Showing posts with label Agios Nikolaos. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Agios Nikolaos. Show all posts

Monday, January 15, 2024

With a Toss of a Cross

With the toss of a cross the holiday season came to an official end last week and winter arrived in the Greek village we call home.

Ready for the Blessing of the Water in Agios Nikolaos

The Blessing of the Water, which involves tossing a cross into the rather frigid waters of the village fishing harbor and having it retrieved by a brave - young - swimmer, is an annual religious tradition in the Greek Orthodox religion. It commemorates Christ's Baptism in the Jordan River.  Throughout the country similar ceremonies and pageants took place on January 6th, the day known as Epiphany or Theophany on religious calendars.

On the way to the harbor ceremony

In our village of Agios Nikolaos in the Mani region of the southwestern Peloponnese, the day dawned picture-perfect, with blue sky and sunshine. Harborside tables at restaurants and cafes were filled long before the bells of the church (also named Agios Nikolaos, the patron saint of sailors) began announcing the mid-morning service. 

Pappas Panayotis in Agios Nikolaos

Villagers and visitors alike were waiting for the colorful procession of officiants and congregants to make its way from the church to the harbor's parking lot.  

The ceremony at harborside

Once there, our village priest, Pappas Panayotis, offered a brief service, blessed the cross and tossed it into the water. Young swimmers stood on the harbor's breakwater, opposite the parking lot and launched themselves into the water to retrieve the cross as soon as the Pappas released it. 

One of two brave swimmers helped from the water

Just like that, the ceremony ended. The swimmer who retrieved the cross was blessed. The crowd shifted toward our small fish market to the side of the parking lot where the counter -- normally used to display the catch of the day -- had been turned into a magnificent banquet table, filled with platters of sweets and savory goodies donated by the local bakery, restaurants and individuals.

Table begins to fill with donated tasty treats.

Then Came Winter

That holiday Saturday was gorgeous, so much so that we stopped on our way home to admire 'our' Pantazi Beach.

Pantazi Beach just like Hawaii

This stunning beach is walking distance from our home at the base of the hill. In tourist season it is jam-packed with tourists and sunbeds but on this day, it was empty and inviting.  The slight breeze, the warmth, and the wave action that day reminded us of similar scenes in Hawaii.

Well, that was Saturday. . .by the next morning, winter in all its stormy glory, had arrived.  We again stopped to admire the beach, this time for the wild fury of the place. The roar of enormous waves, gusting wind and sea mist showers were what greeted us on Sunday morning.

What a difference a day makes in winter here. . .

Weather here could be described as Longfellow once poetically wrote of the little girl with a curl: 'When she was good, she was very good, and when she was bad, she was horrid.'  Further down the beach, the giant waves had carried driftwood, rubble and large stones onto the roadway. The skies were leaden, and the rain came - at times - in buckets.  Such is winter in our slice of Greece.

This Saturday night in the village

Winter weather definitely puts our village into hibernation.  Olive harvest is coming to a close. Only a few fishing boats remain in the harbor.  The slash from olive groves is being burned as weather permits. Restaurants close for maintenance. At night streets are deserted.  

However, gardens are flourishing again, revived by the rain and cool temperatures. Roses and geraniums are in bloom, reminding us that spring will soon be on its way.

My rose, a bit wind-beaten, in the garden

Spring seems far distant though while we have a low temperature advisory in our area. It dipped to 37F/2.2C two nights ago and while that is balmy for some of you reading this, I can tell you it is COLD for here. The highest peaks of the Taygetos Mountains are finally iced with snow.  We've had our oil furnace, fireplace and electric wall heaters going in tandem and separately for days.  

A snowy peak of the Taygetos Mountain peeks out

But the storms come and go relatively quickly here compared to our old Washington State weather and we should soon be back in the low 60F's/15C's. Yesterday we had sunshine and by today the rain is again pouring down.

Gray days in Greece

We spend our winter days, snuggled up with our 'gatas' (our cats), catching up on reading those books we've had stacked up, planning future travels, and for me, writing.  We know many of you are having tough, cold winters right now, so we send our wishes for your safety - whether just going outside your door or traveling to some far distant place.

