Sunday, May 28, 2017

Greece ~ If I Could Save Time in a Bottle. . .

If I could save time in a bottle. . .  If I could make days last forever. . .”
        -- Lyrics from  Time in a Bottle, 1970’s,  Jim Croce

Since I first heard this song way-back-when, I’ve loved the idea of putting time in a bottle and making some of my favorite days last forever. . .

Mani - Greece
I’m certain we’ve all had milestone moments we’d like to stockpile  – an incredible trip, a significant birthday, a reunion of family or friends – and be able to relive them by simply popping a cork.
This song was penned and sung by Jim Croce, to mark a milestone in his own life: he wrote it for his wife after learning that after many years of trying, they were going to have a baby.

PicMonkey Collage
The Stone House on the Hill - Peloponnese, Greece
As the month of May, like April and March before it, has hurtled past at breakneck speed in Greece, I am humming that Croce song more often and wishing I could put even the most ordinary of days at The Stone House on the Hill into a bottle. One that we could tuck in the suitcase and then pull out as needed when we return to that other life of ours in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. As we come to the end of our longest-to-date stay on the European side of the Atlantic, we suspect it could be a bit more difficult to get into the swing of the other life we live.

Pantazi Beach afternoon - our house on the hill in the distance
We comment every so often on how easily we’ve become a part of this simple, rural lifestyle which is so different than the one in the U.S.  We wear different clothing, eat dinner at a time we’d be preparing for bed back there, eat an array of tree and plant-ripened foods that we can’t even hope to get back there. We don't focus on politics nor fret over health issues when together with friends here. We spend far less time on the computer. So removed from that life is this one that I was surprised when it took a FB post by a friend to remind me it was Memorial Day weekend in the States.

Tractors hauling fishing boats - a common sight here

Facebook posts and news media (traditional media) have become our links with life back in the States. We’ve noted that aside from a couple of friends who write regularly, we have heard very little from friends and family ‘back there’ this spring. An occasional email is a pleasant surprise but I’ve quit opening the inbox first thing each day and then fretting over why we may not have heard from someone. Invariably, when I write to check on them, they respond 'been busy'.  After awhile their message sunk in: it was time to get busy with life here.

So busy we have been with day-to-day life on a hill in the Peloponnese that those months that  stretched before us with promise of a nice long stay are nearly over.

The teeny-tiny olives are between those leaves at the top of the photo

We've watched the baby olives make their appearance in the grove, new flower beds are filled with promise and other projects have been undertaken and completed at a leisurely pace. We've taken road trips. We've had houseguests.

‘Kalo Mina, Happy Month,’ we’ve called out in greeting – just as the locals do – at the beginning of each new month and how quickly those new months have been arriving!

PicMonkey Collage
We completed the gravel pathway in the upper garden
I’ve become unabashedly wistful as I go about our routines here, thinking of those every-day times I’d save in a bottle while wishing our days here would last at least a bit longer, if not forever. We continue to add to our 'to do' and 'to visit' lists for the ex pat life.

But there never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do
Once you find them. . .
Time in a Bottle, Jim Croce

So, you are likely thinking that  if we like it so much here, why aren’t we staying longer? Excellent question! We’ve asked ourselves the same thing several times, and it has come back to each time. . .

Exploring the backroads of the Deep Mani

That Road trip to Greek Residency

We’d originally planned this stay as if we were traveling on our tourist visa (doing the Schengen Shuffle with 90-days here and 90-days out). We scheduled our departure for this coming Friday, leaving just enough time per Schengen rules to make a stop in France and Geneva on the way back to Seattle.

We weren't counting on getting residency permits this spring; we’d anticipated our Road Trip to Residency might be a slow journey. So far it has lived up to our expectations. (We understand why they issue a year-long entry visa to allow enough time obtain a residency permit.)  Our flight plans had to be in place to obtain the entry visa way back in February in San Francisco.

However, since I last updated you on our journey, we've inched forward. We were fingerprinted by Greek immigration officials, our electronic photos have been fed into the computer system. Our translated-into-Greek and apostilled documents have been under review for several weeks.

The Scout receives his temporary permit, our attorney explains it to him.

We have been granted a temporary residence permit – good for a year while the review continues. It is much like the entry visa we obtained in San Francisco, just a bit closer to the real thing. 

However, with no permanent permit yet in hand and no promise that it would be issued (immigration officials can still require more documents or an interview before a panel) we decided to make the most of our temporary visa.

We threw logic to the wind.
We bit the bullet.
We paid the price to change our airline reservations.
We extended our stay in Europe until the end of June. . .exceeding that Schengen 90 day allowance by a couple of weeks!!

