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

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, February 15, 2021

Kalamata - And Not the Olive!

When you think 'Kalamata' I suspect you have an image of  the spicy, tart olive that crowns Greek dishes everywhere.

Kalamata olives for sale by the kilo at the public market

When we think 'Kalamata', we are envisioning the port city about an hour's drive away from us on the Messinian Bay. The one that is drawing thousands of tourists each year to its beaches and cultural sites as well as those foodies who are drawn here for its culinary scene. 

Kalamata  the port city on the Messinian Bay

I will admit that before moving as an American expat to the Mani region of the Greek Peloponnese, I am not sure I had ever heard of the city that has become our 'go to' place for doctors, house and garden supplies, shopping, and even overnight big city getaways.

Kalamata waterfront is one of our favorite places

"I go there sometimes once a day," our realtor told us when we bought our house six years ago. At the time I couldn't imagine driving so far, so often. It didn't take long for the distance to become rather routine for us as well. It is only 33 miles/53 kilometers from our Stone House on the Hill, but because the highway that takes us there is a two-lane, twisty, turning kind of road, it can sometimes take a full hour or more to reach this city by the sea.   But the route takes us through  picturesque villages and the Taygetos Mountains provide a backdrop to them all. 

Kambos village en route to Kalamata and Taygetos Mountains

Soon after we settled in as full-time residents, we were traveling the route as often as once a week as we always had some sort of chore that required a trip there.  But as the chores and errands eased up we started allowing ourselves to enjoy this bustling city that boasts the second-oldest Chamber of Commerce in the Mediterranean (right after Marseilles, France).  

Freighter waits outside Kalamata for a load of exports

We've taken a  few of our houseguests on whirlwind trips to the city, but we've never given it the credit it is due for being a down-right fun place for tourists. In fact we didn't recognize all that it had to offer until I began writing an article for The Mediterranean Lifestyle magazine about 'Kalamata - The City'.  The Scout and I made several trips to the city just to explore its tourist sites - and believe me there are many!

I am pleased that I was able to showcase the city in the article that was published in this February's magazine. To read that article (which includes information on all those places like museums, art galleries, and historic places we discovered as well as  tips on the cutting-edge culinary scene) simply click this link: Kalamata - The City

So many dining choices - so little time 

I wrote nearly 1,200 words and still didn't have enough space to sing all of its praises.  I didn't get a chance to talk about the funky Art Hotel right in the heart of the commercial district that was far less than 100 euros a night and put us within walking distance of shops, and bars, and restaurants. Our overnight stay wasn't nearly long enough to get to them all.

Our room overlooked the central plateia, square

I also didn't have the space to show the wonders of the weaving room at the Kalogrian Monastery - the looms once used by the nuns to make silk products that they sold from a small shop in their still functioning nunnery. These days the silk material is made elsewhere but items made from it are for sale in the small display room just inside the entry. I've got to tell you, no future visitors will ever get away without a visit to this sanctuary in the heart of Kalamata.

The silk weaving looms sit idle at the monastery now

I'll keep this short as I want you to have time to check out the full article I included above- it is chockablock full of photos of our discoveries and recommendations. We hope that you are staying safe and well and that even with limited travels you are able to find some new wonders in your world as we did in discovering Kalamata.  

At night the city turns on its magic

As always we appreciate the time you spend with us and hope you'll share these posts with others and that all of you will be back for the next installment!

Linking soon with:

Sunday, August 16, 2020

The Palace of Nestor ~ Both Real and Imagined

The mixing of fact and fiction in Greek history can start messing with your head if you let it. In fact  this piece has been a challenge for this old journalist who wants 'just the facts', yet when it comes to writing about the Palace of Nestor it has to involve a bit of legend as well. . .

A pantry stocked with 2,853 wine cups and a storage room lined with large jars that held the olive oil. Now that was impressive! And tangible; something I could relate to, as we stepped back in time at the site of the Palace of Nestor.

