Naxos Adventures

Today we spent a great day exploring Naxos.

First, we ate breakfast at our rental (which is included in the stay). The wonderful property manager, Stefanos, serves the breakfast and does a great job making you feel relaxed and taken care of. He brought out a beautiful bread basket with pastries, fresh fruit, Greek yogurt with honey, muesli, and Quince marmalade, plus scrambled eggs. It was all wonderful and a great start to a long day.

Breakfast views
Laundry

After breakfast, we headed out to explore the island. Our first stop was Demetres Temple. I believe it was built in 560 bc (or around that) as a temple to a God for fertile land.

Next, we stopped at a handmade pottery/ ceramics shop. They had beautiful vases, flower pots, mugs etc. We bought a few things and watched the potter make a vase. Of course, James suggested that we order him a pottery wheel from Amazon when we get back. I’m sure the results will be about the same

After that, we stopped at a town called Chalki. We stopped at a distillery that makes an alcohol called Citron out of the leaves of a fruit plant.

3 different colors of Citron: green, clear, and yellow to designate the alcohol content.

We also stopped in a shop and sampled some Greek candies and honey.

After that, we headed to lunch at Poterou. It was a strange time (around 2-2:30). The place was empty with just an older Greek gentleman in there. He said that he could make us a Greek salad with some Tzatziki. Perfect. It hit the spot. James pretty much just ate a loaf of bread, but whatever. At the end, he brought out a complimentary dessert. It was a candied fruit (like a lemon rind) in a sweet syrup. I don’t know what it was, but we all loved it.

James with his dessert.

After lunch, we visited another town called Apiranthos. This is referred to as the marble town because all the walkways are made of marble stones.

Our next stop was Kouros. Here, there is an artifact statue. According to James, he was be excited to see this.

On our way back down the mountain, we saw a marble quarry. It’s hard to see in the picture, but I can’t imagine how many counter top slabs were cut out of this mountain.

Lastly, it was time for dinner. We ate at Georgis. It is a charming restaurant where husband and wife are the chef and waitor. It was delicious and we left totally stuffed. They even made James some fresh squeezed lemonade.

Top: complimentary fava puree, grilled bread, eggplant with red sauce and cheese.
Bottom: cheeses from Naxos

James eating the eggplant starter. I’m so proud of all the different foods he is trying.
Complimentary dessert: Greek orange pie (it was delicious). After a quick Google search, it’s made with yogurt, egg, phyllo, orange, and spices.

Back to the rental where James jumped in the pool for a little while then took a bath.

I think we are going to take it a little slower tomorrow and spend the first part of the day hanging at the beach.

Travel to Naxos

We spent the rest of the time in Santorini relaxing and enjoying the beautiful views. James and I did some souvenir shopping and Justin took some long walks to take pictures. Overall, we had a wonderful time and none if us were ready to leave. My favorite part was sitting on the upper deck in the morning drinking coffee and enjoying the incredible scenery. There was also some great people watching.

James loved the little loft that he slept in. It was his special nook.

The food has been incredible. Vine leaves, tzatziki, meatballs, octopus. We are eating it all.

On the last evening, Justin took out his tripod, and we attempted to take some family pictures of the three of us. We MAYBE got a couple good ones. We spent most of the time laughing.

We took a ferry from Santorini to Naxos. It was alot like hearding cattle to get everyone on the boat, but it was mostly organized chaos and an uneventful trip. It was about an hour and a half ride. James got something to eat, which he enjoyed.

Waiting for the boat
Enjoying his pizza sandwich on the ferry

Our car rental meet us at the Port, and we drive to the Villa Paradise where we are staying in Naxos. It is absolutely beautiful. Naxos is known for its beaches and there are plenty of them.

Stefanos, the property manager checked us in and showed us to our room. The only small issue was lugging my huge suitcase up the many steps. Stefanos (who is somewhere in the 50-60 year range) threw that suitcase on his shoulder and powered up the stairs. Wow.

