Saturday, January 14, 2023

In Greece ~ Animals and their Angels

The committee meeting didn't start on time. 

Because so many things can cause delays in Greece, those already gathered sipped coffee and waited for our missing members.

Waiting for a meeting to start

This time the delayed members of the animal welfare event committee were late because they were busy saving animals: puppies buried under a sack of rocks in one of the village garbage dumpsters had been heard whimpering.  Luckily the kind soul who heard them reported it and the volunteer rescue team went into action. 

The planning meeting was eventually called to order. The fundraiser was a great success. And the puppies flourished!

The animal fundraiser we were planning was a success.

That is the way it works here in our expat Greek life. Those who care for the animals do both the fund-raising and the hands-on rescuing. We don't have those well-funded mega organizations like the Humane Society, or Best Friends in the United States. There are no staffed animal shelter emergency numbers or 24//7 veterinary clinics to call in Greece's rural mainland and distant island locations.  

 Mani, Costa Navarino, Kos and Kalymnos Islands

Here, the animals in a given region depend on local, devoted volunteers. We've got a network of caring individuals here in the Mani where we make our home. However, in the last year we've met other caregivers - angels on earth, as I prefer to think of them -- on our travels in our adopted country. While approaches to fund-raising and rescue differ, their work with, and for, homeless and often-times abused animals has literally saved the lives of thousands of animals in Greece. 

Today I am taking you to four areas -- Mani, Costa Navarino, Kos and Kalymnos Islands- to introduce you to the work being done in those locations and some of the volunteers who are making it happen.  We're starting close to home with: 

The Mani and Marti's Fund

Longtime readers know that Marti Bartlett was a dear friend and fellow expat whose love of animals knew no borders. She worked tirelessly for them back in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and here in Greece. In fact, for a while, she was doing both at the same time. She left us far too soon in January 2020.

A major source of funding for animal welfare

Her husband, Chuck, himself an animal advocate, has honored her memory by establishing Marti's Fund for the primary purpose of spaying and neutering cats in our area of the Mani. Not only the homeless cats, mind you, but cats belonging to or befriended by those who can't afford the cost of the medical procedure. This fund operates as a branch of the umbrella organization, MIAO, the Mani International Animal Organization, the government-sanctioned volunteer-run animal welfare organization in this area of the Peloponnese.

Chuck Bartlett with and Cat Number 400

In early December 2022, when the 400th cat in our area was sterilized thanks to Marti's Fund it was cause for celebration. That memorial fund has also provided shelters at a feral cat feeding and care program, Pantazi Cat Community, run by devoted British expat volunteers, Sue Lilly and Chris Spybey.

Pantazi Beach shelters from Marti Fund donations

I used the Marti's Fund to illustrate just one of the efforts going on in our slice of the Greek Peloponnese. However, other volunteers throughout our community are working as individuals - without fanfare or funding support - to feed, love and care for any number of needy animals. Greeks and expats alike have 'adopted' colonies of cats, providing food and medical care out of their own funds.

Cats waiting at roadside for the human who is feeding them.

The two photos, above and below, are of one of the cat colonies adopted by an individual in the village. The furry ones are often seen lined up alongside the road when it is time for him to arrive. Meanwhile, similar colonies scattered about the area wait for Stuart, a British expat, who makes several stops on his rounds to feed homeless cat colonies. Bill, a Greek Canadian resident feeds and cares for another dozen cats living in the wild at the village lighthouse. While elsewhere in the village, expats, Richard and Astrid feed and care for cats living along the harbor. In Stoupa, just down the road from us, Bill and Anne, feed and provide medical care to some 40 cats, using their own funds supplemented with some occasional donations. Restaurant and taverna owners feed other homeless cats who reside near their businesses.  

They raced to greet this human who feeds them each day.

While MAIO and Marti's Fund cats have organized fund raising events, this additional support from individual care givers are a godsend because -- even with donations -- none of the programs have enough funds or person-power to help them all.

