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Student and Travellers Inn - Athens, Greece

May 15, 2009

student-athens.jpg This place was nothing to write home about. It was basic, clean and best of all right in the middle of the Plaka section of Athens, which puts it just a few blocks away from the Acropolis. Basically, it is in the center of the tourist section of town, which really wasn’t that bad. GG stayed for one night before flying out and we stayed for one more before leaving for Levidi. They must have overbooked the second night because there were at least 6 people sleeping on the floor in the hall outside of our room in the morning.

No pictures as they were lost with our computer.

WGGSH? - Yes, she did.

WWSHA? - Yes, mostly because it was so conveniently located and a good value, i.e. cheap.

Hotel Atlantis - Agios Konstantinos, Samos Island, Greece

May 8, 2009

samos-hotel-thumb.jpgThis is another one to add to our growing list of favorite places. Again, made one of our favorites because of the hospitality and genuine welcoming nature of the owners. Gabi (a native German) and Dimitri (Greek) made our stay, along with GG’s, a really special one. Gabi, as we came to know, is the person that everyone on Samos thinks of first when an animal is in trouble. When we arrived she was bottle feeding three 8 day old kittens, caring for 10 chickens, 2 horses, a few other animals and all of her guests. The remarkable thing was that she immediately made our kids feel right at home as they pitched in to help.

We were only going to stay a few nights, but because we loved Samos, all of the hiking and Gabi and Dimitri’s place we stayed on a few more nights.

WGGSH? - She did and really liked it.

WWSHA? - Yes, no question. We would love to go back.

Kiwi Pension – Selcuk, Turkey

May 5, 2009

This was the location of GG’s first night with us on her trip to Turkey and Greece. After giving some thought about suitable accommodations for her and considering going a bit more upscale, we decided that she would be fine and there was no need to change our approach. So, I picked a nice enough looking hostel in Selcuk, from where we would explore the ruins of Ephesus.

Kiwi Pension was located a short walk from the Otogar (bus station), which made it extra convenient for us. We disembarked from our seven-hour bus ride from Kas, fought off the efforts of the touts trying to steer us to a guesthouse for a commission, gained our bearings and set off for the short 200+m walk to the pension.

Everything turned out just fine. Our four-person room had beds that easily fit all five of us for our first night by ourselves and GG had a very nice double room her first night with Ainsley as her roommate. She did have to move the next night and gave up her private bath, but the new room was next door to ours and she was able to use our bathroom and shower. This was a good introduction for her to the world of all-in-one bathrooms. The shower, toilet and sink all occupying the same space with little distinction between them. This one was bigger and better than most, but still the floor and toilet often got wet from the showers.

The included breakfast was fine, simply bread, butter, jam, cheese, tomatoes, and fruit. Tea was included, but curiously coffee was extra. Alison the owner was very nice and helpful in arranging my mother’s airport pickup and other things along the way. GG did just fine rolling with the shared bathroom and everything else.

Overall Kiwi Pension was about average, nothing too special.

WGGSH? – She did!
WWSHA? – Probably

Apartment – Kas, Turkey

May 4, 2009

We decided to rent an apartment on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey for a week. This was one of only a handful of places that we did so and each time it was a welcome respite from the more constant travel. The apartment wasn’t ideal or perfect by any stretch. I made a big mistake thinking that I had booked a different one online, but in fact booked this one. The difference was that this one was 7 km outside of town on a nearby peninsula, not a short walk down the hill to town. It also had a number of things like an always smelly bathroom and a lovely position facing the water, but only 2 small windows through which to enjoy.

On the positive side of things it did have a nice pool, a washing machine (ooh boy, always nice to have some clean clothes for a change), and a very helpful apartment manager who hung a loaf of fresh bread on our front door each morning. He also invited Jack and Eliot to his son’s birthday party. I also attended with some of the other people in other apartments and was treated to one of the best looking plates of deserts.

The real highlight though was the night that Kelli roasted a chicken in the oven and made mashed potatoes. The taste and smell transported us back to Vickers Avenue for a brief moment.

WGGSH – Yes

WWSHA – No, we’d stay closer to town.

Seshuvar Peace Pension - Egridir, Turkey

April 24, 2009

img_6224.jpgWe were definitely visiting this Turkish Lake District village before the tourist season hit. The streets were nearly empty of any tourists, foreign or Turkish. Our pension was empty save for us.

