Monday, September 20, 2021

Welcome Back to the 'Old Country'

 Welcome back to the 'old country' read the note on a gift given us by long time friends last week. 

Back in our 'old country' Washington State

It was a warm greeting, yet, a bit startling to realize that it applies to us these days. As expats living in Greece for most of the year, Washington State -- particularly this eastern side of the state where we were born and raised -- is for us now, the 'old country'.

Lake Chelan from The Butte

By definition, 'old country' is one's country of origin, the homeland, birthplace, mother country, father land. . .all of which fit these days for our Washington State.

A New, Old Country

Advertisement 1914

Manson, an unincorporated village on the north shore of 55-mile-long Lake Chelan, is where we've planted our part-time American roots.  I loved finding the announcement pictured above in historical records as I've always wondered how this little place came to be.  The downtown 'core' is about two blocks long with eateries and winery tasting rooms occupying the old buildings. While they might have built those 'drug store, hardware store, etc.' back in 1914, only two of those types of businesses remain: a grocery store and hardware store.

Downtown Manson

Several decades ago when The Scout first introduced me to this small town, the 20-minute drive between it and the larger Chelan town where he was born and raised, seemed a route into the boondocks as it led through vast apple orchards punctuated with  a few scattered residences.

Planned future residential development

There are still beautiful views over the lake and a few acres of orchards remain but now the route passes several large residential developments, a casino and four wineries.  Construction is booming and home prices are soaring. 

The Lookout development between Chelan and Manson

It seems many in the metropolitan areas learned during Covid lockdowns of 2020 that working remotely could be done from near or far. Many urban- and suburban-ites are relocating to this rural part of the state. The Lookout, pictured above, fills 63-acres with what seems a continuously expanding nest of new homes. Developers describe this resort community as featuring a  'new urbanism' concept. 

Lake Chelan and Wine Country

Lake Chelan, 55-mile-long glacier-fed lake

Lake Chelan, a body of water that reaches a maximum depth of 1,486-feet deep in places, stretches from the town of Chelan at its eastern tip to Stehekin at the head of the lake. Stehekin can only be reached by water craft or float plane.  The lake has always drawn tourists in the summer months and now winter recreational activities in the oft-snow-covered nearby foothills and mountains are making tourism a year-round industry.

Washington State Wine Map

Of course, the burgeoning wine industry here is luring many vino enthusiasts to the area. Lake Chelan AVA, a wine region designation now more than a decade old, has more than 30 wineries and  300 acres of land planted in wine grapes. 

Old Country Favorites

Another orchard gives way to home construction

While we note with each visit here the continuing changes in the landscape - new residential developments, new wineries, and related businesses -- we also are relieved to see that icons of the past remain vibrant in the communities of Chelan and Manson:

Manson Grange Hall

The Grange Hall in Manson is still serving as the social gathering hub of the community. In the U.S. the Grange originated in 1867 as an association of farmers that provided social activities, community service and conducted political lobbying for the agricultural industry. Grange halls were located in nearly every agricultural community in the state. The summer's Farmer's Market in Manson is aptly held in the parking lot here each week.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Church - Chelan

 St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Chelan is the oldest permanent structure in the community. Built in 1897 this log church was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.  It has been serving congregants since its doors opened. (It just reopened its doors to in person worship this month  -having been closed to state Covid closure mandates).  

Inside the Ruby Theatre Chelan, WA

The doors opened to the Ruby Theatre, just down the street from the church, in 1914.  It is a step back in time to go to a movie here and it is one of the most popular places in town.

Small retail businesses now operate out of the building that housed the Chelan Transfer company - a place that served freight, express and stage lines. 

Campbell's the hospitality icon of Chelan

Campbell's Resort is a sprawling modern complex and popular convention site on the shores of Lake Chelan. The family-owned business began in 1901 and the original hotel building is now home to the resort's restaurant and bar.