Always in need of fur-ever homes

Cats are not the only 'fur kids' being helped, our Mani area volunteers in equal numbers are caring for, feeding, walking, socializing and sheltering homeless dogs. In addition, MIAO arranges foster care and searches for permanent homes for many of the homeless canines.

Nelli recently got a fur-ever home thanks to MIAO

While the good news is that several cats and dogs each year are adopted, the reality is that for each one adopted there seems to be another half dozen found homeless and/or abused.  And the situation isn't unique to our area. Volunteers, individually and in organized efforts, are working for the welfare of animals all over Greece.

Over at Costa Navarino

An hour and a half 's drive away from us on the western coast of the Peloponnese, we arrive at Costa Navarino, the sprawling luxury development that attracts the rich and famous as well as people like us who sometimes want a special getaway.  Best known for its luxurious surroundings for humans - five-star hotels including Westin, Romanos and W - and tournament-worthy golf courses, there's another feature at this resort that has won our hearts:   

It is their animal rescue efforts.

Anastasia with one of the fur kids at Costa Navarino

I learned about the Costa Navarino Pet Community when writing an article about the resort's most commendable conservation and sustainability efforts. Among those efforts is an animal rescue program. Who knew? 

Animal rescue compound at Costa Navarino

While working on the story we met Anastasia Paulopoulou. She is one of those I consider 'an angel on earth' kind of people. She has worked in animal rescue for years. She is paid by the resort to run the dog rescue program, coordinating volunteers and providing (alot of) hands on support for these animals who live in a compound tucked away on a corner of the resort property.  The time we spent with her as she interacted with the dogs was a highlight of our stay. 

Waiting for homes at Costa Navarino

Animal loving guests are encouraged to walk the dogs, visit the compound and with proper vetting are encouraged to adopt the dogs. Volunteers working to socialize the dogs, walk them through the resort grounds -- a win-win effort as the dogs get socialized and guests get to meet and adore them!

Waiting for a fur-ever home

The shelter is located an easy walk from guest accommodations at the Westin and not far from employee housing. Employees, we learned, are among the most active volunteers during their off-duty hours. 

On Kos Island

Kos island is part of Greece's Dodecanese Island group, just a stone's throw from mainland Turkey. We traveled there for the first-time early last spring. It takes about 30 minutes to fly there from Athens or if traveling by an overnight ferry from Piraeus, as we did, you arrive early in the morning. 

The island is enchanting, it is much larger than that speck on the map makes it appear. There are small villages, archeological sites, a vibrant Kos city. . .and an active animal rescue program.

We'd set out to explore Kos city when we met Dina Karanasiou, another one of those 'angels on earth' kind of people.  She called out a greeting as we approached her street corner display of banners, donations boxes and goods to purchase.  She explained how the Kos Animal Rescue  and fund-raising efforts of this all-volunteer team work on the island.  

Dina lives outside the city and rides the bus - more than an hour each way - into and out of the city each day to run the street-corner fund-raising operation. We made a second trip to Kos last year and I couldn't wait to pay Dina and her street-corner stand a visit.

Handmade items, tee-shirts, magnets, and souvenirs were for sale at her street corner spot.  All items are donated, and all proceeds go back to funding animal rescue and care. I buy souvenirs from Dina as it is such nice stuff.  

Cash donation box displays on Kos

As we explored Kos Town, we found cash donation display boards in other heavily touristed areas.  The simple display board is filled with photos of rescued animals as well as contact information for island veterinarians and/or volunteers to call if one has come across an injured or homeless animal. We marveled at the volunteers' ingenuity for placing one of the donation box display boards: it was right at the approach to a cash machine! 

Perfectly placed fund-raising display

Nearby Kalymnos Island

Kalymnos Cat Project

Kalymnos Island is another in the Dodecanese group, an hour's ferry ride from Kos. It is famous for its sponge-diving history and its present-day rock-climbing tourism. What we didn't know about until we saw a small notice on a community bulletin board was of its Kalymnos Cat Project.

