Saturday, September 23, 2017

Expat Life ~ With a Foot in Two Worlds

All my bags are packed
I'm ready to go. . . 

. . .'Cause I'm leavin' on a jet plane
Don't know when I'll be back again. . .

                                                          -- Lyrics by John Denver, sung by Peter, Paul and Mary

“Leaving on a Jet Plane” is one of my favorite pre-travel theme songs.  This year perhaps its lyrics are a bit more poignant and at the same time a bit more exciting than ever before. We will soon be off to Greece.

And for the first time ever, we won’t be returning to a home base in Washington State.
We’ve always had a home in Washington. And that’s what makes this such a journey into new uncharted territory for us.

From the airplane - Washington State's Mount Rainier
P1050095Regulars at TravelnWrite know we’ve just concluded a “Summer of Slogging” at our Pacific Northwest home; cleaning out and organizing our life’s accumulations in order to embark on a new adventure: living in Greece.

[For those new folks – we purchased a home in Greece 2.5 years ago and obtained our residency permits this spring. It was the nudge we needed to go from our part-time to full-time ex pat life.]

With treasures tucked away in storage, given away or sold, we put our home of 30 years on the market two weeks ago. In a head-spinning blink of time it sold within 48-hours.

In two weeks, we’ll be boarding a flight to Athens.  With our heads still spinning, we have yet to feel the euphoria of freedom and adventure that so many ex pats before us have promised will happen.

Not Here Nor There

Instead of swooning over newfound freedom we are teetering between two worlds; feeling neither here nor there. A Twilight Zone of sorts.

Our destination: The Mani, Greek Peloponnese
Cue up Rod Serling (those of you of a certain age will know who I mean). In that quiet tone he’ll tell the viewing audience,“The Smiths  have just realized they are in a world of limbo – no longer rooted in the U.S. and not yet planted in Greece. Their only way out is through a maze of lists, logistics, and lessons.”

In the grand scheme of things, our Twilight Zone is nothing. Compared to those uprooted and homeless as result of hurricanes, wild fires, floods and social unrest, what we are experiencing is a blip on the comfort zone. Yet, when your world is shifting – if even by choice, as ours is – the change process is seismic.

The Logistics and Lists of Leaving

Way back in June we told you all that we’d be back in Greece by mid-September. Heck, yes! No sweat! We’d clean out the house, put it on the market, come back in a few months when it sold and complete our move.

Arriving in Athens, Greece

That was the plan alright but as the old saying goes. . .life has a way of happening while you are busy making plans for it. Time to regroup, take a closer look at those lists and logistics and forge ahead. . .

Regrouping and refocusing - taking a closer look at details
Changing dates:  We now have an early October date to move out of the house. We have a date for closing the sale. We have a new departure date for Greece.  And none of those dates are the same.
If all goes as planned (and that phrase is our new mantra) paperwork will be completed one day, we’ll finish moving out of our already-pretty-empty-house another, we’ll spend a couple nights in a SeaTac Airport hotel and two weeks from today we will fly to Greece.
* A lesson learned: we were able to change both the date and destination of our return flight on British Airways for little over $1,000 for both of us and we were able to stay in the previously booked premium economy section. That was less than we’d have paid if we’d have cancelled this the trip (the return leg of our trip here in June) and rebooked it using premium economy with the low-cost Norwegian Airlines and a regional airline.

“Moving abroad. . .must sell. . .” the reality is that no matter what they tell you about storage units, you can’t get the contents of a three-bedroom home into a 200-square-foot-storage unit. And further, in a hot housing market, volunteer agencies get mighty selective in the donations they accept.
*A lesson learned: We’ve attempted to donate some of our furniture that won’t fit in storage, to organizations serving the needy and homeless. Several of them have on line lists of items they will accept.  Two organizations in the Seattle area, charge a fee to cover the costs of picking up your donations.  The fee is $300 for one group and $500 for another.  We’ve opted to sell the furniture using on-line classified ad sites.

