Friday, March 23, 2018

Santorini, Greece Part 2 of 4

Greece has been on my bucket list for almost ten years.  Specifically, Santorini.  I love to ask people I meet locally and while traveling what the most 'beautiful place' they have ever been is, and I heard "Santorini" over and over again, so I knew it was a must.  I had heard the time to travel there is in the summer b/c so much of it is closed up during winter months, but when I looked and saw the temperature was in the 70's, and there ARE hotels and restaurants and stores open, I decided this was the perfect time to go.  No heat and no crowds?  Sign me up!  I traveled there via ferry, which turned out to be a good thing b/c two of the days I was there were windy and few to no flights were able to get onto the island.  I'm going to write more about the ferry in my last post (4).  
I decided to stay in Fira b/c I had read this is where most of the things would be open at this time of the year.  We stayed in a little 6 room hotel called the Aroma Suites.  The above photo is our balcony view.  A lot of the rooms are built into the volcanic walls of the mountains.  Not only was the location gorgeous, the people at the hotel were so helpful and set up our rides to and from the ferry a private tour of the island, and a boat ride.  The staff and view can't be beat.  

Santorini hangs off the cliffs and overlooks the caldera which exploded and let the sea into the middle once upon a history.  You can see the famous town of Oia from Fira, but it looks like white stone resting along the circle of the island.

As you walk along the volcanic rock embedded roads there are all these doors that open up to restaurants with stunning views that often lead down steps to hotel rooms and pools.  I took a million pictures of all the unique doors and the view below.  

There are beaches along the shores of the island as well (though most are sheer cliff drops to the sea).  There is a black sand beach, a red sand beach, and a white sand beach.  Our guide told us the black sand beach was hopping during the summer.

There are buses and taxis, and even a 5 mile hike you can take from Fira to Oia.  We had a guide who took us to Oia and showed us the stunning views of blue domed churches and wind mills.  The truth is, each town has a view that will steal your breath, but I know this is the site that tourist flock in the summer for the sunset views.

It just so happened that in early March, our hotel had that sunset view.

One famous site around Santorini are the donkeys.  There is an old port with a cable car that will take you from port to the stores above if you come in via cruise ship, but there are also these donkeys that will make those 600 steps for you as you ride on top.  It turns out in the winter, these guys are busy hauling cement and bricks up and down the paths in Santorini to help the workers prepping the buildings for coming tourist.

I definitely hope I get to head back here some day, along with other nearby islands.  In the 'winter,' there were plenty of great restaurants to enjoy, stories to visit, and paths to travel.  Each corner had a view and a secret to reveal.
I ate a lot of great meals in the town square of Fira.
The ONLY thing I did not love the entire trip was the catamaran ride we took out to the caldera.  Let's be fair, it was so windy, but it was the most 'adventurous' boat ride I have ever taken on the largest swells I have ever encountered.  More than half the boat spent a majority of our ride throwing up.  We did find some calm in the hot springs near the bubbling volcano, and the meal was great, but I ate cautiously b/c I knew there was a ride back.  I imagine it would be great if the water was calm, but.....I'm just going to let someone else tell me about that.  My next visit I'll keep my land legs in place and take a few more hikes and enjoy the sea from the shore!
Santorini does NOT disappoint.  I hope to head back in the summer, but I'm so glad that I went this first time in March before the crowds b/c I was going for the views, and I think I loved them most in the quiet of the morning with just me and a donkey or two.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Athens, Greece Part 1 of 4

Last week I flew to Greece for the week.  I had no idea what to expect, but of all the places I have visited, this trip was by far one of the best.  Ever.  I love Greece.  I thought I would be checking it off my to do list, but I have to add it back because one time won't be enough.  Usually I try to post these things in one email, but I just can't get it all in, so this is a four part series of post b/c I have so much I want to remember.  I journaled each day, and I could never tell the whole story in words, but I will say-if Greece isn't on your bucket list-add it.  If it is, move it up!  I had heard March was not a great time to visit b/c of weather, and I'm sure at times this is true, but for me, the weather was perfect.  The days were in the low seventies, and the evenings were in the upper 50's.  There was only one day with clouds, and no rain.  It's not a place it rains often, so I would think the odds would be in your favor, but who knows.  I DO KNOW that by going in mid-March everything was cheaper.  The hotel we stayed it (Electra Palace) was so nice, and very affordable.  The beds were soooooo comfy, and the room was really large by European standards.  It was situated in the Plaka area near great restaurants and stores, and the views of the Acropolis were spectacular.  I'll start by saying, everything I share is just my opinion and I paid full price for it all (I always wonder on blogs, so....transparency-I get to have real opinions since I paid for them).  Another thing we did (twice) was taking a private tour.  I have taken a million group tours, and for just a little more we decided to take advantage of this.  I looked up some companies via tripadvisor and Athens Timeless Tours was the one I went with.  One reason was good reviews, but the other was that if you didn't make your flight or something happened the cancellation was free, and when you are traveling that never know.  I have never loved a tour so much.  No only did our guide (Markos) completely cater the tour to us, he knew how to time is so we arrived at all the places we visited before the crowd and he brought us much closer to the sites.  Plus, he was amazing-soooooo nice and full of great info about Greece's history, current politics and culture, and he gave us spot on advice for Athens and beyond for things to check out.  The company also does an airport pickup, and tours to different cities around Greece.  More on that later.

