Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Wrapping up the Year in New Orleans

I bet you think we are going to write about a grand adventure partying in New Orleans, crowded with people eager to watch the Sugar Bowl, parades, grand times. I could – but our visit was a little different.

AdventureMan and I DID have a grand adventure – taking the 6 year old and 3 year old grandchildren to New Orleans for three days. We were a little aghast at the enormity of our undertaking, but AdventureMan did a little investigating, and found a wonderful solution – The Audubon Nature Institute has an annual family membership which gets you into the New Orleans zoo, the Aquarium, the Butterfly Garden and the Insectarium, and invited to special events, for a year.

Even better, the cost of the year-long family membership is so reasonable that our first trip to the zoo paid off the entire membership. The next day, the children voted that we visit the zoo again, and the third day we visited the aquarium. We can go back all year, walk in through the membership gate (that is a great feature, beats standing in line for tickets) and get a membership discount in the gift shop. This is a real deal. You can find it at Audubon Nature Institute, you can join online and print out your temporary membership card. What a great value for the money.

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New Orleans – and Pensacola – had an unseasonably warm Christmas, and when we arrived in New Orleans, it was 75° F. and the zoo was packed. Fortunately, one family was leaving and we found a good parking spot. Parenthetically, the three year old was a total trooper, doing her 10,000 steps with no complaints. We had lunch with the flamingos at one of the zoo food stops.
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We think the zoo has one of the most beautiful carousels we have ever seen. Tickets cost $1 and are worth every penny. This is a treat for children and their parents 🙂
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Two days, two trips to the zoo. It was fun, and plenty to occupy the kids for more than a couple days.
There are all kinds of enrichment centers and activities.
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We stayed at the Westin, which we discovered atop a high end shopping mall and offices when we had to rush to New Orleans to replace a missing passport at the last minute before one of our trips overseas. It is not where we stay when it is just the two of us, but it is a perfect place to stay with children who are going to the aquarium (next door) and the insectarium. It is also a very short drive to the zoo. Parking is $30 per day, and relatively secure. We looked over the city and the river, and had a very spacious room for two adults and two children.
We were also able to find some great places which welcomed children and provided fairly healthy food.
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A short walk from the hotel was Felipe’s, a taqueria, which we liked so well that we ate there two nights. Everything was freshly made, the kids loved the food (they had quesadillas and black beans), I had a taco salad made with pork al pastor, AdventureMan had tamales, tostada and a tortilla soup. We all split two flans. It was casual, the food was tasty and fresh and we were comfortable being their with kids.
Across the street from  Zito’s, where we take our Middle Eastern treasures to be shined up and sealed, is the Wakin’ Bakin’, where we had plates full of eggs and toast and fabulous biscuits, bowls of fresh fruit and good coffee.  They make their own croissants, and other wonderful goodies, and it’s all good.
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We introduced the grands to Ethiopian food at the Cafe Abyssinia, 3511 Magazine Street, close to the zoo and on the way back to the French Quarter. They loved the Ethiopian tea, and the injera, which they thought were pancakes. Not so fond yet of the Doro Wat or the veg entrees, but we have time . . . .  🙂
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Last but not least, as the weather turned chilly overnight, we snuggled into the Jackson Brewery, on Decatur, close to the Westin and close to the Aquarium and the river park walk. We started with beignets, which were a big hit, and orange juice. The brewery actually had good fresh options and the children loved the space and ambience.
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Entrance to Jackson Brewery from Decatur Street:
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We had such a good time, we think it might have to become a Christmas vacation tradition. In the meanwhile, we also enjoyed turning them back over to their parents and enjoying hours of silence. 🙂 Happy New Year!

December 31, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Birds, Cultural, Eating Out, Entertainment, ExPat Life, Experiment, Family Issues, Holiday, Hotels, Living Conditions, Relationships, Road Trips, Travel, Weather | , , , | 2 Comments

Cooking Up That Angry Food

I have a friend that helps me keep my house clean. I started out as her employer, and now we have become friends. She lives a very different life from me, and I learn from her. Sometimes her perceptions will catch me by surprise.

As we were talking about volunteers and volunteering in churches, we found our churches to be very similar – and I am betting these experiences are universal.

“I’ve always liked washing dishes,” I tell her, “because nobody else wants the job, nobody is telling me how to do it, and I can just keep my head down and stay out of the uproars.”

