Sunday, December 29, 2019

A Greek-Style Village Christmas

Living differently, as I refer to this expat life of ours in Greece's Peloponnese, means that holidays are also celebrated differently.

Christmas Morning downtown Agios Nikolaos

Christmas in our village of Agios Nikolaos (Saint Nicholas) is a laid-back sort of day, a delightful contrast to the rather fast-paced, often-stressed way we approached it in our Seattle suburb life.

Decorations here are minimal and retail outlets are few which means a dash for a last minute gift would take us to a hardware store, a meat store, a nursery, two gas stations or two grocery stores.

Decorations at Elli's - a favorite village restaurant of ours

There's a single light display draped over the main street into town. It spells out, Kronia Polla, meaning 'Good Year' (an all-occasion phrase in Greece, as it seems as it is used as greeting at every holiday but only displayed at Christmas).

Kala Christougenna, (Merry Christmas) has so many letters it would be too long to drape over that main street of ours; it is a narrow one that winds between the storefronts and harbor.

We do get a double-day holiday here because Dec. 26th, Boxing Day to our many British ex pat friends, is the Synaxis of the Mother of God in the Greek Orthodox religion.

Nine nations represented at our Christmas lunch

Both days were picture perfect. . .blue sky, sunshine, and just cool enough to need a jacket or sweater. 

Christmas cooking was limited to a dish to contribute to a buffet Christmas lunch at a neighbor's home. The group was comprised of expats all of whom live within a couple kilometers of us. We were the only Americans and our small gathering represented nine countries. And what a feast! It might be the best Christmas dinner we've ever eaten!

Boxing Day toast in Hades - Agios Nikolaos
Boxing Day was toasted with a group of our British expat friends at our local taverna, Hades.

Fig tree and ladder - village garden Christmas morning

We hope that whatever holiday you might be celebrating, if any at all, you are enjoying this week as much as we are in our Greek village.

Thank you so much for the time you've spent reading TravelnWrite this year and for recommending it to others.  Learning that you've sharing our tales is one of the greatest compliments we could have. (And thanks for your continued patience as we try to correct our defective email distribution service).  My one New Year's resolution is to rehab the blog with a distribution system that works! 

Happy New Year to you from The Scout and The Scribe! We'll be back in 2020 with more tales of travel and expat life for you ~ 

Linking soon with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday

Thursday, December 26, 2019

In Greece ~ The Gift of Time

'Five years', we agreed on that mid-December day -- the day we purchased our Stone House on the Hill in the Greek Peloponnese. 'We'll give it five years and if we don't like it or get too old, we'll move on to something else.'

The Stone House on the Hill

Can you believe we made that agreement five years ago!?

Five years. A rather safe and long distance away it had seemed on that pivotal week before Christmas when we took ownership of the house that would ultimately change the course of our lives.

Where did the time go? How did we cross the goal line so soon?

Five years. We hoped we would stay healthy and young enough in spirit to make it that long. Back then, moving here and becoming expats hadn't even been part of the discussion. Those were just life's dominoes waiting to be tipped as we made our way to today.

Buyers (us), sellers, attorney and realtor celebrate the sale of the house.

Time does change all things, as Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure so aptly concluded. It certainly has changed us and our world.  Looking back on this last half decade those changes were so subtle that we didn't realize as time passed how substantial they were.

Agios Nikolaos fishing harbor - our village
Those first couple years, in retrospect, it seemed we were playing house here. It all was so different that it just didn't seem real.  Although we were living here, we were still feeling a bit like tourists who observe and enjoy and then take their leave.

The Scout joins the other 'old boys' in checking out the produce for sale 
Somewhere along the way we become part of the village and it a part of us.  We still chuckle at a houseguest's remark that she felt as if she were in a parade each time we drove through town with all the waving we did and calling out to those we know.  We're pleased that over time we've grasped enough of the language to be able to call out a greeting, inquire as to how the person is and respond when the question is asked of us. We are no longer the grinning bobble heads we were when we first arrived.

