Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Year in Greece. . .maybe, just maybe

‘. . .You start dying slowly. . .
If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream,
If you do not allow yourself, at least once in your lifetime,
To run away from sensible advice.’
                    ~ Pablo Neruda

Arriving Athens, Greece
I suspect every ex pat out there whether part- or full-time understands Neruda’s words. We are learning that to be an ex pat, in the truest sense of the word, you need to embrace them all.

In fact, those words if set to music could be our theme song right now: we are going after a dream, challenging the uncertain – and as many of our friends and family seem to think -- we are running away from what is sensible.

At the door of our U.S. 'landing pad' in the Seattle suburbs
When we return to our Stone House on the Hill in the Greek Peloponnese countryside this fall we plan to stay.  Not for a couple months, as we did during the Schengen Shuffle years, but really stay ~ as in live there. It will be our home, our landing pad in the world, for at least a period of time.

In our case though, with our belongings in storage or farmed out to family and friends, we will set off in September to write another chapter in what we are calling our Last Great Adventure.

Our Kirkland home

The news isn’t a surprise to many of you regulars at TravelnWrite – you were reading between the lines of that earlier post when I wrote about giving ourselves permission to live differently.  You saw it coming the minute I wrote our summer goals were ‘discarding and downsizing’.

Our house and neighbors are near and dear to us, but in the last few years we’ve become visitors, not residents. More time has been spent in Greece and living out of a suitcase than was spent ‘at home’.

With the new plan we are simply reversing what we have been doing. Greece will be the base but we will still return to the Northwest once or twice a year and without yard work and household chores (at least for awhile) we'll have plenty of time to visit friends and family.

Opening and Closing Doors

 Provins, France
We’ve been inspired and helped by the experiences and stories of our ex pat friends – those in our real life world and our blogosphere virtual world -- who’ve already taken the leap into the unknown. They tell us they've not regretted their moves; each describing a feeling of freedom not to mention the joy of fully immersing themselves in a new culture and country.

For that matter we have friends who’ve upended their sedentary lives in the Northwest and headed out to other destinations in the U.S. They also report that same sense of well-being that comes with change.

Proud of those residency cards
Ours wasn’t a snap decision.  At the time we applied for a residency permit we toyed with the possibility of actually living on ‘our’ hill in the Peloponnese. By the time we got through the process we had decided the time was now or never.

Fish or cut bait.
We could stay longer.
We aren’t getting any younger.
What were we waiting for?

And besides, the bottom line is, we really like living there.

But there’s a vast difference between making a decision to go after a dream and embrace the unknown and actually putting yourself in a position of doing so.  First step in opening a new door is to shut another.

The Dream and The Reality


The reality of the new plan is that the time has come to put our home of 30 years in the Seattle suburbs will go on the market. (And that type of downsizing activity is not so unusual for 60-something people - many of our friends are doing just that!)

What we were dreading and rightly so it seems is the enormity of the task of cleaning out and discarding. The day-to-day tasks of packing and storing a lifetime of memories, belongings and every day things that it takes to make life run is a real ‘slog’ as one expat friend calls it.

My special doll from childhood tucked away in a bureau drawer. . .The extra deodorant and toothpaste in the bathroom cupboard. . .The clothes that are relegated to the closet by travel destination: Hawaii, Greece, Northwest. . . Dish soap and laundry detergent. . .Everything
in the house.

Everything needs to go somewhere by summer’s end. . .and getting it there is where we are right now in this journey.

Between Stoupa and Ag. Nikolaos on a winter's day
It also means rethinking life beyond the belongings.  The daily routines: What about the snail mail? How many memberships and services will be discontinued? Health insurance? What do we do with our cars? Or who will take my houseplants so carefully tended by my neighbor while we are gone –  soon to be orphans?

The Change Begins

Our summer calendar was created by our realtor. It sets out our tasks and timelines. A ‘stager’ hired by the realtor has toured our home and told us what can stay and what needs to go before it can be shown to potential buyers. (Half the furniture needs to go as does all art and decorations, throw rugs and towels. We can leave the coffee pot on the kitchen counter though!)  We have photo shoots and drone schedules on the calendar. We speak realtor talk of  “launches’ and ‘showings’.

