Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Greece ~ Siga, Siga; slowly, slowly . . .

“Slow down, you move too fast,
gotta make the morning last. . .”
                                             -- Paul Simon, The 59th Street Bridge Song
I regularly meet a fellow writer friend for coffee and chitchat when I am in the Pacific Northwest. We schedule it early in the day so as to fit it in to our schedules, which in itself could be a laugh as we are both retired. I mean, really, ‘schedules’ when you are retired??

We never worry about overstaying the 1.5 hour free parking limit where we rendezvous because frankly, we don’t have time to exceed it – there’s always another appointment or commitment that one of us needs to get to.  We sip steaming beverages served in paper cups imprinted with Starbucks logos, giving little attention to our surroundings.
We aren't quite as hurried as others who rush in and ‘grab and go’ –  we can now use our mobile device to order our coffee prior to our arrival at this coffee shop chain. No waiting. In and out and on our way. Who has time to linger?

That rushed approach to both having coffee and living life seems normal, the ‘American way’.

Coffee on the island of Poros, Greece
And, I've come to learn, it is a stark contrast to the Greek approach to meeting for coffee. The difference between the two is nothing short of a cultural caffeine jolt. In Greece meeting for coffee is a long, lingering event, not limited to any particular time of day: morning, afternoon or long into the evening, people come together over coffee. 

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Coffee shop corner in Heraklion, Crete

It has taken a bit of time to adapt to this cultural phenomenon of relaxing and slowing the pace over coffee.  I mean, sitting at a table, long after your cups are empty, sipping a glass of water (that is always provided with the coffee in Greece), just isn’t the norm in the States. Yet, here, it seems almost an insult to the establishment to rapidly consume your beverage and then jump up and leave.

Kafenion in the Greek Peloponnese
This ‘long-linger’ over coffee may have gotten its start at the old style kafenions, those tiny shops where a small group of elderly Greek men visit while sipping their strong-enough-to-put-hair-on-your-chest coffee and downing an ouzo chaser while twirling worry beads. Where ever the tradition began, it is insanely popular at cafes and coffee houses throughout the country.

Maestros café - Kardamyli, Greece
During our early stages in Greece we used that American approach to ‘going out for coffee’ in our village. Sip quickly, check messages on our phones, then be on our way.

Siga, siga, (slowly, slowly) that is changing.  After all, what did we really have to do in Greece that would cause us to rush off from anywhere?  And why is it that ‘busy’ seems the acceptable by-word in the States, but here we are learning contentedness in sitting and smelling, the roses,  the coffee, in this case, and watching the world go by?

Kaefenion - Agios Nikolaos, Peloponnese, Greece
We began slowing our pace one Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago when The Scout and I headed to our nearby village, Agios Nikolaos for coffee ‘at Freda’s’. That means Gregg’s Plateia – a small cafe run by Gregg and his mom Freda.  This popular eatery is an ex pat gathering spot, post office, bus stop, and serves as host site to any number of fund-raisers.

An added bonus is that Freda always has an answer to our questions, of which we usually have a few.

An afternoon at Freda's - siga, siga
As we lingered at our table for nearly two hours sipping a cappuccino and a ‘press’ coffee on that warm afternoon I realized we were conquering the cultural coffee divide. During that time, we browsed through her furniture catalog, picked up books from her mail table that I had ordered from the U.K.'s  Book Depository and purchased oranges from the fruit vendor – never going more than a dozen steps away from the table.

We buy from this fellow as often as possible
We’d visited with a couple of folks who were walking past, waved to others and simply watched others go about their rounds, like our village pappas, making his way to the church around the corner – after he’d made a stop at the coffee shop across the way.

Watching the street scene - Agios Nikolaos, Peloponnese
By lingering, we had a treat as a ‘new’ fishing boat was spotted in the bay and crew were shuttling its catch between the boat and the harbor fish scales. Amazing all the things there are to watch and learn while sipping a cup of coffee – if  you give yourself the time to do it.

