Wednesday, July 30, 2014

That Greek House ~ Waking from A Daydream

“Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die,
Life’s a broken-winged bird,
that cannot fly.”
                               --Langston Hughes
In this post, we continue to sidestep a bit from “travel” but then what travelers haven’t once or twice imagined themselves chasing a daydream of owning a home in some foreign location. . .

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"That stone house on the hill. . ."
We’d arrived back in The Mani in late June to close in on that daydream of ours: owning a home in Greece. The purpose of our month-long trip was to purchase ‘that stone house on the hill’—the one on the far right in the photo above to be exact. We’d examined it twice last spring along with several others. It was ‘the one’.

DSCF0226Our offer had been accepted, a down payment made and a closing date set before we left the U.S.

By noon our first day in Greece we’d opened a bank account and secured tax ID numbers (both necessary for home ownership in this country).

A few days later we toured the house with its current owners (we’d met them last spring) and had a tutorial on details like power and water sources, and olive grove maintenance.


They were busy packing their belongings to ship back to their homeland, England. Their big boxes would leave several days before closing. They would leave Greece July 17th.

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The house's front deck and view from it

As they prepared to leave; we prepared to arrive and function – if even on our planned part-time basis – in this new world.  We were learning to think of temperatures as Celsius, not Fahrenheit; measurements using the Metric System (cheating by using a dual tape measure we’d purchased that had both millimeters and inches) and we spoke of prices in terms of euros – not dollars. We were immersing ourselves in another culture – just what we had hoped to do with the purchase of a house here.


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View from the bedroom deck
We all moved toward the closing date – the day we would take occupancy of this vacation home of ours: July 10th.

As we would have only 12 days in our new property on this trip we established a timeline of projects that would be undertaken or possibly completed before we returned to the U.S.








The 17-tree olive grove, pictured below, in need of some major trimming, was The Scout’s focus while I had my eye on painting interior walls and getting some new furniture in place.

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I had brought the paint chips with us
We’d decided this home set amidst olive groves would do well with a bit of country rustic and had decided upon these pieces as ‘probable’ for the house that had both dark stone accent walls intermixed with plaster walls in its main living area:

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The furniture we'd chosen
We were ready! Our funds were in the bank and all our paperwork completed except for ‘that document’ that I mentioned last week. So we set off to explore the Peloponnese peninsula’s most western tip during the few days we had before closing.

~ Waking from the Midsummer’s Daydream ~
Upon our return from the road trip we learned the closing date was going to be delayed a few days. The owner’s civil engineer hadn’t yet filed necessary paperwork for the property’s registration – it would ‘surely be done’ by the following week. Then ‘that document’ we’d been waiting for could be prepared and closing could still take place before the owners left for England.  (Perhaps on my July 16th birthday? Now, that would be memorable!)

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Scene on island of Kefalonia

So with more days to fill while we waited we set off on a second road trip, this one took us to the Ionian Island of Kefalonia – an amazingly beautiful land mass in the Ionian Sea. I’ll feature it in an upcoming post.

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Town square in Argostoli, Kefalonia
On our second evening on the island, as we were settling in on the town square to sip some wine, we received what shall forever be known as the daydream ‘wake-up’ call (that’s The Scout on the phone in the upper right hand corner) from our realtor:

New problems had just surfaced. . . other paperwork – several years worth of income tax reports, necessary for the sale of the house, hadn’t been filed by the owners.

(Note: If you own property in Greece you must file annual income tax returns whether you generate income there or not – in fact, you must file documentation each year to show from where your funds do come. You must file other income tax forms reporting the ownership of property.)

The owners -- who’d lived there for years apparently hadn’t known that—they’d never filed a report. It would delay the closing a minimum of another 10 days to 2 weeks. The owners would search for those documents after they returned to England as that’s where they believed the documents were.

And they also needed to find proof of their purchase of the house. . .it, too, was believed to be in England.

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Bougainvillea blooms and blue skies on Kefalonia
Our flight back to the U.S. was July 22nd.

If found, none of their new documentation would even be submitted for review until the first of August. If approved. . .

So, it was that lovely warm evening on Kefalonia that our daydream got away from us. As we calculated the growing list of “if’s” that loomed ahead and the mounting costs of this already pricey trip, we called the deal off.

We had been so concerned about bringing all the appropriate paperwork we needed for the sale, it hadn’t occurred to us to ask if the sellers had all the paperwork in place that they needed – after all, the house had been on the market for more than two years. . .

Instead of closing in on that daydream, we spent a portion of my birthday at our Greek bank completing paperwork to return our money for the house purchase back to the U.S.  (It arrived a few hours before we did the following week.)

