Stuck in Philly and Thinking of Greece

So here I am in Philly... unfortunately, Continental doesn't have any flights that return to Houston past five o'clock and I couldn't figure out how to connect to another city to head to Houston. Oh well, I'll be here overnight before catching an early one back home. I'm at the Renaissance by the airport - a far cry from other Renaissances like the one in Austin but it will do the trick. Besides, it was actually $70/night cheaper than the Courtyard. Baffling.

My meeting in Allentown went very well so I'm pleased with the outcome. We'll see where it leads . Otherwise, I'm just happy I made it to my hotel after taking the cab ride from hades - my driver apparently had a death wish and little regard for my life. I'll just be happy when I'm home tomorrow.

On a different note, I've decided Santorini is the place to visit in Greece. Since our trip will be short, we'll just focus on staying there rather than hopping from island to island like the original Milos / Santorini trip. Now we're trying to decide on a hotel. Give than the Euro is eating the Dollar's lunch, we're trimming back our budget a bit and have narrowed it down to the following hotels:

Golden Sunset Villas (Oia)
Aris Caves (Oia)
Chelidonia Villas (Oia)
Strogili Houses (Oia)
Afroessa (Imerovigli)
Delfini Studios (Oia)

It's tough to choose. I like Afroessa but wish it was in Oia. That makes me lean a little bit towards Strogili since it has a pool. Nefeli Homes looks like but the reviews aren't as good. I'm also tempted to include two nights at Amoudi Villas since it is right by the water in Amoud Bay - right at the base of the cliffs below Oia.


Threadless in Chicago

Threadless makes the coolest T-shirts... I somehow came across them - I honestly don't remember how - but I'm a big fan of their shirts. I typically order their shirts online (have picked up a design or two before) but if you happen to be in Chicago, they apparently have a retail storefront at 3011 North Broadway Avenue. Now, if you haven't ordered their shirts before, they are all issued in limited amounts - how many of each? Not sure but I do know that whenever I try to get a shirt in medium, I better do it shortly after it is released. Anyway, they'll release a few shirts each week so you can always check back to see what is in stock. Oh, and if you visit before December 16th, be it in person or online, you'll find most of their designs are only $10.00... and yes, that includes reprinted classics like We're Toast and Summer Wind.


Fall Foliage

So, I went to Nashville this past week for a quick trip to present to the executive team for one of my clients. I'd never been to Tennessee so that was one more pin I could add to my travel map. Anyway, despite falling into a baby-induced sleep on the flight, I woke up in time to see all the beautiful fall foliage as we landed in Nashville. What a gorgeous sight. Houston has so many evergreen pines and live oaks that you just don't get a chance to relish the colors of fall. If you want to know where to catch the tail end of fall color around the country, The Weather Channel always posts good foliage maps. Another place is the Foliage Network (not one of the big 3). The same site lists the top 10 places around the country to see fall foliage. Despite Pennsylvania being listed as number 9, I have a feeling I won't see any fall color when I make it to Allentown later this month. Probably too late. I will note that the icing on the cake for this past trip was being able to catch an earlier flight back home - always beautiful!

Houston Restaurant List

I'm going to start maintaining a list of Houston restaurants I like and would recommend via a constantly updated entry. When I think of something I want to add, I'll just bump this to the top. Expect this to start small and grow as we go along...

Downtown (and Nearby)
Azuma Sushi - 909 Texas - Downtown location of outstanding Rice Village area sushi bar. Great design and atmosphere.
Cabo - 419 Travis - Nice big menu - fish tacos always worth ordering. Great balcony seating (if you can find a spot)
Gravitas - 807 Taft - Scott Tycer and Jason Gould's brainchild - tasty food in a loud, frenetic environment.
Perbacco - 700 Milam - Italian-run and very authentic. Great before the theater.
Vincent's -2701 West Dallas - ...and Nino's and Grappino di Nino - all adjacent to each other. Take your pick - all three are excellent.

Galleria Area
Arco D'Oro - 5000 Westheimer - Sardinian cuisine. Grab a spot on the patio.
Berryhill - 1717 Post Oak - Multiple locations. Casual "baja-style" cuisine. Great fish tacos!
Bice - 5175 Westheimer - Elegant Houston-location of Italian-run chain. Pricey. Great for client dinners.
Cafe Lili - 5757 Westheimer - Family-run Lebanese food. Complimentary coffee a nice touch.
Thai Restaurant - 5757 Westheimer - Excellent family-run Thai restaurant with good service.
Uptown Sushi - 1131 Uptown Park - Delicious upscale sushi restaurant. Place to be seen.

Memorial Area
Bistro Provence - 13616 Memorial Drive - Delicious French cuisine. Nice homey interior, excellent patio seating.
Ciro's - 9755 Katy Freeway - Expanded location with a nice outside patio (despite the noise)
Collina's - 12311 Kingsride - One of four locations. Food is decent but a good casual restaurant for families. BYOB. Tasty pizza.