Our accommodations in France and Geneva are non-refundable so we’ll turn that segment into a vacation – we'll still leave Friday but instead of Seattle will fly to Athens on June 12th.

Sunset from the Stone House on the Hill
I’ll have a chance to bottle up a few more days and memories on this side ‘of the pond’.  We hope you are making memories and that your travels are healthy and happy ones! Thanks, as always, for your time!

A bit of foreshadowing: Our attorney has sent an update on our permanent residency permit . . .I'll save that update for next week. . .

Linking this week with:

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

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Citta dei Nicliani ~ Hidden Treasure in the Deep Mani

A full moon was beginning its twilight climb. A chilly breeze rattled the leaves.The cries of the jackals echoed across the broad expanse of rangeland that linked us to the sea. As we sipped wine on our room’s small terrace overlooking the stone courtyard, I gave thanks for eavesdropping.

Moon rising at hotel Citta Dei Nicliani - Peloponnese
Had it not been for eavesdropping on a conversation in a local village cafe a year or so ago we may never have found the hotel Citta dei Nicliani because even after nearly a decade of operation it remains somewhat a hidden treasure in the area of the Peloponnese known as ‘the Deep Mani'.

The Deep Mani is a vast, lightly-populated area with scattered small villages – some now deserted -  and some which were first written about by Homer. Its a rugged land with a rugged history; wars, feuds and piracy. It is the Land of the Towers, but that topic is deserving of another post on another day. . .
The Inner Mani - Greece Peloponnese
. .extensive wine list. . .great dinner. . .unbelievable breakfast. . .luxurious accommodations

‘Excuse me,’ I recall saying to the man seated near us, ‘We couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. Where is this place??’

Courtyard view of the reception/lounge/dining area
Turns out this hidden gem is only an hour’s drive south of our Stone House on the Hill but still we didn't get around to experiencing its charms firsthand until a couple of weeks ago.

Its name Citta dei Nicliani, its Italian for ‘city of the Nicliani’ a clan of strong people who populated the area during the Ottoman rule. They are said to have written an Italian duke seeking help in opposing that Ottoman rule – and got it. The original tower on the property, a restored centerpiece of the hotel was built in 1750.

Charms of the Citta dei Nicliani

View from inside the lounge/reception area Citta dei Nicliani
It was through the imagination and hard work of an Athens family: Ilias and Tanya Sepsas, and their children, Zaira and Paniotis, that created this first class hotel as it is aptly labeled. It opened in 2011.  The family foursome is responsible for the day-to-day operation of this seven room hotel.

Walkway beneath Citta dei Nicliani
As is usual with our travels, we set out on this adventure somewhat at the last minute.  Most of the rooms were already reserved but we managed to book one of the two remaining for a next-day arrival. Booking one of the last rooms available always makes us a bit nervous but in this case we shouldn’t have been;  it was simply charming.

PicMonkey Collage
Our room and en suite at Citta dei Nicliani 
Designers have blended up-scale modern designs into the rooms carved out of the renovated historic old buildings.The hotel features Guy Larouche bedding, flat screen television (which we never turned on) and incredibly fast and free wi-fi.

The Scout and Paniotis Sepsas, hotel manager, review the wine list
That man who’d described the place as having an extensive wine list, hadn’t exaggerated.  Paniotis, who is the master of the wine cellar handed The Scout a 52-page book with wines available for purchase.  Perhaps the most amazing entry to us was a Cayuse wine from Washington State – a wine so highly sought back in the Pacific Northwest that you must be on a waitlist to purchase it from the winery and that is almost impossible to find at retail outlets, but here we could  - if we wanted to pay the 250-euro price, which isn’t out of line for that label.

PicMonkey Collage
Lobby/reception/dining area - hotel Citaa dei Nicliani
The reception/lounge/dining area was a glass-walled structure that allowed the blooms of fragrant garden vines to dangle inside from the roof line, fresh cut blooms decorated all the tables and so many bric-a-brac and books on display that it will take another visit just to flip through a few more of their pages and admire the decor.

PicMonkey Collage
Dining - a made-to-order experience- Citta dei Nicliani
If a guest choses to eat dinner at the hotel, the menu selection is made by late afternoon with a preferred serving time noted. These meals are individually cooked and the loaves of bread – carob and wheat – are baked daily and served out of the oven with the meal.

And breakfasts which are included in the room price are such a feast that you need not eat again until dinner. They offer an array of salts and sugars almost as extensive as their selection of wine.

PicMonkey Collage
Breakfast was in itself a reason to get up each day - Citta dei Nicliani
We spent two nights  which gave us a full day to explore the Inner Mani area and we barely touched the surface – we could easly have filled another day, if not two, had we taken a few hikes, spent time on the nearby beaches or visited each of the villages in our immediate area.