Thanks for being with us on this blustery winter's day in Greece. Hope you'll be back for our next report and bring some friends with you!  Anybody have a good book recommendation for us? Add it to the comments or send us an email - we are always on the lookout for new titles!

Monday, May 29, 2023

Then Change came to the Village

Change. It is as inevitable as the passing of seasons.  

Agios Nikolaos, our village

And now change has come to our village. Slowly at first, it seemed, now picking up speed and with a domino effect. It isn't a single change, mind you, but a gestalt or pattern of changes, that has caused both delight and disappointment among those living in this slice of the Greek Peloponnese. 

Agios Nikolaos, just south of Kalamata

Our small fishing village is Agios Nikolaos. With a year-round population of a few hundred, it sits on the edge of the Messinian Gulf, cradled in the base of the towering Taygetos Mountains and set amid olive groves. It expands with visitors during the warm months and shrinks back to size in the late fall and winter.  

There is a real estate office in the village now

The heart of the commercial area of town offers kafenions (coffee shops), bars and eateries. There is a single clothing store, open seasonally.  A year-round hardware store and nursery are found a bit out of town, as are two gas stations. A dozen or so fishing boats remain based in our harbor. 

As of last year, we also have a real estate office that announced its arrival with the installation of fancy signage.  It offers an inventory of homes and property. At least one of those properties posted on that board in the photo is for sale - asking price 850,000 euros.

Yes, change has come to the village.

Change in the Village

Captain Antonis and his boat - Agios Nikolaos

'Kalimera, Captain!' I called out to our friend, Captain Antonis, as he worked on his boat in the harbor.  I blew him a kiss as I walked by on the harbor road.  'Kalimera, Jackie!' he called out blowing me a kiss in return. Seeing him and his fishing boat in the harbor and exchanging greetings, is one of the things that hasn't changed in the village. 

We were among the first to take the Captain's excursion

However, Captain Antonis might actually be one of the village's first change agents. Two years ago, he began taking groups out to experience reeling in the net, sorting the catch, then touring along the coastline, serving lunch and making plenty of swimming or fishing-by-pole-from-the-boat stops before returning several hours later.  

Captain Antonis reels in fishing net

His new venture is one of the most popular changes in town. It was announced by a small sign at harbor's edge and word of mouth among his friends. 

While the captain's change was subtle, others can't be missed.  The most recent -- and the one seeming to cause angst among expats and soon-to-be-arriving tourists, is the sale of our local supermarket chain. 

Katerina's is closing!

Let me tell you, if you want to get speculation to an all-time high and nerves jangling among those who don't like change, just start talking about changing the small grocery store chain serving our area. We have two independently owned supermarkets; one of which will continue operating every day but Sunday, as it always has while the other closes temporarily for a change of ownership. 

Turns out the news of the sale is true. We wait to learn of the new operating hours. Because our Katerina's market chain is locally owned and it will be different having a new chain operating shops in its place. One of the Katerina's stores - the one in our village -- closed last week for renovation by the new owners. 

Litsa's Katerina's closed this week and will reopen under new ownership

It and three other Katerina's will open as a Kritikos stores, part of a Greek grocery chain that got its start on the island of Aegina as a mom-and-pop shop decades ago; now with hundreds of stores across the country.  We will miss the retiring Litsa who oversaw our small store's operation, but staff members are all returning as employees of the new store. We are among those rather excited about this change, having seen Kritikos outlets elsewhere in Greece and knowing that no one is losing their job.  

Kritikos on the island of Spetses

Just down the road from the little grocery store, a new upscale restaurant opened in a renovated stone building along the harbor where a long-time favorite, but seasonal, restaurant had operated for years.  While we miss the traditional restaurant, the new one, Medikon, quickly became a favorite of ours and others.  As a full-time resident here, I can tell you it is nice to have year-round-eating-out options in the village.

Dining at Medikon - interior courtyard

The food is so good there, that on our recent cruise we found ourselves comparing a specialty dining venue on the ship with our hometown eatery as being, 'as good as Medikon!' We no longer need to travel to Athens for a fine dining experience. Change has come to the village.

