Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Greek Summer ~ Time to Halara under the Almyrikis

That title sums up life in our slice of Greece right now. 

Halara under the Almyrikis translates to relaxing under the Tamarisk trees.

Almyriki on Pantazi Beach, Mani

Halara, or xalara, (ha - laa - RRRAAH) the newest word in my slowly increasing Greek vocabulary, might just be one of my new favorite words as it so perfectly describes the state of mind one must be in to survive summer in Greece.

Almyriki shade on Pantazi Beach

Almyriki, or Tamarisk, trees are unofficial symbols of summer in Greece as many beaches are still lined with these gentle giants sporting wispy green feathers of foliage.  Beachgoers vie for coveted spots underrneath them.

Our Stone House on the Hill in the Greek Mani

For those who are new to this blog, we are Americans from the Pacific Northwest who left that life behind for an expat adventure in Greece's rural Peloponnese.  Summers here remind us of summers in the arid and irrigated regions central Washington State where we grew up. In fact, as I write this, Greece is under an 'excessive heat advisory' just as is Washington. But Greece is actually several degrees cooler right now.

Almyriki tree in the village

Today after a sweat-inducing hour or so of watering our plants we headed out to accomplish the simplest of tasks in the village and found ourselves in need of both coffee and halara before we got home.  It was while we were sipping cappuccinos at a table under an Almyriki tree, running our flip-flop-clad feet in the sand that I finally understood how perfect the word halara is for life in Greece.

A few almyriki line the road to the village

A waiter friend who has been advising me on everyday Greek words, offered the word a few days ago when I had told him to 'take it easy' or 'not work too hard'.  He gave me a sly smile and said, "Your new word is 'halara', to relax.". For those who like to double check the things that I write, if you look this one up, it will tell you it means 'loose'. If you look up the slang, it will tell you to 'hang loose', 'relax' or 'take it easy'.  

Bits and Bobs

While kicked back under that tree I thought of a few things I've not told you about in recent posts so as our British friends say, here are some bits and bobs of travel news:

Stoupa Beach awash in sunbeds

* The Greek tourism folks have projected more than one million visitors will be arriving the first week of August. The most popular destinations are Athens, Thessaloniki, the south Aegean islands, Cyclades, Crete and Corfu. (From the looks of our crowded restaurants and beaches, I'd say our Mani is also drawing a lot of them this way!)

A trip to Greece for medical tourism someday?

* Greece's Health Tourism Council is working in partnership with Athens International Airport to develop a medical tourism package. (They must have read my post about our health care in the Mani and our recent colonoscopy experience!)

Under construction in March, the W Hotel opens in August

*W Hotel is the newest in the Marriott Bonvoy group to come to Greece. It opens in mid-August at our plush Costa Navarino resort on the 'finger' to our west, about an hour and a half from us. With room prices in the 650-euro range, we won't be staying there until some very low season rate tempts us.

Award-winning Athens Airport

*A headline appearing in social media yesterday shouted the news that "Athens Airport Named the Best in Europe" however if one reads the whole article, you learn it is the best in Europe to be in if your flight is delayed. And a lot of them are right now. While I can't say any airport is great when it comes to flight delays, I do have to sing the praises of our Athens' airport: modern shops, restaurants, bars and cafes, baggage storage, museum and archaeological displays not to mention cultural shows every so often to entertain travelers.

Can You Go Home Again?

That flight delay headline was a good segue into a question a few of us from the States are asking ourselves this summer. There is nothing philosophical or political about the question, it is a matter of logistics.  

May not take this many bags back to the US in August

The chaos occurring in airports throughout Europe and being reported in mainstream and social media is very real. London's Heathrow capped the number of passengers to whom airlines can sell tickets through Sept. 11 in an attempt to get control of its spiraling out of control situation. KLM banned checked baggage for all connections through Amsterdam's Schiphol airport. Malaysian Airlines has banned checked baggage on flights coming to several European airports. Lufthansa, the German airline, cancelled more than 1,000 flights on July 27 as result of a one-day strike by employees.  

The Road Home in Washington State

The Scout and I have now booked tickets to Seattle, cancelled the trip, and rebooked other flights as has another expat friend; all of us hoping to get back to Washington State.  We continue to monitor our reservations to make sure segments haven't been cancelled without notification (yes, that does happen these days).  