Now before you get all in a twitter over the clipped ear in the photo above, that is how they identify cats that have been sterilized here.  Some vets during the sterilization will put a nip in the ear, others cut the ear as shown above. 

Now this Kalymnos project is spearheaded by three ladies, Leslie, Anna and Irene and was created by the French Les Chats du Mercantour in conjunction with the Kalymnos Animal Welfare Group and Kalymnos Cats.  Since its inception in 2021 some 800 cats have been sterilized using a Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) sterilization program, primarily with feral cat colonies on the island.  

Animals and their Angels

Street cat, Red, a favorite at our local taverna - not all are as lucky

The animals and their angels can be found throughout Greece. You might wonder what the topic has to do with travel, but I can assure you that traveling in Greece means meeting homeless animals.  Some are just lucky to have angels on earth looking after them.  Others will break your heart.

A homeless cat feasts on fish thanks to woman on the boat

I've included links in this post to all the programs I have mentioned.  Their websites and FB pages tell the continuing stories of animals and angels in Greece. 

Should you want to become involved with or support a program, I can assure you, you will be welcome. If you are coming to any of the areas I've written about and want to visit a program (or even better, adopt an animal) you will be most welcome!   

That's it for this week. Thanks for the time you've spent with us. Safe travels to you and yours ~

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Basking in Those Halcyon Days in Greece

Oh, those Halcyon Days in Greece!  No, not those summer days that most people associate with the word. . .but the summer days of winter!     

Sunset Pantazi Beach on a winter's eve

The summer days of winter are quite literally defined in Greece as the Halcyon Days. We are in the midst of the most amazing winter weather that we've ever experienced in our slice of Greece. These days are also known as Alcyonides in Greece; a time often considered a mini-summer break or early spring that takes place in winter. Occurring randomly - most often between December 15 and February 15 - they bring blue skies, sunshine and no wind.

Halcyon days in Greece

The dictionary meaning of halcyon is to describe 'calm, peaceful days' and is often used by writers and poets to refer to an idyllic time in the past. I can assure you this writer is using the term to refer to the here and now of expat life in the Greek Peloponnese.

Morning coffee in December

I began this post on December 15 after having walked home in shirt sleeves from a morning coffee at Pantazi Beach. Located just below our hillside home, it is about a 20-minute walk away. It is so close that we, and others who live in the area, consider it 'our beach' (as do the thousands of tourists who return repeatedly to it to spend hours of their vacations on it each summer). 

On that mid-December morning we'd sat at the side of the sea, the sun bright overhead and the sky and water alternating shades of brilliant blue. The temperature was 71F/21.6C. Later in the week we returned for wine at those same patio tables to watch sunset (opening and closing photos of this post).

Pantazi Beach on a December day

But I quit writing for fear of jinxing a weather that seemed 'too' perfect. I suspected that it couldn't last long, and our usual wet, chilly weather would return as soon as I published this piece. Our Halcyon Days don't usually arrive until later in January. Yet, here we are in the first week of January and the weather has continued to be as perfect as it was in mid-December.

Christmas Morning 2022

The Halcyon Days made our Christmas Day gathering at the beach a post-card perfect one. Expats have a tradition of gathering at 'our' beach for coffee, snacks, conversation and to celebrate the season. Most of us come from climates that don't encourage beach gatherings for Christmas. This year a couple of people swam, others wore shorts and shirtsleeves were comfortable. Last year's gathering was completely different as it was a blustery, cold day. That gathering was brief, unlike this year's that stretched from late morning into the afternoon.

Christmas 2021 - a contrast from this year

And Legend Has It . . .

First week of January 2023 - Agios Nikolaos

'Yes, of course', or nai fysika, as we say here, Halcyon Days, like so much of our Greek world, began back when Greek gods ruled the earth. Let's put all scientific explanations for this weather phenomenon aside and focus on Greek mythology - it really is a much more charming explanation, because. . . 