The owners left for England on their scheduled July 17th.

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The freeway between Athens and The Mani
We left The Mani, drove to Athens and flew home on our scheduled date.

Instead of the decade or so we’d envisioned, our daydream ended up lasting only a month. But had we not acted on it, we’d have always wondered if we would have had the courage to do it.

This trip proved we could . . .

We came so very close.

And so ends the daydream tales from Greece – for now. We will get back to reality travel tales with our next post.  Thanks for joining us today ~ it always is fun to have friends along on the journey; especially when they don’t go as expected!

Linking up:
Budget Travelers Sandbox – Travel Photo Thursday
Sunday’s Weekend Travel Inspirations and Sunday Traveler
Mosaic Monday

Monday, July 28, 2014

An Enchanted Evening in Kardamyli

Our trip back to Greece’s Mani region this summer spanned a time period that included both our wedding anniversary and my birthday. . . what better place on earth to celebrate such occasions, right?

While our days were busy with ‘chores’ related to purchasing a house there (see last week’s post) we did give ourselves our anniversary evening ‘off’ and spent it dining at a hotel restaurant that came recommended highly on TripAdvisor and had also been included in as a Top Choice in Lonely Planet’s guidebook.

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This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill hotel restaurant. The setting was one of the most magical we’ve seen in Greece ~ in the midst of an olive grove at the side of the sea. It just doesn’t get any better than that!

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Restaurant Elies is part of a small bungalow-style hotel complex  of the same name one mile north of Kardamyli (also Kardamili) town.  The setting and the d├ęcor – from the blue and white cushions in the bar’s open air lounge to the yellow and olive green colored tables and chairs -- couldn’t have been more Mediterranean. We’d want to incorporate both of these ideas when decorating that new house, we’d decided. . .
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As night approached, the restaurant transformed from its daytime casual to nighttime elegance with white table cloths and candles.

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And the menu offered such a foodie feast it was difficult to decide what to eat:

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We finally made our selections – fried giant white beans starter, sea bass on a bed of wild greens and rigatoni with a fresh basil pesto sauce.

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Wish I’d photographed dessert but by then I was in such a state of (foodie) bliss the camera was long forgotten.  If you get to the area, we’d highly recommend this place as a ‘must visit’.

We’ll continue the story of our house buying trip to Greece on Thursday. . .hope to see you then!
For restaurant or hotel information:  www.elieshotel.gr
Linking this post up with Mosaic Monday and Foodie Tuesday

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Catching a Daydream ~ That Greek Stone House

 
Dream Catchers ~
Ornamental hoops, woven with intricate designs and feather tails ~ their purpose:
 
The good dreams know how to pass through the dream catcher,
slipping through the outer holes and slide down the soft feathers
so gently that many times the sleeper does not know that he/she is dreaming.
The bad dreams not knowing the way get tangled in the dream catcher
and perish with the first light of the new day.
                                                                           -- Dream-catchers.org
 

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DreamCatchers on sale in Stoupa, Greece
Hello, or Yassis, as we say in Greece.  Seems I have been away from the blog for a bit of time, doesn’t it? That’s because we’ve been busy for the last few weeks chasing that daydream of owning a home in Greece. In fact we were back there to seal the deal on a purchase. You might even say, we were there to catch that dream.
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IMG000Regulars here know that we began the home search two years ago. We’d decided that The Mani in Greece’s Peloponnese would likely be the place; if we ever did take such a quantum leap.
 
We were serious enough this spring that we spent a good deal of our time there with realtors.  However, as I told you, we came home without a plan to go back any time soon.


 
 
DSCF0954 What I didn’t mention was that a week or so after our return home, an email from a realtor about a particular ‘stone house on a hill’ that we’d visited ~  one with a view, and a small olive grove, surrounded by gardens, set the wheels of serendipity into motion. . .

 

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Messinian Bay – The Mani, Pelopponese

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Approaching Athens airport

In a short whirlwind month after receipt of that email, an offer was made and accepted, we’d sent a down payment, and our airline tickets were purchased.

We raced around gathering – and packing -- the required documents (including certifications of income, work/retirement, citizenship and marriage) to obtain Greek tax identification numbers and open a bank account; both are prerequisites to making such a purchase.

Following our return in late June, we ‘hit the deck runnin’ as they say, getting all that legal and banking ‘stuff’ accomplished.

Those things are done in The Mani’s big city, Kalamata (yes, same as the olives – they are grown in the surrounding area). So we had an added benefit of getting to know that town’s charms as well as get the process rolling.

