Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Blessing the Water ~ in Greece

Theophany ~ the ‘showing forth of God’ or the ‘manifestation of God’
We were lucky to have our recent time in Greece encompass holidays. While Christmas and New Year’s Day were both were celebrated, neither came close though to the festivities in our village of Agios Nikolaos for January 6th’s Feast of Theophany, or Epiphany.

Agios Nickolas fishing port and main road
In the Christian world, Epiphany, 12 days after Christmas, pays tribute to the baptism of Christ when for the the first time the Holy Trinity appeared before mankind. Here the Orthodox Church celebrates the day, with Megas Agiamor, one of three types of Blessing of the Water that is done throughout the year by the church.

The season’s unusual cold spell that brought temperatures to all-time low’s and blanketed parts of the country with snow, had threatened to drive the religious celebration indoors. “If the weather is good enough it will likely take place at 10 in the morning,” we were told, ‘if it is bad it will take place in the church.”

The procession from the church to the waterfront in Ag. Nikolaos
The previous day’s storm winds died and clouds disappeared during the night. We woke to a cold, but blue sky day. The processional from the church to the water’s edge, took place around 10:30.

The processional - Jan. 6, 2015
The Priests were keepers of the Gospel and the Cross that would be blessed and tossed into the water a total of three times before the ceremony ended. The first two tosses, all part of the  service, seemed like practice runs to those of us less well-versed in the tradition.


The crowd gathered around the priests and the young robed assistants took their place at the water’s edge.

DSCF2963A blessing and a toss. . .while across the harbor, young men – members of the congregation readied themselves for the bone-chilling water . . .

The Cross is tossed. . .the race was on. . .


One of the three would be the first to reach the Cross.  That young man received a cash prize from the church. Then as tradition dictates, he added more to his ‘catch’ by taking it house-to-house and person-to-person blessing places and people who in turn made small donations – that he would get to keep.

This year's cross-bearer conducted blessings of homes and people
While he went to work delivering blessings, the gathered villagers celebrated, greeting each other and sipping a bit of Greek brandy, Mextaca, which had been served in plastic cups to the assembled. Some of us, like my friend Sue and I, returned to the café to finish our coffee and tea we’d been sipping while waiting for the processional to appear – we’d dashed off to watch the ceremony like everyone else. Our cups were where we’d left them . . .no one worried whether we’d return to pay or not. . .that’s the way it is in this village.

PicMonkey Collage
Thanks for stopping by – we always appreciate the time you spend with us.  Hope you’ll take a moment to comment, we love hearing from you! In our next post, we'll tell you how to get to this wonderful little village and our Stone House on the Hill.

This week’s link ups are with:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox  
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route  
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Greece ~ Discovering Our “Secret” Garden

Having lived our entire lives in the US Pacific Northwest – where gardens are folded up and put away between October and May – it sounded idyllic to be able to ‘garden’ in December and January in Greece.

Our bedroom window
We were realists, though. We’d seen that garden: it needed work in the spring, it needed more work in the summer and when we walked through it the week before purchasing The Stone House on the Hill, it appeared it might take the rest of our lives to ‘garden’ this place back to its one-time beauty. Still, we thought, it had potential. . .

And that’s not to say there weren’t beautiful spots tucked away in this Mediterranean challenge, like the bougainvillea blooming outside our bedroom window.

View frrom our parking area
The garden makes up most of the grounds of our Stone House. It cascades down a slope from its parking area, loops to the side of the house and then leads into our small terracd olive grove (if you missed that post, click the link).

Our home is one of four built on the edge of a century-old olive grove on a hillside above the small villages of Agios Dimitrios and Agios Nikolaos (St. Dimitri and St. Nicholas) in The Mani area of the Peloponnese.

Come Take Stroll through the Garden  . . .

We had bouts of cold wind and rain, so our gardening efforts were somewhat limited during our 28-days, but as I did last week with the interior of the house, I want to show you some before and after photos of this still-a-work-in-progress-potential-oasis:

Let’s start at the side of the house where it appeared the previous owners had a small un-used, and definitely unloved patio that sat forlornly near the garden’s sole lemon tree. “This will be the Wine (tea or coffee) Patio,” I said so many times that it became a mantra.

