Monday, May 10, 2021

Greek Easter - A Giddy Sort of Week

 After so very long, we finally had cause to celebrate in Greece.  And even better, we were allowed to celebrate!

Pascha - Easter in Greece is not to be missed even with COVID

Megali Evdomada - the week between Palm Sunday and Pascha (Easter) is a time to celebrate rebirth. This year we were celebrating not only the rebirth of Christ but what feels like the rebirth - most certainly, the reopening -- of Greece itself. 

Church bells tell the Easter story

Traditionally this Holy Week is marked by church bells chiming with regularity, their peals heralding the days of Easter with dirges mourning Christ's death or upbeat peals of joy for His resurrection.  A year ago, the Easter bells were silenced by the country's first Covid lockdown. At the time none of us suspected it was only the first multi-month lockdown and that the second would drag on until it was a few days short of lasting six months.

Church bells rang out during Easter Week

On Maundy Thursday, the church bells began chiming. They rang again on Good Friday. While not a joyful peal because of the days in which they were commemorating it was a joy to hear them wafting across the water again as they had in year's before Covid. 

Greek Orthodox Easter Week was the last week of April this year with Easter falling on May2nd.

Easter Saturday night in the village

Although we are still in lockdown, the government allowed modified church services and Easter traditions to take place - a significant step in reopening the country. The next giant leap came Easter Monday when restaurants, bars, cafes and tavernas were allowed to reopen for outdoor seating, (distancing, masks and group size limitations are in place at all those establishments). We still text for permission to leave our homes and curfew is in place.

Nothing Short of 'Giddy"

Getting ready to open after six months closure

The excitement of the upcoming reopening of eateries and watering holes, combined with the celebration of Christ's Rebirth brought the village to life last weekend. Painting of storefronts, setting up of outdoor tables and chairs under enormous umbrellas, planters being filled with colorful blooms, . . .well, to be honest, there was just a plain old 'giddy' attitude among us all.  

Easter Saturday fireworks

Easter Saturday is one of the biggest nights in Greece -- the night when church services throughout the country concluded with the glad ringing of the church bells and candles are lit and the proclamation, 'Christos Anesti!' "Christ's Resurrection!" rings out from those gathered.  

Usually held at midnight, this year took place at 9 pm as we still have a late night curfew in effect. Although not officially open until Monday, tavernas along the harbor allowed those coming for the service, the fireworks and festivities to sit -- socially distanced, of course -- but it felt so almost 'like normal'.

Hot Air Balloons an Easter tradition

We watched small groups of teenagers sharing whatever it is they share on mobile phones these days, their heads bent over the small illuminated screens. We watched younger kids racing through the parking lots.

Adults were lighting and launching hot air balloons, a tradition at Easter.  We watched others walk towards the church where the evening service was getting underway.  In previous years so many people attended the service that it has been held outside the village pharmacy so that crowds filled the streets. Not this year, as all services were confined to the church yard. 

Friends pause for a photo after candle-lighting

The candles were lit at the conclusion of the service, calls of  "Christos Anesti!" rang out, fireworks exploded over the harbor. 

There have been bigger crowds and celebrations and there will likely be bigger ones again in the future.  But after a somewhat bleak and very long lockdown, for the couple hundred people that had come to the village, this was definitely a night of celebration. 

What's Next for Greece?

Restaurants are reopen - a big step towards normal

Major international media outlets have been announcing that Greece reopens to tourists from around the world this coming weekend, May 14/15. (Proof of vaccinations and/or negative tests are still being bantered about as requirements to avoid a quarantine. And arrivals will be subject to random testing as well). But at least the country is putting back the welcome mat they rolled up more than a year ago.

However, Greek media has been speculating that we who live here may still have some restricted movements, need to seek permission for movement (those SMS/text messages to the government) and other constraints. The Covid counts remain high in some areas.  

Cafes along the harbor in Agios Nikolaos are open again!

Others speculate that once the gates open, they will be open for all.  We are hedging our bets and making plans to travel as soon as it is allowed. You might just say we are continuing that giddy attitude, just thinking about the possibilities.  At this point your guess about what will happen is as good as ours. . .we'll answer this cliffhanger in our next post!

