Monday, January 20, 2020

Expat Life: When Death Came to the Village

Death, as the saying goes, doesn't take a holiday. It's a statement that became painfully true this year as death came not once, but twice, to our village in the weeks surrounding the holidays.

Our village, Agios Nikolaos
Death first came calling a few weeks before Christmas. On that visit it took a member of the local British expat community; a lady who had fought a valiant fight against cancer for many years. Although her friends were somewhat prepared for her passing, their sadness was palpable when they lost her.

Coffee with Marti a favorite pastime, often shared with our visitors, like Mary

My friend Marti and I were enjoying one of our regular and favorite pastimes - having coffee and a visit at our local taverna - when we learned of the long-time English resident's passing. She'd been a much loved and vibrant member of the community. Neither of us knew her well but were taken with the impact she'd had in the small village and the numbers of people grieving her loss. We spoke of the special person she must have been and of how much the village mourned her passing.

Our cat Princess and Marti

When death returned a second time, it landed a sucker punch on the village. The new year was barely into its second day, when death claimed my friend, Marti.

There was no time to prepare for Marti's passing. She was ill and a few days later she was gone.

With Marti's passing we lost another beloved member of the expat community and village. She'd been another vibrant, caring, person who gave of her time and talents as freely as she did of her smile and love.

Agios Nikolaos

Again, the sense of loss was palpable. This time, though, we were experiencing it up close and personal. For days I found myself -- whether in a grocery store, taverna, restaurant or middle of the street -- being wrapped in the arms of Greek and expat friends as we unabashedly shed tears together over the loss of our friend.

Marti and Me toasting springtime in Greece
Many of you who hadn't met her in person have told me that you felt you knew her through my tales told here. Others 'knew' her from my Facebook posts about our adventures living as expats in a rural area of Greece's Peloponnese. Many of you were lucky enough to have met her on your visits to our area.

As way of background for those new to TravelnWrite, we are among a couple dozen American and a few hundred British and Northern European 'boomers' who have chosen to live in this small rural community in The Mani as expats. 

Expats From Kirkland, Washington to Agios Nikolaos

It was after Marti and her husband, Chuck, friends from the Pacific Northwest, paid us a visit in 2015 that they decided to try out expat life in Greece as well.  They quickly became involved and known in the village. They volunteered for tasks when needed, whether organizing fundraisers for homeless animals or doing beach cleanup. Her garden was the envy of all. She was our gardening expert - the 'go to person' when we had questions and problems. Her baking and desserts were favorites at fund-raising dinners.

The Village Responds

Since our respective moves to rural Greece, we four expats from Washington State have had good friends back home worrying about us being 'alone' in Greece. Frankly, before we moved to Greece, I had worried about the 'what ifs' of dealing with a serious health issue or death while we were there. And Marti and I spent many a coffee session discussing those same 'what if's'.

American expats socializing with our attorney/friend Voula last fall

But after our experiences in the last two weeks, I have been able to assure those back in the States that we are wrapped in a world of friends who are warm and caring. We are definitely not alone. My frets over the 'what if's' have been filed away.

From the moment news of Marti's passing traveled through our community the offers for help started arriving: whatever needed to be done, was simply done. Quickly and efficiently.

And now, some two weeks later, the caring continues. Expats and locals alike reaching out to offer tangible support like preparing food, to the intangibles like 'just being there'. And the concern and offers of support are not only directed to Chuck; friends are checking on friends to see how they are doing as well and offering support if needed.

Agios Nikolaos

Just a few weeks ago in a retrospective piece, I wrote that 'we felt we had become part of our village in the Greek Peloponnese and it a part of us'.

I thought at the time that I had a articulated well, the way we felt about Agios Nikolaos, our small fishing village surrounded by olive groves on the Messinian Bay.

As it turns out, at the time I wrote those words, I had no understanding of the depth of that relationship at all. But I certainly do now.

From Agios Nikolaos the Messinian Bay

Again, thanks for the time you have spent with us today as I tell you of our expat life. We will be back next week with more tales of travel and adventures.  Until then, safe travels to you and yours ~

Linking this week with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday

Monday, January 6, 2020

In Greece January 6 ~ 'The Festival of Light'

'Kali Kronia!'  (Happy New Year!) 'Kronia Polli!'  (Many Years!) 'Kalimera!' (Good Moring!)

Agios Nikolaos - January 6, 2020

We were stopped often as we made our way down the main street of our Greek village this morning. We called out greetings, received greetings, shook hands, and kissed cheeks as we passed friends and neighbors who were gathering at harborside.

We were blessed with blue sky and sunshine
It seemed as if the whole village - from those whose family roots are generations deep to those new seedling expats in the area -- had turned out for the annual Blessing of the Waters.

