Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Same Time Next Year Travel

The waves crash against the shore this week signaling a storm at sea somewhere out in the vast Pacific Ocean. This is the season of big waves in Hawaii - it was the same last year and the years before. It will likely be the same this time next year.

Waves break at Ko Olina O'ahu

The rhythm of the winter sea is familiar to us because for more than a decade of our lives we have lived in Hawaii this time of year.

We are among the 'same time next year' interval ownership residents at KoOlina, the planned unit development on the west coast of the island of O'ahu.

Lagoon path to Four Seasons and Aulani, a Disney resort

KoOlina, Hawaiian for 'place of joy', encompasses an 18-hole golf course, marina, Four Seasons Hotel, Aulani, a Disney Hotel and Marriott's Vacation Beach Club - not to mention several hundred single family residences (many of which are vacation rentals).

For us, the purchase of a Marriott timeshare week -- followed by the purchases of two additional weeks a few years later  -- has made this tropical spot our 'third place' -- the place we live in between Greece and Washington State. Our time here equals that spent in Washington.

Same Time Next Year Lifestyle

KoOlina views

Not too many weeks ago, back in Greece, friends were discussing all the places they'd like to see in the world. They scoffed at those people who return to the same place year after year. 'With so much world to see, why would anyone want to do that?' they asked.

'Don't condemn it until you've tried it!' I cautioned, while admitting there had been a time I shuddered at the thought of repeatedly returning to the same destination, but that was also back when I was declaring myself, 'not a timeshare person!'

Palm trees at sunset - Ko Olina

I remind myself often while watching waves and swaying palms, to 'never say never' when it comes to travel options I haven't yet tried. Had we not tried this part-time tropical life we'd have never known the joys of transplanting ourselves each year to a place that is somewhat familiar, yet vastly different, from the lives we lead both in Greece and on the mainland U.S.

A change from our Greek home

Our laid-back retired life here is one in which there is laundry and dishes to wash, dinner to make, shopping and errands to run. Yet with restaurants, bars and resort swimming pools only footsteps away, it is a change from living on our hillside above a Greek village. Here we live in a high-rise condominium (washers, dryers, televisions and dish washers!) on a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

We entered this world long before becoming expats in Greece. At the time we thought we were preparing for 'old age' travels -- a safe, secure and relatively close getaway only a six hour flight from Seattle.  Our travel time has increased to some 20+hours from Greece but still we return each year because it is such an interesting and different way of living.

Our high-rise condo is on the 15th floor this year
Because of our interval ownership, we live in an ocean-front condo, steps from the sea. Similar full-ownership condos next door sell for millions of dollars.  And had we not purchased a place here our four-week stay - renting from Marriott -- would have cost  $17,440 US dollars plus taxes. (I can assure you our annual maintenance fees are a far cry less than that!)

Our purchases were made back when you literally bought 1/52 ownership each year of real property.  Nowadays the Marriott timeshare program has gone to a purchase of points to be used at any number of properties around the world. We find the ownership of points to be somewhat nebulous. Had that been the only option 'back when', we likely wouldn't have made the leap.

KoOlina, Hawaiian for 'place of joy'

Even though we prefer to spend most of our interval time in Hawaii, we have the flexibility to trade into other properties. This spring we will spend a week outside Paris, thanks to that trade option.

In researching this article I found some interesting statistics showing just how popular this interval lifestyle is:  we are among 20 million households in the world that own at least one timeshare, according to the Timeshare Consumer Guide. The guide also reports there are more than 7,400 timeshare resorts in 180 countries. On average each year the world-wide total sales volume exceeds 14 billion $US.

Same Time Next Year Friendships

Same time next year friends watch sunset at home

What we hadn't imagined back at the time of that initial purchase was the new world of friendships that would open to us.  We literally have 'same time next year' friends who return in January/February from far distant points in the world.  Some are new friends who we've met at KoOlina and others are friends with decades of history together.  While in the beginning our times together were happenstance, these days -- thanks to social media -- we stay in touch throughout the year and try to start our residencies at roughly the 'same time next year'.

