Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Greece ~ An Ode to Our Olives and their Oil

Olive harvests have been a part of autumn for thousands of years in this Mediterranean region in which we’ve chosen to make our part-time home.  The importance of olives and their oil to mankind’s rituals and rights have been recorded since ancient times by the likes of Homer, Virgil, Aristophanes and Pliny the Elder.

Kalamata olives
But for us, it is a whole new world – all a part of that daydream, that adventure we’d been seeking -- when we purchased our Stone House on the Hill in the Greek Peloponnese a couple years ago.
So Harvest Day is a big deal at our house. A Very. Big. Deal.  Frankly, we’ve surprised ourselves at how much we love growing olives.

Greece is home to some 520,000 olive growers,
many who use the traditional hand-pick methods.

            --- Bloomberg, 2014


It’s been crazy weather here - sporadic downpours mixed with summer-like-temperatures -- so it shouldn’t have surprised us that Saturday morning dawned with a few clouds, some sun and was so hot and humid that you could work up a sweat with minimal amounts of movement.

It was olive harvest day at the Stone House on the Hill.

A view of our back garden area -ready for harvest
We are among those small growers who use the traditional hand-pick methods. Our steeply-sloped property is a section of a  decades-old olive grove. The terraces are narrow and steep and not conducive to fancy automated harvest equipment. And, truth be told,  there is something about harvesting by hand, as it has been done for centuries, that makes the experience a richer one. That said, it is good we have only 17 trees.

Part of the crew and their harvest tools
In reality, that method of harvest is a hard, back-breaking, sweat-inducing experience. The tools involved are as low-tech as anything made in the world today. Our crew this year included two American couples (both are friends and have moved to this area) who wanted to ‘experience’ olive harvest.  The Scout is joined in this photo with Chuck, our friend from the Pacific Northwest and David who hails from New York. David is holding the rake used to gather twigs from the fallen fruit and the other two tools are used for beating the fruit off the branches.

The harvest begins. . .
We hired a harvest professional, Aris, and his wife, Donika, (wearing blue and red shirts in the photo above), who take care of the property in our absence.  We took our marching orders from them. Some olives are beaten from the tree and others from branches Aris had cut. The process is a mix of harvesting and a first-round pruning in preparation for next year.

Olive harvest is underway in our area of The Mani
Netting covers the ground beneath the tree to catch the harvest. . .

Olives are then put in burlap sacks
The olives collected, raked and large twigs and branches removed (the machine at the processing plant removes the smaller stuff). . .

Larger twigs are removed before bagging the remainder done at the plant
Last year we’d been quite pleased to take almost three bags of olives to the press. It was our first harvest from a previously neglected grove. We were lucky to have any crop. This year was a bit different:

Our friend Yiannis (pictured) hauled the bags for us


PicMonkey Collage
Then and Now - a striking contrast in olive oil production
While harvest methods are still tied to the past, the processing of olives has gone high tech.  No longer are the olives pressed as much as they are processed.  The two top photos are of equipment used in the olden days and the two lower are at Taki’s processing plant where we take our harvest. (Taki is monitoring a computer screen that is alerting him to the status – in this case – of our oil being processed).

Everyone - not just us rookies - take photos at the plant
Ours was to be the third batch processed Saturday afternoon, we arrived to find our bags ready to dump. . .

PicMonkey Collage
There they go. . .
The leaves and twigs are separated in the first step and then those pretty little olives become, for a time, a rather repulsive looking sludge that smells like thick rich olive oil. The scents are so strong that you can smell the oil when you drive by the plant during processing hours.

On the way to olive oil. . .
The sludge is stirred for a time and then is fed into a horizontal extractor that uses centrifugal force to separate the water from the oil. “Siga, Siga!,” (Slowly, Slowly!),” Taki said to me about the third time I asked, “Is that ours going into the extractor??!!”  From olive to oil took an hour and a half but it was at this point the excitement really started building.

Our harvest crew had gathered to watch the ‘fruits of their labors’ be turned into oil and voila’ . . .

PicMonkey Collage
Oil to the left, water to the right. . .siga, siga!
Then there was oil. . . .lots and lots of oil. . . 60 kilos, (think liters) or about 20 gallons of oil.