Sunset at the Stone House on the Hill

But we are keeping in mind why we are doing all this; how blessed we are to have a chance to dream the dream and challenge the unknowns.  Sitting on a deck at The Stone House on the Hill is a much better idea than at an old folks care facility – that’s for sure!

While we aren’t doing a lot of traveling in the real sense of the word this summer, it is an interesting journey we’ve undertaken. Once in Greece we’ll give ourselves some time. . .maybe a year. . .maybe just a few more months than we could stay before . . .to enjoy that other world of ours. 

Our Stone House on the Hill this spring caption
I don’t want to dilute the travel emphasis of our blog with mundane moving tales, but we know some of you reading this are going through similar down-sizing processes or giving some thought to some major changes in lifestyle.  We thought you'd like to know you aren't alone in this time of adventure.

Want to share some of your experiences with us?  Leave a comment below, shoot us an email or comment on the FB post. It would be fun hearing from you and what you are up to. Until next time, our thanks for your time and wishes for safe and happy travels.

For those stopping by for the first time, you can read more about our ex pat life in Greece at: The Stone House on the Hill

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Geneva, Switzerland ~ Our Portal to Greece

Let’s begin by saying there are no direct flights between Seattle and Athens.  

That means for ‘commuters’ like us, we need to fly to somewhere else and then connect with another plane or airline to get the rest of the way – traveling in either direction.

The Jet D'Eau, Geneva's landmark shoots water 140 meters into the air
And we can thank that routing dilemma for introducing us to Geneva, Switzerland this year.

What I didn’t know about Geneva before going there:

Geneva's most famous clock

* A walk down Geneva’s Rue du Rhone reminds you why Switzerland is known for its watches. Watches and their (breath-taking) prices fill window displays of shops lining this road.  Think famous brand name watch and you’ll most-likely find it on this street.

* Geneva’s Old Town is home to the church’s Reformation movement. This year the city it noting the 500th Year Anniversary of the Reformation and the event’s calendar is filled with celebrations.

* Geneva is home to the European headquarters of the United Nations.

* So small and compact is this large city, that the airport is only six minutes from the heart of town and the train station is so close to the lake that you can easily walk to many of the hotels that front the lake.
Geneva's Old Town - home to the Reformation Movement 500 years ago

Back to the Airline Tickets and Gateway Cities for a moment: 

A number of you have asked how we get back and forth between Greece and Seattle. The possibilities are endless.  New York, London, Paris, Istanbul, Amsterdam, Munich, Dubai and Cairo are among the cities that we could transit when traveling between our two homes, on ‘The Hill’ in Greece and in the Seattle suburbs.

Our choice of departure city usually depends on the best deal on the airline ticket. That’s where The Scout comes in. He starts his comparison shopping weeks before our targeted travel dates, using First thing we learned is that you automatically save money by beginning the round-trip on that side ‘of the pond’ and not from the U.S.  Second is that the departure city can have a significant impact on the cost. And third, be a bit flexible on travel dates.

Swiss chocolate really is divine!
Using our recent trip as an example:  We flew British Airlines from Geneva in June to Seattle and will return to Greece via Geneva in September. Our seats are Premium Economy – that upgraded little section of the plane that is not as cramped as economy and not as plush as Business.  Our flight from Geneva, about an hour and a half long, connected with the long-haul flight in London to Seattle. 

(We fly Greece’s Aegean Airlines or their code-share partners to and from Athens and our gateway city – usually for less than $200US per ticket). Even with that flight cost added on, it is cheaper than flying from Athens to Seattle. Go figure!

Had we flown Aegean directly to London and caught the long-haul flight, those Premium Economy seats would have cost $500US more PER SEAT than by departing out of Geneva and simply connecting with that same British Air long-haul flight from London. It was a screamin’ deal and we got to visit a city that had been on the ‘bucket list’ for years.

On a clear day, Geneva's colors are spectacular

Geneva: What was saved was spent

What we saved on airfare we probably will spend on our stays in this picturesque city on the shores of Lake Geneva.

