Sunday, January 31, 2021

Travel ~ To Go or Not to Go. . .

With apologies to Hamlet, we borrowed his famous soliloquy, 'To Be or Not To Be' and made it our own this week. For days we've asked ourselves, 'To Go or Not To Go?'

To go or not to go, the great unknown right now

A week ago we decided 'To Go!' and booked ourselves back to Seattle, Washington; Washington the state in which we were born and lived most of our lives - where our American roots are firmly planted. 

We would fly from Athens to Dubai on Emirates and connect there with a direct flight to Seattle this weekend. 

Homeward bound via the Arctic route

Less than 48 hours ago we decided 'Not To Go' and cancelled our trip. . .and not, I might add, for the first time since COVID became a household word throughout the world.

A year ago and a world away. . .

To go or not to go, is the question being asked by travelers everywhere these days. Remember back when the biggest decision was 'where' and 'when' to go? Back when you didn't have to convince yourself that the purpose of the trip was 'essential' enough to go through the hassle and hazards of taking it?  Back when you didn't have to worry about which country might be the next to close its borders or impose new mandates for Covid prevention?

The Scout in Manson, our other home

It was February - a year ago - when we last were in our other world.  It was a short stay at our home in the rural part of the State but that was okay we'd reasoned because we would be back in six months.  Our list of projects needing attention upon our return was already written.  However, it was only a matter of weeks after resuming our expat life in Greece, that we found ourselves in the first of the country's lockdowns. 'To do' lists elsewhere were forgotten.

Our other world in February 

Our longtime readers know that three years ago, when we chose to have a final adventure as expats before age and health prevented it, we saw it as merely shifting our lifestyle: instead of living most of the year in the US and making extended visits to Greece, we would live in Greece and make extended visits back to the United States. We had thought through - we thought at the time -- all the possible scenarios that could impact that plan.

A worldwide pandemic didn't come to mind.

However, as we enter the fourth month of our second lockdown in Greece, we have adapted  to this mask-wearing, socially-distanced, limited world of ours. We continue to be grateful to be living near our small village in the Greek Peloponnese.

A foot in two worlds

Manson - our other home

As much as we love our life in Greece, having a home back in the States was prudent, we decided, as one never knows what kind of requirements the Greek government could have for residency in the future and it is a place we could go should we find ourselves growing old or tired of this adventure (so far, neither have happened!).

Other expats we know with a foot in two worlds have also had their best laid plans upended the last 12 months. One set of new friends, a Canadian couple building a home in a neighboring village finally was able to check on the project last fall after delaying their trip time and time again. . .they left Greece having no idea when they will be able to return again. Another FB friend in Australia was set to come and buy a home and plant her roots in Greece last year. .  .now she speaks of getting here 'someday'.

When we get too old for Greece. . .

Having a foot in two worlds isn't difficult in normal times and thousands of people do it.  But the reality of having a far distant home and life, is that you can't shirk the responsibilities that come with it. There are only so many things that friends and family can step in and do when you are unable to get back. Some things you need to do yourself. (Here let me add, we have been blessed by good friends and neighbors who have been so willing to help out in our absence.) 

Finally the time has come -- in the not too distant future -- to go back. Long overdue 'annual' medical exams, and a growing 'to do' list have made the trip an essential one. The question however, remains. . .

To Go or Not to Go? 

At this point in time there are no restrictions in either country that would prevent us from going back. The U.S. is allowing citizens to return and as legal residents of Greece, not tourists, we could return to Greece.

But as all of your reading this know, the Covid situation is fluid and could change with the morning's headlines. A country we transit could close. Greece or the U.S. could tighten its restrictions for international travel.  To use the term of gamblers', it becomes a crapshoot.

