Sunday, June 12, 2022

Kos ~ Where we fell in love. . .

 In love, that is, with a small hotel and the island on which it was built.

Sunrise on the Aegean Sea

The sun was peeking over the horizon as the ferry approached Kos, a Greek island only a stone's throw from Turkey. It wasn't yet 7 a.m. and we'd set off from Athens some 12 hours before.  From the deck we spotted the little charmer that had brought us here: the Albergo Gelsomino.

Albergo Gelsomino sits on the waterfront of Kos Town

The first time we laid eyes on this waterfront was a year ago from another ferry's deck. That ferry, heading to Athens, made a brief stop here in the late evening when darkness made everything look a bit enchanting. It seemed that the waterfront was shared by the remains of an ancient castle, a more modern-looking castle, a church and an architecturally interesting building tucked in between them all. 

It was enough to put it on our 'future's list' and to do some research. We might even need to return to see if it was as charming as it had appeared during that brief stop.

Albergo Gelsomino as seen from the sea

The Scout went to work and found that the small building houses an eight-room hotel. It seemed to fit the description of  'our kind of place' and our trip was planned around a stay in this historic building. 

They need a sign reading, We love Kos.

Little  did we know that when we returned to Kos that we'd have a downright love affair with that small building and the island on which it was built.

Admittedly we've been to many wonderful Greek islands during our decade of travel in Greece, our adopted country. Each has charmed us. But it took less than a couple hours on the island of Kos, to send it to the top of our favorites list and there it has stayed. . .so much so, that we are returning to there to celebrate our upcoming anniversary.

The Albergo Gelsomino

Albergo Gelsomino built for Italian officials

Built in 1928 by the Italian architect Rodolfo Petracco it was originally a guest house for Italian officials. Kos, like most in the Dodecanese chain, has a lengthy history of conquest and occupation. The island belonged to Italy from 1912 until 1945.

Entry and reception area at Albergo Gelsomino

A restoration project some 90 years later and the Albergo opened as a small hotel on Kos Town's beach. Its waterfront location is an easy walk into Kos Town's historic area and to the ferry dock. It overlooks the  Aegean Sea.

Welcome drink at the Albergo

We arrived looking rather disheveled after disembarking the overnight ferry shortly before 7 a.m. Not quite the elegant entrance one might want to make, but staff members made us welcome by inviting us to enjoy the plush patio area. A welcome drink (fresh fruit juices and cherry soda, that tasted as good as it looked) was sipped while they readied our room.  

Albergo Gelsomino - Kos Island

My photos don't do justice to the hotel and its setting. We were in complete sensor overload. No place has so drenched us in 'Mediterranean ambiance' while offering a dash of  Great Gatsby-era  nostalgia. We were reminded of the words of a well- traveled and wise friend who once told us that 'the more you travel, the more it takes to impress you'. We often quote her when something falls short of our expectations, as well as when something 'knocks our socks off', as was the case with the Albergo Gelsomino.

An easy walk to and from the ferry

While singing the praises of the Albergo, I'd be remiss to not mention the food. Our room rate included breakfast. Each day began with a feast. So good was the breakfast that we tried dinner. Dinner was such a culinary joy that we ate there two of our three nights (we made ourselves try some place else one night). They often offer Michelin-starred guest chef dinners here, but frankly their own chef was so good, it felt like a Michelin-starred experience.

Honey-drenched French toast

Kos Island

Lonely Planet guidebook says it best when describing this island of some 33,000 people:

 'Kos is an island of endless surprises and varied treasures.. . .One moment you can be dining in a rustic mountain tavern, the next you find yourself in a busy cosmopolitan cafe - there really is something for everyone.'

More than a million visitors annually come to this island which sports a new airport serving 10 airlines. Ferry passengers arrive daily. While many visitors prefer the island's smaller towns or secluded beach resorts, we liked the city vibes of Kos Town, a city of about 14,000.

A beach - like so many on Kos - is white-sand perfect.

We explored the island by rented car one day and found that the guide book's claim of having some of the finest beaches found in the Dodecanese seemed accurate. The white sand beaches were stunning. But three nights on the island simply wasn't enough time to explore all its historic sites or to visit all of its wineries, and its beaches. We spent hours strolling the tree-lined streets of Old Kos Town, and its bustling harbor area but still have so many bits of history to explore there. We can see why visitors return time and time again.

