Sunday, November 26, 2017

When Travelers Become 'Nestless' and Restless

The symptoms were all there. I had just ignored them.

The first appeared shortly after arriving in Greece: I wanted to make a meatloaf for dinner. That was followed by a near frantic quest the following week to find and buy brown sugar, oatmeal and raisins to make cookies.

I am not one to lust for the kitchen.  I’m the have-bag-will-travel-at-a-moment’s-notice gal. Ready in a nano-second to try a new restaurant.  The one who goes into the village bakery for a loaf of bread and comes out with a bag of cookies as well. Bake cookies. . .at home?  Really?!

A road trip through the Greek Peloponnese is a favorite outing
Yet, there I was in the kitchen having traded my travel guidebook for a cookbook; my camera for a cookie pan.

I realized then, that this traveler was suffering from a need to nest.

Nest: a home where people live.

The Stone House on the Hill from our olive grove

That self-realization may have been the biggest surprise that came out of our ‘summer of slogging’.

For those not with us in recent months:  we got rid of our life’s accumulations, sold our U.S. home of 30 years, filled two storage units with our remaining treasures, packed an enormous pile of suitcases (by our travel standards) and came to Greece for a full-time expat adventure.

Ancient pathways to discovery - Monemvasia, Greece
While starting the new chapter has been an exciting time, we found that closing out the last wasn't. During our last few weeks in the Pacific Northwest our day-to-day necessities were kept in plastic storage bins and suitcases. We slept on a mattress on the floor.  Dinners became a stream of 'Happy Hour' outings as nothing remained in the kitchen with which to cook. Lunch was often a cellophane wrapped sandwich from Starbucks.

We had a roof over our heads but for all practical purposes we really were ‘nest-less near Seattle’. 

Our Casa Kirkland January 2016
Our last two days of that chapter were spent in a at a hotel a few miles from what had been our house. It was similar to a ‘staycation’ but more appropriately named by The Scout, it was a ‘leavecation’.

“Welcome to Bellevue! Have you stayed with us before?” asked the chipper desk clerk at the Marriott Hotel. ‘Well, no. Until today, we used to live just down the road.’

The Three E's: Euphoria, Exhaustion and Expectations

Those ex pats to whom we turned to for advice and encouragement described feeling euphoric at the new sense of freedom this new lifestyle brings.  I hate to admit that I am still waiting for that euphoria to hit. The reality was that we arrived in Greece feeling, well, . . .exhausted.

I'I didn't shed a tear (somewhat to my surprise) as we drove away from our Kirkland home. It was such a relief to be done with cleaning it out and selling it that if I came close to euphoria that might have been the moment.

Our new garden spring 2017 at The Stone House on the Hill

By that point our focus was expectations for Greece: how large the new plants would be, the size of our olive harvest, the type of car we'd buy.

Reality can dash those expectations as quickly as exhaustion can quash euphoria. Many plants had been baked into the ground by the summer’s unusually hot temperatures. Even those heat-tolerant plants were varying shades of brown and tan. The olive crop so small we considered not harvesting at all. And you know from the previous post what an adventure we had buying a car. 

However. . .

Those Sunny Skies ~ And An Indian Summer

Nesting on the hillside in the Peloponnese

That same sun that had baked the garden only weeks earlier had mellowed by the time we arrived in October. It continues to make one of the loveliest Indian Summer backdrops to this new life that you can imagine.

We've replanted the garden. Flowers and vegetables have already begun flourishing. Our olive harvest was small, but we had one. Our Hi Ho Silver has already had his inaugural road trip.

Oh, yes. . .I also made that meatloaf. And I baked cookies (having successfully found two of those three ingredients and substituting Craisens for raisins). I’ve puttered, or pottered as my British friends here would say, in the garden on a near daily basis.

Our village, Agios Nikolaos, slows for the winter
Now, after nearly two months in our Greek home, we are back into the rhythms of village life. Olive harvest is in full swing now in the Messinian Mani marking the end of autumn, many restaurants and tavernas have closed for the winter. Just as the village slows its pace, so have we.

We have rested and nested.

But those of you who've been with us for awhile must know that means for us. . .

It's Time to Fly!

“A bird in a nest is secure, but that is not why God gave it wings.”
  - Matshona Dhliwayo

We had different responses to our summer of slogging: I suffered from a need to nest while The Scout grew restless. We had far too little travel. Travel planning came to a screeching halt. So while my nose has been in cookbooks, his has been in guidebooks.

