Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Greece: Chasing the Dream ~ Catching a Nightmare?

“What a dream, living in Greece! (But I have to wonder, with all the ‘news in the news’ about the economy are you concerned about the future of your investment/life there?)
 
This comment was made by a reader of our blog in response to our post about this spring’s stay at The Stone House on the Hill. I suspect that question, or similar ones, have crossed the minds of many of you who’ve been following this adventure of ours in Greece. 
 
Perhaps it is time I quit writing about chasing daydreams and talk a bit about catching reality. 
 
For those newcomers to TravelnWrite, we bought a house in Greece last December; less than a month before the country’s election resulted in new leadership and new approach to its debt agreements. It wasn’t long after the election that Greece and its European lenders entered into a boxing match of words – the type of which can send world markets on a roller coaster ride as result of a single remark by either side. The verbal sparring continues nearly six months later.
 
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The Stone House on the Hill
But as one American media recently reminded the world: The ‘day of reckoning’ for Greece is fast approaching. June 30th is the day of reckoning. . .so it seems by the headlines.
 
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Will the two sides work out a solution to the debt repayment that leaves both claiming a win? Or will the talks have a final breakdown? Will Greece leave the European Union? Will it return to the drachma? Will banks Greek banks close for a time? Will currency controls be put into place? (Meaning limits on how much of your money you can withdraw from your bank account, like what happened in Cyprus a few years ago). Do Greece and its lenders have a ‘Plan B’ for carrying on after June 30th – no matter the direction it goes?
 
So many questions; so few answers. Our guess is as good as yours.
 
Yet the scope of speculation seems to grow each day. Recently we’ve learned a new acronym: PIGS, (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain). It is used when contemplating the possible domino effect if Greece were to leave the euro-based world. After Greece, those other three could be the next to go. . .and that could produce some rockin’ and rollin’ in the world markets. . .
 
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As much as we love Greece, we are ‘outsiders’ – we see a small slice of its whole as we go about our rather carefree life here in The Mani. We are aware of the vast number of scenarios that could play out because we do follow a number of media reports.
 
In the meantime, here we are, “The Americans” who own a home in a country that could be on the verge of economic collapse.
 
We’ve not spent our days fretting about what could happen as we’ve been too busy working on the house and garden. When not working, we are usually spending time with friends – other ex pat types – and then we are too busy sharing tales of our experiences in our adopted country to wring our hands and break out in a sweat over the future.
 
What we know is that we’ve already booked our return for this fall. We are talking about olive harvest. We know of two sets of friends planning to visit then.
 
That is not to say we haven’t given thought to ‘the situation’. So while I don’t have any answers for you, I do have some thoughts to share, so come, let’s take a stroll through our olive grove and chat:
 
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* The truth is that had the sale not finalized in December, we would not have purchased our ‘daydream home’ here until later. We’d have taken a wait-and-see approach (and from what we see, we’d likely still be waiting).
 
* The reason is the uncertainty:  You need to pay in full the price of the home at the time of purchase. In our case, our money was converted to euros and wired from the United States and sat in our Greek bank account for several days before the scheduled closing. With the present uncertainty we wouldn’t have risked our funds having been converted to euros, arriving at the bank, and while sitting there facing the possibility of currency controls being implemented (as described above) or or risked devaluation on the off chance Greece did switch to the drachma during that short window of time.
 
*You’ve probably read of ex pats and Greek depositors who are withdrawing money from banks in large amounts – thus adding to the economic problems.  I can assure you that we have been among them, leaving only an amount in our account which will cover automatic utility withdrawals while we are not here. But unlike those who’ve moved their funds out of the country, we’ve spent ours here on purchases and improvements to the house.
 
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* We didn’t ‘bet the farm’ on this purchase. If forced to walk away from this investment, you wouldn’t find us singing for donations on a street corner at Seattle’s Pike Place Market (or counting on this blog for income).
 
* In reality, if we weren’t following the economic reports in the world media about Greece, we’d never know that anything was amiss based on the amount of tourists who are filling the villages around us.That street in our Agios Nikolaos village (Wine and Watching) I showed you two weeks ago has been made a one-way street during the day and closes completely each evening – after that big bus I photographed lumbers through on its last trip of the day– so that cafes can fill the street with tables to accommodate the many tourists.
 
* On the flip side, Greek media is reporting that privately-owned tourist rentals are down 50 percent this summer because of the economic uncertainty.
 
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* Construction cranes dot The Mani landscape with new home and hotel construction. Whether those building feel their property is safer than other investments or if they are optimistic about economy recovery is difficult to speculate.
 
