Wednesday, May 13, 2020

In Greece: Missing it all ~


'I asked him in those last days what he would miss and he smiled and said in a voice as soft as dusk, Every bit of it. I only wish I had seen that sooner,' wrote Brian Andreas, American poet and author.

Sunset from The Stone House on the Hill 

I jotted  Andreas' words on the opening page of my 2020 daily journal back in January. It struck me as a powerful reminder to enjoy 'every bit of it' as the year progressed. 

It was shortly before COVID19 and pandemic would turn the world upside down.

In the past my journal entries have been notes of travels and/or events and activities that make up our expat life in a Greek village. This year - it seems for weeks now - I've charted this country's 'numbers' and steps it is taking to keep the pandemic under control. In recent days I've recorded the steps being taken to lead the country back to its 'new normal'.

In reading my entries, I realize how much I have missed those most-ordinary of things that made up my pre-pandemic days. As the passage above says, I miss 'every bit of it'. 


Expats toasting and enjoying Boxing Day last December

I've often said that being an expat sometimes feels as if we are living on borrowed time. We are long-stay guests in a country that could easily change its mind and yank the welcome mat. Or change the rules and we'd no longer qualify to be residents. As boomers, we know that one day age and/or health could bring an end to the routines of our life here. 

We've often spoken of those routine and ordinary things that make life here so interesting and how much we'll miss them when the end comes.  I don't think we realized how much of which makes this life special, that we were taking for granted. . . until the pandemic lockdown brought a temporary end to them.


Dinner out and the bus comes through town 


It has been those tasks, errands, outings that when no longer allowed, we have missed. . .the friends with whom we gather. . .we have missed. . .

A quick trip to the grocery store, 
a morning cappuccino in the village,
a spur of the moment dinner out with friends along the harbor, 
watching the public bus inch its way along the crowded waterfront road, 
having friends over, 
getting our hair cut,
taking a day trip down the coast. . .


Watching our local fishermen sell the catch each day

Yes, we've missed 'every bit of it'.

A New Day Dawning

Dressed for my first trip to Kalamata
We went to Kalamata last week, thanks to the first phase of our country's return to normal. I'll confess that in pre-pandemic days, it sometimes felt like a chore to set off for a round of shopping and errands in the big city an hour's drive north of us. With the government's lockdown in March, trips to Kalamata ended. Essential shopping - groceries and pharmacy -- was done close to home.  

After a few weeks of it being off limits we found ourselves speculating on things to do when we could go back. It felt as though we were planning a major journey. We were missing it all.

The Greek government's slow, methodic and carefully-orchestrated emergence from the near-total lockdown allowed for hair salons and barber shops to be among the first businesses to re-open. We  made (long-overdue) hair appointments! Yes, a simple hair appointment was our first activity. In the days between making the appointment and going to Kalamata, we were as giddy over the upcoming outing as if we'd been planning a major trip.

Masked, gloved and in the salon


The salon had reduced the stations and was adhering to the government's strict guidelines for distancing and cleanliness. It felt more like a trip to a medical clinic than to a beauty shop - yet, we remain grateful that Greek businesses are adhering to the safeguards dictated by the government.  We also followed the rules, face masks and gloves were the 'go-to-town' dress up attire.  Instead of growing impatient at the time spent at the salon (an attitude I held before the pandemic) I kept thinking how lucky I was to be back at the salon.  I had missed it all.

Wait in line at the supermarket - social distancing enforced

A routine part of a trip to Kalamata is always a stop at one of the large supermarkets there. Back in the 'old normal' we'd whip  through the store, grabbing what we needed as quickly as possible.  This time we took our time thinking what a treat to have different choices again beyond our local village stores. Just putting jars of Skippy peanut butter - even at its outrageous import price -- into my shopping cart was a joy. We had missed it.

Phase 2: hardware stores open -The Scout waits his turn to enter

This week the government has moved to Phase II, allowing for most retail stores to open. Our village hardware store was among them.  I can't tell you how many times being homebound we have thought of projects to do or repairs to make but each required something from the shuttered hardware store. Monday morning, face masks in place we stood in line awaiting our turn to walk into our village hardware store.  We had missed them.

At the Kalamata Shell service station - no mask, no enter

Siga, siga, as they say here, slowly, slowly, our Greek world is re-opening.  It will be another three weeks before the tavernas and restaurants in the country are allowed to open and then strict distancing rules will be enforced. While I sang the praises in last week's post of our village parking lot as our pandemic social hub, I can tell you we miss the village tavernas where we have spent hours with friends enjoying beverages and meals. The protocols will be strict for distancing, serving and all aspects of the resumption of service but the idea of meeting others again at a local place has us eagerly counting the days. We have missed those times.

ATM users social distance in Kalamata


Large hotels and resorts in Greece are scheduled to open  June1st and seasonal hotels on July 1st. The Health Ministry has issued a 16-page protocol list for distancing, cleaning and disinfecting and it promises to be a whole new world of travel. One of the favorite parts of staying in a hotel in Greece has been the lavish buffet breakfasts they offer as part of the room rate. Those buffets are to be eliminated, just one of the many 'new normal' ways of travel here. We are eager to hit the road and do some road trips - it has been too long since we've been out enjoying all Greece has to offer. We have missed it.

Air travel is expected to resume in July. There is talk that travel between Greece and some European countries may be allowed by June 15th. However, the government is taking a cautious approach when it comes to tourists and travelers entering the country.


