Mini-Vaca in the USA

Last week I finished up my blog series on my trip to Italy and Greece (check out all the posts on my main page). So instead of diving right in to the next trip, I thought I would give a quick little post to a glorious stay that I recently had here in the United States.

Over the winter break my son spent a week at his father’s house in northern Indiana. When he is gone for such a long period of time, I really like to take advantage of my freedom (and avoid the silence of the house when he’s not there) so I usually end up going somewhere. One year over Thanksgiving break I took my first ever solo trip abroad. You can read about part of that here.

However, with finances a little tighter (especially right after Christmas), I opted for a local vacation. I hopped on AirBnB for the first time ever and looked at odd places to stay… tents, yurts, apartments above breweries with goat farms attached (not kidding… it’s real – near Cincinnati, Ohio)… in the general area of my home in Indianapolis.

After agonizing over several options, I finally decided that what I mainly wanted was some quiet solitude where I could “get away from it all.” So… I decided to stay in a treehouse! That’s right… a treehouse!

I stayed near the thriving metropolis of Dayton, Ohio in a little town called Xenia. On the outskirts of this little town is a very swanky area with lots of gorgeous, large homes.  I was a little concerned at first that I was in the wrong area, but sure enough my GPS guided me back on a winding road and into the parking area next to a very grand multilevel home (three, maybe four stories). And situated discreetly in the back of this beautiful home was a superbly adorable treehouse!

The bottom level of the treehouse is a wonderful deck with a table and chairs, and (since it was just a few days after Christmas) Christmas lights and even a lighted reindeer to give the deck just the perfect amount of festive ambiance.

Up the stairs is the entrance to the treehouse, and inside everything the site advertises! I worried about staying somewhere I’d never seen before, and if the pictures on the website had just been taken at creative angles, but the little treehouse was exactly how it looked on the website, and I was honestly surprised by the several amenities it offered.  There was WiFi (a little spotty, but serviceable), a mini-fridge,  plates, napkins, coffee mugs, and an adorable toaster oven/coffee pot/griddle combo that made me slightly envious!

On the main level there was a queen (?) size bed with a million pillows, a wall mounted TV (could have done without that), and a space heater that looks like a small wood burning stove.  Then, up a bunkbed style ladder there is a little loft that houses an additional twin sized bed.

The treehouse has a cabin-like feel, with electricity and heat, and even carpet. It stayed nice and warm on a VERY cold and rainy night, and though I was only a few hundred yards from the main house, it felt very secluded — and I am sure it is even more so in the spring and summer when the leaves on the trees would provide even more privacy.

There were several side amenities that I didn’t take advantage of– guests have access to the grounds, a fire pit, and even a hot tub on the deck of the main house. You can even get farm fresh eggs for breakfast and access to the main house (shower, etc) for an additional cost.

The treehouse is probably not for everyone, though. There is a very basic compostable toilet on the deck around the corner from the entrance to the treehouse. In nice weather this would not have been a problem for me. Unfortunately I was there on a particularly cold, rainy, windy evening, and though there is a discrete curtain to shield you from view, there is no roof over the toilet.  Consequently, I had a very cold, wet trip to the bathroom at 4am with wind so strong that it blew the curtain over on top of me. However, it was VERY clean and much better than I anticipated a rustic toilet would be.

By far my favorite amenity was the maple tea the host’s boys brought to me the next morning. The woman who owns the AirBnB and her two boys tap the maple trees for syrup and make tea from the sap. It was VERY good, and I only wanted six more cups!

Nearby is the lovely town of Yellow Springs that became my favorite place to head off to get a bite to eat and have my choice of several coffee shops! The town is very quaint and has a lot to offer with crafty little stores, locally owned shops, and plenty of restaurants.

I ate dinner my first night at Ye Olde Trail Tavern, a lovely little German tavern with unbelievable charm. Exposed beams, low ceilings, and a real fireplace give the place the feel of a real small town tavern in Germany. Despite their lack of many German beers on tap, it was very authentic.