PicMonkey Collage
There is such an adrenalin rush when the oil comes out the faucet!
‘If you collect them early and are prepared to stock them,
you won’t have any damage
and the oil will turn out to be green, and the best.’
--- Pliney, the Elder, Roman author, AD 23 – AD 79

Less than 24 hours old - a nectar of the Gods
Harvest Day was a long day. . .which resulted in a long blog post. Thanks for hanging in there and making it to the end of this one!! And a big hello and thanks to those of you who've written to tell us that you are now following our blog - it means a lot! Thank you!!

Hope to see you back next week when we’ll have some more Greek tales for you from The Stone House on the Hill. . .

Linking up this week with:

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Greek Peloponnese ~

The Peloponnese or Peloponnesus is a peninsula and geographic region in southern Greece.
It is separated from the central part of the country by the Gulf of Corinth.

Peloponnese.  Say the word out loud and it seems like a jingle: ‘pell-oh-POE-naize’ or ‘pell-oh-poe-NEE-sos’, depending on your nationality and your pronunciation.

It is the place we’ve called our part-time home since buying our The Stone House on the Hill two years ago. And for as well-known as it seems to be among Northern Europeans who vacation and have homes here, the place seems relatively unknown to a vast majority of Americans.

“Which island?” is the question we are asked in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, by those who’ve learned of our new lifestyle. Their brows wrinkle, hmmmm, they ponder a moment, “No, not quite sure where that is.”

The Stone House on the Hill to the right of the boat mast
My response is a bit of a show-and-tell. “Not an island” and hold my hand up, outstretched fingers pointing down and say, “It is the peninsula that looks like a hand. You cross the Corinth Canal to get there from Athens.”

Peloponnese Peninsula looks like an outstretched hand

I suspect many of you - at least those in the U.S. - will be surprised to learn that Lonely Planet’s Travel Guides named it the number one tourist destination in 2016. That was huge news around here last spring. Since we've returned this fall we are hearing nothing but positive reports from those in the tourist industry (airports, restaurants, car rental agencies):

"Best year since 2007 (for home sales)" - local realtor
"Still have cars coming in and going out daily - best year in a long time" - car rental agency
Arrivals at Kalamata airport up 22% this year over last

Scenes of the Peloponnese
                                                1. The Peloponnese, Greece
Travellers to Greece tend to flock to the myriad islands or marvel at the iconic Acropolis, but one of the country’s most diverse, vibrant regions is often forgotten: the Peloponnese. It remains an affordable enclave of magnificent ancient sights like Olympia, Mycenae and Mystras, which are scattered across a rich landscape of stone villages, teal seas and snow-capped mountains.

-- Lonely Planet Travel Guide  

You history buffs will find so many ancient sites that it will require either an extended stay or many visits to see them all. . .Achaia, the seaside gate to Western Europe, Ancient Messinia, Ancient Olympia (birthplace of the Olympics), Mycenae, and Corinth (you travel over the the Corinth Canal if you come here from Athens). And unless you visit in the height of the summer tourist season, you’ll find most are not over-run by tourists even though tourism is on the upswing. We had the tomb pictured below to ourselves the day we went exploring:

PicMonkey Collage
History is there for the asking - usually for no entry fee
While not being history scholars or buffs, we’ve come to appreciate – even be awed by – the amount of history that surrounds us in every day life.  Villages scattered about the hillsides are treasure-troves of antiquity. With far too many to be listed in tourist guides, you simply happen upon them as you travel the narrow roadways that lace the peninsula. The chapel below was open on Easter Sunday at the restaurant where we celebrated the day with our neighbors.

A small church up the road from our house
Churches that have served the faithful for centuries are still used for worship. Church bells still call the faithful to services and remind us all of the importance of the Greek Orthodox religion here.

Through the ages. . .
Reminders of the conflicts that have marred the area’s history are also prevalent in the villages. The building architecture often tells the story of history’s conquerors. Take the Venetians who battled the Ottomans for control of the area. Evidence of their occupation carved into stone – their Winged Lion of St. Mark, a symbol of the Venetian empire spotted on buildings and entries throughout the area.'

The Venetians were here. . .
Many visitors though are drawn to the area – much as we were – by its striking mountains and views of the sea.

A walk along the Sea in The Mani
For others, it is the charm of the stone villages, some still requiring you to park your car and walk into their interiors because their ancient streets are so narrow.