Souvlaki, pizza and Medikon - our harbor is lined with new eateries

Next door to Medikon, a pizza place - a sister to the one in neighboring village Stoupa - opened a couple years ago. Then the souvlaki place next to it changed ownership earlier this year and expanded its operation and waterfront presence. The souvlaki place even offers home delivery!

Growing Pains

We've found the most difficult part of change has been the goodbye's it has brought with it. We welcome the new but miss the old familiar faces and hangouts. 

My friend Aspacia - a casualty of change?

Many of you have come to know through these posts my friend, Aspacia, who lived next to the ATM. It is this woman with whom I exchanged plant starts and hugs throughout the year. She spoke no English and my Greek was limited. I gave her a poinsettia each Christmas, she gave me fresh eggs. She and her husband sold honey from their home. One day they were there, it seemed, and the next day construction was underway.

New home of something - but not Aspacia 

A sleek glass door now leads into a renovated space where they made their home for the decade we've been here. No one in the village seems to know where they have gone. Nor what is going into the commercial space.

But it was the closing of Gregg's Plateia in January, that probably sent the most shock waves through not only this village but neighboring villages as well.  For 15 years it had been the place you went when you needed food, drink, help, advice, a laugh or a hug.  Gregg, his mom Freda, wife Kathy, and their sons, along with longtime employee, Nikki, were celebrated at an impromptu closing party where well wishes were offered, and tears were shed. 

Our visitors always made a stop at Gregg's Plateia

The business closed and the building is being renovated. It will house a meze restaurant owned by the same people who opened Medikon. Gregg has just announced he will begin a transfer service, taking passengers to and from Athens and Kalamata. Freda is enjoying time with family in Australia.  

No one was a stranger at Gregg's - Freda and a guest from Arizona

We are all eager to try the new place, yet nearly six months later, it doesn't seem right not having Gregg's Plateia in the village. 

The bus still inches through town at least twice a day!!

Maybe COVID lockdown gave rise to the changes. Maybe it has been the impact of the growing numbers of expats - those like us -- who've been charmed by the place and want more than a vacation-sized serving of life here.  

Maybe it is the Greek government's push to expand tourism to year-round and in still-developing tourist destinations. In May the Peloponnese Tourism folks and the City of Kalamata hosted a conference of more than 300 travel writers, bloggers, content producers, and influencers as we are all called now. I can assure you, those attending loved what they saw of this area! 

Agios Nikolaos

Did I mention that we now have a hang-gliding launch pad in the village behind Agios Nikolaos and its not unusual to have a glider land near Pantazi Beach, just to the south of the village?

That's it for this week. Thanks for being with us again - hope you will be back next time when I ponder expat life. We have heard from many of you and it seems you are contemplating expat life in Greece. It may be time to tell you a bit more about it - the good, the bad and the ugly!  Safe travels to you and yours

Monday, January 8, 2018

Then came Saturday morning and . . .

A trip into the village on a Saturday morning is always interesting but last Saturday was made even more so by the fact that it was Epiphany. . .the day of Blessing the Water. . .

Church - Kastania
Epiphany, January 6th,  in Greece is also known as Theofania or Fota. Sometimes it it called Little Christmas or Three Kings Day.  It, along with Easter, is one of the most sacred holidays in this new adopted country of ours. More than 90% of the country’s population (statistically, speaking) belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church.
Villagers began gathering early at the cafes along the harbor
By the time we got to town – shortly after 10 a.m. the village cafes along the harbor (those that are still open this winter, that is) were filling rapidly because the harbor is center stage on this day.  The Greek church's Blessing of the Water commemorates the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the River Jordan and the manifestation of the Holy Trinity on this date.
The harbor takes center stage on Jan. 6th
Settling in for a coffee at one of the cafes we waited for the church bells to announce the processional that would make its way to the harbor. The bells rang out. . .and from the village church just around the corner, they came. . .
Off to Bless the Water in Agios Nikolaos
We stood as small group made its way to the harbor. . .
The blessing begins
. . .then we shutterbugs clustered around the dock where the blessing would take place. Many of us left our tables at the cafes – no worries about ‘paying before you leave’ as they knew the patrons would return at the ceremonies end.
While across the harbor only two young villagers were brave enough to jump into the frigid water to retrieve the cross tossed into it as part of the blessing ceremony. There were dozens of swimmers in the village up the road but not here this year.
Who will get the cross and be blessed the rest of the year?
The blessing was read and the cross readied. . .
PicMonkey Collage
Blessing of the Water - 2017 Agios Nikolaos
Then. . . splash! The cross was tossed and retrieved in a ceremony that has been repeated throughout the decades in this small village in the Peloponnese. What a joy to be able to experience it.

