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

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Hungary . . .for a little adventure. . .

The rain against the taxi windows blurred our first glimpses of Budapest. We arrived on a very dreary Sunday morning - the sky, the buildings and streets -- even the Danube River - were shades of gray.  A breeze stirred fallen leaves.

A rainy morning added to the ambiance of Budapest

Welcome to Budapest, the capital city of Hungary. Even with modern vehicles, trams and buses passing our taxi, I still felt like we were characters in one of Alan Furst's novels which are set in a variety of European cities. His plots delve into a shady and suspenseful time surrounding World War II. And this city on that drab morning felt shady and suspenseful!

So many choices and so little time!

We'd arrived here as part of a quick fall getaway: five nights here, to be followed by three in Vienna. We've been landlocked in Greece too long this year. The travel bug, dormant during that 4.5 month wait for our residency cards - our keys to being able to travel outside the country - had definitely gotten restless. You regulars here know one of the reasons we moved was to have a launch pad from which we could explore more of Europe and the Middle East and Africa.  

Euro on the left, Hungarian Forint on the right

We were hungry for an adventure to someplace we'd never been before. Hungary is satiating our appetites! After a flight of one hour, 40 minutes from Athens we are immersed in such a different culture - language, food, currency; everything has just enough foreign feel to it to make this trip most interesting.  

And some things are a bit too foreign for my tastes

With so many layers of history, we are having a hard time absorbing all there is to learn about this once Communist-ruled country.

Buda Castle from our room
It didn't take long to figure out that the five days we gave ourselves here won't be anywhere near enough to visit all the sights within the city of Budapest, let alone to get out and explore the countryside! We've barely had time to sample Hungarian cuisine and sip Hungarian wine.

Free entertainment outside our window

Our room at the Budapest Marriott on the Pest side (pronounced, pesht) overlooks the Danube River and the Castle on the Buda side of the river. We could easily spend our days doing nothing more than watching the never-ending river traffic: tour boats and river cruise boats mingle with barges and other river transport.

Taking a morning stroll across the Danube on Chain Bridge

The November weather has been what one might expect in a Central European country: a bit of sun, quite a few clouds and periodic heavy rain, and chilly for those us basking last week in summer-like temperatures in Greece!  Here we've shivered in temperatures hovering between high 40F and low 50's ( 4-10C).  A morning of sunshine has become a pouring rainstorm by evening.

Street scenes to take your breath away

Aside from the fact I should have followed my instincts and packed our long underwear and heavier clothes, we are enjoying this adventure in Central Europe. . .it reminds us how much of the world there is to see!  Regulars here and FB friends know that Budapest has long been on The Scout's list of 'must see' places. It wasn't as high up on my travel list, that is, before I arrived. Now I am talking about making this annual trip.

I am at a European Christmas Market!
In addition to the multitude of art galleries and museums, the historic sites are many and varied. We've logged more than a dozen miles walking from one to another in just a couple of days and filled most of another day touring by Hop-On, Hop-Off bus and boat tours. 

One of the unexpected treats we have had was the annual Christmas Market. And I do believe there will be another market operating in Vienna when we get there this weekend! I will certainly be telling you about those soon!

Who is this man? What was he playing for us? Stay tuned.
I know some of you were expecting a post on Monemvasia and I pre-empted that with this trip.  We are hopping a train tomorrow to Vienna before returning home to Greece next week. I will get back to it, but I've got a lot of things to tell you about our travels to this amazing part of Europe so hope you'll be back again for the next installment of Travel-n-Write! 

Safe travels to you and yours and thanks for the time you spent with us today.

Linking sometime soon with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Where There's Smoke ~ There's Olive Harvest

Just as they have for centuries, 
the rituals of olive harvest in Greece's Peloponnese are heralding in 
the month of November. . .

Tourist season gives way to olive harvest season

The signs of seasonal change begins here about October 28, Saint Dimitrios' Name Day. It is, on or near, that day that several tavernas in the surrounding villages will close for 'the season'. Tractors cease hauling boats from the harbor, pulling trailers filled with harvest equipment instead. Beach toys for tourists disappear from store shelves, replaced by tools and oil storage containers used in olive harvest.

But it is the smoke from fires on November 1st that signal 'the season of the olive' is upon us.  From a practical standpoint, the first day of the month is the first day we can legally burn brush and cuttings accumulated during the hot, dry fire-danger spring and summer.  The underbrush in groves is also being cut and burned to make way for harvest nets.

Olive harvest spans several months, continuing into late December or early January in this part of Greece.

Koronieki olives grown at The Stone House on the Hill 

The olive grown here for oil - most often referred to as the Kalamata olive -- is the koronieki variety. The small fruit, barely the size of the little finger's nail, is packed with oil, which in turn is packed with poly-phenols, a natural anti-oxidant that has been linked to heart-attack and cancer prevention. Its history in Greek horticulture dates back thousands of years.

