Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Greece - Yes, it IS home!

 'We are originally from Washington State, but we live in Greece. (pause) Yes, Greece IS home'.

So many times on our recent Adriatic cruise we found our fellow passengers -- many of them Americans -- doing a double take when we introduced ourselves and answered the question,  'Where are you from?'. 

Our Stone House on the Hill - Greek Peloponnese

Last March, I drew several raised eyebrows from friends in the States when I wrote on a Facebook post that our visit to the Pacific Northwest was coming to a close and 'it was time to head home'.   

'Home?!' several responded, 'You consider Greece home now?'

Well, as a matter of fact, yes, we do. 

Greece is Home

The Stone House on the Hill (far left) and Messinian Bay

Our neighboring fellow American expats don't find it at all unusual to consider Greece home.  In fact the two of us stand out because we still have a residence back in the States. Many here have moved their residences and lives, lock, stock and barrel, to this side of the pond.  However, when we moved here we weren't quite ready to cut ties completely with the state in which we were born and raised. Our residence there - where we've spent less than 2.5 months in the last three years, has become somewhat our 'vacation home' for now.

American expats all - on a Greek fishing boat adventure

For those who've never made the quantum leap of moving to a foreign land, the idea of that far-distant place as being home is really, well, quite foreign for lack of a better word.  What they don't realize is that it isn't a far distant place for us anymore, it is our 24/7 world. 

And once you adjust to the rhythms of that new world, it really is quite a nice place to be.

Many of you who've been with us here since the beginning of this chapter know we gave ourselves five years and if at the end of that time we'd had enough we would move on. Now, nearing seven years of home ownership and three of living here, we now find ourselves pondering  how many more years we might be able to squeeze into this adventure.

Our world is the Greek Peloponnese these days

We certainly are planning/hoping for at least a few more years and in doing so, seriously discussed finding a one level home that would lend itself more kindly to the, ahem, aging process'. Our Stone House on the Hill is literally that, terraced down a hillside in the midst of an olive grove. And that means lots of stairs.  But a new home would  mean constructing a new home, a process here that in the best of times takes two years and with the recent flurry of construction and shortages of materials, would likely extend that by another year. So we opted to stay at. . .

Our Stone House on the Hill

The red gate became blue and white

A new home here would mean leaving our Stone House on the Hill overlooking the Messinian Bay and villages of Agios Dimitrios and Agios Nikolaos. Our garden and grove. Our neighbors. Big Sigh.  

So once again we threw common sense and caution to the wind and decided to stay right where we are! We will deal with aging and mobility issues as they come our way. But with that decision came the realization that it was time to update, upscale and make this little stone house into the one we always envisioned it could be.

What a summer we have had as the home improvement projects got underway and changes began!

Blue, blue our world is blue

New blue windows brighten inside and out

Blue. Greece is known for the color blue. We needed new windows and doors and we wanted to get  rid of our forest green color, which seemed better suited to the Pacific Northwest we had left behind than here. We went Greek . . .blue!

Our friends/installers Ilias and Dimitri at work

One of the most enjoyable but sometimes challenging things about being an expat is doing something major like this, because it is done differently. You need to undertake a project knowing little about it or the ways to accomplish it in a foreign land. However daunting this one felt at first, our contractor and his sons (whom we have known for several years) made it a pleasant experience. It began at his home.  They wanted us to see the quality of windows and doors we were purchasing as they would be the same quality as those in his home. 

The new front door brightens the house

We sat at his dining room table and were offered the ubiquitous glass of water and home-made spoon sweets, the traditional welcome refreshments in Greek homes for centuries. We toured the house.  We chose colors, styles, made the down payment, shook hands then talked about the new grand baby.  Hands down a lot more fun than a trip to a Big Box in the U.S.!

The new Stone House on the Hill

Inside and Out

Master bedroom needed real storage space

While work was ending on the doors and the windows, it was just starting on the interior.  It was time to move from our 'making do with what came with the house' and making it work for us.  Again, working with a small company, this one in Kalamata, we were able to not only modernize the bedroom and den but customize it as well -- for a fraction of what it would have cost in the U.S.

What I told Alex I wanted

I wrote several years ago about getting used to the lack of storage space and smaller rooms in homes here. And I admitted that we Americans are spoiled with having huge rooms and more storage than we know what to do with sometimes.   But it was time to maximize the limited space we had available.  Working with a delightful young man, who spoke perfect English we submitted our ideas in the sketch above and this is what we got:

The new look

As we move into autumn our home improvement projects continue at our Stone House on the Hill (we have two more big ones on the to do list). We continue to monitor travel advisories and updates as they relate to Covid. We are traveling soon - heading back to the Pacific Northwest to touch base with friends and family there.  We hope that if you are traveling that you stay safe and well.  Travel is just a bit more of a challenge in these times of Covid than it used to be, isn't it?  

