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

Thursday, February 9, 2017

In Hawaii: E Komo Mai ~ All Are Welcome

E Komo Mai (eh koh-moh my-ee) – Hawaiian for ‘welcome’ or ‘come in’.

A KoOlina Tradition
The small gathering – an ever-changing mix of visitors and locals, representing a variety of races and religions --  has become a part of Sunday morning traditions at KoOlina on O’ahu’s west coast.  The group gathers on a grassy area between two lagoons; a peaceful area overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean. This weekly worship service has been held for years in this location.

Hawaiian greeting
A small yard sign near the public pathway reads, “E Komo Mai, All Welcome”. Even those of us who are simply passing by pause to listen to a bit of the sermon or one of the hymns being sung. In keeping with this island's Aloha Spirit and E Komo Mai attitude, there’s no pressure to stay or leave; all are made to feel welcome.

E Komo Mai - welcome
Those messages of aloha and welcome were being expressed just down the road some 20 miles away on this same Sunday morning two weekends ago but in a much different setting. Another group made up of various races and religions had gathered at the Honolulu International Airport. The signs they waved were of welcome to this tropical paradise – where close to one-fifth of the state's residents are foreign-born. Theirs was a protest of the then-hours-old Executive Order barring entry to the United States for travelers from seven countries.

KoOlina - O'ahu
Now this post isn’t going to rehash that Executive Order but that juxtapositioning of welcomes did get me thinking about how often we take visas and entry into foriegn countries for granted. This post is about E Komo Mai, as the Hawaiians say, being made to feel welcome.

Welcome – (as a verb) – greet someone arriving in a glad, polite or friendly way.
                                                -- Dictionary Definition

Wadi Rum - Jordan
As a travelers  who’ve  been to any number of countries that require tourist visas we have a healthy respect for the variety of requirements each country has for entry into it, if even for a short visit. Some require nothing more than paying a fee upon arrival, a computer scan of your passport followed by a stamp in it. Some require that you fill out an application on-line, pay for it, and print out a copy for the authorities upon arrival. Others, like India, have a such a complex application process, high fee ($400 per person) and relinquishing our passports to their US representatives for a week or more,  that had our cruise a year ago not required us to have had the visa to board the ship, we’d have simply never gotten off the ship in India.

A smile is the universal welcome.
Max Eastman

However, once we had the visa, we have never been made to feel unwelcome in any country we’ve visited.
Our guide in Petra and The Scout
Like most who travel, we find that the every-day people we've encountered are simply normal people living in a different culture and religion than we know. Sometimes we don’t fully understand it, but that is why we’ve gone there in the first place – we want to learn more about them. And in the course of our travels, we’ve given those everyday folks a chance to meet everyday Americans as well. More than once we’ve been told we don’t ‘act like Americans’ – at least how they have believed or thought Americans would act.

A new friend, a business traveler we met in Cairo, Egypt
One reader of a post I wrote about our time in Cairo told us to be careful because ‘they don’t like Americans there'. Well, I suppose that if I were to survey everyone of the more than 20 million people in the city, I’d find some that didn’t like Americans for whatever reason. But I can assure you those that we have met not only welcomed us but thanked us for visiting their country. (When’s the last time you thanked a foreign visitor for coming to your country?)

Greek olive grove
We’ve actually had people ask us “How do you find the Greeks?” when they learn we have a home there. “Find them?” we respond.  “You know. . . do they like Americans?”  Now I have to admit we find those questions absolutely absurd based on our experiences.  We have been made to feel more than welcome from the locals we have met in our villages.

Our village children lead a parade through Kardamyli
We are feeling so welcome, that  as we’ve said in earlier posts, we are seeking resident visas which would allow us more time in that country. I can assure you, this visa process makes those tourist visa applications look like a piece of cake. It is neither easy nor inexpensive but it is definitely humbling.
And probably not unlike what the United States requires of those wanting similar status here.

Welcome Mat at The Stone House on the Hill
If we are not granted a resident visa we will continue going to our Greek life and staying for as long as our tourist visa allows.  However,  I won’t take either the tourist or resident visa for granted anymore.  I’ve seen how quickly, with a single signature, a government can impact the lives of travelers who believe they hold valid visas.

So aloha from Hawaii where our timeshare life is drawing to a close for another year.  Again, the 'e koma mai' spirit makes it difficult to leave but new travel adventures await.  May your travels be safe and may you always find a welcome mat waiting for you.

Linking with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday
Photo Friday
Travel Inspiration .

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Greece ~ Cats, Culture and Conflict

Those cats of Greece. Gatas, (yatas) they are called here. Every visitor here has a cat tale to tell.

