Greece

Where to begin? We just spent 8 days in Greece hiking on 3 different islands so I’ll start  in Athens at the Acropolis! To be up close to these magnificent structures is amazing—and to think about when and how they were built is unbelievable.

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After a day in Athens, we took a ferry to the island of Tinos. The weather was unusually hot for mid September and we felt it. I wouldn’t normally be out hiking in the heat of the day with very little shade but that’s what we did!

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The hills were barren, with the odd cow and many churches dotting the landscape. A recent article in Travel & Leisure states that Tinos has over 700 churches! The most famous is the Church of Panagia Evangelistia (Church of the Virgin Mary) which attracts pilgrims to the island who crawl on their hands and knees from the port to the church, a distance of about 800 metres – uphill!

IMG_7760In the village of Volax, we watched a man weave the traditional baskets of Tinos. I really wanted to get one but it just didn’t fit in my luggage.

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In another village, there was a well-stocked cafe that operates on the honour system. Our amazing guide, Dafni, made Greek coffee for all and pulled a bag of marzipan cookies from her pack for our mid-morning break!

We hiked on footpaths that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere and then a picturesque village would appear.They often seemed deserted. I think the locals knew to stay inside during the heat of the day!

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The bold blue doors catch your eye after looking at so much white or dry hillsides.

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We took a ferry from Tinos to Naxos, the largest and most fertile island in the Cyclades and started hiking. In the village of Chalki we poked in several shops with hand made woven goods and local honey. Dinner was at an amazing restaurant tucked down an alley and included BBQ and some of the best french fries we had ever tasted. Apparently the island of Naxos is known for their potatoes. Later in the week we saw Naxos french fries on a menu in Santorini and ordered them immediately!

IMG_9733IMG_9543Our most challenging hike was to the top of Mt Zeus on Naxos, the highest point in the Cyclades. According to Greek mythology, Zeus was raised in a cave on this mountain. It was extremely windy at the top, as you can see by my hair and the fact that I am holding on to the stone marker!

The hike ended in the village of Filoti where we tried caffe freddo, a cold coffee drink with whipped milk on top. The coffee we drank varied from place to place with many cafes serving instant coffee…it has a taste that is very recognizable and always disappointing to me.

IMG_9631IMG_9716The island of Naxos is home to a massive 2,500 year old marble doorway, the Portara, that was the entrance to the unfinished temple of Apollo. It provided a spectacular backdrop for the sunset. IMG_9693From Naxos we took a high speed ferry to Santorini. From the port, the road zig zags up the side of the volcanic cliffs for some stunning views into the caldera, the underwater crater left behind after a massive volcano in 2000 BC submerged the central part of the island.

IMG_9738The hike from the town of Fira to Oia in Santorini was amazingly beautiful the whole way. Hiking in Santorini seems to be popular, the day we flew to Greece the NYTimes had an article called In Search of the Authentic Santorini? Skip the Beach. Take a Hike.  Many of the places mentioned in the article were part of our hikes. We left Fira late afternoon and literally walked into the sunset, framed against the dazzling white buildings and blue domes of Oia, one of the most photographed towns in Greece, with good reason! After dinner we had some very delicious gelato at Lolita’s!

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IMG_9907The only downside to Santorini was the number of tourists. On our last day on the island, we got up early and wandered the back alleys of Oia, took some photos and saw very few people. By 10am, the narrow alleys were clogged with people and we headed back to our hotel for the short walk to the nearby beach and taverna.

We flew from Santorini back to Athens, the flight took less time than the drive from the airport to our hotel in Athens. We enjoyed one more dinner in Athens at Gods’ Restaurant near the Acropolis Museum and left the next morning. Since our return I have been reading about other Greek islands and trying to figure out when we could go again and spend more time doing less! On my want-to-visit-list is the island of Folegandros after reading an article in the NYTimes a few years ago about a little hotel called Anemomilos Apartments. It is a little more challenging to access so it’s going to take more planning but it’s going on my list!

Yamas! (Cheers in Greek!)

 

 

 

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Quebec City

This has been a summer of driving to various provinces in Canada…NB, PEI, Ontario and, most recently, Quebec. We spent a night at Manoir Hovey, a charming Inn in North Hatley QC on our way to Quebec City a few weeks ago.

IMG_8814It was peaceful and beautiful, despite the fact that Hillary and Bill (and the very discreet secret service) were also staying there, as guests of the author Louise Penny.

The Inn is on the shores of Lake Massawippi, a clear, deep lake that was perfect for swimming and kayaking on the August day we visited.

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We enjoyed lunch on the porch at Manoir Hovey before heading out for the 3 hour drive to Quebec City. After settling into our room at Hotel le Germaine, a boutique hotel in the Old Port, we headed up the hill to wander the streets. The Chateau Frontenac dominates the city and is the start of the Dufferin Terrace, a boardwalk with beautiful views of the St Lawrence River that links the hotel to the Citadelle, a national historic fortress.IMG_8866

The city is so charming, it almost feels unreal. Cobblestone streets, cafes, museums, history…and tourists! I did most of my exploring of the city in the early morning and escaped the busiest part of the day by heading back to the hotel or heading to a museum. The Musee de la Civilisation was a 5 minute walk from our hotel and was a perfect place to spend a few hours on a rainy day. The Plains of Abraham museum was another great place to spend a rainy morning.