And as always, we thank you for the time you've spent with us today. 

Linking soon with:

Through My Lens
Travel Tuesday
Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Kastellorizo ~ Greek Island Magic!

Some claim it is the light on this small island of two names that makes it special. Others say it is the location, only a stone's throw from Turkey. For others, it is the history.

For us, it was simply everything! Its location, history, sunlight, architecture, food and filoxenia (hospitality) of the locals that made it special.

So special that I photographed and wrote about it for The Mediterranean Lifestyle Magazine's Aug./Sept. edition. And this week's post will be a short one because I want you to have time to look at the photos and read what I wrote about it there:

Click this link to open the article: Katellorizo/Megisti article

Travel during a time of Covid

Our ferry in Kastellorizo

Kastellorizo was our destination on this our first trip after Greece's six month COVID lockdown had been lifted in mid May. Admittedly, travel to any destination sounded good but this tiny island had been on the bucket list for some time.  And if Covid has taught us anything, it is to not put off into the future anything related to travel, especially those 'must visit' places, like Kastellorizo.

Few visitors here in May

Masks at that time -- and now -- are required in Greece to be worn on all public transportation, indoors in public places and businesses and when in crowded or congested outside areas. The rules haven't really changed that much since Covid changed our ways of living way back in early 2020, although we can go without masks outside now in non-congested places. Still it felt strange to go outside in an unfamiliar territory and not wear a mask. 

The face of travel on a Greek ferry in a time of Covid

Locals assured us that the entire island's population -- everyone  -- had been vaccinated back in February.  The only time we wore masks here was when visiting each of the island's two museums even though we, and the admission's desk clerk, were the only ones in each facility at the time we visited. We dined outside at seaside.

That's it for this week - if you skipped that blue link above, please go back and at least take a look at the photos.  This island is definitely worthy of your consideration as a future destination and the article should make a great armchair getaway!!  Until next week, our wishes for  safe travels to you and yours. Thanks for being with us for this chapter of our Greek 'ferry tales'. . .

Linking sometime soon with:

Through My Lens
Travel Tuesday
Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Greece: The Good, The Bad, The Reality

'It' began about two weeks ago when a heat wave coming from Northern Africa, blanketed Greece, taking temperatures in some places to new record-breaking heights.  

Hillsides are tinder right now in our area

Then just more than a week ago, 'it' seemed as if our adopted country had gone up in flames as at one point there were more than 150 wildfires threatening historical sites, forests, agricultural land, animals, olive groves and homes. 

And if that wasn't enough, three bank ATM's in our area were bombed. Yes, the blown-to-bits kind of bombed that your read about happening 'elsewhere' . . .'it' is the kind of thing you don't expect to happen in your own area.

Burn bans are in effect every summer - simply too dry here

Then this week - just as we had thought we might make it through this 'tinder' season with a continuous water supply-- 'it' was apparent that our reserve tank was precariously close to empty. Not a good thing with the surrounding countryside literally 'crispy dry'.

'It' --  is the reality of life. Those experiences and events, both good and bad, that can happen anywhere we live, even in The Mani, a place that most the time it feels a bit like paradise. So many of you have written asking about how we are doing and/or sending good wishes, that I am using this week's tale to update you on life in Greece:

The Wildfires

For days we watched firefighting efforts

Unless you've lived on the moon or had no access to media in recent weeks you have seen the horrific images of wildfires sweeping across Greece. They are not exaggerated. It has been, and continues in some areas, to be horrific. 

Some of the most severe blazes were/are on the island of Evia and others north of Athens and here. . .just down the road from us in the Peloponnese.  We spent several days watching fire fighting planes and helicopters travel back and forth to the Messinian Bay for water which was dumped on blazes to the east of us.
Milea village in January

The fire closest to us threatened a large monastery on a hill above Milea, the small village, about 10 miles from our home. Fire fighters got it under control last Thursday but it came back to life on Friday and appeared to be heading our way.

'Don't know if you are home but there is a big cloud of smoke rolling over your hill. What's with that?' texted my fellow American expat friend Jean who lives down the hill from us.  She had her 'go bag' packed shortly after sending that message! But before I got ours ready, the wind had kicked up and turned the blaze towards the port city of Gythio.  You might recall, two weeks ago I told you about setting off for Crete from Gythio, about an hour's drive southeast of us.