Looking into the reception area - Hotel Citta dei Nicliani
Now at this point you are saying to yourself, she must be exaggerating – it couldn’t be that great – go take a look at TripAdvisor where you’ll find 137 reviews of the hotel. Seven are 'above average' and 130 are 'excellent'.  Words used in the reviews include ‘magical’, ‘never been to a place like this’, ‘never had such a warm welcome’. 

Better yet, go stay there and experience this treasure of the Inner Mani. Rates vary between high and low season and the room. Our room was 90-euros a night. We certainly plan to be regulars there! (And for the record: we weren't comp'ed for our stay, nor did they know I was writing about the stay until the morning we left.)
For more information:

That’s it from us this week. Again I am a bit late with this post but we’ve been without internet for the last three days.  Summertime is easing its way into our part of Greece and the livin’ is easy.  Hope the same holds true for you whatever season you are enjoying in your part of the world. Thanks again for the time you spend with us ~ safe travels to you and yours!

Linking up - internet willing with these fine folks:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Sirocco Wind and Saharan Sand ~ Springtime in Greece

The sky turned as gray as if a rainstorm was headed our way.  The air was humid and heavy. The temperature, climbing.

Gray sand-filled skies made for an odd sunset

The Sirocco, as the wind that blows from the North African desert is known, was blowing sand from the Sahara. As it darkened the horizon and dirtied the house, we knew spring had arrived and we were on our way to summer in our area of the Greek Peloponnese.

It is the most wonderful miserable weather imaginable, to my way of thinking. And I love it, simply because I am here to experience it! 

PicMonkey Collage
Scirocco sunset, left, regular sunset, right

For so many years I’ve read books set in the Mediterranean – novels, travelogues and those real-life tales written by ex pats -- that have told of the winds and the sand and I found the whole concept so . . .well, . . .exotic.  I really hadn't thought about the dirt.

The Sirocco originates amid the dry, dusty conditions of North African, bringing sand from the Sahara Desert. As it makes its way north it adds a fair bit of humidity and by the time it reaches Italy, France, Spain, or Greece it is packing a warm wallop of dirt and dust.  Housecleaning is a waste of time when the Sirocco is in town. And you certainly don’t want to hang laundry out to dry either. It is too hot to do much else. So you sit and watch the dust blow (just like all those things I'd read had said).

Sirocco greeting 2016 en route home from Athens
Our introduction to this weather phenomenon was a year ago when we were driving from Athens to The Mani and instead of the magnificent blue sky and stretches of green fields we are accustomed to passing through, we drove into a sand ‘fog’ bank.

Luckily in our area the winds and their sands seem to last no more than a few days.  Enough time for me to experience the exotic that I’d dreamt of and enough time to dirty up everything and move on.

PicMonkey Collage
May Day 2017 in Greece
All sorts of signs of spring giving way to summer have been evident in The Mani the last few weeks.  And most of those signs were far more beautiful than the blowing African sands.  For example, on May 1st, nearly every home and business sported a beautiful hand-made wreath (some cars even have them affixed to the hood).  They are sure signs of spring.

Nasturtium carpets in the olive groves 
Another sign is that the nasturtium has begun carpeting fields and trees in the area (well, everywhere but at our house where my attempts to get them to grow have again failed.)

Baby Kalamatas (those little dots between the leaves) have appeared on the triees
The olives – Kalamata olives – are but mere pinpricks in size in the spring.

Fisherman leaves the port of Agios Nikolaos
The fishing fleets are out in full force and the pleasure craft are beginning to appear in harbors and ports that dot this coastal area.

Limeni Harbor to our south
We are basking – sometimes baking – in temperatures this week that are nearing 90F and 32 –34C.  Spring might well be giving way to an early summer. . .here in this exotic Mediterranean that I’ve for so long imagined.  You know? Sometimes reality is even better than one’s imagination!

20160331_081316 [1378312]That’s it from The Stone House on the Hill this week. Hope whatever season you are experiencing in your part of the world that it is a lovely one. 

I'm a bit late posting this week as we’ve been busy with our adopted (as in, she-adopted-us) Mom Cat, pictured left in a very pregnant state last year.

For those not on FB, Mom has been a regular at our place for nearly two years, either about to give birth or with nursing kittens. She gave birth to three  kittens in early April and all died a few weeks ago. The sad situation had a golden lining as we finally had a window of time while we were here to get “Mom” fixed.  She had surgery on Thursday and we’ve been busy watching over her (doting) ever since.  The vet told us she was already pregnant with four kittens so the surgery was a bit more than expected. She is, I am happy to report (knock on wood) doing well. And, 'Mommy' Cat has become 'Maggie' Cat.

