Monday, July 30, 2018

Moving from ‘The Morgue’ to Manson

‘Change is the only constant in life.’
-- Heraclitus

Was it only last July that we turned our lives upside down by deciding to sell our U.S. home and live full-time in Greece?

Was it only last year that I showed you photos of our ‘summer of slogging’ and made jokes about living out of that corrugated metal storage unit we’d rented in the Seattle suburb?

Filling up the Storage Unit - July 2017

One Year Later. . .

The Stone House on the Hill - far right
Settled in to our Stone House on the Hill in Greece’s Peloponnese, we are comfortably adjusting to and enjoying expat life. That is, with the one exception I told you about last week:
being homeless’ in America.

Having no address to call our own, coupled with ‘living out of the storage’ unit (as I had quipped last summer) wasn’t working. That fact became real clear after our visit in the Northwest last January.

We got rid of one temporary address during that visit. Our friend's graciously loaned us another. Our visits to the storage unit were bleak. Seeing our life’s accumulations – the stuff special enough to have kept -- stuffed into stack and piles, boxes and bags was nothing short of depressing.  We began calling it ‘the morgue’. It made us feel dead. We knew it was time to regroup.

Time for change -

‘And suddenly you know;
It’s time to start something new
and trust in the magic of beginnings.
  -- Meister Eckhart

So for the past few months, while I’ve been telling you of the wonders of Greece, we have been conducting a long distance search for a ‘seasonal home’ back in the States. (We would have once called it a ‘second home’ or ‘vacation home’ but the industry jargon has changed over the years.)

With no immediate plans to give up full-time residency in Greece, we needed a place for our belongings and a place to stay when we go back to visit. Someday perhaps it would serve as a full-time home when health, age, or immigration rules (or a combination of them) prompts us to leave Greece.

In keeping with our downsizing philosophy, we set out to buy a condo in the same Seattle suburb we’d left last year. Unfortunately for us, it is the suburb that continues to make headlines as being one of the hottest (high prices and selling quickly) housing markets in the nation.

With condo’s selling within five days of listing, we picked up our pace. If a ‘possible place’ came across the screen, we’d contact good friends back there, asking them to drop what they were doing to race out and see it. They’d report back and with the time differences, we’d have about 48 hours in which to make an offer. We went for two and lost out. The market was limited and the list prices the baseline for a bidding war.

The process got real tedious. It was time to expand the search:

Our old home was Kirkland, just north of Bellevue, a Seattle suburb
We opted to stay within Washington State boundaries. And in a quirky turn of events we came across a place we’d looked at and liked last summer. Back then the owner wasn’t ready to sell and we weren’t ready to buy.

Now she wanted to sell. We were ready to buy.

New adventures. . .of sorts!

We're heading to Manson, Washington, an unincorporated town in Central Washington nestled on the shores of Lake Chelan.

Manson and Wapato Point on Washington's Lake Chelan
The 55-mile long, glacier-fed lake has long been a popular tourist destination and the photo above shows the portion of Lake Chelan where Manson is located. For those who know the area, that is Wapato Point jutting down (towards the bottom of the photo).

A portion of Lake Chelan from the town of Chelan - Cascade Mountain range
The house will be new beginning for The Scribe and a return to his roots for The Scout (after a many-decades absence), as Manson is eight miles from Chelan where he was born and raised.

A portion of Lake Chelan from The Butte
The hillsides surrounding the lake were once carpeted with apple orchards, however, as the Washington State wine industry has exploded, many of those orchards have been replaced with vineyards – acres and acres of vineyards.

PicMonkey Collage
Manson Washington - apple orchards and vineyards

The vineyards have given rise to wineries, and the wineries have opened tasting rooms. New seasonal festivals related to the wine industry now fill tourism event calendars for this part of Central Washington.

Benson Vineyards - Chelan Washington
Our new U.S. base will be about four hours drive from our former home in the Seattle suburbs.

The similarities are many between our Greek and new U.S. home. In many ways it will be village life, as it is village life here. The main thoroughfares are two-lane roads. Agriculture and tourism blend to keep the areas vibrant. Much like our Agios Nikolaos, Manson village has a few restaurants, a grocery store, and bars. It does have a post office.

Wenatchee, like Kalamata is here, will be the hub for major shopping, health care and each city has a regional airport. Both are about an hour's drive away.

Our new U.S. home, is walking distance to the village and to the lake. We’ll be surrounded by vineyards and wineries.How much better a location could we have found?!