There is always the chance they will be cancelled at the airport so we find ourselves in limbo as to making hotel reservations for the overnight we will have in London enroute to Seattle, we hesitate to make legal and medical appointments that are on our 'to do' list back in the States. 

That '71 is the graduation year - not our ages, . . .yet!

For those wondering why we are traveling with such chaos and uncertainty in travel, when we are retired and could travel at any time, it is because I have a high school reunion to attend back in my hometown. A Big One. One that was postponed from last year, thanks to Covid. And I am the reunion co-chair.  I need to be there. . .simple as that!  

The good news is that we are allowed to go back to our home country while in the residency permit renewal process in Greece. . .and that is good news because we still don't have renewed residency permits and are doubtful we will have them before we leave.


Under the Almyriki trees

So, for now we will stay sittin' and sippin' under the Almyriki tree, enjoying the cooling breeze from the ocean. It is Greek Summer. . .time to make the most of it!

Our wishes for safe travels to you and yours. A big welcome to our new subscribers! Thanks for joining us and to all of you for the time you spend with us. 

Friday, July 15, 2022

Expat Life ~The Night of the Kounabi

That title,' The Night of the Kounabi' has a rather exotic ring to it, doesn't it?  You could conjure up images of romance, mystery or danger when reading it.  

Night of the Kounabi - Stone House on the Hill

My original title for this report about life in rural Greece had a much better alliteration, as it was, 'The Night of the Nyfitsa'.  

Google photo, Kounabe, - night visitor

But you have to tell it like it is, or in this case, was, when writing about expat life.  And further research - not to mention, the word of wise, long-time locals --  clarified that it was a kounabi (coo-nah-vee) or pole cat (aka, stone martin) and not a nyfitsa (nee-fit-saw), a weasel, who had us up at 4 a.m. on a very hot, sweat-inducing summer's night; made even hotter by the fact the animal was in our house!

Our House on the Hill in Rural Greece

As I herded our two indoor/outdoor cats into the bathroom for safety reasons in the early morning hours Sunday, The Scout (aptly named in this case) was armed with a broom and started scouting for our carnivorous uninvited guest who had been dining on cat food in our kitchen when discovered.

Garlic at my door - ward off evil

In Greece there is a belief that garlic swags hung at the front door ward off evil.  It may be keeping evil from our Stone House on the Hill, but isn't deterring the occasional visiting varmint.

Luckily our visitor was as terrified of us as we were of him, so he made a mad dash for freedom as soon as enough doors were opened to allow for his escape.  (He had entered, we believe, in the dark of night as I was on the deck dealing with our outside cat and had left the door to the house open.)  At the advice of those same long-time locals mentioned above, we will be spraying our outside deck walls with Tabasco sauce and hanging moth balls from plants near the deck to discourage further visits.

Leaving the Comfort Zone

View from our neighborhood

Situations in expat life - not as exciting as chasing wild animals in the middle of the night --often leave us on the edge of our comfort zone and certainly force us to rethink our behaviors and routines. We are  amazed at how our attitudes towards situations have shifted in recent years. While some things that used to leave us 'in a tizzy' barely get a nod of attention, while other things can still drive us right up the proverbial wall. 

Take, for example, the matter of water. Just this week we've been dealing with what seems the never ending summer saga of a short supply of domestic water in our slice of Greece. While we've not yet had to order water for our home from a private supplier we are braced for it, as our water tank has sunk to low levels a couple of times already and the summer is young. We've shortened showers, limited laundry and have begun using kitchen-generated gray water on plants. These are all behaviors we never used back in the States but are perfecting them here.  

Our slice of Greece

We recall asking at the time we purchased the house, from where the domestic water came and recall being greatly relieved that the answer was 'the municipal lines'. We wouldn't need worry about a well drying up. What we didn't even consider was the possibility of the municipal water drying up. A continual source of water to our homes isn't something Americans often think about, so who was to question a guaranteed source like 'the municipality'?  

Domestic water delivery to our home 2020

And ours is not unlike situations throughout this arid country. When summer comes, and with it, the part-time residents returning to homes and gardens and tourists filling our hotels, water consumption goes up while the supply stays minimal at best. 

The authorities here seem to deal with it by turning the water on to certain sections of the valley for a few days while others use the municipal water stored in their tanks (every home has such tanks as do commercial facilities). Then after a few days, they reverse the valves and those getting water turn to their storage tanks in what proves to be a continually frustrating process because for many the tanks go empty before the supply is returned. 