“Yeh,” she says, “arguing over the little things, cooking up that angry food.”

“Angry food?” I ask.

“”Yeh, you know, you can taste it. When people are calm and happy, they cook differently, and the food comes out good, you can taste the love in it. When they in a hurry, or upset about something, food come out angry.”

Yep. I’ve cooked an angry meal or two myself. It’s a waste of good ingredients. You might as well just open a can of soup as cook angry food.

December 16, 2016 Posted by | Advent, Community, Cooking, Cross Cultural, Family Issues, Food, Humor, Quality of Life Issues, Survival | Leave a comment

“If Not Now, When?”

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(This is not the actual slide; the YMCA slide is indoors, and has two loops)

Our brand new YMCA has opened in Pensacola, and it has TWO pools – and a water slide.

Yesterday, there was one swimmer and one wallower as I entered the swim area for water aerobics with two of my friends. This was the perfect time. I asked the life guard if he could open the water slide long enough for us to go down.

My friends looked at me like I had grown a second head.

“If not now, when?” I asked them. “We’re not getting any younger. Who knows, tomorrow we might not be able!”

They were game. They followed me up the stairs, then others began to follow. It occurred to me that there was no going back, and that I had put myself in this position, where I couldn’t back out.

The lifeguard turned on the gush of water that lubricates and speeds your ride through the tube. I didn’t wait to let fear claim me, I jumped into the entry and went.

It was dark. It was fast. It was terrifying. You come out twisted and disoriented, not sure which way is up. It’s a lot like being born – there is NO light in the tube, and when light appears, there is a big gush of water as you are thrown out into the pool. I cam up sputtering.

Everyone did. We all looked proudly at one another and agreed that we are glad we did it – once. And never again.

December 13, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Circle of Life and Death, Community, Exercise, Experiment, Fitness / FitBit, Humor, Living Conditions, Pensacola | , | 2 Comments

“Yes Ma’am, That Was For a Bus Ticket to Mexico”

“We see it all the time.”

As long as we lived overseas, AdventureMan and I never had a problem with our credit cards. I used ATM’s all over Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait to make cash withdrawals when I needed what my Mom calls “jingle money,” you know, walking-around money for lunch out, for fabrics in the souks, for whatever we needed cash for. It was easy, and it must have been safe. We never once had a problem.

 

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Now, we’ve had to change our numbers several times.

This one was particularly odd, though. I got a second notice on a card I call my “hurricane” card. When you live in Florida, massive calamity can happen literally overnight. You may have to suddenly evacuate to a strange city and need funds for emergency housing, and housing the pets. No running to the bank for a withdrawal when an area has been destroyed by a tornado; it can take months for infrastructure to be back up and running normally.

The charge was made just after we returned from traveling, so my first instinct was to check my wallet, and the card was not there. Oddly, while it was my account, it was AdventureMan’s card, which has a different number. He assures me he never made the change. I believe him; I find both cards safely tucked away, unused, in a safe place.

I call the bank. I explain that we had been traveling, but neither of us think we made this charge, the only charge on this card, the card we not only never use, but don’t even keep in our wallets. The bank lady takes a look and laughs and says “Oh yes. That was a bus ticket to Mexico. We’ve seen that before.”

Long story short, this kind of fraud has become so routine that they have routine practices that go immediately into effect to protect us, to protect their other customers and to restore our hurricane card.

But when she said it was for a bus ticket to Mexico, I burst out laughing, and all my anxiety disappeared in a heartbeat. No. I did not charge a bus ticket to Mexico, and neither did AdventureMan.

It’s just so odd, to me. These are cards that have never even been in our wallets. They never leave their safe place. How was someone able to use them?

December 8, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Crime, Customer Service, Doha, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, fraud, Kuwait, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Saudi Arabia, Scams, Survival, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Faux Amazon Offer

This morning I got a “special offer” from Amazon:

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Very strange. It isn’t Easter. This just smells off.

I checked the return address:

admin@windows.strangelearned.com

That does not look like any Amazon address I have ever seen. I think this is faux.

November 30, 2016 Posted by | Easter, Scams | , , | Leave a comment

The Cookie Diva

“Grandmama, I need to tell you something,” my little 3 year old granddaughter looks up at me earnestly.