Rice Village Area
Crossaint Brioche - 2435 Rice Blvd - Nice spot for an afternoon cappucino and tarte
Patu Thai
- 2420 Rice Blvd - Tiny Thai restaurant short on space but big on quality.
Prego - 2520 Amherst - Great Italian restaurant. Always buzzing... expect a wait.

Upper Kirby
El Tiempo Cantina - 3130 Richmond - Extremely popular spot with delicious Tex-Mex

Upper Westheimer Area
713 Restaurant.Lounge - 10001 Westheimer - Great sushi on an eclectic menu with reasonable prices.
Fadi's Grill - 8383 Westheimer - Original Fadi's location has outstanding mediterranean food.
La Trattoria - 6500 Westheimer - Italian run restaurant with Northern Italian cuisine.
Rioja - 11920 Westheimer - Very good tapas, nice patio with live music on weekend

Achille Express - 1127 Eldridge - Casual Italian-run eatery. Great pizza margherita.
Marine's Empanadas - 3227 Hillcroft - 47 types of Colombian style empanadas made fresh. Delicious.
Rattan Pan-Asian Bistro - 1396 Eldridge - Nice variety of Asian food - well-designed restaurant, attractive patio.


Saudi Blogs

One of my largest clients is a well-known international organization in Saudi Arabia. Given that I now work with this Saudi firm, I occasionally do a little bit of digging around a very complex but fascinating culture. It looks as if Saudi Arabia is going through some interesting boom times thanks to the sky high prices of oil. However, if you want to get the opinions of two "regular folks" who live in Saudi Arabia, I'm adding two blogs to my page - Saudi Jeans, written by a Saudi youth, and American Bedu, written by a former diplomat married to a Saudi. I hope you find them enlightening.


Three Zurich Hotels (and two bites)

One of our favorite cities in Europe is Zurich... clean, historic and situated along the banks of the Limmat and the picturesque Lake Zurich. I enjoyed my business travel there so much that when we booked our honeymoon trip, Zurich was our first stop.

Personally, I've always felt the altstadt or old town makes a great base. Admittedly, I've never stayed in famed hotels like the Baur Au Lac or the Dolder Grand but I would gladly recommend the three I've frequented...

Sofitel Zurich - A highly regarded hotel that often receives rave reviews for the level of service and its convenient location. While not located in the altstadt, it's a mere five minute walk from the Bahnhofstrasse, about as far from Niederdorfstrasse and just up the block from the Limmat. Some of the 134 rooms can be a bit spare but are all comfortable.

Hotel Altstadt - Just like it's namesake, the Hotel Altstadt is located in the old town, tucked between the Limmat Quai and Oberdorfstrasse. The location is literally in the shadow of the Grossmunster church. Accommodations are more basic but comfortable for a three-star hotel. Rates range from 160 CHF to 230 CHF. A small bar is attached to the hotel.

Bar Hotel Rossli - Somewhere between the Sofitel and the Altstadt - comfort and price-wise - is the Bar Hotel Rossli. Having stayed there on business, we chose the hotel for our honeymoon stop in Zurich. The hotel is about a block away from the Hotel Altstadt on Rossligasse. Rooms are nice and comfortable but, if you have the funds, splurge on the Junior Suite... the room is spacious but the clincher is the private rooftop terrace overlooking Lake Zurich - by far the highlight of staying at the Rossli. Rates start at 270 CHF for a double and 380 for the junior suite.

While I've never stayed there, some other well known hotels are the Hotel zum Storchen (my dad's favorite) and the Hotel Adler. While Zurich is by no means cheap, you'll always get what you paid. The same goes for food. Zurich may not be renowned for its cuisine but the food is generally good and sampling Swiss specialities at restaurants like Zunfthaus zur Zimmerleuten and Haus zum Ruden is always worthwhile. Leaving Zurich without eating zurigschnatzlets (veal and mushrooms in a cream sauce) with rosti would be a crime.


Hampton Court on Display

If you're in Houston, be sure to stop by the Starbucks at the corner of Voss and San Felipe on November 9th to see one of my photos displayed at a small local art show. Titled "Hampton Court Carousel", the photograph is a close-up of the horse depicted at the right. Given my love for travel photography, this is a small opportunity to show off a little bit of my work.

A local map will help you find the Starbucks where the show will be taking place.

Overwhelmed by the Greek Islands

So, someone I know (cough cough) might be doing a little covert research on Greece... because, you know, it never hurts to look around and just see, what's there. Right? Of course...

Now, visiting Greece almost always involves a visit to one of the countless Greek islands. The first obstacle you have to face is... which island do I want to visit. Will it be one covered with whitewashed houses in the Cyclades or will it be one of the Italian influenced Ioninan islands? Perhaps something closer to Turkey in Dodecanese? Yeah... it's not easy to pick.