Fires in the Peloponnese - FB photo

Residents and tourists in Gythio were evacuated Friday night. Luckily it was brought under control before reaching the village and their displacement was short.

By Saturday it had turned again and was headed towards Lagada, the village about a 10 minute drive south of us.  Our volunteer fire fighters (well, trained and devoted) put out a call for help to build a fire line and stop the flames. More than 120 villagers responded to save the town.

Gythio, Mani - photo from FB

Sadly our Greek headlines are reporting a number of individuals have been arrested in the country and are believed to have set a number of these fires.  A special prosecutor is organizing an investigation into the fires and possible arson links between them. 

Today, thunderstorms, instead of bringing much needed rain,  are starting new blazes to the north and east in Greece.

The Heatwave

Even the cats laid low during the heat of the day

While its not completely unusual to have temperatures soar in Greece this time of year, the duration of our high temperatures sucked the life out of us.  Chores and errands were done in the morning and we retreated inside to the air conditioning until sometime in the evening when we ventured out again. It is hot - very hot - in Kalamata when the temperature hits 110F.

In the good news column, tourists continue to flock to our area though and the heat didn't deter them from enjoying the beaches.  A number of  'tourist sites' like Ancient Messene closed in the afternoon when temperatures got too high.

The Attack on the ATM's

Remains of an ATM in the Mani

One thing that has been completely out of the ordinary this year is the recent bombings of three ATM bank machines in two nearby villages.  We aren't talking a simple break and enter, but a blow-it-to-bits kind of bombing.  Two ATM's were hit a few weeks ago and the third last weekend.  Law enforcement is investigating and we locals are shaking our heads, as this is one of those times we'd like to say, 'never happens here'. But then it does. . .  proving again that bad people do bad things everywhere, including in our slice of Greece.

Water Woes

Filling our near-empty tank with water, a summer routine

With wildfires being the main focus these days, the last thing we wanted was to run out of water this summer, as we have in the past two years.  But as fire fighting efforts continued there were scattered reports of low water and no water throughout our area. By this week we were among those who had no municipal water flowing into our water tanks.  We finally resorted to buying a load of water but it appears (knock on wood) that our drought was a temporary one and we have water flowing again. 

And, the Good News

Just off the main highway near homes - last year.

I saved the good news for last!  About this time last year I wrote a post critical of both water supply and garbage disposal in our area. Trash collected by the municipality from our community dumpsters was being dumped on private land and mountains of trash had been allowed to collect there.  That mountain is gone this year. The municipality stepped up to the plate and took action.

The Green Corner - a good news happening here!

And a group of dedicated volunteers - Greeks and expats -  have gone to work creating a recycle center, staffing it and making it work.  What a joy it is to make a weekly trip to the Green Corner as it is called knowing that our trash, separated into various categories, really is being recycled!

Thank You!

So our thanks to those of you who've contacted us asking if we were safe or sending good thoughts our way.  It is so nice to know we have such a network of friends out there!  We are safe. And aside from some smoky skies and maybe a moment's pause here and there, we were untouched by the nearby fires. We are saddened for all those who have suffered as result of the fires. And we are thankful for the more than 20 countries that sent assistance to Greece in way of equipment and man/woman power to fight the fires.

The Scout has been scouting out another adventure for us, so we are off again soon.  Hope you'll be back with us for another tale or two of  travel and life as boomer American expats in Greece.  Stay safe and well ~

Linking soon with:

Friday, August 6, 2021

Crete ~ Those Haunting Echoes of the Past

The summer sun was already punishing as we began the mid-morning climb to that monument on the hill overlooking the village of Chora Sfakia on Crete's southern coast.  It was tempting to stop mid-point in the ascent, but that wouldn't have been a fair tribute to those the monument honored. We have visited it each time we have been here and we weren't going to miss it this time. 

As I last wrote, we were covering as much ground as possible during our week-long visit to Greece's largest island. I am beginning today's tale where I left off, in the small harbor town on the Libyan Sea that played a big role in World War II:

Chora Sfakia

The Chora Sfakia Monument

In May 1941 Chora Sfakia was the last hope of escape for some 16,000 British, New Zealand, Australian and Greek troops after German forces began an airborne assault on the island, today known as the Battle of Crete. Over four successive nights 11,000 escaped. Five thousand were captured and held in captivity.  In villages throughout the island, Cretans were subjected to severe punishment -- up to and including executions -- for helping the Allied Forces.