This day, the sixth day of January, is commonly known in the Christian world as Epiphany or Three Kings Day.  In Greece it is a feast day (a national holiday, to be sure) called the 'festival of light' (ton foton in Greek) and the day that marks the official end to the Christmas holidays.

The papas and his processional
In the Greek Orthodox Church, Epiphany is celebrated as the revelation of Christ as the messiah and second person of the trinity, at his baptism by John the Baptist in the River Jordan, according to the Athens Centre. (Athens Centre offers classes in Modern Greek, poetry, art, and cultural events.)

Blessings are being offered in Greek
As part of the traditional celebration, the village papas (priest) offers a 'Blessing of the Waters.

In our fishing village, Agios Nikolaos, overlooking the Messinian Bay, the blessing is an event that can't be missed. Speaking of blessings, this year we were blessed by having some of the nicest weather that we've ever experienced at this celebration. In previous year's we've nearly frozen or been drenched with rain during the brief late morning ceremony.

Time to toss the Cross

We heard the church bells announcing this special day in the early morning hours. Their ringing echoed up the hillside to our Stone House on the Hill. They rang again later in the morning calling worshippers to the church. The third time their joyous clanging filled the air was as the papas and his procession brought the cross from the church to the harbor's edge.

One diver braves the cold water this year

Reciting a blessing he tossed the cross into the harbor and pulled it back, then he repeated his actions a second time. Meanwhile one young man brave enough to dive into the water to retrieve the cross, had stripped to his swim trunks and was ready to go in. ( In previous years several young men have braved the temperatures.)

Retrieving the Cross

The third toss - the crescendo of the blessing -- was made, the young swimmer jumped in, the crowd cheered as he retrieved the cross and swam to the papas to receive his blessing.

Refreshments are served!

Then it was time for refreshments. Platters of baked goods were brought out from nearby restaurants and tavernas.  The long tables at harborside, where the fishermen usually prepare, display and sell their daily catch, were turned into serving tables. Beverages ranged from tea to Metaxa, Greek brandy.

Agios Nikolaos on the Messinian Bay
It was over in just a few minutes, far less time than it took people to arrive and gather for it. But such a significant event that people here (like villages, towns and city's throughout the country), took a break in their day to bless the water. It is this type of celebration and these age-old traditions, that we adore about our Greek village life.

We thank you for being with us again this week and our fingers are crossed that Feedburner sends this post to your inbox as it did last week.  We appreciate the time you spend with us and again our wishes for a Happy New Year and happy adventures.  We will be back next week if all goes as planned from the tropical shores of Hawaii. Stay tuned - you never know what adventures we might have there.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

A Greek-Style Village Christmas

Living differently, as I refer to this expat life of ours in Greece's Peloponnese, means that holidays are also celebrated differently.

Christmas Morning downtown Agios Nikolaos

Christmas in our village of Agios Nikolaos (Saint Nicholas) is a laid-back sort of day, a delightful contrast to the rather fast-paced, often-stressed way we approached it in our Seattle suburb life.

Decorations here are minimal and retail outlets are few which means a dash for a last minute gift would take us to a hardware store, a meat store, a nursery, two gas stations or two grocery stores.

Decorations at Elli's - a favorite village restaurant of ours

There's a single light display draped over the main street into town. It spells out, Kronia Polla, meaning 'Good Year' (an all-occasion phrase in Greece, as it seems as it is used as greeting at every holiday but only displayed at Christmas).

Kala Christougenna, (Merry Christmas) has so many letters it would be too long to drape over that main street of ours; it is a narrow one that winds between the storefronts and harbor.

We do get a double-day holiday here because Dec. 26th, Boxing Day to our many British ex pat friends, is the Synaxis of the Mother of God in the Greek Orthodox religion.

Nine nations represented at our Christmas lunch

Both days were picture perfect. . .blue sky, sunshine, and just cool enough to need a jacket or sweater. 

Christmas cooking was limited to a dish to contribute to a buffet Christmas lunch at a neighbor's home. The group was comprised of expats all of whom live within a couple kilometers of us. We were the only Americans and our small gathering represented nine countries. And what a feast! It might be the best Christmas dinner we've ever eaten!

Boxing Day toast in Hades - Agios Nikolaos
Boxing Day was toasted with a group of our British expat friends at our local taverna, Hades.

Fig tree and ladder - village garden Christmas morning

We hope that whatever holiday you might be celebrating, if any at all, you are enjoying this week as much as we are in our Greek village.

Thank you so much for the time you've spent reading TravelnWrite this year and for recommending it to others.  Learning that you've sharing our tales is one of the greatest compliments we could have. (And thanks for your continued patience as we try to correct our defective email distribution service).  My one New Year's resolution is to rehab the blog with a distribution system that works! 

