Monday, June 10, 2024

A Song of Summer

It was early when I heard the soloist; the sun was just peeping over the hill behind us. With the temperature already in the hot zone as I sipped my first cup of coffee a few mornings ago, the sound of music was loud and clear.

Sunrise and the song of summer

In this afternoon's warm summer breeze, it seemed as if the olive tree branches swayed in time to the music; the song echoing across the grove, now sung with gusto by an entire choir. 

On both occasions I was hearing what I will forever consider 'the song of summer' and theme song to our expat life in Greece: 

A choir sings a summer song in surround sound

The song of summer is sung by the cicadas.

A Cicada Kalokairi 

Kalokairi is summer in Greece

Kalokairi is the Greek word for summer.  'Kalo', or 'kala' in Greek is 'good', so calling this bright, sunny season kalokairi makes absolute, perfect sense to me. (It is one of the few words I now have down pat in my fledgling Greek vocabulary).  

Kalokairi is such a happy, upbeat season that it seems only right that its arrival is announced by musicians who will continue their sizzling soundtrack until autumn takes over.

Residence permits - a ticket to the 'summer concert'

The song became our theme song back in early June 2017. It was then, upon receiving our first Greek residency permits, we could stay here as long as we wanted. Our time would no longer dictated by those tiresome 90-day Schengen Zone limits. Giddy with the newfound freedom, we agreed to extend that stay, just because we could! 

Instead of an actual date though, I told The Scout that I wanted to stay 'until the cicadas sing' to announce summer's arrival. Up until then, I'd missed these troubadours of summer.

Summer scenes in our world

Stay we did. Until the end of June. The cicadas had begun their summer serenade. And that's when those little critters' song became not only metaphor for the onset of summer but also for our seismic shift in life. We moved to Greece four months later.

Cicadas in Cultures

One thing we've learned since moving here is that pretty much everything we encounter in the modern-day world has some deep-seated roots in Greek history, culture and/or language. 

Cicadas, pronounced 'se-KAY-das' or 'se-KAH-das', are no exception.

Stories handed down from ancient Greeks tell of men who were so obsessed with singing that they forgot to eat and drink. They were turned into cicadas by the Muses and given the task of keeping tabs on which humans were showing proper reverence to the Muses, those goddesses of music, poetry and myth.

Cicadas important in Chinese history and culture 

Even in ancient China the cicadas represented 'rebirth'.  They certainly did for us that summer as we closed out our life in the United States and moved to Greece.  That was definitely a 'born again' into a new world and culture experience!

During the Han Dynasty (206BC - 220CE) amulets shaped like cicadas were placed on tongues of corps to symbolize rebirth and immortality. Cicadas in today's Feng Shui are powerful symbols of longevity and happiness; their image is used on jewelry and charms. I've not yet found any such amulets paying homage to them in Greece, but I'd certainly be wearing one if I ever do.

Sing it Again

Summer in our world - file photo 2021

I always feel grateful when I hear summer's song reverberating across the hillside on which we live. The song, once only a promise of what summer could be in Greece, now carries memories of the summers we've spent in this adopted world of ours. Now I can't imagine a summer without the cicadas' song playing in the background.  

Summer songs ring out in our Mani area of Greece

Along with the cicadas' song, other signs of summer are reminding us that the new season has arrived. Oleanders are brightening the landscapes with their white, pink and rose-colored blooms. The air is scented by the wild sage, and thyme scattered about gardens, groves and hillsides. 

Signs of summer in nearby Stoupa

Temperatures are hovering at 90F/32C with predictions of it reaching 100F/37C later this week. 
The water supply is at its usual low and fire danger is its usual high. Sunbeds are filling with sea and sun enthusiasts who have traveled here for a small dose of what we enjoy as everyday life. 

Summer sunsets at our house

All is good - ola kala - in our world.  Hope whatever season you are welcoming that all is good in your world as well. Safe travels to you and yours~ 

And in closing I want to give a 'shout out' to a group who we recently met while they were vacationing in the area.  Thanks for taking the time to come and introduce yourselves and tell us that you are readers of 'TravelnWrite' after you spotted us in the village - we hope to see you again on a return visit! .  