The villa is gorgeous with 3 bedrooms, an infinity pool, AND a washing machine (no dryer).

Sunset views from the villa

We got something to eat (over ordered as usual) and hit the supermarket for the essentials: water, wine, and coffee.

A quick visit to the beach before the sun goes down. The water is freezing.

Looking forward to exploring this island!

Greece 2022

International travel with James…… it’s been a while. But, when Justin pitched the idea of Greece, I thought it would be a great trip to bring him on. He is much older and MUCH easier than he was when we went to Spain/ France in October 2016. He carries his own suitcase and tends to his own things (mostly).

On the way there, we went from Dallas to London to Santorini. I’m sure Justin will give alot more detail on the trip/ flight planning, but I’m glad our “points fairy” could figure out a way to get us first class/ business class status. It just makes life easier and more comfortable. I know that we are very lucky.

There was a Harry Potter store in the London airport, so, obviously, we had to visit that.

Harry Potter store, Heathrow

It was an uneventful trip to Santorini. James and I probably slept a solid 3 hours of the 9 hour flight. It’s about 4 hours from London to Santorini, and James slept most of them, so not much to report there.

I would have to be put in traction if I slept in some of the positions that he sleeps in.

Justin arranged with the vacation rental for a driver to pick us up from the airport. We got to the rental without any trouble

We are very centrally located in the Oia area of Santorini. Directly outside our vacation rental seems to be a hot spot for selfies. Lots of good people watching.

Random woman taking a selfie right outside our rental…..not me 🤣🤣

We forced ourselves to stay awake with some walking around and an early dinner in order to avoid major jet lag issues. And, mostly, we were successful. James slept until 11 am the next day.

The following day, we were excited to get up and start exploring. We headed to the Ammoubi area which included a very steep downhill walk to the coast. Each view was more beautiful than the next.

📷 by James Ittmann

After walking around a bit by the coast, we got lunch at a restaurant by the water. We probably over ordered, but there is so much to try! We got Taramasala (fish roe dip), grilled feta, octopus, mussels, and Greek salad (along with some other things). Everything was so delicious and so fresh.

James trying mussels
Grilling up the fresh seafood
It doesn’t get fresher than this. Right off the boat to the restaurant.

So, after lunch we decided to take a taxi to Thira and attempt to walk back to Oia. Justin presented this as a 1.5-2 hour walk. Supposedly, this is a great thing to do with kids in Greece. Well, not my kid.

After about an hour of walking (largely uphill), Justin checked and we had only made it about a quarter of the way. That’s when the group started to fall apart. The idea of taking the bus back was presented, and after alot of internal struggle and a few tears, we decided to go to the bus station. Long story short, the bus didn’t work out, but we got a cab and made it back.

We hung out for a little while then it was off to dinner. We ate at Elinikon. We didn’t have reservations, but they squeezed us in early and said we had to be out by 7:20. No problem. We had some delicious hummus, stuffed grape leaves, calamari, and other things. Everything was delicious. I’m so proud of James for trying lots of new foods today. We were done in plenty of time and they even sent us off with a taste of sweet Greek wine.

We passed on dessert at the restaurant in favor of gelato at a nearby shop.

After that, James had his heart set on going to a souvenir shop to buy something that caught his eye yesterday.

I guess you can never have too many knives 🤷‍♀️

Overall, a very successful first full day!

I’m not sure how much I’m going to blog. Probably not every day, but maybe every other day. Looking forward to exploring this beautiful country.

France 2021

Back to Europe.  It had been 5+ years…definitely longer than I would have guessed back in 2016.  As detailed, we had a trip to Spain and Portugal planned for 2017, but that ended up getting canceled with the house project. 

After wrapping up the house, we owned two houses for a while – not exactly an ideal factor for international vacations.  Then Covid happened. 

In actuality, this trip wasn’t even supposed to be a trip to Europe.  It was initially an attempt to reschedule our Japan vacation planned for fall 2020, which was canceled because of Covid and ended up being the California/Texas trip.