After dinner I went across the street to a little coffee shop called Dino’s Cafe where I was the only customer for a while. The barista was very friendly and made a superb cappuccino (the test of any cafe). In no time, the cafe was filled with customers, and I can see why. It’s just a hole in the wall, but the coffee is great!

Dino’s Cafe

The next day I went back to the lovely little town and had coffee and breakfast at surprisingly large and busy Emporium Wine and Underdog Cafe. It is a one-stop shop for your wine, coffee, bakery, and breakfast needs! They had everything from scones to pancakes, from bottles of wine to used books! They pride themselves as the “Living room of Yellow Springs,” and it was truly that! It was filled with people on the cold day I was there. Business people were conducting meetings, students were studying, families were eating breakfast together, and emotionally exhausted English teachers were journaling (me).

I had lunch just down the street at the Wind’s Cafe which is a deceptively fancy restaurant that I felt extremely under dressed for, but they accepted me with open arms and not a lick of (audible) judgement.

All in all, it was a lovely vacation, and I hope to be able to go back to the treehouse in nicer weather and stay a bit longer. If you are looking for a slightly rustic experience with a wonderful little town near by, check out the Treehouse Getaway in Xenia, Ohio!

 

Pleasant Setbacks – an extra day in Greece

IMG_8871

Our “last” day in Greece was a fun/stressful/distressing day (read about that here). We thought we would be going home the next morning, and then our plans were dashed when we learned that AirFrance had gone on strike, canceling (not delaying) our flight. However, EF Tours was wonderful to us and organized the rescheduling of our flight the following morning. The strike was apparently very short-lived and mainly involved the transit workers in Paris.

Nevertheless we were stranded in Greece for an additional day without reservations, and the hotel where we were staying was booked for the following evening, so it wasn’t an option for our party of 21. Once again, EF Tours came through for us and found us a place to stay. And not just any place — a little resort town right on the coast of the Aegean Sea– the lovely Vari, Greece (a suburb of Athens with a blue flag winning beach). We were within about a five minute walk of the beach, and it was a gorgeous, sunny day – 75 degrees (24 Celsius)! Our spirits were immediately lifted as we walked up to our rooms in a beautiful little hotel. The balconies looked out over a very typical Grecian scene – clay tile roofs, sloping slightly downward toward the water.

IMG_8856

You can see a little square of the sea in the middle of the picture, slightly to the right.

IMG_8857

Looking straight off of our balcony, the beautiful Hymettus mountains.

We decided to spend the day enjoying the sunshine and the beach, but first we ate lunch at a lovely gyro bistro directly across from the beach, Zaxos.  I had a gigantic gyro platter (slight miscommunication due to my lack Greek language skills) for next to nothing. And we were joined by an adorable little cat who wandered in the open-air restaurant.

After our meal, we decided to head to the beach (after putting my left-overs in the hotel room refrigerator). I had not packed any beachwear since we had not been scheduled to have any beach time with our original tour.  So, I put on the closest thing I had to beach clothing, a pair of jeans baggy enough to roll up my legs, and a flowy tie-dyed shirt. I also grabbed a hotel towel (shhhh), my journal, and a book, and headed to the beach.

IMG_8874

Our kids are the large group of humans in the right middle of the frame. Some ventured a little further out since they had swimwear.

IMG_8881

Since it was a relatively cool day, the beach was basically empty.

IMG_8880

My feet in the Aegean Sea

While we were there, I could not believe that this was how we were getting to spend our day “stranded” in Greece! Though I was heartbroken not to be home and giving my son lots and lots of hugs, if it had to happen, this was the way I wanted it to go! I cannot praise EF Tours enough for setting us up in a wonderful place like Vari! It also allowed our traveler who had lost is passport to thieves in Athens the previous day to get to the embassy and get a temporary passport so he could travel back with the rest of the group.

