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Olga Resurrected

The moment we stepped off the plane at Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas the pressure of our daily lives began to dissolve and the anticipation began to build as we went to visit an old friend. We knew we could have taken the safari bus from the airport but settled for the expediency of a cab, and the cost of $20. The right turn from the left lane into the historic enclave of Frenchtown, at the far northern tip of Charlotte Amalie, simply made us smile. We bumped down a narrow street between ballfields and the shopping center until we rolled down the little road that meandered between the old 100,000-gallon cistern and the shoreline until the road ended. We gleefully hopped out of the taxi and up the stairs to the wooden deck and reception desk of the renovated and rejuvenated Olga’s Fancy.

The "Lobby" of Olga's Fancy

The “Lobby” of Olga’s Fancy

A coat of blue paint and colorful embellishments on the underside of the awnings seemed to breathe new life into the hotel. Olga was still Olga though, with a main house on the ground floor, then up one level for a breakfast nook, then another to the pool deck and a completely renovated pool. The other sections of the hotel were still accessed by wooden stairs that ascend the side of the hill, branching off to three separate blocks of rooms, two with views of the pool and the harbor and a third, our favorite, with a view of the water and Hassel island.

The rooms were still small and efficient, but with some major renovations since our last visit. The sink and vanity had been replaced with a much more modern fixtures; the bed, end tables, lighting fixtures and chairs were replaced and upgraded as well making the small room feel much more chic. Gone were the old bathtubs with mismatched fixtures (not that we minded the hot and cold knobs both saying cold and being from different decades), replaced with large tile showers. The water pressure and the hot water was not exactly what we’re used to with our gas-powered hot water heater, but did the trick to wash the sand off your body and out of your hair after a long day of swimming at the beach. The most important thing about the room hadn’t changed: the view. The view that amazed us on our first trip was still there. We were perched above the water, allowing us to watch the boats go by in the channel and the seaplanes buzz by as they landed. At night we were lulled to sleep by the sound of the water gently crashing against the rocks.

The view from our room.

The view from our room.

Change can make you nervous. We’ve seen places we love change — and not always for the better — but this time the differences fit well with our memories. The changes made while resurrecting a place we so sorely missed leave us confident that Villa Olga, now Olga’s Fancy, will be there waiting for our return in the years to come.

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Finding Our Way…

We’re on the road and a lack of light couldn’t stop us. The power was out at our apartment complex. I’ve had years of practice getting ready in the dark with my early morning shift work. We got in the car and down to the complex gate and were stopped in our tracks. The lack of power meant the power to move the heavy iron automatic gate was cut too. We couldn’t get out. While Amanda got on the phone with the emergency contact number we drove to the gate at the loading dock, it was manual. I repeatedly tried pulling the chain that turned the fly wheel to raise the gate only to be blocked by a padlock placed on the chain. We go lucky in the distance back at the main gate a set of headlights. The gate was open. The maintenance man was there working with the gate to lock it in the open position. We said thanks and hit the empty roads to the airport. We’ve boarded now and can’t wait to talk you about our trip in next weeks post.

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A New Kind of Club at the Airport

Are you a gym rat? In the No Kids family that title goes to Amanda. She is at the gym for at least an hour (sometimes more) five days a week. Amanda is one of those people who just don’t feel right if they don’t get a workout in. I find this admirable. She has also found herself traveling more for work and that has been getting in the way of her routine.

I found out the other day by watching my all-knowing Twitter feed that a gym opened inside BWI (Baltimore Washington International Airport). A gym at an airport just isn’t something that’s ever been on my radar as a slacker. I immediately realized the world of options that an airport-based gym would lead to. You have a long layover, go for a run, lift some weights, work of some of that stress. For people like me whose legs cramp after flying long distances, seize the opportunity to stretch those muscles before continuing on your next leg.

Airport Gyms Website

Airport Gyms Website

You’ve always had a lot of workout options while traveling, but you may not have realized it. The website Airport Gyms gives you names of hundreds of gyms located near and sometimes in airports across the US and Canada. The biggest downside of a gym located even 10 minutes away is that you have to leave the airport. Depending on traffic, that could lead to a lot of stress about getting back to the gate for your flight. The cost of a taxi and what to do with your carry-on are other issues. But Airport Gyms has an easy-to-use interface and provides information on hours, location, what they offer, and the cost of a one-day pass.

ROAM Fittness

ROAM Fitness

The latest club to enter into the market is ROAM, which opened its first health club in the aforementioned BWI.  ROAM is focused on being your one-stop shop and catering to the needs of travelers. The new fitness company has put their gym behind the security gate so you no longer have to worry about getting back through the line after an attempt at an off-campus workout. ROAM also has included showers, and for me that alone would be worth the cost of a pass: $25 a day, $150 a month, or $500 a year. I mean there’s nothing like the guilt of being the guy on the plane who’s starting to turn ripe after 20+ hours of traveling.

The gym is all-inclusive, too. You have access to private showers and receive complementary clothing and shoe rentals for your visit and they even provide the towels. If you want to wear your own workout clothes but don’t want them stinking up your suitcase, they’ll vacuum pack your sweaty clothes. You also have a concierge who will keep track of your flight and make sure you don’t lose track of time or tell you when your flight is delayed, leaving you have more time to work out. ROAM may only be at BWI for now, but they make no secret about their plans for expansion.

I don’t love working out. I just don’t. I don’t seem to get the mental benefits that Amanda gets from doing it. But the idea of access to a gym — and especially a shower — during a long flight delay seems to be worth the price of admission.

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5 years of No Kids, Will Travel

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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.