Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Americans in The Stone House on the Hill

We are known throughout the village as ‘the Americans’. Further clarification among the English who populate the area is: ‘the Americans who bought Barbara and Alec’s house’. To Greeks we are ‘the Americans in the house on the hill by Christina and Dimitrios.’ 

We are the house on the hill closest to the post in this photo
Our ‘big’ village, Ag. Nikolaos (St. Nick) and its tiny neighbor, Ag. Demitrios (St. Demitri) are so small, we don’t have a street address. In fact, it was just recently that the street (or maybe it is the area, no one seems quite sure) has been called “Kossova”. It might have been named for the person who once owned this land or for the once-owner of the narrow road on which the house is located. We only learned of the name because it was written on Christmas cards sent to the previous owners and we asked what it meant. (The Kalamata store owner who delivered our furniture used Google Maps to find us.)

We initially thought it was the name of the house. So far, the house has no name. But then it has no address, so guess that is fine.

The Scout strolls Ag. Nik waterfront near the fishing port
When ‘the crisis’ ( as they call their economic free-fall here) hit, the post office in Ag. Nik, closed. The mail is now delivered to Gregg’s Cafe, run by Gregg and his mother Frieda.  The mail table sits in the corner by the fireplace and is sorted by clothes pins that hold the packets together for each recipient. Yes, Amazon orders are delivered here as well. The cafe is the hang-out of English speaking residents – the Cheers-type place – where a conversation with one is a conversation with all.

So for any of you who want to try mailing us (and I have no idea the cost of postage to Greece) our address is:
Jackie and Joel Smith
Kossova (optional, as not anyone is sure what this is)
c/o Mani Messinias (this is the area and region)
Ag. Dimitrios 24024 (that number is important, we were told)
I am certain it will be news at the cafe when “the Americans” get their first bit of mail.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The (Greek) Cat Who Came For Christmas

Greece is known for its cats.  They roam the streets. They adorn tourist calendars. They pull at the heart-strings of cat lovers like us.  All that said, way back several years ago when purchasing a vacation home here was in the pondering stages, The Scout made one thing clear:

You cannot have a cat!

He was correct, of course, as our time here would be too fleeting to properly care for such an addition to the family. And in Greece many cats are feral; they want (and need) food – but they dash away from humans when approached. No problem, I thought.

'The Cat' on Our Deck
Fast forward: 2014. Pondering ended, purchase made. We were prepared for every possible ‘unexpected’ except “The Cat” that seemed to be as much a part of this house sale as the car and furnishings that came with it.

The Guy who said no cat and 'The Cat'
Sometime within hours of our taking possession of the house. “The Cat” appeared at our door ready to take possession of us.

'The Cat' supervises yard work from the olive tree
We ignored its meow’s for several days and paid no attention to the fact that it followed us much like a dog as we began the task of clearing the jungle (once a lovely garden) that surrounds the house.

'The Cat' in my lap
When I squatting to pull weeds the cat would jump in the lap, contentedly purring while I ignored it (not an easy thing to do, for a cat lover, by the way).

“The Cat” came and went. With regularity it would appear on the deck outside our two windowed doors or be sitting on a window ledge peering inside. It obviously has been well taken care of and has lived in a house.

Our friends, Don and Sue, (you met them in the last post) came to visit and Sue scooped up “The Cat” holding and adoring it (she also has several little bundles of fur at her house at the opposite end of the valley).  We began to weaken.

'The Cat' supervises the painting project
The first round of painting took place this week requiring doors to be open. . .a virtual welcome mat for “The Cat” who took it upon herself to be the project supervisor.  When the painters took a break, the cat joined them – the call of their laps too great to ignore. Furniture was delivered Wednesday – the cat insisted on a head rub from the delivery men.

I confess. I bought a bag of cat food two days ago and a saucer of it and another of milk was most appreciated by “The Cat” who now hangs out here most of the day, content in knowing ‘The Humans’ are nearby. We’ve joined our fellow neighbors (whom you will meet in a future post) in feeding “The Cat”.