We went to bed that night relaxed and ready for the flight home the next day. Alas, there were further complications when our flight out of Greece landed too late in Paris for us to get to our gate before the closed the doors to our flight.

 

 

The Light and Dark of Athens

Athens was a bittersweet day and a half for our tour. We had a wonderful time exploring the many beautiful things in the city — too many to name in one post, truly. The city is magnificent, but with the magnificent comes the harsh realties of heavily tourist filled cities… thieves.

Our first evening in Athens was very lovely in many ways. One of the wonderful things about Europe that I wish we would embrace here in the US is the delicious tradition of gelato. Yes, we can get it at the grocery store, but in Italy, Greece, and even Ireland (which will be the topic of my next series) had gelato nearly at every turn! Without fail, in every city in Italy and Greece, gelato was a part of the day. In Athens we went to a lovely little “gelateria” called DaVinci’s where we got the most delectable gelato of the entire trip… so of course I took a picture of it!

IMG_8748

I had no shame as I enjoyed every last morsel of this gelato, that I thought might be my very last of the trip (I was wrong, but for less than great reasons– you’ll find out about that next week).

After the gelato, Raquel took us to a very scenic look at the Acropolis by night. We walked and we walked and we walked… at Raquel’s lightning pace, by the way, and it was too much for a few of our number. As chaperone, I stayed back with the stragglers, so I didn’t get to see it in all of it’s glory by night, but I did snap a quick (albeit blurry) photo from where I had to stop. And even though I didn’t get to see the “amazing view” – what I saw was beautiful enough!

IMG_8747

And though I felt very safe walking around at night in Athens, the subway was an entirely different beast. We stayed close together and attempted to watch out for each other, but at some point, one of the gentlemen in our group who insisted on keeping his wallet in the cargo pocket of his shorts (despite being told multiple times not to), lost about 300€, but was fortunate enough to keep the vital things, like credit cards, ID, and passport. It was a frustrating experience, yes, but a lesson well learned to listen when Raquel tells you not to do something!

The next morning we took a tour of the city, starting with the cite of the first modern Olympics, the Panathenaic Stadium.

. IMG_8758

The Panathenaic Stadium is very impressive, especially when you realize that it has (in some form) existed since the fourth century! Made entirely of marble, it’s amazing that it went largely unused after Christianity rose to power. It wasn’t until the modern Olympic Games came back in the late 1800s that the stadium was excavated and renovated.  Many events happen here even today — a classic marathon takes place every year, and the final hand-off in Greece of the Olympic torch happens here.

Back on the bus we passed many more impressive sites, but I wish we would have been able to get out and walk around a bit more. However, the purpose of the trip was to get a survey of both Italy and Greece in an eight day time frame, which simply does not leave time to walk around Athens for days and days. Photos out the window of a bus don’t come out very clearly, but I did get a relatively nice picture of Hadrian’s Arch. Hadrian is everywhere in Italy and Greece– he was kind of a big deal. Our guide, Raquel told us that the gate was a divider between old and new Athens.

IMG_8768

Then we moved on to the Acropolis, which was breathtakingly historical. SO many things contributed to my love of it, but I simply could not stop thinking about how people from a time so long ago walked where I was walking. I even took a picture of my shoe after walking around in the Acropolis just so I could remember the dust of the Acropolis was on my feet at one time.

IMG_8815

I know it’s a little silly, but I probably sat and looked at that dust for a full minute pondering the mass of humanity who had been there before me.

Pictured below is the gate that you have to walk through to get to the Acropolis.  There is exactly one way in and out, and this was the way it was originally constructed for security purposes. I find that fascinating that they worried about security even back then. Obviously we have different means of hurting people now, they still needed to think about how to make the place safe even way back then.

The most identifiable structure is the Parthenon (pictured below). And it is very beautiful. It was under construction while we were there as they struggle against nature and time to keep the structure a semblance of what it once was.