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View from our hotel - Kalamata, Greece


IDSCF0022n fact, I must digress a moment and tell you that we were in Kalamata the night Greece won its soccer game and advanced in the World Cup series playoffs.  Cars and people filled the streets after the televised game ended at 1:30 a.m. celebrating as if they had won ‘The Cup’ itself. A parade of cars stretched for miles, horns honking, flags waving, cheering, singing. . .from our hotel balcony we had quite a show. What a celebration it was!

During the daytime we’d tick off our list: met with an accountant and then our attorney, our realtors, the tax people and bankers. Both sellers and buyers have plenty of paperwork requirements, it turns out. While we stood in a long line at the tax office, the sellers arrived and waited in another line for other paper work related to the sale.

Just ‘a document’ was needed but it would be there in a few days, so we moved from the city to the village of Kardamyli, the place we’d spent several days last spring. It was closer to ‘the stone house on the hill” anyway.

We’d met the owners last spring and went out to visit and get our ‘operating instructions’ for the house – its plumbing, electric, water as well as to take notes on olive harvest – a rather fun-sounding task we’d need to return for in late November. They were busy packing up belongings to ship back to their home in England, to where they were returning.

We began our research: finding the area’s grocery stores, furniture stores, the water office, the phone store, where gas stations were located, how to pay electricity, nurseries and garden companies. . .the days went rapidly but we managed to sneak in a quick road trip as we waited for the July 10th closing date. . .

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. . .but sometimes catching dreams isn’t as easy as it sounds or as those dream catchers make it look.  Our daydream chase took some interesting twists and turns. I’ll continue our tale next week on Travel Photo Thursday. That’s it for today so head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for more travel inspiration.  Thanks to all of you who continued to make regular visits even though we were somewhat out of touch while in Greece. Your notes, comments and emails were appreciated.  See you soon~

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

In Kefalonia With Captain Corelli and his Mandolin

Okay, movie aficionados out there, this post is for you -- especially if you like movies shot in wonderfully romantic locations like Greek islands.

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Kefalonia - looking towards Sami

Kefalonia (Cephalonia), one of the seven that make up Greece’s Ionian Island group. It was where we spent the last five days.  We weren’t on the island for very long before we'd been told by many locals that it is where the 2001 movie, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was filmed the year prior to its release.

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We were here because we’d taken a ‘getaway from this midsummer Peloponnese getaway’ of ours. The island is a mere three hour drive from The Mani where we are spending most of our time, followed by a another 1.5 hour f ferry ride. 

SmFjiGreecesummer2014 088Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz starred in the movie based on Louis de Bernier’s 1994 novel of the same name.  (While it didn’t do well at the box office in the US, it did very well in theatre’s elsewhere in the world.)

We learned most of the movie’s history at a  coffee shop on the main drag of the waterfront village of Sami, the place where most of the filming took place.
 
The shop had been shut down for some time while the filming took place. In fact most of the town had been rebuilt as a set to look as it did before the real-life 1953 earthquake leveled most of the island’s buildings. Then crews returned it to its modern-day state after the movie was shot.


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They had a photo album abut the movie’s filming for guests to enjoy so I took the liberty of photographing a few of the photos in it:

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If you’ve not read the book or seen the movie, it takes place during World War II during the Italian Occupation of the Ionian Islands.  (We saw this statue in nearby Argostoli town.)

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Nicolas Cage is an Italian officer who speaks Greek and Penelope Cruz is a beautiful Italian girl who lives on the island. . .the rest is up to your imagination – if you’ve not seen the film or read the book. The filming took place in Sami, the beach of Antesamos, and the town of Argostoli, and village of Fiscardo.

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That’s it for this week’s Travel Photo Thursday – hopefully I’ll be in the land of the internet and can link to Budget Travelers Sandbox, but if not, drop by and take a look at the photos there anyway.

We’ve had a very ‘hit and miss’ time with internet and therefore blogging  has also been none existent while in Greece these last few weeks.  We are most grateful for those of you’ve ‘hung in there’ with us. . .thanks for your patience and your interest!  We’ll be back on schedule after we return to the Pacific Northwest.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

One Greek Cell Phone And 3 Villages Later. . .

It sounded so simple:  Buying a cell phone in Greece to use here. We had chided ourselves for not doing so last spring.  Now we are back and it was time!

After all, we’ve become somewhat adept at using “Lloyd, the Droid” our smart phone acquired a year ago back home. How difficult could it be? We were soon to learn that answer. . .

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Waterfront in Kalamata, Greece
Our first stop was, OTE, the Greek telephone company store.  Like all technology stores the youthful sales staff spoke (in English) knowledgeably about  phones, pads, pods and computers. They told us about plans and prices, pros and cons. Way too much ‘stuff’ for our needs.