“What is it?” I ask, kneeling down to be at her level.

“I am SO SO SO HUNGRY!” she states, holding her little tummy and making her eyes big.

“I have peanuts for you!”

She just looks at me.

“Or here is a little orange!”

“I want a COOKIE!”

This is easy.

“You know it’s just Baba and I living here. We don’t have any cookies because we don’t eat cookies.”

She just looks at me, boldly. She is not defiant, but there is something unbending in her posture, and in her unwavering eyes.

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(Thank you Cliparts.co for use of the free image)

Then those little eyes do a quick flick to the table, and back to me. Very quick, almost imperceptible, but I catch it, and I can’t help it, I start to laugh.

She’s right. We do have cookies, they are in the assembly of items I have to take to our Thanksgiving gathering. I had forgotten, but this sharp eyed little minx spotted them.

“You’ll have one on Thanksgiving, I promise you. And look, here are the snacks we have for you (all her favorites) for the drive down.

Telling my friend about it later, she asked “You didn’t open the package and give her a cookie?”

That had never occurred to me. “I should have?” I asked.

“No, I wouldn’t have, either,” she laughed.

“But I would have,” interjected AdventureMan. “I never say no my my grandkids.”

LOL, that is totally true. I am the one who doesn’t want them thinking they can have sweets every time they ask, and AdventureMan is the good guy, who gives them whatever their little hearts desire. They both adore AdventureMan. 🙂

November 20, 2016 Posted by | Aging, Counter-terrorism, Family Issues, Food, Humor, Parenting, Relationships | 1 Comment

The Twirly Dress on the Twirly Girl

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November 18, 2016 Posted by | Beauty, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Relationships, Travel | 2 Comments

Viking Sea Disembarcation

Somehow, we go to bed around 8:30 pm and actually sleep. At 0215 we get our wake-up call as requested, and, as ordered, a beautiful breakfast shows up with a cheerful room service waiter, and we have coffee, tea and croissants as we hurriedly dress. We are to be in the terminal by 0300.

We are there by 0245, us and just about everyone else in our timing – Viking seems to attract those sorts, people who show up where they are supposed to be at the time they are supposed to be there. We are astonished to learn that there was a group ahead of us, they are just finishing up, and yes, there are a few pieces of luggage not claimed, so I guess not quite everyone made it on time.

We identified our luggage, which had been picked up outside our rooms the night before, watched as it was loaded into our assigned bus, and drove for about an hour to the airport. At the airport, there were baggage carts waiting, and we were able to check in very quickly for our flight. We are amazed and delighted; Viking truly has this down to a science. That’s not easy with 900 people disembarking on the same day. Kudos to Viking, even the smallest details are thought through.

As we signed in to the lounge, I said “Kalimeri,” which means Good morning, and the lady said to me “You’re Greek!” and I said no, I am not, but I got that a lot in Greece, I must have a Greek look to me. In truth, there is no Southern Mediterranean blood in me; mostly Scandinavian, French and Irish, or so Ancestry.com tells me.

We depart as the sun rises:

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Everything is smooth until we get to Paris. We have to get to 2E, hall M. We know this drill; it’s the same as last year. “Oh no problem,” the “helper” tells us and hands us this paper with a map and directions:

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You know what? I’m a map reader. I am really good at it. I navigate. We look closely; this map is useless. We start looking for signs and asking as we go, and we go quickly until we find the inner circle of hell, which is the passport line. We have priority passes, so we head to the priority line, but there isn’t even a line, and the real priority line is only for French citizens.

There is one huge shoving, desperate mass of people, all nationalities (except French) and then we find a secondary priority line, and every wheelchair goes to the front, and desperate passengers afraid they are missing their flight go ahead, and those who think they have the right push through, pushing their way in front of others. We are feeling desperate, too, our flight is in a very short time, but we don’t think the scramble to get in front of others is worth the price you pay in karma points.

I will tell you honestly, I have seen similar lines. Laborers in Kuwait lined up to get processed for residence visas. Refugees, desperate to escape violence and poverty, and afraid the gates will close before they get through. It is truly humbling to be a part of this line. Bread lines in which food is running out.

There is no one keeping order. The line inches slowly forward. It is like the end of times, everyone looking after his or her own needs regardless of others. There is little kindness to be seen in this line.

