Showing posts with label Boomers in Greece. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Boomers in Greece. Show all posts

Saturday, March 5, 2022

A War in the Neighborhood

 'It isn't in our backyard, but it is certainly in the neighborhood,' wrote a fellow expat on Facebook of the invasion of Ukraine. He and his wife live in Prague, capitol of the Czech Republic. We used to live a few miles apart back in the Seattle suburbs.

Digital Art from Ukraine (details below)

Another expat friend and former Kirkland resident, now living in Switzerland, observed that being where we all find ourselves now 'gives us a different perspective than when we were 'home' [in the States]'. 

A different perspective of war from this side of the sea

They both nailed it.  We definitely have a different perspective than if we were all still some 8,000 miles away. Actually, it is amazing that we have so many expat friends from our old stomping ground on this side of the sea. Each of us willingly made the choice to leave all that we knew for the unknowns of a new country and culture. This week I think, "What a luxury, that word 'choice'?". 

We chose to leave our homes, friends and family behind unlike those forced to flee Ukraine this week. 

In Prague helping to meet basic needs

Our friends in Prague are helping with the Ukraine refugee relocation effort there. Many are arriving with nothing more than a small bag of belongings.. The numbers are mind-boggling: 5,000 a day, some 30,000 arrivals in the last week. The volunteers are scrambling to find accommodations both for refugees and to provide basic necessities.

Volunteers await arriving refugees at the Prague train station 

The phrase, 'all the comforts of home', comes to mind as I look around our Greek Stone House on the Hill.  We've brought so many items with us and have purchased the remainder of items necessary to make this house a home. Again, a luxury of choice unlike those who were so abruptly uprooted from their homes by the Russian invasion. 

In Greece the numbers of arriving Ukrainians last week were just over 1,000.  We know more are coming and efforts are underway to welcome and accommodate them. Throughout Europe authorities are racing to reduce red tape while volunteers meet, greet and try to ease these displaced persons into temporary housing. 

Collection drive in Mani poster 

Fundraising and collection drives are underway - even in our sparsely-populated slice of rural Greece. Just this morning I noted a collection drive notice and collection bin at our local supermarket. 

In The Neighborhood

Ukraine is to the northeast of Greece

The direct line distance between Greece and Ukraine is 1,276 km, or 793 miles. However the real travel distance is just over 1,668 km or 1,036.7 miles.  For those back in the States, it would be like living in Washington State and having a war break out in California.

Military ship off the coast of Ukraine 2014

Our media reports that Greek armed forces are on full alert. They also report a significant number of warships - both American and Russian fleets - are sailing a wider area of the Mediterranean. 

With restrictions finally being eased by authorities for travelers to Greece, there had been a feeling of optimism about this year's tourism bringing the lagging sector out of the doldrums caused by the pandemic. However, Russian tourists account for a large number of visitors to Greece. Estimates were for 303,843 inbound seats from Russia to Greece in the next six months.
I am reading more and more comments on Facebook Travel pages from those in the U.S. who are again rethinking travel plans to anywhere in Europe while this conflict continues.
Tourism is going to be impacted.. . but to what degree remains to be seen.

Meanwhile life goes on as Normal

Serene sunsets at Costa Navarino this week

However dire the headlines right now, I want to assure you that life is continuing quite normally around here.  The Scout and I just returned from a two night stay at the Costa Navarino luxury resort to the northwest of us and the place was full of golfers - European golfers, not just Greek locals.  The first two flights of the season - both from Germany -- landed a week ago at the Kalamata Airport and we suspect a large number of our fellow guests had been on those flights.

Almond trees are in bloom

Afraid we aren't real sympathetic to those in the States fretting about possible price increases at the pump as a  result of the invasion. Here we are paying $8US a gallon in the city and closer to $9 a gallon here in the village.  And that isn't because of the invasion - it is what we have been paying for some time.  We are braced for increases.

Wildflowers are in bloom

Our electric bills are so ridiculously high -- thanks to the European energy crisis, not the conflict - that we also brace ourselves for the shock of what we will find when opening the bill.  In January we had a 600 euro bill, nearly $700US for a couple of months.  (On that topic we are using the fireplace and oil furnace much more than our electric heat/AC units.)