We enjoyed our short visit here and two delicious dinners prepared by “Mama”, the matriarch of the family that owned the pension. Our critical mistake however was not inquiring about the price of the meals, thinking that as we had read they would be reasonably priced, home cooking affairs. They were home cooking and some of the best food we’ve had in Turkey, but reasonably priced, probably not. When eating in restaurants we don’t order soup, salad, appetizers, and main courses for everyone including the kids. Instead we pick and choose a few and ensure that we have enough food, but don’t overdo it. Here, they just brought 5 out of everything until we stopped them once or twice. So, the bill was a bit larger than expected which left a bit of a sour taste as it seemed that they were taking advantage of us as tourists.

The room was fine, if a bit cold until we figured out how to turn the heater on. The dining area was only outside which was a bit frigid in the morning. Guess we really were here before the season and summer heat starts.

WGGSH? - Probably not

WWSHA? - Probably not

Traveller’s Cave Pension - Goreme, Turkey (Cappadocia too)

April 23, 2009

p4230143.jpgWe wanted to spend another night in Cappadocia, but didn’t have the budget for a third night at Esbelli Evi. Back to reality when we moved to the next town over into a budget version of a cave hotel. Some of the rooms were better than ours, but we took what we could get. A basement room back in the corner, truly a cave carved out of the rock, with 5 beds.  It did have an ensuite bathroom, so it could have been worse.

While staying here we met a fascinating American woman named Evelyn, currently living in the French Alps with her youngest of four children, a 16-year old daughter (at a boarding school), but actually Evelyn was born in Lumberton, NC. Now for those who don’t know NC well, Lumberton is way out in the country on the border with South Carolina and not necessarily the mostwordly small town in the state. But Evelyn had traveled everywhere in the world it seems and was spending a few months in Turkey to beat the cold of the Alps. She must be in her late 50s/early 60s, but that doesn’t prevent her from hiking alone for days on the Lycian Way along the Mediterranean coast, nor does it slow down her use of hitchhiking as her preferred means of travel. In fact, many years before she, her husband and four children hitchhiked through much of South East Asia. This of course was after she had hitchhiked from Washington State all the way into South America with baby number 1 and pregnant with number 2, sometime before she met her future husband in Morocco.  As you can tell, she left quite an impression and her story would make great memoir reading.  Wow!

Not much else to say about this pension though. Not great, not terrible.

WGGSH? - No

WWSHA? - Maybe, if we could get room 11, but there are probably better ones

Esbelli Evi - Urgup, Turkey (Cappadocia)

April 21, 2009

img_5916.jpgAs Eliot would say this place was a “splurge” for us. He might also say that it was “luxurous”, meaning luxurious, which it definitely was. Our friends from Durham, Murat and Leslie, had stayed here and sung its praises. We also saw endless praise for it all over the internet. We knew that we wanted to spend a night or two at one of the famous “cave hotels” in Cappadocia, and after really taking the rough backpacker route for a week in Istanbul and then the 12 hour night bus here, we felt that a splurge was in order. The family suite ended up being the largest place we’ve stayed in yet, save for JM’s mother’s house in Cuenca, Ecuador. And, it had two bathrooms! So, we moved from a shared 10-bed dorm room with a shared bathroom to two bathrooms, two bedrooms, a sitting room and a kitchen; now that is luxury! Of course, why do we need more than two bathrooms in our houses back at home anyway?

The coolest thing by far was that the entire suite was carved out of the rock hillside of this small town in central Turkey. One of the kid’s beds was actually carved into the rock wall. How cool is that!?!

So, loads of rooms, bathrooms to spare, great breakfasts with a tremendous view, helpful staff, etc. We really enjoyed our stay but were careful not to get accustomed to that level of service.  It even came with five pair of cushy terry slippers embroidered with Esbelli Evi across the top which we now carry with us.

WGGSH? - Absolutely — she’d love the slippers!