Even if we devoted the rest of our lives to learning Greek, however, we wouldn't live long enough to master it.  But as our cache of words increases so do our conversations and relationships. 

Bloody Hell! We've got some great British ex pat friends here

Speaking of language, one unexpected bonus of the last five years is that thanks to our fellow British expats we are becoming multi-lingual! We find ourselves interjecting proper English words into our conversations: 

"Crikey! We are speaking with proper English these days. Bloody Hell, who'd have thought we'd do that?"

Takis, our olive oil processor and the Amerikani

While feeling a part of the village we are still often called 'the Amerikani' just because it is easier to identify us that way.  Usually it is said, 'Amerikani' with a toss of the head in the direction of the hill on which we live as that further identifies which Amerikani we are. There are still so few Yanks in the area that 'Amerikani' works for the dozen or so of us who make our homes here on a full or part-time basis. And part of the reason for the label in our case is that while most get. Jackie, they have a difficult time with saying Joel.

One of my favorite 'name' stories comes from a recent first-time visit to a popular dry cleaning business in Kalamata. The young man asked my name and I said, 'Smith, . . pausing and adding, 'Jackie' for further identification. He laughed and replied, 'No need, I remember you.'

No claim ticket or receipt was given so I expected much confusion when I returned the following week. I shouldn't have worried because as I walked through the doorway he called out, 'Kalimera (good morning) Smith!' and had my items on the counter by the time I got to it.

Every day is a lesson in culture and history around here

We've been and are being culturally immersed here. No classes, no research papers. No assignments. We are learning of the world around us just by interacting with the many people who make up our village world. 

 Generally the tradesmen here are Greek or Albanian - and we've come to know many as they make repairs or improvements to our Stone House on the Hill. As the years have passed we've gotten to know them as friends as well and know their families. It has been enriching to learn more about their countries and cultures just from the one-to-one association we have with them.

The expat world itself  is made up of a delightful mixture of cultures.  We gathered for Christmas buffet lunch at our friend's home just down the road and we could have been a committee of the United Nations! Our small gathering of folks, who live within a two kilometer radius of us, represented nine countries!

Stoupa village - new shops and restaurants AND tourists

Our five years have given us an up-close look at Greece's economic struggles and the country's emergence from it. While we know there are those still struggling in the country we are seeing our slice of Greece come to life with new shops and restaurants opening each spring. The Airbnb craze has hit with signs offering accommodations sprouting up along every road we travel. We even have one next door now! New home construction is going wild with nearly a dozen construction sites within a two mile radius of our home.

No More Goals - Just a Gift of Time

The Scout, The Scribe and their Stone House on the Hill
In retrospect, we probably gave ourselves the best Christmas gift ever when we bought this home because we gave ourselves that 'final fling' and in doing so, we gave ourselves the gift of time ~

Time to explore a new lifestyle together.
Time with old friends who come to visit; real time that is; not a rushed dinner or drinks conversation but the kind that continues for hours long into the night kind of visits.
Time for basking in the best of new cultures.
Time for making new friends and expanding our world in ways we never could have imagined.
Time to explore the world that exists on this side of the pond.
Time to stargaze and time to watch ocean waves.
Time to step away from the routines of our old life and try something new. . . before time got away from us and we found we were too old to do it.

A table with village view

We didn't set a new goal of 'another five years', as we toasted the first five.  Instead we asked ourselves,  'Do you think we'll make it another five years?'

As boomers having a 'final fling' (as we call this adventure), we know our advancing ages and health will be a factor. Our four plus months of being 'held' in Greece awaiting our residency renewal earlier this year, was a clear reminder that we are but guests in this adopted land. Government rules, immigration changes - so many things beyond our control -- could easily dictate the time we have left in Greece.

Nowadays when we are told by friends that they plan to visit 'one of these days', we think, 'That's fine, IF we are still here.'

For now we'll continue living that daydream and enjoying this final fling of ours on the hillside overlooking our slice of Greece.  It isn't tough duty! And if the next five years go as fast as the first, well, who knows how long we might be here?