And who got the cross?
The one who retrieves the cross is considered blessed for the rest of the year. He carries it through the village – donations are made (which we were told he got to keep) and the festivities came to an end.

Blessing of the Cross - 2017 - Agios Nikolaos
Saturday morning returned to its normal routines. As we set about our errands, I couldn't help but smile because this morning was one of those that helps answer the question I asked in last week’s post, “Why did we want to move here anyway?!?!”

Again a Kali Chronia to you all ~ Happy New Year wishes to you all. Thanks so much for the time you spend with us!! Safe travels to you and yours ~ Hope to see you here next week.

Linking with:
Best of Weekend
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

In Greece: Close Encounters of the Ex Pat Kind

“I want your life” commented a FB friend on a sunset photo I’d posted.
“How do I get your life?” asked another.
“We are coming to visit!” any number of people have told us.

I’ve thought of those comments often the last few weeks – both during those Facebook-photo-moments while soaking up the afternoon sun on the deck AND at other times when having what I’ve termed ‘close encounters of the ex pat kind’. . . the kind that don't make it to my regular updates on Facebook nor have they been discussed -yet - on this blog.

Lazy afternoons spent here at The Stone House on the Hill
For those of you first time visitors to TravelnWrite, we are part-time ex pats from the Seattle suburbs who’ve bought a slice of rural Greece in its Peloponnese to call our home for a part of each year. Our stone home is nestled at the edge of our small olive grove, not far from a picturesque Greek fishing village. City to country. United States to Greece. This new lifestyle if full of new experiences and encounters.

Agios Nikolaos, our village
And since our blog posts have activated the travel bug in so many of you who've been regulars here, that I thought I should, in fairness, tell you about things other than star-gazing and sun-worshipping that make up our ex pat life at The Stone House on the Hill. Take that afternoon shortly after we’d returned this fall. . .

Agios Nikolaos, The Mani
I had decided to rearrange the glassware and cups that share a shelf in our somewhat limited kitchen cupboards. Having cleaned and lined them last spring, I figured this to be about a five minute project. (Stop reading here if you have a delicate stomach and skip to the next tale. . .)

Kitchen at The Stone House on the Hill
Being my height, it wasn’t until I was tip-toeing on a kitchen chair that I had a full scope view of the shelf and what appeared to be -- in polite terms --  mouse ‘droppings’. [ “Dropping’ = excrement, ca-ca, poo-poo, or worse.]  By whatever word you choose, it was there: a layer of it sprinkled across that new previously spot-less shelf lining of mine.

Enough droppings to indicate it could have been the site of a rodent convention, as a matter of fact. Climbing onto the counter and looking a bit further into the cupboard, I found a hole where the cupboard should have been attached to the stone wall -- the entryway for the little critter (or critters from the looks of it). Thankfully the cups and glassware had been upside down. But still . . . thoughts of those roaming rural rodents had turned my stomach. My few minutes had turned into hours as The Scout was called into action and blocked their entryway and I washed and sterilized the cupboard’s contents and shelves.


New flower garden - blooming basil, front left
We’ve been renovating two garden plots that were home to over-grown aloe vera plants. The two succulents that look much like cacti, had pointed spikes as painful as a cactus. Removing them was like removing small trees. (We moved them to the olive grove where they can grow as large as they want.)

Last spring after the first aloe vera was moved, we’d planted a Greek basil in its place. Greek basil lives year round and can grow to five feet in height.  Its leaves are tiny in comparison to Italian basil. The September storm had knocked our basil to the ground so on a fine fall day we’d purchased and installed some stakes.  I’d buried my face into that delicious pungent smelling herb to get the twine around it and the stakes . . .