PicMonkey Collage
Agios Nikolaos - Peloponnese
Our timing was off that day – even with our lingering – so we didn’t get to watch the bus from Kalamata stop in front of the cafe and deposit passengers prior to threading its way down the village’s main street to its next stop at the other end of town.

The bus comes through town three times a day - Agios Nikolaos
You, who follow our adventures on Facebook, know that one of my most favorite pastimes (and unexplainable) is watching the bus that serves this region crawl through town on its way north or south and then posting FB photos like the one above.

I was glad to learn I wasn’t the only one who enjoys that bus. The photo below was taken on another afternoon coffee outing, when we had new friends who were visiting from the United States join us for an afternoon coffee at another favorite hangout of ours, Molos Bistrot, next to Freda’s. It was the oncoming bus – not the caffeine – that jolted them out of their seats with cameras in hand.

Here comes the bus!
I took the photo below a few years back in a cafe where we sipped coffee during a stay in a village on Crete’s southern coast. Back then, we had a limited amount of time for travels in Greece and wanted to see as much of the country as possible.  The message didn’t ring as clear then as it does these days.


We thank you for being here with us for another serving of Greek tales and hope to see you back again. Until then, safe travels to you and yours.

Linking up this week with:

Mosaic Monday – 
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Don’t Miss A Rocky Mountain High in Greece’s Mani

Sometimes those Greek tourist promotion folks focus too much on sun-kissed beaches, sailboats, sand and surf.

Plenty of sun and sea in Greece

Map picture
Greece does have more than its fair share of sea, sun, sand and surf but what is equally impressive and should call out to all visitors,are its mountains.

There are many unsung mountain ranges throughout Greece but now that we are part time ex pats, just south of Kalamata, in the Peloponnese we can attest to the striking beauty of the towering ranges that make up this expansive peninsula.

Of course, the Taygetos, that frame our area are our favorite!  (The Green on the map is mountainous areas).

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Taygetos Mountain views
And since I told you about stones last week, I thought it time to pay homage to the source of those stones: the mountains that surround us. This is also an intended nudge to those of you planning trips to Greece to include some mountains in your explorations. Hint: in The Mani you can find beaches and mountains within minutes of each other.

Messinian meets Mountains - view from above our house
Quite frankly, the mountains were as much a selling point for this area as was the sea when we decided to purchase our Stone House on the Hill. One of our favorite pastimes is exploring the many tiny villages tucked away in those Taygetos Mountains that surround us.

PicMonkey Collage
In this area signs are in Greek and English
You understand – an appreciate – the small sized cars that most people drive here when you set out on the narrow ribbons of asphalt that twist and turn up the hillsides and through the gorges.

The road between villages - The Mani
While the road that links the villages is narrow – very narrow in some places – the route is an easy one as you encounter few cars and only a herd of goats or sheep and cow or two along the way.

Slow traffic ahead
Whoa Bessie!
No matter how often we make the drive, we never get tired of the ‘treats’ just waiting around each bend in the road – whether it be a sweeping view of the ocean that makes us catch our breath or a hidden treasure like this Mani tower and crumbling fortress that teases our imaginations with its history.

A Mani Tower
If driving doesn’t appeal to you, these mountainsides are also laced with hiking trails, many of them following the routes of goat and donkey trails that many in the villages will tell you were once the only links between them and the sea.

PicMonkey Collage
Some hikes can be done on the roads leading along gorges
Entrances to hiking paths are marked with signs in English and color coded markings along the way alert hikers to direction and difficulty of the route. There are no use fees or parking fees here.

There's a magic in the Mani Mountains
We can’t recommend The Mani Mountains enough.  Keep them in your travel plans if you are heading to Greece. After all Lonely Planet just named the Peloponnese as one of Europe's top, must-see destinations for 2016.

Again thanks so much for the time you spent with us today!  And a special thanks to those of you who’ve enjoyed the blog so much that you’ve shared it with your friends and families – it is always fun to hear from someone that says, ‘a friend recommended your blog’.