. . .Alcyone, who was daughter of Aeolus, the god of the winds, was so distraught over her husband's death in the sea, that she threw herself in the ocean to join him. The gods were so moved by her act, that they turned them both into Halcyon (alcyon) birds. Birds similar to present day European Kingfishers. The two nested in the ocean. Aeolus was so pleased that he calmed the waters until their eggs hatched.

Halcyon Days in Agios Nikolaos

While poets have been writing about those wistful kind of Halcyon Days for years, I happened upon a poem attributed to Chetta Achara, apparently the nom de plume of a person whose been writing poetry since 1992 that certainly seemed to fit the story told above:


At the winter solstice,

It is said,

The mythical bird

Mates in a nest floating

On the sea.

She charms the wind

And the waves

Into calm.


Our olive grove - Halcyon days 2023

We are definitely enjoying the Halcyon Days of winter at our Stone House on the Hill. We've spent hours working in the olive grove and gardens - in our shirtsleeves. Wild iris is blooming in groves and along roadsides. Cultivated flowers, among them, roses, lavender, freesias, and geraniums are in bloom.  Admittedly while basking in this wonderful weather, we are a bit concerned at the lack of snowpack (as in, none) in our Taygetos Mountains and the lack of rainfall here.  It could make for a very dry summer. However, rain is in the forecast.  Our Halcyon magic may have run its course for the winter.

A toast to the New Year

I will return to our travel tales from Thessaloniki next time, but for now, we wanted to toast the New Year with you wrapped in the warmth of our Halcyon Days.  Safe travels to you and yours. As always, thanks for the time you spent with us today ~ come back soon and bring friends with you!

Friday, December 30, 2022

Greece ~ A Big City Christmas

I was in need of a big city Christmas. While I love my Greek village life and its laid-back approach to the holidays, sometimes I just need that shot of holiday hype that only a big city can provide.

Our village decoration 

The Scout -- who doesn't share my Christmas-hype fervor -- is always up for an outing.

And that is why we headed to Thessaloniki the weekend before Christmas.

One of hundreds of streetlights Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki, (thess-ah-lo-nee-kee) Greece's second largest city, with a population of just under 814,000 people, is an hour's flight away from Kalamata. It is an hour's drive from our house to Kalamata, so a trip to this wonderful seaport city in northeastern Greece, takes about the same amount of time as driving to Athens.  It is a vibrant place with museums and historical sites, high end retail, and culinary delights. The best part is that it is a most walkable city.

Plateia (plaza) Aristotelous

There are limited flights between the two cities this time of year, Ours, a tiny ATR aircraft stuffed with 72 passengers, arrived on a late Saturday afternoon.  Traffic was gridlocked as we entered the city. As the taxi driver eased us through narrow back streets to reach our hotel, he would cross himself as we passed churches and then roll down his window and shout a favorite Greek obscenity to anyone blocking his route.  

That congestion reminded us that we were certainly in the big city, a far cry from our village where traffic jams are caused by goat or sheep herds sauntering from one feeding area to another. The next clue that we'd left our rural world behind was when we set out seeking food and drink. You remember I said it was the Saturday before Christmas and the town was pulsating with people.  

Not in Kansas Anymore

To paraphrase Dorothy's comments in Oz, it didn't take long to realize we weren't in Kansas anymore. We've forgotten what a Saturday night, especially the one before Christmas, and the one following two years of Covid curtailments, could mean in the big city.  

In the village this time of year, when we dine out the questions we ask is if the taverna, cafe or restaurant is open. We don't even consider making a reservation. . .because sometimes we are one of two occupied tables wherever we end up.

So having settled into our room we set out for drinks and dinner in the big city, without reservations. We did call a restaurant, recommended by friends who'd lived in this city for a time, asking if we could dine there in a few hours. Not that Saturday, they were booked solid. 