It might be how you avoided them or how they captured your heart. Maybe it is how cute their photos on souvenir calendars and postcards or maybe you encountered some so desperately hungry they were foraging in garbage bins or begging tableside at a restaurant.

20160331_081316 [1378312]
"Mom" Cat just days before giving birth to kittens - Spring 2016
“You can’t have a cat,” The Scout admonished me (I am one of the world’s greatest cat lovers) way back while contemplating a Greek house purchase. We’d be part-time residents – not conducive to having pets. But during our short time as part-time ex pats we’ve learned cats really aren’t ‘pets’ by that cushy definition and lifestyle they lead in the United States.

And it wasn’t a case of me having ‘a’ cat.  It has become a matter of how ‘many’ cats have us. That’s where culture and conflict come into play.

"Muffin" short for Ragamuffin - new arrival Spring 2016
While I’ve written of the challenges and rewards of absorbing a new culture, the one topic I’ve skirted is that of those determined felines who’ve recognized ‘those Americans’ as easy marks and are causing severe conflicts between our heads and our hearts. Even The Scout, (also an animal-lover), has forgotten his earlier admonishment and has been taken in by them as well.

Today, 36.1 million U.S. households own one or more cats,
for a total of more than 74 million pet cats.
--American Veterinary Medical Association.

Stray - but well fed cats - in Monemvasia, Greece
Our first cultural difference and conflict: Cats are not considered pets, they are animals with a job to do. But there are simply too many of them. In Greece spaying and neutering – is expensive – and not the rule. They multiply rapidly. Their job is to keep down the vermin – that would be rats, mice and snakes who make their homes in the olive and citrus groves that carpet the land. Some are 'lucky' and live in villages; kept alive by local restaurants and well-meaning tourists who sneak food to those brave enough to sit near the tables. It is those gatas in the rural areas who tug at the heart strings as they struggle to survive while keeping down the pest population.

Sign in a restaurant in Trahilio - The Mani
“Unlike dogs, cats have become purely domestic pets only very recently, within the last 50 years. For most of their history, cats weren’t pets. Cats lived in and around human villages for millennia, but there is no evidence they lived in our homes.”
-- from “The Trainable Cat” a book by Dr. John Bradshaw

"Bob" for his bobcat ears - another new - desperately hungry - arrival at our house
In Greece abandonment is widespread and our picturesque area is not immune.

“Six puppies abandoned in Ag. Nikolaos Monday, Aug. 10.
Six kittens about two weeks old dumped at Pantazi Beach the same day.”
-- from MIAO, Mani International Animal Organization

Pantazi Beach below our home is a popular spot to 'dump' unwanted cats
Sometimes, even well-meaning tourists contribute to the abandonment. They arrive and spend a season, love them (feed them) and leave them at the end of their visit. We were guilty of abandonment at the end of our first stay at The Stone House on the Hill and I fretted so much about ‘my cats’ after that stay, that we’ve since hired our gardener to come and feed and put water out for the cats (‘ours’, ‘others’) when we aren’t in residence - whether the garden needs attention or not. Our neighbors – two sets of full-timers – also feed them. 

"Mom" with her grown kittens last fall 2015 use my 'shelter'
While my head told me that they got along fine before we arrived on the scene, my heart had fallen head-over-heals for each flea-bitten, tick-laden hungry one that has shown up at our house. Our behaviors as well as theirs have become quite predictable:  we refuse to feed the new arrivals for at least a few days, we shoo them away from those we are feeding.  But then they are so desperate that we give in . . .as with Bob, pictured above.  He was so frightened of us and the other cats he’d wait until the bowl was empty before venturing over to lick its surface. The heart won out. . .Bob was invited to eat and drink.

"Tom" on the table, "Princess" in the chair
Longtime readers will recall my cat tales of "Princess" (The Cat who came for Christmas) and her brother, "Tom" who arrived at The Stone House on the Hill shortly after we took ownership.  Both appeared to be homeless but somewhat taken care of and well-versed in how-to-win-the-hearts-of-the-new-owners. (As I've noted, we were easy marks.)  We eventually began feeding them.

Tom and Princess sleeping on our couch
When we returned to the house several months later, both showed up at our door within hours of our arrival. Tom, had a reputation in the neighborhood as being a bully and a Romeo, so we took him to the vet and a few snips and hours later, he was a new man, in a manner of speaking. Then we came back but Princess didn't; instead "Mom" cat arrived and has been a regular since.

Then Princess and Tom and Mom returned – looking healthy and not hungry when we came back in the fall.  By then they’d put a strangle hold on our hearts. Mom had kittens to attend to, but we let Tom and Princess inside for a cat-nap or two.