Kalamata ready for visitors

The villages and Kalamata are opening up for the season with all the fun and fanfare that comes with spring.  Restaurants and tavernas closed for the winter are getting spruced up with new paint and new fixtures.  We are heading into Lent here with Clean Monday celebrations after having celebrated Carnivale last week.  Greek authorities are removing the 'mask-up' mandate when outside and they anticipate having - finally, after two years  - 'normal' Easter celebrations. 

And for those travelers coming this way, rejoice:  the pesky Passenger Locator Form, is on its way out!

Yet, Lest We Forget

Last year's ferry trip on the Mediterranean Sea

Yesterday the BBC, British Broadcasting Corporation, announced it has returned to old fashioned short-wave radios as a means of reaching Ukrainians who are cut off from normal sources of news.  Four hours each day of news will be broadcast in English over short-wave frequencies that can be heard on cheap devices in Kyiv and parts of Russia.  The announcement couldn't help but make one think of World War II and the role short-wave radio played then.

Victims skulls - memorial Chora Sfakia

We live in an area of Greece that has known conflict and blood-shed brought on by attempts of outside forces to rule this area through the ages. The memories and horrors of invasions - from the time of the Venetians and the Ottomans to the Germans and Italians during World War II - remain vivid here.  The significance of what is happening to Ukraine is sadly all too real for so many. 

Before I close this week, I want to mention the artwork used in the blog opening is a digital piece created by a Ukrainian artist that was purchased by a friend from Etsy Shop.  Purchases provide money to those in Ukraine and the art being digital is available immediately to the purchaser. The photos from Prague are from posts by Cheryl and Chip Kimball, our friends from Kirkland. Anyone wanting more information on their efforts there, please contact us and we will put you in touch.

Safe travels to you all and thanks for the time you spent with us this week.  Our tales and travels will continue and hope to see you back here for the next installment~

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Monday, November 1, 2021

In Greece ~ To Everything A Season

 To everything there is a season.  

In Greece, especially this Kalamata region, it is now the season of the olive.

Olive season has arrived in our world

The olive harvest season is upon us, heralding autumn's arrival. Brisk dawns and dusks open and close the ever-shortening days. The mighty wind that blows down from the Taygetos mountains this time of year has returned with its seasonal gusto. Some days it dances leaves and blossoms through the air and other times rips the awnings and hurls the sun-shade umbrellas out of their stands at local tavernas.

September's sunshine gave way to October's rain

When we set off in early September for a stay in our other world, Washington State, we left the lingering golden summer days of Greece behind us. We returned in early October to a much needed, but rather dreary, rainy stretch which served as the opening act of autumn. 

Our drought-stressed olives in August

As olive growers, albeit small time growers, compared to so many in the area, we welcomed the rain after a long, very dry summer. That summer drought and heat had turned our usually green olives into withered purple pimples on the branches.  'They just need rain', Taki, who owns the olive processing plant, assured us. Then he added, that while the rains plumped them up again, it also served to make them attractive to the pesky 'dako' as the olive fruit fly is known here. Those tiny winged terrorists can (and do) destroy crops rather quickly by boring eggs into the fruit when weather conditions allow. 

We didn't want to test fate with those inviting little olives remaining on the trees for very long, so we were among the first to be at Taki's olive processing plant when it opened for the season a week ago.

Olive Harvest

Friend Jean will attest to the hard work part

It takes a day to harvest olives at our Stone House on the Hill. It is a hard day's work, I think our volunteers would tell you, as we, like most in the area, harvest by hand. Olives are beaten from branches that remain on the tree and are stripped from those branches cut from the tree. Harvest and a first-round pruning go hand-in-hand here. 

Sorting the fallen olives from twigs is an important step

The olives fall on plastic nets, enormous carpets, that drape over our steep terraces. As each tree is completed we crawl on hands and knees raking them into piles and pulling out large twigs and branches. 

Mary and Ulysses had at work

This year's harvest was made more fun by having a team of volunteer harvesters join us for varying amounts of time during the day. Our harvest team consisted of expat friends, Chuck, from Kirkland, Washington, Jean and Mic from Portland, Oregon and visitors to the area, Mary and Ulysses, from the Seattle area.  Coordinating the efforts were two local harvesters - the two who know how to harvest and directed the operation, I might add.