* Greeks sipping coffee fill the tables at the hip, modern sidewalk cafes lining the pedestrian plazas in Kalamata. There is no appearance of hardship among them. However, there are a number of old and young who approach with hands outstretched asking for money (this isn’t new, they were doing so last winter).
 
*We’ve watched a soccer field here get a new surface and a basketball court be added. Yet,we are told that children have passed out at schools in the area because of hunger and that some families are leaving their children at churches in Athens as they are no longer able to feed them.
 
All are slice-of-the-pie observations or hearsay – as an old newspaper reporter, I know neither is a reliable source from which to make conclusions about Greece’s economic situation.
 
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I chose our olive grove for this reality post for several reasons. It is a happy place for us; one of our favorite places on the property. It represents the daydream; both chased and caught. And it represents permanence – some of the trees are nearly a century old. They were here long before the house and us, The Americans. The olive tree endures through the centuries – much like we suspect Greece has and will.

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You just can’t predict the future. And that’s one reason we chased the daydream.  That plane that shuttles us between Seattle and Greece could go down. . .One of us could have a health crisis that would cut this adventure short. . .Greece could leave the European Union. . .Oh so many things out there in the uncertain future. . . It is simply another good reason to enjoy today!

“Every man has his folly, but the greatest folly of all … is not to have one.”
Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek
 
That’s it for this week from The Stone House on the Hill.  Thanks for being with us and the interest you’ve shown in our adventure here. I know a number of ex pat and Greek friends read TravelnWrite so I am hoping they will share their thoughts and observations in the comment section below (on the blog’s homepage for you who subscribe and receive just the post).
 
Our time here is again too soon drawing to a close.  We’ll be heading back to the United States and I promise then I will start writing of our Far and Middle East travels and show you the changes we made to our place in Greece.
 
A big hello to our new followers and subscribers!  And happy travels to you all. Thanks so much for recommending us to your friends and for sharing our posts with others. Can’t tell you how nice it has been to read your comments and emails while we’ve been gone!
 
Linking this week with:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox 
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route

27 comments:

  1. Hello Jackie and Joel, Your post was very interesting. I agree that lots of things could happen, yet we have today to enjoy. I really enjoy reading about your travels all over the world. You have a lifestyle that I find fascinating! :)

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    1. Hi Beth, Thanks for the nice note. Ours is a bit of a different lifestyle isn't it? Certainly keeps it interesting. Enjoy your day and week ahead. They are gifts. . .

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  2. Questions without answers and uncertainty ... just like life! I have to agree with you that moving ahead and proceeding with LIVING is the only option for finding happiness. As I read your post I had to laugh because we're currently in Portugal, the P in the PIGS acronym and also contemplating making this country our base. Like finding the right partner in life, when you fall in love with a place sometimes you just have to shut your eyes and JUMP...!

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    1. Anita, so true is your comment above on all counts. Especially the falling in love with a place observation, I'd vote you take the plunge in Portugal! The joys we've had in just our first two months here (not to say everything was rosy all the time) were so worth taking that plunge we did last winter!

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  3. Thank you for being so frank about your situation and what you are facing. I can only imagine what a scary and uncertain time this is for the Greeks and their neighbors. Wishing them answers and help and hope in the very near future. XO

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    1. Yes, they are the ones who will ultimately be hurt or helped by the decisions of the world financial powers. We've gotten to know some of the kindest, hardest working people here. . as I wrote in a FB post last night #prayersforGreece!

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  4. So glad you visited my place in Normandy today as it meant that I came back to Greece again, if only for a short visit.
    When we were up in Halkidiki earlier this month we saw for ourselves how hard the financial crisis is biting.
    Everywhere along the route from the airport to our hotel we saw abandoned half completed building sites and business premises.
    The staff at the hotel could not have been nicer or friendlier, they were all grateful that at least the tourist industry in Greece continues to thrive.
    Wishing you all the very best for the future, whatever it holds
    Maggie

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    1. Maggie, thanks so much for your observations! We have seen just the opposite here in the slice of the Mani where we live part of the year - construction cranes dot the hillsides and building is far more booming than we've ever seen it. Let's keep our fingers crossed for the Greek people throughout the country - please come back again!