Pyramids, Cairo, Egypt

Since part of the reason for relocating here was to take advantage of travel on this side of the Atlantic, it is time to do just that!  With low airfares and close destinations, it is difficult to decide which direction to head. Did you know it takes less time to get from Athens to Egypt than from Seattle to San Francisco? You can be there in less than a couple of hours.

The Nile as it flows through Cairo, Egypt

And that fact won the coin toss. We are heading back to Egypt the end of this week. We're going to spend most of our time in Aswan, a new destination for us to explore, but must spend a couple days in Cairo - one of our very favorite cities!

[Note:  Timing is everything. I'd just finished writing this post when news broke on this side of the world about the despicable terrorist attack at the mosque in the Sinai. We've not changed or cancelled our plans to visit Egypt as result of that incident. Our feeling is that life is rather a crap shoot these days no matter where in the world you are; you could be a victim of mass murder while attending a concert in Las Vegas or while attending a small church in rural Texas or while praying at a mosque in Egypt.]

We know many of you have made lifestyle and life location changes recently and we are curious about what you discovered about yourself as you transitioned to your 'new normal'? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below or shoot us an email! 

As always, thanks for being a part of this new journey of ours – the time you spend with us is always appreciated. 

Happy and 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

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Buying a Car in Greece ~ Hi Ho Silver and Away!

Sitting and sipping at our favorite hotel rooftop bar in downtown Athens, the accents of the foursome next to us were unmistakably American.  A few more sips, a bit more sunset and a conversation commenced:

“What brings you to Athens?” we asked. 

“We are taking a cruise from here,” they answered, “How about you? Are you taking a cruise?”

“No, we are here to buy a car,” our response caused a collective intake of breath at their table.

“We live here,” we added, trying to put the answer in perspective. (Another audible intake from the foursome.)

View of the Acropolis from the Electra Palace Hotel's rooftop restaurant/bar
Admittedly, ours wasn’t  the routine response from a couple of Yanks sitting at a bar in Greece. But we are finding that our life isn’t quite as ‘routine’ as it once was.  In fact, shopping for a car when living in the rural Peloponnese of Greece is far from routine. 

A Bit of Backstory

Teeny, tiny rental cars work well on teeny, tiny roads

We’ve been part-time ex pats for almost three years. During that time we’ve rented a variety of cars. Timing our stays with ‘off season’ tourism we've had some great rates. Sometimes as low as 15-euros a day for a tiny car to navigate tiny roads.

You dread this but it happens and you must pass each other
But over the course of a three month stay -- as is allowed in Schengen Countries -- that begins to add up even with the best of deals. And renting an automatic so that The Scribe could share driving duties with The Scout  was cost prohibitive.

PicMonkey Collage
The road to The Stone House on the Hill is getting worse, not better
We were ready to tackle the car purchase a year ago but just before we returned to our Stone House on the Hill, the area was hit by whats known as ‘the 100 year storm’.  The road to our house was trashed. There’s been no sign of repairs and the road continues to deteriorate.Tiny low-slung cars were no longer an option for our tiny  obstacle-course road.

We needed a tiny SUV.

We hit a reality roadblock last autumn when we learned: we could buy a home in Greece on a tourist visa but we couldn't buy a car.  We needed a resident permit before car dealers would talk to us. You regulars here know that we spent months on our ‘road-trip to residency’ , beginning it instead of the car search last September and ending it last June. Then we returned to the States.

Some of you've been with us long enough to remember that the car pictured below had come with the house when we purchased it but when it came time to register it in our names, it couldn’t be done. We sold it when its annual registration came around.
"Our" Diahatsu came as part of the house purchase

One Year Later. . . Autumn 2017

Back on the hunt again and armed with our residency permits, we decided a used Toyota RAV 4 or a Suzuki Vitara would do the trick both in performance and price - and both models came with automatic transmissions. In addition to the purchase price and registration costs, Greece imposes an annual ‘road tax’ based on engine size and an additional ‘luxury tax’ on cars less than 10 years old. Gasoline prices are about $7 a gallon here. (Why used? The price of a new RAV ranges from 34,000 – 42,000 euros, that’s $39,434 – $48,712 – more than we planned to spend!).

It wasn’t long before we realized. . .

We Aren’t in Kansas Anymore, Toto!

Roads in our area lead to delightful mountain villages
Unlike in the United States where you can find both new and used cars at a dealer, like Toyota; in Greece dealers sell new cars and used cars are sold from a multitude of used car lots.

There’s one major on-line used car site to which we were referred time and time again. So it became our search engine as it offered ads in both Greek and English. However we did have some translating of the translations to do:

“Living room: beige with skin” finally made sense: the car’s interior is beige with leather seats. Simple, right?