Surrounded by wineries - a perfect location
Thanks to the internet and Skype, the purchase process, completed during the month of July, was carried out quite easily despite being 8,000 miles and 10-hours time difference away.

Our airline tickets back have been purchased, a moving company has been hired, we are synchronized to move ourselves out of ‘the morgue’ and to Manson this fall.  It took three months last summer to get us moved out of our old life and we’ve scheduled three weeks this fall to get us moved into the new.  I’m certain with all the offers of help we’ve received from friends and with a bit of that Chelan area wine – we’ll be able to pull it off.

Oh. . .did you want to see the house? Well, here it is:
Our new home in Manson
It’s one level (like they recommend for boomers) and its in a gated community – so will be a secure place to leave our belongings. Unlike our Stone House on the Hill in Greece, we have no water views, but we will be able to see a portion of the Washington Cascade Mountain range from our front deck:

Our front porch
So with the purchase ‘done and dusted’ last Wednesday evening (as our British friends would say), we toasted the fact that we have a US address again and that we can now get back to the business of enjoying Greece.

A toast to a new address
The Scout has been busy planning a Greek road trip for us, that involves some more Greek island hopping!  And they might be some islands that many of you’ve never heard of. . . I’ll tell you about them soon!

Thanks for being with us as we travel this ex pat world! Safe travels to you and yours ~

Linking this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Best of Weekend

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Expats in Greece: Among America’s Homeless

‘There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.’
                   - Jane Austin

Looking back - Kardamyli Harbor

Looking back I am not sure when the realization hit, but there’s certainly no doubt about it: by choosing to become full-time ex pats of the sort we are, we’d become part of America’s homeless population. We’d chosen to severe all traditional ties to the Mother Ship.

Now before you start sputtering, but that’s not real homelessness, the kind of which headlines shout . . .let me tell you that it very much is homelessness – just of a different kind. Headlines aren’t interested in this kind of homelessness even though thousands of ex pats -- not just American ex pats -- experience some version of it.

A homeless boat out of water - Kitries, Greece
This kind of homelessness is brought about by choice. And with its pleasures comes its problems as well. And I have to admit that when we ex pats get together we often entertain ourselves with tales of the latest challenges and how similar they are no matter from which country we hail. Today I thought I’d tell you a few of those tales. . .

‘Just for the record darling,
not all positive change feels positive in the beginning.’
-- S. C. Lourie

How difficult could it be?

That was what we asked ourselves last summer as we put our Pacific Northwest home of 30-years up for sale. We’d spent a lot of effort to obtain our Greek residency permits. We’d also spent a lot of time here over the last few years before deciding to live full-time under the Mediterranean sun.

How difficult could it be to pull up stakes and try something new for a full-time while?

Step One: pack up old life
So having squished our belongings  into a metal storage unit on an upper floor of a factory-sized building in a Seattle suburb last October, we headed to Greece.
No U.S. home. No U.S. residential address. No U.S. phone.

‘Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute for experience.’
-- Paolo Coelho

Your Address Please?

For those of you reading this in the U.S. let’s begin with a question:

Kardamyli kiosk: the village business center

How many times in the last week have you contacted some firm, service provider, health care provider, financial institution, store or other-keeper-of-your-information and been asked to ’verify the home address associated with this account’ in order to get any closer to reaching the person or information you were seeking?

While we no longer have a residential address, we certainly do have need to stay in touch with many of the agencies and firms listed above. And therein lies a problem. . .at times.

Our address is Agios Dimitrios, mail comes to Agios Nikolaos

Ahh, but being the wily sorts we are, we’d rented one of those private mailboxes that offered a choice of ‘box’, ‘apartment’ or ‘suite’ numbers before we left the country. We cleverly picked apartment and thought we’d mastered the ‘game of address’. The first call to a credit card company to register the new address dashed that hope – in a nano-second they knew it wasn’t a residence!

That same private mail service failed us within the first two months of using it by losing dated material, haphazardly forwarding items and as a grand finale forwarding  mail to us addressed to someone else.  Thankfully last January friends stepped in letting us use their home address and forwarding our mail regularly.

So while we have no ‘real’ address we are up to three ‘maybe’ addresses: our old home, the ‘fake home’ mailing service or our friend’s address? Which one did we put on which account? Did we change it. . . if so to what?  It has resulted in some convoluted conversations on this end. If  it involves an automated answering machine, we kiss the conversation goodbye at the start.

We get our mail in Agios Nikolaos but technically our home is in Platsa, another village

Sometimes we have simply given our Greek address which really puts things in a tale spin as we don’t have a house number or road name, but a very long address all the same. Bottom line, as many of you know, we pick up mail at the village cafĂ©.