The first full day was about touring Athens.  I had read you only needed a few days, and that's probably true if you go at this time of year, but Athens is also a great spot to start from for day trips in the area.  We headed up to the Acropolis first.  We walked around the sites at the top.  I can get OVER the fact that these buildings have been here for 2000+ years and that we get so close and get to climb all over these grounds to view this detail up close.

I also stood below the acropolis on Mars hill where Paul stood and the words from Acts 17 were said as he overlooked this site.
Next up was the Acropolis museum where a lot of the original pieces from the monuments at the acropolis now live after they were looted, taken off, and eventually returned.  One neat thing about this (relatively new) museum was that as they began to build they discovered all sorts of artifacts below the museum.  When this happens (which it happens often) you have to stop and call in 'people' to check out the site before you can continue to build.  To get around the delays this was causing they built the museum on risers with clear floors so you can see below to the artifacts that were uncovered during the build.  

Next up was the Temple of Zeus.  There are just a few remaining columns, but once upon a time it was larger than the Parthenon, and one neat feature is one of the columns that has fallen and you can see the segments that made up this towering column.  All of the sites during this season are half off until the beginning of April. entrance and few fellow tourist.  

Next, our driver drove us up Lykavittos Hill.  It has a great view of the city.  This is where I should say-I don't think I could ever drive in Greece.  The plus is the drive on the same side of the road as we do, but those roads....geez, such tight spaces to squeeze through.  So, the hill was quite a feet to climb, and....again, my new Greek friend did all the hard work and we just got to enjoy the view!
A few other stops included the changing of the guards and a view of these interesting outfits as they guard the tomb of the unknown soldier in front of Parliament.  

We also stopped at the site of the first modern Olympic games.  This is also where the 'first' marathon ended.  Last detail (for now), it's the only place that the Olympic flag always flies.

Our last stop on our tour was Ancient Agora where Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato hung well as Paul.
I walked around the ancient grounds, but then I also walked around the modern city where (on Sunday, which was the day we visited) they have a flea market with vendors with antiques and a lot of locals were hanging out in the cafes along the path.   

Back near our hotel we shopped the Plaka.

We also enjoyed dinner at our hotel with this view from the windows.  The food was great, and you can't beat that view.

Next up, Santorini.....

Thursday, March 08, 2018

New Orleans in 48 Hours

Last weekend I went to New Orleans.  It is my third time to head through the city.  Several years back....when I was running, I had added the New Orleans Rock N Roll half marathon to my wish list.  It was the last one left sitting on that list.  Unfortunately, I haven't been running much in the last year.  I kept telling myself I would start, but life has been a little hectic lately.  Running takes time.  And more than the time to get physically ready, I just haven't been there mentally.  It was such a good thing for me for several years, but now I'm sort of floundering.  I ran a race in December and I trained a LITTLE.  My body mostly relied on adrenaline and muscle memory.  Since that time, I have not done a single thing.  I had already signed up for this race as 'motivation' to get my butt in gear, but all I wanted to do the last few months has been huddle under blankets and read.  So....heading down to New Orleans with a very short time scheduled I wasn't sure if I would even do the race.  I decided last minute to walk it.  It took forever.  Side note, if you DO like to run, this was a really easy course.  I'm not sure there is a single hill.  The only challenge is the significant number of pot holes in the road.  It was a course filled with jazz bands and it took us through some of the French Quarter, which was fun.  In the end, it's finished.  I'm not signing up for any races any day soon and I'm going to go relearn what it is that gets me motivated.
As for the rest of the was all about the food.  There were some not so great meals, but the highlights were....Atchafalaya.  The plus is there was a great jazz band and the food was really good (chicken and biscuits for me, but apparently the shrimp and grits is what brings all the people).  It was hopping with locals and we ended up waiting 2 hours for a table, but the band and the weather saved that from being a miserable wait!