We are halfway through our stay in the 'old country' and our explorations here will continue.  Hope you'll join us for another look at central Washington State next week.  Until then, safe travels to you and yours and as always, thanks for the time you've spent with us today!

Linking soon with:
Travel Tuesday
Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Expat Life: Neither Here Nor There

 We are here now. Not there. 

Lake Chelan at Manson

'Here' being Washington State, tucked away in the Pacific Northwest corner of the United States. This is the land where we were born and raised; where we lived most of our adult lives. 

That is, until we decided to live a chapter of our lives 'there', in Greece.  

Our village in Greece, Agios Nikolaos

Thanks to time zone changes, we left 'there' Tuesday morning and arrived here some 20+ hours later on Tuesday evening. We are now in that afterglow period of international travel known as jet lag. It is a strange bedfellow to be sure. I chose the word 'bedfellow' on purpose because sleep, or lack of it, is for what jetlag is known. 

Autumn, a good time to be here. . .or there!

Now, in my third morning here, I continue to wake at 3:30 a.m. After an hour of tossing and turning, I get up having finally decided that I am not going back to sleep. No, I won't sleep until maybe noon when suddenly I simply can't keep my eyes open, my head drops to my chest and I am out for several hours. Those who've made similar long distant journeys know the feeling.

From one side of the world to the other

Jetlag is Real

Jetlag, is real and also known as desynchronosis or flight fatigue. According to my Google research, it is the result of:

  • A disruption of circadian rhythm: a biological day and night clock. This occurs when the person travels to different time zones.
  • Influence of sunlight- light affects regulation of melatonin
  • Airline cabin pressure and atmosphere- changes in cabin pressure and high altitude could lead to jetlag

Land of Starbucks and Washington Wine Country

Cures for Jetlag

After warming up my second cup of coffee (it is now 5:30 a.m.) I began researching jetlag cures.  First suggested cure: limit caffeine. Not a chance! We are back in the land that gave Starbucks its start and I can't pass up the opportunity to get a java jolt from my old favorite. Second suggestion: avoid alcohol. What?! We are now in the heart of Washington Wine Country, walking distance to a dozen tasting rooms or wineries. . .so that isn't going to happen either.  Third suggestion (my own, btw): just live with it!  A couple more days and I'll settle in to the swing of things on this side of the world.  

We knew when we chose this foot-in-two-worlds lifestyle that jetlag would be one of the negative side effects of the choice.  What we hadn't considered when considering travel between our two slices of the world, was that a pandemic would hit two years into our adventure. We didn't even consider the ramifications after it hit . . .until we began traveling again. 

Those 20 Hours Between Worlds

Getting a test - step one for travel

I really had wanted to tell you that travel in these Covid-influenced times isn't much different than it was before the pandemic turned the world upside down. But travel is different and it probably isn't going to swing back to the old ways any time soon, if ever.  

Pretravel testing, and documentation are the keys to even being able to start an international journey these days. Then there are the protocols for travel.  Who would have thought that a year and a half later, we would still be dealing with such matters? Each member state of the European Union is grappling with how to handle U.S. travelers and the United Kingdom has all travelers running a bureaucratic gauntlet. The U.S. isn't yet welcoming non-citizen/resident card holder travelers from outside its borders. 

It is about the journey these days - (Beebe Bridge Chelan)

Airlines are juggling itineraries and schedules. We've started making travel plans as if throwing darts at a board.  We hope to hit the date we want, the bulls eye, but will take some outer ring should our dart fall short. We had segments of two versions of this trip cancelled before we finally hit on one that got us back: 

Our journey ended up being from Athens to London Heathrow then on to Seattle. Our same day travel on British Air had a 2.5 hour layover in London. Once that routing would have been 'a breeze', but not in these Covid-colored days. 

