Friday, November 16, 2018

All Who Wander (Wonder) Are Not Lost. . .

'All who wander are not lost.'
          -- J. R. R. Tolkien 

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Greek islands in the sun - roads to wander
And I believe all who wonder are not confused. They are likely – in both cases of wonder/wander – simply expats like us with enough time on their hands to indulge in such past times.

Wander – to move in a leisurely, casual way
Wonder – desire to be curious or to know something

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The path to Mystras
We’ve been doing a bit of both this fall and in thinking about it, we’ve not been alone in pursuing wanders and wonders. Within our small circle of expat American friends here – all of boomer age -- we have a couple who celebrated a birthday by spending a week wandering the backroads of Tuscany on their own. Another duo is off on an Arctic Circle cruise and exploring Northern Europe. Yet another couple has left this week for Egypt.

‘Little by little, one travels far.'
        --- J.R.R. Tolkien

Like us, they recognize that this chosen lifestyle is a launch pad to new adventures on this side of the Atlantic.  Flights to new destinations in other countries take a matter of hours instead of days; the costs of such flights are affordable.

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Wacky, windy roads in the Peloponnese
For closer to home trips we head out on the wacky, windy roads that make up the Peloponnese or board Greek ferries to explore the many islands that make up this new adopted country of ours.

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Hopping a Greek ferry - a favorite wander
All of us retired boomers have the time to wander and wonder but actually giving ourselves permission to do it seems somehow tied to expat life.

Often times wonder and wander are what we discuss when ex pats gather for long-leisurely coffee klatches, a drink at sunset or meals together.

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Wine and wonder-lust/wanderlust
It was over breakfast recently that a fellow expat chuckled as she said she’d spent the better part of a Saturday reading up on the Amendments to the American Constitution.  “I’d probably have never done that back in the States, but I did over here.”

Today I wandered away from writing this post to research J.R.R. Tolkien after I came across a few quotes of his to use in it.  I wondered why I hadn’t read more by him before. This Englishman, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, best known for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, was not only a writer but poet and philosopher and a university professor.

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Roads to wander in the Greek Peloponnese
'It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit.’
                      -- J. R. R. Tolkien

Don’t get me wrong, we expats still have plenty of daily chores to do and sometimes living in a foreign land makes for even more chores than had we continued our comfortable lives back home.  (Sometimes those chores make us  ‘wonder’ why we wanted to ‘live differently’ in the first place.)

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A garbage stop is a routine chore around our village
Yet, there’s no one among the expats we know that hasn’t recognized the fact that someday the adventure will likely end or at least change: ages, health (mental and physical), and even Greek ex pat requirements may require us all to change our approach to ‘living differently’.  But until then, we’ll continue our wonders and wanders.

'All we have to decide is
what to do with the time given us.'
        -- J.R.R. Tolkien

That’s it for this week from The Stone House on the Hill.  For those back in the States we wish you a happy Thanksgiving week and to all of you, our thanks for the time you’ve spent with us.

We sincerely hope your future wonders and wanders take you to some delightful places. We’ll be back next week ~ hope you will be here as well!

Linking up this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Best of Weekend

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Athens ~ a bit of grit and a bit of glam

“Travel and change of place impart a new vigor to the mind.”
                                        -- Seneca

The quote above reminds me that it is time to get back to writing about travel, the topic that gave birth to this blog in the first place.

It seems we focused most of the last year – with a few carefree intervals – on downsizing our life and shifting residences from one continent to another. While it’s been an amazing process it has cut into travel. . .the kind that provides new adventures and packing suitcases, not moving boxes.

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Acropolis from the Electra Palace Hotel roof bar/restaurant
Now that we are settled on both sides of the Atlantic, it is time to hit the road again on this side ‘of the pond’. Luckily a couple of travel-enthused friends from Canada gave us the nudge we needed to pack the bags and head to Athens for a rendezvous with them last week.

Getting to Athens from our house can be done in a number of ways. In summer season, there are flights between Kalamata and Athens, but this time of year you either drive, take the public bus or hire a shuttle. We set out on the 3.5 hour road trip in our trusty Hi, Ho Silver, our Toyota RAV.