In a couple of cases that Greek address has done nothing more than to label us as ‘a foreign address’ and let me tell you red flags fly high when you are labeled with that!

As an example, we sold some investments in one of our accounts and wondered why the proceeds were kept in a holding account and not deposited to our cash account. All transactions were within the same firm we've used for nearly 40 years.  When we called and asked why it was still in a ‘holding’ account we were informed that it couldn’t be deposited as they don’t deposit money from 'foreign' sources. (The money was earned in the US, saved in the US and never left the US. . .Ah ha. . . but "we"  did!
A fork in the road - which one to use?

Phone number – but which one!

We went from no phone to more phone numbers than we know what to do with. And most of  them don’t help at all when dealing with American financial or health institutions or retail outlets.
We’ve got a mobile phone number that we pay for month-to-month and activate when we are in the U.S.

A few weeks ago we purchased a Skype number with our old US area code that we give to businesses/agencies in the U.S. in case they need to reach us. . .but we quickly add, 'it's a local number for you, but we are 10 hours ahead of you, so keep that in mind if you call’.

For several years, we've had a Greek mobile phone that we use in Greece.  (And that Greek number doesn’t fit on any US forms.)

Even the simple things. . .

Google Gods know where I live and when my birthday is. . .
Let me tell you – I love and Book Depository, an on-line book vendor also located in the United Kingdom. They don’t balk at our crazy-long Greek address that isn’t really an address and our Greek phone number fits perfectly in their forms.

However, if I try to shop on line stores back in the States (I do that in advance of our return trips back to the U.S)  the Google Gods know where I am now when I am ordering and retail sites like Macy’s and Chico’s come up with my Greek zip code and all items show up in euro, not dollar, prices. A pop up on each site offers deals on shipping and customs charges to Greece from the U.S. (I go in and manually change location and currency).

Village home in Kardamyli

While the pleasures of being homeless in America – by choice - still outweigh the problems, the reality is that while the acclimating to Greece has been great, the American homeless part has been a challenge.  Not insurmountable, but often-times not for the thin-skinned or faint-of-heart either.  It is something to keep in mind if seriously considering a stab at being an ex pat.

Our type of chosen ‘homelessness’ has made us much more empathetic to the real homelessness that exists in the world.  Just as our experiences with the immigration processes has made us far more sympathetic towards those seeking residency in other countries – not by choice as we did, but by circumstances beyond their control.

P1040949 (2)
A storage unit that feels like a morgue back in the States
And it hasn’t been our intention to be homeless in America forever.  Living out of that storage unit and a hotel room on our trip through the Northwest last winter didn’t cut it. We are taking steps to change that. . .and if you want to know where those steps are leading, you’ll just have to join us here next week to find out!

Thanks for the time you’ve spent with us today as we looked at ex pat life from a slightly different perspective.  Safe travels to you and yours ~

Linking this week with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Best of Weekend

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Expat Life: My Big Fat Greek Birthday!

The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes.
--Frank Lloyd Wright

Sunset - The Stone House on the Hill
Some birthdays are bigger than others. And some birthdays are better than others.

My 65th birthday, celebrated in Greece on Monday, was one that will be remembered as being both bigger and better. Let me tell you why. . .

Why Bigger?

Age is a bad traveling companion.
-- Proverb

Hundred year old olive trees
There’s no denying it, 65 sounds old.  By most measures in today’s world, it IS old. Well, maybe not compared to olive trees here in the Peloponnese or Greece itself, but still. . .

Speeding towards Hydra island a few weeks ago

It is an age that comes with constant reminders of how fast one is speeding towards ‘the ultimate finish line’. About six months ago the first 'red flags'; the paperwork and forms began arriving to apply for retirement. In other words, I took the first steps towards becoming. . .ahem. . .a ‘pensioner’.  How can that be?!?! (The good news is that next month my first 'pension' payment will be deposited into my bank account.)

Our last forwarded mail packet included a letter from the U.S. government. Inside was my Medicare card. . .the U.S. government’s mandatory health-care program for senior citizens. The directions said to put it in my wallet and never leave home without it. Thus,I am now a card-carrying old person as the card I carry identifies me as a Medicare recipient! (BTW, it doesn’t cover U.S. citizens outside the country.)