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The fresh produce at Le Marche du Vieux Port was amazing and I returned every day for strawberries and raspberries. On the map it looked like a long walk but it was really only 10 minutes from the hotel and included walking by this canoe art in front of a working grain elevator, which was lit up at night to look like the Northern Lights!IMG_8885

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The staff at Le Hotel Germaine were incredibly helpful, providing us with a list of restaurants prior to our arrival and then responding to our requests to change our reservations when we changed our minds! Every meal we had was delicious. Il Matto was 2 minutes from the hotel and served great Italian. Le Clocher Penche was in the up and coming neighbourhood of Saint-Roch and served innovative, unpretentious cuisine. Chez Victor served really good gourmet burgers and La La was a rustic, cozy restaurant serving traditional Quebecois meals.

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With the Quebec City Tourism website as my guide and my own two feet, I saw a great deal of the Old City and walked 34 miles in three days while my husband attended a conference. I had planned to spend a day driving around Ile d’Orleans, an agricultural island just 15 minutes from downtown Quebec City but between the traffic and the rain, I decided to save it for another visit!

 

 

 

 

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P.E.I.

Prince Edward Island is acres of potatoes, miles of beautiful, empty beaches, amazing cloud patterns and lobster!

IMG_8057We drove through Maine to get to PEI and stopped in St. Andrews NB at the Rossmount Inn for the night. Dinner at the Inn was amazing and the beginning of my daily lobster diet!

Our first meal in PEI was a lobster roll at The Lobster Shack in Souris. Located right on the beach, the roll was delicious and so were the oysters, so good that we ate lunch there twice!

We stayed at The Inn at Bay Fortune overlooking the Fortune River. The Inn is owned by Chef Michael Smith and his wife Chastity. Michael is a well-known Canadian chef with an international reputation for simple, sustainable home cooking.

Each night the FireWorks restaurant at Inn at Bay Fortune features a unique Feast showcasing locally sourced foods all prepared over live fires. The menu changes nightly but always starts with the Oyster Hour…on the night we were there we had oysters, grilled chicken tacos, smoked salmon and sausages with a maple mustard dip and fresh herbs. And that was all before dinner! Our breakfast waitress Ruthie had warned us to not go crazy during the Oyster Hour and save some room for the many courses to come. Wise advice.

Greenwich National Park was on my list of places to visit so after a fabulous breakfast at the Inn, we set off for a day of exploring.

After walking through woods, on a floating boardwalk,

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IMG_8036Walking the beach built up an appetite so we got back in the car and followed the Points East Coastal Drive to Naufrage and had lunch at the Shipwreck Point cafe. Another spectacular view and great lunch.

Paddles on Fortune River, a kayak and canoe rental place, had just opened down the road from the Inn so we reserved kayaks for one morning and thoroughly enjoyed the tranquility of the Fortune River and the bald eagle that swooped by and then perched on a tree and let us watch him.

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IMG_8153Our last meal was at Point Prim Chowder House where we enjoyed a fabulous seafood dinner and the sunset. We ate outside and when it started to get cool, the owner offered us blankets so we could continue to watch the sun sink into the water.

We packed a lot into a few days and could easily have spent much more time in PEI.

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O Canada

It’s Canada’s 150th birthday this year and a perfect time to visit our northern neighbour. The exchange rate is favourable, Parks Canada is offering free admission and you can buy butter tarts! We have several trips planned to Canada this summer.Canada_150First up is our visit to Prince Edward Island in July and a stay at The Inn at Bay Fortune. The Boston Globe did a story last summer about the owner/chef Michael Smith and his Fireworks Feast every night at the Inn. It sounded like a good excuse for a road trip. I’ll let you know when we return!

August we are heading to visit family in Ontario and finally, after over 30 years of driving from Massachusetts through Buffalo, we are going to stop at Niagara Falls! I booked rooms with a view of the falls at the Niagara Falls Marriott Fallsview on the Canadian side. Apparently the Falls is lit up at night and they have fireworks on summer nights. Hopefully the weather will cooperate with a cloudless night. I will post pictures if it’s clear!

Our third Canadian road trip this summer is to Quebec City. We are making a stop on the way at Manoir Hovey, a charming country inn on a lake in North Hatley, QC and the inspiration for Manoir Bellechasse in A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny. In Quebec City, we are staying at Hotel le Germaine, one of a small chain of boutique hotels. We have stayed at the one in Toronto and loved the location, room decor, and terrific breakfast. I’m going to spend my days exploring Quebec City and researching where to eat dinner while my significant other attends a conference.

Contact me if you would like some help planning a summer trip to Canada. You can reach me at heatherrobinsontravel@gmail.com

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Travel Consultant

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I’m excited to announce the launch of Heather Robinson Travel. If you’ve been reading this blog you will know that travel has always been a big part of my life. I am channeling all those years of traveling into my new consulting business – Heather Robinson Travel -and I am looking forward to creating customized travel plans for anywhere you want to go. Contact me at heatherrobinsontravel@gmail.com to start planning your trip.