PicMonkey Collage
Before photos on left, patio revealed on the right
After a morning spent cutting and yanking vines and old growth we discovered that ‘tiny’ patio was huge! It will be loved and used. Not only will we sip wine there, we just might dine there as well!  And for you gardeners reading this, the lemon tree is one that produces year-round so no matter when we visit we should have – or at least their fragrant blossoms  – lemons, like these growing in December.

PicMonkey Collage
Our lemon tree in December
As we removed layers of vines from the patio we began discovering our ‘secret garden’ hidden away under the growth.  We opened up planting areas (for the Christmas poinsettias), and found a number of plants including a French Lavender and wonderful bits of stonework. . .all just waiting to be discovered.

PicMonkey Collage
Discovering parts of our secret garden
There is still work to be done on the side garden, as evidenced by the photos below. The previous owners were apparently content to use the ladder pictured to get from the upper garden to the lower one at the side of the house; the one that leads to the wine patio. We are having stairs built next month and we will focus on this area during our next stay:

PicMonkey Collage
The challenge area - we did plant iris along the wall to get something pretty there
Then there was the matter of the garden behind the house.

DSCF1235A sloping hillside, we thought, without much definition. 

First step was to cut, pull, dig and clean out.

Ground cover is a good thing, but there is such as thing as too much of a good thing.

So we went to work and after several days, guess what we found?

PicMonkey Collage
Work begins in the left photo - and revealed many surprises underneath the olive tree
Hidden beneath the growth were some of the original terraced stone walls of the olive grove. We also unearthed granite stones, iris beds and a carpet of nasturtiums.

Morning sun highlights the iris we discovered
“The secret to being a bore is to tell everything.”
-- Voltaire
With those wise words in mind, I will end this week’s tour.  But not before I show you some of the garden blooms and colors -- in December and January mind you!!

PicMonkey Collage
Our garden blooms
Hope to see you back again soon. Come experience the special celebration in the village on January 6th and in a later post I'll take you through the neighborhood and village. By the way, if you have ideas for the side garden, do let us know!

Thanks – as always -- for the time you’ve spent with us in Greece. It means a lot to have you with us.
Happy Travels~

Linking up this week:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox  
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route  
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Greece ~ Our first 28 days. . .

And so it began, our new chapter in Greece.  We’d caught that daydream we’d been chasing for nearly a year.  There we were – finally - in that Stone House on the Hill on a chilly December afternoon, ten days before Christmas – the purchase completed only hours before.

From Agios Dimitrios village our house on the hill is the one on the right
Despite having visited it so many times during the ‘purchase dance’ we did with the sellers, it was still a bit odd walking into the house that first time as its owners. The dancing was over; reality hit. It was time to get to work on all those, ‘we could do. . .’ and ‘what that place needs is . . .’ challenges we’d given ourselves.

And we had only 28 days before our flight back to the States.

PicMonkey Collage
This was the furnishing we bought with the house.
As part of the deal we’d purchased the place ‘furnished’. . .a house that had a hospital white interior (floor tile, walls and ceiling) and its main level crammed with well-worn, out-dated, over-sized furniture.

It’s downstairs was filled with boxes of belongings of the sellers – they would be stored with us the first week of ownership waiting for shipment to England.

Step One: Out with the old. (Not a lot of takers for the old stuff – but we did get rid of it!)

Step Two: Give some life to the sterile interior. (Painters arrived the first week!)

PicMonkey Collage
Testing colors and prepping the walls
What happened during those 28 days . . .

PicMonkey Collage
Then and now. . .
We used red for accent on the stairway to the bedrooms and on the fireplace. Softening the wall colors with a ‘meadow yellow’ or ‘biscotto’ color.

PicMonkey Collage
Then and now. . .

We bought smaller furniture.

PicMonkey Collage
Then and now. . .

And have opted for a country-style décor in this country home set in an olive grove.