Some like this one left us wondering:  “Special prices for unemployed triplets large.” (We didn’t pursue that one!)

Then came the matter of fuel options:  diesel, gasoline AND propane; sometimes a combination of gas and propane were offered. Propane is commonly used to run autos in Greece. Whoa! We are talking a tank like that which holds fuel for the barbeque in the States. And you drive around with it in the back of your car! I read up on their fuel efficiency, safety and mileage BUT I couldn’t wrap my head around a high pressure tank of propane taking up space in the back of the car. (Before you ask: electric powered cars are not an option in rural Greece.)

So our requirements now included: gas or diesel fuel and an automatic transmission. We hoped one might be found among the 34 used RAV’s available throughout Greece on our trusty used-car website. There were fewer Vitaras.

While we were told Greeks don't drive automatics someone certainly is because several times in the course of the last few months, we'd 'find' a car, call and be told it was already sold. Or it was not yet on the lot. Or no one spoke English at the company and we didn't know if they had a car or not . . .this wasn’t going to be simple.

Image result for maps of greece and islands
34 Toyota RAVs were available throughout Greece - a pretty big stretch for a search

Greece’s recent economic downslide has impacted car sales. We were told the numbers of annual new car sales have dropped to 80,000 from the 300,000 annually prior to 2008. But this drop in sales seems to have impacted all of Europe where business articles reported sales of 12.6 million cars in 2015 was two-thirds of sales in 2007. Car sharing, the economy and young people losing interest in cars were all cited as contributing factors to a decline in new car sales.

Bottom line: fewer new cars sold, fewer used cars available.

Third Time is a Charm

Focusing on Athens and its suburbs, we had two unsuccessful ventures (both 'adventures' but I will spare you the unpleasant details) to look at cars. Bottom line: we couldn’t even find the lots – and yes, we were using GPS!  Driving in Athens isn’t for sissies and finding a car lot was insanity at its finest moment. On both occasions we snarled and snapped at each other until we figured out how to get ourselves back to the freeway and returned to The Mani – in our rental car.

Mr. Nikos and The Scout discuss cars at his sales lot in Glyfada
Two weeks ago we used a different approach. We turned in the rental car at the Athens Airport, took the airport express bus into town and after a night of enjoying Athens as tourists, we  set out at 9 a.m. Monday in a taxi for a used car lot in the suburb of Glyfada (knowns as 'Athens Riviera'). Even the taxi driver, using GPS, took us to a vacant building on his first try. Eventually we arrived at the lot. A salesman named Nikos spoke English and assured us that the car we wanted to see was still for sale and in the back of the lot sat. . .

Hi Ho Silver and Away!
. . .a 2011 automatic Toyota RAV4 with sunroof, heated leather seats and so many whiz-bang features that it seemed like brand-new in comparison to the 2005 Camry we drove in the United States.

It took two days to complete the registration and obtain the license plates and purchase car insurance. During that time staff members took turns driving us between the sales lot, the insurance office, and the Toyota dealership (where the car underwent a pre-sale check). They even dropped us off and picked us up from the tourist area of Glyfada so we could sightsee instead of sitting at the dealership while waiting for the car inspection to be completed.

It took two full days, but at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, we were heading back to The Mani in our car. Mission accomplished!

Hi Ho Silver and Away. . .

The car’s silver color prompted my christening it, Hi Ho Silver. Inspired by a television show back in our childhoods that featured a ‘Lone Ranger' and his horse, Silver, (a fiery steed with the speed of light). The Lone Ranger would leap into the saddle and command, 'Hi Ho Silver and away!' (A phrase I plan on using each time we set off on a road trip to explore Greece and neighboring countries!)

That’s it for this week from The Stone House on the Hill.  Thanks for joining us on yet another adventure in ex pat life in Greece.   Hey, if any of you have an owners manual – in English – for a 2011 Toyota RAV4 laying around and want to send it to us, we’ll reimburse you for the postage!
Until we are together again, safe travels to you and yours. . . Hi Ho Silver and Away!!

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

Friday, November 3, 2017

Autumn Getaways ~ 'Novel' Destinations

The first rain of autumn arrived a week ago in the Peloponnese, carried in by a blustery wind.  Leaves, crisped by the summer's drought, were blown from trees and plants as the much needed rain dampened  thirsty gardens and groves. We stayed hunkered inside.

During the days that followed that storm, the sunshine and temperatures headed back up into the mid 70’s F and we headed back to the deck for some afternoon sunning.