Sidewalk seating worked fine - the pours were generous

So, we headed to our favorite bar at the side of Aristotelous Plateia and was again turned away - it was full, reservations required even in its massive patio area.  The waitress took pity on us and found two chairs on the sidewalk near a bar table so that we could enjoy the sights and sounds of that vibrant part of town. 

We decided that we'd eat in the hotel, at the bar, something casual.  Our hotel bar was also busy but luckily two seats, literally at the bar, were empty. As we approached them, the waitress stopped us with what was becoming a familiar question, 'Do you have reservations?'  We didn't and the bar seating required them.  Staff finally set up heat lamps at a courtyard table where we had a delightful pub grub dinner. The phrase 'country bumpkins do the city' came to mind.

A Big City Christmas

The famed White Tower bathed in sunlight

We were last in Thessaloniki three years ago for my mid-summer birthday. It had been hot, very hot. We'd not visited in winter so were prepared for the worst of weather scenarios - it can, and does, get cold in Greece in winter. However, the weather gods were with us. Only one of our three days was windy, rainy and cold.

A restaurant entry

We had visited several museums on our last trip, so this trip's purpose was for experiencing those city sidewalks dressed in holiday style. The city didn't disappoint. We explored Greece's multi-storied department store, Attica, and the newly opened Municipal Market (more on that in a future post).

Aristotelous Plateia 

Our subsequent two nights, Sunday and Monday, were far easier to get into restaurants and bars.

Stunning Aristotelous Plateia stretched for blocks

The streets were crowded but easy to navigate.  We have not worn masks for many months now and the majority of people were not wearing any - inside buildings or out.  Employees and servers were in most cases masked up.

Flower and plant stores were among my favorites

Thessaloniki isn't known - for that matter, nowhere in Greece is known -- for those cute seasonal Christmas markets like those that spring up in cities in more northern European countries.  We did find a small one just opening up on the rainiest afternoon of our visit. The weather didn't deter little ones from riding the merry-go-round though! (And yes, I was tempted.)

Christmas Merry Go Round in Thessaloniki

I think that my favorite Christmas decoration was the lobby tree in our hotel.  Made of simple bare branches and illuminated with white lights, small glass crowns and apples, the thing was stunning.  It drew me over to it each time we came into the hotel.

The hotel tree in Thessaloniki

But the tree wasn't the only remarkable thing about this hotel - the whole hotel concept was pretty remarkable.  It was inspired by the monastery next door.  And that is worthy of a whole article which will be coming your way soon!

Boarding our plane in Kalamata

Our long weekend went quickly, and we were soon back on that small plane flying to Kalamata. Long-time readers know I am a white knuckler so you can imagine me as I buckled up, on our flight out of Kalamata and realized the only exit doors were two at the back of the plane. We were seated in row two in the front where small windows were clearly marked as our means of emergency exit. So, when I write that I love Thessaloniki so much I would get back on that plane again, you know I am seriously enamored with that place! 

Time for New Year's wishes

The time has come, with only a couple days left in this year, to wish you all a healthy, happy New Year. May your travels be safe and the memories you make, warm and wonderful. We thank you for joining in on our adventures and appreciate the time you spend with us.  Your comments, emails, suggestions and tips are simply what makes TravelnWrite so much fun to produce!  See you next year ~

Friday, December 16, 2022

The Americans ~ Eight Years Later

 Actually, it is Amerikanos, (Ah-mear-E-kah-nos). Greek for the Americans, plural. 

'There, up on the hill,' says the Amerikani 

We usually say it as part of the phrase, 'the Amerikanos up on the hill' while pointing towards the hill on which our house sits.  It serves to differentiate us from the other Amerikanos who live in this area. And you might be surprised at how many do live here now. So many, that it isn't unusual to not know some of them. What a change that is from when we first arrived!

Eight years ago already!

