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Today’s Tours of Ancient Knossos

The first time I visited Greece back in the late 90s there were only a few places on my must-visit list: Athens, Santorini and the Palace of Knossos archeological site on the island of Crete. I had been fascinated by the Minoan civilization for much of my young life.  The idea that a sophisticated Greek civilization flourished during the same time period as the great Egyptian pharaohs filled me with Hellenic pride.

I devoured information on the Minoans, its connection with mythology, the truth and the mysteries surrounding its demise. A lot of our early information on the Minoans comes from Sir Arthur Evans the “archaeologist” (and we put that in quotes because the idea of archeology was in its infancy at the time and also often meant treasure hunter) who did the first major excavations. The descriptions of a vast palace complex with running water and sewers extending to a vast town of 100,000 on the north coast of Crete fascinated me.

North Portico Restored

North Portico Restored

Prince of Lillies Fresco

Prince of Lilies Fresco

We weren’t sure that the signs and plaques in the park would be in English (my recollection is that they were) so I made sure to learn as much as I could before we left.  I had to be the guide and  we didn’t want to miss the chance to put this amazing site into context as we stood in its ruined shadows.  I know we could have  just found a guide near the entrance, but his or her credentials could be circumspect and we didn’t want to waste our money on a chance.

Fast forward to the connected internet age we live in today and a bevy of slick tours can be arranged online before you even arrive in Greece. We’ll look at two in this post, starting with Visit Knossos.

VisitKnossos.com

VisitKnossos.com

A slick website and colorful pictures welcome you as the page opens with colorful tiles at the bottom to click on for each of the offered tours. The tours range from the Visit Knossos tour where you meet your guide at the gate and  get a professional guide or archeologist, a bottle of water (very important because the shade is scarce in summer), and maps of the site. You will, however, have to purchase your own tickets and find transportation to the site. You could also purchase an expanded tour and have a guide/chauffeur pick you up and drive you to the archeological sites, countryside, and museums. The ticket prices still aren’t included but the tour is at your own pace — a good choice if you don’t get around well.

The second tour booking group is Viator.  Yes, that Viator, the company owned by Trip Advisor. It’s a site we’ve begun to trust for its reliable travel reviews.

Viator Tours Ancient Palace of Knossos

Viator Tours Ancient Palace of Knossos

Viator offers an affordable tour for around $50 called the Ancient Palace of Knossos Tour. You seem to get a lot for the price, too.  The 5-hour tour is by bus from Heraklion and provides an expert guide not only for the archeological site but for the city of Heraklion as well. You will get the chance to not only visit the Minoan sites but also the Venetian fortress in the harbor. That’s a site I didn’t even know you could visit in the 90s. The only catch is the tickets to the sites are not included in the price, so add in 15 euros for the Ancient Palace of Knossos and 10 euros for the museum.

We haven’t been on either of these tours, but I really would have loved to have had the option to book something like them back on my first visit. I did learn a lot, but the chance to have an professional share their wisdom is so often worth the price.

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Wipe Before You Swipe

Wipe Before You Swipe

Wipe Before You Swipe

I have several colleagues who either live in or visit Japan frequently, and the other day one of them noticed something interesting — a second roll of paper — in their bathroom stall at Narita International Airport. The smaller roll of paper says “Welcome to Japan” then uses pictographs to inform you what to do with it… wipe your smart phone.  The new small disinfectant wipes are part of the “Swipe Before You Wipe” campaign.

They make a good point.

My current job is in a training center for health care workers, so the topic of germs and bacteria transmission comes up a lot. The common thought is that your smart phone carries 10 times more germs than toilets. I’ve seen the studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other international bodies backing up the claim. A few years ago at the CDC, cell phones were tracked down as the transmission source for a strain of anthrax getting out of the lab.

You also might want to remember that you touch your door handles, toilet handles, and dozens of other things transferring germs to your phone, which you then hold up to your face (if you use it to, you know, talk). Yuck.

I know Japan, they tend to be crazy about clean. They wear surgical masks in public, have toilets with more buttons than the space shuttle, and shower before they get in the bath. But this, despite its eccentricity, is a brilliant idea.  The campaign is even catching on in Britain with a partnership with Vodafone. I know that America is a little slow on the uptake at times, but we think this is something we should adopt for all our sakes.

