Monday, May 15, 2023

Italy/Greece 2023 Week #1

After a whirlwind of long postponed packing, we were ready to go when our friend Janet picked us up on Sunday, May 7 for the quick jaunt to the Hammond train station. The trip from Hammond to New Orleans was uneventful. We marked our goodbye to Louisiana for the next month by going dancing at Mulates. Always a pleasure! We had the floor to ourselves and we took advantage of it. 

Next morning, we were at the NOLA train station to catch the Crescent to Washington DC. Our room on the train was very pleasant with plenty of room to stretch out, but Trip Disappointment #1 was lurking close by. 

Our car attendant came by to see what we wanted for breakfast and lunch. Confused, we asked if we had to decide both before going to the dining car the first time. He sighed and gave us the bad news: there is no longer a dining car on any of the eastern train routes. All meals are delivered to the room in a large brown paper sack. For us, going to the dining car and meeting people was one of the best things about riding the train. In that very moment we decided to make a train trip to the West Coast as soon as possible before Amtrak removes those dining cars. 

Arriving in DC we made our way to Hotel Harrington and Harry's Bar. This hotel is NOT fancy. However, it is located in the heart of everything you might want to do in DC and the prices are very reasonable, relatively speaking. After dinner we went on a long walk toward the White House and mapped out our plan for the following day. 

Up early, we made a breakfast of the huge blueberry muffin left over from the train and set out for the mall. First stop, the Smithsonian Castle and PUFF - Trip Disappointment #2. It was closed for a five year renovation project. The upside of this disappointment is knowing it is being restored to its original glory. And to sweeten the deal even more, the gardens behind the castle were as lovely as always. We missed the cherry blossoms (too late) and the magnolia blossoms (too early), but there was plenty of color to enjoy!

We had never visited the two museums located under the gardens and this seemed like the best time to rectify that. The National Museum of African Art and the National Museum of Asian Art filled the next few hours and could have held our attention longer, but the muffin was wearing off and we were ready for lunch. 

After a chicken sandwich and salad, we walked across the mall to the Museum of Natural History. A person could get caught up in all the displays and collections in that building for weeks on end, but we had a special focus, Lights Out, a current exhibit demonstrating the need for recovering our night sky. It was fascinating, but by now I was dragging. Back to the hotel for a rest and dinner.

We made up for the lack of a dining car experience by inviting two people to join us at our table that evening - the bartender on break and a very pretty woman who was sitting across from us and obviously very lonely. We learned quickly that she is a pastor/life coach/author/mother of five/a free spirit/ and quite jolly. The bartender is an accomplished violinist, a designer and tailor of period clothing for men, a water color artist, and an aspiring gourmet cook. To say the least, it was an interesting time!

Up the next morning, we got everything repacked and had a little time to relax before checking out of the hotel. Off to Union Station! We stowed our luggage and went out for lunch and a walk around the capitol grounds. More beautiful gardens! And so many men dressed in dark suits, white shirts and ties. They all looked miserable walking around in the heat. Maybe if politicians were encouraged to dress a bit less "suity" (a word I learned from our lady dinner companion the night before), we wouldn't have so much hate and discontent in Congress. 

The train from DC to EWR, Newark's International Airport was fast and efficient. No dawdling allowed! But unfortunately, Trip Disappointment #3 was about to descend. The track to the airport has been moved so that instead of detraining right at the front door of Terminal B, we got off the train at an AIR TRAIN station. First we had to fish out our Amtrak ticket to get through the gate, find the elevator, go upstairs, wait, board the train that would take us to the airport, detrain, wait for another train that finally took us to the right section of the terminal. Not the easy relaxed approach I had shared with my friends. Clustered in this same disappointment was the lounge. It just wasn't as nice as we remembered. Oh, well . . . things change. 

Some things change for the better!

The plane itself was a wonder seven years ago, but today it is fabulous!The seats glide down, the leg rest glides up and together with a built in ottoman, I could lie perfectly flat or raise my head just a bit or a lot. Cozy socks and an eye mask were provided along with a substantial comforter, long enough to go from one end of Stanley to the other and a great pillow. I slept for almost six and a half hours of the eight hour flight. 

That's me stretched out completely flat!

Breakfast was a perfectly poached egg on a toasted English muffin, a sauce to die for, three kinds of fresh fruit and a croissant. I could have had pound cake with fruit instead, but my tummy still remembered the blueberry muffin from the train. Congratulations La Compagnie

Arrival in Milán was a rainy dreary mess. The suitcases were wet and so was the stuff inside one of them. But I was determined not to count this as a disappointment. There is absolutely no controlling the weather!

A quick trip to the hotel and I was in awe!Hotel Villa Malpensa is a treasure. Beautiful architecture, luxurious interiors, delicious food! Oh my! What a treat. Located just off the airport grounds, it is surprisingly quiet. We got everything out of the wet suitcase and managed to have it all dried by the next morning. 

These are two of many many art work in the hotel. Amazing!

We spent most of Saturday in the grasp of Aegean Air Line. Not my favorite, but it seems they have improved their customer service somewhat. We flew from Milán to Athens, sat around the airport for three - yes THREE hours. You might think that was a real downer, but it wasn't. I passed most of the time visiting with a young woman from Corfu. She was on her way to Paris to work for a clothing retailer and try to forward her career as a dancer. She was drop dead beautiful and spoke perfect English. Among other surprises, she told me that she hates social media and thinks AI is the worst part      of technology. Score one for the 18 year olds in the world. 

Arriving in Chania, we found our luggage and a taxi in short order and were off to Hotel Porto Veneziano. Another study in luxury. It was already dark when we arrived so we asked the receptionist to make an emergency reservation for us at the restaurant. Twenty minutes later, we were seated with a drink in hand melting the day away as the stars came out. Dinner was wonderful. It seems Cretans find it impossible to create mediocre food. 

Next morning, the car rental guy arrived just as we were concluding a sweet visit with the hotel owner. He took us all around the interior patio and talked with us about each plant as if it were his favorite. With car rental business completed, we piled all our stuff and ourselves into our little Hyundai and off we went in search of Vryses Village Vibes, our home for the night. 

Getting out of Chania was a bit of a challenge, but GPS to the rescue. Finding the B&B was a different story. I had to get directions over the phone from someone who had missed a lot of English lessons. No worries, after three times around the little town we finally saw the sign and from there it was a piece of cake. The place looked absolutely nothing like the pictures I saw on the internet, but it was clean and a wonderful taverna was just down the street with tables set out along the river. 

After three straight nights of luxury, I almost welcomed the little touch of reality. However, when it comes to food, it's hard to escape luxury on Crete, no matter how small the price. An appetizer of baked feta, a Greek salad, two lamb dinners, and desert. Plus beer for Stanley and wine for me. Delicious! Beautifully presented! Less than 40 euros. And there were geese for entertainment. It doesn't get much better than that. 

Monday Morning I woke up feeling like crap, but I managed to gather my strength and off we went down the windy, curvy road to Sfakia. After many stops to admire and photograph the flowers along the way, we arrived at Vritomartis and got checked in. Everything is put away now and we have a tidy camp comfort set up for the next two weeks. 

For some reason, the pictures I took with my phone will not load to Blogger so my dear readers will have to wait until I can solve that issue to see the beauty we are enjoying. Hopefully, I'll find a tech expert on the beach very soon. 

I'm finally feeling better and it's time for dinner. More later.