You spend Swiss francs quickly but they sure are pretty 
I thought we were prepared for the Geneva sticker shock having heard horror stories from friends who’ve been there. We weren’t.

During a stroll on our first afternoon there I wanted a latte and chose one of the cafe’s with beautiful outdoor patios in which to drink it.  It was lovely, tasted okay and cost $8US. Luckily I’d changed my mind about the ice cream I’d considered having with it as it was listed as $14US a serving. At McDonald’s the next morning our ‘Happy Meals’  – no hash browns – cost $18US. You get the idea. . .
This charcuterie was served gratis with our wine at an Old Town restaurant
Tip:  We did find that the further away from the lake you got, the better were the prices.  We had very reasonably priced dinners – not inexpensive – but reasonable in Geneva’s old historic part of town and out near the airport. And the historic settings couldn’t have been more magical.

The Screaming Deal

Geneva's Transport Card - a FREE ticket to ride
On the flip side, one of the best travel deals we’ve ever gotten was Geneva’s FREE transport card.  Tourists staying at any of Geneva’s hotels, youth hostels or even a camp site are issued a free transport card at time of check in. It allows you to ride the city’s trams, buses, and trains (even to the airport) and also the yellow taxi boats that regularly zip back and forth to several locations along the lake shore. We never used a taxi and traveled everywhere on public transportation.

Bottom Line

In the end, the cost of Geneva was worth it. We are looking forward to our return.. For those who’ve said you may come visit us in Greece ‘some day’ keep in mind that flexibility in routing could be a key to savings as well as an introduction to some wonderful new place!

That’s it for this week. I’ll have more Geneva stories this fall. Again, thanks so much for the time you’ve spent with us. Hope your travels are healthy and happy ones ~

Linking this week with:

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Monday, July 10, 2017

Life in Greece: “Do You Ever Eat at Home?”

“I am just wondering,” asked my friend Elana, “do you ever eat at home? I mean, do you cook?”

It was a valid question. She'd been at The Stone House on the Hill a couple days and never eaten a bite there.

Stoupa Restaurant has views of the sea and the village
It made me laugh and I answered in the affirmative but she likely didn’t believe me. From the moment she and her husband had arrived we’d traveled in high gear from one location to the next as we tried to have them experience all our favorite eateries.

With even the heartiest of appetites and the best of good intentions, with so many places from which to choose, it just wasn’t going to happen in the few days they were with us. They ended their visit not once eating a meal at The Stone House on the Hill.

PicMonkey Collage
Is it the food or the views that bring us back to this tavern in Kardamyli?
When discussing houseguests with our ex pat friends who live in our slice of The Mani we often ponder the difficulties and dilemmas of how many places can we take our visitors before we all succumb to that heavenly near-coma state brought on by overeating.

With a typical visit lasting three or four nights, we have to squeeze a lot of eating into a short amount of time.

PicMonkey Collage
Moussaka and chips to the left; seafood pastitsio on the right

What, Where and How much?

Actually Elana’s question was one asked by many. Eating – the what, when and where – is one of the biggest curiosities we’ve found that people have about our life in the Greek Peloponnese.

* Do you have a grocery store nearby?
Yes! A large supermarket, several bakeries and the ‘fruit man’ makes regular runs through the villages selling fruits and veggies from his truck.
* Can you get rose wine there?
Yes! White, red and rose – served in pitchers in quarter-, half- and kilo amounts is the most economical at restaurants (never more than 6-euros for the largest) but sometimes we ‘splurge’ and buy a bottle (10 – 20-euro restaurant price) and drink to our heart’s content for far less than in the U.S.
* Are there restaurants near you?
Yes! Definitely!

What is Greek food?

In the United States we came to know Greek food as being a ‘Greek salad’, a gyro (yh-ero, not JI-roe) those pitas wrapped around meat, French fries, tomatoes and onions and slathered with tzatziki sauce. Or the multi-layered traditional Greek dishes, moussaka (layers of aubergine, potato, minced meat (hamburger) and topped with a bechamel) or pastitsio, (layers of pasta and meat or fish dish with bechamel).