Kos, a stone's throw from Bodrum

Tracing its history alone could fill several days. The island has been inhabited for so long that its history includes sending 30 ships to the Trojan War.

Hippocrates (460 - 377BC) was born and lived on this island.  A plateia (plaza) near our hotel is said to have been where he taught his students. After his death the Sanctuary of Asclepius and a medical school were built outside Kos Town. There his teachings continued. Today the site is a very popular tourist destination. . . one we didn't make it to during the first trip.  And another reason to return soon!

Morning view from our room at the Albergo

Summer has arrived in Greece - as have the tourists. COVID regulations have been relaxed, travel is much easier these days. So we will be setting off again soon for more island exploration, a return to Kos as well as visiting other Dodecanese islands.  I'll tell you about them in coming weeks - hope you will be back for more Greek 'ferry tales'. Until then safe travels to you and yours ~ and thanks for your time today.

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Monday, May 30, 2022

Where doctors still make house calls!

My post title refers to our expat world; the world of the rural Greek Peloponnese. 

It is a world where doctors still make house calls. 

And because some of the questions we are most often asked by expat wannabe's, travelers heading this way, and others who are curious about life here concern health care, I thought I'd tell you a bit about it:

A house call in rural Greece

I begin with a  Facebook posts by Dr. Anargiros D. Mariolis, --pictured in the photo above  --  about a house call he had made earlier this month. His purpose was to feature the patient, not the fact he had made the house call, by the way.  

What he wrote: 

A different kind of day... grandmother has never visited the Areopoli Health Center and does not receive any medication. Whenever she has asked for help, we have visited her at her own place (on top of a beautiful mountain).
Grandma, I will always be by your side.
You are a modern day heroine of Mani.
Thank you so much because from the steep rock you have been living all these years, teaching life lessons.

The medical facility where he works and the area he serves is about 40 minutes to our south.  It is an area of The Mani that still feels remote and vast. The landscape is harsh and unforgiving; the population scant.  The town of Areopoli where the facility is located is named for the ancient Greek god of war. It was the place the Greek War of Independence began in 1821. Its Health Center is renown for its service.

Landscape near Areopoli - a vast, empty land

However, this personal, caring approach to health care isn't limited to this area. We, who live north of here, also have experienced this same personalized approach to caregiving. It is a startling contrast to  the highly computerized, non-personalized world of health care that we knew in the Seattle suburbs. It often reminds us of the American television character, 'Dr. Marcus Welby'  back in the early 1970's. He was that gentle, caring doctor who won viewers hearts, just as real-life health care professionals are winning ours here.

I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you that Dr. Mariolis was recognized last year by WONCA, the World Organization of Family Doctors, an organization of 500,000 family doctors representing some 131 countries. He was awarded  the WONCA Global Five Star Doctor Award in 2021 for 'his excellence as a care provider, a decision maker, a communicator, a community leader and a manager'.

In the Matter of House Calls

Our village, Agios Nikolaos

One of our favorite 'newbie' stories from our early days at our Stone House on the Hill stems from a visit to our Agios Nikolaos village health clinic 'to check it out'.  All the staff members on duty came to greet us and during the course of introductions they told us to call before coming in, just to make sure the doctor on duty was there as it could be he/she would be out on a house call.  At the time we were dumbstruck at the idea of a doctor really making house calls. 

It was during that same visit we asked about how an ambulance would know where to find us should we call needing an urgent response. The receptionist asked where our home was located and after we described it, she told us not to worry: "I drive the ambulance and I know exactly where you are!"

The Stone House on the Hill

Last year I visited our area's general practitioner, Dr. Sophia (everyone calls her by her first name). She prescribed some medicine and she told me to return the following week. She assured me there would be no charge for the second visit - the first had only been 40 euros ($43US) -- but she cautioned, "Just drop by when you can but call first to make sure I am not out on a house call."

Kalamata street scene

A friend in the village recently had knee replacement surgery in Athens.. It was performed by an orthopedic surgeon who has an office in Kalamata, our area's metropolitan big city, an hour's drive away. In the two weeks that our friend has been home he's had a couple of house calls from his doctor who didn't want him making the trek to the doctor's office.

Humanizing Health Care

Kalamata, Greek Peloponnese

It isn't just house calls that make 'health care' different, it is the entire system of delivery.  We recently decided to have long overdue colonoscopies done by a gastroenterologist in Kalamata, who'd come highly recommended by expat friends.  