This is shameful. It’s not like this is unexpected. CDG needs to man their passport stations with enough personnel to allow these lines to flow quickly. It’s not rocket science, but it does take a bureaucracy which takes pride in their work.

This is not new; the planes wait, they take off a little later. We make our flight. As much as we love flying Air France, this experience is enough to make us re-think traveling through Paris.

Atlanta is straightforward. Our luggage, by the grace of God, is with us. We fly into Pensacola, and our son is there to meet us and take us home. All is well that ends well.

November 18, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, France, Interconnected, Paris, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, sunrise series, Survival, Travel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Viking Sea: Athens – It’s Not You, It’s Me

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We wake up docked in Pireus, the harbor area of Athens. We are relaxed, our bags are packed, with just clothes out for dinner and for travel tomorrow. Very early tomorrow. Our wake-up call is for 0230, that is two thirty in the morning for your non-military folk.

AdventureMan and I have a funny relationship with Greece. Back in the day, when he asked me to marry him, my brash young lieutenant said “Marry me, and I will take you to Greece.” A year later, on our way to Kenya, we were sitting on the tarmac in Athens, in the middle of a coup attempt. I turned to him and said “this does not count as taking me to Greece.”

Years later, when he was working to hard, I called him and told him we were leaving the dark and cold of winter in Germany and spending a week in Crete. We had a wonderful time – it would have counted for me, but AdventureMan said Crete did not really count as Greece.

So, finally, we are truly in Greece. His promise has been fulfilled 🙂

We are taking the panoramic tour of Athens, and the first stop is a photo op for the Acropolis, which is undergoing restorations, and is covered with scaffolding and nets.

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In front of a gigantic, soulless stadium where Olympics were held in the distant and not-so-distant past, an enterprising young man was doing lunges and thrusts; you could have your photo taken with him for a fee.

Only seconds after I snapped this shot, however, he did some kind of maneuver that brought his cape up over his helmet, and it got stuck. He couldn’t see, the cape covered his whole head and he had a sword in one hand and a big shield on the other arm and he was blind as a bat. It was so unexpectedly hilarious. A fellow costumed entrepreneur rescued him before I could snap off another photo.

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Across the street, a statue of an Olympian.

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I’m pretty sure the building below is the university

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The details are all getting jumbled in my head and we are on a bus with 34 people. When we get off at the Archaeology Museum, all 34 have to use the restroom, and I tell AdventureMan to have fun, I am making my escape. I find a wonderful cappuccino and a table in the outdoor cafe where I am happy listening to the birds and enjoying ancient art all by myself. Actually, very shortly a Scottish couple we have encountered a few times invites me to join them and we have a great chat. Some of us are just wired that way.

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Each group has it’s own red ‘lollypop” (in the tour guide’s hand, just slightly to upper right of center)

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We all get back on the bus and are dropped off at the Plaka area, very cool. We wander around and then see one of the guides at the restaurant which I think translates as Plakiotessa, and it has a menu we like, so we go there, too. It is another great day for eating outside, woo hoo, and AdventureMan and I decide to split an appetizer plate. We don’t need to eat the way we ate in Santorini more than once in a blue moon, but we enjoy every bite.

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This was truly delicious! Relatively light and plenty for two. We saw equally beautiful dishes going to other tables, too.

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We’re not quite ready to end our Athens leg, so we explore the area a little, then hop on a Hop On, Hop Off bus. We explain to the lady that we only want one loop, and she gives us a special deal. You get on, you get earplugs, and rush upstairs to get a seat. You plug your ear plugs in and choose your language. My earplugs lasted about 7 minutes.

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The bus took almost exactly the same route as the bus tour of the morning. We were bummed, until just after a big outdoor flower market the bus took a different turn and we ended up in a part of town that reminded us of Doha and Kuwait, an area full of souks, braziers, spice shops, antiquities. We were so enchanted, I didn’t even take any pictures. If we ever go back to Athens, that area will be our first stop.

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We got to see the soldiers marching to the changing of the guard:

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I’m pretty sure these are on top of the National Library:

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The market near which is the souk kind of area we loved.

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Back at the Plaka, we get off the Hop On Hop Off and right on to a shuttle to take us back to the ship. AdventureMan hits the spa and I take a nap. Perfect.