No doubt about it; the seasons are beginning to change in Greece.

Signs of autumn in The Mani
It is definitely the weather – rain or shine – that invites curling up with a good book. Our 'summer of slogging' -- to bring us to this ex pat chapter of our lives -- didn’t allow any down time for such indulgences. We are more than ready to grab a book and be whisked off to some 'novel' destination to solve a murder or to watch a romance unfold or to follow along as someone else explores some new area or lifestyle.

For those new to our blog, we've moved to Greece and as of yet don’t have a television, so reading is our means of escape and entertainment. (And from the recent headlines we read on the computer, we aren’t in any rush to get a television.)

Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfous has been a favorite for decades
While I’ve got a stack of books just waiting to transport me to some new places in the next few months, I’ve also had some great springtime excursions this year via the written word.  Among the places I’ve visited are:

Kabul, Afghanistan

Deborah Rodriguez took me here in her book, The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul. With the coffee shop as a backdrop, five different women with vastly different stories come together in this debut novel, published in 2011. The book, originally published as A Cup of Friendship includes recipes, reading group questions and an interview with the author – all of which are icing on the cake for me! And the good news is, there’s another book I haven't yet read, called A Return to the Little Coffee Shop of Kabul.

Ramla, Israel

Product Details

Sandy Tolan’s real-life story of a friendship between a Palestinian and an Israeli reads like a novel, so I've included it in the 'novel' destinations post.  I am thankful a friend had recommended this in a FB post and spoken so highly of it that I was prompted to read it last spring.  The house depicted in the story and the lemon tree in the front yard are real. . .as are the character’s whose friendship of four-decades is highlighted in this story. I’ll warn you – it isn’t an easy one to read but it puts a human face on the headlines and it may be one of the best books I've ever read.

The Lemon Tree grew out of a 1998 NPR documentary in which Tolan reported on a friendship between a Palestinian man and an Israeli woman that served as an example of the region's fragile history.

The Syrian Desert 1930’s

And among my favorite novelists is Agatha Christie. When I’d run out of murders solved by her Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, I turned to some real-life books she’d written.  The only book I had time to read during our ‘summer of slogging’ was her book, Come, Tell Me How You Live, a memoir about the time spent in Syria in the 1930’s on archeological digs with her husband, Max Mallowan. It was as entertaining as her murder mysteries, emphasizing both her wit and sense of humor (which you’d have needed, I suspect when living in a desert in the 1930’s!)

The good news is that while looking up the photo of this book, I came across another by her grandson, rather recently published, titled, The Grand Tour – Around the World with the Queen of Mystery. I suspect it won’t be long until I am traveling around the world with her, however, this book has drawn real mixed reader reviews on Amazon, so maybe I’ll ponder its purchase for awhile.

A perfect place to read a book

After writing that last sentence about Amazon and knowing that in the past any such reference has brought an outcry from some who don’t like the giant, I thought I should tell you about access to books in this part of Greece. In a word: limited! 

We have two small bookstores in the village of Kardamyli, about 20 minutes away. There’s a bookshop in Kalamata, primarily stocked with Greek books. A few souvenir shops and grocery stores in the villages near us have a few paperback ‘beach reads’ in English as well as books by Nikos Kazantzakis (Zorba the Greek and many other books) and Patrick Leigh Fermor, (Mani: Travel in the Southern Peloponnese and numerous other books) the area's two most famous writers.

Books arrived at the café where we get our mail!

If we want certain titles or a variety of titles to choose from we turn to Amazon or my preferred provider of books, Book Depository, which operates much like Amazon and is based in the United Kingdom.  They don’t charge postage to mail anywhere in the world! And that fact alone has made me a loyal customer.

Joan and Patrick Leigh Fermor's home outside Kardamyli
We also have a few eateries in the villages that kindly offer space for book exchanges so we have another source of reading materials.  Since so many of the ex pats in the area are British, we are being introduced to a number of their authors we’d have never discovered on our own.

We’ve been here nearly a month and are finally getting over the unsettled phase of life that we’ve been in since July.  I can tell you that a move such as ours causes earth tremors among the great bureaucracies of the world.  Those stories as well as the car shopping adventure are on the docket for future posts about this new ex pat life we've entered.

Got any ‘novel’ destination recommendations for us to explore this winter? If so, let us know. You can never have too many books on your 'must read' list!  Until the next time, safe and happy travels ot you and yours. Thanks again for the time you spend with us! (And thanks to those of you've who've rounded up new readers through your recommendations!)

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


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