We dropped by the doctor's office saying we'd like to schedule appointments (imagine dropping by to schedule something back in the US!) and was told the doctor would call us that evening to discuss them (again, imagine that!). Sure enough, at the appointed 6 pm the doctor called. The appointments were made for two weeks later - no questions about health insurance or payment.

Street scene Kalamata

On the appointed day we appeared at the doctor's office where the procedures are performed. We were checked in together (none of that patient privacy stuff here) and as the doctor walked past he quipped in perfect English, "Who is my next victim?"   

We then met with him where he explained what the procedure would involve. He had three attendants, two nurses and one anesthesiologist.  Hooked to a heart monitor and given oxygen the procedure took about 20 minutes. Following a 30-minute rest, we -- again together -- met with the doctor to review the findings (photos displayed on his computer screen) as he explained what he had seen.  He explained that he'd removed two polyps from each of us which would be sent to Athens for biopsies. 

The cost of the procedure was 130 euros ($140US) each. The biopsies were another 50 euros ($54US) each. The procedure cost range for a colonoscopy at our Washington State Health Care provider is $1,500 - $4,500.

We received a call at 9 pm (still considered afternoon in Greece) 12 days later to tell us the results were negative.  We still need to go by the office and pick up a copy of the results - as here, the patient keeps those records.

And COVID Care. . . 

Winter brings light snow to the Taygetos near us

In February The Scout caught a cold . . .or so we thought because two lab administered rapid tests showed negative results for COVID. So, it was off to Dr. Sophia's that we went on that winter morning for a prescription for 'cold medicine'. She first administered a rapid test and he tested positive which prompted her to send us both to the medical lab down the road and for full-blown PCR tests, even though I had no symptoms.  She admonished us to tell the lab to 'go deep' on the test they administered. 

After getting the test results we were to call her but if his condition worsened before that we were to call immediately. Her business cards include her mobile number and home number.

PCR testing in our village 

Now our village laboratory is a clean, modern facility that adhered to the strictest COVID protocols which meant they came out to the car and administered tests through the open window.  We had been in many times for these tests for travel so were familiar with the technician who came out to greet us.

The Scout said, "We are the Smiths and we need two PCR tests." The technician flashed the big smile for which she is famous and said, "Yes, I knew you were coming - Dr. Sophia just called and she said she had sent you and that I need to 'go deep'!"  She did as she had been told (use your imagination). We tested positive.

Facebook Friends with my doctor and dentist- imagine that?!

Dr. Sophia participates in Clean Mani events

Another advantage of living in a small rural area is that you can be friends with your health care professionals.  Both our Dr. Sophia and our dentist, Dr. Joanna, in the village are Facebook friends of mine as they are with dozens of other patients of theirs in the village. Our Dr. Sophia is a leader in the environmental efforts here and it wouldn't be unusual to find ourselves out cleaning a beach with her. 

Being FB friends does give another avenue of communication. When scheduling an appointment with Dr. Joanna she first asked for a phone number and then said, 'Oh, never mind, if I need to reach you I'll send a message on Messenger!'  

How curiously refreshing to have a health care provider know us as who we are! No longer must we recite birth dates or other identifying numbers when we appear for an appointment.

Health care had been a major consideration when we made the move to Greece. And as with countries everywhere health care varies by region.  We feel particularly lucky to have landed in this area - where doctors still make house calls!

Sunset from our house

We hope this finds you well and send wishes for safe travels where ever you might be heading. We just returned from an island adventure and that will be the next topic I write about - hope you are back with us and bring a friend or two along!

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 Through My Lens

Friday, May 13, 2022

Living a Mediterranean Lifestyle

There really is a 'Mediterranean Lifestyle' and it has taken me until now to realize that we really are  living it!

Sailing under the Mediterranean Sun

Now, I am not sure I would have believed that lifestyles could be so different until we moved to Greece from our home in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, but I can assure you that our lifestyle here is a far different one than it was there. 

 Hydra Island - a place to relax

The Mediterranean lifestyle has been described as one in which we 'more consciously take our time' with all things; one in which we never complete all tasks at once. We find that being retired fits that same description and lends itself well to this new expat lifestyle in the Mediterranean region.  

As many of you know from my earlier writings, the seeds of living a Mediterranean lifestyle were planted way back when I first saw the 1964 Walt Disney movie, 'The Moon-Spinners' which was set in Greece.