 

It’s not that Athens isn’t a lot of fun. I think it could be. Being in a new city, often a new country, every day is not very relaxing, and I think by the time I hit Athens, my enthusiasm for the struggle had waned. It’s not you, Athens, it’s me.

November 18, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Restaurant, Travel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Viking Sea: Santorini – It’s Complicated

I’ve always wanted to see Santorini. We once lived near ancient Carthage, and a nearby village, Sidi Bou Said, all white and deep turquoise blue, with tiny winding streets.

Coming into Santorini is beautiful. We had watched an excellent presentation the night before on how the volcanic activity and tectonic plates shape Santorini, and we loved seeing it and understanding it a little better.

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This is one of those places where the ship anchors out in the bay and you tender in. I had imagined little rubber rafts bobbing by the side of the big ship, so I was happily surprised when I saw what a “tender” looked like.

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There was one woman on board I noticed, and steered far away from, a woman who had no respect for others. She moved a man’s bag out of a chair she wanted to sit in, and just grinned at him when he noticed. She was waiting to board our tender, and had pushed her way to the front, but when she showed her ticket, she was not in the group called to board, and the Viking representative diplomatically told her she would have to wait until her group was called. I love it that Viking trains their staff to handle bullies with quiet firmness.

As we board the bus, AdventureMan said “Are you happy?” and I tell him “Yes, but it’s complicated.” Last year, on our voyage The Passage of the Moors, through Spain and Morocco, I waited until the last night to pack my bag, and on the last night, we joined two other couples we had thoroughly enjoyed, for dinner. I had a little sore throat at dinner, but we had duck, which I love, and so I couldn’t have been too sick.

But by the time we were back in our cabin, late, after too much wine and good conversation, I still had my packing to do, and packing is something I am generally very good at, very efficient, this time it didn’t go well. I was feverish, and not thinking clearly. I made mistakes. I ended up being really sick with a respiratory infection that took me a couple weeks to shake.

“I know I need to pack when we get back,” I told AdventureMan. “I don’t want to leave it to the last night. It’s hanging over me.”

Actually, once I said it, the anxiety went away, and I enjoyed Santorini.

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Santorini is a caldera, the remains of ancient volcano(s) and multiple eruptions. The soil is rich. We start off, I believe, driving to Oia, in the north. I say “I believe” because the signs are in Greek, and it is Greek to me. We arrive in a beautiful little town where you can see it is set up for tourists. As we walk toward the first photo op, walking into a church courtyard, we hear the sound of the Zorba theme, being played by a man sitting there. The guide gathers everyone into a circle and has them dancing.

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I could imagine my Mother, who is a lot of fun, joining the group and loving it.

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Below is one of my favorite photos from the trip:

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Oia

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Mostly what I remember about the ride back into Fira/Thira is that because of the climate, the grape vines do not climb high, they are kept low so that they may make best use of the humidity and moisture.

We are dropped off at a viewpoint with another shopping lane to the right, and at the end of the lane will be the cable car to take us to the tender to take us to the boat. We aren’t ready to go back yet. We come to the Church of the Candlemas, which is beautiful, and we sit inside, soaking in a little sanctity.

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There is one more thing I want to find, and along this path, I find it, just the thing, perfect. My little granddaughter wants a “twirly” dress, a dress that will fan out around her as she twirls. I find the perfect twirly dress.

 

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Never mind that after lunch, I find the same dress at a lower price.

Lunch. Yes, by this time we are hungry, and I am looking to the left, at restaurants overlooking the big caldera. We are looking at menus; we know what we want.

AdventureMan finds the exact right place for us, up on the hill to the right:RestaurantStaniFromPath

We climb multiple sets of stairs to get to the terrace, and it is worth it. There is a table waiting for us, in the shade, with a spectacular view, views on both sides of the island.

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We order a mixed appetizer plate and a mixed grill platter for two. We know we have ordered too much food, but we have no idea how much too much. It is enough for six or eight! We sample each treat, and content ourselves with hoping the untouched portions will feed others, or at least the hungry cats.

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We take our time. After lunch, we dawdle our way toward the cable car,

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and head down the hill, taking only seconds to get to the dock where the tender picks us up.

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I wish you could experience L’heure bleu in Santorini. The colors are exquisite, and I can’t capture the magic of this twilight.

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November 18, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, ExPat Life, Food, Travel | , , , , , | Leave a comment