The plaque to the side of this monument reads, 'Lest We Forget, This plaque is laid to the everlasting memory of these Cretan patriots who in 1941 were executed by the Germans for helping New Zealand soldiers escape from Crete.' The skulls of those executed patriots are visible in the base of the monument.

Similar chilling reminders of the past -- monuments and statues - can be found throughout the island. We have visited a number of them but Chora Sfakia's will always stand out as among the most memorable reminders of war's atrocities.

Loutro and the Libyan Sea

The Church near Loutro

The ferry trip  from Chora Sfakia to Loutro is short, about 20 minutes, but memorable.  The landscape along this section of the southern coast is some of the most barren to be found. The harshness of the stark hillsides assault one's senses and lets the imagination soar. One of the few signs of humanity along the route is the small church, shown in the photo above. One might say its location is 'in the middle of nowhere'; perched above a steep cliff with only a hiker's trail, or goat trail, to get to it. Who built it?, we wonder. And who keeps it up? 

Loutro on the Libyan Sea

I often describe Loutro as one of our favorite places on earth. And it cast its magic spell on us again as the ferry turned just slightly and the white washed village appeared, almost as if a mirage, in the stark landscape that surrounds it.  

Loutro in late June 2021

Our previous visits here have been in the early spring when businesses were just opening and the season not quite in full swing.  It was different place in late June . . .still charming, very hot, and full of tourists! We were glad we revisited this special spot but equally as glad this visit was a day trip.

On the Road Again

Not far from Chora Sfakia

Lonely Planet guidebook says you can tell you're approaching Chora Sfakia by the increasing numbers of gun shots in the road signs.  I can tell you that all traffic signs we've encountered in Greece seem to be targets of graffiti artists and marksmen.  But I will admit, signs are definitely full of bullet holes along the road to this section of the southern coast.

Heading east: destination Plaka

We headed north, then east, after two nights on the southern coast. Our next destination, Plaka, would be our base for the next two nights. It is the gateway to the island of Spinalonga, the island that for decades served as Crete's leper colony. The remains of the village created there by those castaway victims of  Hanson's Disease, is today a tourist attraction.  The island was made famous by British writer, Victoria Hislop, in her novel about the colony, The Island

Spinalonga island from Blue Palace Resort

Our room at the Blue Palace Resort provided us a stunning view of his haunting place. Tour boats regularly take visitors to and from the island but having visited it on a previous trip, we were content to view it from afar - again letting our imaginations run with the echoes of the past.

Elounda, near Plaka

The weather was hot, as we've learned weather can be in Greece in the summer. We limited our outings to a few hours in the morning then sought the comfort of our air-conditioned room. We often ask ourselves why we travel in the summer in Greece and then further ponder what the appeal of Greece is to the thousands who come here each summer. (Spring and Fall are really much nicer times to travel here.)  

Blue Palace Resort, Plaka, Crete

It was so hot that the resort, operating with the strictest of Covid protocols, (including downloading an app on your mobile and checking yourself in), had to discontinue the practice of taking the temperature of arriving guests before they entered the lobby.  It was so hot that aiming the thermometer at one's forehead made it impossible to get an accurate reading.


Don't believe everything you read in a guidebook, we reminded ourselves again when we were sitting at the cutest beach bar we've visited in a long time. We'd crossed the island again and were back at its west end. We were just down the road from the ferry dock in this port town of Kissamos, on Crete's west end. Our ferry back to the Peloponnese would depart early the next morning.

Kissamos, on Crete's west end

Lonely Planet had us believing if we blinked that we miss the town and it wouldn't be much of a loss if we did.  Au contraire, we would say now that we've been there.  So taken with the town and the hotel in which we spent our final night on the island were we, that we will likely use it as our base on our next trip.

Charming coffee shops, quaint restaurants and numerous shops beckoned.  But in the heat of the day, we headed to the beach - it was the perfect place to end the week.

We thank you for joining us on the last half of our travels in Crete. 

A firesky at our Stone House on the Hill

In closing, I know that many of you follow us on Facebook and therefore know that Greece is fighting a mind-boggling number of wildfires this week.  Some 80+ blazes, with several large fires remaining out of control as I write this on Friday afternoon. Additional equipment and human resources are thankfully arriving from a number of European countries.  The nearest blaze to us is some 12 miles away and we've watched water-bearing helicopters and planes fly a path back and forth dipping into the Messinias Bay in front of our home in their attempts to bring our closest blaze under control for two days now. Please keep Greece, its firefighters and victims in your thoughts and prayers ~

Stay safe where ever you are ~ hope you'll be back with us next week.

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