Thursday, May 30, 2024

The Tastes of Travel

'Do they like Greek food?' I asked her, as she was pondering a trip -- with two teenagers in tow -to visit us.  Admitting that she wasn't sure, she added, 'well, your village has a Burger King, doesn't it?' 

No Burger Kings here - thankfully!

Absolutely, not! I replied, perhaps a bit too emphatically.  No Burger King! No McDonalds! No KFC! No, there is nothing with the ring of U.S. chain fast food or drink within 150 miles of us!  

Pork gyro - Greek 'fast food'

And we hope that it stays that way!  

Hamburger and chips - Greek style

You can get a burger and fries here in Agios Nikolaos, or our neighboring villages and Kalamata, but the U.S. teens wouldn't recognize them as the same food they consume from a ubiquitous fast-food drive in. Here the burger is a thick patty of ground beef, and the potatoes are not frozen but fresh cut slices; not called 'fries' but 'chips' (which we Yanks attribute to the British influence). I might add that here 'chips', as in our U.S. vernacular, 'potato chips' are 'crisps.'

We have pizza and Italian cafes in the villages, but again, it isn't what the teens would recognize as a 'U.S. pizza'.

A Greek-style 'Greek salad' aka horiatiki salad here

In the late spring, summer and early fall we have so many Greek taverna and restaurant options that we often don't get to them all in a given season.  And when we have visitors from the States, we take them to as many eateries as we can fit in during their stay so that they can have a taste of Greece.

Pork chop - Greek style

Several tavernas, cafes and eateries close for the winter, but there are always enough remaining open to keep us supplied with souvlakis, pitas, or multi-course Greek meals.  We do love Greek food!  But sometimes we are hit with a difficult to explain, 'culinary wanderlust', which leaves us dreaming about foods such as sushi, paella, grilled salmon, nachos with guacamole. . .all the things we don't have nearby. 

This year, after a nine-month stretch of no travel outside the village, we began fantasizing about our favorite non-Greek flavors and I can honestly say that as result of that, 'eating' played a big role in selecting the cruise we recently took.

The Tastes of Travel

Admittedly, in large cities throughout Europe, including Athens, one can find a vast array of cuisines from around the world. In fact, we've even found a small Hawaiian poke joint not far from Athens Syntagma Square. 

So, it was with a self-confessed foodaholic enthusiasm that we awaited what I now think of as our floating food fest, the cruise that in April took us to Italy, France, Spain and Malta. We were ready for the tastes of travel.

The Wine Experience was a great experience

Our eat-a-thon began in Rome's port town, Civitavecchia. We adore this history-laden town and prefer staying here instead of Rome prior to a cruise. The location of our hotel put us an easy walk from several wine bars. We chose the 'Wine Experience'. And what an experience it was! The small plates - bread, tomatoes, meats, cheeses, potatoes - selected by the owner to pair with the red wine we were quaffing just kept coming until we finally had to declare, Basta! (enough!). 

A berry good breakfast

You might be surprised at how common place are many of the foods for which we were lusting.  This photo represents my favorite breakfast on the ship. Fresh berries. Bowls of fresh berries!  A bit of Muesli, with a serving of strawberries and one of blueberries or blackberries was enough to brighten the start of each day.  Strawberries can be had in our area of Greece, but the season is short. Blueberries, when you can find them, are like buying gold nuggets. Blackberries are simply in scant supply. 

Steak and lobster a standard menu item -eating it on the fantail

We don't eat much Greek beef unless it is served in a slow-cooked stifado (stew) type dish. Greek beef is lean, very lean, and steaks are definitely not the Argentine or USDA type.  So, to see steak on the menu each night of the cruise was sheer delight. 

Asian specialties in the ship's Red Ginger restaurant

However, with so many cuisines to try we found ourselves eating a world of flavors that included. . .Thai satay with peanut sauce, spring rolls, sushi and sashimi. . .

