Sunday, July 21, 2024

The Dog Days of Summer

 The Dog Days of Summer came knocking at the door early this year!   And as a result, we are having a very long, very hot -- you might even say, a sweltering summer in Greece. 

Dog Days came knocking early this year

It is the kind of heat that had the ancient ones believing it could drive a person crazy. I am beginning to think I may prove them correct on that belief if it hangs around much longer.

Dog Days of Summer

There is nothing gentle about summer in Greece - it always arrives with a commanding presence. It never allows you to ease in gently but this year it seemed to break the door down with its sudden and intense early arrival. Usually, we brace for its stay during the months of July and August. This year it came in June and from the looks of it, I am pretty certain it plans to wear out its welcome before it departs. 

Morning on Stoupa Beach

While it hasn't deterred sun, sand and sea worshippers from descending upon our area for their shot of a postcard perfect summer Greek getaway, it has been impacting visitors elsewhere in the country.  Several times in June and again this last week officials in Athens closed the Acropolis from noon to 5 pm because of excessive heat. Red Cross workers handed out bottles of water to those visitors who arrived early and waited in long lines hoping to visit the site before gates closed at midday. 

There's little shade at Ancient Messene

Archeological sites throughout Greece have had similar reduced hours. Schools closed in June several times due to excessive heat. So intense is the heat, that the Greek government has ordered all the hard physical labor being done outside -- by construction and agricultural workers to delivery persons and all others-- be halted during the hottest times of the day.

In June six tourists in varying Greek locales died as result of heat related incidents.  Despite warnings by every organization under the sun (pun not intended) to stay out of the heat, these individuals found themselves in situations from which they couldn't escape the effects of heat. 

Our weather is in a holding pattern of hot

Helios, the Greek sun god, is paying little attention to the consequences of his daily chariot race across the sky and is bringing temperatures as high as 109F/43C. They've been hovering at the 95-99F/ 35-37C range in our area for several weeks.

Life Goes On

A village fisherman heads out at 7 pm 

'It's wearying, isn't it?'  a fellow expat remarked yesterday of the continuous heat.  Like us, she and her husband have been residents here for several years. The sun and the warmth of Greece were definitely among the reasons we all were attracted to the place. But too much of a good thing is simply too much.

A Summer sunbaked road near us in the Mani

When Greek speaking friends ask how we are, I usually reply with, 'Kala, alla poli zesti tora', meaning, in my less-than-perfect Greek,  'Good, but very hot now'.  The response is a sad shake of their head as they utter, 'Po, Po, Po!' 

Now 'Po, Po, Po!' is a versatile exclamation that can be used when happy or sad, disgusted or surprised and anything in between. Its meaning dependent on the facial expression and head movement that accompanies it. In this case it is close to an, 'Oh, dear!', 'Wow!' 'I hear you!'

Sunbaked bay leaf plant, daphne, as it is called here

The garden and grove at our Stone House on the Hill have taken a hit in recent weeks. We are struggling to keep our plants alive during this intense and lengthy heat wave.  I have an expanding 'morgue corner' of pots containing dead plants (including a lantana which grows in the wild around here) that couldn't beat this year's heat.  We have pretty much written off the olive crop this year as well.  

Our olives in July shouldn't look like this but they do

Even old, wizened olive trees need water during the summer, and we've had no rain for weeks and none coming any time soon. We have even started sprinkling them and with water as precious and scarce as it is here, you know we are taking this year's heat seriously.

Even Princess knows the value of A/C in summer

The chores and errands of the day are done as early in the morning as possible and then we become hermits in our darkened, air-conditioned house until we venture out at sunset, about 8:45 pm.  

Those Dog Days are Nothing New

The Dog Days have been around since ancient times. Back in Ancient Greece and Rome, the Dog Days arrival was marked by the rising of Sirius, the Dog Star, a part of the constellation, Canis Majoris, the Greater Dog. The star's rising coincided with the extremely hot days of summer; a time roughly from July 3 - August 11. 

Dog star Sirius.  Photo credit

It was believed to be a time of drought, disease and discomfort. Dog Days prompted unrest, unhappiness and bad luck; a time when men and dogs alike could be driven mad from the heat.

While researching the origins of Dog Days I happened upon another nod to extreme heat with a phrase attributed to Noel Coward in which he claimed that only 'Mad Dogs and Englishmen' would venture out into it.  The line was part of a song he is said to have written while traveling through Viet Nam.  In reading the lyrics, I found what I thought a perfect one for our Dog Days summer in Greece:

"In tropical climes there were certain times of the day

When the citizens retire'

To tear their clothes off and perspire."