Mid-summer, it became evident that Japan would again not be happening.  That was ok, as we now had far more options as alternatives.  We considered a couple options and itineraries, but ended up with France.  We actually had planned to conclude the trip in San Sebastian (instead of Nice) up until roughly a month before we departed, but too many flight cancellations made that not feasible…and likely for the better.

On that topic, planning with Covid was really not much of an issue except for one thing – flights.  Really, it probably made things like reservations easier to come by.  We did have to obtain the France Covid “Pass Sanitaire” – which was slow, but otherwise painless. 

Flights, on the other hand, were a moving target.  Initially, we were booked in both directions on the British Airways MSY-LHR direct flights.  They were canceled, then the replacements were canceled.  I ended up lucking into two saver Air France business class flights there (MSY-ATL-CDG) and booked those by transferring AMEX membership rewards points to Air France.  On the return, our flights were booked with AA miles.  Once the initial flights were canceled, they give you a much wider selection on AA flights (not other carriers though).  So, we ended up on American Airlines in business class connecting in London on the return (NCE-LHR-MIA-MSY).

Why France?  It made sense given the timeframe and given the fact that it would be just Alyce and I (because of the wine-ing and fine dining).  Plus, all of these locations had been on our list of places to go for a while – in fact we had planned to go to several in our initial France 2016 itinerary.  On the specific stops…

Paris – Paris is one of both of our favorite cities.  There are endless dining options, from the highest of high end to causal bistro fare.  The public transportation is fantastic, and there are plenty of interesting things to see.  Plus, Alyce was pregnant the last time we were in Paris, so she missed out on some things.

Initially, we were going to spend 5 nights in Paris.  However, we lost a night to flight cancellations, and I cut a night to make Champagne a stop rather than a day trip (the other night came from Burgundy).  We ended up with 3 nights in Paris.

Champagne – as mentioned, this was initially going to be a day trip from Paris, but that did not seem to do the area justice.  We turned it into a 2 night stop.

Burgundy – we were going to spend 4 nights in Burgundy in our 2016 trip.  We made some changes, and I’ve been wanting to make to Burgundy since then.  Plus, Burgundy wines are some of favorites – if not our #1.  I was considering 4 nights here initially, but we ended at 3.

Northern Rhone – we planned 3 nights in the Northern Rhone…though at multiple locations within the region.  This is another premier wine region of the world, so wine and food would again be the focus.

Nice – Nice was a stop I’ve wanted to make for a while, but we were going to initially fly from Lyon to San Sebastian because of how much we enjoyed San Sebastian on our 2016 trip.  Flight cancellations made that too much of a headache, but this itinerary was really what it should have been anyway.  We concluded the trip with 4 nights in Nice.

Traveling was relatively simple in that we’d fly into Paris, rent a car, drive to Nice, and fly out from there.  No trains, additional flights, etc.

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Hawaii 2021

Hawaii had always been out there as an option, but I had never given it serious thought for a vacation until I had to scramble to plan our fall 2020 vacation.

Why not?  I don’t really know.  It is far and generally not cheap, but that hasn’t stopped us for other destinations.  Maybe it was less exciting and exotic being a US state?

Regardless, it was our leading option for the fall 2020 trip for a while, and it seemed like an fun place to travel.  I wanted to make it work at some point.  I was also confident that James would enjoy it.

I decided to look at it for a late spring trip in 2021.  I was somewhat confident it would be open for travel by spring 2021.  We were hemmed in by James’s kindergarten graduation and trying to make my family’s beach vacation on the other side.  So, we did not have a large window and settled on late May.

I found United Airlines flight awards (only available in economy) and booked three round trips with Turkish miles.  Yes, Turkish miles.  They are a star alliance airline and have an award price of 15,000 miles roundtrip for anywhere in the US (including Hawaii).  That meant all three of our flights to Hawaii were just 45,000 miles.  A ridiculous bargain.