Easter's traditional meal - roasted lamb
Little did we know of the wonders of the varieties of Greek dishes: their stifados (slow-cooked, stew-like dishes), their grilled lamb, pork and beef, their beet root creations, oh, . . .how the list could go on. A plate of giant beans is ambrosia when eaten in a Greek taverna. The pastas and pizzas rival those produced by the Italians to the north. The fresh greens, tomatoes used in salads – not to mention that slab of feta (which rivals gold prices if purchased in the US) brings exclamations from all our visitors.

PicMonkey Collage
Salads we have known, loved and eaten
Sometimes I am not sure if it is the cuisine that makes these places our favorites or if it is the settings or the warmth and charm of the owners. Perhaps it is the lovely combination of all those factors.

PicMonkey Collage
A favorite restaurant of ours is housed in an old olive press in a nearby mountain village

Eating at Home

Truth is we do eat at home. Quite often.

As I said earlier, tree-ripened fruit and just-picked vegetables are in abundance. The ‘fruit man’ makes a regular run through the villages several times a week. Several fishermen sell their catch at the harbor each morning. Just across the street from the harbor there’s a meat market, a bakery is a few steps away. Kalamata, the big city an hour away has a large municipal market operating two days a week and Aeropolis, a bit closer and to our south operates a Saturday market.

For less than 10 euro. . .
And it is fun to try new recipes. Converting ingredient amounts to the Metric systems is a bit like solving a puzzle and challenges the brain. Although sometimes it is nice to just ‘whip up’ a salad for casual deck dining.

The bowl and serving tongs are gifts from friends
Or when the autumn or early spring chill keeps us indoors, it is fun to light a fire in the fireplace and serve up a helping of something slow-cooked during the day.

We don't eat this 'formally' most nights.
So a note to future houseguests: bring loose clothing and an adventuresome appetite as we plan to have you sampling some incredible food served in the most picturesque locations you’ll ever find and at prices so incredibly low that you, too, will ask,

“Do you ever eat at home?”

Thanks for your many comments on last week's post about down-sizing and de-cluttering.  It is nice to know we aren't alone in this tedious task! We are taking a break this week in the declutter and downsizing efforts and are off to visit The Scout’s hometown in Central Washington State.  I’m writing a freelance article about it and we’ve got some researching to do! I'll tell you about what we find in a future post.

Hope to see you back next week and until then safe and healthy travels to you and yours. And - as always - our thanks for being with us~

Linking this week with:
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Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday
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inking up this week with:

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Living Differently ~ A Matter of Time and Lifestyle

We’ve got all the time in the world.
                   -- The Scout

Gerolimenas - Greece
That concept of ‘all the time in the world’ is how we’ve approached travel - and life - in these commitment-free days of ‘boomer-hood’.  Not tethered to a job. No children thus, no grandkids. No other family commitments. No pets.  No ties.

We realized some time ago that we aren’t ‘empty-nesters’ - we seem almost to be ‘no nesters'. And with that realization, our travels became more frequent and the destinations further away. We stayed in distant places longer wanting to experience more of ‘that life’.

But even die-hard travelers like us enjoy the comforts of a home so we purchased a few weeks at timeshare homes in Arizona and Hawaii and then added our Stone House on the Hill in the Greek Peloponnese. Such a variety locations has us living a part of each year in a high rise condominium tower overlooking the Pacific Ocean and a low-rise southwestern adobe-style condominium with a desert view; a home in an olive grove outside a rural Greek village and a single family home metropolitan suburban Seattle.

PicMonkey Collage
From top left clockwise: Greece, Arizona, Kirkland, Hawaii

Seize the day, then let it go.
              -- Marty Rubin

Permission to live life differently

This new lifestyle really began when we gave ourselves permission to live in more than one place in the world on a rotating basis. One of my fellow bloggers calls their similar lifestyle one of 'location independence'. While we sing the praises of it, many of our long-time friends and family (who are deeply rooted in the Pacific Northwest) still wonder what could possibly be so wonderful about being someplace else all the time.