Happy New Year to you from The Scout and The Scribe! We'll be back in 2020 with more tales of travel and expat life for you ~ 

Linking soon with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday

Thursday, December 26, 2019

In Greece ~ The Gift of Time

'Five years', we agreed on that mid-December day -- the day we purchased our Stone House on the Hill in the Greek Peloponnese. 'We'll give it five years and if we don't like it or get too old, we'll move on to something else.'

The Stone House on the Hill

Can you believe we made that agreement five years ago!?

Five years. A rather safe and long distance away it had seemed on that pivotal week before Christmas when we took ownership of the house that would ultimately change the course of our lives.

Where did the time go? How did we cross the goal line so soon?

Five years. We hoped we would stay healthy and young enough in spirit to make it that long. Back then, moving here and becoming expats hadn't even been part of the discussion. Those were just life's dominoes waiting to be tipped as we made our way to today.

Buyers (us), sellers, attorney and realtor celebrate the sale of the house.

Time does change all things, as Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure so aptly concluded. It certainly has changed us and our world.  Looking back on this last half decade those changes were so subtle that we didn't realize as time passed how substantial they were.

Agios Nikolaos fishing harbor - our village
Those first couple years, in retrospect, it seemed we were playing house here. It all was so different that it just didn't seem real.  Although we were living here, we were still feeling a bit like tourists who observe and enjoy and then take their leave.

The Scout joins the other 'old boys' in checking out the produce for sale 
Somewhere along the way we become part of the village and it a part of us.  We still chuckle at a houseguest's remark that she felt as if she were in a parade each time we drove through town with all the waving we did and calling out to those we know.  We're pleased that over time we've grasped enough of the language to be able to call out a greeting, inquire as to how the person is and respond when the question is asked of us. We are no longer the grinning bobble heads we were when we first arrived.

Even if we devoted the rest of our lives to learning Greek, however, we wouldn't live long enough to master it.  But as our cache of words increases so do our conversations and relationships. 

Bloody Hell! We've got some great British ex pat friends here

Speaking of language, one unexpected bonus of the last five years is that thanks to our fellow British expats we are becoming multi-lingual! We find ourselves interjecting proper English words into our conversations: 

"Crikey! We are speaking with proper English these days. Bloody Hell, who'd have thought we'd do that?"

Takis, our olive oil processor and the Amerikani

While feeling a part of the village we are still often called 'the Amerikani' just because it is easier to identify us that way.  Usually it is said, 'Amerikani' with a toss of the head in the direction of the hill on which we live as that further identifies which Amerikani we are. There are still so few Yanks in the area that 'Amerikani' works for the dozen or so of us who make our homes here on a full or part-time basis. And part of the reason for the label in our case is that while most get. Jackie, they have a difficult time with saying Joel.

One of my favorite 'name' stories comes from a recent first-time visit to a popular dry cleaning business in Kalamata. The young man asked my name and I said, 'Smith, . . pausing and adding, 'Jackie' for further identification. He laughed and replied, 'No need, I remember you.'

No claim ticket or receipt was given so I expected much confusion when I returned the following week. I shouldn't have worried because as I walked through the doorway he called out, 'Kalimera (good morning) Smith!' and had my items on the counter by the time I got to it.

Every day is a lesson in culture and history around here

We've been and are being culturally immersed here. No classes, no research papers. No assignments. We are learning of the world around us just by interacting with the many people who make up our village world. 

 Generally the tradesmen here are Greek or Albanian - and we've come to know many as they make repairs or improvements to our Stone House on the Hill. As the years have passed we've gotten to know them as friends as well and know their families. It has been enriching to learn more about their countries and cultures just from the one-to-one association we have with them.

The expat world itself  is made up of a delightful mixture of cultures.  We gathered for Christmas buffet lunch at our friend's home just down the road and we could have been a committee of the United Nations! Our small gathering of folks, who live within a two kilometer radius of us, represented nine countries!

Stoupa village - new shops and restaurants AND tourists

Our five years have given us an up-close look at Greece's economic struggles and the country's emergence from it. While we know there are those still struggling in the country we are seeing our slice of Greece come to life with new shops and restaurants opening each spring. The Airbnb craze has hit with signs offering accommodations sprouting up along every road we travel. We even have one next door now! New home construction is going wild with nearly a dozen construction sites within a two mile radius of our home.

No More Goals - Just a Gift of Time

The Scout, The Scribe and their Stone House on the Hill
In retrospect, we probably gave ourselves the best Christmas gift ever when we bought this home because we gave ourselves that 'final fling' and in doing so, we gave ourselves the gift of time ~

Time to explore a new lifestyle together.
Time with old friends who come to visit; real time that is; not a rushed dinner or drinks conversation but the kind that continues for hours long into the night kind of visits.
Time for basking in the best of new cultures.
Time for making new friends and expanding our world in ways we never could have imagined.
Time to explore the world that exists on this side of the pond.
Time to stargaze and time to watch ocean waves.
Time to step away from the routines of our old life and try something new. . . before time got away from us and we found we were too old to do it.