It was eight years ago this week that we purchased our slice of the Greek Peloponnese. Little did we know at the time we purchased what has become known as our Stone House on the Hill, that it would ultimately change the course of our orderly life back in the Pacific Northwest corner of the United States.

Venice, two hour's flight, not two days away any longer

Back then we reasoned that a house in Greece would provide a base for exploring more of this country and other European countries, Africa, and the Middle East. We had expanded our travels on this side of the Atlantic after leaving our work life behind.  This Greek-base, we decided, would allow us to travel more often and go further.

We wanted a project and definitely got a few!

Truth is back then we were rather bored with that orderly life. We needed a project, something to do besides ease ourselves deeper into old age. This home certainly gave us a 'project' as the home was in need of updating and a bit of repair. As it turned out, each of the completed projects gave rise to new projects and continue to do so.

One last fling or perhaps a few more are in store. . .

And the purchase would constitute a - sigh - 'final fling' before we got too old to have such adventures. Age was among our considerations as we talked ourselves first out of, and then, into the house purchase. We wondered if we were then too old for such a leap into the unknown. Since we are still here, I guess we weren't - we are glad we took the leap!

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes. . .in our world

Development comes to the Mani 

As David Bowie sings, there have been ch-ch-ch-ch-changes in the Mani, since we became a part of it. Development is running wild in this once remote and little visited region of Greece. Both private home and rental accommodation construction continues to be on a fast track. It is difficult to find year-round rentals now in our area as so many have turned their homes into Airbnb's. One, a recently constructed Mykonos-style home on the hill above us rents for 1,000 euros a night. 

British writer and long-time Kardamyli resident, Patrick Leigh Fermor, who predicted several decades ago that the remote and rugged Mani would never attract tourists, would likely not recognize the place now.  Tourism is on an upswing.  

Hiking is drawing outdoor enthusiast here

We have local businesses that offer hiking and biking tours of the area.  A new launch site for parasailing has been constructed in a hillside village a few kilometers away.  Our beaches were filled with visitors up until October.  

New restaurant brings change to the village

Change doesn't always come easy. An upscale restaurant opened in our village last spring following an extensive refurbishment of a wonderful old building on the waterfront.  From our perspective, it is a delight to sit inside and admire the stonework as the previous traditional taverna had only outside seating. Yet, some continue to grumble about the change.

New 5-star hotel - Kalamata waterfront

Up the road an hour away, our big city of Kalamata is becoming the poster child for change: a new 5-star hotel in a refurbished early 20th century building offers a restaurant with a Michelin-starred chef at its helm.  Two abandoned flour mills on the waterfront are also being turned into hotels - one a 5-star and one a 4-star.  Next spring the city is the European site of a conference of travel bloggers, actually, 'content creators' (as they call us now). Some 350 are expected to come visit and write about 'our town'. 

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes . . . in us

Adapting to the Mediterranean lifestyle

At the time we bought the house we told ourselves we'd give 'it', the fling, the adventure, the house, whatever we called it, five years.  If we were ready to move on, move back or give it up we would.  Those years went fast as a blink of an eye.  

During which time, we began changing and adapting to our new adopted world, so much so, that we decided we wanted to live here as expats.  We are just entering our sixth expat year here and have a residency permit allowing us another year after this. 

Our world at night

We've quit setting timelines. We will be here as long as we are able and continue to want to be here (or as long as the government allows us to be).  I know a lot of you reading our blog are considering moves to Greece and other destinations in the world, so I would close with a quote attributed to Paul Coelho, 'Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute for experiences.'  

Thessaloniki bound

For those who responded to my teaser in the last post, you were correct! We are soon off to Greece's second largest city, Thessaloniki. Our decision to go there is driven partially by its beautiful Christmas decorations and partially by the call of its culinary reputation.  I'll report back on both next time!  Thanks for being with us today . . .in fact many of you have been with us through our entire Greek adventure, and we've loved having you with us!  Thanks to you all for your continued support and encouragement!!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...