Same time, next year lifestyle

Even with the slow-paced lifestyle, our days seem to go quickly. We are half way through our time in the tropics. In two weeks time we will be back in the wintery Pacific Northwest for a few days as we make our way back to Greece.

It won't be long before we are calling out to friends here, 'Same time, next year!'

We thank you for the time you've spent with us today and hope your travels are as filled with good times and good friends as is our tropical getaway.  Thanks to all who've let me know you are again receiving these in your inbox. Fingers crossed that the distribution continues working!

Linking this week with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday

Monday, January 20, 2020

Expat Life: When Death Came to the Village

Death, as the saying goes, doesn't take a holiday. It's a statement that became painfully true this year as death came not once, but twice, to our village in the weeks surrounding the holidays.

Our village, Agios Nikolaos
Death first came calling a few weeks before Christmas. On that visit it took a member of the local British expat community; a lady who had fought a valiant fight against cancer for many years. Although her friends were somewhat prepared for her passing, their sadness was palpable when they lost her.

Coffee with Marti a favorite pastime, often shared with our visitors, like Mary

My friend Marti and I were enjoying one of our regular and favorite pastimes - having coffee and a visit at our local taverna - when we learned of the long-time English resident's passing. She'd been a much loved and vibrant member of the community. Neither of us knew her well but were taken with the impact she'd had in the small village and the numbers of people grieving her loss. We spoke of the special person she must have been and of how much the village mourned her passing.

Our cat Princess and Marti

When death returned a second time, it landed a sucker punch on the village. The new year was barely into its second day, when death claimed my friend, Marti.

There was no time to prepare for Marti's passing. She was ill and a few days later she was gone.

With Marti's passing we lost another beloved member of the expat community and village. She'd been another vibrant, caring, person who gave of her time and talents as freely as she did of her smile and love.

Agios Nikolaos

Again, the sense of loss was palpable. This time, though, we were experiencing it up close and personal. For days I found myself -- whether in a grocery store, taverna, restaurant or middle of the street -- being wrapped in the arms of Greek and expat friends as we unabashedly shed tears together over the loss of our friend.

Marti and Me toasting springtime in Greece
Many of you who hadn't met her in person have told me that you felt you knew her through my tales told here. Others 'knew' her from my Facebook posts about our adventures living as expats in a rural area of Greece's Peloponnese. Many of you were lucky enough to have met her on your visits to our area.

As way of background for those new to TravelnWrite, we are among a couple dozen American and a few hundred British and Northern European 'boomers' who have chosen to live in this small rural community in The Mani as expats. 

Expats From Kirkland, Washington to Agios Nikolaos

It was after Marti and her husband, Chuck, friends from the Pacific Northwest, paid us a visit in 2015 that they decided to try out expat life in Greece as well.  They quickly became involved and known in the village. They volunteered for tasks when needed, whether organizing fundraisers for homeless animals or doing beach cleanup. Her garden was the envy of all. She was our gardening expert - the 'go to person' when we had questions and problems. Her baking and desserts were favorites at fund-raising dinners.

The Village Responds

Since our respective moves to rural Greece, we four expats from Washington State have had good friends back home worrying about us being 'alone' in Greece. Frankly, before we moved to Greece, I had worried about the 'what ifs' of dealing with a serious health issue or death while we were there. And Marti and I spent many a coffee session discussing those same 'what if's'.

American expats socializing with our attorney/friend Voula last fall

But after our experiences in the last two weeks, I have been able to assure those back in the States that we are wrapped in a world of friends who are warm and caring. We are definitely not alone. My frets over the 'what if's' have been filed away.

From the moment news of Marti's passing traveled through our community the offers for help started arriving: whatever needed to be done, was simply done. Quickly and efficiently.

And now, some two weeks later, the caring continues. Expats and locals alike reaching out to offer tangible support like preparing food, to the intangibles like 'just being there'. And the concern and offers of support are not only directed to Chuck; friends are checking on friends to see how they are doing as well and offering support if needed.