Our thanks for the time you spent with us and our wishes for a 'giddy sort of week' for you and yours! Hope you will be back with us next week!

Linking soon with:

Through My Lens
Travel Tuesday
Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday

Monday, April 26, 2021

Hydra's Drifters and Dreamers

They came to the island because they were dreamers and drifters; artists who set up residences more than a half century ago on this small island in the Aegean Sea. They came because they wanted to 'live differently' - far from the conventional lives they'd left behind. 

An island getaway in the Aegean Sea

"Living differently" is a phrase I often use when trying to explain why the expat life appeals to so many of us.  It is a life that has drawn those who want more life and cultural experiences than that which our former lives afforded us. 

The fishing boats are in!

But this post isn't about our expat world. It is about a group of writers and artists who made up a Bohemian expat world back in the mid-20th Century; those who lived and whose creative spirits were inspired on the island of Hydra, one of the Saronic islands, just off the coast of the Peloponnese. Back then it offered an escape to the 'exotic' at prices that could be paid by struggling artists. 

Hydra scenes

Regulars at Travelnwrite know that we are among the present day dreamers and drifters who are drawn back time and time again to Hydra, only 25 minutes from the mainland by water taxi.  I'd like to say it was the spirits of those long ago Bohemians that call out and inspire us to return, but in fact, I knew little of these free spirits until I began writing an article about the island for The Mediterranean Lifestyle magazine.

Hydra Town - and harbor

So interesting were the lives of these creative souls -- some who would become quite famous in the  visual arts, musical and literary worlds - that I found myself enjoying the researching them as much as I did writing their story. Their presence is an important piece of the island's history. And I am purposely not naming them in this piece so that you'll be tempted to follow the link below and read the article I wrote.

Nightime Magic on Hydra

When we return (hopefully this year after lockdown ends) I will be seeing the island differently, thanks to the stories of these adventurers and early day expats in Greece.  For those who aren't only a road trip away as we are, I hope you will follow this link and take a quick armchair getaway to a Greek island in the sun: Hydra, A Bohemian Escape

From The Mediterranean Lifestyle magazine

And for those who want even more of a getaway, both in time and place, I highly recommend the book written by one of those Bohemians about life on the island of Hydra in the 1950's. It has just been re-released and makes for a great summer read.

That's it for this week. I am keeping this post short as I hope you'll take a few minutes to read the article I wrote about this special island.

Kalo Pascha! Happy Easter!

It is Holy (Easter) Week in Greece, the week between Palm Sunday and Pascha (Easter). Because it is such a celebrated holiday here, the country will remain in lockdown until Easter Monday, May 3, in hopes that large gatherings of celebrants won't become super spreaders of Covid. On Monday restaurants will finally be able to reopen for outdoor dining and drinking. It will be a few days short of six months - we are all eagerly awaiting the gradual steps which will reopen our world. 

As always, thanks for the time you spend with us ~ Stay safe.

Linking sometime soon with:

Through My Lens
Travel Tuesday
Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday

Monday, April 19, 2021

Expats in Greece ~ Carpe-ing the Diem

 Carpe diem - seize the day! Make the most of your time.  

Agios Nikolaos - our village in the Greek Peloponnese

A fellow Pacific Northwest traveler and writer friend, a few weeks ago observed that The Scout and I had made the right decision in 'Carpe-ing the Diem', seizing the day. He was referring to our move to Greece back in 2017 for an expat adventure in the Peloponnese before age and health prevented us from doing so.

Greece remains in lockdown

His comment was coincidentally made on the one-year anniversary of our first lockdown in Greece, (after the World Health Organization proclaimed COVID-19 a full-blown pandemic in March 2020), and while we were back in Washington State for the first-time in more than a year.

Back in Washington - travel in time of Covid

His observation has remained a little 'niggle' that surfaces every so often when I ponder if we really have been carpe-ing the diem or if we've sort of been lulled into complacency in this adventure by our seemingly endless Covid lockdowns. 

One of the reasons for living on this side 'of the pond' was to expand our travels and that certainly hasn't happened in the last year thanks to Covid limitations and in the year before as result of our residency permit renewal process that kept us in Greece.