The Stone House on the Hill - far right, up from the harbor

With that, we will close with wishes for a Happy New Year and thanks for being here with us as we celebrate another year of this adventure.

Before I close, the problems with blog's email distribution continues and I continue to tweak the program trying to fix it..  Should you get this in your inbox, please drop a quick note (just hit reply on the email) and let me know. I am putting together a makeshift distribution system to get me to the real fix the end of January when the blog will undergo a major overhaul.  Thanks to those who've contacted us to see what has become of us!

Linking soon with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Lost in Space

Somewhere between 'tossing toilet paper' and 'writing Greek wills' -- both topics on which I wrote this fall -- it appears our Travelnwrite became lost in space.

Lost in space, blogosphere-style, that is.

Lost in space - or the blogosphere

While I've been sitting in Greece writing blogs and pondering a recent drop in readership, apparently many of you were wondering if I had quit writing because the posts weren't arriving in your inbox as they had been.

Lost in space - blogosphere-style.

Space the final frontier or it is the blogosphere

I have to admit that it took until this week for the lightbulb to go off in this old boomer brain and realize something was seriously amiss. Those of you receiving the blog posts by email hadn't received any for weeks.  I'd been busy having fun with October houseguests, completing olive harvest and then jetting off to Hungary. . .so, I wasn't paying attention as I should have been to stats and other things that blog writers monitor.

Let me stop here for a moment to say, that one of the best parts of writing a blog is having so many friends as readers.  On the flip side, over the years many who began as readers of the blog have, over the years, become good friends.

And after having three reader/friends in a short period of time write us to ask about our well being as they hadn't gotten blog posts, I finally figured out there was a major malfunction going on. Thanks to those who wrote ~ you know who you are!

As a result you are now reading a 'test post'' as I've done some troubleshooting to see if I can fix the 'feed' (blog lingo for the distribution of emails to those who signed up to get them as emails).

Getting lost in space

Stop! Something is wrong - the light bulb went off

Looking back, our disappearance from the inboxes seems to eerily coincide with an unreal few but frustrating weeks when I found myself unable to get into the inner workings of my blog. In order to pay the annual fee I pay for use of the title, Travelnwrite, I had to get into my Google account.  If you don't pay by the deadline you lose your rights to your title and access to your blog.

You ever tried to reach a human at Google?

Through some miracle, I stumbled upon a real human named Matey.  All I had to do was to convince him that I really was me, author of Travelnwrite for the last decade. He and I talked on the phone and wrote numerous emails to each other on nearly a daily basis for several weeks.

But I couldn't find the documentation I needed to prove I was me. In the end I had to complete a security test - it took three tries before I provided what they were looking for (I won't bore you with details but let's say it was right up there with applying for a Greek residency permit on the high blood pressure barometer.)

Lost in space 

Finally just days before the title was set to expire, I convinced Matey and the Google Security Team (who'd become involved along the way) that I was me.
I got into my account.
I paid.
The domain Travelnwrite renewed.
I sighed with relief.
I began writing posts again. . .

They just didn't get emailed.

Today we will see if the distribution is working.

Hoping the lost in space has been found

In addition to emailing posts, we have some who follow the blog in their readers and I post them on my FB page as well as the Travelnwrite FB page.  So for those who've already read these, please bear with me while I provide links to those who didn't get them. Click the highlighted link for the article.

Heading to the olive press - another harvest in the history book

In November I told you about this year's olive harvest at The Stone House on the Hill.

Then I wrote about being Hungary for adventure and heading to Budapest.

Yes! Me at a Christmas Market - Budapest

And of the joy in finally getting to visit a 
European Christmas Market

Budapest Noir - the city's darker side

Last week I looked at the dark side of that wonderful city in
Budapest Noir

I am signing off this post with a huge thanks to all of you who take the time to read Travelnwrite. Your time and interest means a lot! Let us hear from you if you have found this one in your inbox.