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Traffic jams were routine in downtown Athens
Since neither of us like downtown Athens traffic – The Scout is the driver and I am the navigator -- we park at the Airport, (some 33km or 20.5 miles out of town) and take the airport shuttle bus to the heart of the city. We get in a bit of sightseeing while someone else does the driving.  Traffic on the weekday afternoon we arrived was bumper-to-bumper – it took the shuttle bus twice the normal time to get us into the heart of the city.

Athens, capital of Greece, had a population of 4.1 million at last count in 2012.

Since we moved to Greece we have been guilty of treating this town as being one from where we depart its airport and return to pick up our car. As other travel enthusiast friends commented, “Once you’ve seen the sights (Acropolis, for instance) what else is there to do?”

Well, let me tell you with only the three days we had in this city we didn’t have time to do all that we could have, which means we’ll just have to return there again – hopefully soon! And we didn't even get to any of those famous sites!

A Bit of Grit and a Bit of Glam

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Big cities and graffiti seem to go hand-in-hand
Like all big cities Athens has a gritty side.  Graffiti and street people. However we saw similar amounts of graffiti in Rome and Lisbon  - if not more - and far more homeless sleeping on sidewalks in Honolulu than we did in Athens.

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Street art is taking over graffiti scenes
As for that graffiti. Some wise city folks are working to turn that destructive art into an attraction by encouraging street art. An enterprising street artist named Sophia now leads street art walking tours. But it is really quite easy to find many examples by strolling the streets on your own as we did.

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Spotted a couple blocks from Syntagma Square

Athens is the UNESCO World Book Capital 2018 and has put together a year-long program of events celebrating the written word.

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High-end shops line the boulevards of Athens

Window shopping kept us entertained as we strolled the areas surrounding Syntagma Square. We are talking high end shops. . .Paris’s Champs Elysees had better take note – this place just might offer a bit more glam these days than do the storefronts along that famous Paris boulevard!

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The decade's old  Zonar's Café between Syntagma and Kolonaki district
Much like Paris, there’s no end to sidewalk cafes – perfect spots to spend a couple of hours in contemplation, conversation or people watching.

Athens at more than 4,000 years of age claims it is the birthplace of Democracy, Philosophy, Theatre, Music and Poetry.

It is when the sun goes down that Athens comes to life – restaurants, cafes, coffee shops and bars were filled and the pedestrian streets were crowded with shoppers and those out for their evening stroll.

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Spotted on Ermou Street near our hotel
We followed the advice of another traveling friend (and the Michelin 2018 guide) and dined one night at 2 Mazi in the Plaka district, an easy four blocks from Syntagma Square.  The food and wine pairing was perfect, a distinctly modern touch to Greek favorites. We’ll be recommending it to all who visit Athens in the near future.

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2 Mazi is worth a visit
Several places where we tried to have a glass of wine, were completely booked and required reservations. I’m no longer worried about Athens being able to recover from the economic collapse a decade ago. She’s back and maybe better than ever.

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You'll need a reservation here 
It seemed we barely touched the surface of all that Athens has to offer. We certainly made note of some places that will tempt us on a future trip. Maybe next time we’ll bring some fancy ‘big city’ clothes and dine at the King George Hotel. . .instead of just walking through it as we did this trip.

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King George Hotel restaurant
And we’ll make it a point to check out the performing arts. . .especially after having happened upon this performance as we walked past a theatre one afternoon.

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Not all dancing is to Zorba's theme song in Greece
We divided our stay between two of the three Electra Hotels that are located within walking distance of Syntagma Square. This Greek hotel chain (with one property in Thessaloniki as well) has developed their properties so each has a rooftop deck with enclosed space and open air seating for drinking and/or dining. . .and breakfast buffets are included in the room price.

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Breakfast with a view at the Electra Hotel
After this 'taster trip'  I’d had a plan to come back and see the city decked out at Christmas, but you know The Scout and The Scribe can be unpredictable when it comes to travel. Our plans changed just yesterday.  I’ll tell you more about our upcoming December travel adventure soon -- for now just know it is set in the Middle East!!

