On The Road

Buz and Ned’s

I had a craving for some barbecue so with the camera in tow, I asked a friend to drive with me down south. Destination: Buz and Ned’s in Richmond, Virginia.

I have known about Buz and Ned’s existence through the food section of washingtonpost.com. It was also featured on Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food, hosted by Adam Richman.

We ordered the house specialty, a rack of baby back ribs. Of course, a food trip down south isn’t complete without the southern brewed sweet tea.

These ribs are to die for. The sauce tastes like one of a kind and the meat was so tender and juicy. It was freshly made when it was served.

After a short while, this is what was left. We came for the meat, not for the side dish.

Buz and Ned’s – 1119 N Boulevard, Richmond, VA 23230-4805

The Great Smokies

Eversince I arrived here in the U.S., I always have this dream of visiting all the 50 states – at least once in my lifetime. That was several years ago and so far, I have crossed out 26 off of my list.

On that same Memorial Day weekend, I added number 27 on my list – Tennessee. During my visit to my friend, Jinky, who was temporarily staying in Charlotte, I’ve thought of bringing her and her friend to The Great Smoky Mountains. I haven’t been to the Great Smokies before but I have seen a lot amazing pictures taken from this national park. I was ecstatic! It was a quick out-of-town getaway. We didn’t plan on staying overnight since none of us are really campers or hikers anyway.

We barely left Charlotte when we encountered this cloud. It felt like we were already in the Great Smokies. The first hour of our drive was pretty much like this.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is actually situated in North Carolina and Tennessee. I am not sure if this stop truly has the most photographed view or just a marketing scheme so people would stop and visit the little shops in the vicinity.

The view was spectacular in a way but in my opinion, there were other stops that are more breath-taking than this. I maybe wrong. I probably came in at the wrong season, at the wrong time.

We stopped at the small town of Cherokee in North Carolina and ate breakfast there. We also checked out some displays and exhibits.

I have long wished to take silky-smooth shots but hauling a tripod around is not a pretty picture for me. So, with the help of big boulders and rocks, I have to use what mother nature had provided me.

I know, it’s not the greatest shot ever but hey, I think it’s good enough for someone who didn’t use a tripod, don’t you think? Come on! Agree with me!

At the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, you will find this famous overlook.

Thank you, Rockefellers, for the national parks we enjoy today.

We finally reached the town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Yes! My 27th state! I can’t believe I’ve visited more than half already.

My friends and I decided to board the Oberg Gatlinburg tram. Distance from one point to another: 11,000 feet (2.1 miles); 2,800 above sea level. That was quite an experience.

After a very late lunch, we decided to head back to Charlotte. We did a quick photo op at the national park’s sign. Whomever decided to put the fixed “tripod” by the sign was a genius. I wish they put one on every stop.

This is simply breath-taking. On our drive back to Charlotte, I saw this view and begged my friend to pull over so I can take a picture. This is an overlook along the paved road from Gatlinburg to Cherokee. Now, I understand why they call it the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Sunsets are really magnificent wherever you may be. Goodbye, Great Smokies!

Around Town: Charlotte

I have been very fortunate that God gave me opportunities to go to different places. This year has been a busy one for me and I couldn’t be more grateful. Last Memorial Day, I headed down south to Charlotte, North Carolina to meet up with a long lost friend, who had been in hybernation for about 13 years. The trip was tiring but I’m glad I did it.

It was close to noon when I arrived in Charlotte so I decided to eat lunch at a famous Charlotte legend … Mert’s.

Ahh.. The Southern Sweet Tea and Cornbread.

Queen Charlotte

Headquarters of banks like Bank of America and Wachovia are found in Charlotte.

I wasn’t aware that they were having a big NASCAR weekend in Charlotte the same weekend of my visit. Awesome! They closed half of a main thoroughfare and people are everywhere. It’s a big street party!

I haven’t seen a live NASCAR race before. Hope I can go to one in the future … just for the experience.

After a stroll in downtown Charlotte, I paid a visit to the birthplace of one of our past presidents, James K. Polk.

What a tiring day! So, we decided to cool down, headed to the mall and got me some yummy frozen yogurt.

‘Til my next post! All about the Great Smokies. Another have-to-go-there state off of my list.