Spanish tapas were temptations on shore and ship

. . .and the Spanish tapas. . .both on shore and on the ship, as we couldn't resist.

Spain's Iberico ham was sliced and sold in cones along with Manchego cheese

We felt like kids in a candy store visiting the public/municipal markets in the port cities we visited. Each offered so many temptations that it was impossible to try them all.

Civitavecchia 'market day' is every day

 And then there were the stops for cappuccinos when we simply couldn't eat anymore. There is no better way to spend a bit of time in a new city than to sip a coffee and people-watch.  One of our favorite memories stems from when we hopped a train to Nice, France and arrived too early to indulge in a Salad Nicoise as planned, so we sipped a coffee and enjoyed a Sunday morning stop at a French brasserie. 

A brasserie for a taste of France

It also seemed that temptations were tucked into window displays everywhere these two foodies looked.  While in Arles, France I found this delightful looking chocolate cat. . .it could have been mine for a mere 42 euros! But it was so cute I'd have never eaten it nor at the price would I have bought it.

French chocolate cat sat in a window display

Our cruise ended in Malta, where we spent a night before flying back to Athens. Our final food fest fling was in an Italian restaurant. The island country of Malta is less than an hour by ferry from Sicily and the Italian influence on its gastronomy is evident. Mama Mia! What a pizza we had. . .but the waiter was disappointed as he couldn't understand how we could eat only half a pizza. Here people ordered whole pizzas for themselves. 

Mama Mia what a pizza!

Our taste buds were satiated. Our travel itch had been calmed by all the new sights we'd seen. Our cravings for food favorites had been curbed. New culinary discoveries had been consumed. It was a great trip!

We've been back a few weeks and found ourselves eager to introduce our recent houseguests to the flavors of Greece again. 

Greek meze plates - an array of tastes

How about you? Do you travel seeking to try new cuisine or do you search for your old favorites? Tell us about it in an email or the comments!   Bon Appetit and Kali Orexi, until the next time. . .

Friday, May 10, 2024

Both The Journey and the Destination

When it comes to cruising, it is as much about the journey as it is about the destinations. 

Approaching Ibiza

I was reminded of that on our recent western Mediterranean cruise as we sipped room-service-delivered, piping hot coffee each morning on the balcony of our cabin watching some new port of call come into view. 

Morning coffee brought to our room at no extra charge 

Those coffee deliveries rank high on my 'feeling pampered' list and are among the reasons I so like cruising. But I am usually so focused on the vastly differing destinations that we are heading to -- both new and old favorites -- that my tales focus on them and not the ship that gets us to them. Yet, with cruising, the ship and its amenities are as important as those ports of call. 

Onboard the Oceania Vista

Our Mediterranean cruise was a rather last-minute travel idea for us. We decided to take it only three weeks before the sailing. We can do that because among the pluses of expat life is the ease of getting to other European countries.  Getting from Athens to Civitavecchia, Italy from where the ship departed was a three-hour journey; two for the flight and an hour for the shuttle from the Rome airport.

We chose this cruise because it would take us to four countries in 10 days, giving us an introduction to some new places and a refresher course of others. We'd not have more than a day in any one place, but long enough to get a feel for it and decide if we would one day return for a longer stay. 

Oceania's Vista, our ship, barely a year old

Oceania's Vista ship, barely a year old, was repositioning back to the Mediterranean for its summer season from the Caribbean where it had sailed last winter. It is one of the larger ships in Oceania's fleet, accommodating1,200 passengers and a staff of 800 who hailed from 51 countries.

We selected the 10-day segment based on the ports of call, price and our previous experiences with the cruise line. Oceania and its new ship didn't disappoint. Our standard class stateroom was simply spacious. Suitcases were stored under the bed after clothes were put in the large closet and the room's many drawers. Another plus for cruising is that we unpack once. No hauling suitcases from city to city, through airports and train stations.  