There are three mobile providers in Greece (like Verizon and ATT in the U.S.) Vodophone, with its named splashed on the sides of ferries, WIND, with its youthful promoters prancing around big city sidewalks handing out advertising promotions and Cosmote, with signage plastered around the Athens airport, claiming to have the network with the largest coverage.

Turned out we did need Cosmote, who locals told us, really does have the best coverage for the area of the Peloponnese in which we are traveling.

So off to a hole-in-the-wall electronics store in the big city, Kalamata, where the young clerk spoke enough English to show us ‘devices’ and then tell us he didn’t have the SIM card for Cosmote.

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At the other end of Kalamata we managed to pick another hole-in-the-wall store, staffed by an old woman who spoke no English but managed to sell us a flip phone and Cosmote SIM card through use of a point-and-nod method.

“Good?” I asked of the Samsung phone we eventually purchased. She nodded.

“Passport photocopy” were the two English words she uttered.  We provided it and she then recorded every detail of that 5-euro SIM card on the back of the photocopy. For what purpose we had no idea.

After returning to Voula’s Hotel Vardia in Kardamyli we began charging the phone – soon, a bunch of Greek words appeared on its screen.  We knew it could be changed to English, but hadn’t been able to ask the saleswoman to do it.  So we’d unplugged the phone and headed to Voula's office. But the words would disappear by the time we got to reception. . . so I copied them down, took them to Voula and she said, “It says, ‘the phone is charged’.”

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Charged, yes. Working, no.

Voula’s youthful employee, Emma, translated the recorded Greek message which said the phone/card needed to be registered before it would work.  (But Emma at least worked some magic and got the English to start appearing on the screen).

Our friend Maria at the realtor’s office down the road in Stoupa confirmed that it needed to be registered and sent us to the nearby supermarket.  They understood the problem, but could only help if theyhad sold us the SIM card.

Next day we turned to Voula once again and she called the old woman who’d sold us the phone. Turns out that woman hadn’t registered all that information we provided her (that’s why she wanted the passport info). . .but with Voula’s encouragement, she did and two hours later the phone was working. . .

No, not yet – it still wasn’t working!

This time Emma made a ‘house call’ to our room and told us that the Greek recorded message was that we had no minutes. We’d purchased the phone and operating system but now had to buy minutes. So off to the supermarket down the street (which luckily is run by Voula’s mom). Fotini summoned a youthful employee who not only sold us the minutes, but did all the input to make them work!

ManiJune2014 077One phone, four days and  three villages of helpful people later, I am happy to report, our phone now works!

We’ve texted, we’ve talked!!

These two Techno Dinos have taken another step across that Digital Divide that now stretches to Greece!

For those who might be contemplating getting a phone to use in Greece:  Go to a store where the employees speak English, as your first step.

We bought a middle of the road model for 38-euros, the SIM card was an additional 5-euros and 200 minutes were 10-euros (that is the minimum amount sold).  Fancier models (smart phones and those with dual SIM card capabilities began in the low 100-euro range).

As for technology, the internet in the rather agricultural area in which we are traveling this weekend continues to be a cross between mystery and challenge.  Some days the strength is strong, other days non-existent so I’ll apologize again for not visiting my fellow bloggers nor responding to emails in a regular fashion. In fact I will post this post sometime – we have no connection today.
Thanks for the time you spent with us and hope your travels are good ones! 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Summer’s Sizzling in Greece

My youthful daydreams of lazing on a Greece beach during summer school breaks and dancing some Zorba style dances at picturesque tavernas into the wee small hours, have met reality.

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Kardamyli Greece
We are back in Greece – in fact, have been here for just over a week and haven’t yet spent any time on the beach or dancing Zorba style: it is simply too darn hot!  (Somehow those long ago summer fantasies didn’t take into account the weather.)

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What we are coming to appreciate is the Greek version of the siesta – that laid back time in the afternoon (hopefully spent in an air-conditioned room) during which time you can read books, gaze at the distant sea, make notes in the journal . . .or if the internet connection works, you can even write a short blog post.

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Our time is being spent in the Peloponnese this trip for reasons I’ve written about in previous posts.  This week we are in the furthest most western ‘finger’ of this vast area and will have plenty of new country to show you in future updates.

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We’ve spent a good deal of time traveling between towns so I thought today I would give you a sample of our time here.

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We’ve had sporadic internet so we may be hit and miss the next week or so both in posting and in visiting our fellow bloggers – I will get back to you all as soon as internet becomes more available or we get back home.  Hope to link up today with Travel Photo Thursday over at Budget Travelers Sandbox!

Thanks for your visit – we hope your summer is sizzling with fun times and good travels ~

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