Praying Mantis courtesy Wikipedia photos
As I pulled back I realized I had missed by inches burying my face into the Praying Mantis that had made the plant his home. It was one of my first encounters with the little creature that looks like a small dinosaur or enormous grass hopper, with a triangular head resembling those drawn by animators which depict outer space beings.  This one stared us down and no amount of swiping was convincing him to move. For a bug, their forearms are enormous (they are carnivores and catch and hold their prey). Another close encounter of the ex pat kind. The Scout had to deal with that one.

After my heart quit racing, I thought again about writing this post. BTW, that photo above of a ‘European male’ is courtesy of Wikipedia photos – I chose not to take a close up photo!


Hauling wood - a regular activity each fall
What is a post about close encounters if I didn’t mention scorpions. . . we’ve had now three encounters with them. Two alive and one dead but even dead scorpions can spark an instantaneous adrenalin surge. And those little stinkers love our wood pile! We wear gloves now – leather, nice thick leather gloves and use a bit of care when hauling wood or working in the garden. Those cute little pink floral cotton garden gloves of mine are history.

Not all our experiences and encounters have fallen into the 'gross-me-out-genre'.  Many are downright charming and are what we love about this place. Many involve learning the ways things are done in a new culture and a country where life is lived differently than one which one might be familiar.

Take getting our mail for example. We have no street address, and we have no post office box- we don't even have a post office here for that matter -  yet we get mail regularly.  It is delivered to our local taverna of course!

PicMonkey Collage
Freda's Mail Corner in her son Gregg's Plateia in Agios Nikolaos
The one practice here that we’d become used to on our travels so didn’t strike us as peculiar, leaves many first-time visitors shaking their heads: it is dealing with used toilet paper. Here it is not flushed, it is deposited into small garbage bins next to the toilet. When the little bin is full of the stuff, the bag inside is tied up and taken to the community garbage bins.  We’ve seen this TP disposal method used in other European countries and Mexico and it seems quite normal. For many it is an encounter to remember!
Speaking of garbage, we make regular garbage runs as it isn’t collected at each home as is the practice where we live in the United States.

PicMonkey Collage

We usually tie the garbage run in with the water run. The drinking water comes from one of many public faucets found along the roadside in the villages below us.  (The water out of the tap is far too 'mineral' tasting (much like Arizona). Should you find yourself a guest at our house you’ll undoubtedly get to experience a water/garbage run first hand! Now, how often when you travel do you get to do that??!!

Thanks so much for being with us as we experience life as part time ex pats in Greece. A special thank you to those who noticed our absence last week and wrote to inquire how we were doing. (We were out of the internet world for a bit). But now back at The Stone House on the Hill for a few more weeks, the adventure continues. We’ll be back next week and hope you will be as well. Until then, thanks for joining us and wishes for safe travels to you and yours~

Linking up this week:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Greece ~ Siga, Siga; slowly, slowly . . .

“Slow down, you move too fast,
gotta make the morning last. . .”
                                             -- Paul Simon, The 59th Street Bridge Song
I regularly meet a fellow writer friend for coffee and chitchat when I am in the Pacific Northwest. We schedule it early in the day so as to fit it in to our schedules, which in itself could be a laugh as we are both retired. I mean, really, ‘schedules’ when you are retired??

We never worry about overstaying the 1.5 hour free parking limit where we rendezvous because frankly, we don’t have time to exceed it – there’s always another appointment or commitment that one of us needs to get to.  We sip steaming beverages served in paper cups imprinted with Starbucks logos, giving little attention to our surroundings.
We aren't quite as hurried as others who rush in and ‘grab and go’ –  we can now use our mobile device to order our coffee prior to our arrival at this coffee shop chain. No waiting. In and out and on our way. Who has time to linger?

That rushed approach to both having coffee and living life seems normal, the ‘American way’.