Columbia River - near Wenatchee, Washington State

We were flying from Greece, considered an 'amber country' (color is determined by number of Covid cases). It could have been worse as there are 'red' countries and it could have been better as there are 'green'  countries.  As an 'amber country' had we had a longer layover in London requiring us to leave the airport and spend the night (as we have often done in the past) we would have had even more testing requirements and possible quarantine. 

Because we stayed 'airside' (never leaving the terminal) vs. 'landside' (where you go through immigration) we had to have only one 'brain-tickler-up-the-nose' test prior to departure and several documents proving our health and providing contact tracing information.

Grape harvest is underway - wineries are busy

The contact tracing is done with a document called a PLF, passenger locator form. While Greece allows us to complete one of those per family, the United Kingdom requires one per person. That document when printed out was four-pages long for each of us. We had to provide not only flight numbers but seat numbers on those flights as well as the time, hour and minute of arrival.  

During our check-in process in Athens, we saw two individuals who were refused boarding passes until they could produce a completed PLF, in printed or digital form, for the UK. Now in fairness, British Air emailed us notice of the need for this document and those required by the US nearly every other day for two weeks prior to departure. Links to the documents were included in the emails. There is NO WAY anyone flying that airline couldn't have not  known they were needed.

I mention printed documents because airlines are now suggesting those over the mobile device because people searching for the documents, being unable to access them, etc. has slowed the check in/arrival document check process.  We noticed many -- ourselves included - now carrying file folders in airports.

Apples hang like ornaments this time of year

A negative rapid antigen test with the swab up the nose, is required to enter the U.S. and while the U.S. says it must be taken within three days before travel, the United Kingdom says 48 hours before travel.  The devil is in the details these days!

The U.S. also requires a signed and dated 'Attestation' form in which the traveler swears, or 'attests', that he/she has had a negative test. Those documents were collected in London prior to boarding the flight to Seattle.  Now it would seem they might want to see that actual test report, but no, they only wanted our sworn statement that we had tested negative. 

Blueberry fields forever - berry harvest was done weeks ago

Masks are required both in airports and on airplanes. It is a fact. Simple as that. I just read the U.S. is toughening its stance and upping the fines for those who refuse to wear masks. 

You honestly want to shout, "Score!!" and wave your fist in the air once the documents are checked and approved. Frankly, there was a comfort in knowing everyone on our 787 aircraft had tested negative and was wearing a mask.  It is something I am not sure of when shopping at the local grocery store, 'here' or 'there'.

Farmers Market - Chelan

Now that we are back to our roots we are looking forward to welcoming guests, seeing friends and exploring the area - all things Covid restraints limited on our last trip here.  The summer flurry of tourists has abated, pears are being harvested, apples hang like ornaments on trees, and just-picked wine grapes are being transported to local wineries. 

Hope you'll join us next week for a look at our slice of the Pacific Northwest. Our wishes for safe travels to you and yours And, as always, thanks for the time you've spent with us today. Safe travels ~

Linking sometime soon with:

Through My Lens
Travel Tuesday
Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Greece - Yes, it IS home!

 'We are originally from Washington State, but we live in Greece. (pause) Yes, Greece IS home'.

So many times on our recent Adriatic cruise we found our fellow passengers -- many of them Americans -- doing a double take when we introduced ourselves and answered the question,  'Where are you from?'. 

Our Stone House on the Hill - Greek Peloponnese

Last March, I drew several raised eyebrows from friends in the States when I wrote on a Facebook post that our visit to the Pacific Northwest was coming to a close and 'it was time to head home'.   

'Home?!' several responded, 'You consider Greece home now?'

Well, as a matter of fact, yes, we do. 

Greece is Home

The Stone House on the Hill (far left) and Messinian Bay

Our neighboring fellow American expats don't find it at all unusual to consider Greece home.  In fact the two of us stand out because we still have a residence back in the States. Many here have moved their residences and lives, lock, stock and barrel, to this side of the pond.  However, when we moved here we weren't quite ready to cut ties completely with the state in which we were born and raised. Our residence there - where we've spent less than 2.5 months in the last three years, has become somewhat our 'vacation home' for now.