Fellow expat Mic at work

Real verses Imagined

I still laugh at the vision I once had of olive harvest, formulated in part by Frances Mayes and her 'Under the Tuscan Sun' book.  In my imagined world, the day was more of an outing punctuated by a lovely lunch served with wine, perfectly matched tableware under those magical trees. After a few hours toil we would enjoy a repast of fine food and wine that would fill the afternoon.

A quick break then back to work!

That couldn't be further from reality here as our volunteer crew will attest! We work about three hours; about the length of time it takes to be unable to raise our arms above our heads or whack the branch hard enough to loosen the olives any longer (we are all boomers, after all). Luckily we fade about noon. Then we gather for cold cuts, cheese and lots of water, served on disposable table ware. 

Nets drape the hillside and are slippery

The break lasts less than an hour though and it is back to the grove where the pitfalls of harvest include falling on your fanny because the nets are slippery or whacking your forehead into an unexpected tree branch and seeing stars for a few minutes. (Do I have you lining up yet to volunteer for next year's harvest?)

From Olive to Oil

Our harvest at the oil processing plant

Our harvest was smaller than had been expected as this was the alternating year in which we should have had a heavy yield. We harvested 294 kilos of olives - filling seven and a half 50-kilo burlap bags. Our crop produced 40 kilos (equivalent to liters which are close to quarts) of oil.  Some of which we sold to the processor, some we will distribute to friends and family in the U.S. and some was earmarked for our volunteer crew. 

And here comes the oil! 

For those new to TravelnWrite, when we bought our Stone House on the Hill on a rural, olive-tree carpeted hillside in the Peloponnese seven years ago, what we knew about olive oil would have fit in a table-sized dispenser of the stuff.  

As it turned out the property on which our stone house sits also had 17 olive trees - and unbeknownst to us at the time, a whole new segment of this expat world was about to open.  

Our Stone House on the Hill at the top of the grove

Slowly, slowly, or siga, siga, (see-GAH) as we say in Greece, we've come to learn about the seasons of the olive. There is the early spring pruning long before the trees flower, the cutting of the grasses after the wild flowers are spent. After the olives begin to grow we move into the spraying season (bio, we are told)  to combat attacks by those dakos. 

Harvest, the crescendo of seasons, begins in the lower elevations where we are the end of October and will continue through the end of December and early January as crops on the higher elevations ripen.

Our olives heading to press

Freighters are now marking time in the Messinian Bay, waiting to be loaded with oil that will be taken to countries like Italy.  Find that surprising? Well read this article from Epoch, pure Greece (there are others to be found on the internet, if you still find this a remarkable fact):

Is your Italian olive oil really Italian?

The world seems to love Italian olive oil, and many bottles of oil seem to be packaged to display their Italian origin.  But here comes the crunch, when you buy a bottle of oil that says Italian on the label, if you check the small print on the label you may see that what you are really getting is Italian oil blended with olive oil from other countries,  especially with premium quality extra virgin olive oil from Greece.

Italy uses and exports more olive oil than its farmers can grow.  Natural olive oil from Greece tastes just as good, if not better, than olive oil from other countries, but it is cheaper to produce. Italian brands buy Greek oil, mix it with their own and sell it to you, quite legally and stated on the label, as Italian product.  Greek olive growers grow and press more olives than home consumption can use and so they can sell their excess olives to Italy.

Our fresh pressed olive oil 

Thanks for being with us and welcome to our new subscribers! We've been busy changing our world in Greece the last few weeks and next week I plan to tell you about it. . .hope you'll be back then!

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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, July 28, 2020

Greece. . .Now, as it was back then. . .

The slow, steady clomp of the hooves against the ages-old stone paved passage ways of Hydra town announced the pack's approach.  Now, as it was done 'back then', we stepped aside and let these beasts of burden carry on the island's tradition of transportation. 