Heading home to Greece

Many friends, both in Greece and the U.S., expressed surprise that we we came back to Greece after our month-long stay in our other world. Why would we leave a place where we could go anywhere we wanted, anytime we wanted (without texting for permission) and dine inside or outside restaurants, gather with friends. . .all the things we are still forbidden to do in Greece? 

Well, it just might be because we aren't yet done with this adventure. And really, in our minds, it isn't an adventure, it is simply a new place and new way of living. . .a good way to carpe those diems we still have left. 

A rather routine traffic jam in expat life

Our lifestyle in fact, really isn't that novel these days as the latest statistics show that we are among nine million Americans, a few hundred more than make up the population in the state of New Jersey, who are living as expats scattered about the world. 

We text for permission to leave our homes

Now that we are back in Greece and in our fifth month of our current hard lockdown - the second one in a year - I am looking at us with a more critical eye. I do think we have become somewhat complacent, maybe even numb, in our Greek village world.  

The village has literally become our world in recent months as travel restrictions keep us within our own municipality.  Our travel 'adventures' have become: Should we go to the grocery store AND get a cappuccino, (both allowed by texting '2' to the government) or save the 'to go' coffee until later in the week? Should we take the garbage to the community dumpsters now or wait a day to have another outing to which we could look forward? 

That daily humdrum was shaken up when we decided to go back to the States in March. Getting Covid vaccinations were high on our to do lists there and admittedly we -- like thousands of others -- are seeing the world a bit differently with the jabs completed. (Our expat friends here are still awaiting word of when they will be able to get shots here.)

So many places yet to visit. . .

While freedoms we enjoyed in the States were a great change of pace from here, it was really the trip to the States and back that got us thinking about the need to reactivate a quest for seizing each day.  Boarding an airplane, flying over countries that we want to visit someday, going through the motions of traveling again. . .that's what got us thinking, 'carpe diem!' 

The year that was and wasn't - Kardamyli beach

Luckily this year, that both was, and wasn't, as I prefer to think of it, may well be coming to an end.  Today permanent residents with roots in a number of other countries were allowed into this locked-down country without the need to quarantine if they can show either a negative Covid test or certificate of vaccination.  The removal of the quarantine restriction is a definite move forward.

Headlines tell us that French President Macron is talking with the White House about ways Americans will be allowed into France in coming weeks. In the Middle East Qatar Airlines is working on a type of vaccination passport.  Greek workers in the tourism sector are the next group slated to get vaccine here. 

There is not only a bit of light at the end of the tunnel, but the faintest of pulse beats as well. And that means only one thing: time to carpe diem!  

Greek islands that need to be visited. . .

It has been too long since we walked or drove aboard a Greek ferry and set off to explore new islands. That birthday trip to Morocco is now three year's delayed, and it is time to revisit those plans. And there was the talk of staying in a Bedouin camp somewhere in the Middle East last year and we can't overlook some of those cruises that were tempting us when the world seemed to quit spinning a year ago March. 

And we even have kicked the wheels in motion for some major changes at The Stone House on the Hill.  Yes, indeed, it is time we got back into the role for which we are known: carpe-ing the diem!

So how about you? How do you plan to seize the day as Covid releases its grip on your part of the world?  Leave a comment or drop us an email as we would love to hear from you! Thanks to all who responded to our call for comments on our last post!!

Our Covid world. . .not such a bad place!

Before I sign off this week bear with me as I have just a bit of 'blog housekeeping' to do:

I've been notified by Feedburner (the service that sends our this post as an email to many of you) that they will be discontinuing that service the first of July.  In the next few weeks I will be searching for a new 'distributor' and in a perfect world I will move you all to the new service with little disruption.  However I have a 'niggle' about this whole process so it could be a challenge. 

If posts suddenly disappear from your inboxes, please DO NOT assume I have quit writing the blog.  In the event you don't receive a post from me at least a couple times a month, please let me know by writing me at: or if you are on FB, send me a message there.  Many thanks in advance for your help and your patience!

I plan to be back in two weeks with a new travel tale and do hope you will be as well! In the meantime, carpe diem!

Linking soon with:

Through My Lens
Travel Tuesday
Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday

Friday, April 9, 2021

Travel to Greece ~ A Matter of Test and Time

We had 72 hours to get from Washington State to the arrival gate at Athens last week.  