The Main Road in Monemvasia - be prepared to walk
The Peloponnese is divided into regions, much like you think of counties within states in the U.S. Arcadia, Achaia, Ilia, Korinthos, Laconia, Messinia, where our home is located. . .each has a little something different to offer and we have barely touched the surface.

Map picture
The Peloponnese
During our next few months here, we plan to do some exploring of this vast land and we’ll take you with us, virtually, anyway.  As always, we appreciate the time you spend with us and love reading the comments and emails our tales prompt.  We can’t thank you enough for re-posting and tweeting links to our blog for others to read.  Happy and safe travels to you!

Linking up this week with:

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

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Back in Greece – Just Under the Milky Way

My new answer to the question about the location of our Greek Stone House on the Hill is going to be, “Just under the Milky Way.”

As we do seem to be just about mid-point under that filmy, far-away brush-stroke of galaxy that sweeps from left to right above our home.

Sunset over the western point of the Peloponnese as seen from The Stone House on the Hill
On warm clear nights, the type we’ve been having since we arrived two weeks ago, we can sit on our deck, watch dazzling sunsets and then a bit later crane our necks back as far as they will go and ponder the Milky Way’s path across the heavens above us. Relaxing our neck for a front-on view, we gaze at The Big Dipper that sits like a big movie screen showcasing the village. 

The Stone House on the Hill is far right on the row of grey-stone houses mid photo
Our little hillside slice of The Mani is in an area without street lights and few homes and just far enough from the village lights to make for some incredible star-gazing.  We’d pondered last year – along with our neighbors – whether the government would destroy our ‘big screen’ by adding lights along our road as they have in other areas.   Now the government has more to think about than street lights. They need to find money to repair streets damaged by the massive storm that struck our area in late September. 

PicMonkey Collage
A section of the road near our home and 'my' car that got away
The narrow black-topped road that leads to our house and on up the hillside to the village of Platsa was severely storm damaged. The little automatic car pictured above, that we were scheduled to rent, is low to the ground and wouldn’t have made it over the sunken surface of the road. The Scout has done a great job ‘ threading a needle’ –  and getting us up and down the hill in the small standard shift we've rented in its place. Ours is just one of so many roads damaged that we suspect repairs/replacement are years away from ever happening.

The Valley from the entryway of The Stone House on the Hill
We are settling in again to this segment of our part-time ex-pat life. Our temperatures have been summer-like and continue to draw European tourists to the beaches and small villages near us. This month – when the sea water is warmer than in the summer, bouquets fill our gardens, and before the shops and restaurants start closing for olive harvest and subsequent winter hibernation – is really one of the best times to be in The Mani.

Stoupa village's beach shortly after our arrival this fall
We were lucky to have little storm damage at our place.  My fledgling vegetable garden was washed away and we lost small sections of two terraces in the olive grove so we’ve spent much of our first two weeks working on restoration and planting in those areas. But now our 'chores' are back to normal and our pace has slowed.

Our crop of olives is good and we are awaiting harvest
We appreciate those of you who’ve inquired about the area and expressed concern after learning of the 100-year storm and the damage it caused. (See my post, about it, here.)  There were many who were hit far more severely - we lucked out. Admittedly, I am being a bit home-focused in this post, but I wanted to provide a bit of an update for all of you who’ve asked for a report after our return. And you know this is both a travel and a lifestyle blog. Today you are getting a bit of the lifestyle.

Our rental car for this portion of our stay - one of our mountain village roads near us
Our travels and life will be Peloponnese-focused for the next few weeks as will the blog. We've got travel tips for exploring the area and we'll tell you more about the ex pat life of living here as well.

Every day street scenes just waiting to be photographed
We appreciate the time you spend with us each week. And we love hearing from you either by email or in the comment section below.  Until the next time, safe and healthy travels to you and your family ~

Linking this week with some wonderful bloggers at:

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

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

“Where God Put the West”

Moab, Utah “where God put the West’.
        -- John Wayne, 1961, while filming The Comancheros on location

Thanks to movies and television, when you think of the ‘Wild West’ or ‘Out West’ or ‘Cowboy Country’ in the United States, images come to mind of a vast, barren landscape. Probably with a tumbleweed or two rolling past, a desert wind howling with an ominous cloud overhead, maybe a herd of buffalo, coyote, and, of course, a cowboy looking a lot like John Wayne atop his trusty ol’ Paint. 