After the race I grabbed these things that were very much like Beneits, but they had rice inside and this strange lemon honey water, but they were strangely good.  The best part was the atmosphere at the restaurant, Cane Table.  It was a quite little nook behind a thriving sidewalk along the French Quarter.  It's no CafĂ© Du Monde, but it was a neat atmosphere with (well deserved) good reviews.

I also grabbed dinner with my pal Maurine's little sister, Joy who lives near by and I got to meat her baby boy.  We headed to Mother's.  Again, the line out this door was outrageous, but the food really was good!  It's an old deli.  I got the ham b/c my uber driver assured me it was the best ham around (which the sign says), but they had a ton of great looking deli sandwiches.  It was a nice break from all the traditional grits/chicken/jambalaya etc.  I would definitely go again.

...and as if I didn't eat enough.  I also snagged a biscuit at Copeland's at the airport.  Normally, I wouldn't post about a biscuit, but, by George, this was one might-tee fine biscuit.

This is a bit of a hodge podge of a post, but the truth is, I need it to live here.  Should I find myself in New Orleans a 4th time, these are some of the experiences I don't want to forget!

Monday, March 05, 2018

Croissant Boat

I made these recently and they were sooooooo good.  I cut back the original amount of eggs to just 3 b/c I'm not crazy about eggs, but do your thang.  I'll post the original recipe from tipbuzz.  They also reheated really well the second day, which surprised me!
Croissant Boats
4 croissants, 6 pieces of bacon cooked and crumbled, 5 eggs, 7 T of cheddar cheese (shredded), 3 T green onions (chopped), 2 T milk
1.  Heat oven to 375 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.
2.  Cut the tops off the croissant and hollow out the middle of the bread.
3.  In a separate bowl, mix the cheese, bacon crumbles, and green onions.  Pour egg and milk over the mix.
4.  Spoon into the croissant and bake for 25 minutes until egg mix is set.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Saint Patrick's Day Wreath

 This year I wanted to make something a little less glittery and shamrock-ee for my door.  I saw a wreath like this on pinterest and it reminded me so much of Ireland-the moss and colorful flowers.  I also found some little wood chips at the store.  I glued them all to the wreath and then made some little gnomes.
 I wrapped toilet paper tubes with felt and glued it down.
 I pinched the top in to give it a little more shape.
I made a little cone hat with felt and glue on some fuzzy material for a beard and a little wooden button nose.  I made each a little different so you could tell them apart.  ;o)

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Fairy Bubble Wand

 I  made these fairy bubble wands that should be airing (I think) on March 6th on GMT.  They are really simple and cute.  You can adapt them  by using plastic sticks so make them a little safer (dowel rods making me nervous for little kiddos).
 I bought some beads at the dollar store, as well as some for half off at the craft store in some fun spring shapes.  I also got some 16 Gage wire from the jewelry section so it would hold it's shape.
I used some wire cutters, but you can also use scissors and just bend it back and forth a few times once you create that indent with scissors.  Another alternative would be to use a pipe cleaner.  I wrapped it around the dowel rod and then I added some floral tape and hot glue and a ribbon just to keep it really firmly in place.  Next up....bubbles.

Rainbow Seeds by Mail

 I try to send fun things through the mail to my godchildren for all the holidays.  I love that they are old enough to get excited about mail....though it didn't stop me when they were babies.
 Last ST Patrick's Day I sent some rainbow seeds....formerly known as Skittles.  I opened the box, added a fun label, slipped some little cards inside for my godchild and his brothers and then taped it back up.
The fun thing is that for just a few bucks you can mail boxes of candies straight in their original box, which is always a fun surprise.  Sure, it seems silly to mail a dollar box of candy for two or three additional bucks, but.....if you've been to a movie lately, it's practically a bargain on candy.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Crockpot Cashew Chicken

Cashew Chicken is one of my favorite recipes.  I have made it several different ways, but I recently saw this recipe via crockpot over at the recipe critic.  This easily feeds 4 people.  I didn't take a great picture b/c I at it swiftly and forgot to grab a snap of the left overs until they were boxed up.  There is only one 'cooking' step before the crockpot.  I did drop a few ingredients (green onions), only because I didn't have them.