"Princess" napped while I worked in the garden
A very pregnant Mom Cat greeted us immediately but Princess was slow in arriving last spring – we’d been there several weeks before she came to the door. (We’ve learned her real name is ‘Sula’ and she belongs to someone else up the road but apparently likes to holiday at our place when we are there). Tom never returned. I fretted. . .hoping we'd see him this fall.

It turns out Tom is my first Greek heartbreak, (sadly, I am certain he won’t be the last).  Our neighbors learned that Tom had been hit by a car on the road not far from our house, was found by a Greek lady and was in such bad shape that the animal protection group was called and Tom was put down. That tug between head and heart continues . . .

PicMonkey Collage
My tribute to "Tom"
The good news about Greek cats (and dogs) is that there is a group of residents – ex pats and Greeks – in our area who do care about the stray animals.  They’ve established feeding stations (like at Pantazi Beach, and volunteers make regular runs both to feed the animals and help those which are distressed, as they did for 'our' Tom.

Called, MIAO, the Mani International Animal Organization, the group even helps relocate unloved and unwanted dogs to foreign countries. They’ve offered rewards to help find individuals guilty of poisoning animals (yes, poisonings do occur). 

A little stray watched us eat from this window sill in Monemvasia
A Google search for ‘Greek cats’ returns 11 million results. Among them are sites that offer suggestions for ‘Greek cat names’ (which range from Adonis and Antigone to Zephyr and Zeus) and other links that link to animal organizations like the Greek Cat Rescue and Greek Cat Welfare Society

Should you find yourself in Greece, I’d suggest attending one of the animal group's fund-raisers as it is a great way to meet locals and it helps them help the animals. Or donate that small change you don’t want to carry home to them - many have collection jars at local businesses.

That’s it for this week. Hope you are enjoying the last of the season and looking forward to the next.  As always, we appreciate the time you spend with us and thank you for sharing our posts with friends and family. Our travel season has begun, we are on the road hope . . .hope you'll join us next week!

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

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Don’t Miss A Rocky Mountain High in Greece’s Mani

Sometimes those Greek tourist promotion folks focus too much on sun-kissed beaches, sailboats, sand and surf.

Plenty of sun and sea in Greece

Map picture
Greece does have more than its fair share of sea, sun, sand and surf but what is equally impressive and should call out to all visitors,are its mountains.

There are many unsung mountain ranges throughout Greece but now that we are part time ex pats, just south of Kalamata, in the Peloponnese we can attest to the striking beauty of the towering ranges that make up this expansive peninsula.

Of course, the Taygetos, that frame our area are our favorite!  (The Green on the map is mountainous areas).

PicMonkey Collage
Taygetos Mountain views
And since I told you about stones last week, I thought it time to pay homage to the source of those stones: the mountains that surround us. This is also an intended nudge to those of you planning trips to Greece to include some mountains in your explorations. Hint: in The Mani you can find beaches and mountains within minutes of each other.

Messinian meets Mountains - view from above our house
Quite frankly, the mountains were as much a selling point for this area as was the sea when we decided to purchase our Stone House on the Hill. One of our favorite pastimes is exploring the many tiny villages tucked away in those Taygetos Mountains that surround us.

PicMonkey Collage
In this area signs are in Greek and English
You understand – an appreciate – the small sized cars that most people drive here when you set out on the narrow ribbons of asphalt that twist and turn up the hillsides and through the gorges.

The road between villages - The Mani
While the road that links the villages is narrow – very narrow in some places – the route is an easy one as you encounter few cars and only a herd of goats or sheep and cow or two along the way.

Slow traffic ahead
Whoa Bessie!
No matter how often we make the drive, we never get tired of the ‘treats’ just waiting around each bend in the road – whether it be a sweeping view of the ocean that makes us catch our breath or a hidden treasure like this Mani tower and crumbling fortress that teases our imaginations with its history.

A Mani Tower
If driving doesn’t appeal to you, these mountainsides are also laced with hiking trails, many of them following the routes of goat and donkey trails that many in the villages will tell you were once the only links between them and the sea.

PicMonkey Collage
Some hikes can be done on the roads leading along gorges
Entrances to hiking paths are marked with signs in English and color coded markings along the way alert hikers to direction and difficulty of the route. There are no use fees or parking fees here.

There's a magic in the Mani Mountains
We can’t recommend The Mani Mountains enough.  Keep them in your travel plans if you are heading to Greece. After all Lonely Planet just named the Peloponnese as one of Europe's top, must-see destinations for 2016.