A Shot in the Arm

Sanitizer machines are common

I have to admit that when the age for COVID vaccinations dropped to 65 in Washington State, it tipped the scales in favor of booking ourselves back as soon as possible. It didn't take many headlines,  Facebook posts, or attempts on our own to find that booking an appointment there was another crapshoot. We might be more likely to get the shot sooner here in Greece. . .but there is confusion over how and when expats will get the vaccine here and that is a story for another time. 

Bottom line: We will be going back in the next few months, shot or no shot there. 

Travel Realities in a time of Pandemic

The days of Belinis and going mask-less are over

No matter what class we might travel in, we aren't seeing the trip back as a 'pleasure trip' in these pandemic times. Those who've made the journey between eastern Washington and our home in The Mani know that figuring out how to get here can be daunting in 'normal' times.  The journey takes two days - there are no direct flights between Seattle and Athens. 

COVID's sucker punch to the airlines and travel in general has added a few more pieces to the trip planning puzzle. If that wasn't enough, along came Brexit on January first, to add more disruption to travel on this side 'of the pond' 

Fewer Flights: There are fewer options to go back to the States these days. Norwegian, the go-to, low-cost airline that flew between Gatwick and Seattle has ceased its transatlantic long-haul operations. 

Lufthansa, connecting through Germany has severely curtailed its flights. KLM has cancelled all its long-haul flights in response to a severe lockdown imposed by Netherlands.

Our go to airline just went. . .

British Air, our 'go to' airline is no longer that, thanks to Brexit impacts. Its flight from Athens to Seattle that connected in London was the perfect route - back when it was a connecting flight. The UK is no longer part of the EU so British Air is only allowed to fly point-to-point flights meaning taking the same flights we once did would no longer be one trip, but two separately booked flights. Checked bags would need to be collected in London and rechecked to Seattle.  The time between arriving and departing flights in London doesn't allow for that. And with COVID running rampant in England, we aren't sure we'd want to spend anymore time than necessary in Heathrow. 

Travel in the time of Covid

Covid testing is another layer of travel requirements that add time and expense to a journey. The need for a negative test is a pandemic reality these days when it comes to travel on this side of the pond.  An expat friend who traveled from the UK this month to check on work being done to his home here said that he had been tested three times on his relatively short trip: in England before departing, again in Amsterdam where he caught his connecting flight and then he was randomly selected when he arrived in Athens. 

Temperature checks now common place when traveling

When we do travel to Seattle we will likely take the COVID test administered at the Athens airport, with results coming within 24 hours (that alone adds a day to the trip and an overnight hotel stay). Dubai also requires the negative test within 72 hours of flying, even if connecting to another flight there. The same testing and 72-hour timeframe is required for flights returning to Greece. There is a test site at Seattle's Seatac Airport where the test costs $250 per person. A bit of a trip cost add-on one might say.

We wholeheartedly agree with isolating ourselves after arrival but the practical 'get things done' side says that a two-week isolation will cut a month -long stay in half. We aren't planning to see many - if any - friends while back this time around as we are keeping our social distancing practices.

So at this point we continue to enjoy our winter in travel limbo in Greece. We know we will return to our other world in the near future. Our bags are packed and arrangements for house, garden and kitty care in Greece have been made. 

For the time being we will continue our soliloquy: 'To Go our Not To Go?'

A January day in our slice of Greece - not so bad at all

So what questions have you been asking yourselves about travel? Have you traveled? Are you starting to think of travel? How goes the vaccinations in your part of the world?  We hope you are able to deal with your Covid disruptions and that you continue to be safe and distanced.  When you get down to it, staying healthy is the bottom line, isn't it? Let us know how you are doing in the comments below or shoot us an email. 

Thanks for the time you've spent with us today. . .stay safe!!

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Monday, January 18, 2021

In Greece ~ The Weather Outside is Frightful!

Frightfully cold. Frightfully wet. And frightfully -- delightfully -- winter in Greece!