Epilogue (of sorts):

The painting supervisor takes a 'cat nap' on The Scout's lap
We learned from the neighbors that the cat is owned by a fellow who lives down below us. He has gone away for a time (long or short, we don’t know) and has left the cat apparently to fend for itself (and don’t get me going on that!). So our neighbors have been caring for “The Cat”.  I’ve told them I will leave food for the little vagabond when we leave and hopefully it will still be in the neighborhood when we return.

So for those of you who met the cat on Facebook and made suggestions: thank you, but we are not naming the cat nor do we need a carrying case. Hopefully its owner will return soon and The Cat Who Came For Christmas will return home for a Happy New Year!

Again, thanks for the time you’ve spent with us as we embark on our Grecian adventure, in the Stone House on the Hill.  I will tell you next about Trimming the Tree on Christmas and then for those who want to see the garden, we will take a Jungle Tour of My Secret Garden.  Hope you are having a great holiday season.  As soon as we get back to internet land, I will visit my fellow bloggers to see what you’ve been up to of late.  We are currently limited to cafes and tavernas for internet time which makes for quick check emails, Facebook and blogs.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Decking the Halls ~ In Greece

Rosemary Clooney was dreaming of a “White Christmas” right after Elvis had predicted a “Blue Christmas” and somewhere between the plastic goods and kitchen accessories, Bing Crosby had swept us off to Hawaii with his rendition of Mele Kalikimaka. The store’s background music had shoppers pumped by the time they reached the enormous Christmas decorations area.

Kambos Town en route to Kalamata
I need not have worried about ‘missing’ Christmas because we are in Greece. The spirit – both Holy and Shopping – is alive and well in this part of the world.

Christmas Bazaar fund-raiser - Stoupa town
The store I described above called, “Jumbo” is in the city of Kalamata, the shopping Mecca of this region. Those of us in the surrounding villages make pilgrimages there sometimes once or twice a week. In this ‘stone house on the hill’ we are about an hour’s drive away.

Our House day three

Our shopping has been focused this week on more practical things: coffee pot, microwave, rugs, furniture, bedding. . .so I am afraid if you were hoping to see this perfectly decorated new holiday home of ours, you are out of luck!  In fact, I am writing this post sitting on a folding chair hunched over a small end table in our nearly empty living room.

We bought the car as part of the house deal

 I must thank all of you who wrote comments or sent emails containing good wishes about our finally catching the daydream, and purchasing the stone house on the hill. They all meant alot to us and I would normally respond to each, but because we are limited to cafe internet time this trip, a bulk thank you will have to do until I get back to Wi-Fi land.

DSCF1228Some of you said you were eagerly awaiting more about Christmas and others wanted more about the house. . .so today you are getting a mish-mash report with a little about both.

We purchased the house ‘furnished’ just because that is the way it was sold. The well-used furniture was not to our taste so in addition to buying furniture, we have been selling furniture this week.The heavy, and far-too-big-for-this-house furniture (see last post) was sold Friday

And for another few days we are ‘camping out’ in our home. The new stuff is scheduled for delivery December 24th! And what a present that will be!  (Our good-sport English friends, Sue and Don, pictured in the photo were our first guests yesterday, proving again that good times can be had in the barest of surroundings.)

DSCF1207 The painters arrive tomorrow to start the process of ‘warming up’ this hospital-white-from-ceiling-to- floor house.  The color chips have been selected and by the time the furniture arrives it should have a warm, colorful setting in which to reside.

For those of you wondering whether we are enjoying this or whether we are having second thoughts, I can assure you we’d have missed one of life’s great experiences had we not thrown caution to the wind and chased the daydream.

Waterfront in Stoupa Town Saturday night
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Bit of Christmas Magic ~ Catching the Daydream

A recurrent theme of TravelnWrite this past year has been chasing the daydream. Our daydream, to be more specific, ‘that stone house on a hill’ in Greece. 

DSCF0252Much like youth chasing butterflies, we came close, so very close, but it got away just like the illusive butterfly.

Ahh. . .but never under-estimate the seasonal mysteries of Christmas Magic.

Were I writing that famous Christmas column, it would read:  ‘Yes, Virginia. . .it is Christmas and we’ve finally caught the daydream.’

Our Christmas will be spent in ‘our stone house on the hill’ in Greece’s Peloponnese. Something that even as recently as Thanksgiving, we’d have probably never believed possible. But here we are in the house that caught our eye last spring; the one that got away from us last summer.