IMG_8805

However, the portion of the Acropolis that fascinated me the most was the Temple of Athena. The sculptures were so beautiful, and the history of the people of Athens and the myth of Athena is just so interesting to me. There is even an olive tree there that is said to have been planted by Athena for the people of Athens. IMG_8797IMG_8798IMG_8799

Here are some of the views from the Acropolis:

IMG_8809

IMG_8808

The ruins of the Temple of Zeus

IMG_8790IMG_8781

Another cite, just outside of the Acropolis, was where it is said that Paul first preached the gospel in Greece. He was atop a large rock, situated so that everyone entering and exiting the Acropolis would have heard him. You could go up on the top of it, but I found it more interesting to stand and look up at the people and imagine what it would have been like to listen to Paul. What did he sound like? Did people listen or dismiss him as a lunatic? I stood there for quite some time and tried to soak it all in.

IMG_8813

Later that night, we were once again reminded of the frustrations of traveling. On our way back to the hotel, one of men in our group was robbed on the subway in a classic trick. Someone pretended to fall just as the subway approached a stop, and has he tried to help her, someone else cut the string on his passport lanyard (that he was wearing under his clothes), and got away with his passport, wallet, and money just as the doors were opening. It created a huge headache that included him having to file a police report that evening and then making a trip to the American Embassy the next morning… which should have been a problem because we were supposed to leave the next day. Alas, due to an airline strike, our flight was canceled, which resulted in relief and anxiety for different reasons.

That evening we spent wondering what would become of us the next day instead of our flight, but we were greatly distracted by a night of Greek food, singing and dancing while Raquel tried to find suitable activities for us to do the following day, which you can read about next week!

 

The Oracle at Delphi

IMG_8730

The Oracle’s view of Delphi

Situated beautifully between the mountains and the ocean, Delphi was once considered the center of the known world by the Ancient Greeks. (Pronounced delf-ee not delf-eye like the town in Indiana) People from all over the world would come here for trade, information, and the wisdom of the Oracle.

Legend has it that Zeus sent two eagles from either end of the world, and where they crossed each other was the center of the earth. That was Delphi, or Δελφοί. Often called “the navel” of the world because of the stone that marked the exact center of what the Greeks knew as the world.

IMG_8740

In ancient times, Delphi was known to be the seat of the Oracle. People would ask the Oracle a question, and after pondering it, she would give an answer that would be interpreted by the priests. The Oracle was always a woman with an “unblemished past.”  She was kept in a crevice where “vapors” would give her wisdom. We now know that the oracle was breathing in hallucinogenic gasses — so basically she was high.

Delphi is also home to the temple of Apollo. It now lies in ruin, like many ancient temples. But even more so, Delphi is located over two tectonic plates (source of future-telling psychedelic happy vapors) and was rebuilt several times before the site was abandoned as having lost its religious significance (largely after the rise of Christianity). People then stopped coming to Delphi.

IMG_8734

It’s built on a hill, of course, and after climbing most (not all) of the stairs, I took this picture of the temple (entrance on the left) and the amazing scenery surrounding it all. Honestly, I do not understand why people left Greece. I supposed, you know… population stuff… but really! Why would you leave this place? It is beautiful!

Here is the view from the opposite direction:

IMG_8726

Pay attention to the people at the bottom of the picture to give reference to the size of the cliffs.

Also, the amphitheater (which is not accessible to the masses for preservation sake)

IMG_8733

The man was painstakingly attempting to keep nature at bay by weeding the amphitheater

And the Athenian Treasury building – the only building that still stands in some semblance of wholeness. But you can see the places that are much newer where there was an attempt to keep it upright.

img_8729.jpg

This was a beautiful day! The weather was just right – and we enjoyed the outdoors as well as the museum close by with more of the relics and artifacts from the area.

Next week’s blog post will be our first day in Athens!