While the large growers enlist paid workers and volunteer crews to assist with the harvest, many of the groves are still 'mom and pop' operations where harvesting is done literally by a couple who've done their task together for decades. Many of the groves are like ours - grown on steep terraced hillsides inaccessible by machines even if machines were available. So our harvest is also done by hand.

Daco destroyed olives - 2018

Last year most of the growers - large and small - in our area lost their olive crops to the invasive 'daco' (Dacus oleae)  the olive fruit fly that devastated crops in neighboring countries before heading our direction.  Weather conditions were perfect for crop decimation. Our small grove of 17 trees wasn't spared: the olives had shriveled on the trees by August. But for us, it is a hobby crop; sadly, for many we know, it was a major lost source of income.

One doesn't think about the ripple effect of crop failure until it surrounds you. Restaurants resorted to buying olives instead of serving those they had grown. Residents had less money so shopping was cut back as was dining out and entertainment spending. From retail to restaurants - everyone in the village was touched by the crop failures.

A New Year ~ A New Crop

Harvest at The Stone House on the Hill 2019

The joy surrounding this year's harvest is palpable in the villages. 

Our dry, hot summer was the perfect condition for thwarting that pesky fly. Just to be on the safe side some, like us, augmented with use of 'bio' (safe) sprays that tackled the fly without harm to humans. 

Everywhere, the tree branches droop with olives. There's a near holiday feel to the herculean harvest task ahead.

In the five years since we bought our Stone House on the Hill, the olive harvest has became as big an event for us as for those life-long growers around us. We know we have some new readers since I last told you about harvest on the hill so sit back and join us on this year's harvest journey:

Volunteers work long and hard to make it happen

Our crew consisted of two paid workers (the two who directed the operation as they knew what they were doing) and six 'boomers': the two of us and two couples that had volunteered to help. (One couple flew in from Washington State and assured us at the end of the harvest day that they will come back to visit but NOT during harvest again).

While I write about the joys and the magic of harvest -- of which there are many -- I can assure you, it is a back-breaking, muscle-stretching hard day. We harvested our 17 trees in six hours: the first two hours were fun, the next two tolerable and the last two were outright torture.

The Scout at work

Humongous plastic nets were draped over the terraces to catch the olives. Olives are beaten or raked from the tree or from those branches that have been cut off of the tree.  Think multi-tasking: harvesting and pruning at the same time.

On hands and knees the quality control step is the final one in the grove

Part of our crew was charged with hauling the cut branches down the terraces to a burn pile on the lower level. Others were the 'harvesters' beating, pounding and raking branches until they couldn't raise their arms.  Then came the 'quality control' team who crawled on their hands and knees picking twigs and larger stubble from the olives, rolling those carpets of fruit until they are in a neat pile and ready for the burlap bags. 

Ares who directs the operation - Photo: Marti Bartlett

Thankfully the younger and stronger members of the team hauled the 50 kilo bags up the hill.

Our 377 kilos (831 pounds) of olives were deposited at the local olive press (nowadays a computerized but complex machine ) and at 7 p.m. the hour-long processing of turning the fruit to oil began:

Our olives enter the processor

Olives are first separated from remaining leaves and stems, then washed then the processing begins.

Oil to the left and water to the right - Photo: Marti Bartlett

A swirling mass of green 'goo' is churned until it arrives at the separator where water and oil have a parting of the ways. . . 

And then there it is: thick, rich olive oil!

. . .minutes later, the moment the day has been leading to....  olive oil!  And for us, lots of it this year. Our yield was 70 kilos or 18.5 gallons of emerald green, spicy olive oil.

It is anticipated that Greece will produce 300,000 tons of oil this year, a 60% increase over last and 11% more than the usual annual average.  It will contribute to the European Union's member state's projected production of 2.1 million tons of olive oil.

End of the day and I am still upright! - Photo: Marti Bartlett

It is an amazing experience and each time harvest day ends I say a little prayer that we'll still be physically able next year to roll up the shirt-sleeves, get a bit dirty and a lot tired, and be a part of such a time honored tradition.

A 'tsipouro' toast to a good year - Photo Marti Bartlett

Our harvest was a success thanks to the expertise of Artan Koxhai, and our good friends and volunteers:  Mary and Greg Burke who traveled from Washington State to assist and Marti and Chuck Barlett, fellow expat friends from Kirkland Washington here in the village. And of course,Taki and his son Giannis who turned our fruit into oil.  

Another thanks to photographer Marti Bartlett for the photos she shared for use in this post.

And thanks for being with us on this harvest journey!  Welcome to all you new subscribers ~ hope you'll all be back next week when we are off to Monemvasia, one of the most enchanted spots in the Peloponnese!  Until then ~ wishes for safe travels to you and yours!

Linking sometime soon with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...