As always wishes for safe travels to you and yours ~

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Budapest Noir ~ House of Terror and other Horrors

On a crisp sunny November morning we set out on Budapest's famed boulevard - Andrassy Avenue -- a stretch of road dating back to 1872. Today's roadway is lined with elaborate facades on the exteriors of Neo-renaissance mansions and townhomes. 

Flower stalls brightened Andrassy Avenue - Budapest

Strolling on its wide sidewalks we passed name-brand designer stores, fancy cafes and restaurants that are the street level occupants of those stately old edifices. Notable addresses along the street include
the Hungarian University of Fine Arts and the State Opera House. 

Trams waiting for pedestrians crossing before them on Andrassy Street

The bustling route -- such an upbeat and pleasant part of the city -- was recognized as a World Heritage Site in 2002.

A stop at a bookstore along the way resulted in the purchase of a murder mystery set in the 1930's penned by a Hungarian writer, its title 'Budapest Noir'

Thinking back on it, the title was an appropriate foreshadowing for our destination that morning: 

The House of Terror. . .a place about as 'noir' as you could find.

Not some Hollywood special effects entertainment venue, the building at 60 Andrassy Avenue is both a Museum about one of the darkest times in Budapest's modern history and a memorial to its victims. 

House of Terror, 60 Andrassy Avenue, Budapest
 A sign at the entryway reads:

'A memorial of political terror, where people were detained, tortured and murdered during the Arrow Cross [far-right, Fascists] and Communist dictatorships. From the late 1930's the building was used as a meeting place by the Arrow Cross and later as their party headquarters, dubbed The House of Loyalty. It was taken over by the Communist secret police in 1945 and later served as headquarters for Hungary's Secret Service organization the State Protection Authority.'

Photography isn't allowed inside. Frankly, I am not sure who would want to take photos - you don't need them to remember the horrors depicted in displays and articulated by survivors in the many videos used throughout the memorial.  

One of the most striking photo displays was not of victims, but of the perpetrators.  It took us a bit to realize that the display was of the perpetrators because frankly the men and women looked the same as those who had been victims. 

Regulars here know I am not a fan of those blogs that list the 5, 10 or 12  "Must See" places for their readers. Nor do I like those who tell you what should be visited in a two- or three-day stay somewhere. I prefer to tell you about things we do in the places we visit in hopes you'll get the itch to set forth as well using your own ideas about what should be seen.  Here I am making an exception to my rule: if you are in Budapest, you should visit this tastefully curated but horrifying look at history.

Entry to 60 Andrassy - photos of victims ring the building's exterior

Along the banks of the Danube near the fairytale castle-like building that serves as Parliament, another display created by sculptors, Gyula Pauer and Con Togay, has been drawing tourists since its 2005 installation.

Budapest Parliament Building
"Shoes on the Danube" 60 pairs of rusted period shoes cast in iron sit at the water's edge. Behind them signs read, "To the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrowcross militiamen in 1944-45."

We didn't make it to the shoes as we simply ran out of time - it will be high on our 'must see' list when we return (and we do plan to return to this amazing city)!

Memorial to victims of German occupation 

Several blocks away from the Parliament Building we did visit another memorial, this one built to honor the victims of the German occupation.  While the memorial is striking with its eagle (representing Nazi Germany) and Archangel Gabriel (representing victims), it was the personal messages, photos and stories that descendants of the victims have left, that grip your heart.  Each one a story of love and loss.

The caption on this photo reads: 
'Budapest 1944. Jewish women being driven to extermination. Passers-by look at the sidewalk.'
The saddest part of the memorial to my way of thinking

I can't visit these memorials without wondering why the human race hasn't learned from history.  It was when I saw the notice in the photograph above that I thought perhaps it never will.  

I use a hashtag, #whywetravel quite often on FB posts because so many ask if we still -- after this many decades of it -- enjoy traveling.  These 'noir' experiences in Budapest certainly qualify as examples of why we travel.  There is so much of the world and its history -- both good and bad -- to learn about and what better way to do it than visiting sites that might make us uncomfortable and be upsetting but that certainly present a story that needs to be told and heard?