PicMonkey Collage
Then and now. . .
We paid tribute to the lemon trees in our garden, with bedding printed with lemons and our bed and bedding  colors, are blue, yellow and green.

PicMonkey Collage
Then and now. . .
As soon as the boxes were moved out, we turned our attention to the downstairs, an area we call the guest suite, or The Garden Suite. Here we gave a nod to the plant, Lavender, by painting the sitting area a pale green and the bedroom lavender.

PicMonkey Collage
Top photos from July and December, bottom photos 'after'. . .
Again, we warmed it up a bit with garden/country flavor:

PicMonkey Collage

And we were at the end of our stay by the time we got the walls finished in the bedroom, but we'd made a start! There’s a lot more to do to decorate this place, but that will come in due time. We look forward to the scouting trips for accent furniture, wall décor and other adornments that are out there waiting to be found.

PicMonkey Collage

Sorry for the length of this one, but so many of you have asked to see the interior that I had to do a bit of ‘show and tell’ today.  Next week, I’ll show you what we got accomplished in the garden when the weather permitted as well!  Thanks for being with us today!

Now that I am back in the land of internet, I am linking this week with:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox  
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route  
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Greece: Trash Talk and Socrates

“All I know is that I know nothing.”
-- Socrates
Truer words were never spoken, than those of Socrates, the ancient philosopher, I’ve concluded after being in Greece for three weeks. Our time here has spanned both an old and new year – the time it seems that people get introspective and think deeper, philosophical thoughts. I have been thinking with such introspection it seemed the best way to tell you about them was with some ‘trash talk’:  garbage collection, quite literally.
DSCF1168 Maybe it is the atmosphere or something in the water, but we’ve become a bit philosophical after spending time in Greece.
On this visit, we’ve cut ourselves off from television and have significantly reduced computer time, mainly because the house doesn’t have either. We’ve tapped into another’s w-ifi (with his permission) and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
We’ve spent a lot of time outdoors – working with our hands and thinking with our heads; not relying on a Google search for a definition to answer questions. Our time and our ‘being’ has allowed for pondering. A gift of time in a manner of thinking. (When’s the last time you gave yourself unlimited time to just ‘pondered’ something?)
Back in the Northwest I’ve been involved with an organization that is focused on developing cultural competencies. I’ve thought a great deal about that concept as I have thought about our garbage and yes garbage and cultural competencies do go hand-in-hand for the purpose of this writing: 
 During one of our first visits to this area - the southern Peloponnese region of Greece - I had exclaimed in what I call ‘ignorant tourist’ disgust, “OMG! Those people are throwing their garbage in the public bins!” 
Two years later we bought a house here:
The Scout on a garbage run
And quickly learned that is the way garbage is collected!

We have become “those people” who at first impression left me so aghast. In fact, I chuckled at my change in this particular activity when on New Year’s Day The Scout asked, “Shall we take a garbage run and check out what’s happening in the village?” Would this be trash talkin’ or trash travel? It certainly is a step towards making me a bit more culturally competent and less quick to judge.

The road to our house - a road that connects two villages

And as I’ve had time to ponder the concept, it does make perfect sense.  The roads here –like this one in the photo that leads to our house – in many cases are small.  Not so very long ago they were dirt tracks through olive groves. Ours, a bumpy little asphalted ribbon up the hill connects two villages, but certainly is not a road that could accommodate a garbage truck!

DSCF1178 Trash bins – and they include recycle bins as well – are located throughout the towns, on larger roads and along the highway, which in this area is a two-lane road.

My list of logical but distinctly different cultural nuances doesn’t stop with garbage collection, it continues to grow with each passing day.

For example: collecting used toilet paper in a trash can aside the toilet and not the throne itself with its small plumbing pipes, makes perfect sense as it would plug them and fill the septic tanks); or heating water as needed when the solar power isn’t enough to do so. It is a matter of flipping a switch to heat water and then turning it off after a period of time to cut the electric use and bill. . .

Different countries, different cultures, and different ways of doing things. When it comes to travel it is good to remember the words of Socrates – All I know is that I know nothing -- before making those quick cultural judgments. 