I have found two sites that offer a great wealth of information when one is tackling such a task. One is Greeka.com, the self-proclaimed "Greek island specialists". It's not a bad moniker - they really offer a ton of information and many great pictures. You can poke around by island chain, by town within an island, by beach... lots and lots of good information. I really like this site. The second has more of a personal touch. It's Matt Barrett's Travel Guide to Greece, written by a man who has traveled or lived in Greece since 1968. Suffice it to say, he has a ton of really useful and detailed information from a traveler's perspective. I always check out his site... I mean, "my friend" who is researching a possible trip checks out his site.

Vroulidia Beach in Chios
Photo by Sabine Koening on www.Spitaka.gr

As I was saying, these two sites will get you on the right track. If you can manage to figure out which island you're going to visit, you'll then have to sort out where to stay. This can also be quite daunting. Of course, you have sites like Trip Advisor that offer plenty of good reviews. Still, an island like Santorini has 200 or so hotels, inns, apartment complexes, etc. that are available for rent. You have to sort through all the reviews and cut through some of the typical bias. You have to have a discerning eye.

Anyway, as I... yes, it's me... dig around, I'm catching a few places of interest. Obviously, there are literally thousands of lodging options but here are a tiny handful that I have found interesting... Keep in mind, I've never been to any of these places so I can't vouch from first-hand experience.

Folegandros - Chora Resort
Kea - Porto Kea Suites Hotel
Milos - Milos Limeri
Milos - Villa Notos
Mykonos - Apsenti Boutique Resort
Mykonos - Vencia Boutique Hotel
Santorini - Anastasis Apartments
Santorini - Aris Caves
Santorini - Golden Sunset Villas
Sifnos - Niriedes Hotel
Sifnos - Sifnos Lighthouse Hotel


A Few Words About Tamarindo

As you know, our primary experience with Costa Rica was in Tamarindo, a small beach town on the Nicoya peninsula. While there, I kept some notes on the town with the express purpose of eventually posting them here. A bit edited but here's the gist of them...

High Tide at Sunset at Tamarindo Beach

Tamarindo offers a great beach location with the secluded and expansive Playa Grande just a brief minute boat ride away... water taxis cost 500 colones or roughly a dollar. Don't believe that it only takes 15 minutes to walk to Las Tortugas once you cross the estuary - that was the estimate I was given at Iguana Surf Shop. It took us about 45 minutes. The water taxi drivers will also offer to take you on an estuary tour for about 2 hours for about $20/head. You can just show up and go whenever you want as there are plenty of water taxis running.

During low tide, the beach in Tamarindo is wide enough for plenty of people to hang out. However, as you can see from the picture above, once high tide hits... the beach tends to disappear as the difference between high tide and low tide is, going from memory, about 8 feet. Pretty drastic. Just take a look at the lava reefs in front of the Diria below and you get the picture.

...and This is Low Tide

The town has an excellent mix of restaurants in all price ranges. Many of them are a welcome retreat for the shady scene on "the circle", particularly at night. The closer you get to the circle, the more likely you are to see prostitutes or be offered drugs. We were asked three times on a Tuesday night if we wanted pot and one time on a Wednesday night for a harder option.

"Hello my friend... how are you... want to buy some weed?"
- Drug dealer puttering by on his dinky motorcycle

Honestly, you can walk around without being hassled - small crowds of locals sometimes are unnerving but no one really messed with us. At the same time, sometimes you feel like you're being watched. Some roads are pretty dark - like the road from the main part of town that then leads to the Kahiki. No streetlights, really.

Souvenir shops are more than plentiful, some of which have unique items worth buying while the rest are filled with your typical tourist fare. A couple of galliers (one next to Kahiki and the other next to Nibbana) offered nicer items. The shops at El Diria are more boutique-like although prices are definitely higher. Several surf shops are also in town - High Tide, Iguana and the like - so you won't have any problem locating board rentals, ding repair or a surf school. A handful of small supermarkets (more like convenience stores stuffed to the gills) are located throughout town. Since construction is taking place all over town, new shops, markets and restaurants are sure to pop. Many of the owners are expats - Americans, French, Swiss, Argentines and Italians.

Browsing Some Great Hardwood Items

The town is small enough to walk pretty much everywhere and, given enough time, you can take a comfortable walk to Playa Langosta. Many people opt to rent cars to visit nearby beaches or head to/from the airport. I have no idea where people park, though. If you do walk, expect to get plenty of dust all over you as each passing vehicle leaves a cloud in its wake. I'd say maybe 10% of the roads in town are paved -the rest are rocky. They must me a muddy mess during the rainy season. Ladies would do well to leave their heels at the hotel.

It's Tico Time at the Diria

When it comes to currency, you can probably do just fine without colones as everyone accepts dollars. In fact, if you're a gringo, they'll assume you're paying with dollars. You'll see USD prices all over the place. ATMs are located throughout town with two right by El Diria and one just west of High Tide Surf Shop. Keep in mind that prices are inflated in Tamarindo.

Next time... more information on various tours from Tamarindo.