Thanks for your time and we look forward to having you back with us again next week when we’ll take you on another Peloponnese road trip to a destination we haven’t yet decided upon yet. But I know we are going somewhere! (Isn’t that a great way to travel? Or do you need to have your travel plans set out in advance? Let us know in the comment section or shoot us an email – as always we love hearing from you!)

Linking up this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Best of Weekend




Friday, October 19, 2018

The new chapter begins: Life at the Lake

“Life is not just the passing of time. Life is the collection of experiences and their intensity.”
                                                    -- Jim Rohn

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River walk downtown Chelan, Washington
It isn't so much about the travel as it is about the time spent in a place. And it isn’t as much about the place as the people who make up your world. Travel, time spent, people and place all contribute to our collection of experiences.

These aren’t new insights for us, but they’ve come to mind often during the month that we’ve spent in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

In the last couple posts about the purpose of this trip – to replant our roots in the U.S. -- I’ve been focused on the 'facts and figures' of ex pat life - making a case for having a foothold 'back home'. Truth be told, though, there's an emotional side to the story as well:

P1090306 This October has been an almost mirrored reversal of our activities last  October when we boxed up our U.S. life and moved to Greece for a full-time ex pat adventure.

Back then we put our U.S. life, in a manner of speaking, into a storage unit; a place we quickly came to call ‘the morgue’. (You can probably see why from the photo). Coupled with our downsizing efforts, it became a  climate-controlled somewhat morbid reminder that we are boomers who have a much shorter road ahead of us to travel than we once did.

While we were eager to pursue our daydreams – a pursuit we heartily recommend – leaving one life for another does pack a wallop of emotions. Closing one door to open another can be tough.

Opening Another New Door

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Wapato Point Lake Chelan, Washington State
But in our case, by closing a door we've opened two new ones! We are now at home in Greece most of the year and at home – for a bit of time each year  -- in Manson, Washington. The door has closed permanently on the ‘morgue’ and we’ve got a whole new lifestyle to live.

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Lake Chelan from The Butte, Washington State
The weeks we spent moving into this new lifestyle had been a good reminder of how blessed we are to have special people at both ends of our horizons.  Long-time friends, those we refer to as our 'friend family' back in the U.S. welcomed us with get-togethers, offers of accommodations and help with moving chores. We had others make the trek to Manson to welcome us to our new life there.

Meanwhile back in Greece we had a cadre of relatively new friends who've become equally special to us, who stepped in to keep an eye on our life there. We were extremely grateful to them and their efforts when the ‘Medicane’ (Mediterranean hurricane) hit our area of the Peloponnese only days after we arrived in the U.S.

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"Life is the collection of experiences" and friendships

”Time is not measured by the passing of years but by what one does, what one feels and what one achieves.”
                                     -- Jawaharlal Nehru

Life at the Lake

There is no doubt about it, we will again be 'living differently' as we plant our roots in both a Greek hillside and a small village in Washington State. While we are eager to return to our Stone House on the Hill, it is good knowing we also have a Life at the Lake.

I promised you a home tour last week so come, take a look at what we've been doing the last few weeks to create that new life:

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The Scout on the front deck - sunset over the Cascade Mountains
We are as settled as one can be after three weeks. Thirteen days after the moving van had pulled away, we emptied our last box. (Our downsizing had worked – we were surprised to have a number of empty cupboards and shelves.) The walls seem rather bare.

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Shelves and not boxes are much better displays of memories
This home – in keeping with our downsizing emphasis – is smaller than our Kirkland home yet it is larger than our Greek home.  It is also a 'boomer home' a rambler built one level. As a result, it feels very spacious. In fact, it feels downright enormous!

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The amazing change - old things do fit in new places
The Manson house is furnished with many inherited items belonging to parents, aunts, uncles and friends who are no longer with us. Others, like the items on the built in shelves, were collected on our travels. All of these were considered ‘life treasures’ and spared the discard or give-away down-sizing efforts last year. Now they’ve come together in new spaces so we have a wonderful hodge-podge of  mis-matched furniture and memories of  people and places; our collection of life experiences.