Mani olive groves and the Taygetos Mountains

Had I written last week, I would have been telling you that we were having an unseasonal heat wave with temperatures reaching near 70F or 21C degrees. I would have told you that some were swimming in the sea. Wild flowers, usually not seen in the groves until March had begun blooming. We were able to hike in shirtsleeves.

Hiking the Mani in our shirtsleeves

'Haven't had these temperatures in 50 years', reported one media. Another said 160 years since such a heat wave. . .so it wasn't climate change, just a climate cycle involving such a span of time we missed the first two!

Swimmer on the beach below our house last week

And then came winter! Real winter. 

Our Taygetos Mountains finally have a dusting of snow

I know, for those of you dreaming of basking on sun baked Greek beaches, it could be a shock to think of Greece as cold and wet, but it can be. And it is! This time Leandros is to blame. It is the name given the system that put an end to those sunny warm days. The system that will keep it wet and cold for at least a few more days.

Snow continues to fall on the peak behind us

Yesterday we took a short drive to get closer to the snowy mountain peaks. Today all the hillsides around us are dusted with snow - no need to drive anywhere. We can see them from our deck - that is, when the clouds lift enough to see them. Our high today is supposed to be 43F or 6C. The wind is rattling our shutters and doors. Rain falls in heavy bursts at our elevation. Just a bit higher and it is snow.  Thunder and lightening opened this Monday and blue sky and sunshine are predicted before the day is over. Such is winter in our slice of Greece.

Views of our valley in winter

At least we aren't alone as Facebook friends in Istanbul, Italy and Spain have all been posting photos of snowfall! 

Thessaloniki - drone photo; credit: Greek Reporter

It is our first full winter in the Greek Peloponnese. We normally leave about this time of year and don't return until sometime in February. Many of you who've been with us at TravelnWrite for a few years, know that for the last decade, we've made Hawaii our timeshare-home-away-from-home this time of year.  Covid-19 prevented that this year, so we are half-way through our first full January at our Stone House on the Hill. 

Like a cake dusted with powdered sugar

According to a variety of internet sources, the average weather in the Peloponnese during this first month of the year is a high of 47F or 9C and low of 37F or 3C. The average rainfall is about 129 mm or 5-inches and it rains on average 13 days in January. 

Kardamyli and the Messinian Gulf from a hiking trail

Our current Covid lockdown allows us time outside for exercise and on most days - even if bundled up in scarves and mittens, heavy coats and sweaters - we can get outside and enjoy the countryside. We shiver, though, when we see those folks for whom olive harvest continues - especially in those groves at higher elevations. We are most happy to have completed ours in October!

Olive harvest continues in January

Of course that same Covid lockdown is providing us a slightly skewed winter experience because what one might have done in a pre-Covid winter is certainly different than this year. Our second lockdown of 2020, which began November 7th, continues into 2021. Our destinations are limited, we text the government prior to leaving the house, we wear masks, we distance and we are home before the 9 pm curfew takes effect each day.

During a normal winter we could have gone to the big city - our nearby Kalamata or further to Athens - to shop and enjoy their restaurants and tavernas.  Since November retail stores and all entertainment outlets have been closed. 

Shopping in Kalamata - a treat these days

We aren't allowed inside any restaurant or bar, other than to pick up 'to go' orders of food and drink, nor are we allowed to sit outside at any of them. So in order to break up the sameness and routines of winter and lockdown, we indulge in a 'to go' coffee or wine, consumed along side the village street or in the parking lot. The inclement weather has made those outings rather short but we aren't complaining - they give us a change of scenery and sometimes that is all it takes.

Winter lockdown night out in the village parking lot

We hope you are finding a change of scenery, a new hobby, a good book, or a new Netflix series is providing you 'what it takes' as January marches on.  Believe it or not, we haven't given up on travel yet for 2021 and that will be a future topic. As we sign off today we send our wishes for a Healthy and Happy New Year whatever the season it is where you are.  As always, thanks for the time you've spent with us ~

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