Few cars in Kalamata this week
The rules currently being contemplated will require international travelers 72-hours BEFORE BOARDING to be tested for the virus and to show negative results. If positive, they will not be allowed on the flight. Another talked about option is that travelers will have to have 'health certificates'.  We know already that we will be missing the old ways of travel when it comes time to take that first trip back to the States.



May Day the streets were empty in the village


The reopening of Greece is unfolding as a four-phase project. While we know the old normal is gone, we are looking forward to seeing friends, dining out, and even watching the bus make its regular run through town again. . .we will be masked and socially distanced but so appreciative to have back some semblance of our old favorites. 

We've missed it all.

From your comments and emails we know that many of you in various parts of the world are also cautiously returning to a new normal. We send continued wishes for you and yours to be safe and well. As always thanks for being with us. Add a comment or drop us a line and tell us what you have missed the most during this unusual period in our world.

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Sunday, May 3, 2020

Greece ~ Seeing travel differently. . .

In the end, we decided to ride out the pandemic in Greece.  Our expat lifestyle won out over a return to the States. We'd reasoned that our sparsely populated, rural location in the Greek Peloponnese would lend itself to social distancing and isolation.  The fresh air and sunshine would certainly be positives. We'd have plenty to keep us busy.


The olive grove keeps us busy

Our decision to stay was made just as Greek authorities were shutting down air traffic and mainland  borders. In falling domino fashion, the entire country pretty much came to a standstill within a couple of weeks of our deciding to stay. For many of those weeks we've been allowed out to only six destinations. The government had to be told each time we left our home.  A hashtag 'Menoumespiti' became a rallying cry across social media here -- stay home!

On Greek Easter weekend the travel restrictions were enhanced from Saturday evening until midnight Monday night. Traffic was severely limited. Fines for violators were 300 euros for the driver, 150 for each passenger and your license plates were taken. Pretty smart move, as you can't drive without plates here and to get them back, you had to pay the fines! (One exception made in the village was to allow folks like us to pick up 'to go' Easter dinners that had been ordered before the shutdown was announced.)

A village scene from the parking lot

Tomorrow, Monday, May 4th  the country begins reopening.  We will no longer be required to notify the government of our movements. Small businesses, including hair dresser and barbers, will begin operating within strict social distancing guidelines. We will be required to wear facemasks in stores and other public areas for an unspecified amount of time or face a potential 150 euro fine. Numbers of COVID19 cases will be monitored on a 24-hour basis and if there is a spike, restrictions will be re-imposed. If numbers hold at acceptable levels, the country will continue to reopen in a gradual process that takes us to July.

The future of travel to and from Greece is still somewhat up in the air. There is talk of allowing only those from certain countries into the country; those with low COVID19 numbers. And there is uncertainty about how and when the European Union will reopen its borders.

For us, the pandemic has put the brakes on our spring travels and has slowed our desire to plan future travels. Neither of us are eager to put ourselves in an airplane or airport right now.


Traveling within Greece was a treat last year

Our longtime readers will likely remember that a year ago that I was whining about not being allowed to leave Greece while our residency permits were being renewed.  I described us as being held 'hostage' although we could travel to our heart's content anywhere we wanted to go within the country.

This year going to the grocery store or pharmacy feels like taking a major trip.  What a difference a year makes! Instead of grumbling about the limits on movement, we are singing the praises of those who imposed them. We are seeing travel -- and life, to a certain extent -- differently these days.

The Village Parking Lot - A Destination 

'Let's have a coffee in the parking lot,' I suggested after a recent grocery store trip. It is the village parking lot, the one in which we sometimes sip a glass of wine from a plastic glass while waiting for a 'to go' meal to be prepared.


Going out for wine - quite literally!


Now there is really nothing special about our municipal parking lot.  It is a relatively non-descript, barren stretch of  land bordering the Messinian Bay. Two tavernas serve drinks on portable decks in tourist season. It is the gateway to the harbor's boat launch.

The village parking lot and taverna deck in a pandemic

Back in normal tourist seasons it was difficult to find a parking space there. Sometimes even entering and exiting required holding your breath as you squeezed past double parked cars. We usually tried to avoid it until it emptied in the fall. Sometimes the most action in the lot during the winter is when winter storms create such fierce wave action that stones are tossed over the sea wall. A bulldozer is brought in to clear them so that cars can navigate the lot's unpaved surface.


Social distancing is a snap in this parking lot
But that parking lot has become a shining beacon, a destination, in our somewhat shrunken universe. Often ours is the only car in the lot; other times there might be a half dozen. Sometimes others are off in the distance sipping beverages as well. Sometimes if we are lucky, we might see someone we know.  A wave and called out greeting from a friend passing by feels like a major social interaction has occurred. 

Friends from the States - drinks before dinner

We entertained our last set of visitors from the United States in that very parking lot. They arrived just as the country was shutting down seasonal hotels, so their stay was cut short as they had to race back to Athens for one of the last flights out. They didn't get to see a lot of the village, but we are certain they will remember the parking lot where we had before dinner drinks and a to go dinner picnic on the seawall. 



Dinner in the parking lot

Until our coming and going was curtailed by the government, and social distancing the norm, I hadn't really appreciated that big old lot. I sincerely hope that when this ends, I will remember those trips to the parking lot as having been a special part of this pandemic lockdown.

Perhaps Columbian writer Gabriele Garcia Marquez said it best when he wrote,


May we always remember our trips to the parking lot

'What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.'

Our thanks for being with us today - as always we appreciate the time you spend here.  We hope you continue to cope with the coronavirus safeguards within which you live and that you, your family and friends stay well.

Linking this week with:
Mosaic Monday
Through My Lens
Travel Tuesday
Our World Tuesday
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