The return trip back from our 'other world' turned out to be both a matter of test and time. 

Heading back to Greece

The time clock against which we were racing started the minute the swabs went up our noses for the PCR-Covid test and would stop when those results were presented to some official at the Athens Airport.

We'd returned to the U.S. Pacific Northwest as expats who had finally needed to address some deferred home-owning obligations and routine medical matters. We'd not been back in over a year - the longest we've ever been out of the country.  

We'd also given up waiting for vaccinations in Greece and had headed back to the States with getting vaccinated as the top priority on our list.  (Turns out that was a good thing as fellow expats haven't yet been allowed into the jab scheduling system in Greece.)

Last week, our 'to do' list was completed - it was time to return to our world in Greece. And it didn't take long for this White Knuckler to have far more things to fret about than keeping the plane in the air!

72 hours to make it with  time zones and overnight layers

As I mentioned in our last post, testing for Covid has become a major requirement of travel in this 'new normal' world. Unfortunately for the traveler, there is no uniform requirement for test report formats or timelines for obtaining the tests. Our trip illustrated that point well as there are very distinct rules for each of our country's, even though they seem very much alike at first glance!  

Greece's mandated negative test within 72 hours prior to arrival is much more daunting a timeline to meet when flying from the U.S. west coast than a test three calendar days before departure was when traveling to the U.S. 

PCR test in our Greek village

What that meant was: we could take the test at a lab in our Greek village on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday and depart for the U.S. from Athens Friday afternoon. Because of time zones changes we arrived in Seattle the next day, Saturday, which was the same day we flew out of Dubai, (our connecting city). Three days were no problem.

Entering Greece with test  results obtained within 72 hours was a much higher hurdle: We lost a day, thanks to those time zones and Greece is 10 hours ahead of the U.S. West Coast.  That meant if we had the test on Tuesday at 8 the U.S, we had to be back in Greece by 6 p.m. Friday (adjusted for time change). Our flight was scheduled to arrive at 3 p.m. which gave us a three-hour window for any potential delays. 

From Greece's PLF - required for entry

Greece also has two seemingly simple sounding requirements for those test results, but both became major concerns in the preflight dash:  1) the test results be printed on paper from an accredited lab or medical facility (that meant letterhead paper) and 2) our passport numbers were to be included on those reports.

Playing Beat the clock

Heading out over the Polar Route to Greece

In all fairness to Washington, a number of drive-through, do-it-yourself test sites were available. But those provided quick tests and Greece required the PCR, the one that involves a bit more scrutiny under the microscope. And the places we contacted that did those PCR's were limiting testing to those who thought they had Covid. They weren't conducting tests for travelers.  

 SeaTac International airport does have an on-site testing operation that claims to be for international travelers. But when we finally reached them by phone (that in itself a stressful matter) we were told that printing test results on paper wasn't 'normal', and that they were unsure the passport number could be added, but to check with those administering the test.  We couldn't take that chance - we needed, what we needed and an assurance at the time of making the appointment that we could get it.

A long day's night got longer while awaiting test results

There was also the matter of defining 'next day results' - when pressed on when the results would be available we learned their definition of  'next day' meant the results could come in by email by 11:30 p.m.-- potentially too late for our 5 p.m. departure.

(Here I must note that journalists on both sides of the Atlantic have been writing tales of travelers all over the world in much the same boat as we found ourselves: lab results being promised 'next day' but not soon enough for the traveler to make a  flight. But because of limits like 72 hours, tests often can't be done earlier because of travel times. Somehow we felt better knowing we weren't alone in being stressed.)

Rural Hospital to the Rescue

Heading out for testing in Wenatchee, WA

Most of you regulars here know that our home is in Washington State's rural agricultural region, a near four-hour drive to SeaTac Airport. It was at the regional hospital an hour's drive from us  that we finally booked our drive-through tests after being assured that results were 'next day' and if tested early enough, perhaps even same day! We rejoiced! 

We were the first car through the test site, on that day before our flight, however our stress level went up a notch or two when the lab technician preparing the nose swabs told us that test results could be 24- to 48- hours away because of testing volumes. 