Dog Days Sunsets are spectacular 

We close hoping that whatever season you are experiencing in your part of the world, it is a good one.  If you are traveling, stay safe, and heed the warnings of officials in the places you visit.  How's your weather - add a comment or drop us a line and let us know, we love hearing from you!

As always, thanks for the time you spent with us today.  


Sunday, July 14, 2024

A Decade Later: Dwelling in Possibility

 Dwell in possibility! 

I recall wanting to shout it from the rooftops. It was my mantra, my motto, my mojo for a time, that summer a decade ago.  

The dream catcher journal of 2014

The phrase, 'Dwell in possibility' is excerpted from a poem by Emily Dickenson. It was imprinted on the journal cover I chose to record our adventures related to the purchase of The Stone House on the Hill in Greece; an adventure that was to take place in July 2014.  

Had we not dared to dwell in possibility. . .

Journal's opening, June 8, written in Kirkland, Washington, our U.S. home after our offer to purchase was accepted:

'We are older, 65 and soon to be 61. Too old? Perhaps, but I doubt it, 'We've met hikers and backpackers in Greece older than we are and they talk of the next hike, not their aches and pains.

We'd actually decided during our trip [earlier that spring] to give up the house in Greece idea for all the conservative reasons we could list: ages, health, security, work, time to travel and then we'd counter with all the reasons we should: price, value for what you pay, having a base in Europe from which to explore further and finally - it would be the 'final fling' -

Now, who in their right mind, would pass on a final fling, right?' 

Olive harvest at the Stone House on the Hill

My other favorite phrase of that summer was 'catching the daydream' because in many ways buying a house in the middle of an olive grove in the Greek countryside was a 'daydream' - a metaphor for taking a vacation from the life we had lived for years in a Seattle suburb. 

Sunday, June 22 - Aboard Delta flight from Seattle to Athens:

'And when we lift off, we will be enroute to that daydream - the last adventure, if you will. We've reached an age when putting off until tomorrow isn't the best option if we want to also have time to enjoy the adventure after catching that daydream.'

The week before that departure I had noted in the journal all the steps we'd taken to be able to buy a home in Greece including, the wiring of an appropriate number of US dollars to convert to the euro amount required to purchase, and the gathering of required documents. Purchasing a home could be done with only a tourist visa but Greece likes documents!

Kalamata, the second largest city in the Peloponnese

We hit the deck running our first morning in Kalamata with a visit to an accountant who accompanied us to the tax office where we each obtained a tax identification number. Then off to the bank to open an account. In order to do that we presented our passports, a U.S. utility bill to prove our address, a letter from the Mayor of Kirkland, Washington assuring we were citizens in good standing there, our federal income tax form, and our retirement pension documents. 

From the Notary's Office where closing would take place you could see 'our' house

Then we met an attorney, obtained for us by our realtor, who would review all documents related to the sale; property ownership, registration, tax incumbrances, property sale documents etc.  He assured us as he puffed on his cigarette, that everything was proceeding well. We were just waiting for 'one more document'. Closing would likely be July 10th or 12th.

The Stone House on the Hill, far right

Thursday, June 26 - after visiting' the house': 

'We visited 'the house' and its owners [unlike the U.S. owners and buyers often meet each other] I took copious notes on sewers, storage, meters, water, olives and ovens just to name a few. I was overwhelmed - far too overwhelmed at oven temperatures (in Celsius) and washing machines and the work that needs to be done in the garden and the grove.'

'They don't have wi-fi! And to have wi-fi we need a land line which requires as the name implies a line, which will require a pole - a big pole as in 500 euros or so! Should we buy a house in Greece in a future life, we will ask about the nearest telephone pole!'

Journal entries remind me that we filled our days searching for furniture stores, household goods and the like. Evenings were spent at local cafes and tavernas where we were to meet other expats and locals as we started creating a world for ourselves here.

Off to explore what would be our new world. . .

And with everything proceeding as it should be, or so we thought, we took a short trip road trip. But upon our return to our hotel base in neighboring Kardamyli village, we got our first taste of doing business in Greece - 'that piece of paper' hadn't yet been received.

Monday, July 7 - Kardamyli:

'We are now saying, 'if we get into the house' and 'if this deal falls through. . .'

The next day we learned 'that document' was actually a packet of documents still not filed by the seller's civil engineer. Once filed, they would be sent to Athens where it would take two weeks to review them and if approved, we could proceed with the purchase. The sellers were scheduled to fly out July 17 and we were leaving the 22nd. It wasn't looking very hopeful at that point.