Monument Valley, Utah in the distance
You are probably thinking of southeastern Utah, the location where a large number of those movies were filmed in the mid-20th Century. On our late summer road trip through the area, I wouldn't have been surprised to see a cowboy or two gallop past. With so many National and Navajo Parks in the area we will need to go back one day for another dose of what has drawn film-makers and tourists to the area for decades.

Map picture
National Parks in Southeast Utah and Northwest Arizona
While I’ve previously written about Monument Valley and Moab, today’s focus is Arches National Park just four miles north of Moab. Established as a National Park in 1929, it features more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches well as hundreds of unique geological formations.

Arches, arches everywhere
We set out about 9:30 a.m. Friday morning of Labor Day weekend to visit the 73,234-acre park. (That is about 119 square miles or 310 square kilometers). I note the time because as the day wore on the lines grew significantly and by Saturday morning cars waiting to enter the park stretched the length of the entryway and out to the highway. Wait times can become significant. Rangers will close the park when they’ve reached the maximum number of visitors.

Looking back at Moab as we head into Arches National Park
The 40-mile round trip road through the park begins with the two-lane road climbing sharply just after the entry gates. Elevations in the park run from 3,960 feet along the Colorado River to 5,653 at its Elephant Butte.  That tiny building – as it appears in the photo – is the large Visitor Center and shouldn’t be missed.

Petra, Jordan or Moab, Utah?
‘How could anything top Monument Valley?’ that wonderful stretch of land we’d traveled through just the day before. We couldn't imagine anything topping that, but we were only a few minutes into the park before we knew it was going to rival, if not exceed, what we had seen in Monument Valley. We were stunned at the similarities between Arches and Jordan’s Petra so we weren’t surprised to learn that parts of ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ had been filmed in both locations.

Mother Nature's handiwork
Precipitation in this area is less than 10 inches a year and on the day we visited the sky was so blue and the sun so bright you needed sun glasses to look at the amazing rock formations (and sun screen and hats).

The national park roadway
According to National Geographic, 300 million years ago inland seas covered this vast area, refilling and evaporating 29 times leaving salt beds thousands of feet deep. Because salt is less dense than rock, it rose up through it forming domes and ridges.

Views at every curve in the road
Most of the arches in the park are red sandstone which was deposited a mere 150 million years ago.

Stones or statues?
Small pull-outs and parking areas are provided along the route through the park.  In some areas trails lead from the parking areas taking visitors a bit closer or allowing a different perspective as was the case with the balanced rock below:

Balanced rock
From the parking lot, this is how the rock appeared. But from the trail that led around it, this is how it looked:

Everything has two-sides to its story
A good reminder that there are two sides to every story and its good to remember it is all in your perspective!

Some needed to get up close and personal
The arches were many – and you’ll note from my photos – never devoid of the tourist who needed to get up close and personal.

Trails in the park are user-friendly
Trails were well maintained and easy to navigate.  Some used walking sticks as the gravel made it difficult in places to get a foot-hold, but most were easily traveled. (Not recommended to do them at high noon as we found ourselves doing them – early morning or late afternoon would be much better both in terms of heat and lighting for photos.)

Too much to see in only one trip
They describe the formations as fins, towers, ribs, gargoyles, hoodos and balanced rocks in this park.  By whatever name, we found them all stunning.

Nature's varnish
The black substance, we learned at the visitor’s center, is a natural ‘varnish’ that the stone produces.

Use your imagination on this one
Our National Park’s just celebrated their 100th birthday and it takes a trip to a park like this one to remind us just what a national treasure we have in these magnificent places.  And for those of you ‘boomers’ out there a reminder that 'old age' has its benefits, like the National Park's life-long pass that gets you in to every National Park as many times as you wish to visit will cost you only $10.  And that to our way of thinking, is one of the best travel deals to be had!

Arches National Park - 'a must-visit' in Utah
For all the information you need on Arches National Park go to the park’s website: https://www.nps.gov/arch/index.htm

For information on the National Park Pass for Seniors: http://store.usgs.gov/pass/senior.html

Thanks so much for the time you spent with us today ~ it is always nice to have you with us.  A big welcome to our new followers and subscribers; we hope you’ll comment often as that is what makes this blog fun!  Our wishes to you for safe and happy travels until we are together again ~ and next week we begin our tales from Greece where we've taken up residence at our Stone House on the Hill for the autumn.

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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