American expats all - on a Greek fishing boat adventure

For those who've never made the quantum leap of moving to a foreign land, the idea of that far-distant place as being home is really, well, quite foreign for lack of a better word.  What they don't realize is that it isn't a far distant place for us anymore, it is our 24/7 world. 

And once you adjust to the rhythms of that new world, it really is quite a nice place to be.

Many of you who've been with us here since the beginning of this chapter know we gave ourselves five years and if at the end of that time we'd had enough we would move on. Now, nearing seven years of home ownership and three of living here, we now find ourselves pondering  how many more years we might be able to squeeze into this adventure.

Our world is the Greek Peloponnese these days

We certainly are planning/hoping for at least a few more years and in doing so, seriously discussed finding a one level home that would lend itself more kindly to the, ahem, aging process'. Our Stone House on the Hill is literally that, terraced down a hillside in the midst of an olive grove. And that means lots of stairs.  But a new home would  mean constructing a new home, a process here that in the best of times takes two years and with the recent flurry of construction and shortages of materials, would likely extend that by another year. So we opted to stay at. . .

Our Stone House on the Hill

The red gate became blue and white

A new home here would mean leaving our Stone House on the Hill overlooking the Messinian Bay and villages of Agios Dimitrios and Agios Nikolaos. Our garden and grove. Our neighbors. Big Sigh.  

So once again we threw common sense and caution to the wind and decided to stay right where we are! We will deal with aging and mobility issues as they come our way. But with that decision came the realization that it was time to update, upscale and make this little stone house into the one we always envisioned it could be.

What a summer we have had as the home improvement projects got underway and changes began!

Blue, blue our world is blue

New blue windows brighten inside and out

Blue. Greece is known for the color blue. We needed new windows and doors and we wanted to get  rid of our forest green color, which seemed better suited to the Pacific Northwest we had left behind than here. We went Greek . . .blue!

Our friends/installers Ilias and Dimitri at work

One of the most enjoyable but sometimes challenging things about being an expat is doing something major like this, because it is done differently. You need to undertake a project knowing little about it or the ways to accomplish it in a foreign land. However daunting this one felt at first, our contractor and his sons (whom we have known for several years) made it a pleasant experience. It began at his home.  They wanted us to see the quality of windows and doors we were purchasing as they would be the same quality as those in his home. 

The new front door brightens the house

We sat at his dining room table and were offered the ubiquitous glass of water and home-made spoon sweets, the traditional welcome refreshments in Greek homes for centuries. We toured the house.  We chose colors, styles, made the down payment, shook hands then talked about the new grand baby.  Hands down a lot more fun than a trip to a Big Box in the U.S.!

The new Stone House on the Hill

Inside and Out

Master bedroom needed real storage space

While work was ending on the doors and the windows, it was just starting on the interior.  It was time to move from our 'making do with what came with the house' and making it work for us.  Again, working with a small company, this one in Kalamata, we were able to not only modernize the bedroom and den but customize it as well -- for a fraction of what it would have cost in the U.S.

What I told Alex I wanted

I wrote several years ago about getting used to the lack of storage space and smaller rooms in homes here. And I admitted that we Americans are spoiled with having huge rooms and more storage than we know what to do with sometimes.   But it was time to maximize the limited space we had available.  Working with a delightful young man, who spoke perfect English we submitted our ideas in the sketch above and this is what we got:

The new look

As we move into autumn our home improvement projects continue at our Stone House on the Hill (we have two more big ones on the to do list). We continue to monitor travel advisories and updates as they relate to Covid. We are traveling soon - heading back to the Pacific Northwest to touch base with friends and family there.  We hope that if you are traveling that you stay safe and well.  Travel is just a bit more of a challenge in these times of Covid than it used to be, isn't it?  