WWSHA? - Ditto

Tulip Guest House - Istanbul, Turkey

April 20, 2009

img_5879.jpgSo, this was the least expensive place we found in Istanbul. Most places wanted north of 65 euros for a triple room and we just weren’t going to pay that, even for a big city in Europe, or I guess in Europe/Asia. We thought that something better and less expensive must be out there. I consulted the usual sources; guidebooks, Trip Advisor, google, etc. Two of my top choices said that they were full but could put us up in their “sister” pension or “cousin’s” hostel. That has always caused us pause for concern, so we kept looking. Tulip Guesthouse had near unanimous feedback about the warm welcome and wonderful owners. We’d heard that before and were a bit skeptical, but booked our 5 beds in the 10 bed dorm room anyway. The location was good and how bad could it be? We only booked for 2 nights and could move if we needed to.

The airport shuttle dropped some other passengers off at very nice looking guest houses and finally pulled to a stop for us. We couldn’t see a sign for Tulip anywhere and then he got out, walked down a side street and around a corner to show us where it was. Well, the building facade wasn’t very impressive and as we went inside, neither was it. But, Metin the owner, who couldn’t be much older than 25, greeted us with such enthusiasm. He also connected with the kids immediately and in a sincere manner. He showed us the dining area/kitchen on the top floor with a beautiful view of the Bosphorus and then showed us to the dorm room. It was very basic and probably only meant for 8 beds in instead of the 10 that were in it. Then the bathroom came next. Down a circular staircase into the basement and ‘watch your head’ as you go into the stall or one of the two showers. No, the living spaces weren’t much to write home about.

So, we continued on with an open mind and in the end stayed a full week. It was such a joy to get to know Metin and some of the others there and to learn more about Turkey through their eyes and experiences. One night Metin cooked a delicious fish dinner for us all and he always had a smile and joke for the boys.

All the signs were there for a mediocre experience at best but, our stay in the end was really enjoyable!

WGGSH? - No way

WWSHA? - Yes

Brooklyn Arts Hotel - Melbourne, Australia

April 12, 2009

img_5442.jpg

We spent only a week in Australia and decided to spend all of it going a bit deeper into Melbourne rather than moving about in a huge country. Looking up hostels on the internet told us that they were quite a bit more expensive than in New Zealand so Kelli looked around to find something different that we could call home for the week. She happened upon the Brooklyn Arts Hotel and sent an e-mail off to Maggie the owner to see if we could stay.

Now, we don’t make a practice of staying in hotels on this trip, too expensive and frankly too impersonal and insulating. In fact, the Crown Suites Hotel in Miami is really the one and only hotel so far and that was the first night and on hotel points. But, this is not your standard hotel. More like a rambling old house with a really caring and interested owner and loads of interesting guests to meet and talk with. We met an American, funny enough from Brooklyn, who was in Melbourne to attend the wedding of a friend. The friend is the Resident Director of the Wicked production in town and as a result Kelli and Jack spent a wonderful evening at that show. We also met a jewelry designer from New Zealand, two landscape architects from Tazmania, a local Lonely Planet author, and many more interesting and genuinely friendly people. Eliot made friends with one particular guest who kindly listened intently to his many stories of our trip and then left him a very sweet note the day we left with a special pen for him to use for writing in his journal.

Maggie from the very start went out of her way making sure that our stay in Melbourne would be everything we hoped. She provided loads of information, advice and help in getting around, even lending us her car one day to travel to the Healesville Sanctuary to see Koalas, Kangaroos, and other animals unique to Australia. We enjoyed a dinner with her one night, great breakfasts and many conversations and interactions along the way. Oh, yes the easter bunny came here too and hid lots of chocolate easter eggs all around the house.

WGGSH? - Yes

WWSHA? - Absolutely

Astray Backpackers - Rotorua, New Zealand

April 4, 2009

This was a fun place to stay and no, Rotorua didn’t smell of sulphur as badly as we were led to believe.  The rooms here are designed as what they call “compact accommodation” and Jude the owner cautioned me on the phone that they were in fact very small.  I told her that we stayed in some very compact accommodations in Japan and that I was sure that we could fit five comfortably in their unit designed for four people.  (We’ve come a long way from our old, large and spacious home back in Durham.)  Yes, we squeezed in very well and save for the night that Jack and Eliot were sharing the bottom bunk together peace was in the air.  We liked the thoughtful design of the unit, with some in the family especially liking the two tvs with SKY cable service, our first in many, many weeks.

WGGSH? - Probably

WWSHA? - Yes, although it was a bit expensive.

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