A contemplative moment on Kefalonia island
With all those red flags of advancing age, a vagabond like me starts thinking differently about travel. I found myself one day last week calculating how few years I/we likely have left for travel and how many trips could reasonably be fit into those years. ( I didn’t like those numbers, so quickly quit thinking about it.)

Bottom line: No longer is the world at my/our feet, just waiting to be explored on future travels, someday.  Now, I am thinking of travel planning as a race against time:

 'Let’s go (or do) while we are still able.'
'We can’t keep putting off (certain activity or outing); we need to do it while we still have hips and knees that work.'
'Let’s save that for when we are really old gummers.'

Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.
-- Seneca, 4 BC Cordoba, Spain – 65 AD Rome, Italy

In recent years we’ve forgone those wrapped birthday gifts choosing instead a ‘birthday trip’ (what would you expect from travelers like us, right?)  A mid-July birthday falls in the height of travel season and the height of high temperatures, so we’ve learned to delay my trips to a more tolerable time of year. On the other hand, why put off travel even for a month or so? Perhaps we should go somewhere soon. . .

Gerolimeneas harbor - Peloponesse

Why Better?

'Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.'
-- David Bowie

The Stone House on the Hill - July 16th, 2018
So here I am, now living as an expat in Greece, thousands of miles from the world in which I’ve always celebrated my birthdays.  What to do?

Well, I decided to celebrate as I had planned to do a few years back.

[Back story for those of you new to the blog: We came to Greece to purchase our home in July 2014. Closing was set for the day before my birthday. I’d planned to celebrate the new home and the birthday at some Greek taverna, flinging my napkin and shouting, 'Opa!'. The deal fell through. We spend the birthday bouncing between the bank and hotel room, wiring our funds back to the U.S. Not the celebration I'd envisioned. Fast forward. . .]

So . . .I finally had that party at a Greek taverna. . .at the edge of the sea. . .within walking distance of our home.

Voulimeneas taverna overlooks this beach
And how glad I am that fate had forced me to wait because. . .

Let the party begin
. . .by now we know the tavernas in our area and I could pick one that holds a special spot in our hearts.  The family that runs the place have taken us (and every other expat they know here) under their wings and made us welcome, have helped us in times of need and who simply make us feel like part of their family.

The setting was perfect. . .Elena made sure everything else was as well
“Tell me how many people. Tell me what food you want. Do not worry.”  Elena said to me. It was that simple.

PicMonkey Collage
Bouquets came from my own Greek garden
. . .and now I have a garden so I could make my own table decorations using olive branches, sage, mint, geranium and rosemary cuttings mixed with bougainvillea and lantana blooms.

The Scout picked the lemons from our tree and I made the cake
. . .we could harvest lemons from our tree and I could make myself a lemon birthday cake.

PicMonkey Collage
Friends and neighbors helped ease me into 65
. . .and I could surround myself with friends and neighbors who make up my new world. Some who are new to our ex pat world and others who've helped us over the hurdles we've encountered along the way - some who've known us since before the house purchase. All who've enriched our expat experience.

Sunset from Voulimeneas taverna
And I concluded as the day came to an end:

Age is irrelevant. Ask me how many sunsets I’ve seen, hearts I’ve loved, trips I’ve taken,
or concerts I’ve been t. That’s how old I am.”
-- Joelle

That’s it for this week. Wish I could have invited you all to join us – what a party that would have been!  But we do hope that where ever your travels – in real life or armchair – take you this week that you will find a reason to celebrate something.  Fling a napkin into the air and shout, ‘Opa!’ – you’ll feel 10 years younger, I guarantee it!

Linking with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Best of Weekend

Monday, July 9, 2018

Greece ~ Summertime and the livin’ is easy. . .

“Everything good, everything magical happens between the months of June and August.”
                                                                           -- Jenny Han

A summer's eve at The Stone House on the Hill
The cicadas, those miniature merrymakers of summer sambas, have filled our Greek world with their song since late May. They are the troubadours who herald in the summer season known here as kalokairi, summer.  On this Monday afternoon, their sizzling melody seems as intense as the Mediterranean sun’s rays.

My garden is wilting, the olive grove dry. . .
They aren’t the only ones singing. In recent days while doing my morning chores at The Stone House on the Hill I’ve been humming a customized version of that Porgy and Bess tune, ‘Summertime and the livin’ is easy. . .’, substituting ‘my garden is wilting, the olive grove's dry. . .’ for 'the fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high'.

Summer - the Messinian Bay looking toward Kalamata
Summer, kalokairi, arrived bringing temperatures in the high 80’s and low 90’s (30C and up), sunshine and blue skies. It is a season that has beckoned us for three years to stay longer. This will be our first summer spent entirely in Greece.