Back then I only dared hope to visit Greece one day, I certainly never dreamed of living a Mediterranean lifestyle! That would have been simply beyond imagination.  

Now that we are living it, one of the nicest things about it is that everyone lives it somewhat differently. There are no set rules and guidelines. Yet, while researching this post, I laughed out loud when I found that someone has actually written a how-to-do-it- guide titled, 'Mediterranean Lifestyle for Dummies'.

Really? Do we need guidelines?

Now, really! You  don't need someone telling you how live your life once you've been inspired to strike out and live a bit differently.  I've found that a far better source guidance, at least a source of inspiration, is The Mediterranean Lifestyle Magazine, TML,  for short, as it is filled with travel, culinary and lifestyle inspiration to make you feel like you are here even if you aren't. (Being totally transparent: I do contribute articles to the publication, but I was reading it long before I was writing for them).

In fact, I think the editors, Elena and Melisa Koyunseven, have pretty much summed up our life in Greece with their Seven Principles of the Mediterranean Lifestyle: 

TML 7 principles of the Mediterranean Lifestyle

1. Eat healthily

Roadside fruit stand in early March

With an abundance of olive oil, fresh fruit, nuts and vegetables at our fingertips, literally year-round, it is easy to eat healthily in Greece.  

Fresh fruit and vegetables combine in this salad

One misconception about Greek eating is that we have a diet rich in seafood. We don't. Fish is scarce and can be costly.  Friends dining at a new taverna in the village had one member of their party order the 'fish of the day' for her meal without asking about weight or price. They were flabbergasted when the waiter brought a 2.3 kilo, or 5 pound fish on a platter and the cost for that fish was 200 euros!

Our friend, Captain Antonis and The Scout 

Thankfully we live in a fishing village and have other restaurant choices for less expensive fish, but still don't order it often. We seldom cook it at home.  Recently though we received a generous gift of an Amberjack Tuna from one of our fisherman friends, Captain Antonis.  And that made a most tasty meal.

2. Spend time with family and friends

The Scout with two of our four fur-kids

As expats we've made numerous new friends and have created a fur-family at our Stone House on the Hill. And we find time spent with family and friends is simply happiness on earth.

Friends gather for Easter dinner

Seldom does a week go by that we haven't joined friends for dinner, drinks or coffee somewhere in the village.  It seems easier - more spontaneous than in our other world - to get together, and once together we may spend hours together.  Life is less structured, less formal and moves at a much slower pace here so no need to rush through meals or get-togethers.

3. Find More Time to Relax

Princess demonstrates relaxation techniques

Again we turn to our four-footed family members as role-models in relaxation.  We follow suit as a day without a nap -- or at least an hour or two lazing around reading a book -- is almost unheard of  in this lifestyle. And we never fail to pause and enjoy our surroundings - after all, that is why we moved here!

Pausing to enjoy our surroundings

4.  Laugh often

Selfies on a walk home from the village - instant laughter

This is such an easy principle and expat life is conducive to laughing: at ourselves and our bloopers, at the difficulties of understanding a different culture, for so many reasons, and sometimes just because we are having such a good time!

Expat stories always good for laughter

5. Enjoy Life and the Simple Things in Life

These two are village harbor icons 

A morning stroll to the village, an errand that turns into an outing, watching day-to-day routines in the village ~ all add up to simple pleasures and make for a most enjoyable life.

Finding a small fresco tucked away in a church wall

6. Be Productive

Springtime trimming burn in the olive grove

Growing olives has definitely kept us productive - but we also participate in a number of volunteer activities that help the community, keep us involved in local life and assure that we are leading a somewhat productive existence here - perhaps, even more so than we were doing in our other life.

American expats impromptu beach cleanup

7. Stay physically active

Olive harvest day - off to the press to become oil

The rural lifestyle here offers endless opportunities for hiking, walking, biking, swimming and other outdoor activities. Also working in the garden and the grove definitely keeps us physically active. Olive harvest is a workout - don't ever let anyone tell you differently!

Hikes on the kalderimi - great exercise!

We often say we feel younger, maybe even more alive living where we do and being a part of this rural slice of the Greek Peloponnese.  The Mediterranean lifestyle agrees with us ~ 

How about you? Are you living the Mediterranean lifestyle where you live? How would you describe your lifestyle? Tell us in the comments below or send us an email. 

As always, thanks for being with us today and hope to see you back again soon.  And to our new subscribers, many thanks for signing up - it is great to have you with us!

