mile trek of winding roads with corkscrew turns and tunnels that frame the impressive presidential bust in the background.

From Rapid City, head off in the other direction into the Badlands National Park for a complete change of scenery. A far cry from the forested Black Hills and Custer, the badlands is an expanse of countryside filled with bizarre rock formations of all colors and sizes. Big horn sheep, antelope,bison and prairie dogs dot the landscape, adding to the amazing sights and sounds of the park. There is nothing in the world quite like the little screaming noises prairie dogs make when talking to each other!

Wall Drug is located just north of the Badlands and is a legitimate attraction in its own right. Impossible to miss, it’s located in town of Wall, with billboards advertising it a state away in each direction. Once a haven for weary travelers,Wall Drug is famous for offering free ice water. While it still offers this refreshing nourishment, it is now a tourist haven offering every nic nac imaginable and boasting a 6 foot rabbit, a miniature Mt. Rushmore, and an opportunity to pan for gold! We were a little overwhelmed at first but found ourselves going back for a second visit after a drive through the Badlands.

South Dakota is one of the most beautiful states in the country and as the home of Mt. Rushmore, it is a definite must-see for anyone interested in exploring America. Road-trip friendly, it has easily navigated and well-maintained roads and highways, as well as great sites and attractions along the way.

Stay tuned as my 50 state adventures continue!

 

 

 

Here We Go…

This is my first attempt at blogging, so please be kind!  As I grow as a blogger, I hope to bring my readers along for the ride.  For starters, I think a little background about why I am doing this is in order.  I have always dabbled in writing and traveling – one day I decided that blogging is the best way to bring my passions together.

 I grew up as what I call an ‘oil brat.’  My father was an engineer and did a lot of work on oil refineries.  His career took him to some pretty amazing places and he was often able to bring along his family in tow.  One of his foreign assignments took him to Saudi Arabia where we lived for many years; the company benefits were incredible, allowing us to travel extensively as a family several times a year.  By the time I was a teenager I had visited 18 different countries and the desire to travel had become something akin to a deep-seeded need that I have no desire to shake.

During my travels I have seen many wonderful and exciting things, as well as many sad and terrible things.  I have learned a lot about people and the world we live in; this has helped to shape the way I view myself and my place in this world.  Different languages, different foods, different customs and different ways of thinking – I feel that exposing oneself to these differences helps us grow as individuals.  When people can be open and tolerant to these differences, it allows the world to be a better place.

As an adult I may not get to travel as much as I used to, but I take every opportunity that comes along.  I am constantly planning future trips and working out ways to make them happen.  The way I see it, this world is a big place with a lot of things to see and do, and I’ve only got one lifetime to cram as much as possible into.  When people ask me why I travel, I always respond with a question of my own – “why not?”  So far, no one has given me an answer.

Welcome…

Welcome to my blog! I am a lifelong traveler who is not about to stop. Why should I? With a world as big as ours, there are just too many places to go and too many things to see. Join me while I share my experiences, both good and bad, as well as some helpful hints that I have picked up along the way.  Happy reading and happy traveling!