PicMonkey Collage
Our cars and Herbie

Soon to be Car-less in Seattle:  After having been a two-car couple for decades, (with Herbie my ‘69 Bug a pretty face in our garage) we are going car-less. We sold both of our cars to friends in the eastern part of the state. Herbie (sob!) has been sold to a local classic car enthusiast. Timing is everything at this stage of the game and our friends are working around our schedule, taking our last car the morning of our departure for Greece.
*Lesson learned: Opting to sell the cars will result in no storage costs (for Herbie alone the quotes were from $200 US a month to $350) nor insurance payments or licensing costs which amount to savings of several hundred dollars. On the downside, we will need to rent a car when we come back for visits, but the savings will pay for it.
This was too many bags - we'll have more this trip!
Packing the Bags:  While packing boxes and garbage bags has been the main focus of the summer, I’ve also been packing travel bags.  We are breaking all our previous rules about traveling light and will be herding more bags than either of us would prefer.  But we’ve realized that all those things that we’ve previously left ‘at home’ when we travel, for example those file folders with tax, medical and other ‘life’ information, also need to relocate.
*Lesson learned: By flying premium economy we are each allowed two free checked bags, an additional carry-on bag and one personal item.  We explored the cost of shipping a suitcase or a box the size of a suitcase and found it to be $200 for each piece and some who do international suitcase shipping don’t serve Greece.
Washington State ferry and Seattle Space Needle - icons of our life here

“The address and phone number associated with this account?” I’ve had three encounters in recent weeks – at retail stores, service providers and state agencies that all asked for some account identification that included either an address or phone number.  Hmmm. . . so what do we use to access those accounts when we don’t have an address or phone numbers?
*Lesson learned:  We will maintain a U.S. address by using a mail forwarding company in our town.  For $20 a month, plus a small charge and postage costs, they will forward our ‘snail mail’ to Greece.  By not having a land line, internet provider and cell phone as we do now in the U.S. we’ll save more than $300 a month, nearly $4,000 a year. We’ll rent a mobile phone during future extended stays in the U.S. or do like we did only a few short years ago when we traveled without mobile phones.  Wouldn’t that be a novel thing to do?
PicMonkey Collage
Homeless in Seattle . . .but not Homeless  ‘How does it feel to be homeless?,’ our U.S. friends are asking with increasing frequency. ‘When will you be home?’ our friends in Greece are asking. It’s all in your perspective.
Home for the indefinite future will be in our Stone House on the Hill, on the edge of our olive grove overlooking our slice of The Mani. In three week’s we’ll no longer be ticking off lists and logistics, but will be scheduling our olive harvest. We’ll still be listening to our UW Husky football games (broadcast live in the early morning hours of Sundays) and following our Seattle Seahawks on internet feeds and FB updates. We’ll read the Seattle Times and watch televised feeds to keep up with Washington and U.S. news. We’ll welcome guests from the Pacific Northwest to our home. We’ll come back and visit.

*Lesson learned:  In June I was thinking of life as chapters - this one closing and another beginning. I've changed over the summer. I now think of it as life's continuing story, a single chapter in which the setting may change, new characters are added, the plot will have new twists and turns; but it all will serve to make the chapter larger and more interesting. It won't be a chapter's closing.

Again, thanks for being with us and all your words of encouragement and excitement as our adventure unfolds.  We appreciate your time and love reading your comments and emails. Hope you’ll return again next week and bring some friends and family with you! Safe and healthy 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


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Towering Tales ~ Feuding, Fighting and Families

The road clinging to the cliff side had become so narrow that I shut my eyes and gripped the door handle to the side of my seat. . .all the while praying that we wouldn’t meet an on-coming car. The Scout, behind the wheel, was navigating our ascent up the mountain on a roadway, barely wide enough for our small SUV.

We’d set off last spring to find a village that had been recommended as a ‘must see’  in a region of the Peloponnese known as the Mesa or Inner Mani. The higher we went, the more narrow the road became, offering no pull out or turn-around on its winding ascent.