Our floating home for 10 days

Its bathroom was as large as that of a luxury hotel and the shower was so large that it could have accommodated several people.

Our cruise was a segment of the longer repositioning cruise that had started in Miami, Florida. It ultimately ended in Trieste, Italy, several days after we departed the ship in Malta.  Many of our fellow cruisers had been on the ship since it left the United States and stayed on until Italy.

With nearly a week of sea days spent crossing the Atlantic, those cruisers had time to take advantage of the educational and enrichment activities on board: among them, brushing up on computer skills or creating art in a dedicated studio staffed by two Artists in Residence. Several took advantage of the large culinary arts center where one could sharpen culinary skills under the guidance of the chef. 

With a port of call each day we had no time to indulge in any enrichment pursuits on board. We had plenty of culture and history indoctrination with our explorations.

Entertainment options included performances by a string quartets, singers and pianists. Shows took place each night in the ship's theatre, lectures on ports of call were held, and late-night dancing and music was regularly offered. A casino opened for gaming as soon as the ship entered international waters. 

Sun seekers at pool side

For the sun seekers there was a pool, and hot tubs, running track, a putting green, and a popular bocce ball court.  

One of three rooms that make up the ship's library

One of the most impressive amenities (especially for us, who live in an area without English language bookstores or libraries) was the ship's expansive, three-room library located next to Barista's specialty coffee shop. It was one of the most beautiful -- and well stocked -- libraries that we've ever seen on a cruise ship.

Medical center on board - well equipped and staffed

Of course, since it played prominently in our cruise experience (see my last post), I must note, the ship also has a well-equipped and staffed medical center. While one never expects to need it, it was great having it there when we did. (Medical care is not provided without cost. A visit to the doctor was $150US, medicine an additional $30US.)

Formal dining room is but one of many dining options

'Wining and Dining' is always a highpoint of cruising for us, and we had more options than we knew what to do with on this ship.  

Sail away happy hour Livorno Italy

Specialty restaurants including a steakhouse, Asian and Italian, were available at no extra charge (other cruise lines do charge for the specialty offerings). The days of dressing up and heading to a big stuffy cavernous dining room are over on this cruise line.  We could choose when and where we ate, whether to join others or to eat by ourselves. Casual dining or formal dress was up to us.

The ship offered a 2-for-1 Happy Hour each evening in several of its lounges and bars that brought the per glass price of drinks down to a reasonable rate ($14 to $15 was the average per glass rate for wine on board). 

Morning in Malta

Cruising isn't for everyone. And it is good we don't all like the same modes of travel. But for us, it is an easy and cost-effective means of having an introduction to places that would require a lot of time, effort and planning to get to otherwise.  Sometimes, as in this case, it was a quick but comprehensive get-away.

Thanks for being with us again.  We hope wherever and however you are traveling this spring and summer that you will have smooth sailing ~ and that you'll be back with us again when I write about the need for the tastes of travel~

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Barcelona ~ The Tripping Point

One minute he was walking next to me. Then he wasn't. 

He was laying on the sidewalk. 

Las Ramblas - Barcelona

And not just any sidewalk, but one found in one of Barcelona's more famous areas, the tree-lined Las Ramblas. 

Elegant buildings line Las Ramblas

Las Ramblas, was laid out ages ago along the city's medieval wall. It is lined with stately buildings completed in the 18th century and is one of the more popular tourist destinations in this Spanish city; although its popularity is a bit diminished these days by the warnings issued to visitors about pickpockets and touts who roam the area.

Oceania Vista

Our stop in Barcelona was mid-point in the 10-day Oceania cruise we had begun in Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy.  We'd made two stops in Italy and two France on our way to Spain.  Those ports of call had been a delightful mix of ship-sponsored tours (two outings came as part of our cruise benefits) and taking off on our own, which is our favorite way to explore when cruising.

Approaching Cinque Terra

One of our ship's tours was a small boat trip from La Spezia to the Cinque Terra in Italy. . .