Greece: Day 9 – Fira, Santorini

Our ninth day in Greece, our last day in Santorini. Tonight, we head back to Athens and tomorrow, we catch our flight back home. I have loved every single minute of this vacation and how I wish it will be forever. I am pleased how Fantasy Travel organized this trip. First leg, a few days of extensive tour of the mainland. Then, off to the islands to unwind and relax. Not one bit of a hassle.

Today, we decided to go around the town of Fira once again.

Since the Akrotiri excavations are closed for tourists, we thought to check out this museum, which houses the stuff they found from the dig.

It was another hot day in Santorini so after wandering around town, we needed some refreshments. We wanted to go to Tango but we were told it was closed for the season so we went to pick another place.

Murphy’s! This one’s the Velvet Hammer.

After the cocktails at twelve noon, it was time for lunch. So we tried another gyro place recommended by the folks from Tripadvisor.com. Now, I’m not sure which I like best, Lucky’s or Mc Daniel’s. They are both good!

This is our home in Santorini. Five minutes walk to Fira’s main square, bus station, shops and restaurant. It has a spectacular view of the Old port and the caldera. Folks here were very helpful and friendly. They know their island pretty well and have suggested places that we surely enjoyed.

On our last dinner in Santorini, our last dinner in Greece as well, we decided to have something more traditional. Ms. Astir Thira recommended this place.

Left: Saganaki – Fried feta cheese. A little salty for my taste.
Right: Top: Tzatziki – Yogurt mixed with cucumber and garlic.
Right: Bottom: Lemonata – Lamb in Lemon Sauce.

I hate saying goodbye but I know everything must come to an end. We’ve toured Greece in nine days and it’s the best tour I’ve had  so far. I have experienced a lot of firsts on this trip and I hope I will remember every single bit of it for the rest of my life.

Thank you, Marbs and Karen! I had a wonderful time. I’m so looking forward to our future trips together. Thank you, Greece, for the amazing experience! I hope to see you again soon!

Greece: Day 8 – Akrotiri & Fira, Santorini

Ok! I get it, brain! That was definitely embarrasing. Now, quit repeating the scenes over and over and over again!

Ever had those moments that you wish our memory part of our brain would behave like a memory card? Yes, the one we use for our gadgets. You did something really embarrasing and you can’t stop thinking about it? No problem – delete! Something wonderful happened that day and you want to remember it for the rest of your life? No problem – save and lock! I get frustrated sometimes. What I don’t understand is that the most embarrassing ones are usually the ones that linger longer. This brain is a torture sometimes. But everything about my Greece trip is definitely a save and lock thing.

Our eighth day in Greece. Two more days of fun and it’s bye-bye Santorini. Time to hit the beach! We asked Ms. Astir Thira which beach we should go to and with no hesitation, she recommended the Red Beach. From the Fira bus station, we took a bus going to Akrotiri. We had no idea what to look for so we asked directions from the bus driver. As soon as we got off at Akrotiri, he told us to walk straight and pointed to a direction. Then walk up and then walk down, walk up again then finally down. So, we thought, that was easy. We had no clue that the beach was actually behind a mountain.

The Red Beach. The goal is to get to that nice little nook on the left side of this photo. The task is to go down the mountain then hike back up the path amidst those rocks then finally descend. Sure! No problem! We do this all the time. (Yeah right!)

Ms. Astir Thira recommended this place because of it’s secluded location and uniqueness. It’s behind a mountain, with red sand and green and clear water. This reminds me of my childhood when my parents used to take us to the beach almost every year. Beaches with white sands and clear water.

The water was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit cold so we decided to head back to Fira before noon. Since the day was still young, we thought to check out the town of Fira.

There are at least three sea ports I know in Santorini: The Athinios Port, where ferries from different islands dock; The Ammoudi Port in Oia; and this, The Old Port in Fira. The latter two are for cruise ships.

There are three ways to get to the town of Fira from the Old Port: take the 588 steps, ride the donkey or get on the cable car. On a cool day, I would take the challenge and take the 588 steps. But on a 90°F day, forget it!

How cute are these shirts?! Love ‘em!

This is Stuffed Kalamari with Feta Cheese from Argo Restaurant. I highly recommend this dish. It’s my most favorite among the food I’ve had in Greece. If you’re Santorini, make sure to stop by Argo and try this.

We were full. We’re as stuffed as the kalamari we just ate. It’s cocktail time! Aahh.. This is one truly, remarkable vacation. I love every second of it!