The Mesa Mani, that begins about an hour’s drive to the south of our Greek Stone House on the Hill, is a wild, wondrous area that overwhelms the senses. Such a rugged, vast area -  in places so remote - that it can put your nerves on edge. . .

Wide open spaces of the Mesa Mani - Peloponnese
We were traveling through one of those nerve-jangling areas that provided us with magnificent sweeping views of this storied land  (when I had the courage to open my eyes, that is).

“Gripping that door won’t save you,” The Scout, in his matter-of-fact way observed aloud, never taking his eyes of the narrow strip of pavement or his hands off the wheel.

I wondered if we’d mentioned to anyone we might be coming this way, just in case we were to end up somewhere in the bottom of the ravine our route was rimming. . .

The road quite literally less-traveled  Mesa Mani Peloponnese
“Let’s get a coffee” when we get there, I suggested through gritted teeth, my eyes still shut.
Now had we read the guidebook before setting out I would have never made such a ridiculous suggestion, but then had we read the book, we likely wouldn’t have been on this road to Mountanistiki either:

Just us and the wind in this hilltop town - Peloponnese
The road, was just as the book described it: ‘really quite a driving experience with vertiginous drops’ [that] . . .leads to a depopulated ghost town set on a mountainous ridgeline at 600 meter (1,950 feet) elevation’. Yes, it described it all to a tee!

No coffee to be found in this town - Peloponnese
With the wind as our tour guide, we followed the town’s narrow walkways past crumbling structures and fences. ‘Why had it been built and why had it been abandoned?’ we pondered. ‘And who might still be living among the ruins?’ 

The town, its houses and towers built between 1880 – 1910, was definitely a ghost town with perhaps evidence of one or two places still being occupied. 

I suspect its towers, pyrgos, as they are called in Greek, could have answered our questions. They are among some 800 towers that remain scattered about the Mani; towers that have played a major part in its history.

Oh, the tales they could tell about the feuding, fighting and families . . .

The tales these towers could tell - Peloponnese

Towering Tales

Limestone rocks - Mesa Mani, Peloponnese
Let’s begin at the beginning: A popular local story about the Mesa or Inner Mani, is that when God created the earth he was left with a pile of rocks and he put them in this expansive arid area. Its early settlers, the Maniots, used those rocks to build homes, fences – and towers.  The competition for its scant resources, necessary to sustain life and livelihood, led to feuds and that’s where those towers come into importance in this area’s history.

Every village still has a tower or two in the Mesa Mani - Peloponnese

Families built tower houses – ‘mini castles’, as they are often described – some five stories high, and accessed upper levels with ladders that could be pulled up behind them. Holes were built in the walls from which they could shoot a gun or dump boiling water or oil on unwanted arrivals.  While this may sound like a medieval tale, this was the way of life going on well into the 19th Century in this part of Greece.

Towers, towers everywhere - Mesa Mani, Peloponnese
Unlike the Outer or Exo Mani to the north where a village was ruled by a single captain of a family, this area often had several feuding clans residing in a single village.

“Sons were called ‘guns’ as wielding one was their main virtue,”
explains Andrew Bostock in his book, Greece: The Peloponnese.

I should note that the towers also came in handy to ward off a variety of foreign invaders and pirates who played a significant role in the area’s history as well. 

Postcard pretty Vathia in the southern Peloponnese

Unlike the ghost town we visited, there are some pretty spectacular tower towns that are easily reached. One is Vathia, a post-card-picture-perfect town; home to a few permanent residents. It is said to have once sported a ‘forest’ of towers. One account from 1805 tells of a war in the village that lasted 40 years and cost 100 lives. 

Vathia - Mesa Mani, Peloponnese
There were three types of towers and they were indications of a clan’s strength and unity: the war tower, the tower house and the tower dwelling. They dot the Mani-scape. Many have fallen to ruin; some are being or have been restored. Some modern homes are built in the tower home design or have incorporated a tower into their design. Many towers these days are downright charming.