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  5. It is very plain to me that had you not been financially able to purchase without putting yourselves in money problems, the purchase wouldn't have taken place. Hence, as you said, if things SHOULD fall apart,it will hurt you...but not to the point of ruin.
    This problem with Greece's economy didn't happen overnight...it's been coming on for several years. When you made the decision to buy, I''m sure a lot of thought went into your decision. I hope you don't spend your time on worrying about it all...
    you've done something that ALL of us would have loved to do. Enjoy every square inch of your house and land....love it to pieces and let time take care of the rest.
    I wish you so much happiness in your beautiful house on the hill in Greece...
    and now.....I am craving olives...:) xoxo

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    1. You are correct BJ, this situation has been developing for some time. And it won't be solved overnight either (although with all these emergency meetings they've been calling, I think they believe it can be!) We will continue to enjoy life to the fullest and eat olives every day! Thanks for the visit and hugs to you~

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  6. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and dreams. I love living vicariously!

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    1. So glad to have you with us on our journey into the world of Greece! Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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  7. Sometimes, you've gotta just jump in and do it. There's always something that can give you pause, and if you wait it out, you may never get to do it. Enjoy your beautiful dream, and your olive grove!

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    1. You are so correct Amy about there always being something that could give you pause. We had a list of why 'not to buy' but thankfully the list of why we should was far longer! Thanks for taking time to comment, come back soon!

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  8. Hi Jackie. I think you have the right attitude, and you're taking the necessary precautions...only limited funds in your Greek bank account. The thing is, even if Greece leaves the EU, your lovely house and those beautiful olive trees will still be there, and I truly believe that Greece will see brighter days. Come to Korea where we have crazy MERS patients breaking curfew and running wild! :)

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    1. Oh Nancie it does sound crazy there with all the fears. I just read that the first case had been detected in Thailand so the craziness and fear is spreading. But then again, craziness seems to be in the air as evidenced by the talks between Greece and their lenders! ;-)

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  9. Life is (sometimes) all about risks. It sounds like you did the right thing by not investing fully. It will be interesting to follow you journey and I wish you the best possible outcome!

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    1. Thanks for the good wishes Patti! We will embrace life and see where this chapter leads. . .hopefully the ending will be a happy ever after one for Greece.

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  10. And from Marcia Mayne at Inside Journeys (whose comment was gobbled by Google as were comments from two others I hear):

    I do admire and applaud your approach. It's very realistic and balanced. You're living your dream and that's what's important. It's definitely better than sitting on the sidelines yearning, wondering, dreaming.

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  11. Kalispera Jackie and Joel,

    Jackie, your account of Greece's predicament is spot on. Before leaving in early June, I prayed that things would pick up, and that Prime Minister Tsipras and his party would make the right decisions with regards to the country's situation, which is dire. Of course, I have been following all the latest news bulletins, and hoping for economic peace, as well as anticipating prosperity in the time that I have been away from my own house, in the hilly countryside of Crete.

    Your analogy of Greece and the olive tree is literary perfection. Let's hope that this ancient country will quickly get out of financial danger and start showing signs of growth, just like its most popular fruit bearing tree.

    Enjoy your beautiful stone house on the hill, for you will be leaving it and its stunning surroundings and soothing beauty, very soon.

    Hugs,
    Poppy

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    1. Thanks for such a thoughtful comment Poppy. It is a most unsettling situation yet we've noticed daily life -- as it usually does -- goes along without a ripple while talks are held and politicians squabble. We've got one final day at our Stone House on the Hill and are already so very sad to be leaving. . .but we will be back in October - just in time to harvest that fruit and enjoy our first home-grown olive oil! I've got my lemoncello started so that I can finish it this fall, so all is good with the world!

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  12. Hello, I am a new visitor here in your blog! Aww, that's very sad that you guys experienced that kind of problem while purchasing the house of your dream. I would say to just shrug off the negativity and always remember why you want to build a home there. :)

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  13. I enjoyed our chat in the olive grove. I feel that it is all about serendipity, thinks have a way of working out whether it is what you planned or a different course. I have a feeling, much as i think that you do, that nothing will ruin Greece. There is a stoicism built from years of needing this resilience. As someone said to me, Greece, pay your bloody taxes, but I am not sure that will happen.

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  14. I'll admit that I was wondering how the Greek financial crisis was affecting you. You've obviously put thought into investing in your dream house there. It's good that you're taking precautions like not keeping more than necessary in the bank and being able to walk away without too much hardship if it comes down to that. I'm glad that you were able to look at it and still see the beauty and joy of establishing a home there among the olive groves.

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  15. Jackie and Joel, You can only follow your heart and live in the moment! Enjoy! Thanks for linking up with #wkendtravelinspiration!

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  16. Interesting information. I assume right now it is only wait and watch.

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  17. Oi, good luck in this time of uncertainty in Greece.
    Hope you get to visit nearby Israel for more time soon. Check out my blogs posts on our olive harvest and oil pressing. Shalom!

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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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