“Learn to appreciate what you have, before time makes you appreciate what you had.'”
                                                          -- Unknown

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Guest bedroom is ready to welcome friends
We’ve got a guest room and the welcome mat is out.  There are more than 30 wineries and vineyards now in the Lake Chelan AVA so we hope our wine-loving, lake-loving friends will make the journey to see us while we are in residence.

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Using those Greek 'do-it-yourself-' talents we've developed to make our bed
We used some of those skills we’ve developed in Greece to set up the master bedroom. We'd discarded our bedroom furnishings last fall. Using those 'do-it-yourself-skills' we've developed in Greece we met the challenge of assembling an iron bed frame. By downsizing, old pieces got new homes. The rattan furniture in the photo had been in our family room and with no family room now, it went to the bedroom. It was souvenir we bought ourselves and had shipped to the U.S. from Bangkok, Thailand some 30 years ago. We are glad we didn't part with it.

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The Chelan Room - the den
A third bedroom has become a den known as the 'Chelan Room' as we’ve filled it with furniture and photos collected by The Scout’s family who came to this area a century ago.  His grandmother (who may have provided his travel genes) traveled by ferry boat up the Columbia River to arrive in Chelan. For those familiar with the area, they homesteaded an area now home to Bear Mountain Golf Course.

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Washington State's Columbia River
“. . .your soul knows when it is time to close a chapter. . .’
                              -- Unknown

While the quote is apropos, we think the soul also knows when it is time to start a new one. Thanks for being with us as this chapter begins.

As always we appreciate the time you spend with us and we’ve also appreciated all your comments cheering us along in this new twist to the journey.

Safe travels to you and yours and next week - if our travels go according to plan - we’ll be writing from The Stone House on the Hill!

Linking with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Best of Weekend

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Expat life: We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto!

“Turn things around sometimes and look at life from a different perspective.”
                                                      -- Jean Wilson

Two weeks ago we made the move.  Actually another move in the continuing saga of these two boomers who chose to ‘live differently’.

Unless you are a first-time visitor here, that ‘living differently’ isn’t news as we’ve been doing that for a year as full-time American ex pats in Greece. What’s new these days is that now we’ve upended the big city life we'd lived in the U.S. and planted ourselves in rural America. This latest move was prompted somewhat by our actions last year. . .

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Welcome to Chelan county!
When we moved to Greece last October – after 30 years of living in a Seattle suburb -- we didn’t realize just how far outside the norm we’d taken ourselves.

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Seattle, Washington from Puget Sound
In our quest for a ‘final fling’ (as we call our full-time expat adventure) we’d turned ourselves into square pegs that didn’t fit the round holes of those U.S. businesses, financial and medical institutions with which we were still affiliated. It didn’t take us long to learn that without a U.S. phone number and residence address (not just mailing address) to verify our existence, it was very difficult to deal with these folks. A foreign phone number and an address in Greece just didn't fit a U.S. verification form or protocol.

And our joking about 'living out of a storage unit and a hotel room' when in the Northwest was a joke.  It wasn't fun -- in the least.

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Moonlight over Manson, Washington
So, a year later and still living full-time in Greece, we’ve purchased a ‘seasonal home’ (that’s the name these days for vacation or part-time homes) in Manson. It's an unincorporated town, the size of a village on the shores of Lake Chelan in eastern Washington State.

That might sound to many reading this like we’ve simply ‘returned’ to Washington State. But, au contraire! Those who’ve lived here know that. . .

East is East and West is West!

And we’ve just had another seismic shift in lifestyle.

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View of Cascade Mountains from Kittitas County - Washington State
While the Cascade Mountain range physically divides the state, it is the differences in political leanings, lifestyles, traffic, weather, population density, housing prices and industry that creates the state’s real division.

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Interstate 5 between Seattle and Tacoma, left; Highway 97 between Wenatchee and Chelan, right
No joke. There is often talk of the two sides going their own way; creating two states in the Pacific Northwest corner of the U.S. because of the vast differences in political leanings and lifestyles. The last ‘official’ proposal came from a group in 2015 who wanted to create two states: Washington to the west and Madison to the east.

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Road trips in Eastern Washington cut through wheat fields and pass grain elevators
Eastern Washington with its wide open spaces has a much smaller population density; one that is predominantly conservative in politics and lifestyle. It’s main industries are agriculturally based (wine industry, fruit, cattle, truck gardens).