Safe travels to you and yours ~ and as always, thanks for the time you spend with us!

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

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Greek Road Trips: Finding the Menalon Magic

Our destination was Dimitsana, population 340.

Clinging to a hillside overlooking the Lousios Gorge in the Menalon Mountain range of the Peloponnese, the small hamlet lies northeast of Kalamata.

We’d chosen it to be our introduction to the area from among a dozen such small villages that are scattered across the region known as Central Arkadia (are-cod-EE-ah).

Dimitsana, Peloponnese

Lonely Planet’s guidebook describes it as ‘a tangle of precipitous ravines and narrow roads that wind their way through the medieval-village-speckled valleys of the Menalon Mountains. . .where you’ll find some of the most breathtaking mountainous scenery in the Peloponnese.’ 

P1030659The guidebook described it perfectly. But it didn’t prepare us for the lush forested peaks that rise from those magnificent gorges nor for the charm of its villages. I've caught myself wanting to use the word 'charming' in every paragraph of this post.

The guidebook could also have described it as:

'a magical land straight out of a fairy tale’.

Amanites Guesthouse, Dimitsana - Our room with a view
The first part of the trip is on the national highway, a slick divided four-lane route, that links Kalamata to Athens. Our adventure began after leaving that freeway as we set out on roads so narrow in places and without guardrails that we were relieved when the only on-coming traffic was a herd of goats.

As the road became rougher, and thinking this place really was remote, we realized we’d taken the wrong turn back at the village with the castle (I said it was a fairy tale setting so of course there would be a castle). Once we got on the right road (which was narrow but well maintained), it didn’t take long to reach our destination.

Oncoming traffic in Greece's Arkadia region

Each of the roads had taken us through several picturesque towns each it seemed with an ancient castle, or bell towers or church or fortress.

PicMonkey Collage
Villages in Central Arkadia - Peloponnese
We had afternoon cappucinos in a captivating village named Stemnitsa, population 200, home to a gold and jewelry college. Items created there are sold throughout Greece. The village is also known to outdoor enthusiasts from around the world because of. . .

No better place to sip a cappuccino than Stemnitsa, Peloponnese

The Menalon Trail

Menalon Trail Map
The area’s a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts who are hiking all, or parts, of the 72.5km Menalon Trail that stretches between the villages of Stemnitsa  and Lagkadia.

The well-signed trail, completed in May 2015, offers eight sub-section hikes. One of the most popular is the 12.5 km route from Stemnitsa to Dimitsana. That route takes hikers past two Monasteries – each worth a visit.

We didn’t bring day packs and hiking poles, hats and gear for tackling the route, but having seen the area, we plan to return and explore at least a part of it one day.

Lousios Gorge, Central Arkadia

Destination Dimitsana

Gunpowder Mill - Dimitsana
We did – thanks to the advice of friends -- visit the village’s Open Air Water Power Museum (now don’t quit reading or start snoring here!). 

We are glad we took their recommendations – it was a great trip back into the area’s pre-industrial past.

Paying the 3-euro per person admission we toured the restored grounds and mills of the long-ago bustling Agios Yiannis (St. George) mill. It is 1.6 km from the village, a nice taster-sized hike or you can drive and park at the site nestled into the side of the gorge. We watched the water-run flour mill operate as well as the nearby gunpowder mill. (Ammunition was produced here for the Greek War of Independence.)

New upscale bars and bistrots line old cobble-stone streets in Dimitsana
Coffee shops, upscale bars and restaurants – so many from which to choose that we couldn’t try them all in a single two-night visit.  And the view of the the gorge from those overlooking it, drew us back each night to sip and savor the view.

8 p.m. sun was just setting over the Lousios Gorge - we had a front row seat
There are guesthouses and hotels in several of the villages.  We chose Amanites Guesthouse, an 8-room boutique hotel recommended by Lonely Planet guidebook. We had a delightful room with a view (note photo above) and our 70-euro a night rate included  a buffet breakfast the featured homemade jams and spreads, a variety of bread and pastries, eggs, cheeses, fruits and vegetables.

Breakfast buffet included at Amanites Guesthouse hotel - Dimitsana
While warm weather brings hikers to the area, winter snow draws the big city dwellers. If you are traveling between Athens and Ancient Olympia, this is a great scenic route to follow.

If we’ve teased your travel bug with this post, here are some sites you might find of interest:
Map picture
Menalon Trail,
Open Air Water Power Museum
Amanites Guesthouse
Dimitsana is less than two hours drive from Kalamata.

That’s it for this week’s travels in Greece. We thank you for the time you spend with us and love hearing from you.  And thanks to those of you who’ve been recommending Travelnwrite to your friends! Hope you’ll be back next week and until then safe travels to you and yours.

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


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