Coffee on the island of Poros, Greece
And, I've come to learn, it is a stark contrast to the Greek approach to meeting for coffee. The difference between the two is nothing short of a cultural caffeine jolt. In Greece meeting for coffee is a long, lingering event, not limited to any particular time of day: morning, afternoon or long into the evening, people come together over coffee. 

PicMonkey Collage
Coffee shop corner in Heraklion, Crete

It has taken a bit of time to adapt to this cultural phenomenon of relaxing and slowing the pace over coffee.  I mean, sitting at a table, long after your cups are empty, sipping a glass of water (that is always provided with the coffee in Greece), just isn’t the norm in the States. Yet, here, it seems almost an insult to the establishment to rapidly consume your beverage and then jump up and leave.

Kafenion in the Greek Peloponnese
This ‘long-linger’ over coffee may have gotten its start at the old style kafenions, those tiny shops where a small group of elderly Greek men visit while sipping their strong-enough-to-put-hair-on-your-chest coffee and downing an ouzo chaser while twirling worry beads. Where ever the tradition began, it is insanely popular at cafes and coffee houses throughout the country.

Maestros café - Kardamyli, Greece
During our early stages in Greece we used that American approach to ‘going out for coffee’ in our village. Sip quickly, check messages on our phones, then be on our way.

Siga, siga, (slowly, slowly) that is changing.  After all, what did we really have to do in Greece that would cause us to rush off from anywhere?  And why is it that ‘busy’ seems the acceptable by-word in the States, but here we are learning contentedness in sitting and smelling, the roses,  the coffee, in this case, and watching the world go by?

Kaefenion - Agios Nikolaos, Peloponnese, Greece
We began slowing our pace one Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago when The Scout and I headed to our nearby village, Agios Nikolaos for coffee ‘at Freda’s’. That means Gregg’s Plateia – a small cafe run by Gregg and his mom Freda.  This popular eatery is an ex pat gathering spot, post office, bus stop, and serves as host site to any number of fund-raisers.

An added bonus is that Freda always has an answer to our questions, of which we usually have a few.

An afternoon at Freda's - siga, siga
As we lingered at our table for nearly two hours sipping a cappuccino and a ‘press’ coffee on that warm afternoon I realized we were conquering the cultural coffee divide. During that time, we browsed through her furniture catalog, picked up books from her mail table that I had ordered from the U.K.'s  Book Depository and purchased oranges from the fruit vendor – never going more than a dozen steps away from the table.

We buy from this fellow as often as possible
We’d visited with a couple of folks who were walking past, waved to others and simply watched others go about their rounds, like our village pappas, making his way to the church around the corner – after he’d made a stop at the coffee shop across the way.

Watching the street scene - Agios Nikolaos, Peloponnese
By lingering, we had a treat as a ‘new’ fishing boat was spotted in the bay and crew were shuttling its catch between the boat and the harbor fish scales. Amazing all the things there are to watch and learn while sipping a cup of coffee – if  you give yourself the time to do it.

PicMonkey Collage
Agios Nikolaos - Peloponnese
Our timing was off that day – even with our lingering – so we didn’t get to watch the bus from Kalamata stop in front of the cafe and deposit passengers prior to threading its way down the village’s main street to its next stop at the other end of town.

The bus comes through town three times a day - Agios Nikolaos
You, who follow our adventures on Facebook, know that one of my most favorite pastimes (and unexplainable) is watching the bus that serves this region crawl through town on its way north or south and then posting FB photos like the one above.

I was glad to learn I wasn’t the only one who enjoys that bus. The photo below was taken on another afternoon coffee outing, when we had new friends who were visiting from the United States join us for an afternoon coffee at another favorite hangout of ours, Molos Bistrot, next to Freda’s. It was the oncoming bus – not the caffeine – that jolted them out of their seats with cameras in hand.

Here comes the bus!
I took the photo below a few years back in a cafe where we sipped coffee during a stay in a village on Crete’s southern coast. Back then, we had a limited amount of time for travels in Greece and wanted to see as much of the country as possible.  The message didn’t ring as clear then as it does these days.


We thank you for being here with us for another serving of Greek tales and hope to see you back again. Until then, safe travels to you and yours.

Linking up this week with:

Mosaic Monday – 
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration


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