Tonight was our last night in Santorini. I will surely miss this place!

Greece: Day 7 – Messaria & Oia, Santorini

I was browsing Facebook the other day when I came across a group page called, I HATE IT WHEN FRIENDS LIVE SO FAR AWAY!!! Yes, the name was written exactly like that – in all caps with three exclamation points at the end. The creator of this group must really hate being far away from friends. I know the feeling. Some of my very close friends are scattered from east to west. I do talk to them often – thanks to unlimited mobile minutes and text, and of course the internet. Sure, that cannot replace the goodness of having a face-to-face conversation but that will do for now. Most of the time, I think of being away from close friends as a bad thing but sometimes I would think of it as a blessing. Why a blessing? Let’s put it this way. A few of them I see almost every year. I sometimes visit them in their city or sometimes we would just meet up somewhere. I get psyched just thinking about it. It’s a chance for me to travel .. to get away .. to relax and also a chance for me to spend quality time with dear friends. Awesome!

Our seventh day in Greece. I woke up the next morning with this view from our room. 99% of me was really glad to be in Santorini and to wake up to this picturesque view of the volcano. 1% of me was kind of scared at the same time. You probably heard what happened the last time this beast had errupted. Seriously, I prayed every night that I won’t be a witness to a similar episode.

Today, we planned on visiting a winery and going back to Oia. We were told to go to two wineries on the island – Santo Winery and Kotsoyannopoulos Winery. Unfortunately, we only had time for one so we picked Kotsoyannopoulos. Try reading that name quickly and repeat it five times.

To get to this place, we took a bus from Fira going to Kamari and got off at Messaria. It was a good 30 minute bus ride. It wasn’t too far.

We paid 6 euros to get in the museum and the cost for the wine tasting was included. My favorite among the wine we sampled was the dessert wine called Kamaritis. Up to this day, I still regret for not bringing a bottle back home.

When you are in Greece, you have to eat gyro. The good folks from Tripadvisor.com recommend two places where you can get good gyros in Fira. One of them is Lucky’s.

We’re back in Oia. This time, we had the chance to wander around town.

As I mentioned from my previous post, there are lots of churches with the blue dome in Santorini. On this part of the island, we saw at least four of them.

When I realized that Fantasy Travel did not get us a place to stay here in Oia, I honestly felt disappointed. But later on, I realized that actually staying in Fira was better. I have a couple of reasons why. First, the bus station is about two blocks where we were staying at and the buses go pretty much everywhere on the island. Second, I am just glad that we did not have to haul up and down our luggages on these steps. That would have been worse than our ferry experience. But nevertheless, Oia has been my most favorite place on the island. Great food, great view, great everything! I love Oia!

I have always had this idea of a donkey ride if ever I go to Santorini. So, a lot of people asked if I rode one. No, I did not. After reading stories online about how these creatures are being abused, I don’t think I have the heart to burden them with my weight. Originally, my friends and I thought of paying for one and we would hop on and just snap a picture. But we didn’t do that either. Besides, they are really smelly. I overheard one guy at the bus stop saying he would never wear his shorts again and burn it up after the donkey ride. I tell you, it was that bad.

The famous Oia windmills.

This is the Greek Frappe. When we were headed back to Athens from our Classical tour, our tour guide forewarned us that this is quite strong. If a local says as such, trust me and take heed. I had to learn a lesson the hard way.

Another movie favorite that was filmed in Greece is The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. If you haven’t seen this flick, a portion of the movie was shot in Oia.

This is the Amoudi Bay.

From Amoudi Bay, there are 275 steps to reach the top of the cliff. You can either go by foot or by donkey. Here’s one side of Oia. From this photo, count how many blue-domed church you can find.

And this is on the opposite side. No blue-domed church here but you will see a couple of windmills.

Tonight, the sunset had a little haze. Ms. Astir Thira was absolutely right! Good thing we followed her advice and went yesterday. It is still pretty, though, don’t you think?

Out of more than 3,000 pictures I took during the entire trip, I would have to admit that this my most favorite. And so, I am ending this post with this spectacular view. I still can’t believe I was there not too long ago and I am missing it already.

Greece: Day 6 – Oia, Santorini

Our sixth day in Greece and today we were headed to the Cyclades, to the island of Thira or popularly known as Santorini. We checked out of Attalos Hotel at exactly half past six in the morning and our cab transfer, who will take us to the Piraeus Port, was already there waiting for us. It has been consistently like that since day one. Like if they said they will pick us up at 7:30AM, someone’s already there waiting for us by 7:25AM. At this point, I am enjoying Fantasy Travel’s efficiency.