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Monday, April 25, 2022

Greek Easter ~ Back to Normal

 Easter, or Pascha, as it is called here in Greece, has finally returned with all its splendor!

I am writing on Easter Monday, the final day of nearly a week-long celebration and religious observance in our adopted country.  The week is called Megali Evdomada (Holy Week, or literally, the Big Week). 

Epitaphios, Agios Nikolaos

And what a week it has been! Why, it was . . .back to normal!  And I hate to admit it, but we had almost forgotten what a normal Easter week is like here.

In case you think I have my week's mixed up, we celebrate Orthodox Easter in Greece so the date fell a week later than Easter celebrated by other religions this year.

Our village, Agios Nikolaos, Peloponnnes

 After a two-year absence due to 2020's Covid lockdowns and last year's subsequent precautions, the magnitude of the celebrations was evident in every part of the country. Ferries, trains, planes and highways have been jam-packed since Thursday as urban dwellers headed to ancestral homes. Being a celebration even larger than Christmas, Easter is a 'together time' here and finally family and friends could be together.  

Traditions Return

Shopping needs to be done early in Easter Week

We've been expats in the Peloponnese long enough to know that any business transactions or work that needs to be done, should be completed by Wednesday of Easter week as that is the day businesses begin closing for the weekend. The observances of  the holiday are taken very seriously here; a country in which 10 million are of the Orthodox religion.

By Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday the food preparations have begun and the religious ceremonies are underway.  

Epitaphios - Kardamyli on the highway 

Good Friday - a day filled with the somber ringing of church bells - is marked by  church services and processionals through cities and towns in the evening. The flower-covered, canopied Epitaphios, similar to a funeral bier, is carried through the streets following a service in the church. It is a somber, moving processional. A Greek friend nailed it when she said, 'Even if you don't believe in anything, you will be touched.' 

Good Friday - a somber celebration

The Easter service celebrating the Resurrection takes place Saturday evening, near midnight.  Candles are lit and the call, 'Cristos Anesti' (Christ is Risen) rings out.  It is a greeting that continues throughout the holiday weekend as that is how you greet friends and acquaintances. They reply, 'Alithos Anesti!' (Truly, He is Risen). 

Candles are lit - fireworks erupts over the harbor

The Holy Flame from which these candles are symbolically lit comes from the Holy Fire, a miracle that occurs at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem every year on Holy Saturday. A portion of that Fire is quite literally transported by plane from there to Athens where it is further divided and sent on planes to destinations within the country to be used in the Saturday night ceremonies. I couldn't help but chuckle when I read news reports that the flame arrived two hours late this year - due to Covid protocols prior to takeoff. That pesky Covid continues to make itself known!

Breaking the Fast

Our Easter feast is roasting

Sunday is feast day throughout the land as it officially ends the 40-day Lenten fasting. It is on this day families and friends fill restaurants to overflowing or gather for traditional lamb roasting and feasting in private homes. We've celebrated the day at restaurants in the past BC (Before Covid) but this year were treated to experiencing the event at the home of friends. The gathering included Greeks, English, Americans and Swiss.

By mid-morning the lamb had gone onto the spit. For those wondering why Greeks always roast a lamb it is because it represents Christ, the Holy Lamb of God.

Red-dyed eggs an Easter tradition in Greece

We had Greek music and Greek dancing (lessons for many of us, myself included), we broke the traditional red-dyed eggs, which symbolize the blood of Christ and the cracking of shells, His Resurrection. 

An Easter feast to remember

We ate home-cooked cheese pies, stuffed, roasted peppers, oven-roasted potatoes, tzatziki, beet salad, cheeses, breads and desserts too many to list.

The Weather Gods shown down on the celebration with temperatures in the high 70's, and blue skies overhead.

Reports from all sectors are that Greece is learning to live with Covid (it helps that our case numbers are dropping dramatically). If this is learning to live with it, I am all for it!

A gathering of family and friends on Easter

I often hashtag posts about life in Greece on Instagram and Facebook as #blessed.  Some days bring that feeling to life more strongly than others.  Easter this year, I believe, has made us all feel blessed and most thankful that Greece is righting itself after the Covid upset, and that we are able to gather with friends and family once again! 

That is it for this week.  We send wishes for safe travels to you and yours. And a big welcome to our new subscribers! Thanks for your time with us today.  Hope to see you next week - bring a friend or two with you!

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