The Devil is in the Details

Up in the Air over Test Result Format

The hospital came through for us and our results were emailed 2.5 hours after we took the test.  We had paper copies of the results in our hand 4.5 hours after the test. We remained moderately stressed though as there was no way to include our passport numbers on those results.  Especially knowing that  Greece often wants identification going back to our father's and mother's names and birthdates, so we weren't at all sure our tests would be accepted by officials. . .even though on the bright side - they were negative!

Take Off and Landing

An overnight in Dubai was part of the return itinerary

The PCR test results, our Greek residency permit and the Greek-required Passenger Locator Form were all checked closely in SeaTac prior to boarding our flight to Dubai. Because our connecting flight was the next morning and we entered Dubai by leaving the airport there our Covid test results were scrutinized twice upon landing and again the next morning when we returned to the airport prior to boarding the flight to Athens. 

Thankfully, no one along the way questioned the lack of passport number.

As we disembarked in Athens (on time so within the 72 hour limit) I had test results in hand to show the first official who asked for them.

Nobody asked to see them! 

No one! 


Instead, we all were paraded through a temporary medical testing station and random Covid tests were administered.  The Scout was one of many selected for testing. Then we were sequestered in a holding area until test results were known. Luckily, no one tested positive, we were free to collect our bags and leave.

However other travelers report having to show test results upon arrival. And we'd have never gotten on the plane without them. So test results whether reviewed here or not are key to entering Greece

 So, what?

Back Home in the Mani - Greek Peloponnese

I suspect if you made it this far, you might be wondering why I even told this story. We'd made the decision to travel in a time of Covid and we knew their would be hurdles.  However, we didn't anticipate how stressful getting over those testing and timeline hurdles would be and we wanted  our experiences to help you to be prepared for such requirements when you start traveling again.

We were gobsmacked by how difficult it was to find testing sites and the cost of them in our corner of the United States. Our test in Greece was 60 euros per person or $71US.  The tests offered at SeaTac were $179 (next day) and $350 (one hour results) per person. The test we had cost $218 per person. Had we been delayed for any reason and had the test again in Dubai it would have been another couple hundred dollars per person.

European Union considering Vaccination Passport

And I tell our testing tale  because right now Greece and other members of the European Union are considering Green Vaccination Passports, a uniform piece of identification issued by each country in the union with a 'Q' code that verifies the holder has been vaccinated and can travel without further testing or quarantine requirements.   

President Biden has repeatedly said the U.S. government is not interested in issuing such passports.  So we travelers vaccinated in the U.S. will be limited to the CDC testing cards we had stamped at time of the jabs and any state records that might show vaccinations we've had.  

If Greece and other EU countries don't accept those documents, then there will be continued requirements for having had a negative test to enter the country: the test and the race against time will continue. 

Our Greek Village Agios Nikolaos

That's our story for this week. We are happy to be back at our Stone House on the Hill.  We are now in the fifth month of Greece's second lockdown. It is not surprising that 'Lockdown Fatigue' is being mentioned more and more in the headlines here.  How is life going in your part of the world? Leave us a comment or send us an email, we'd love to hear from you!  

Linking soon with:

Through My Lens
Travel Tuesday
Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Normal - a matter of perspective

We've passed the mid-point in our Pacific Northwest stay. The month we allotted ourselves here is slipping by as rapidly as did the year we spent in Greece before working up our courage to tackle a trip back during a time of Covid-19.

Lake Chelan and its Butte - Washington State

This is 'normally' the point in our U.S. visits where we start daydreaming of those Greek salads and other foods we are missing and the tavernas where we will eat them, the people we want to get together with as soon as we return, and the places we want to go after we get back. 

Greek Salad

Instead of daydreaming about what we will do once we get there, we are planning how to accomplish the steps required to return to our expat life in the Greek Peloponnese: Where to get the Covid-19 test, a requirement for travel as well as entry into Greece? Timing the submission of the PLF, passenger locator form, to meet another of Greece's Covid-related requirements for entry into the country. Making sure the residency card is ready to display, as only Greek citizens and residents traveling from the US are allowed into Greece right now. . .again, thanks to Covid.

'Normally' time to start planning more Greek adventures

That's not the case this year. 

What we 'Normally do' went out the window when the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic a year ago.