Today's tower is most inviting - Peloponnese
Yet, they are a testament to the times when the area was definitely a rough, tough place. You are wrapped in history everywhere you travel in this area. And sometimes, when you least expect it, you come across some rather ominous reminders of the not-so-long-ago past like this sign we saw mounted on the side of a building in a village called Dry:

PicMonkey Collage
If only we could read a bit more Greek. . .

Armed (pun intended) with just a bit of folklore and history, a trip through this part of Greece can stimulate the senses and the imagination. While locals could probably tell you the exact history of each tower we are content in conjuring up possible storylines while speculating about. . .who carried those stones, how long did it take and how did they do it and when?

Can you see it there on the Cliffside?
We aren’t the only ones who come up with storylines about this place. Jeffrey Siger, our friend who spends his time on the island of Mykonos writing crime novels set in various Greek locales, visited the Mani and has penned both interesting blog posts about his research trips to this area: and conjured up a very good story in his sixth book in the Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis series. Well worth a read if you are visiting the area, and like us, love reading novels set in areas you are visiting.

If You Visit:


As vast and deserted parts of the Mani may seem, it is home to 98 of the 118 listed traditional settlements of the Peloponnese. And within many of those villages you will find tourist accommodations, tavernas and eateries.

We stayed at the family-owned and operated Citta dei Niccliani. It is just outside the village of Gerolimenas during this trip.  It provided affordable luxury accommodations which were most welcome after a day’s explorations in the area.

Table tops at this Aeropoli restaurant are tributes to the towers
A recommended route links Aeropoli on the west to Gythio on the east with a stop at to Tenaro at the tip of the point in the south.  Allow plenty of time though to explore villages and soak up the views along the route. It can be done in a day, but is a far richer experience if done a bit more slowly.

The ‘highway’ is a well-maintained two-lane road. Invest in a road map, sold at larger grocery stores and tourist shops, that is printed both in Greek and English. Some road signs are in Greek and a bilingual map is the key to deciphering them. The road I described in the opening is not ‘the highway’.


That’s it for this week.  Thanks for the time you’ve spent with us ~ as always, we appreciate it! And thanks to those who’ve shared these posts on FB with friends and family. If this is your first visit to TravelnWrite, use the sign up button on the right hand column to receive these weekly  in your inbox! 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

Monday, September 4, 2017

Off the Beaten Path ~ Peloponnese 'Krasi' Country

Krasi – ‘wine’ in Greek

Those who travel from Athens to Kalamata cross the famous Corinthian Canal on a route that slices through Nemea, one of the Peloponnese peninsula’s, wine producing regions. We like to think of it as, ‘Krasi Country’.

Nemea Wine Country - Greek Peloponnese
Yet, most  – unless they have a tour guide pointing them out – will likely miss both.  They are unremarkably shy when competing for attention with Greece’s ‘hyped-up’ tourist destinations like Santorini or Mykonos. 

Image result for map of nemean wine country peloponnese
"Our" wine country is in the upper right hand corner
It took several trips through the area, as we traveled between Athens and our home just south of Kalamata, for us to give the area more than a passing glance. As we zoomed along the divided freeway one or the other would comment, "Those look like grape vines don't they?" And I must confess that we still have yet to view the Corinthian Canal up close and personal.

But all it took was one visit to Nemea, the Krasi Country that carpets the northeast corner of the Peloponesse, to keep us coming back to it.

We are used to the ‘glitz’ of wine promotion in the U.S. where magnificent tasting rooms and wineries reign over vineyards and ‘tastings’ can cost $10 or more. It is not like that here. We’ve yet to visit a winery with a tasting room, let alone one that is open!

In fact it is difficult to buy a bottle of Nemean wine at a restaurant or taverna here! That’s because they usually produce their own and serve it in a pitcher at a far lower price than the bottle would cost. (Say three-euros vs. 15 euros -- both still a deal in our book!)