The drive from our hotel to Piraeus Port was about half an hour. It was pretty early in the morning and the traffic wasn’t so hectic. We were taking the ferry to Santorini. It was about a seven hour boat ride and it will stop at the islands of Paros and Naxos.

When we got to the sea port, we were met by Mr. Takis, another Fantasy Travel staff. We were not expecting to see him there at that early hour of the day but we greatly appreciated it. He escorted us to our ferry which we were glad he did because we might end up boarding the wrong one. Another home run for our Greek travel agent!

This is the Piraeus Port.

After several hours aboard the ferry, we finally saw a glimpse of Santorini. “I’m so excited and I just can’t hide it. And I’m about to lose control and I think I like it.” Ok, I’m going to stop singing now.

One piece of advice that you might find helpful one day – If you want to go to Santorini and you brought a rolling luggage, don’t take the ferry. If you want to take the ferry then don’t bring a rolling luggage. We had a hard time getting off that ferry with our rolling luggages. Another option is to bring your own brawn. That will help tremendously.

Our transportation was already waiting for us at Athinios Port when we arrived. The winding narrow road that leads to the town of Fira was kind of scary but we were able to get to our destination safely. We were brought to Astir Thira hotel in the town of Fira, where we stayed for the next three days.

Although we pretty much have an idea what we wanted to do on the island, we still wanted to hear what a local has to say. We received loads of advice from the night manager of Astir Thira. She’s awesome! The must-see, must-eat, must-go and must-drink. She told us a lot and we planned on doing each and everyone of them. The only regret we had is that we didn’t get the chance to get her name. So, for the sake of this blog, I will call her Ms. Astir Thira.

We had no plans on going to Oia on our first day in Santorini but Ms. Astir Thira told us it’s best to go that day while the skies were clear. And so we followed the advice. My excitement has crept back. I have always wanted to visit Santorini because of Oia. It probably has the most exposure in movies and photographs I have ever known. For me, Oia is the face of Santorini.

Aren’t these the cutest souvenir you’ve ever seen?

When you say Santorini, one of the things that come up to my mind are the unique doors and gates of the houses.

And of course, the churches with the blue dome. I honestly thought there was only one in the whole island. They are actually everywhere.

It has been a long day, we were tired, we were hungry, it’s almost sunset and another cruise ship unloaded a boatful of passengers. So, we decided to have our dinner at the Pelekanos. I got this recommendation from the folks at Tripadvisor.com. They said this place has a good view – and, they were right.

Oia is also famous for its view of the sunset. I heard from other people that indeed you can see the sunset from anywhere on the island but Oia has the most spectacular view.

This is my most favorite shot from the lot. I call it, “The sun barely there.”

I will never get tired of looking at these pictures – God’s magnificent creations.

Athinios PortAthinios Port

Greece: Day 5 – Delphi

When I was seven, my mom brought me to the theatre for my first movie experience and we watched Annie. That’s when my love for movies had started. On a boring weekend, I would sometimes watch up to eight flicks on average. Thanks to Netflix! I like them even more when they were shot on location. One of my favorite flicks filmed in Greece is My Life In Ruins which stars Nia Vardalos. They shot some parts of the movie in Athens, Olympia and Delphi. I commend Nia for producing films such as My Big Fat Greek Wedding and this, My Life In Ruins. Honestly, before I saw this film, there were only two places I have wanted to see in Greece – Athens and Santorini. But after seeing this movie, Olympia and Delphi were added to my short list.

Our fifth day in Greece and our last day of our Classical Tour. Today, we were scheduled to visit the archeological site of Delphi.

Kalimera, Delphi! This is the view from our hotel’s balcony. Such a spectacular scene!

The Treasury of Athens.

The Sacred Way.

The Temple of Apollo.

The Altar of Apollo.

I don’t think this has any historical importance except that it is at least 2,500 years old, but I was stoked to see this. Again, my love for movies had kicked in. In the film My Life In Ruins, there was a scene where Irv (Richard Drefuss) pretended to be the Oracle and said his predictions behind this piece. I just love that movie.