That said, it’s a pain.  You have to email several Turkish centers and wait for a response.  Then you have to submit a form and hope everything goes smoothly while the award space is available.  If you succeed, you prize is an award at about 35% – 40% of the cost of using United Miles.

Hand-in-hand with the flight award was finding award space at the Andaz in Maui.  I had hyatt points and a suite upgrade that I wanted to use, and the Andaz was an excellent hotel by all accounts.  They do play games with award space, but I was able to get a room for the dates we wanted.

That led to picking out the stops.  I knew we wanted to do Maui and Kauai from previous research and feedback.  The only other stop I seriously considered was working in the big island, but 2 stops was good with only 10 nights.

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Roatan 2021

I’ll do a quick recap of our family trip to Roatan – mostly with pictures.  I do not have a ton to report on the day to day.  It was mostly diving, snorkeling, eating, drinking, and relaxing.

My parents wanted to do our first family vacation since 2005.  They preferred a Caribbean destination with a pool, beach front, snorkeling, A/C…and preferably not obscenely expensive.  My brother and I actually ended up independently finding the house we’d end up renting.

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Monaco

Today, we traveled about 30 minutes to Monaco for lunch. I believe it’s technically another country but there was no border control. We ate at Le Louis XV.

Immediately, I could tell that Monaco is a place for the super rich. It has casinos, yachts, expensive cars, and designer shopping.

Casino de Monte Carlo (some James Bond movies and Oceans Twelve were filmed here)

Lunch was in an absolutely beautiful room, probably the most beautiful we have ever eaten in.

Fish steamed at the table
Butter and olive oil
Justin washing his fingers in rose water before dessert 😂😂
Amazing pear souffle

Everything was wonderful, but I’m happy to be heading home tomorrow. It’s time to return to normal life and normal eating!! It truly was a “finer things” extravaganza.

We spent the rest of the evening packing up. Justin spent quite a long time packing up the wine. He bought a suitcase and got some bubble wrap from the hotel. Hopefully, it all gets home safely!

I’m so ready to see James!!

We have a long travel day tomorrow. We go from Nice to London to Miami to New Orleans. We land at 9pm (New Orleans time)……4am France time.

Covid tests and South African/French Fusion

Today was mostly a low key day, EXCEPT, it was Covid test day. I’ve been anxious about this moment pretty much since we left for the trip. I realize that the chance of us testing positive is extremely unlikely. We have both been vaccinated (Justin about 6 months ago), and I got my booster before we left. However, the thought of having to delay our return home and the commotion the whole thing would cause, was enough to make me freak out (for lack of a better term).

Justin bought 6 self administered (Binax) tests that are monitored via telemedicine. The whole process was fairly easy. You have to create an account and follow the steps, and they walk you through the whole thing.

In his usual fashion, Justin played it calm and collected. I played the opposite role. Luckily, we both got a negative result. A pdf was emailed to us that will be uploaded onto both the British Airways and American Airlines website.

Following the very specific instructions
Swabbing
Negative
Negative….. Thank God

A positive result would have been very surprising. We typically avoid crowds, have spent most of our time in small towns, have been vaccinated, and restaurants don’t let you into without a vaccination or negative treat. Even so, I was still nervous and so very glad that is over with!!

After that, Justin went on a unsuccessful hunt to find wine boxes to check on the plane. This situation is still pending.

Then we walked around the promenade some more and enjoyed the beautiful weather.

Checking the water temperature…. not too cold
Pebbles

Dinner tonight was at Jan. A South African/French fusion restaurant. It was so good!! I also loved the music….Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, even the “sister” song from White Christmas. I was feeling it. Although, I have have also been feeling the wine pairing.

My favorite part of the meal was probably the field trip. We walked across the street to another space they own that was set up with a huge cheese, nut, fruit, and bread table.

Tuna Nicoise salad…yep, that’s a salad with a tomato juice drink that was amazing
Pretty sure there was lobster in there
Beef with plums and some other things???
The cheese room 🙌🙌
Cheers to our last dinner

Tomorrow, we go into Monaco for lunch and then time to pack up for a long travel day home!