Agios Nikolaos

Just a few weeks ago in a retrospective piece, I wrote that 'we felt we had become part of our village in the Greek Peloponnese and it a part of us'.

I thought at the time that I had a articulated well, the way we felt about Agios Nikolaos, our small fishing village surrounded by olive groves on the Messinian Bay.

As it turns out, at the time I wrote those words, I had no understanding of the depth of that relationship at all. But I certainly do now.

From Agios Nikolaos the Messinian Bay

Again, thanks for the time you have spent with us today as I tell you of our expat life. We will be back next week with more tales of travel and adventures.  Until then, safe travels to you and yours ~

Linking this week with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday

Monday, January 6, 2020

In Greece January 6 ~ 'The Festival of Light'

'Kali Kronia!'  (Happy New Year!) 'Kronia Polli!'  (Many Years!) 'Kalimera!' (Good Moring!)

Agios Nikolaos - January 6, 2020

We were stopped often as we made our way down the main street of our Greek village this morning. We called out greetings, received greetings, shook hands, and kissed cheeks as we passed friends and neighbors who were gathering at harborside.

We were blessed with blue sky and sunshine
It seemed as if the whole village - from those whose family roots are generations deep to those new seedling expats in the area -- had turned out for the annual Blessing of the Waters.

This day, the sixth day of January, is commonly known in the Christian world as Epiphany or Three Kings Day.  In Greece it is a feast day (a national holiday, to be sure) called the 'festival of light' (ton foton in Greek) and the day that marks the official end to the Christmas holidays.

The papas and his processional
In the Greek Orthodox Church, Epiphany is celebrated as the revelation of Christ as the messiah and second person of the trinity, at his baptism by John the Baptist in the River Jordan, according to the Athens Centre. (Athens Centre offers classes in Modern Greek, poetry, art, and cultural events.)

Blessings are being offered in Greek
As part of the traditional celebration, the village papas (priest) offers a 'Blessing of the Waters.

In our fishing village, Agios Nikolaos, overlooking the Messinian Bay, the blessing is an event that can't be missed. Speaking of blessings, this year we were blessed by having some of the nicest weather that we've ever experienced at this celebration. In previous year's we've nearly frozen or been drenched with rain during the brief late morning ceremony.

Time to toss the Cross

We heard the church bells announcing this special day in the early morning hours. Their ringing echoed up the hillside to our Stone House on the Hill. They rang again later in the morning calling worshippers to the church. The third time their joyous clanging filled the air was as the papas and his procession brought the cross from the church to the harbor's edge.

One diver braves the cold water this year

Reciting a blessing he tossed the cross into the harbor and pulled it back, then he repeated his actions a second time. Meanwhile one young man brave enough to dive into the water to retrieve the cross, had stripped to his swim trunks and was ready to go in. ( In previous years several young men have braved the temperatures.)

Retrieving the Cross

The third toss - the crescendo of the blessing -- was made, the young swimmer jumped in, the crowd cheered as he retrieved the cross and swam to the papas to receive his blessing.

Refreshments are served!

Then it was time for refreshments. Platters of baked goods were brought out from nearby restaurants and tavernas.  The long tables at harborside, where the fishermen usually prepare, display and sell their daily catch, were turned into serving tables. Beverages ranged from tea to Metaxa, Greek brandy.

Agios Nikolaos on the Messinian Bay
It was over in just a few minutes, far less time than it took people to arrive and gather for it. But such a significant event that people here (like villages, towns and city's throughout the country), took a break in their day to bless the water. It is this type of celebration and these age-old traditions, that we adore about our Greek village life.

We thank you for being with us again this week and our fingers are crossed that Feedburner sends this post to your inbox as it did last week.  We appreciate the time you spend with us and again our wishes for a Happy New Year and happy adventures.  We will be back next week if all goes as planned from the tropical shores of Hawaii. Stay tuned - you never know what adventures we might have there.


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