If you are lucky enough to have traveled widely, maybe you think you have been to all the good destinations. But have you been to the Greek island of Crete? It is a land of beaches and snow-capped mountains, bustling cities and restful villages, great food and friendly people. It is a land, quite literally, of (sheeps’) milk and honey.

On top of all that, it is affordable. I spent a week in Crete in early May, staying in a lovely one bedroom apartment on a mountain’s edge overlooking the small resort town of Agia Pelagia (I can’t begin to tell you on paper how it’s pronounced, but not as you think.) (Pic 1 – Nymphes apartment hotel.) The apartment was basic – maybe even a little Spartan, if I dare risk a pun – but clean, convenient and tastefully furnished. The proprietor, Pepy Chatzimarkaki, clearly cares about her property (which as a civil engineer she personally designed), the hotel’s gardens, her many kittens that roam about and, not least, her guests. Total hotel cost for three people for eight nights: 448 euros, about $604. The town is about 14 miles from Heraklion, the largest city and modern capital of Crete. We had a private terrace with a spectacular northeastern view over Agia Pelagia (Pic 2), and at night we could see the twinkling lights of the big city. In the mornings, the sunrises. (Pic 3) And also the grazing goats bedecked with cow bells (Pic 4). Lovely landscapes of olive groves surround the area. (Pic 5).

The cities were fun. We visited three of the four main cities on the north coast: Heraklion, Rethmynon and Chania. The fourth is Agios Nikolaos, on the far east end of the island and the cruiseport. We didn’t make it there; it will have to await the next Mediterranean cruise. Heraklion was chaotic (motor bikes and scooters almost outnumber cars), but fascinating, and the home of the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. The history of the island is awesome and worth reading about before you go. At least as important, the shopping was great in all three cities, especially in Chania where the market sells drop-dead gorgeous leather bags of all kinds, as well as jewelry and other things. (Pic 6 – a leather workshop). There are some lovely restaurants on back streets in the old part of the city of Rethmynon (Pic 7 – “To Pegadi”), as well as a fortress built by the Venetians to keep out the Turks. (The effort failed. The city fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1646.)

The mountain drives to reach notable villages (or just to explore) were an adventure and the villages enchanting. Our rental car, a Toyota Yaris, cost us $350 total, including the extra. Take a drive to Fodele, surprisingly the birthplace of the (Spanish, I thought) painter El Greco; and Mirtia, the birthplace of Nikos Kazantzakas, the famous author of Zorba the Greek. The villages are also the place to enjoy some of the most authentic Cretan food or just to bide the time at the ubiquitous “taverna”. (Pics 8 and 9).

We hated to leave, but we will be back. We still have to do the south coast with its many beaches and the Samara gorge which we are told offers spectacular hiking. Wanna come along? Or put together your own group. Call me and I will arrange it all.

Shama Travel


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Staycations Are Nice. Gocations Are Even Better.

Everyone is doing what they can to save a few bucks. And, vacations are usually one of the first things to go by the wayside.

The big trend now is the “staycation,” where people choose to visit places closer to home. This is fun and a great chance to see what’s in your backyard. But, the “staycation” is starting to get more expensive than most people realize. Gas prices continue to rise and the well-intentioned stay closer to home could end costing more than people expect. Sure, it is a good option, but when you start adding it all up, you could go with the other option.

The “gocation.”

There are plenty of deals abounding right now. The most popular destinations in the United States are becoming affordable once again. One of the great things about a “gocation” is that you can use your frequent flier miles, your credit card points, your rental car certificates and more to create an exciting and affordable experience for you and your family. You can even find just good, old-fashioned great deals. Las Vegas is becoming more affordable. Trips to Florida are still attractively priced. And there are often good deals to be found to popular destinations from Washington DC to San Diego — you just need to look a little bit deeper and try to plan well. Even if you don’t plan out, you can always find a good last-minute deal here and there.

Heck, you can find decent airfares to just about any place in the country — and we’ll do our very best to find you the airfare and packages that could turn your “staycation” into what you really want: an escape away from it all.


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From The Window Seat

This was a neat New York Times article (and perspective) from an airline pilot on the joys of having a window seat.

There are plenty of travelers (especially in business) who like the aisle seat. More leg room (as long as the cart doesn’t get in the way) and a quicker route to getting out of the plane for that next meeting or quick connection. But, there is much to love about the window seat. In the article, the author talks quite a bit about European cities and the view flying in. All good examples and true.

Years ago, Hong Kong was always an interesting place to land as you flew what seemed tenuously close to buildings. There are also good examples of “spirited” landings around the world. Tegucigalpa, Honduras has one of the more difficult landings but can be thrilling to watch.

Aside from some adrenaline-inducing landings, there are some real beauties when traveling in the United States. The author talks about New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, but there are some really cool vistas and views in other places around the country. Out west, Seattle is a majestic view — with Mount Ranier and the city below. Also, Portland, Oregon, with Mount Hood as the backdrop, provides a stunning approach or takeoff. These are great daytime views.

Las Vegas is fantastic to see at night. It’s hard to not be energized by the lights and buzz as you land.

On the night of July 4th, the east coast is a super view with fireworks creating the palette from Washington DC to Philadelphia.

Washington/Reagan is a great view day or night.

But, the best view in the United States is — well, anywhere. This is such a great country to travel and there is always something to see from the prairies to the mountains to the cities and everywhere in between.

What are your favorite views from the window seat? I’d love to hear from you — and help you think about your next journey — whether you prefer the window seat or not.