Summer means lots of tourist fun and low water for residents

The situation usually resolves itself in the fall when visitors leave, and the rains begin and the season of plentiful water begins. We find we no longer fret about it as we did in the first few years of our residency.

Sunset from  the Stone House on the Hill

On the flip side, we aren't yet quite as blase' when dealing with bureaucracy (of course, we weren't back in the States either). 

Last week we returned to our regional Immigration office to see why our residency permit application on-line status kept saying, 'documents needed'. Our initial application in April included every document they required. 

We submitted fingerprints in early June along with other biometric data, per their request. What more could they want?  

Greek residency permit cards - the wait continues

Despite earlier assurances that it was 'just the system' woefully behind in updating status, we decided to have a face-to-face visit with the officials. And guess what? They did, indeed, need more documents!  They said they requested them back in May and our attorney assured us that she had supplied it upon request. It was assumed it was received because there was no further communication from Immigration. . .and we all know about that word 'assumed'. . .so,

The information has been submitted, again. Authorities say they have it. Our wait continues. . .

On the Flip Side   

The story of expat life isn't only one of living at the edge of one's comfort zone or confronting novel situations as the one I told at the beginning of this tale. It really is a story of our world expanding in so many ways, including so many new friends, since moving to this fishing village in the Peloponnese.

Captain Antonis and his boat 

A few weeks ago, I gave one of our fishermen friend's, Captain Antonis, a set of photos I had taken of him putting his boat back in the water at the start of the season. We've had a passing acquaintance for several years; always a greeting, smile, nod and wave when we see each other in the village. He thanked me profusely for the prints.  A few days ago he stopped us as we were walking through the village and told us to wait 10 minutes - had had something at his house for us and he set off at a fast trot to get it.  We went into the local clothing store to await his return and to visit with our friend Sophia who runs it each summer. 

Sure enough in 10 minutes he returned with a jar of homemade eating (Kalamata) olives for us!  We had barely thanked him when Sophia asked if we liked honey - we assured her we did.  She reached under the counter and pulled out a big jar of honey - "Well, then - you must take this home with your olives," she said.  

Gifts from the heart - honey and olives

The spontaneous generosities, the kindness and the warmth of this new world so far outweigh its challenges.  Our fellow expats all have similar stories of those frustrations that have made them pause and wonder if it is worth the effort. But they also have tales, like us in the clothing store, when you experience a moment best described by s my fellow expat and too-soon-departed friend, Marti, as being those that 'make your heart sing'!

Pantazi Beach near our home - Agios Nikolaos

That's it for this week from The Stone House on the Hill. We hope where ever you are reading this that you are finding moments to make your heart sing and that your life is free of varmints.  Our wishes for safe travels and many thanks for being with us today!

Linking soon with:

 Through My Lens

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Kalo Mina! ~ July in Greece

 Kalo Mina, we call out in greeting, Good (New) Month! 

A summer sunset in Greece

July has arrived in Greece. The cicadas are filling the air with their surround-sound sizzling summer song. The sound they make reminds us of those huge oscillating irrigation sprinklers used to water thirsty fields in Washington State or the sound of electricity running through high voltage wires leading from the Columbia River on a hot summer's day.

The cicadas song is definitely the sound of summer in our slice of Greece but it also serves to remind us of the sounds we knew in our 'other world'. This is our fifth summer spent as American expats living in the rural part of the Peloponnese; transplants from the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

Stoupa Beach - summertime!

Temperatures in Greece are soaring - with the thermometer climbing to 90F /32C. Humidity is just under 70%.  This is the type of weather that gets us up early so that outdoor olive grove and garden chores are completed by mid-morning, and errands are completed before noon. 

Afternoons - at least for locals - are spent indoors trying to stay cool. Tourists on foot, bike and in rental cars, head to the beaches to bake themselves into various shades of red and brown.

Last summer's fire got a bit close to us

Sadly, summer has become a time of wild fires, warnings and alerts have been coming fast and furiously in recent days. Now, reports of fires.  They remind us via social media that the level of heat and a brisk breeze is a dire combination. Greece has taken a proactive approach to firefighting this summer.  Firefighters from neighboring European Union countries have already arrived in Greece and are stationed throughout the country on the ready to fight any outbreaks that happen over the weekend.