How about you? What have you concluded about people and places before knowing their full story. . .the one that explains actions and behaviors?

We do wish you a Happy New Year and hope that you’ll spend time exploring the world with us in 2015! See you soon~

Hopefully I am linking up today with Nancie’s Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Greece: Trimming the trees on Christmas Day

While many of you were gathered around your gaily trimmed Christmas trees unwrapping gifts on Christmas morning, we were busy ‘unwrapping’ the gift we had given ourselves this year.  We were trimming, quite literally, our olive trees in Greece. (Still can’t quite believe they are ours, but they are!)

IDSCF1116 ’ve had fantasies about owning an olive grove since Frances Mayes in her “Under the Tuscan Sun” book planted such a notion a couple decades ago.

It sounded so Mediterranean. . .so exotic. . .so just. . .well, . . . just plain wonderful!

The 15-tree olive grove that terraces down the slope in front of this stone house were a selling point.

 I get to experience that ‘Frances Mayes’ life’ and Boy-of-the-Chelan (Washington State)-apple-orchard gets a return to his roots in a manner of speaking.

We knew it was an unloved, untended olive grove even way back last summer. What we didn’t know but have learned in the 10 days we’ve owned the place, is that our lovely trees are sick from their recent neglect.

Our grove
DSCF1360 “Cancer.” The diagnosis no one ever wants to hear, even when it is a tree. “We call it olive cancer.” explained our friend, Yiannis, somberly as he looked closely at one tree.

“This will have to be taken to here”, he said of the cutting necessary on my favorite old tree at the corner of the house.DSCF1361

Prior to Christmas Day our friend, Vagelis, had done an inspection of the trees in the grove and in a similar grave tone, told us the trees needed sunlight, they were too dense. And as a result a fungus-like growth was growing on large trunks and small branches. The growths are as large as the olives.DSCF1294

Olive harvest and pruning runs from late November to February in this part of the world so we are here at the right time to supervise such an activity. And Christmas Day, turned out to be the time the workers were available so our ‘tree trimming’ was rather unconventional and quite literal this year:

Trimming the trees Christmas Morning
With agility that defies comprehension the two workers climbed into the trees, cutting, sawing and cleaning out old growth.

The trimmed tree, we were told, should look like an upturned baseball glove – waiting to catch the sunlight.

In six hours the trees were trimmed
The two workers came with a ladder between them and in six hours had trimmed our trees and burned the branches they had removed. We decided not to harvest this year’s crop of olives.

Branches are cut and burned during the season such burns are allowed
Our ‘tree trimming’ made for a most memorable Christmas and has enticed us to return for another Christmas here next year: we might actually be harvesting our olives!


Thanks for stopping by today and to our many friends and followers we wish you a Happy New Year! Your comments,DSCF1365 emails and messages mean a lot – especially as we embark on this new adventure in Greece. 

We really do appreciate having you join us at TravelnWrite and hope you’ll continue traveling with us in the coming year!

And to those of you who’ve requested more garden and house photos. . .they are coming, we just have a bit more work to do before the Phase I unveiling.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Americans in The Stone House on the Hill

We are known throughout the village as ‘the Americans’. Further clarification among the English who populate the area is: ‘the Americans who bought Barbara and Alec’s house’. To Greeks we are ‘the Americans in the house on the hill by Christina and Dimitrios.’ 

We are the house on the hill closest to the post in this photo
Our ‘big’ village, Ag. Nikolaos (St. Nick) and its tiny neighbor, Ag. Demitrios (St. Demitri) are so small, we don’t have a street address. In fact, it was just recently that the street (or maybe it is the area, no one seems quite sure) has been called “Kossova”. It might have been named for the person who once owned this land or for the once-owner of the narrow road on which the house is located. We only learned of the name because it was written on Christmas cards sent to the previous owners and we asked what it meant. (The Kalamata store owner who delivered our furniture used Google Maps to find us.)

We initially thought it was the name of the house. So far, the house has no name. But then it has no address, so guess that is fine.