Again thanks so much for the time you spent with us today!  And a special thanks to those of you who’ve enjoyed the blog so much that you’ve shared it with your friends and families – it is always fun to hear from someone that says, ‘a friend recommended your blog’.

Hello to our new followers and those who’ve signed up to receive the blog in their inboxes. Come back next week when we’ll slow the pace a bit and savor Greece, the Greek way. And for those of you wanting to see how we use souvenirs to decorate, I am about to invite you in for a tour! 

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

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Kyparissi ~ One of Greece's Most Beautiful Villages

So picturesque is the village of Kyparissi that it has been included in the coffee table book, "The Most Beautiful Villages of Greece". . . yet, it might be one of the least visited destinations in Greece.
Parilia - from main the dock

Its relative inaccessibility is to blame (or thank) for the lack of tourists - for the time being. Unless you have your own private yacht or water taxi, the only way to get there is over a road one travel guide describes as 'one of the most frightening roads in Greece'.

A narrow route leads to this Greek treasure in the Peloponnese

The narrow winding road (with a few guardrails here and there) clinging to the face of the Parnonas Mountain range is currently the only land route into the village. Work that was started 20 years ago on another - reportedly less harrowing route, along the coast from the north -- has an estimated completion date of sometime later this year, 2016.

"Poppy" parked in the municipal lot across from the church

Thus in addition to being beautiful, the village remains refreshingly untainted by hordes of tourists.  There are just enough hotels and restaurants to make it welcoming but not enough to make it overrun with visitors.

Kyparissi from the road that leads to it

Our first spring road trip from our Stone House on the Hill in the Greek Peloponnese two weeks ago was to Kyparissi, (kip-ah-ree-see), about 3.5 hours drive to our east. Kyparissi is Greek for Cyprus and we were told the town's named for those tall, stately Mediterranean Cyprus trees so prevalent throughout  the Peloponnese. For you history buffs, it's the ancient sanctuary of Asclepius and was once called Kyfanta. Today's Kyparissi is made up of three villages, Vrissi, is the highest and you squeeze between its whitewashed buildings on the road leading to the two that share its crescent-shaped beachfront, Parilia, on the south and Metropolis to the north.

Greek breakfast buffet - most were homemade taste treats

The Scout had done his research and found us a family-owned 10-room hotel Paraliako, not far from the beach in Parilia. For 45-euros a night or about $50 US (as it is still low season) we had a room with a large deck and view of the water and it came with a huge buffet breakfast for two. Greek breakfast offerings range from fresh tomatoes and cucumbers to in season and canned fruits, yogurt, honey, jam, pastries, pies (filled with spinach and feta), hard-boiled eggs and cereals usually round out the choices.

Beach linking Pailia with Metropotis

Our hotel was located footsteps from a corner café that drew both coffee and wine drinkers, To Kafe tis Maritsela and by walking around the corner and just a bit further, we were at the beach.  We dined our first night at Trocantero, a restaurant, just across the street from the beach; a place owned and operated by Panagiotis "Bill" Volis who returned to this, his ancestral village, from Montréal where he's lived much of his life.

Another beach - this between Cavo Kortia and town

On the morning after we arrived, we set out early to avoid the ever-increasing spring-time heat in Greece and walked to the far end of the bay where crews are laying a final layer of asphalt on the new road.  It was on the walk we visited Cavo Kortia, a hotel/restaurant combination that drew us back for dinner that night and may be the place we stay next time we visit (although it would be difficult not to stay with Stella Vasiliou at her Paraliako again). 

View from Cavo Kortia restaurant toward town

Cavo Kortia, about a half hour walk from the center of town or a short 2-kilometer drive offers large, posh, spacious rooms - double the size we had in town - and this time of year the rate was 40-euro a night.  The owner was out working on a minor construction project when we stopped to inquire about the restaurant hours.  He insisted we sit down, enjoy the view and he served us coffee (which came with a plate of cookies) - and of course at no charge.  Yes, this is still unspoiled Greece!

The new road from Leonidion will pass Cavo  Kortia

Like so many areas of the Peloponnese the surrounding hillsides are laced with hiking trails. In recent years rock climbing has been drawing more and more outdoor sport enthusiasts to the town and a few years ago it celebrated its first Climbing Festival. Cliffs like the ones pictured below call out to climbers.
There are organized walking tours available - but we were quite able to cover a lot of ground without anyone showing us which way to walk.  A local resident, James Foot, an accomplished water color artist, often conducts week-long watercolor workshops. Those 'shoppers-off-all-things' among you might want to find another destination as the town has only a 'super market' that most would call a small grocery store and an even smaller store, a pantapoleon, which is Greek for a small store that sells everything -- everything but touristy kitsch and souvenirs, that is!
Two nights were just about right for the length of the stay, this time of year.  If we'd wanted some beach time, we'd have needed another night.
If you go:
Don't mix up Kyparissi in Laconia on the eastern 'finger' of the Peloponnese, with the town of Kyparrisia, which is on the west coast of the western most finger.
Paraliako, operated by Stella and Voula Vasiliou,, or Cavo Kortia,,