How about you? Where has history taken you on your travels? Leave us a comment or shoot us an email.

Next week, I promise a bit more upbeat tale and hope that you will join us then for another adventure.  Thank you for the time you spent with us today. Safe travels to you and yours.

I am adding a post script to this because I need to know if any of you who have 'subscribed' - that is, signed up to receive this as an email in your inbox -- did receive it?  I seem to have been dropped from Feedburner, the distribution engine that brings my words to you.  If you did, could you be so kind as to drop a note and say, "got it"?

Linking soon with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday

Monday, November 25, 2019

Ring those Christmas Bells for Europe's Markets ~

 Christmas isn't a season. It's a feeling.
                    -- Edna Ferber

Au contraire, Edna! In Europe Christmas IS a season. 

A season of festive markets and merriment as we learned on our recent trip north to Budapest and Vienna.

Far too many from which to choose! Vienna Christmas Market stall

I've always been a fan of Christmas although I admit the years have worn down my enthusiasm for decorating the house, buying and gaily wrapping gifts.  Now that we live in a rural part of Greece -- with a couple of hardware stores and grocery stores as our year-round retail outlets -- we have far less commercial hoopla. The holiday continues to be largely celebrated as it should be, as a family event. 

Dried oranges and cinnamon stick decorations tempted in Budapest

So the celebration for this family of two aging expats and two cats, might best be described as minimalist: enough that the holiday doesn't pass by completely but certainly not a Hallmark Christmas movie in the making. 

Nighttime magic in Budapest

BUT that doesn't mean I didn't jump for joy when I realized that some Christmas Markets would be open in the two cities we were visiting. . .a per-chance occurrence, not pre-planned.

This one a few blocks from the Danube was our first Christmas Market 

Once that fact was determined I began researching European Christmas markets. The articles are endless as are the recommendations, btw:  'most charming' the ones 'not to miss', 'the 10 best. . .', the 10 least. . .' 

The Scout against a Market backdrop - Budaest
And you know what? Now that I've experienced them, I've decided you don't need recommendations or lists from any travel guru - you simply need to experience a Christmas market, any market, to bring out the Christmas spirit. . . especially if your enthusiasm for Christmas is waning and a bit of a re-charge is in order. 

A bit of magic in Budapest at the market

For a week we visited big markets and small markets; some large and touted and others very tiny, appearing on street corners without fanfare. So many markets that I simply mainlined holiday joy!  (Helped a bit by a little mulled wine!)

My first European Christmas Market - but not my last!
The food booths were all absolutely tantalizing, with the exception of Rooster Testicle Stew, to our way of thinking.  

No thanks! We passed on this one in Budapest
One evening we dined on market fare. The truth be told, our choices were heavily salted and only warm (it was cold outside) and the wine just okay. But the setting and the experience made up for all that and it will be a long remembered meal.  

Hearty fare for shoppers in Budapest
So many choices of food that had it not been as rainy as it was often times during our visit (tables and benches weren't covered) we would have tried a second night's fare as well just for the ambiance of dining at the Market.

This fellow was BBQing some tasty looking salmon

Another evening I warmed myself drinking mulled wine, spicy and warm. A drink I normally wouldn't have consumed but there, nothing else seemed better.

Christmas was in the Air in Budapest

The variety of items for sale surprised me.  I had thought everything would be Christmas themed, but many practical items tempted as well:

Too many choices from which to choose

Leather bags in a rainbow of colors

Colorful ceramic ware from cooking pots to flower pots

We learned that opening dates are as varied as the Christmas markets themselves. We lucked out to have as many open as we had during our third week of November trip. Some stay open through the first week of January. 

Budapest after dark

A trip to Budapest is far more than its Markets though and next week we'll take you on a sightseeing trip which made for a time travel trip of sorts through its history.  Hope to have you back with us then and until then, safe travels to you and yours. Thanks for your time today!

Linking soon with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday


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