Details fell into place rather rapidly in the last few weeks.  A deal was reached. Airline tickets purchased to avoid the Christmas sky-high prices and we headed back to Greece last week.

Home for the Holidays

The entryway from the home's parking area
I didn’t show you many photos of ‘the house’ because after the deal fell through, we didn’t feel it proper to be showing someone else’s home.  Now that it is ours, come take the first of many tours I plan to take you on and let me tell you the plans we have for this place; where we plan to spend a few months each spring and autumn:

PicMonkey Collage
The view from 'the stone house on the hill'
We had a number of criteria, first and foremost was view. That we have! The home looks out over The Mani and the Messinian Gulf. Olive groves stretch out before us, with Mediterranean Cypress, and small stone villages giving the feel of Tuscany (without Tuscan prices!).

DSCF0955Speaking of olives, we have our own grove of 17 trees that cascade down the hillside on three terraces.  We’ve been studying up on olive pruning and harvest. (Move over Frances Mayes, we may be producing oil one day ourselves!).

But what won my heart was the lemon tree next to a small patio –’ the wine patio’ it is now called – at the side of the house; a part of a large garden area that cascades down the hillside.

The home’s previous owners took good care of it – they’ve owned it since it was built eight years ago – it was their retirement daydream.
As with all homes, though, new owners have a plan for making it their own and improving it  – we certainly do with this place.  We packed garden gloves, work tee-shirts and blue jeans on this trip and are putting them to use during the short time we have here this winter.

The garden needs some TLC
There’s painting, pruning and planting to be done.
Colors speak to the soul - we want this place to shout!

Out with the old and in with some new.

Temptations at a furniture store
It will take awhile, but I hope you’ll come on long on our journey in this new adventure.  It may lead to a new blog, or our efforts may be recorded every so often on these pages.  For now – it is time to do a little Christmas decorating. . . 

Christmas – in terms of celebration – in Greece comes in second to Easter.  So my next post will take you on a tour of Christmas shopping and decorating ~ we do hope your holidays are going well and that you are sprinkled with a bit of Christmas magic as well!

If I am able to find internet I’ll be linking up with my usual blogosphere buddies this week. Visit them for some amazing travels and decorating ideas:

Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox  
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route  
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Chasing Daydreams – and then. . .

Egad, we are back chasing the daydream.

You know, it’s the one we were after last spring and summer in Greece. The one that got away.

Roadside trees middle of Nevada - 2014
We were thankful for so many of you who followed the adventure here and offered words of encouragement and support as the purchase of ‘the stone house on the hill’ fell through because its owners found they didn’t have the documentation to sell it.

We’d had a good trip and an interesting experience. We’d moved on. . .or so we thought. . .

Last week when I wrote about “Opportunity rocking the boat” I didn’t quite tell the entire story as not only did that inbox of ours last month hold tempting alternate cruise offers, but it brought news that the owners of that ‘stone house’ were now in a position to sell it and they wondered if we were still interested.

Arizona Road Trip 2014
We were in Arizona at the time, enjoying the carefree life of timeshare ownership.  We focused on changing our cruise plans; we corresponded with Greece at first in general terms, and then those generalized discussions with Greece became more focused:  opportunity was again knocking at the door, the daydream had looped back again and was tempting.

We’d  looked at other properties, lots, homes, unfinished structures. We considered building. We considered forgetting the whole thing. We thought of our ages. We thought of the work needed to make this house ‘pop’. We thought of many things. . .

San Diego Sunset

Greece was set aside somewhat as we went to San Diego where I was attending a conference, but The Scout continued and stepped up the email conversation.

Then he found a reasonable airfare to Athens. . .

Outside La Jolla - San Diego

We arrived in Greece last night, those dream catchers in hand.  Unlike my rather naive writings of last summer, I am not going to say we will capture the dream of that ‘stone house on the hill’.  That remains to be seen. But, one thing is for sure, it will likely be an adventure.  We do hope you’ll come along with us for the next few weeks as we report on chasing the daydream – again.

We’ll be at the mercy of Greece internet access – which is somewhat limited in the Mani -- we do know the new house has none.  Our presence in the blogosphere, Facebook and Twitter might be a wee bit disjointed but I’ll report back as technology allows.