At home in Scottsdale, Arizona
The timeshare life didn’t strike many as too unusual, as we were still traveling in America, with the exception of a few ‘time’ trades to foreign destinations. Many who knew us during our 40’s cheered on our home ownership, in a village north of Puerto Vallarta,  Mexico. They saw it as a great adventure – and a relatively ‘safe’ one as we were still employed full-time in the Northwest and spent only a few weeks – our allotted vacation time - south of the border.

But when in our retirement years we bought a home in Greece, eyebrows went up, and the questions began. Many, I think, suspected signs of possible early senility in each of us. After all, we are old now, it is time to be fretting over Medicare and Social Security benefits and various ailments; not to take leave of our senses and start growing olives in Greece.  What were we thinking?

The Stone House on the Hill - Greek Peloponnese

We are only but guests at Time's tea party.
~Terri Guillemets 

We aren’t alone in being 'different'

Living differently is what draws armchair travelers and daydream believers, like us, to books written by famous ex pats - Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Julia Child, Frances Mayes and Peter Mayle, among them. Each has entertained, amused and inspired us (and like-minded readers) with their tales of living abroad.

What I’ve found interesting in researching this post is the vast number of unknown (unpublished) Americans who’ve chosen to live on foreign soil. We are but two among millions,. . . yes, millions!

The Greek sea near our home
The State Department's most recent figure (January 2013) of U.S. citizens living overseas (which is the source of other organizations' estimates such as the Association of Americans Resident Overseas [AARO]) stands at 6.8 million, up from 6.3 million in July 2012.

-- Source, 2013 article for the Migration Policy Institute titled, “Counting the Uncountable: Overseas Americans”

And those figures reflect only those Americans who’ve registered with their Embassy in the country in which they are living. The report speculates that real numbers are likely much higher.

In our tiny slice of Greece there are some two dozen Americans who’ve chosen to live full- or at least half-time there.

Recognize life is (too) short

 Overlooking Stoupa, Greece
Back to that, “All the time in the world” quote.  In reality we know that at our ‘boomer’ ages we don’t have all the time in the world. The day will come when our ability to live in different parts of the world will be limited by physical or mental constraints: in other words, we really will be too old!   So we’ve decided not to put off until tomorrow what we can experience today.


But, don’t you miss. . .?

‘But don’t you miss. . .when you aren’t here?’( Fill in the blank with a favorite food, place, or event.) And the answer is ‘Of course!’  I miss my Pacific Northwest peanut butter and Starbucks coffee when in Greece ( Imported peanut butter is expensive and the closest Starbucks is in Athens). I miss frozen Mai Tai’s when we leave our timeshare in Hawaii.  I miss the stately Saguaro cactus in Arizona. And it goes without saying that I miss ‘my’ cats when we exit Greece.

Note: I didn’t mention friends and family in the above paragraph because we don’t really – thanks to modern-day technology – leave any of them behind.  We could literally see each other and visit daily thanks to the advent of Facebook Messenger, Skype, and Face Time

A Place Called Home

DSCF0420For the next few months we are in our Pacific Northwest home, our anchor residence for the last 30 years.  We’ve been back less than a week and already have fallen  into the routines of every day life in this Seattle suburb. It’s as if we’ve never been gone. But then we say that about settling into each of our lifestyles these days.

One distinction this home has over our others is that it holds the lifetime of ‘stuff’ we’ve collected (or inherited) over the decades. Many items with only sentimental value . . . that collect dust in our absence.

With a goal of freeing ourselves from these material ties that bind, our summer travels will likely be to local charities and dump sites. 

I'm certain those of you of 'boomer age' see the irony in how we all worked to acquire so many things that fill drawers, cupboards, closets and the garage during the first half of our lives and now we are tasked with getting rid of it.

The nice thing about our Stone House on the Hill is that it lacks storage space – few drawers and shelves,  armoires instead of closets and no garage. And you know what? We love the lack of ‘stuff’ there! 

While we are doing those rather mundane tasks of sorting and hauling, I plan to escape every week with a look back at Greece, Geneva, and France. One thing we are already missing about Greece, is the food. I'll be focused on that next week!

Hope your summer travels – or projects – are good ones. Stay safe and healthy! And as always, thanks so very much for being with us ~

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


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