 

 

We know the voice-over on the video is a little weird, but you get the point.

 

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Sailing a Familiar Sea

A photo from our second cruise onboard the Winifred.

A photo from our second cruise onboard the Winifred.

We are all booked for our February escape from the frigid western Pennsylvania winter. We are once again headed south to Saint Thomas. We might have mentioned that we are staying once again at the resurrected Villa Olga, now Olga’s Fancy.  We both really wanted to spend some time out on the water.

You also know that I’m a sucker for boats; I love sailing. We own a sailboat and are rebuilding it in the hopes of running away into a new horizon one day.  The first time we ventured to Saint Thomas we were fortunate to find a lovely 40’ wooden sailing ship named Winifred. We had a wonderful time sailing across the blue-green water of the Caribbean and swimming off the coast of Saint John. Amanda and I had such a wonderful time we searched out Winifred the second time we ventured to Saint Thomas and though she was sailing under a different owner the nice little ship gave us a nice relaxing adventure. So, of course we decided to book a tour with Winifred for our return to our favorite Caribbean island.

I searched and searched and couldn’t find our favorite vessel. We were disappointed to say the least. But, as we dealt with the disappointment when our favorite hotel in Florence was booked by then finding our wonderful apartment, we decided to look for other day sail options. We looked and compared various trips and settled on Morningstar Charters. They had some nice looking boat photos on their website. I sent them an email and asked for some information on their trips, mentioning our experiences on Winifred.

Imagine our surprise when we heard that they now own Winifred and that she will be the vessel we take out for our day sail! I couldn’t believe that out of all of the charters the one that we requested information from was the one Winifred now calls home.

The itinerary is a little different now; we have to take a ferry to Saint John and meet the ship there. We get to order from a large deli menu for our picnic lunch and will have time to look around Saint John when we are done with the sail, all things we are looking forward to. We are counting down the days until our escape. We’ve been keeping track and reminding each other each morning. I can’t wait.

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Around The World for the New Year

We know that we want to travel a bit more this year and for some of us one country isn’t enough.  The airlines, of course, have an answer for that: a Round The World Ticket. Skyteam airlines such as Delta, Air France, KLM, Korea Air, etc. have even set up a central booking platform to help you. Check out the main page for their Round the World Planner:

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The planner advertises that you can visit more than 1,057 destinations in 179 countries and travel at your own pace. They do have some rules though: there’s a minimum of three stops and maximum of 15 and you have to make all the stops within a year. You also have to limit your mileage to 38,000, but don’t worry the computer will tell you if your plans take you over the limit.

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You start out by putting your departure location in the search bar. We used IAD (Dulles). Then, at least for this example, selected a rather generic route hitting London, Dubai, Beijing, Tokyo, Honolulu and Cancun.

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The trip would be 22,432 miles and not all the flights would be direct. The grand total ticket price would be about $3,903 per person. Then you choose the flight dates for each departure and then select from a list of Skyteam partners for the time and carrier. It takes some skill and searching to find the right flights and keep the original price tag. It is very easy to book a flight or two and bump up the price by several thousand dollars.

The rest is the purchase of the ticket. I would spend some time rolling through a lot of options first before you decide to commit. You’ll really want to check the details on flight changes and baggage allowance since you’re using multiple air lines.

Have some fun and take a look, you might find the deal of your dreams.

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A Year in Review

We want to keep this brief since everyone seems to have something to do this season, either traveling to see family or off to see the world.

The past year has been a big one for Amanda and me. After 12 years together, we are finally living on the same schedule after my retirement from a 15-year journalism career and beginning a new adventure as a media specialist with Allegheny Health Network’s Simulation Teaching and Academic Research (STAR) Center. I really like this change of pace and most of all the time Amanda and I get to spend with each other now that I don’t commute from DC to Pittsburgh each week.

We did some traveling, some local, some international, and had an amazing time. We are want to say thank you to each of you who read our blog.  We’re not the biggest, we’re not staffed with an amazing team of professionals writing every day, but we love to share our stories and insights about and on the world. So, again, thank you.