And as always, we thank you for the time you've spent with us today. 

Linking soon with:

Through My Lens
Travel Tuesday
Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Kastellorizo ~ Greek Island Magic!

Some claim it is the light on this small island of two names that makes it special. Others say it is the location, only a stone's throw from Turkey. For others, it is the history.

For us, it was simply everything! Its location, history, sunlight, architecture, food and filoxenia (hospitality) of the locals that made it special.

So special that I photographed and wrote about it for The Mediterranean Lifestyle Magazine's Aug./Sept. edition. And this week's post will be a short one because I want you to have time to look at the photos and read what I wrote about it there:

Click this link to open the article: Katellorizo/Megisti article

Travel during a time of Covid

Our ferry in Kastellorizo

Kastellorizo was our destination on this our first trip after Greece's six month COVID lockdown had been lifted in mid May. Admittedly, travel to any destination sounded good but this tiny island had been on the bucket list for some time.  And if Covid has taught us anything, it is to not put off into the future anything related to travel, especially those 'must visit' places, like Kastellorizo.

Few visitors here in May

Masks at that time -- and now -- are required in Greece to be worn on all public transportation, indoors in public places and businesses and when in crowded or congested outside areas. The rules haven't really changed that much since Covid changed our ways of living way back in early 2020, although we can go without masks outside now in non-congested places. Still it felt strange to go outside in an unfamiliar territory and not wear a mask. 

The face of travel on a Greek ferry in a time of Covid

Locals assured us that the entire island's population -- everyone  -- had been vaccinated back in February.  The only time we wore masks here was when visiting each of the island's two museums even though we, and the admission's desk clerk, were the only ones in each facility at the time we visited. We dined outside at seaside.

That's it for this week - if you skipped that blue link above, please go back and at least take a look at the photos.  This island is definitely worthy of your consideration as a future destination and the article should make a great armchair getaway!!  Until next week, our wishes for  safe travels to you and yours. Thanks for being with us for this chapter of our Greek 'ferry tales'. . .

Linking sometime soon with:

Through My Lens
Travel Tuesday
Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Greece: The Good, The Bad, The Reality

'It' began about two weeks ago when a heat wave coming from Northern Africa, blanketed Greece, taking temperatures in some places to new record-breaking heights.  

Hillsides are tinder right now in our area

Then just more than a week ago, 'it' seemed as if our adopted country had gone up in flames as at one point there were more than 150 wildfires threatening historical sites, forests, agricultural land, animals, olive groves and homes. 

And if that wasn't enough, three bank ATM's in our area were bombed. Yes, the blown-to-bits kind of bombed that your read about happening 'elsewhere' . . .'it' is the kind of thing you don't expect to happen in your own area.

Burn bans are in effect every summer - simply too dry here

Then this week - just as we had thought we might make it through this 'tinder' season with a continuous water supply-- 'it' was apparent that our reserve tank was precariously close to empty. Not a good thing with the surrounding countryside literally 'crispy dry'.

'It' --  is the reality of life. Those experiences and events, both good and bad, that can happen anywhere we live, even in The Mani, a place that most the time it feels a bit like paradise. So many of you have written asking about how we are doing and/or sending good wishes, that I am using this week's tale to update you on life in Greece:

The Wildfires

For days we watched firefighting efforts

Unless you've lived on the moon or had no access to media in recent weeks you have seen the horrific images of wildfires sweeping across Greece. They are not exaggerated. It has been, and continues in some areas, to be horrific. 

Some of the most severe blazes were/are on the island of Evia and others north of Athens and here. . .just down the road from us in the Peloponnese.  We spent several days watching fire fighting planes and helicopters travel back and forth to the Messinian Bay for water which was dumped on blazes to the east of us.
Milea village in January

The fire closest to us threatened a large monastery on a hill above Milea, the small village, about 10 miles from our home. Fire fighters got it under control last Thursday but it came back to life on Friday and appeared to be heading our way.