A pantry with 2,853 wine cups - Nestor's Palace

In reality, everything about what remains at this place believed to be The Palace of Nestor, an archeological site a couple hours drive from our home in the Greek Peloponnese, is impressive. Especially when one considers that it was built back in the Bronze Age by those folks known as Mycenaeans. 

But I am the first to admit that some things in history -- especially history so ancient that it dates back to the writings of Homer -- are easier to grasp than others. 

Broken goblets in the pantry floor waiting to be dug up

For me, it was the wine goblets, or kylikes, and the olive oil storage jars, pithoi, as they linked both the ancient history of this area to the present day in a tangible way.  While I have a hard time grasping the concept of Nestor sending 90 ships from Pylos to fight in the Trojan War, I get the importance of wine and olive oil production in this area of the Greek Peloponnese.

The goblets and storage jars are in the palace believed to be that of the legendary Nestor, King of Pylos, who was written about by Homer. Now here's where the mental balancing act comes into play: Nestor was a legendary character, like those in folktales, the kind that include supernatural beings and elements of mythology. Legends are associated with a particular place or person and over the years are told so often they become a matter of history.

So the remains of the Palace of Nestor, whether real or imagined, was a place to behold. . .

Palace of Nestor - Greek Peloponnese

Nestor's Palace 

How it might have looked

Let's begin with the imagined:  the rendition above is how one archaeologist thinks it may have looked based on what is left of it, (shown below).  Prior to our visit I might have thought it was a stretch of her imagination, but having seen it, I too, can envision what a magnificent place this might have been.

We first happened upon Nestor's Palace back in 2014, several years before we became expats living just a couple hours drive from it. Back then, the site was still hidden behind construction fencing and not open to the public. A multi-million dollar project was underway which resulted in the construction of the roof over the palace's excavated footprint and a walkway high above it so tourists like us can get a bird's eye view of the place.

Discovering the remains of Nestor's Palace

We'd filed the memory of it away until a couple of years ago a friend in the United States sent us a Smithsonian Magazine that had a feature article about the place. The article certainly made it sound interesting, but still we didn't go visit. It had been there for centuries; so no need to rush, we'd get there one day.

Nestor had himself view property for sure!

Well that pandemic lockdown last spring changed our somewhat lackadaisical approach to life in general and especially to visiting those bucket-list places. This summer, during our stay at Costa Navarino - that Westin resort to our west - we finally visited Nestor's Palace. It was 15 minutes from the resort! How could we have not visited this jewel sooner?

A Trip to the Palace

Signage explained what we were seeing in the palace as it is and might have been

Our visit on a weekday morning was a self-guided tour. We had the place to ourselves as tourism was just getting going again after the lockdown. We strolled on the elevated walkway reading signage in Greek and English. 

Olive oil was stored in these containers Add caption

Olive oil production and commerce was big back in Nestor's day, just as it remains today in Greece.  It was used in cooking as well as funerary and religious rituals, baths and the processing of cloth.  The storage room was large and so much of it left to excavate. . .but we lucked out and caught an archaeologist at work!

Olive oil storage room being excavated

And the bathtub! According to Homer, Telemachus, the son of Odysseus, King of Ithaca (more legendary characters), was a guest of Nestor and in a welcoming ceremony organized by Nestor, the young man was bathed in this tub by Polykaste, Nestor's daughter.   

Now they all were legendary characters, but there was the tub right before our eyes. . .it starts to blur that real and imagined, doesn't it? 

The tub were Telemachus bathed?

Palace Goods on Display 

The palace was destroyed by fire around 1200 BC. It wasn't until the 1930's that excavations began at the site which are continuing today.  Dozens of items discovered during the excavation are on display in a small museum in the nearby village of Chora.

The Scout admires the tax collection jar

One of our favorite items at the museum  -- was again something tangible that we could relate to - the tax collection vessel.  Back then taxes were paid in olive oil. When you paid your taxes, the oil was poured into this jar, that stands about six feet tall! Now that would have been lot of olive oil!

Linear B Script - oldest on European soil

However one of  the most important tangible finds from a historical point of view were 800 clay tablets that were accidentally preserved by baking in the fire that destroyed the palace.  The tablets contain writing that is called Linear B Script, it is in an early form of Greek language and is considered to be the oldest script found on European soil that can be read and understood.  