Hello to our new followers and those who’ve signed up to receive the blog in their inboxes. Come back next week when we’ll slow the pace a bit and savor Greece, the Greek way. And for those of you wanting to see how we use souvenirs to decorate, I am about to invite you in for a tour! 

Safe travels to you and yours~

Linking up this week with:
Mosaic Monday – 
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Greece ~ Getting “Stoned” at The Stone House on the Hill

If you set out to explore Greece it won’t take long before you realize the country isn’t all  whitewashed walls and blue accents as the tourist brochures might like you to believe.

Mykonos blue and white church
03332_mani_&pelo_inset_encartaIn Greece’s Peloponnese, where we’ve chosen to make our home a portion of each year, the architectural style of buildings and homes are rather stark in comparison; built of gray or tan stone and brightened only with colorful shutters and doors and garden blooms.

Admittedly there are some villages in the Peloponnese where you’ll find a mix of the two styles, such as in Kyparissi, the village we visited a few weeks ago. (If you missed that post, you can find it here)

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Kyparissi - a mix of two architectural styles
But in our area on the west coast of the region’s ‘middle finger’ we are definitely cast in stone.  So much stone, that you could almost start taking its stately beauty for granted. Whether old or new construction, stone is the predominant building material. 

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Old and new stonework - Trahilia
Cast in Stone

Tracing the origins of the use of stone in Greek architecture leads back to Egypt (the place considered ‘home of stone architecture’ by some historical accounts) and dates from 650 BCE onwards as that was the time of renewed contacts and trade links between Greece, the Middle East and Egypt. Greek designers and masons became familiar with Egypt’s buildings and construction techniques, and the rest, as they say, is history.

PicMonkey Collage
Hidden art in the stone
Getting “Stoned” at The Stone House on the Hill

We had the opportunity two weeks ago to watch stone masons – they are artisans really – at work when they tackled a couple of projects for us at The Stone House on the Hill. It gave us an opportunity to renew our awe of anything constructed of stone. The projects, so small in comparison to constructing homes or buildings, still required so much hard labor that we were in awe of what our two craftsmen accomplished in our gardens in a period of three days.

P1000397We needed to raise the wall behind our house where the sloping garden’s dirt was being washed away by the rain and watering.


We wanted, for cosmetic purposes, to resurface our entryway wall and the wall that borders our side yard.

It took a small crane to unload the materials which included concrete and stones:

The materials are delivered in heavy duty delivery truck
Then materials needed to be hauled down our ‘StairMaster-eat-your-heart-out’ stairway and put into place. That’s The Scout helping haul stones while the masons went to work:

The stonework begins
And when the work began, there was no stopping them. . .

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Stonework is a precise art of cutting and measurement
For hours each day it continued with hammers pounding, saws buzzing, the sun blazing overhead. . .

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Measuring, cutting, fitting and filling in - all part of the stonemason's skills
Three days later it was done. . .the before and after photos below illustrate that Greece’s timeless artistry in stone continues thanks to present-day masons.

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Before on left - unfinished surface; finished project on the right
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Before on left, funished on the right

“It’s beyond me. Everything seems to have a soul – wood, stones, the wine we drink and the earth we tread on. Everything, boss, yes, everything.”

-- Alexis Zorba, Zorba the Greek

Stones with soul
That’s our report this week from The Stone House on the Hill. Thanks for being with us and hope you enjoyed watching our artisans at work.

A warm welcome to our new readers! And what a surprise it has been to learn that several of you reading the blog are fellow ex pats living not far from us here in The Mani.  Thank you for writing and letting us know. We’ve look forward to meeting you. 

And to all of you out there, safe travels and please come back again and join us for more Greek tales next week.

