Sunday, June 25, 2017

Greece ~ When the Cicadas Sing. . .

We can’t leave until the cicadas sing, I announced several weeks ago.

For some reason those little insect mariachi bands hadn’t heralded summer’s arrival as early as they did last spring. And that was reason enough in my mind to stick around until they did. (And it didn't take much to convince The Scout that more time here was in order. . .even singing cicadas.)

The Stone House on the Hill
Cicadas are the sound of summer and the song of the Mediterranean. If you've never heard them, their symphony of sound is reminiscent of those 'shaka-shaka-shaka' rhythms generated by orchard sprinklers or an electric wire’s buzz in the mid-day heat.

Our part of Greece was quite literally abuzz with the cicadas song when we returned two weeks ago from our whirlwind trip to France and Switzerland. Since then the temperature has been rising and the cicadas have been singing so . . .

Sunset from The Stone House on the Hill
Our time here - for now - is coming to an end. We are next week returning to America’s Pacific Northwest.

Spring burning in the grove brings a magic haze
As anyone with a second home, vacation home, boat, cabin, RV or other can understand, we are in the pack-up, close-up phase of this ‘other’ life we step into and out of like scene changes on a stage. 
Dust covers will soon be in place; cupboards and refrigerator emptied of perishable food. 

We’ve attached specially treated bags to our olive trees in an eco friendly attempt to kill the ‘dako’, the fly that is ravaging olive crops in Italy and Greece and who might threaten in our absence. We’ve applied the insecticide to keep our citrus trees from insect attack during the next few months.  (A whole new set of behaviors and routines we’ve developed as result of this ex pat adventure.)

Our grove was carpeted with wildflowers in March
We will have lived more of 2017 on this side of the Atlantic than on the other.  So as I am packing up our life and house I thought I'd tell you a bit today about our last 106 days ~ random memories of a spring at our Stone House on the Hill in the Greek Peloponnese:

It is only fitting to start with 'our' cats (who’ve been front and center of our FB posts of late): The photo below is of Mom Cat/Maggie Mae, left, Princess/Sulita/BooBoo, right, and Scamp/Mackie on the floor. 

Maggie Mae is the former stray who’s been the neighborhood baby producing machine until finally we took her in for surgery and she's now our Maggie Mae, who's enjoying being a permanent ‘empty nester’. Princess (aka Sulita and BooBoo, depending on the house she's living at) continues to reign at our place despite belonging to a couple from Athens who have a home further up our hill and are here for less time than we are. Scamp (aka Mackie) lives three doors down, but the other cats at that house intimidate him – as does his shadow – so he hangs out with us when we are here.

Cats Rule at The Stone House on the Hill

And what is a blog post about our Stone House without a report of projects undertaken and completed during our stay?

P1040065Aside from obtaining our residency permits the only big project we hoped to accomplish was converting our concrete ceilings to wood. And once we made the acquaintance of the carpenter and his son who live at the foot of our hill, it didn’t take long to make that happen.

I guess we also had planned to buy a car, but you regulars here know that could only happen with the residence permit which came too late in the stay. That goes on the 'next fall' list.


We’ve also been reminded the last few months of the joy that comes from spending quality time with friends. Not a rushed dinner or a quick text, but real time, real talk. Our friendship world is expanding as we meet others in this new home base. And we love having friends from our other world come and stay with us. What fun it is to show those from our U.S. life this new world of ours and have them say they finally understand what drew us here and what makes us want to stay longer.

The Scout and his long-time friend Mike look out at  Viros Gorge.
Even better when they say they want to return for another visit!

We knew all these friends back in Kirkland, two have moved here, two were visiting
This really is a world where meals can last for hours, where wait staff won’t clear dishes or bring bills until we summon them. . . we’ve grown accustomed to the pace and this lifestyle.

Orange honey cake, one of our favorites
Our days have been sweet and we’ve savored each of them.  More importantly we’ve reminded ourselves how important it is to keep stepping out of our comfort zone. . .and make ourselves stretch our minds and abilities. It isn’t always easy to live in a foreign country but it sure is fun. For that reason we are counting the days until our return in September.

Bus to Kalamata passes through our village a couple times a day
“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”
--Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon

I’ve not yet told you about how we toured the French countryside by public bus nor have I shown you some of the hauntingly beautiful but nearly abandoned ‘tower’ towns just down the road from us here.  I will get to those in future posts but its time to go dig out the suitcases. . .I've got some packing to do!