And so far we are finding it to be as postcard pretty as it appears in those tourist promotion photos!

PELOPONNESE MAP BEST OF GREECE HOLIDAYS[1]In the past month or so, we have had houseguests with whom we’ve toured our area. Other times we’ve headed out on own. Sometimes we go no further than our village or our deck to remind us just how spectacular summer can be in Greece!.

(For those new to the blog and our story: we live just south of Kalamata – near Stoupa on the map to the left - in the Greek Peloponnese. We moved here full-time last October.)

So on this sweltering summer afternoon while I am enjoying our recently installed air conditioning, I decided to give you a quick look at summer in our Slice of Greece.

South to Limeni:

Limeni, Peloponnese
Less than an hour south of us, Limeni is the name of a traditional settlement, a settlement of the family Mavromichali.  Petros Mavromichali is a famous leader of the Maniot people back in the first half of the 19th Century, particularly noted for leading revolts against the Ottomans. The settlement is built along the shore of one of the prettiest bays in our area.

Tourist accommodations are dotting the hillsides at Limeni
P1070715Today the area is a tourist draw as new ‘small settlements’ – rentals and vacation accommodations -- are springing up on the hillsides overlooking this horseshoe shaped harbor.

Because Limeni and its neighboring New Oitylo village at the harbor (old Oitylo sits high on a hill above the two) are so close to us, it is an easy destination for a long lunch at one of the many tavernas or restaurants that line its long stretch of beach.

This area plays prominently in the area’s pirate history, but that’s a story for another day. . .for now we are now off to another seaside destination, just outside Kalamata. . .

North to Kitries

Whether you  follow the beach road from Kalamata, or head to it from an inland route, Kitries will literally be where the two roads intersect and end. We’d lived here for some time before we got around to following the recommendations of friends and finally visited the place. But once we saw it, we knew we’d be regulars to this picturesque spot on the Messinian Bay.

Fishing boats at Kitries
Kitries was our Sunday drive destination a couple weeks ago. Much like Limeni, it takes less than an hour to reach this small protected boat harbor, filled with an array of fishing craft. Once upon a time, the place was an important anchorage, home to five of the Beys (Turkish title for‘chieftain’) of the Mani with large fortified walls. Any signs of walls are long gone, replaced by tavernas and restaurants.

Tavernas at Kitries 

Those tavernas were coming to life during our morning stop and preparing for a summer Sunday onslaught of sun-seekers.

Speaking of onslaughts. We are often asked by somewhat incredulous first-time visitors: "How did you find this place?!”  Difficult as it is for our American friends to comprehend, the Mani, is a popular tourist destination and quite well known on this side of the Atlantic.  Let me show you a section of that beach road to Kitries:

Sun and beach seekers filled the road along the bay
For miles (kilometers) cars were parked bumper-to-bumper on the beach road. The only other place that has looked like this in our travels has been the North Shore of Hawai’i’s O’ahu island during surfing season!

East into the Mountains – Milea

Milea aka Milia village
We never miss a chance to take our guests up into the Taygetos Mountain range, the backbone of the Peloponesse. One of our favorite stops, less than 30 minutes away is Milea (aka Milia) village. The village, actually is located on three levels, but our favorite stop is the section in which the main road cuts through. You can’t drive this route without literally cutting through town (but that could be said of a number of places in this part of the world as well).

Can you spot the Pappas?
When visiting, we pull off the road and park to the side of the church, near the one taverna in this part of town and the nearby small bus stop.  We seldom see signs of residents, although on Easter we finally spotted the Papas in the church talking with another set of tourists.

The village taverna
Philip, a retired-from-New-York-business-owner, has returned to his village and runs the only taverna in this part of town out of the home in which he was raised. He regales us with tales of growing up in the village – back then he walked the old trails and cobblestoned kalderimi to get to the harbor to catch a ferry to Kalamata. The roads we consider tiny are still relatively new in this part of the country. Summertime is a good time to head out on those roads, slow our pace, and sit and listen to stories of yesteryear.

Unexpected finds on the mountain roads include this mural on a shed
“Rest is not idleness and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”
                                             -- Anna Godbersen

Kitries, Greece
“Summertime is always the best of what might be.”
             -- Charles Bowden

We hope that whatever the season you are experiencing, that you have the time to get out and experience its sights and sounds! We’ll be back next week and hope to see you here! Thanks for you time today and safe travels to you and yours.

Linking up this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Best of Weekend


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