Photos in this post are from Arizona and San Diego.

Linking this week:
Budget Travelers Sandbox – Travel Photo Thursday

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Oregon’s Memorable but Less-Than-Warm Welcome

We were less than five hours into our road trip to Arizona last month when we had a most memorable welcome to Oregon, our neighbor to the south of Washington in the Pacific Northwest.

I’d just taken this photo of the beautiful weather in Oregon’s Blue Mountains when. . .


Oregon State Trooper-Less-Than-Welcoming,  ‘welcomed’ us to the state in a memorable, but not particularly warm way.

Note: I have been asked by regular readers if ‘bad things’ ever happen on our trips because I  prefer to tell you positive stories; the stories that will hopefully stir the travel bug in you. But sometimes stinky little things do happen like the story I am telling today:

The cast and characters:  Two 60-somethings, one with a AAA map and guidebook in her lap and the other the driver of our 2005 Toyota Camry. The setting: Interstate 84: somewhere near the summit of the Blue Mountains.  We were in the right-hand, outside lane when in the distance we noted a car pulled on the shoulder of the road, a trooper’s vehicle lights flashing also off the side of the road behind the car. Both were parked some distance outside what is called in the US as the ‘fog line’ which marks the roadway from the shoulder. You can see it in the photo above.


Thinking the trooper, who was sitting in his car, was getting ready to pull out, The Scout slowed and moved toward the left and center line.

Shortly after we’d passed, the trooper did pull out then pulled US over!

Trooper-Less-Than-Welcoming asked why we’d not moved completely into the left lane – called the passing lane – on our inter-state roads and in which drivers drive the speed limit or above because they are, well, passing. The Scout replied that when it appeared the trooper wasn’t pulling out that he returned to the slower right-hand lane.

BEEEP! . . . buzzer. . . .WRONG ANSWER!
Oregon has a “Move Over” law that requires motorists to move completely into the left-hand lane when any emergency vehicle it off to the side of the road with lights flashing.  Trooper Less-than-Welcoming pointed out our Washington State has the same law and then he informed us that all the Western States have the law. (Yes, we did feel like morons for not knowing that fact!)


Now honestly living and driving in the traffic-gridlocked Seattle area, we don’t have the luxury of pulling into the left hand lane when lights are flashing on the shoulder. We slow, we edge around – we don’t MOVE OVER. We explained we hadn’t been aware of that fact.

Trooper Less-Than-Welcoming took the license and returned to his patrol car, a few minutes later (it seemed an eternity long) returned and presented us with a $260 ticket! 

One fine ‘howdy –do!’  if we ever saw one~~

Now had he issued us a warning, we’d have still gotten the message. But because of his memorable welcome, had we not already had reservations just down the road in Baker City, I was ready to get the hell out of Dodge and head straight to Idaho. 

Note: to Baker City businesses (my cute kitchen store and the art gallery, in particular) I would have come in as I always do – but my shopping money was headed to your state coffers. . .no money for you this time.



Had I had the opportunity to see Trooper Less-Than-Welcoming again (which thankfully I didn’t) I would have told him that after his ‘welcome note’ I began paying attention to those western states we drove through:

Idaho:  one sign as you enter the state which reads ‘move over or slow down’

Arizona: sign on Highway 17, “move over OR slow down”

Utah: In this ‘ride ‘em cowboy!’ state the speed limit is 80 and you pass in the left lane at 90 – I know as  I was driving when we saw the trooper pulled off to the side of the road ahead and to merge into that left lane – which I did -- our speedometer read, ‘93’ . . .I might note three cars going 80 stayed in the right lane and we all zipped past like bats out of hell. That, Mr. Trooper, isn’t safe!

Washington: as we concluded our trip and were within 10 miles of our home driving a stretch of Interstate 90 – where there are multiple freeway lanes – a trooper on the left side shoulder had a motorist stopped – NO ONE moved over.


DSCF1061 The Scout, who is a retired attorney, submitted his check for $260 and pleaded No Contest with letter of explanation.

We found a letter from the court waiting when we got back home seeking an abstract of his driving record – one that has no traffic stops on it for more than two decades and then it was for exceeding the speed limit. He submitted it.

A second letter arrived this weekend: his fine has been reduced to $130.