The daydream went up in smoke. . .

Friday, July 11 - Kardamyli:

'And so, the daydreaming ends. We pulled out of the deal after learning the civil engineer had filed the paperwork but now there are tax returns that haven't been filed and the owners can't produce a proof of purchase either. . .The Stone House on the Hill is now an interesting, but very short chapter, in the Smith family history.'

We spent a couple days doing a breakneck search of properties to see if anything else in the area might be of interest. After walking untold numbers of plots of undeveloped land, seeing homes partially built and those that had been lived in and loved, we concluded there was nothing in the Mani for us. 

Our last couple days were spent wiring money back to the U.S. and saying goodbyes to people that we had met along the way.

A Decade Later

The Stone House on the Hill a decade later

Yet here I am in our Stone House on the Hill writing this on a July day ten years after that disappointing summer. That fickle hand of fate ultimately took us in the direction we were meant to take, but it forced us to take a most circuitous route to get there. We returned to Greece six months later and purchased the house after all the required paperwork had been obtained by the sellers. 

My too-blue-to-be-true view

When I look up from the computer screen my view is over the parched olive groves, the small villages that we consider home and the almost too-blue-to-be-true Messinian Bay. And I am glad I concluded my July journal by writing, 'I guess as doors open and close - even at this old age - we should be open to new adventures.'

Our Greek adventure continues. . .at even older ages! We continue to dwell in the possibilities it holds for us, perhaps these days, a bit tempered with time, however. We know many of you are currently pursuing your daydreams and are dwelling in the possibilities they hold. We hope that you will ultimately catch them and feel as we do, that they were worth the effort.  

As always to all of you, our wishes for safe travels and thanks for the time you spent with us today~ 

Sunday, July 7, 2024

With Travel, Never Say Never

 When it comes to travel, we should 'never say never'.  We know that now.

In fact, I reminded myself of that a couple weeks ago in Santorini while having our photo taken by seat mates in a cable car that was dangling above a cliffside whisking us down - way down - to our cruise ship.

Santorini cable car to cruise ship port

'We'd never take a cruise through the Greek islands,' we've adamantly proclaimed for years, usually adding, 'and certainly never in summer!' 

Yet there we were on Santorini, our first port of call on a weeklong cruise through Greece - in summer! Never say never!

In a cable car off a sheer cliff in Santorini.

While we love cruising, we have long maintained that in order to get the real flavor of Greece -- nightlife in a village, driving those narrow winding roads that lead through small hamlets, or waiting for sheep or goats who have roadway priority -- you need more time than afforded on a cruise ship tour. You need to spend days and nights exploring this adopted country of ours.  

As for traveling in Greece in summer: no matter the mode of transport, it can bring on heat stroke and/or agoraphobia, a fear of crowds.

But sometimes reality and circumstances can challenge one's mantras about travel, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  

Blue and white of Greece's Santorini

Travel reality for us right now is limited to Greece. As expats who've reapplied for residency permit renewal, we can no longer travel in most of Europe without risk of fines and/or deportation for overstaying our time in the Schengen Zone. 

So, we'll be 'Doin' Greece' for a while. The good news is, that there is plenty of Greece remaining for us 'to do'. 

The Scout had been working on some travel options for June, and it didn't take long to conclude that a cruise would cover more territory and be as cost-effective and more time-efficient than traveling by ferry, staying in hotels, and eating out. 

Our room with a view - Celebrity Infinity

That's why we found ourselves setting sail on the Celebrity Infinity two weeks ago. The trip began with an overnight stay in Athens. It is good to get a taste of the big city after months of living in the rural Peloponnese, where we make our expat home.  

[Travel tip: We used an app, Free Now, to nab a taxi to the port the next morning - it worked like a charm -- establishing the rate and route upfront while bringing a driver within minutes. We recommend it highly.]

Athens' nightlife is vibrant

The ship would visit Santorini and Mykonos islands, as well as cities Thessaloniki and Kavala on the country's northeastern coast. One day was spent in Turkey, (Kusadasi, gateway to Ephesus). Turkey is not a Schengen country so we could travel there. Another day was a sea day - a mesmerizing way to spend a day.

Cruising in Greece

Access to and from the ship, cable car (on the left) or trail

Our first port of call was the Cyclades Island of Santorini, the postcard perfect poster child for Greek tourism. It has become such a popular destination that officials in 2018 began limiting the daily numbers of cruise ship visitors to 8,000. On the day we visited four cruise ships brought 7,000 visitors. Even with that number we can attest to the need for limits!