Western Washington, home to Seattle and its suburbs, is jam-packed with people, traffic and housing density.  Technology’s Microsoft and industry giants Starbucks and Amazon got their starts  and continue to be major players in the area.  One can’t overlook the contributions of Kurt Cobain and Grunge music, as they, too, have helped create today's Seattle and its surroundings.The population is liberal in lifestyle and politics.

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On the road to Life at the Lake - Swauk Prairie, Kittitas County
We were both raised in the eastern side of the state, lived our adult lives in the increasingly jam-packed western side and now find ourselves back in the east – at least for what we anticipate will be a few weeks each year in our seasonal home.

Different shades of life make the painting more beautiful.
                      -- Mike Dolan

Small Town vs. Suburb

We've spent the last few weeks moving into life in Manson. It didn't take us long to realize that as Dorothy told Toto in the Wizard of Oz, we weren't in Kansas anymore!

'Moving Monday' as the day shall forever be known was a long sweat-inducing day of supervising and assisting the professional movers in the emptying of our suburban storage unit. We'd  left the suburbs in the mid-afternoon. A quick stop at the Manson house and then on to dinner at one of the two village pub/taverns. While eating, the desk clerk at the town's motel called to remind us that ther office would be closing in an hour at 10 p.m.Would we be there to pick up our key or did she need to leave it somewhere for us?

It’s a small town. Not a late night place. Not a 24/7 place. But a warm place.
Welcome to our other world.

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Welcome signs greet guests at the Mountain View Resort - Manson, Washington
We easily got the key as the motel is two blocks from where we were dining. It is also two blocks from our new house. Everything in Manson seems to be two blocks from each other.
It is a small town.

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The dock at Manson on Lake Chelan.
The moving van arrived at 8 a.m.Tuesday morning so we missed breakfast at the hotel (the office and breakfast both open at 8.am.) It was a long day of lifting, hauling, moving, thinking. Finally, unable to move another item, we headed to one of the several wine tasting rooms in the village. Wine tasting rooms are operated by wineries to showcases (by selling 'tastings' or glasses) their wines and provides an outlet for wine sales to folks who wouldn't travel into the countryside to visit the winery.

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MVP Vintners made us feel like MVP's
It was 5:55 p.m. when we walked into the tasting room on the town's main drag. We asked how long they’d be open. “Six” he told us.

Sigh. Small town. Not a 24/7 place.

“We’ll try another down the street,” said The Scout to which Pete (our first new friend) replied,  “I am one of the latest to stay open, most close at 5.”  Then he smiled and added,  “I can stay open a bit longer. What will you have?  It is a great sunset tonight.”

Not late night. Not 24/7. A small town. A nice town.

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Lake Chelan between Chelan town and Manson
Thanks for being with us as we kick off our other side of life; that which will be known as ‘Life at the Lake’.  Next week I’ll give you a tour of this seasonal home of ours just before our month back in the States ends  and we head back to The Stone House on the Hill.  As always, we appreciate the time you’ve spent with us today and we hope to see you here again soon. Until then, safe travels to you and yours ~

Linking this week with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Best of Weekend

Friday, September 28, 2018

Stretching Our Horizons ~ Mani to Manson

You are the one who can stretch your own horizon.
              -- Edgar Magnin

I like the idea of stretching our horizons but when it requires a 22-hour day of air planes and airports followed a few days later by a four-hour cross-state driving trip, I’ll admit I was questioning the need for such expansion.

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Lufthansa brought us from Athens to Seattle -

If you’ve been a part of our adventures for any length of time, you know we are American expats who live full-time in Greece. We pulled up roots in the US just over a year ago and set off to ‘live differently’ for awhile. Remnants of our US life went into a storage unit and we set off for adventure.

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Our Stone House on the Hill in the Mani, Greek Peloponnese
It didn’t take too many months though before we started asking ourselves: Do we really want to keep paying for an expensive storage unit in the Seattle suburbs? Do we need a U.S. address? Do we need a place to call our home when the adventure ends?