Again thanks for joining us on the road in Greece. We've got more tales so hope you'll be back with us as we explore more Greek villages. Thanks for all the comments you've been leaving for us and safe travels to you!
This week we are linking with these fine bloggers:

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Greece: Takin' the High Road

Just so you don't think we've taken leave of our vagabond senses here in Greece with all the home and gardening projects at our Stone House on the Hill, I'm putting those tales aside this week -  and telling you about our travels. 

On the road in Laconia Peloponnese

As I've said in earlier posts, one of the reasons we wanted a home base on this side of the Atlantic Ocean was to give us a jumping off point to European destinations; trips that didn't start with a nine or ten-hour trip from the Pacific Northwest just to reach Europe. 

I took the photo of the map while our flight to Cairo three weeks ago was passing over Greece. It shows the 'hand-shaped' Peloponnese.  Our home is just south of Kalamata (on the left side of the middle 'finger' and Kalamai on the map) - putting us in an excellent spot for explorations anywhere in the region.

From here we can take no-muss, no-fuss Greek road trips throughout the Peloponnese and all of Greece for that matter. Pronounced pe-lo-po-nih-sos, this chunk of land lies to the southwest of Athens and was a part of the mainland until the Corinth Canal was opened to ship traffic - now a short bridge connects the two massive land parcels.

Our Greek road trips are a lot more spontaneous, inexpensive and simple when we aren't hauling a carload of suitcases packed in the U.S. Pacific Northwest for a month-long stay (and it doesn't take many to fill the tiny cars here).

"Poppy" our bright red rental car waits patiently while we gaze at the views
Our rental car is bright red, so we've named her "Poppy" - she matches the poppies that are currently in bloom all over the countryside. And with road trip temptations calling out from every direction: mountains, gorges, villages and cities, the most difficult part of a road trip is choosing which directions to take off on in Poppy.

Just up the road from The Stone House on the Hill

Last week we hit a lull in projects and while we await stonemasons, plumbers and other professionals, we decided to set out and explore.  An overnight bag stashed in the backend we headed up the hill on which our home is located to connect with the main road four kilometers away. We hadn't gone but two kilometers when we slowed for the first of many animals we were to encounter. These are the kinds of traffic slow-downs we enjoy.

Shipwreck near Gythio
Our destination was the eastern coast of the 'finger' to our right. It takes only 45 minutes to cross 'our' middle finger and from there we headed northeast along the coast.  Just outside Gythio town, on Glyfada beach there sits a wrecked boat, the Dimitrios. While the real story may never be known its tales come in two versions: first, it was carrying drugs to Europe when it was impounded and then abandoned and the other version was it hit poor weather and the crew abandoned the ship. Take your pick. Or make up a new one - it probably will work.

From there we left the coast line and headed inland through groves so laden with oranges and blossoms that we rolled down the car windows for the aromatherapy treatment - the air was heavy with the scent of blossoms.

Just as our 'middle finger' has the Taygetos Mountain range for its backbone, this finger, the Laconia prefecture, has the Parnonas Mountain range running its length. Our destination was the other side of that range, where we'd be in the shadow of Mt. Pardon, 1,839 meters, 6,033 ft. As the road began ascending the range in a ribbon of switchback turns, we couldn't help but wonder who had braved the sheer drops and craggy cliffs to build it.

Traffic was light  - we met very few cars - which is good as the road continued to narrow and climb the cliff face.  Every once in awhile the narrow ribbon led us to and through small villages tucked away in the hillsides. Sometimes, like in the photo below, it wasn't animals, but delivery trucks that caused us to pause. We couldn't get past on the tiny roadway. (When he finished, he backed up for us to pass.)

While we'd read about this route not being for the faint of heart, I have to admit that it really isn't one the faint of heart or those with a fear of heights should travel. . .

The heights made for some spectacular views as we climbed higher and higher, then began our descent. . .

. . .on a hair-raising 10 kilometer stretch of road leading us to a place where George Bush and Princess Diana have been, but likely not many mainstream tourists to Greece. Where were we heading? Well, that is the tale I will tell you in our next post.

Hope to see you back with us again and until then safe and happy travels to you and yours~
Welcome to our new subscribers and followers - hope you'll come back often.

This week we are linking with:

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


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