Summer's Mid-Day Nap

With the heat and humidity climbing  and our ambition correspondingly dropping, summer here is a time to perfect the mid-day nap. This Greek equivalent of a siesta usually takes place between 2 pm and 5 pm. 

The Summer Nap - our cats love it!

Called  'these ores ths laikis isikhias' in Greek, its literal translation is, 'the hours of popular quiet'. It is taken so seriously that police can cite those who violate the quiet. It is a time for a mid-day meal, rest and quiet. Prompted by the intense heat, often times the mid-day meal is eaten as late as 4 p.m. and the nap times can extend to 6:30pm. 

Laborers stop work and resume in the cooler evening hours.  Many retail outlets close during  nap hours, opening in the evening and staying open as late as 11 p.m. or midnight.  Restaurant diners don't arrive for meals until  8 p.m. or later.

The Summer After Covid 

We have a fine dining restaurant in the village now

I will admit we worried about a number of our friends and their businesses as the year-long Covid lock-down pretty much stretched into a two year lockdown, but I am happy to report that not only have all of our retail stores and restaurants in this part of the Mani re-opened, but we have also added new businesses to the line up as well.

Medikon opens in Ag. Nikolaos. Photo: Medikon

In our village of Agios Nikolaos, we've had a fine dining/cocktail lounge open at the harbor in place of a long-time traditional Greek eatery. While we miss that menu and the folks who ran that place, the new restaurant has ratcheted up our dining options.  I might add, it is also run by a couple from Athens whose family is here and run a traditional beach taverna just down the road.

Gelato in Agios Dimitrios

And in Agios Dimitrios, the small hamlet literally at the foot of 'our' hill, a cafe has opened. This is BIG news as it is the only eatery or retail business in the village! A mom-and-two-daughter team from Kalamata has quickly turned it into a popular drink and snack destination.

Laid Back Locals

An early morning coffee klatch on the beach!

We were officially called 'locals' this week when a village businessman we often see having coffee at the same places we go to, labeled us as such. He said because we see each other enough to recognize each other - and he was born and raised here - then, we are considered, locals.  So being 'locals' our summer mornings are spent as locals do -having a coffee at one of the many tavernas and cafes in the village.  A group of lady friends met for coffee a few weeks ago and you can tell from the photo we are locals: as we are hovering in the shade and there so early the tourists haven't taken over the beach chairs in the background. 

Although 'meeting for coffee and conversation' here is much like anywhere, we expats always take a moment to marvel at our surroundings. 'Can you believe we are meeting for coffee on a beach, walking distance from home and can run our feet through the sand while visiting?' one of us will invariably ask of the other.

Summer Travels

It is a joy to once again be able to travel this summer - with limited required mask wearing and no need to show Covid vaccination cards.  It almost feels like 'normal'. We just returned from a 10-day outing which began in Athens and then involved island hopping.  We were reminded again by the languages we heard spoken, of Greece's world-wide appeal as a tourist destination.

Tourists, 'selfies' and Athens sights from our hotel

Despite airport chaos -- cancelled flights, delayed flights, lost luggage, enormous lines -- in major airports across the European Union and England, travelers keep on traveling.  

In the cool of the night - temperatures drop to the 70's

We are still waiting for those residency permits of ours to be renewed - now in month three of our countdown -- so we are required to stay within Greece for our travels this summer. Road trips (gasoline is just under $10 a gallon) and ferry trips are making this 'renewal lockdown' really quite tolerable.  We plan a return to the States in August/September.  At least the flights are booked, but with the continuing and increasing aviation chaos, we are braced for our flights to be cancelled -- hopefully soon enough to come up with a Plan B.

EasyJet, RyanAir, and British Air employees are all planning a series of strikes during the next two months.  Each strikes on a different set of days to make it real nasty and confusing. We are booked on British Air - they are to notify travelers by 14 days prior to departure. We will deal with that when we need to. In the meantime, we will enjoy the summer, naps, coffees and an occasional road trip.

TravelnWrite is on the Gold List!

We were most pleased to be notified this week of having made the Gold List of Boomer Travel blogs for 2022 by the folks at Getting on Travel. Check out some of the blogs on this list - it will be great for armchair getaways and might even prompt you to pack your bags!

Safe travels to you and yours~ hope to see you back here soon!

Linking this week with:

 Through My Lens


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