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The other end of the horizon - Manson, Washington

The answers resulted in the latest stretch of our horizon.  We still live full-time in rural Greece, but also have just moved into a home in rural Washington State.  It is the ‘just in case’ place where our belongings are a bit more lovingly stored and comes with an assurance we have a place to go when the dreaded ‘if’ appears on our current horizon. . .if Greece doesn’t renew our residency permit. . .if health (mental or physical) dictate an early end to our adventure. . .if we tire of ‘living differently’ elsewhere in the world. We've had reports that a 'Medicane' (Mediterranean hurricane is barreling towards the Peloponnese this weekend while we are in the States moving so we are hoping that one of those 'if's' isn't, 'if a storm destroys our home while we are away. . .'

While some might call us prudent others might see us as paranoid.  We simply see it as stretching our horizons once again.  Hopefully to include the best of both worlds.

From one end of the horizon to the other

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Lake Chelan on the left, Messinian Bay on the right
It seems we are drawn to water.  We wanted to be near the water no matter where we landed on earth. In Washington State, our new village of Manson sits on the shores of a 55-mile-long glacier-fed lake. In The Mani, we are in Greece’s Peloponnese – overlooking  the Messinian Bay (where the Aegean and Ionian seas meet).

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Agios Nikolaos - Messinias Mani

We are Village people.  We’ve adjusted to village life in Greece like fish to water. The fishing village, Agios Nikolaos, (Saint Nikolas) and still called by its Slavic name Selinitsa by many locals, has a few hundred year round residents.

It swells with tourists in the summer.

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St. Andrews Episcopal Church - 1897 built of logs - oldest building in Chelan

Manson, where we’ve re-planted our American roots had a population of just over 1,400 in the last census. It is an unincorporated community seven miles beyond the larger town of Chelan, with a year-round population of about 4,000.

Chelan and Manson swell with tourists in the summer.


Groves and orchards Our Greek life puts us smack dab in the midst of the Land of Kalamata olives. In fact our home is in a small olive grove and The Scout has dusted off his orcharding skills (learned in his family’s Chelan apple orchard decades ago) and put them to use in Greece.

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The Stone House on the Hill from our olive grove 
Now, we’ll be returning to that same agricultural area where he honed his skills and be surrounded by those orchards that haven’t given way to vineyards.

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Manson Vineyards
Vino with a View: In the Chelan/Manson area wineries have been sprouting at an amazing rate of speed; they number in the dozens. Apple orchards began giving way to vineyards a couple decades ago and the growth of the industry hasn’t slowed. The photo below was taken at Nefarious Cellars and vineyard which are on the site of what used to be The Scout’s family apple orchard.

It will be fun to be walking distance to several ‘tasting rooms’ – those places operated either by a single winery or by individuals offering a variety of wines – and also easy driving distance to wineries themselves.  Hopefully our visits to Manson will coincide with those facilities being in operation.

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Nefarious Cellars - on The Scout's old apple orchard
Regular readers know we sing the praises of Greek wines, served by the pitcher at restaurants – good quality without pretense and usually so inexpensive that we still are marveling at their incredible low prices. And much of our favorite wine is grown and produced right here in the Peloponnese. (We have been shell-shocked at wine prices in Manson: $10US for a glass would buy us two liters of wine in the Mani!)

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Wine at sunset at the Stone House on the Hill
So our quest to expand our horizons continues as we this week begin moving our things into the house in Manson.  While in so many ways our two worlds are similar, in many ways they are vastly different (I'll tell you about those in a future post). But it will keep life exciting (perhaps a bit disjointed as well).

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They moved us out of our old world and are moving us into the new one
We’ve allotted ourselves three weeks in which to get our belongings organized and all the logistics of establishing a new residence completed.  We’ve not had a lot of down time since our arrival but hopefully by next week the internet will be functioning and I’ll have time to give you an ‘inside’ peek at the other end of our expanded horizon.

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The Scout and the realtor in front of our Manson house
Again, thanks for all of you who’ve come along on this adventure – either in real time or in the blogosphere. We are most appreciative of the time you spend with us and are grateful for your help and words of encouragement.

Until next week, safe travels to you and yours ~

Linking this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Best of Weekend

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