Ingredients:  2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1 inch pieces, 3 T cornstarch, 1/2 t. black pepper, 1 T oil, 1/2 c. soy sauce, 4 T rice wine vinegar, 4 T ketchup, 2 T sweet chili sauce, 2 T. brown sugar, 2 garlic cloves (minced), 1 t. grated fresh ginger, 1/4 t. red pepper flakes, 1 c. cashew

1.  Combine cornstarch and pepper in a ziplock.  Add chicken and shake to coat with cornstarch mix.  2.  Heat oil over medium and brown chicken for 2 min on each side.  Place in crockpot.
3.  Combine soy sauce, vinegar, ketchup, sweet chili sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, pepper flakes, and cashew in a bowl.  Stir and toss over chicken.
4.  Cook on low for 3-4 hours or high for 2 hours.  Serve over rice.
*the original recipe says you can wait to add cashew until the end to prevent them from getting too soft

Monday, February 19, 2018

Broccoli and Cheese Cornbread

I try to stock up my freezer and pantry before winter begins b/c THIS might be the year that blizzard comes through....and I was a girl scout, so I have to prep for these sort of things!  So now, as I see spring in my near future, it's time to start purposefully working through those ingredients.  I made this broccoli cornbread to go along with sausage I had stocked away.  If you like broccoli and rice casserole, this is the bread version of that.  Plus, it's bread, with healthy stuff like broccoli inside, and just about every site I encounter says broccoli is good for you (if you ignore the stick of butter, you can almost believe that).  The original recipe came from allrecipes.  The broccoli came from my freezer of hope depleted as another winter passes me by without any missed work days.
Broccoli and Cheese Cornbread 
Ingredients:  1 c. cottage cheese, 3/4 c. butter (melted, and cooled a little or the eggs with scramble), 4 eggs, 2 pkg (8.5 oz) cornbread mix, 1 (10 oz) frozen chopped broccoli (thawed), 1 large onion (chopped), 1 1/2 c. shredded Cheddar cheese (divided)
1.  Heat oven to 375.  Grease 9x13 in baking dish.
2.  Beat cottage cheese, butter, and eggs in a large bowl.  Stir in corn bread until mix is just moistened.  Fold in broccoli, onion, and 1 c. Cheddar cheese.  Pour batter into dish and sprinkle with remaining cheese.
3.  Bake 35-40 minutes (until toothpick comes out clean).

Friday, February 16, 2018

Heat Press

This is NOT a sponsored post, this is just a tool I have tried out and liked and I wanted to share b/c I had a lot of questions before purchasing this tool.  I've had a Cricut for years, and a few years ago I got into making vinyl shirts.  I have been using my iron without too much success for long term sticking.  It also took me a lot of pressing, rubbing, lifting, re-pressing, and probably a few words I shouldn't know to get things to adhere.  I know they have large presses a lot of folks use, but I just DON'T have the space required for those presses.  I got this one for about a hundred (99) around Christmas.  It does not come with an ironing board for below to press the shirts on, so you do have to purchase that separate.  Instead of buying their board, I used a flat board from the sewing section at the craft store (use a coupon, it's much cheaper).  They just saying not to use an ironing board b/c it's not truly flat.  I followed the online instructions for temperatures, and I pressed it several times from the front and the back.  I did these little Valentine shirts and then a bunch of multi colored vinyl shirts that are going to be a surprise for something else and it worked great.  So, two thumbs up for this Cricut Heat Press that I can store in a closet and didn't need to find more table top room for in my craft room!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Galentine's Gifts

 Last year a few friends and I decided to go out for Valentine' was my second year to do Galentine's with a group of friends.  I'm not one that is bothered much by Valentine's Day regardless of my relationship status, BUT I AM one who is always up for a little holiday celebration.
I decided some cake balls were in order.
 Let me pause and say I never have perfected the cake ball, the chocolate cooking time, or the perfectly round balls of cake, but....I've perfected the taste, so.....I can live with that.  I bagged up my cake balls...
 ...and I put them in these little jewel boxes I got from Stampin' Up.
This is not an ad, I don't sell stampin' up, but when my Mom got into scrapbooking a few years ago I wanted her to have fun learning some simple techniques and I found out about this monthly club called paper pumpkin.  It's less than 25 dollars (depending on how many months you do) and they send you a kit each month where you can make banners, cards, favor boxes etc.  This was one she got and didn't use, and so I used some Valentine's Stamps in place of the original stamps.  They turned out really cute if I do say so myself.