The Scout strolls Ag. Nik waterfront near the fishing port
When ‘the crisis’ ( as they call their economic free-fall here) hit, the post office in Ag. Nik, closed. The mail is now delivered to Gregg’s Cafe, run by Gregg and his mother Frieda.  The mail table sits in the corner by the fireplace and is sorted by clothes pins that hold the packets together for each recipient. Yes, Amazon orders are delivered here as well. The cafe is the hang-out of English speaking residents – the Cheers-type place – where a conversation with one is a conversation with all.

So for any of you who want to try mailing us (and I have no idea the cost of postage to Greece) our address is:
Jackie and Joel Smith
Kossova (optional, as not anyone is sure what this is)
c/o Mani Messinias (this is the area and region)
Ag. Dimitrios 24024 (that number is important, we were told)
I am certain it will be news at the cafe when “the Americans” get their first bit of mail.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The (Greek) Cat Who Came For Christmas

Greece is known for its cats.  They roam the streets. They adorn tourist calendars. They pull at the heart-strings of cat lovers like us.  All that said, way back several years ago when purchasing a vacation home here was in the pondering stages, The Scout made one thing clear:

You cannot have a cat!

He was correct, of course, as our time here would be too fleeting to properly care for such an addition to the family. And in Greece many cats are feral; they want (and need) food – but they dash away from humans when approached. No problem, I thought.

'The Cat' on Our Deck
Fast forward: 2014. Pondering ended, purchase made. We were prepared for every possible ‘unexpected’ except “The Cat” that seemed to be as much a part of this house sale as the car and furnishings that came with it.

The Guy who said no cat and 'The Cat'
Sometime within hours of our taking possession of the house. “The Cat” appeared at our door ready to take possession of us.

'The Cat' supervises yard work from the olive tree
We ignored its meow’s for several days and paid no attention to the fact that it followed us much like a dog as we began the task of clearing the jungle (once a lovely garden) that surrounds the house.

'The Cat' in my lap
When I squatting to pull weeds the cat would jump in the lap, contentedly purring while I ignored it (not an easy thing to do, for a cat lover, by the way).

“The Cat” came and went. With regularity it would appear on the deck outside our two windowed doors or be sitting on a window ledge peering inside. It obviously has been well taken care of and has lived in a house.

Our friends, Don and Sue, (you met them in the last post) came to visit and Sue scooped up “The Cat” holding and adoring it (she also has several little bundles of fur at her house at the opposite end of the valley).  We began to weaken.

'The Cat' supervises the painting project
The first round of painting took place this week requiring doors to be open. . .a virtual welcome mat for “The Cat” who took it upon herself to be the project supervisor.  When the painters took a break, the cat joined them – the call of their laps too great to ignore. Furniture was delivered Wednesday – the cat insisted on a head rub from the delivery men.

I confess. I bought a bag of cat food two days ago and a saucer of it and another of milk was most appreciated by “The Cat” who now hangs out here most of the day, content in knowing ‘The Humans’ are nearby. We’ve joined our fellow neighbors (whom you will meet in a future post) in feeding “The Cat”.

Epilogue (of sorts):

The painting supervisor takes a 'cat nap' on The Scout's lap
We learned from the neighbors that the cat is owned by a fellow who lives down below us. He has gone away for a time (long or short, we don’t know) and has left the cat apparently to fend for itself (and don’t get me going on that!). So our neighbors have been caring for “The Cat”.  I’ve told them I will leave food for the little vagabond when we leave and hopefully it will still be in the neighborhood when we return.

So for those of you who met the cat on Facebook and made suggestions: thank you, but we are not naming the cat nor do we need a carrying case. Hopefully its owner will return soon and The Cat Who Came For Christmas will return home for a Happy New Year!

Again, thanks for the time you’ve spent with us as we embark on our Grecian adventure, in the Stone House on the Hill.  I will tell you next about Trimming the Tree on Christmas and then for those who want to see the garden, we will take a Jungle Tour of My Secret Garden.  Hope you are having a great holiday season.  As soon as we get back to internet land, I will visit my fellow bloggers to see what you’ve been up to of late.  We are currently limited to cafes and tavernas for internet time which makes for quick check emails, Facebook and blogs.


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