Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Stone House on the Hill ~ Welcome!


DSCF1377While we were in Greece we speculated on who might actually visit us there in the future. We’ve begun honing that list now that we are back in the States based on some of the responses we’ve had to our Stone House on the Hill.

Some wrinkle their noses, not quite sure what would draw us there – let alone, bring them to visit. Others furrow their brows, they still aren’t quite sure where ‘there’ is.

Yet, others brighten at the news. They tell us of their Greek travel memories or of their dreams to visit the country.

Some haven’t remarked at all. We are definitely getting a feel from the varied responses, for who may - one day - be walking across our bright red ‘Welcome’ mat!

One friend, who’s owned a second home in a sunny climate for a few years, remarked, “You don’t really want people to visit, do you?” She’s had some, shall I say, less-than-pleasant experiences.

At about the same time, an American blogger buddy of mine, Karen McCann, who with her husband lives most of the year in Seville, Spain, wrote a post entitled, 7 Habits of a Considerate Houseguest (she’s had a few and some who weren’t).

On the flip side, we've had two friends tell us that if they come, to provide them a list of needed items, and they'll pack an extra suitcase for us.

For now, we have the welcome mat out. The area is just too darn nice not to share with others!

The Questions

So many who are pondering the possibilities of a visit have asked us logistics and cost questions about getting to The Mani in the Greek Peloponnese where our home is located, that I thought today I’d answer some of them.

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Where do you fly to? What is your routing?

We fly to Athens, about a  4.5 hour-drive from our home in Greece. We fly out of Sea-Tac Airport near Seattle, Washington in the US Pacific Northwest. We shop around and choose the routing by 1) cheapest price, 2) with least amount of layovers and plane changes. The trip from Seattle  – with those layovers and plane changes – usually takes in the neighborhood of 20+ hours. The good news it is usually an over-night flight and you can sleep most of your way to Europe. And with the time zone changes, you arrive in Europe in early to mid-morning the next day.
Two routing examples: In spring 2014 The Scout nabbed us a ‘steal of a deal’ with a round-trip via Istanbul, Turkey for $608, round-trip, per-person. We flew Lufthansa Airlines from Seattle, with a plane change in Germany. After spending the night (hotel points) at the Courtyard by Marriott, in Istanbul, we caught the morning commuter flight  (Aegean and Olympic Airlines both have them) to Athens the next morning. Those flights of less than two-hours were about $180 round trip. And this routing allowed us a stay in amazing Istanbul on our return. We plan to do that on future trips, no matter which European ‘hub’ we fly in to: Amsterdam, London, Frankfurt, Paris, Istanbul  – are all possibilities depending on the airline.

This last December we adjusted our travel to avoid the horrendous ‘holiday hike’ that hits in the middle of the month.  We used Alaska Airline frequent flyer miles to get us to Chicago and then flew Delta round-trip from there to Athens for a bit more than $800 round trip. It was a reasonable price considering we were hovering at 'holiday season'. We changed planes in Paris, then flew to Athens, rented a car and set out for The Mani.
 
Flights on European low-cost carriers to the city of Kalamata, just over an hour’s drive from our house, originate in any number of European cities. Flying into Kalamata would certainly simplify getting there, in terms of times and price.

We found an Easy Jet flight in June from Kalamata to Vienna for just over $100US, for example.  We aren’t sure how useful those flights will be as our time at the house will likely be in the early spring and late fall – after those seasonal flights have quit operating. They’ve extended the season this year and everyone is hopeful they keep extending it. Who knows? Might be year-round one day!

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2. Do you rent a car?

Yes. Major rental car companies (Hertz, Sixt, Avis, etc.) are represented at the rental car lot at the Athens Airport. It is a short walk to that lot from the arrivals terminal. Then a right turn out of the lot, a right turn and you are on the freeway – heading to The Mani. You will not end up in the middle of Athens in a traffic jam. (If you are seriously coming to visit, I have more detailed directions). 

The drive from Athens to Kalamata is on a modern freeway. It is a toll road, so plan on paying about 15-euros in tolls total along the way. Get some euros from the bank machines at the airport if you didn’t bring some with you. The amount of each toll is flashed on a screen as you approach the teller window and you must pay in cash - they do have change for bills.

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DSCF0283Like in Italy, the Greek roadside comfort stations are worth stopping at because they are so incredibly nice. Bathrooms are clean, restaurants are amazingly large, and most have souvenirs for sale.

It is easy to pull off and on the freeway, unlike the Costa del Sol in Spain where you say a prayer and take your life in your hands with each entry. Here the exit and reentry ramps are long and easy to use.





DSCF0282Car rental prices vary, so it is best to shop around.  Figure 20 – 25 euros a day. (We have heard rentals can be had for as little as 11-euros a day but we haven't yet found that.)  Small cars here really are small. Two roll-aboard sized suitcases will stuff the backseat. Either pack light or book a larger car.  US citizens do not need an International Driver’s license. And yes, for those who’ve asked about ‘automatics’ they do rent them. I have pictured an automatic shift to the side. It requires shifting from first to second but it is done with the hand lever - no feet pedals for shifting.