As always thanks for the time you spend with us and our wishes for safe and healthy travels. And a huge thank you for the overwhelming response you gave us to the news of our Greek residency.  Your enthusiasm and good wishes have brightened our week and made our success a real celebration!

Linking this week with:

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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Road Trip to Greek Residency ~ Journey’s End

Just like that it was over.

So quickly and easily that it didn’t seem possible our long and winding Road Trip to Greek Residency had come to an end with only a 10-minute stop at the Greek Immigration office in Kalamata on Friday.

That's all the time it took to pick up our permanent residency cards.

Road in the Peloponnese wine country

After more than six months on this ‘road trip to residency’ our journey's end was remarkably . . .unremarkable.

We even managed to end the journey on our own – we didn’t have our steadfast attorney at our side as we stood at the Immigration office counter. We handed over our paper ‘temporary’ permits, the official checked our files in the computer, double-checked our passports and issued us the small plastic cards that make us Greek residents.

Our Greek residency ID permit cards

These cards, similar in size to hotel keys, are the keys to our future travels in Europe and time spent in Greece. And that part really is quite remarkable!

As our long-time reader-friends know, we hadn’t envisioned this road trip back when we purchased our Stone House on the Hill two and a half years ago. The Schengen Treaty guidelines for tourists were going to accommodate us well we thought at the time: 90 days in Greece and 90 days out of all Schengen countries.

The Stone House on the Hill 2017
No way were we going through the bureaucratic hassle of getting a residency permit, we’d emphatically vowed back then. We’d had enough translations, costs, and legal fees in buying the house we proclaimed to anyone else who unwittingly asked about our part-time ex pat lifestyle.

Gare du  Nord - Paris, France
One thing we should have known even back then was that we – of all people – should never say never.  Sticking to a 90-day schedule is a rigid way to travel. There’s no flexibility for things that might happen during or outside that window of time  – health issues, special events, spur of the moment side trips - anything could cause a misstep while doing the Schengen Shuffle.

Schengen governs travel in so many countries on this side of the Atlantic that the travel time clock was constantly ticking. Penalties are severe for overstaying the Schengen welcome and don’t let anyone tell you that they don’t check arrival and departure date stamps in the passport. We’ve been checked every time we’ve arrived and left Greece and once even cautioned about the 90-day limit.

A look in the rearview mirror

A look in the rearview mirror

Looking back we realize we began pondering this road trip to residency more than a year ago. We researched while in Greece and in the U.S. We had numerous email conversations with our Greek attorney and phone conversations with the Greek consulate serving our region of the United States.

The journey really got underway last September when we met with our attorney and she outlined out the route we’d need to travel.  Our first stop in February was at the Greek Consulate in San Francisco. An initial interview with each of us and review of our application documents was completed there. We each left with an entry visa which gave us 12 months in which to start (and hopefully complete) the process in Greece.

An appointment with our attorney at a Kardamyli village coffee shop

With our documents approved by the consulate staff we proceeded to get them notarized and apostilled in the U.S. Then, immediately upon our arrival in Greece, they were turned over to our attorney for translation into Greek.  We made our offical application in early April at the Immigration office in Kalamata. Officials there would review documents, perhaps require more documents and/or an in-person interview before a panel of five persons before determining whether to grant the permanent residency permit.

Many forms were filled out, fees paid and office visits made
We hit a roadblock of sorts as the result of timing. Greece decided to comply with a decade-old European Union rule for immigration which changed the visa/permit process from one of a stamp in the passport to one of an ID card that conforms with all other EU immigration cards.  We applied as the change over was implemented so we needed fingerprints, photos and more fees had to be paid. Those little cards hold much information about us in them.

We finally -- in late May learned that we’d been approved. We didn't speak much about it because until the cards were in hand, nothing was guaranteed. We have friends who were ‘that close’ when laws or minds of officials changed, and it was back to the drawing board for them. We crossed our fingers and waited. . .

But getting the cards in hand proved to be quite a waiting game in itself as they are delivered to the Kalamata Immigration office on Thursdays. They come from the police department. However we had no indication of which Thursday.

Bottom line:  Had we not extended our stay in Greece by a few weeks we would have returned to the States this spring without the permanent permits. They arrived on a Thursday a few weeks after being issued. The day we picked them up was day 93 of this stay.