A table with village view

We didn't set a new goal of 'another five years', as we toasted the first five.  Instead we asked ourselves,  'Do you think we'll make it another five years?'

As boomers having a 'final fling' (as we call this adventure), we know our advancing ages and health will be a factor. Our four plus months of being 'held' in Greece awaiting our residency renewal earlier this year, was a clear reminder that we are but guests in this adopted land. Government rules, immigration changes - so many things beyond our control -- could easily dictate the time we have left in Greece.

Nowadays when we are told by friends that they plan to visit 'one of these days', we think, 'That's fine, IF we are still here.'

For now we'll continue living that daydream and enjoying this final fling of ours on the hillside overlooking our slice of Greece.  It isn't tough duty! And if the next five years go as fast as the first, well, who knows how long we might be here?

The Stone House on the Hill - far right, up from the harbor

With that, we will close with wishes for a Happy New Year and thanks for being here with us as we celebrate another year of this adventure.

Before I close, the problems with blog's email distribution continues and I continue to tweak the program trying to fix it..  Should you get this in your inbox, please drop a quick note (just hit reply on the email) and let me know. I am putting together a makeshift distribution system to get me to the real fix the end of January when the blog will undergo a major overhaul.  Thanks to those who've contacted us to see what has become of us!

Linking soon with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Lost in Space

Somewhere between 'tossing toilet paper' and 'writing Greek wills' -- both topics on which I wrote this fall -- it appears our Travelnwrite became lost in space.

Lost in space, blogosphere-style, that is.

Lost in space - or the blogosphere

While I've been sitting in Greece writing blogs and pondering a recent drop in readership, apparently many of you were wondering if I had quit writing because the posts weren't arriving in your inbox as they had been.

Lost in space - blogosphere-style.

Space the final frontier or it is the blogosphere

I have to admit that it took until this week for the lightbulb to go off in this old boomer brain and realize something was seriously amiss. Those of you receiving the blog posts by email hadn't received any for weeks.  I'd been busy having fun with October houseguests, completing olive harvest and then jetting off to Hungary. . .so, I wasn't paying attention as I should have been to stats and other things that blog writers monitor.

Let me stop here for a moment to say, that one of the best parts of writing a blog is having so many friends as readers.  On the flip side, over the years many who began as readers of the blog have, over the years, become good friends.

And after having three reader/friends in a short period of time write us to ask about our well being as they hadn't gotten blog posts, I finally figured out there was a major malfunction going on. Thanks to those who wrote ~ you know who you are!

As a result you are now reading a 'test post'' as I've done some troubleshooting to see if I can fix the 'feed' (blog lingo for the distribution of emails to those who signed up to get them as emails).

Getting lost in space

Stop! Something is wrong - the light bulb went off

Looking back, our disappearance from the inboxes seems to eerily coincide with an unreal few but frustrating weeks when I found myself unable to get into the inner workings of my blog. In order to pay the annual fee I pay for use of the title, Travelnwrite, I had to get into my Google account.  If you don't pay by the deadline you lose your rights to your title and access to your blog.

You ever tried to reach a human at Google?

Through some miracle, I stumbled upon a real human named Matey.  All I had to do was to convince him that I really was me, author of Travelnwrite for the last decade. He and I talked on the phone and wrote numerous emails to each other on nearly a daily basis for several weeks.

But I couldn't find the documentation I needed to prove I was me. In the end I had to complete a security test - it took three tries before I provided what they were looking for (I won't bore you with details but let's say it was right up there with applying for a Greek residency permit on the high blood pressure barometer.)

Lost in space 

Finally just days before the title was set to expire, I convinced Matey and the Google Security Team (who'd become involved along the way) that I was me.
I got into my account.
I paid.
The domain Travelnwrite renewed.
I sighed with relief.
I began writing posts again. . .

They just didn't get emailed.

Today we will see if the distribution is working.

Hoping the lost in space has been found

In addition to emailing posts, we have some who follow the blog in their readers and I post them on my FB page as well as the Travelnwrite FB page.  So for those who've already read these, please bear with me while I provide links to those who didn't get them. Click the highlighted link for the article.

Heading to the olive press - another harvest in the history book

In November I told you about this year's olive harvest at The Stone House on the Hill.

Then I wrote about being Hungary for adventure and heading to Budapest.

Yes! Me at a Christmas Market - Budapest

And of the joy in finally getting to visit a 
European Christmas Market

Budapest Noir - the city's darker side

Last week I looked at the dark side of that wonderful city in
Budapest Noir

I am signing off this post with a huge thanks to all of you who take the time to read Travelnwrite. Your time and interest means a lot! Let us hear from you if you have found this one in your inbox.

As always wishes for safe travels to you and yours ~


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...