TRAVEL TIP: Next time we’ll drive via Idaho or fly.  We recommend that you do the same! The ticket for not Moving Over could have been $355!

Note: I did take these photos during our recent road trip.  I wanted to, but refrained from, taking photos during the traffic stop. Trooper Less-Than-Welcoming would likely have arrested me.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Brazil to Bangkok: When Opportunity Rocked Our Boat

Last week opportunity rocked our boat ~ striking with the force of a tsunami!

KOBFuji2014 074

I’d just tried on the mosquito net head cover given me by my friend, Jeanie. (It fits!)  The lemon eucalyptus mosquito repellent was ordered. Our noses were buried in guides and other books preparing for that Amazon cruise that would replace our traditional Christmas this year. . .

PicMonkey Collage

Then, like the old adage, ‘when opportunity knocks. . .’ .
Okay, so it wasn’t a knock, it was a bit more modern a version - an email from Oceania cruise lines that said:

Carnival Cruise 2012 036

If we wanted to volunteer to take one of five longer cruises to different destinations, they’d refund us $3,240 and transfer all of our on-board perks to the new cruise.

Our stages of reaction began with chuckling as The Scout read the email aloud, then we moved  to speculating ‘why’:  perhaps our cruise was overbooked, perhaps they needed to fill the five other cruises they’d offered. 

 Carnival Cruise 2012 043

Then we began pondering . . . there was one cruise that had caught our eye. It was not only going to places we’ve talked about – it was over-nighting in a number of them!  But really. . .

. . .it sounded too good to be true. (After all, a longer cruise for less money on a luxury cruise line?!). . .
. . .there must be some catch. . .
. . .some small print somewhere. . .

We called the cruise line.
We called our travel agent.
Both assured us:

No joke.
No catch.
All true.

And then you might say, we jumped ship – in a manner of speaking!

SilhouettePt12012 291

We often say our travel lifestyle is one that requires flexibility. In this case it was an exhilarating acrobatic flip – letting go of the trapeze called Brazil and spinning forward in time and place to Bangkok.


We’ll hop aboard the Nautica ship for our Far East Odyssey, as this 35-day sailing adventure from Bangkok, Thailand to Istanbul, Turkey is called. We will sail through the Gulf of Thailand, the Andaman Sea, the Bay of Bengal, the Laccadive Sea, the Arabian Sea, The Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea AND transit the Suez Canal before entering the Aegean Sea!


Don’t Leap without Looking

While we are fantastically excited about the new cruise, let me caution that no matter how flexible your lifestyle, switching plans for a major trip isn’t something to do on a whim. There are a number of details to consider. For example:

Airline changes: Cancelling those flights booked to and from Seattle and Miami. Luckily we used airline miles one way – and booked the higher level of miles so they could be refunded. We’ll deal with Expedia to change the other.

Booking flights to Bangkok and back from Istanbul are going to cost substantially more but that refund will balance out the cost increases.  The Scout has begun scouting.

Passports/visas:  Yes, we’ll need to send our precious passports off into the unknown again to secure visas for three countries on the itinerary – a step that can’t be done until until 90 days prior to the trip.  (The cost of these visas is not insignificant with estimates as high as about $800 for the both of us – this time they weren’t included as a benefit.)

Give and Take: While being at home or gone at Christmas isn't a big consideration for us, our spring travel compass had been pointing back to Greece. . .celebrating Easter in tiny Loutro, on Crete’s southern coast has become a near tradition for us. We’d hoped to take in the 2nd Annual Jazz Festival in Kardamyli in May. Neither of those will happen.

But as I said of the Amazon River cruise, sometimes we need to s-t-r-e-t-c-h our comfort zone.  This spring’s cruise – perhaps even more than the Amazon -- will do just that!

We always welcome recommendations and suggestions for things to do in new places – and we will have a bunch of those on the new cruise . Do you have any thoughts about the places shown on our route map above? 

Again, thanks for the time you spend with us – we read each and every comment and appreciate them all. Every ‘like’ and ‘share’ on Facebook is so appreciated! Welcome to our new followers both here and on Facebook~

Happy Travels to you ~ come back soon!

Linking up this week:
Tuesday Travel 
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox  
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route  
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening


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