Road to Kalamata

Immigration isn’t for the faint-of-heart

I’ve always admired those folks who moved to another country – immigrants, who for whatever reason wanted a life (or who were forced to make a life) in a new country.  Now that we’ve been through this process – and this is nothing compared to those seeking citizenship – I have only the highest regard for anyone who undertakes a road trip to residency or citizenship in another country.

It is tough. It is expensive. It is humbling. It is frustrating. And it is all beyond your control. You put your best self forward and present your life story to unknown officials who will determine whether you do or don’t qualify for that precious residency permit.  In our case, a permit that will make travel easier and allow us flexibility in our lifestyle. For some though it means freedom and security from a war-torn country or pursuit of a professional goal or educational endeavor.

Journey’s End. . .or Beginning?

We are set until April 2019 – we can stay as long as we want. Why, we could even move here and live full-time!  Should we seek a renewal we will go through a modified application process again in two years. The next permit under current law would be for three years.

It has definitely been an interesting process ~ one that generated tales we can share and laugh about with others who’ve traveled the same road to residency. We have several friends here from the US who’ve become residents in Greece. Our journeys to residency have each had their own twists, turns and roadblocks, but we all agree we are better for having completed the journey.

The Scribe and The Scout - Greek residents!
Our little key-card sized permit stands ready to unlock doors to new adventures for us.  While waiting for the permits to arrive, we’ve dared to discuss some possibilities. . .some that sound downright improbable right now. But five years ago who’d have thought we’d buy a house in Greece? Two years ago who’ve have thought we’d be Greek residents? 

As I said earlier, we, of all people, should never say never. . .

Thanks to so many of you who’ve served as our cheerleaders along the way.  Your words of encouragement and enthusiasm for our efforts have meant more than you'll ever know! We have appreciated both your interest in our lives and your continued time spent reading our tales.  Hope to see you back here next week – and I promise this is the last you’ll hear of this road trip – it’s been a long one!

Safe and healthy travels to you and yours~

Linking up this week with:

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Travel’s Blessings ~ Sunday Serendipity in Geneva

Serendipity - the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

It is a post-card perfect Sunday afternoon in Geneva, Switzerland. Mont Blanc towers in the distance and Lake Geneva has drawn thousands of local and visiting sun-worshippers on this perfect June day.
Lake Geneva 

We didn’t head to the lake though. We went  to church. Not the ‘walk in and admire the architecture’ kind of ‘go to church’, I am talking the ‘sit down and stay awhile’ kind.
Geneva, Switzerland
If a traveler were going to go to church, Geneva, known today as the ‘Protestant Rome” would be a good city in which to do it  - there are more than 140 places of worship from which to choose. There’s even an International Museum of the Reformation here which chronicals the Protestant church reformation.
But that’s not why we went to church.  It was the serendipity of travel that took us to church:
Several years ago while at our Hawaiian timeshare, Ko Olina on O’ahu, we attended an owners ‘meet and greet’. It turns out that several sets of owners come back ‘same time each year’ as we do. And as result of that introductory gathering several of us have become friends. We socialize when together in Hawaii and stay in touch in between. 
Evangelical Lutheran Church of Geneva
One set of KoOlina friends have told us about their son and his family living in Geneva.  He is the minister at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Geneva, which is located on one of the prettiest plazas in the old town. So the serendipity of that chance meeting in Hawaii years ago led us to church this morning in Geneva. We were attending the service conducted by our friends' son.
Children's choir and Rev. Andrew Willis

Had we not gone, we would have missed one of the richest travel experiences we’ve ever had. The congregation was a reflection of the the United Nations headquarters here (the second largest of the organizations four headquarters) – the music and the praise a mix of cultural richness.
Reamo lebogaWe give our thanks to God.
We sang the hymn using the words of Botswana, another hymn was from Namibia another was an English folk tune, and another a Medieval French melody.   
Gathering for communion
The visitors were equally as culturally and ethnically mixed. As we introduced ourselves to the congregation we learned there was a group from Australia seated behind us, a Jazz singer (here for an upcoming festival) from Chicago, a grandmother from Ghana here visiting her grandchildren and several folks who were in town for work at the World Council of Churches.
As we left, I lamented to The Scout that I wish I lived closer – I’d likely be a regular at this worship service. 
But we were not quite done with serendipity it turned out. . .
We strolled through the plaza in front of the church, then around a corner and found ourselves at the Geneva Street Food Festival – a once a year, one-day food and drink fest that we were lucky enough to happen upon. Serendipity, I tell you! 
Our lunch a Palestinian dish
It was tough to decide between Italian, Asian, French, vegan, meat bbq, gourmet hot dogs, and everything in between but we finally chose Middle Eastern, Palestinian food to be exact. 
Wish they'd drive to Greece
Had it been a bit later in the day I’d have indulged in one of my favorites, an Aperol Spritz!
Smoked salmon -- Northwest style?
Or the offerings of the chef in the converted school bus. . .
Old school buses never die. . .