Main Street in Nemea town
The area has charmed us to the point of making an over-night stop there a ‘tradition’ when flying out of the Athens’ airport. That way we give ourselves a trip within a trip and it breaks up the near four-hour journey between our home and the airport quite nicely.

Had wine roads to ourselves in June
Our visit last fall was on a dreary, rainy day when the area was shrouded with clouds and mist (yes, it can happen even in Greece) so the area’s sheer beauty wasn’t really revealed until we returned in June.

Vineyards as far as the eye can see carpet Nemea region

The history of vine cultivation in the Peloponnese is fascinating. It dates back to antiquity and experienced one of its finest moments in the Middle Ages, when Monemvasia put the region on the map with its trade in Malvasia (or Malmsey) wine. Its modern wine history can be traced to 1861 with the establishment of Achaia Clauss by Bavarian trailblazer Gustav Clauss. He developed the sweet Mavrodaphne (also Mavrodafni), now known around the world.

PicMonkey Collage
Wineries dot the landscape in Nemea

Wine Tasting

While there aren’t the ‘tasting rooms’ that exist in wine producing regions of the U.S., we still managed to have some great experiences tasting some wine! (Maybe even better than lining up at a tasting bar in some fancy tasting room. . .)

Had this place to ourselves to in wine country
P1040163We created our own wine tasting on a warm June afternoon at a small kafenion we happened upon along our route.

While the young Greek woman running the place spoke about as much English as we did Greek, we managed to order ‘ena portiria krasi leftko; and ‘ena portiria krasi rose’ (glasses of white and rose wine).  Those phrases are among our 'survival' phrases we learned early on!

And as is still the delightful tradition in Greece, the wine came with a plate of food, at no extra charge.

Later that evening in the village in which we were staying, we’d decided to enjoy the warm evening a bit longer with a stop at the town’s kafenion for a nightcap.  As we were sipping our ‘miso kilo of rose’ (as the half-liter pitcher is called here), a Greek man pulled up in his pickup, nodded and spoke in greeting as he walked past and went inside.

Minutes later a second pitcher of wine was served to us, sent by Mr. Nikos, the man who had just walked past. Turns out he is the winemaker of the rose wine served at the kafenion and he was so pleased we were drinking it, that he sent us more.

Mr. Nikos, the winemaker, and our private tasting with him
So pleased in fact that he went to his truck and brought back a bottle of red wine for us to sample. (We were unable to consume it all, btw). And then he sat and in our broken English/Greek we discussed wine with him as dusk became dark.

Wine tasting at its best - Peloponnese, Greece
Eat your heart out, those of you who pay hundreds of dollars for a chance to eat or drink with the winemakers!  We had a most memorable tasting with the winemaker himself and for less than 5 euros!

Kefalari Village – Off the beaten path

One of the reasons we return to this wine region is to visit Kefalari, a tiny mountain village that sits at an elevation of 2,650, high above the region's vineyards. We’ve stayed at the town’s Guesthouse Arhontiko, and its sister property, the Armonia Boutique Hotel.

Our room in June - en suite bathroom and a deck
Both offer exquisitely furnished rooms and breakfast is included in the rate. The mid-September rate respectively is about $42US and $71 US a night. They are tucked away in the heart of the village, footsteps from each other.

PicMonkey Collage
Breakfast is a favorite at the guesthouse and hotel
We’ll be heading back to our ‘Krasi Country’ as soon as we get settled into the new lifestyle in Greece. And our travel tip is: If your travels take you to Greece, you’ll want to visit all those well-known oft-written about tourist destinations, but remember there are travel treasures out there to be found just a bit off the beaten path. 

Kalo Mina, (Happy New Month) and Happy September to you and yours.  We have arrived at our ‘countdown to Greece’. Suitcases are packed and being repacked. The ‘for sale’ sign goes up this week on our U.S. home.  A new adventure is about to begin. . .

As always, thanks for the time you spend with us. . .safe travels to you and yours~ hope to see you back here next week!

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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