A common sight on Hydra and island keeping equine traditions

Equines - horses, donkeys and burros - have always transported both goods and people on this small island in the Saronic Gulf.  Even in this age of technology, they continue to do so. There are no privately-owned cars, trucks or bikes here. One of the island's endearing charms for us, is its nod to history by continuing its reliance on animals. 

This island, with only one harbor town and a few smaller villages scattered about, has only three motorized vehicles: a small garbage truck, a small truck for hauling and an ambulance. For that matter it has only one or two short stretches of  roads  wide enough to accommodate the small vehicles.  Even taxis are in the form of boats . . .or horses!

A common sight in Hydra town

The island's main commercial area wraps around its picturesque harbor.  Most tourist accommodations and private homes are housed in centuries-old buildings snuggled side-by-side on the steep hillsides that frame the harbor. Many of them are accessed by narrow passageways and stairs; just the right size for a pedestrian or an equine. 

Supply barge arrives and it's time to distribute the goods

One of our favorite times here is in the early morning when the supply barge laden with everything from pallets of bottled water to construction materials arrives. The muleteers, or as they are called in Greek, the agogiatis or kyratzis, and their animals are ready. The distribution begins.  During our recent visit it took two days to get all the supplies offloaded.

Might be hauling his own dinner off the barge

Since back in the time when pirates plied the waters and the town was centered on the hilltop, these steadfast steeds  have carried people and parcels to those upmost reaches of the island. Many continue to be outfitted with the same style wooden saddles as those used decades ago for goods transportation .

Loaded and headed to the construction site

I was a bit surprised when researching this post, to learn that there was a time when 40 percent of Greece's donkeys were found in the southern Peloponnese; as that is the same area where we make our home these days. There, like on Hydra and elsewhere in Greece, the animals hauled goods and people over the kalderimi's, those narrow stone roads that linked villages in early times. They were used to plow the fields and as the power source in grain mills and olive oil presses.

The supply barge is met by teams of pack animals in Hydra

With the advent of motorized vehicles and construction of wider asphalt and concrete roads, the use of animals has, since the mid 20th century, been diminishing.  What was startling -- and dismaying -- was learning while researching this post was that the numbers of animals themselves has also severely diminished.  

In an on-line article about equine in Greece, Giorgos Arsenos, assistant professor at the Aristotle University of Veterinary Medicine says that the numbers of donkeys had fallen from a half million in the mid 1950's to just over 18,000 in 1996. I was unable to find more current figures.

Step aside the pack train is coming through

Luckily, the Municipal Council of Hydra and the residents there see the value of this time honored  animal tradition and are continuing to foster it in a manner that is both humane and practical.  

Yes, even the kitchen sink!

As animal lovers, we are always concerned about the treatment of animals and in the case of the equines on Hydra, I can assure you that the animals waiting at harbor's edge to transport tourists and luggage have sunshades provided and plenty of water.  As you make your way through the passageways back from the harbor it is always a delight to happen upon a few bales of hay, one of their many feeding stations.  

Since what goes in must come out, we can also vouch for the fact that at the first dropping from an animal the entire pack is stopped, the manure is scooped up by the muleteer and carried away in leather packs attached to the animals backs- we suspect - to later be used as fertilizer.  

Morning coffee floor show on Hydra Island

The welfare of the animals is also monitored by the combined efforts of HydraArk, an animal lovers group on the island, The Municipality of Hydra, The Greek Animal Welfare Fund and Animal Action Greece. These four entities provide annual visits to the island of a team made up of a dentist, veterinarian and a farrier who provide free of charge exams for all the animals.

Too cute for words in Hydra - old style saddle

If visitors to the island is concerned about a particular animal's welfare they are encouraged to contact the local police who are in charge of investigating any abuse reports. I suspect few reports are made  as the equines and the island's cats are among some of the most pampered animals we've encountered in our travels in Greece.  But the tale of the cats is yet another story for another time. . .

Sunshades for the horses waiting for the ferry

That is it for this week from very hot Greece. Summer has arrived.  The country continues to monitor COVID19 numbers and face masks continue to be a required part of  this 'new normal' world in which we find ourselves.  We hope where ever this reaches you, that you are safe and well and at least doing some armchair traveling! Hope you'll be back with us next week  and as always, thanks for your time!

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