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Nevis

It starts at sunrise with the walk on the beach, taking in the sheer beauty of Nevis.

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And it continues all day long with friendly people, empty beaches and rum drinks.

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We just returned from a week in Nevis, I’ve stopped counting how many times we have been to this little island in the Caribbean. We keep going back because it is such a special place. I just looked back and discovered I have blogged about Nevis in 2013, 2015, and 2016!

We rented a house this year called Coral Reef Villa that proved to be perfect. Just minutes from the beach and right next to Nisbet Plantation, we had privacy, a pool and beautiful gardens to look at from the spacious screened porch. The owner lives right next door and was attentive and knowledgeable.

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The days follow a lazy routine of walking, swimming, reading and deciding where to have dinner. We had delicious meals at The Gin Trap, Bananas, Double Deuce and Nisbet Beach BBQSunshines is a favorite for at least one meal of grilled lobster and killer bees, a potent rum punch that will have you spilling your deepest secrets after a few sips! Golden Rock is another favourite restaurant with a beautiful setting for lunch.

We always fit in a hike with our favorite guide, Reggie Douglas of Nevis Adventure Tours. His knowledge and patience is always appreciated!

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This year he led us on a hike to Mount Traverers Estate, a former sugar plantation.

Our friend Piggy, didn’t disappoint with fresh coconut water, and we enjoyed the shoreline of Nevis from a boat with Dennis.

On a morning walk I noticed a bar in the village of Fountain that looked interesting so we returned on our departure day since we had an hour to kill between checking out of the house and our water taxi. The owner served us cold Carib, goat water soup and lively conversation!

The Museum of Nevis History in Charlestown is worth a visit, it is housed in the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton.

Like I have said in other posts, Nevis is 36 square miles of paradise in the Caribbean!

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Amsterdam

We just spent Thanksgiving weekend in Amsterdam. What an interesting, beautiful city!

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When the idea for a trip over Thanksgiving was forming, our first criteria was a non-stop flight. A quick google search revealed that Delta had a non-stop flight from Boston to Amsterdam so we moved to step 2, finding a hotel. Since this trip involved meeting family in Amsterdam we needed to find a suitable place that would work for both parties. My brother-in-law chose the Pulitzer hotel that proved to be a terrific home base for 4 nights. Our room rate included a delicious buffet breakfast that kept us well-fueled until the middle of the afternoon! The room came equipped with a french press, a hario long neck kettle and a cup with coloured pencils. Clearly a hotel that takes coffee seriously.

A couple of articles in the NYTimes: 36 Hours in Amsterdam and Amsterdam, Revisited plus Rick Steves Amsterdam and the iamsterdam website provided us with plenty of things to do in the city.

We had a great dinner at Nooch our first night. After walking all afternoon we were chilled through so the pad thai and chicken noodle soup really hit the spot. Plus the restaurant was around the corner from our hotel so our cold, jet-lagged bodies didn’t have far to walk. Another night we ate at Plantage, a large beautiful space with high ceilings, plenty of glass walls and really creative food.  Rick Steves recommended having an Indonesian rijsttafel or rice table, a by-product of Dutch colonialism in Indonesia. Apparently when the Dutch returned home they brought an affection for spicy peanut sauce and the practice of serving many small Indonesian dishes revolving around rice. We enjoyed our rice table at Long Pura, a short walk from our hotel and recommended by the concierge. We stopped at Bocca Coffee Roasters on two separate occasions, once for coffee and once for hot cocoa. We even met the man that sources all the chocolate for the hot cocoa as he happened to stop in the shop while we were raving about the cocoa!

I had ordered tickets online for the Anne Frank Museum so we were able to walk right in and not wait in line. The museum starts with a tour of the actual space Anne and her family lived in while hiding and includes very steep steps up to the attic and the moveable bookcase that hid the entry. It certainly makes history come alive. We didn’t pre-order tickets for the Van Gogh or Rijks Museum but had no trouble getting in mid afternoon. Both museums were terrific.

I have yet to mention the bicycles…apparently bikes outnumber people, there are 881,000 bikes and 800,000 people. They were everywhere and appear to have the right of way over pedestrians and cars! Several times we had a walk signal at a crosswalk and while cars obeyed the light, bicycles didn’t…many intersections were challenging to cross safely!

What I observed about biking in Amsterdam — No one wears a helmet. Kids sit on the front or the back or in crate. People transport everything on their bike. We saw very few overweight people!

The NYTimes 36 hours article recommended the Boerenmarkt, an organic weekly market on Noordermarkt. On this pretty square, Dutch farmers and food purveyors set up booths overflowing with the local bounty: veggie-packed quiches, live crayfish, wild mushrooms and giant wheels of Dutch cheese. We could only window shop as we were leaving the next morning but it was fun to browse.

During our visit we sampled cheese, tried pickled herring, drank jenever and ate chocolate. And we walked, at least 10 miles a day because walking is such a great way to see a city.

 

 

We would love to return to Amsterdam. It is a city that is tolerant, practical and beautiful.

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