Our three day Classical Tour with G.O. Tours ended after lunch. We were back in Athens before sundown and had dinner with the young couple from Colorado whom we met during the tour. We were checking in at Attalos Hotel, when the front desk staff said, “I put you in the best room we have in the property.” We said our thank yous and shown him our utmost gratitude and appreciation but the curious cat had to ask. “So, what’s so special about the room?“, I said. “You’ll see.”, the nice man responded.

When we got inside the room, it was definitely bigger than the previous one we had and it had a better shower. Most importantly, this is what’s waiting when we stepped out to the balcony. Awe—some!

Greece: Day 4 – Olympia

Kalimera – Good morning.
Kalispera – Good evening.
Ephkresto – Thank you.
Parakalo – You’re welcome / Please.
Neh – Yes.

Our fourth day in Greece. So far, I have learned five Greek words and I’ve been using them every chance I get. Oh how I love it when the locals respond back. Of course, I had to make sure that I understood what they’ve said or I would demand for an explanation. Good thing their responses were included in my Greek vocabulary.

We are off to the archeological site of Olympia today. My friends, Karen, Maribel and I were having a blast. Day 2 of our Classical Tour. Not a single drop of rain was in sight. A few clouds may have rolled in occasionally but that just made the day more prettier.

Our tour group was a diversified one. There’s us, Filipino-Americans, two Australian couples, the French, also the French-Canadians, retired nurses from Canada – the west side, a retired couple from Michigan, young couple from Colorado and a family from either Thailand or Cambodia, all traveling together in Greece. We all got along pretty well.

The Palaistra.

The Philippeion.

The Ancient Olympic Stadium.

The Temple of Zeus.

The column of the Temple of Zeus.

Now … to Delphi! This is a shot of the Ionian Sea.

Rion-Antirion Bridge or officially known as Charilaos Trikoupis bridge. The world’s longest multi-span cable-stayed bridge.

I’m always in awe whenever I see windmills. I just love them!

The Gulf of Corinth.

We’ve finally arrived at our destination. Another day of touring has come to an end. Tomorrow will be another whole lot of experience. Kalinita, Delphi! (Goodnight, Delphi).

Greece: Day 3 – Epidaurus & Mycenae

I like history as much as I like traveling. Sometimes, whenever I decide to spend my weekend at home, I would just watch shows from History Channel. Pawn Stars, American Pickers and ancient documentaries are some of my favorites. Several weeks ago, I was hoping to see a few that talk about Greece but no such luck. I’m a geek. Yes, I know. I remember my history teacher back in my college days, who taught us about the Greeks, the Spartans, the Romans, the Persians. I dislike that professor but now, I wish I paid more attention to his lessons.  It would be awesome if I had known more about Greece before this trip.

When we booked this trip, we told Fantasy Travel that we want to visit Delphi, Olympia, Athens and Santorini. They arranged for everything and added two more places, Epidaurus and Mycenae. Awesome! Our third day in Greece marks the start of our three day Classical Tour and today, we were scheduled visit Epidaurus and Mycenae. Our first stop, the Corinth Canal. From Athens, we drove for about an hour and arrived at this landmark.

Here’s the Corinth Canal on the Aegean Sea side.

The Corinth Canal on the Ionian Sea side.

After stopping for about half an hour, we continued on with the tour. Our next destination, Epidaurus. We passed by little fishing villages on our left, houses and churches on hills on our right.

These are fish farms. Don’t they look like giant hula hoops?

We drove for hours along the coast, in between valleys and the sceneries were breathtaking. I couldn’t be more happier. One day, I hope I can come back to this place, rent a car, make stops along the way and take more pictures.

We’ve finally reached The Archeological site of Epidaurus. Photo on the right is a Greek Orthodox nun.

The Ancient Epidaurus Theatre.

We left Epidaurus and headed for Mycenae, where the archeological site of Mykines is located. Along the way, we passed by this Mycenaean Bridge.

Aside from benches, windmills and a million other things, I also enjoy capturing lines and curves. I was stoked when I saw this train tracks at one of our stops in Napflio.

Unlike in the movie My Life In Ruins, we had a good bus but we didn’t have a good tour guide.

After lunch, we headed to The Treasury of Atreus or also known as the Tomb of Agamemnon.

The Archeological site of Mykines.

Before we retired for the night, our tour guide brought us to this ceramic place where they demonstrated how they make the expensive amphoras. It’s a pottery place.