We are linking up this week with our fellow bloggers at:
Mosaic Monday – 
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Easter in Greece ~ A Soul Food Fest

It is Easter Monday in Greece ~ we're wrapping up a weekend of fests and feasts. Today, technically a holiday, seems the day set aside for resting up from the weekend's activities which took place as part of Greece's most significant holiday of the year.

Greek Easter is magic. Being in this country for an Easter is a feast for your soul and your stomach!

Decorations have been on sale for weeks

Since we arrived more than a month ago the signs of Easter's arrival have been appearing in both homes and businesses.  Medical appointments, work projects, meetings and other  activities requiring a set date have been scheduled before or after "Easter Week" because that is when all focus and activities turn to the holiday.

Easter vendor booths line Kalamata's pedestrian street
Easter's date in the Greek Orthodox religion is determined by using the modified Julian calendar while Easter in the rest of the Christian world is set using the Gregorian calendar. That's why this Easter took place nearly a month after the 'other Easter'.

 The celebrations in Greece begin two months before Easter with Mardi Gras, Carnival Apokria, which ends on Shrovetide Sunday.

Decorated white candles to be used on Easter Eve services were on sale

That is followed by Kathara Deftera, or Clean Monday (Ash Monday) which is a festival day in itself. Then comes Lent and . . .

Then Comes Easter. . .

Early this last week our nearby villages were a bustle of activity as finishing touches were being added to businesses that were reopening having been in hibernation all winter. New paint, flower planters suddenly bursting with blooms -  all was made ready for Easter; a time that also seems to kick off the beginning of tourist season as well.

At midday on Good Friday a slow, mournful tolling of the village church bell in Agios Nikolaos seemed to start the weekend - it was such a sad, s-l-o-w chime that it seemed designed to match the footfalls to the cross on that long-ago day in Jerusalem. It was such a haunting sound that it gave you goose bumps . . .whether a believer or not!  Greek flags are flown at half staff that day, including on government buildings, to mark Christ's crucifixion.

The Bier awaits the Processional on Good Friday

That evening after dusk, a church service in Agios Nikolaos was followed by a processional - The Procession of the Epitaphos of Christ - through town in which the flower bedecked bier is carried. Similar services and professionals were taking place in cities and villages throughout Greece. We didn't make it to town for that activity, opting instead to visit the bier in church in the afternoon.

Saturday night, however, we joined the hundreds who turned out for the midnight (closer to 11:30 p.m.) service and lighting of the white candles from the single candle, the Holy Light, that was lit by the village Papas, Priest, to signify the Resurrection. (It is said if you make it home and your candle is still lit you will have good luck.)

'Christos Aneste! - Christ is Risen!' calls the Papas
'Alithos Anesti! - Truly He is Risen!' - comes the Response

And it was time to light the candles. . .and set off the fireworks.

Then came the feasting on Sunday. . .

The smell of roasting lambs filled the air in villages throughout the valley

Traditional red eggs on the table

So much food we had to use chairs - this doesn't show all the food that came to the table
We joined two sets of our neighbors at a restaurant in one of the small villages up in the Taygetos Mountains that frame our valley.  The place was packed with Greeks, ex pats and a few tourists.  Throughout The Mani  restaurants were cooking up feasts and serving meals over the course of the afternoon. We began our dining at 1 p.m. and ended three hours later. What a feast! The menu included roast pork, roast lamb, zucchini pie, spicy cheese, tzatziki, beets, roasted potatoes, salad, bread and traditional Greek Easter bread for dessert - so much that we didn't have room for it all on the table.

I couldn't help but note that while traditions are strong in Greece, technology -- as it is everywhere - is now a part of life.

Cell phones and candles - tradition and technology

A family's feast - and a selfie or two to remember it all!

Yes, Easter Monday, is a much needed day of rest for everyone.  It's a day filled with wonderful memories and a chance to start anticipating next year's festivities.

If you were among those celebrating this weekend, a big Kala Pasha! to you. And to all of you, thanks for again being with us.  We appreciate your time and wish you happy travels~

Linking up this week with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday
 Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration


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