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When Is It Time To Pay A Little More For A Flight?

We all want to save money on air travel.

That’s a pretty obvious statement. And a recent study came out that indicated deregulation has, over time, given consumers better airfares and plenty of options to fly. I often see great airfares and it is true that you can fly just about anywhere for what could be considered a fair price — even in light of the economic challenges facing airlines.

But, there are some times and situations that may actually merit paying a premium or a little extra.

Consumers are conditioned to look for the lowest price when booking air travel. Often times, they overlook some of the things that may make their experience less than satisfying: overnight flights, quick connections, more than one stop and longer travel times are just a few ways that a “bargain” may turn out to be a nightmare.

Consider flying coast-to-coast.

You may be enticed by a lower fare. Most of the time, a consumer stops there and doesn’t do the extra research to see what better options may be out there. If you’re flying from the west to the east, there are usually overnight flights that seem to be a good deal. Factor in a stop, a layover and that “bargain” may end up being not much of a deal in the first place. Same thing heading from the east to the west. Many times, the “lowest” fare is early in the morning. Sometimes, you could end up with a terrible connection and more.

The bottom line is that there are many ways to make your trip better by paying a little bit more. You may fly at a better time. You may avoid out-of-the-way connections. You may just have a better experience all around.

I’m always happy to share all of your options with you so that your next flight will be a happy one.

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Liking Your Airline

We hear all kinds of stories about how airlines continue to change. Most of the time, consumers tend to share some of the things that they don’t like about them: seats, service, new fees and everything else under the sun. People can be vocal and airlines tend to bear the brunt of criticism.

But, what about the other side of the equation? What about what people “like” about airlines?

Many travelers talk about the perks of frequent flier programs. There are some really great ones out there. Yes, they are changing as the economic climate changes, but many programs still afford travelers tremendous flexibility and opportunity ranging from lower-mileage tickets to seat upgrades. And, if you travel quite a bit, it makes perfect sense to try to focus your attention on one airline. I travel on American Airlines quite a bit and always try to keep my focus on AA so that I can enjoy the benefits of this loyalty.

People also talk about how much they appreciate airline lounges and clubs. For anyone who has flown out of Heathrow in London and visited the British Airways Terraces Club, you know how exceptional the experience can be. Domestically, many airlines offer up great lounge experiences, especially at hubs.

And, even though there is plenty of ink about bad service, there are plenty more stories of happy customers that don’t see the light of day. JetBlue is legendary for amping up customer service using social media. Virgin America has almost revolutionized the flying experience for people in the US. Alaska Airlines always comes up with high marks for customer satisfaction. Frontier has a loyal following. Those stories don’t often get told, but they are there constantly and every day.

Airlines have tough jobs but do everything they can to get you to your destination safely and comfortably. Sure, there will be some things that go wrong — but there is quite a bit to like about airlines and the service they provide.

If you have questions about any airline, drop me a line. I can give you an overview of what airlines do well for their customers.


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Where Are You Going?

We’ve all done this.

You’re at an airport and you’re waiting for your flight. You may have a little extra time and you walk around the terminal. Then, you stop at the departures display — and start daydreaming. You start thinking about all of the places people are headed and you think about where you would like to go as well. In bigger airports or hubs, you can daydream about heading to Asia or Europe — those flights to London or Tokyo that just make you pause and think: what if?

I know one person who has taken the daydreaming thing a little bit further. He doesn’t actually get on the flights but rather opens up his laptop and starts learning about some of the destinations. For a couple years, he was traveling once a month domestically and started getting into it just to pass the time. He said it started in Salt Lake City as he was connecting on a Delta flight out east. He learned about Rock Springs, Wyoming and Cedar City, Utah. He did some digging into Oklahoma City (Bricktown is cool). Even though he didn’t have a boarding pass, he still was able to “get there” by taking the time to learn about destinations that he never really thought of.

There is so much “what if?” in travel. At every airport, there is an entire world that opens up and is ready to be explored. In the case of my friend, he takes the extra step to know more about it — and maybe plan a trip to some of these destinations someday.

We always love hearing about those “daydreams.” We can also turn them into reality and get you on your way to a new place to discover.


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Saving Fuel

You’ll be hearing more about aviation technology in the coming years. As more discoveries are made, there will be a great deal of conversation about how airlines (and the travel industry in general) can continue to lessen their “footprints” and environmental impact. But there is one piece of technology you may have noticed if you are sitting in a window seat.

The winglets.

Also known as “wingtip devices,” these extra additions to the wings of aircraft can help improve fuel efficiency and aircraft range. The winglets that you see mainly on Boeing 737 and 757s are called “blended winglets.” Airbus has a variant called a “Sharklet” that will be on the A320 models starting in 2012.

New Boeing 737s have the winglets as part of the assembly process. Older versions of the planes (and 757s) have been retrofitted with them and, according to a company in Seattle, will save 7 billion gallons of fuel in the next five years.

So, how will this affect you?

It’s hard to say. One would hope that airlines will be able to pass some of the savings back to the consumer — and maybe this will happen. But, what I like about all of the aviation technology happening (including biofuel research) is that it proves that the industry will continue to evolve and grow in a positive direction — especially from an environmental perspective.

Oftentimes, we don’t think about how much strain the flights we take can have on our planet. But, I give the industry and aviation researchers a great deal of credit. They are learning things and creating technology that will have a better impact as we continue to explore destinations around the world.

As always, we’re here to answer your travel questions — and we’re also happy to talk to you about some of the new things we hear about.

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