'Don't know if you are home but there is a big cloud of smoke rolling over your hill. What's with that?' texted my fellow American expat friend Jean who lives down the hill from us.  She had her 'go bag' packed shortly after sending that message! But before I got ours ready, the wind had kicked up and turned the blaze towards the port city of Gythio.  You might recall, two weeks ago I told you about setting off for Crete from Gythio, about an hour's drive southeast of us.

Fires in the Peloponnese - FB photo

Residents and tourists in Gythio were evacuated Friday night. Luckily it was brought under control before reaching the village and their displacement was short.

By Saturday it had turned again and was headed towards Lagada, the village about a 10 minute drive south of us.  Our volunteer fire fighters (well, trained and devoted) put out a call for help to build a fire line and stop the flames. More than 120 villagers responded to save the town.

Gythio, Mani - photo from FB

Sadly our Greek headlines are reporting a number of individuals have been arrested in the country and are believed to have set a number of these fires.  A special prosecutor is organizing an investigation into the fires and possible arson links between them. 

Today, thunderstorms, instead of bringing much needed rain,  are starting new blazes to the north and east in Greece.

The Heatwave

Even the cats laid low during the heat of the day

While its not completely unusual to have temperatures soar in Greece this time of year, the duration of our high temperatures sucked the life out of us.  Chores and errands were done in the morning and we retreated inside to the air conditioning until sometime in the evening when we ventured out again. It is hot - very hot - in Kalamata when the temperature hits 110F.

In the good news column, tourists continue to flock to our area though and the heat didn't deter them from enjoying the beaches.  A number of  'tourist sites' like Ancient Messene closed in the afternoon when temperatures got too high.

The Attack on the ATM's

Remains of an ATM in the Mani

One thing that has been completely out of the ordinary this year is the recent bombings of three ATM bank machines in two nearby villages.  We aren't talking a simple break and enter, but a blow-it-to-bits kind of bombing.  Two ATM's were hit a few weeks ago and the third last weekend.  Law enforcement is investigating and we locals are shaking our heads, as this is one of those times we'd like to say, 'never happens here'. But then it does. . .  proving again that bad people do bad things everywhere, including in our slice of Greece.

Water Woes

Filling our near-empty tank with water, a summer routine

With wildfires being the main focus these days, the last thing we wanted was to run out of water this summer, as we have in the past two years.  But as fire fighting efforts continued there were scattered reports of low water and no water throughout our area. By this week we were among those who had no municipal water flowing into our water tanks.  We finally resorted to buying a load of water but it appears (knock on wood) that our drought was a temporary one and we have water flowing again. 

And, the Good News

Just off the main highway near homes - last year.

I saved the good news for last!  About this time last year I wrote a post critical of both water supply and garbage disposal in our area. Trash collected by the municipality from our community dumpsters was being dumped on private land and mountains of trash had been allowed to collect there.  That mountain is gone this year. The municipality stepped up to the plate and took action.

The Green Corner - a good news happening here!

And a group of dedicated volunteers - Greeks and expats -  have gone to work creating a recycle center, staffing it and making it work.  What a joy it is to make a weekly trip to the Green Corner as it is called knowing that our trash, separated into various categories, really is being recycled!

Thank You!

So our thanks to those of you who've contacted us asking if we were safe or sending good thoughts our way.  It is so nice to know we have such a network of friends out there!  We are safe. And aside from some smoky skies and maybe a moment's pause here and there, we were untouched by the nearby fires. We are saddened for all those who have suffered as result of the fires. And we are thankful for the more than 20 countries that sent assistance to Greece in way of equipment and man/woman power to fight the fires.

The Scout has been scouting out another adventure for us, so we are off again soon.  Hope you'll be back with us for another tale or two of  travel and life as boomer American expats in Greece.  Stay safe and well ~

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