Category: Europe

This morning as I read my New York Times, I noticed a full page ad for a Harry Potter contest to coincide with the release of the latest film in the series.  My sons are such big fans and it seemed like a fun exercise to have them enter.

Getting sucked into a series of books can be a marvelous experience. You become so invested, almost intimate with the characters. Much to my surprise, I am completely taken by Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy and have been burning the midnight oil as I gallop through the three books. I keep putting the reins on my reading because I don’t want it to end.

This summer, on a trip to the Pacific Northwest’s Olympic Peninsula, I insisted we take a 50-mile detour to visit Forks, Washington, home of the Twilight saga. Twilight is a series of four vampire, teen romance novels by Stephenie Meyer. It follows a teenage girl, named Bella, who moves to Forks, Washington and falls in love with a 104-year-old vampire named Edward Cullen.
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Two new countries have joined the global community and one has disappeared. It sounds complicated, but what happened in the Caribbean last week means that the group of countries formerly known as the Netherlands Antilles or the Dutch Antilles, is no longer.  On October 10th, 2010, folks living on the Caribbean islands of Curacao and St. Maarten greeted the day and found themselves in autonomous countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Three smaller islands, (Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba) formerly part of the Dutch Antilles, will now be ruled directly by the Dutch government.

The federation of the Dutch Antilles was formed in 1954 and it was economic issues, primarily debt, that tore them apart. What does this mean for travelers to the Caribbean islands? A sampling of sites shows very few are even mentioning the change…at least not yet. Even the U.S. State Department site is yet to update information. For now, according to The Economist magazine, the Netherlands will continue to handle the islands’ defense and foreign policy. If you are planning a trip to the region, make sure you ask a lot of questions about visa and passport documents and any changes that may be in the works.

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It’s the end of the trip — finally Istanbul!

Encouraged by the travel lecturer on board, we got up at 5:50 a.m. to look at the skyline of Istanbul as the ship made her way up the Bosporus to the Golden Horn. It was hazy out, but strengthened by reasonably good coffee and pastry we stared over the railing until the sun came up and the buildings became more visible.

It became quite beautiful — although while dawn on the Bosporus sounded like it would be high on my romantic index, there is something about standing among some two or three hundred red-eyed tourists that doesn’t exactly create an intimate moment. I did see a few couples holding hands — and one couple where a young woman watched the scenery go by in her partner’s arms — so there were romantic possibilities for people who were able to shut out the rest of the world and only see each other. Continue reading »

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The next stop was Kusadasi, one of the most popular seaside resorts in Turkey and gateway to Ephesus, a world treasure, and a place I visited many years ago. I don’t remember seeing Kusadasi then but it is retail central, with an attractive harbor walk full of restaurants, jewelry and carpet shops. I gather, however, locals find it noisy and miss the far more humble fishing village it used to be.

We didn’t stay long. With a quite lovely and articulate guide to help us understand Ephesus we drove for about a half an hour to join the hordes at the ruins. Note to self: remember last time you were here? It was unbearably hot. New note to self: it was unbearably hot this time too. Pick new season next time.

Well, you might reasonably ask, if it was so ridiculously hot, and you’ve been there twice, why would you go again? The answer, oddly enough, is that even though we are talking about a city created by the ancient Romans, the place keeps changing. Continue reading »

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We sailed to Turkey and I found the port at Bodrum to be a nice surprise. I hadn’t been to this city before and didn’t know what to expect. What I got was a luxury development, a town that increases tenfold in the good weather months (which is just about everything except January and February) and, because it is on the Turkish mainland, has become a destination resort for urban Turks and world travelers.

The port is about a seven euro (or 16 lira) ride from the center of the city. The road into town goes by what looks like a lovely hotel with a smashing view (Diamond of Bodrum), good looking apartments and condos, and settles down into a bustling, clean commercial center that is a short walk from the historic castle in the harbor.

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Pulling into Rhodes is at first glance disappointing. The island has a big population, it’s the fourth largest Greek island, and the first thing one sees are big collections of condos and other modern buildings. This is kind of startling after Mykonos and Santorini have become your models for Greek islands.

However, as the boat turns to dock in the harbor abutting the medieval part of the city Rhodes Town comes into view, and it satisfies. The medieval fortress walls are impressive and the castle behind it is visible from the water. It’s “younger” than the ruins we have been seeing—and vaults us into visions of knights rather than Greek Gods. It’s actually refreshing to see a whole new kind of city. Continue reading »

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There may be no equal to Santorini as a romantic destination. I looked forward to seeing this island most of all because of how breathtaking I thought it was when I sailed into the caldera fifteen years ago.

Sometimes my memory exaggerates places — but in this case, not a bit. Santorini, seen by sea, is totally compelling. By day, it looks at first like snow is dusting the mountain — by night, it is a mass of twinkling lights, and you half expect everyone to break into dance and song a la Mama Mia. Continue reading »

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I had been having worse and worse sore throats and then finally it got intolerable. My voice was two octaves lower than normal, and while the Lauren Bacall effect had its charms, pain in swallowing and being unable to sleep did not. So early in the morning I went to the ship’s doctor, with, I have to admit, a little bit of attitude.

I don’t know why I expected the ship’s doctor to be primarily a “say ah, and take an aspirin“ kind of person—but I did. I am happy to say, I was very wrong.  He gave me a thorough physical and did a  blood test which he analyzed while I was still in the office. I left loaded with effective medicines—and a new respect for the Azamara’s medical program.

Then I was off to Mykonos—an island I had not visited before. The small island has become popular for its beaches and its liberal attitudes. I was surprised, for example, when the first postcard place we went into after getting off the tender had erotic gay and heterosexual postcards. Shows you how out of touch I can be. Everyone else knew that Mykonos is gay and sex friendly, and we found adequate proof of that when we went on a bus ride, and then a boat ride to Paradise Beach and several beaches past that. Continue reading »

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This is a new stop for me — I had never heard about this part of the mainland, but it is an important area of the Peloponnesian Peninsula. The postcard entry for boats is seeing the Bouts island fortress — young by Greek standards, old by mine. The little island was built in the fifteenth century and has seen a lot of conflict in its day. Now it looks charming — a description I am sure would insult it’s builders. I gather that it was converted into a hotel for a while and then abandoned. It would make a fabulous place to stay.

We had coffee on our balcony and as far as romance goes — I would say do anything you can to get a balcony — and use it. Just sitting out there in the morning — taking in the view and taking time to get rid of the morning fuzzies — is centering. It helps that the coffee on the Quest is dark and delicious. Continue reading »

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The ship that will take us around to the mainland of Greece and Turkey and to the islands of Mykonos, Santorini and Rhodes carries about 700 lucky people. It’s a new line but loading went smoothly and we were delivered to our cabin with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of nice touches. There was the cold towel, and the cold champagne when we entered and the assurance that our luggage would magically appear in our room. (It did.)

The  ship looks a lot like a Four Seasons inside — elegant dark wood, curving staircases — it’s easy to forget this is a boat. The cabin itself was lovely but somewhat narrow and the shower did not speak romance to me. Happily, we were upgraded to a suite  (low on the hierarchy of suites that Azmara has but a huge improvement over our previous cabin). The suite has everything I want in a cruise room — a private balcony with room enough to eat and lounge and a bathroom that two people can use without elbowing each other in a territorial power grab for sink space.  Most important to me: there is a tub and a shower two people could use together if they were inclined to do so. Continue reading »

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