A stop in Kalamata
DSCF0016The modern freeway ends at Kalamata , about three hours from Athens, and becomes a scenic, but curving two-lane road into The Mani.  For that reason – and the fact that we’ve been up for some 24-hours with cat-naps and airplane food keeping us alive – we have spent the night in Kalamata.  We’ve stayed at a waterfront hotel - Phaerae Palace -- that has one of the best European buffet breakfasts we’ve ever eaten included in the rate, for about $100  (depending on the season) a night in a room with balcony and view of the water. The breakfast is served in the rooftop restaurant (photo on the right).  Then we head out refreshed the next morning.


If you spend the night there, the town’s Archeological Museum in its historic district and the open air Municipal Market are worth visiting before setting out on the final leg of your journey.

DSCF1488The last leg of the journey takes about an hour and a half, especially if you get behind a large truck as we did when I took this photo.

That’s another reason to complete the journey in the morning’s daylight – when wide awake!









3.  Do you have to have a rental car? Couldn’t we take a bus?

You probably will want a car while you are in The Mani, but you could wait and rent one after you get out of Athens or Kalamata. There are rental car companies in Stoupa, the small village very near our home.

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And yes, there are long distance buses that run to and from the villages and Athens -they connect in Kalamata.

In Athens there is an express bus (5-euros) will take you to and from the arrivals/departure terminal at the airport and the bus station where buses leave for Kalamata and other destinations.  We took the bus from Kalamata on our return home and it was a modern, Mercedes Benz, and the driver was great. This express bus from Kalamata took three hours and 15 minutes to reach Athens and the tickets were 22-euro per person. It would cost a bit more from the villages near our house.

PicMonkey Collage
 
4.  Does anyone there speak English?

Yes, nearly everyone we’ve encountered speaks English and on the occasion we are in a situation of no-English, they always find someone nearby who does speak the language and will help out. That’s not an excuse not to visit!

We’ll tell you about our neighborhood and the foods – the nearby cafes and tavernas and the markets – in a future post.  Thanks again for stopping by as always we appreciate the time you spend with us. Hope you'll recommend our blog to others you know ~ thanks to those who've done just that!

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

33 comments:

  1. GREAT guide!!
    I would be a nervous wreck leaving that precious home unoccupied for so many months. Have you thought about renting it out in the interim? Or doing one of those swap things where someone comes and lives there for a month or two and takes care of the garden (and maybe the neighborhood cat?)
    As to rental cars, I am totally sold on an outfit that is located in the state of Oregon. http://www.gemut.com Although they specialize in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, we've used them for other countries and their service is superb. It is a family business, and get the best rates from established car rental companies in Europe. Sometimes that is a well known company, sometimes, like when we went to Crete, it is a one-man, hole-in-the-wall place. They also have LOADS of advice for European travelers on their website and in their newsletters. (I have no business arrangement with them--I'm just a HUGE fan.)

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    1. Thanks for the information Vera - that's one of the great things about blogging . . .the sharing of information. We do hope to see you two on that welcome mat one of these days!

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  2. You make it sound very inviting. I may have to put Greece higher on my list.

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    1. If you do move it up, Gaelyn, make sure you time it to allow some time in the Mani - preferably when we are there and the welcome mat is out!

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  3. Great guide! And yes, be prepared to see "friends" coming out of the woodwork now that you live in such a paradise. We do know it well when we moved to Paris! ;-)

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    1. Paris might have a bit more draw than the wilds of Greece's Mani, but it will be interesting to see how many visitors we have in the next few years, Marlys

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  4. Hello Jackie and Joel,

    This is all so very exciting!

    It is very brave of you to take on this adventure of the Greece house, especially at such a distance from your main home. But, we are sure that you will have great happiness there and, with such a different culture, life will certainly not be dull.

    It will be interesting to know of your experience with people visiting and compare it with our own. Although much interest is expressed, not so many we have found are prepared to make the journey and be out of their comfort zone in a foreign land. Still, time will tell.

    You look to be in a most beautiful and amazing part of the country. Greece is an undiscovered country to us......at the moment!

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    1. It is interesting to see the responses of friends - many of whom are out of their comfort zones just talking about us owning a home in Greece. It is as distant in their minds as if I said we'd just bought the Space Station and planned to spend a few months a year there. But then as I said there are others who know our area well and tell us we are living their dream. . .that puts responsibility on us to make the experience one great one for all those we represent!

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  5. This was awesome, Jackie, and if I could ever get myself to Greece (or Europe no less) I would absolutely love to visit you and Joel! This was perfect for a complete novice international traveler with all of the instructions and directions. Thank you! :)

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    1. Keep that thought in mind Mike as you never know what the future might hold. Thanks for stopping by today - always love seeing comments from you.