Garden at Van Gogh's asylum - a trip highlight

. . . another was a motorcoach tour from Marseille, France into Provence with a stop at Van Gogh's asylum just outside St. Remy.

A visit with friends and tour of Lucca, their expat home

In Italy's Livorno, we headed off on our own, catching a train to Lucca, where we had a delightful visit with American expat friends of ours who graciously spent the better part of a day showing us around their adopted city. 

Entrance to Nice's train station

We'd also hopped a train in France, again on our own, and traveled a short distance from Villefranche where we were docked to spend a delightful Sunday roaming the streets of Nice before catching the train back.

We'd opted to 'do' Barcelona on our own as well. We strolled the length of Las Ramblas in the morning, we spent time exploring neighborhoods and the Gothic Quarter and were making our way back to the ship's shuttle bus in the early afternoon via Las Ramblas when we hit. . .

The Tripping Point

The culprit was a curb. Plain and simple. 

An old curb that had been rounded and worn smooth by time and footsteps; the kind that has a surface as slick as ice.  And we watch for those things. Living in Greece we've been trained to recognize streets and sidewalk hazards. We know that centuries-old European cities have walking surfaces worn smooth over the ages. But The Scout was also keeping an eye on approaching cars as he stepped off the curb. . .and it took him but a moment to go from upright to lying flat on the sidewalk.

In retrospect, there are two good things about his fall. First, was the immediacy with which people came running to help. Could they help him up, could they summon an ambulance, could they stay with us? We were surrounded by willing helpers. Not like the US big cities where passersby often ignore pleas for help. We've seen time and again people offering help in European cities but this time we were on the receiving end of the kindness. 

Several men -- from nearby businesses and a couple of taxi drivers - helped him get to his feet.  Three young women in their late teens wanted to call an ambulance and wouldn't leave us until he demonstrated he was able to walk, if slowly, to the shuttle bus. One of the taxi drivers offered to drive us to a hospital.

The other good news was that he didn't break a hip, leg, arm or head.  

However, the bad news was that he cracked or broke a few ribs and bruised his sternum.  

Visiting The Ship's Medical Center

A cruise 'first' - the Medical Center

Over the last couple of decades we've taken many cruises, and we've been fortunate in never having seen the inside of any of the ships' medical centers. This was our introduction to that cruise ship amenity, and I am happy to say, this one was nothing short of amazing!

There were three patient rooms, one intensive care unit, two medical assistants and a doctor.  The medical center is equipped with defibrillators, external pacemakers, pulse oximeters, an ECG, thrombolytics and lab equipment.  

"We even have a morgue," noted the doctor as he pointed to a door off to the side of the reception area. 

Modern well-equipped medical center on Oceania's Vista

The Scout was examined and prescribed some heavy-duty pain pills.  The doctor offered to make on shore hospital referral that day or subsequent day if symptoms worsened. (They didn't).

Smooth Sailing

Climb every fortress - Ibiza our last stop

The Scout
wasn't about to miss out on the remaining ports of call, and we logged almost as many steps with each stop after his tumble as we had before - and that equates to several miles of walking each day.  

This promenade was flat in Alicante, Spain 

The cruise segment ended in Valletta, Malta. We'd sailed some 1,837 nautical miles around the Mediterranean. We spent a day and night in Valletta. The shortest distance we traveled was 85 nautical miles between Livorno and La Spezia, Italy and the longest was 665 n.m. between Ibiza, Spain and Malta. The cruise segment we had booked was part of a cruise that had started in Miami, Florida and would end after another 10-day segment in Trieste, Italy. Several hundred passengers were doing the full 35-day trip.

Setting sail from Ibiza, Spain 

We've been back in Greece for a week now. And Greek Orthodox Easter Week is upon us. The Scout is still moving gingerly.  We've reapplied for our residency permits so no more travel or cruises outside of Greece for a while.  But we've got some great memories and other stories from the cruise that I will be telling you about in the next post.  

Until then safe travels to you and yours, watch those 'tripping points'!


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