On that note we are off to make the most of our last evening in Geneva. Our whirlwind trip ends tomorrow when we head home to Greece.  Hope that your travels -- like ours - have been blessed with a bit of serendipity. And as always our thanks for being with us on this adventure!
Linking this week with:

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

Sunday, June 4, 2017

France: Bon Jour from Village Marriott ~

We write from the northeastern French countryside where we are making our home for the week in our two-story traditional townhome, surrounded by lush green meadows and golf courses.

Nearby meadowland - France
We could almost believe we  were experiencing true rural life if it weren’t for the fact we are at ‘Village Marriott’. A few miles away – but thankfully not within sight of our ‘village’ -- is Disney’s “Ranch Davy Crockett” (595 cabins in a large wooded area) and “Parc Disneyland”, the theme park better known as Disneyland Paris.

Street signs showing the way to our Marriott Villag

Much more appealing to us is the fact we are smack-dab between two very real French villages – Bailly-Romainvilliers and Magny Le Hongre. Each hamlet is walking distance from our doorstep and offers traditional boulangeries, cafes, grocery stores, fruit and meat markets. 

Our home for the week

Our townhome for the week is on the left side of the building in the photo above. Our neighbors are from Dublin. Ours is one of dozens of two- and three-bedroom townhomes in the Marriott Vacation Club d’lle-de-France. It is, in other words, one of their timeshare or interval ownership properties.
Now before those skeptics among you quit reading because I’ve said those dastardly words: timeshare, let me tell you that timeshares aren’t what they used to be.

This stay, our first here, in fact is proving they really can be quite luxurious.

PicMonkey Collage
Kitchen, living and dining room. French doors open to the patio and lawn.

Our main floor consists of a dining and living room, a fully quipped kitchen, a laundry room off of it, and a half bath off the entryway foyer.The stairway from the foyer leads to two bedrooms, each with its own bathroom.

PicMonkey Collage

What brought us here was one of our favorite features of timeshare life: ability to trade what you own for some new place in the world.  We own at Marriott’s timeshare property at KoOlina on the west side of O’ahu, one of the islands in Hawaii.  Our units there called ‘lock off’ units meaning you can use the large size unit (think 1-bedroom condo) and lock-off the second bedroom (think oversized hotel room with wet bar, microwave and small refrigerator) and basically get a two-week stay for the price of a one-week, two-bedroom purchase.

It was one of our ‘hotel-sized room weeks we traded for this spacious townhome.

Along our route to the lobby

Our timeshare ownership in Hawaii has allowed us to trade time for stays at Marriott Vacation Clubs in Bangkok, Thailand, Spain's Costa del Sol and Phoenix, Arizona as well as here. A highpoint of each property is the amazing landscaping  - but I think this place has raised the bar on landscaping.

Our townhome is in a section of the development called Giverny, and fans of Monet know that many of his paintings were of his Giverny home and gardens. In tribute to him they have created here a replica of them on this part of the development.

PicMonkey Collage
Almost Monet's gardens

So I did the math on this stay and checking rates here for a week-long stay in June as we are doing, we’d be paying about 300-euros a night; 2,100, for the week which equates to about one year’s maintenance fees at our home resort.  The cost of the trade fee was less than $200 and we’ve still got a week left to use in ‘the big side’ of our Hawaiian timeshare. All in all a good travel deal.

Pool area, lobby, bistro restaurant

For those considering a stay here: The resort offers a shuttle service to Disneyland and to the RER train station, about four miles away.   It is about 10 minutes to Disneyland and from the train station Paris is 50-minutes away.  A week-long train pass – Pass Navigo Semaine – allows travel on trains, metro and buses in Paris as well as this rural area for about 27 euros a person. 

That’s it from this side ‘of the pond’ this week.  I know I promised a report on our Greek road to residency but it turns out we haven’t moved any further along it than we were last week.  Perhaps extending our time in Greece until the end of June will result in a conclusion of the journey before we return to the States. .. then again, maybe not. . .

Safe travels to you all and thanks so much for the time you spent with us at 'Village Marriott'. Hope to see you back again next week!

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


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