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Winter Travel Safety

The weather seems to have remembered it’s nearly winter here in Pittsburgh this week. We had a measurable snowfall, 1-3 inches, and the temperature plummeted to 8 degrees Fahrenheit; that’s all it took to shake us from our illusion of a mild winter. The American Automobile Association (AAA) forecasts 93.6  million of us will hit the roads this holiday season. We need to keep in mind the danger of winter driving doesn’t just happen during the holidays, it happens all season. We decided it was a good idea to write a little reminder to our readers of some things to keep in mind when traveling this season.

Winter Driving Dangers

Winter Driving Dangers

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says 480,000 injuries and 6,000 deaths occur each year due to weather-related vehicle crashes. The crashes happen and I’ve seen them up close during my 15 years as a photojournalist. The most common cause is ice on the road and hitting the ice at speed and losing control; four-wheel drive doesn’t help much on ice. You need to travel slow, even if you have four-wheel drive, if you want to maintain control.  You not only endanger yourself, but also others if you go flying down a road that may be icy. I also recommend that you clean your car off.  I know it’s a pain and you don’t want to get covered in snow cleaning your car, but your visibility and the visibility of others is affected if you go cruising down the road like a comet (dirty snowball) trailing ice and snow behind you. You can also get a hefty ticket if you’re caught driving down the road like that.

Winter Storm Watch, Warning, Advisory

Winter Storm Watch, Warning, Advisory

We see weather reports every day and a lot of times the info goes in one ear and out the other. We don’t even pay attention long enough to understand what they mean when they say warning, watch or advisory or are distracted by the flashy graphics and “breaking news” banners floating across the screen as they boast “team coverage” starting hours before the first flake falls. The meteorologist, though they may be hyping a storm or weather, never arbitrarily call a watch, warning, or advisory because a ratings-hungry producer tells them to. The National Weather Service is responsible for declaring those advisories, so pay attention when you hear those words.

Winter Safety Kit

Winter Safety Kit

You obviously should stay home at if all possible when a winter storm is passing through. I love the idea of just sitting home in the warmth of our apartment as the world gets dumped on by mother nature. We know that sometimes you don’t have that choice. If you do hit the road be prepared in case you get stuck  by having a winter weather kit in your car. I traveled for years with a lot of “just in case” stuff in my car, considering that I drove in many blizzards for work. I never got stranded (a result of a mix of skill and luck) but it was always good to have that peace of mind with that bag of stuff sitting behind the seat. I may have never been a Boy Scout but think the motto of always being prepared is a good one. We hope you have safe travels all year round.

Stay Safe and Happy Holidays

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Taste of Japan

The Pittsburgh Japanese Cultural Society hosted an event this past Saturday called the Taste of Japan (+21).  The +21 part is kind of obvious to of all us who grew up and live in the US; this taste of japan is focused on alcohol. A selection of of Sake and Shochu was available for consumption and we and the other guests sure did consume.

The first treat to placate our palates was the most identifiable of Japanese alcoholic drinks, Sake (sa-Key). It’s a drink created by the fermentation of rice, but the process is a little different than the one at your local vineyard. The fermentation of grapes uses the sugar present in the grape to create the alcohol, whereas the process for rice requires another step. The rice has to go through a process to converting its starch into sugars before it can be made into alcohol. The Sake eventually ends up with 18%  alcohol content. It’s then served in a small ceramic cup that often has been warmed before drinking. Sake can have many flavors ranging from sweet to dry, such as fruits, flowers, herbs, and spices all depending on the way it was brewed.

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The second taste-test was Shochu, a lesser-known but far more potent cousin to Sake. Shochu is a distilled treat made with rice, barley, sweet potatoes, buckwheat, brown sugar, or other convertibles like chestnuts, sesame seeds and potatoes. The general strength after one distilling is about 25% alcohol by volume. Shochu can be distilled multiple times for a stronger 35% alcohol by volume.

Shochu has what can be described as an earthy taste. The Japanese use this img_4756beverage as the base for many mixed drinks, but it can also be served straight, on the rocks, or sparkling by adding a flavored water or soda. A most interesting iteration is mixing it with beer and calling it a hoppy.

I don’t think that Shochu is going to lure me away from my favorite alcohol (scotch on the rocks). Nor do I think Sake will come to replace my love of red wine, or the loyalty of drinking our own label (my parents own a small vineyard). But we always encourage everyone to expand their horizons, and sometimes that requires a stiff drink.