Government SMS sent a year ago still applies

One year later, Greece remains in its second multi-month lockdown. This one began the first week of November. It, like the first lockdown in the spring, has closed most everything, other than businesses like pharmacies and grocery stores which are deemed essential services. For a time Greek authorities reduced movement to a two kilometer radius of one's home which pretty much allowed us to get to the pharmacy, grocery store, and gas station in the village. A nighttime curfew remains in place. We still need to text the government to get permission for 'movement outside the home'.

'You've been  able to sit outside at a taverna, haven't you?' asked a friend here in our US who had visited us in Greece. 

Dining out in the village before the Nov. lockdown

'Not since last October. And we've not been allowed to sit inside a restaurant or taverna since last March when the first lockdown began,' I replied, noting that for a time we could stand in parking lots or at the side of the road, consuming 'to go' items. 

Somehow when we were in Greece, the lockdown started to feel so 'normal', so accepted by all, that things like texting for permission to leave the house, didn't seem as harsh as they sound when I am sipping wine at a nearby winery in Washington State describing those measures to friends here. 

Athens Airport Feb. 26 - no problem distancing here

However, in Greece citizens and residents are getting restless. Media headlines there call it 'lockdown fatigue'. Last spring the lockdown kept Covid numbers low, but that hasn't been the case the second time around. The numbers of Covid cases continue to skyrocket, and intubations are at an all-time high. The Greek authorities struggle with how to open the country and jump start the economy and tourism, while the health system remains overwhelmed with patients. 

Those same authorities continue to grapple with how to vaccinate their thousands of expats who call Greece home. A measure to set up a system is, or was, being debated in the Parliament (stories differ as to whether it continues or has been decided). Then if/when passed, a system will be put into place to apply for the vaccination. Then a schedule to get the vaccination.

In all fairness, it isn't just Greece, expats in Spain are experiencing similar obstacles to getting jabs.

A Taste of Normal

Our roots are planted in Washington State

We arrived in Washington State -- that one tucked up in the furthest northwest corner of the continental states -- and the place our US roots are planted, during what is called, Phase Two.  That is pandemic jargon for the gradual steps being taken to reopen and try to return to 'normal' here.

Our return to the U.S. was finally prompted by a lengthening to-do list here including the need to finally have several 'annual' but long-over-due medical appointments as well as to seek out and hopefully get Covid-19 vaccinations. We will have checked every item off that to do list after we receive our second Pfizer shots on Monday.

We were among eight people here on a weekday night

Phase Two requires wearing masks in public and social distancing. Most retail stores are open. You can dine and drink inside or outside, with capacity limits of 25 percent inside for those places that have reopened, however a number of restaurants remain closed. You can travel where you want, when you want. By the time most read this, the State will be implementing Phase Three which will allow 50% inside and open some of the non-essential facilities that are still closed. 

There are many in this state not happy with these current mandates and they make their unhappiness known on social media, printed signs, and in everyday conversation.  Most abide by the rules even if they grumble about them.  We are not empathetic. 

Sunday morning drive around Manson

From our perspective, we feel like we have landed in Disneyland!! We are kids in a candy store!! We don't have to text for permission to walk into the village for coffee.  We can go to any of the dozen wineries around us and sit there and sip wine.  We have dined inside five times since arriving back. (And I might add have always felt well-distanced from other diners and servers wore protective gear, masks and gloves and cleaning seemed a constant.) 

Sitting inside a coffee shop is a treat!

Seeing friends and family has been a highpoint of the trip. While the days of greeting each other with hugs and kisses are over, just seeing people again, hearing their voices and being face-to-face has been the shot of adrenalin we needed. We miss that social interaction with friends in Greece.

 Normal is as Normal Does

Highway sign in Greece

We are surprised at how quickly we adapted to this freedom of movement and being among people again. It will be interesting to see how quickly we re-adjust to not having those freedoms in Greece.  Who knows? Perhaps by the time of our return, it will have returned to 'normal'. . .whatever that might be, these days?

Thanks for being with us today. We wonder how you are handling your current 'normal' in the world of Covid? How about telling us in the comments or shooting us an email?

Linking sometime soon with:

Through My Lens
Travel Tuesday
Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...