A single bus load of cruise passengers heading to Oia.

The cruise ship port offers three ways to access the island:  take a ship's tour so you can tender to the larger ferry port with vehicle access, or you go up that aforementioned cliff on foot or use the cable car. Donkeys were available, but thankfully, were not being hired often. We were warned in advance that cable car waits could reach a couple of hours in both directions.  

We opted for a ship's tour that left early and got us back before the brunt of cruisers came ashore.  We had no wait coming back in the cable car, but by early afternoon the lines were already endlessly long waiting to go up.  Temperatures in the high 80's discouraged many from tackling the cliffside stairway, which is shared with the donkeys and their poo. 

Waiting to get near that blue domed church in the distance

It has been more than a decade since we visited this island with a year-round population of about 15,500 residents and 40 taxis. Yet, it hosts about two million visitors a year.  It might be another decade before we go back but it was interesting to see it again, if even for a few hours.

Whitewashed, brightly trimmed home in Mykonos

Mykonos another insanely popular island in the Cyclades group, was our last port of call. While Santorini draws hordes of tourists, Mykonos is a magnet for the world's rich and famous. We were there a week before the Princess of Morocco arrived. Media report that a huge motorcade transported her and her son from the island's airport to the villa they'd rented. Ten of the vehicles carried their luggage.  She reportedly didn't like the way the villa was furnished, so she had furnishings, and decor flown in from Morocco - it took three trucks to deliver those items later.  

Street scene Mykonos Town

In comparison our island arrival was pretty incognito.  Only two ships were in port -- a new port has been built outside Mykonos Town since we were last there. A shuttle bus transported those going ashore independently as we were to the old port. From there, we walked into town following its labyrinth of streets - originally designed to confuse 18th century pirates and still does a good job confusing day-tripping tourists.

Meeting up with friends is a plus of travel

Our stop here included a visit with fellow Americans Jeffrey Siger and his wife Barbara Zilly. I've mentioned him before on TravelnWrite: he left his law practice in New York and came to Mykonos to write whodunnits set in various Greek locales.  His books - there are 15 now - are as much a travel guide as they are crime fiction. In fact, we met on a Greek travel social media site more than a decade ago when he offered us some travel suggestions for the Peloponnese as he'd just written a book (Sons of Sparta) set there.

Port of Thessaloniki as the sun sets

Our stops in Thessaloniki and Kavala were the destination highpoints of the cruise for us. We've vowed to return to both cities, and I'll tell you more about them in a future post.  

Thessalonik's main square opens to the sea

Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city, is about an hour's flight from Kalamata, the airport serving our area of Greece. It was great fun arriving and departing by ship as it is located on the Thermaic Gulf tucked away in a corner of the Aegean Sea. Our ship docked at its port, so close to the city center that we got around without need of tours or taxis.  It is a vibrant city known for its festivals, events, culture and cutting-edge culinary arts.

City Hall Kavala

Kavala, just to its east, on the Bay of Kavala, is the principal seaport of eastern Macedonia. A city of some 70,000 that is filled with picturesque neighborhoods and historic sites.

Kusadasi, Turkey 

Kusadasi, Turkey will long be remembered for its heat - high 90F's/30C's - and its gauntlet of shopkeepers all wanting to sell me a leather coat. "Hey, lady, come try on. You want a leather coat from my shop." (It made me sweat just typing that memory.) And no, I didn't try on nor buy a leather coat!

Were we right or wrong?

Captivating sea scenes a favorite part of cruising

By week's end, we were in agreement that it had been an enjoyable cruise filled with pleasant moments and destinations that call out for a return visit.  We still think Greece needs to be experienced with longer stays than a cruise stop affords.  

The weather was indeed hot - record breaking hot in June - and impacted our experience. Summer is not the time to visit Greece. The heat and high winds in a couple of ports prompted us and many fellow passengers to cut shore exploration short. It simply wasn't pleasant to be outside. Spring and fall are beautiful times to explore Greece for those who can schedule travel then.

The tourist numbers were high, but not as bad as we had expected them to be. The worst congestion was on Santorini. We may have to visit it again on some November getaway.

Heading back to the cruise ship 

It was a good reminder that saying 'never' to something we've never tried, could cost us some great travel moments.  So, with a lot of Greece left to explore, we can only wonder what is up next!  Have you ever said 'never' to a travel experience then tried it? Tell us about it in the comments below or shoot us an email.

We thank you for the time you spent with us today and say welcome to our new subscribers!  We will be back with tales of expat life soon. In the meantime, safe travels to you and yours~  


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