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  6. You are the best ambassadors of Greece dearest Jackie and Joel, foreigns though! I'm so impressed by your excitement and by the tender love you feel about my country!
    Happy weekend dearest friends!
    Hugs to both of you!
    Olympia

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    1. Oh that is the nicest compliment we have been paid in a long time! Thank you Olympia for your kind words. We can hardly wait to return this spring ~ and are so eager to introduce others to this wonderful country!

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  7. My bags are packed! I'll be there in about 20 hours, how's that, lol! I've only been to Greece once, and I would love to go back and see other parts of it.

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    1. Wait until we get back. . .but when we do, the mat will be out so keep those bags packed, Amy! This is a great year to visit Greece as the euro is down and so is tourism thanks to the economic discussions taking place there.

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  8. Well, I am visiting after your sweet comment on my blog.

    I will have to do some back reading to learn you story. Are you traveling the world or have you settled on Greece for a long time period?

    What an adventure!

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    1. Well thank you for making a return visit! I did just sign up to follow your blog but then the page clicked off so I am not sure we show up or not -- let me know and I will try it again if I don't show. We plan to continue our travels and spend several months a year in Greece -- it will be our travel 'base' on the other side of the pond. But we've had so much fun working on the house it is hard to tear ourselves away right now.

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  9. Thanks for the detailed guide, Jackie! You know that I definitely want to visit. The cost of the flights from Seattle amaze me. I can barely get to Bangkok out of Seoul for $800.00. See you one of these days! Thanks for linking up this week. #TPThursday

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    1. Funny you should mention Bangkok airfares Nancie. We've just been hunting for ways to get us there for the April cruise and finally cashed in Alaska Air miles and will fly business class from San Francisco -- not such tough duty but I have to admit the airfares did take our breath away. Hey, I hope you are serious about visiting Greece and our area. I think you would love it -- and you might have a new retirement area tempting you!

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  10. You guys are so ORGANIZED! I can't wait to see the specifics of your village, the cafes, the shops, the views! You have such admiration and respect for Greece and even when things don't always go as planned (plan for this;)), you handle the situations with respect and understanding, and recognize that every place is different. Save yourselves some unwanted frustration and take a tip from this Canadian expat, here for 26 years: try not to compare too much with the way things are done back home, as the delight and newness of your adventure can quickly turn to disillusionment.

    Poppy

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    1. One of the wonderful things about Greece is that it is so unlike 'things back home'. . .now I can say that and mean it, but I have to admit that when we ran out of water and the locals said, "welcome to Greece" I did have a momentary pang of homesickness to my running water. But a day later it was back and so was my love of Greece! xxx

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  11. This whole post should be in a travel magazine, good information and I'm looking forward to seeing the cafes etc. I see Poppy has added not to compare life in Greece to the US or Canada - good advice I'm sure.
    Thanks for linking to Mosaic Monday Jackie.

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    1. Oh such a nice thing to say, Judith, thank you! Yes, the one thing I've learned is not to set off traveling to find things like they are back home (in fact, it is nice to leave all that 'back home' there!) Love the linkup - thanks for hosting!

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  12. It sounds like a wonderful place to retreat and relax. I'm sure you must pick up some famous Kalamata olives when you spend the night there!

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    1. Yes Corinne, we do buy those wonderful olives and by next year should have our own crop!! Stay tuned. . .

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  13. What a great post, you have given your visitors easy instructions on how to make the trip. Greece has always been on my bucket list, but I am not sure if I will ever really make it there.. Maybe in my dreams or from reading your post.. Thanks for sharing.. Have a happy week!

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    1. Hi Eileen, I tried leaving a comment on your Mosaic Monday post yesterday and the linky thing said it didn't go thru - I tried it twice and will do it again today. Just wanted you to know I tried and I appreciate your visit here! Xx Jackie

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  14. Greek's Tourism Board should hire you to write for them. Great advice that has me wanting to book a flight to Athens soon! Some day, perhaps....Enjoy your new adventure.

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    1. Lorrie - if only they would hire me. . .the tales I could tell of places to visit here. Guess I'll just have to keep writing the blog and hope that more people read it so that I can spread the word about the wonders of this great country!

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  15. I agree....you have made it such an easy path for anyone to travel to Greece and see the sights and possible come and visit if that welcome mat is still out! :)

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    1. Well, Donna if you find yourself in Greece one day - keep in mind that welcome mat!

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  16. What a great and informative guide. I am so glad you were able to get your Greek dream home. It looks accessible enough from anywhere and I bet worth the trip and drive. I don't see how friends cannot visit you two.

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    1. As I have said the welcome mat will be out soon as we finish a couple of projects this spring and then I hope friends do beat a path to our door. Thanks for the visit Mary!

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So happy to see you took the time to comment. We read them all - and each is much appreciated. We hope you will be a regular here and comment often!

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