Wine goblets from the Palace of Nestor

For me though, it was the wine goblets again. . .a display of something tangible; that hit home. It was reality of which I could wrap my head around. 

Thanks for joining us on a bit of time travel today into the real and imagined world of Greek history. Should you find yourself in the Greek Peloponnese, we recommend you pay a visit to the Palace of Nestor and the nearby museum. 

We hope this finds you and yours staying safe and well ~ join us next week for more tales from Greece!

Linking this week with:

Friday, November 3, 2017

Autumn Getaways ~ 'Novel' Destinations

The first rain of autumn arrived a week ago in the Peloponnese, carried in by a blustery wind.  Leaves, crisped by the summer's drought, were blown from trees and plants as the much needed rain dampened  thirsty gardens and groves. We stayed hunkered inside.

During the days that followed that storm, the sunshine and temperatures headed back up into the mid 70’s F and we headed back to the deck for some afternoon sunning.

No doubt about it; the seasons are beginning to change in Greece.

Signs of autumn in The Mani
It is definitely the weather – rain or shine – that invites curling up with a good book. Our 'summer of slogging' -- to bring us to this ex pat chapter of our lives -- didn’t allow any down time for such indulgences. We are more than ready to grab a book and be whisked off to some 'novel' destination to solve a murder or to watch a romance unfold or to follow along as someone else explores some new area or lifestyle.

For those new to our blog, we've moved to Greece and as of yet don’t have a television, so reading is our means of escape and entertainment. (And from the recent headlines we read on the computer, we aren’t in any rush to get a television.)

Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfous has been a favorite for decades
While I’ve got a stack of books just waiting to transport me to some new places in the next few months, I’ve also had some great springtime excursions this year via the written word.  Among the places I’ve visited are:

Kabul, Afghanistan

Deborah Rodriguez took me here in her book, The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul. With the coffee shop as a backdrop, five different women with vastly different stories come together in this debut novel, published in 2011. The book, originally published as A Cup of Friendship includes recipes, reading group questions and an interview with the author – all of which are icing on the cake for me! And the good news is, there’s another book I haven't yet read, called A Return to the Little Coffee Shop of Kabul.

Ramla, Israel

Product Details

Sandy Tolan’s real-life story of a friendship between a Palestinian and an Israeli reads like a novel, so I've included it in the 'novel' destinations post.  I am thankful a friend had recommended this in a FB post and spoken so highly of it that I was prompted to read it last spring.  The house depicted in the story and the lemon tree in the front yard are real. . .as are the character’s whose friendship of four-decades is highlighted in this story. I’ll warn you – it isn’t an easy one to read but it puts a human face on the headlines and it may be one of the best books I've ever read.

The Lemon Tree grew out of a 1998 NPR documentary in which Tolan reported on a friendship between a Palestinian man and an Israeli woman that served as an example of the region's fragile history.

The Syrian Desert 1930’s

And among my favorite novelists is Agatha Christie. When I’d run out of murders solved by her Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, I turned to some real-life books she’d written.  The only book I had time to read during our ‘summer of slogging’ was her book, Come, Tell Me How You Live, a memoir about the time spent in Syria in the 1930’s on archeological digs with her husband, Max Mallowan. It was as entertaining as her murder mysteries, emphasizing both her wit and sense of humor (which you’d have needed, I suspect when living in a desert in the 1930’s!)

The good news is that while looking up the photo of this book, I came across another by her grandson, rather recently published, titled, The Grand Tour – Around the World with the Queen of Mystery. I suspect it won’t be long until I am traveling around the world with her, however, this book has drawn real mixed reader reviews on Amazon, so maybe I’ll ponder its purchase for awhile.

A perfect place to read a book

After writing that last sentence about Amazon and knowing that in the past any such reference has brought an outcry from some who don’t like the giant, I thought I should tell you about access to books in this part of Greece. In a word: limited! 

We have two small bookstores in the village of Kardamyli, about 20 minutes away. There’s a bookshop in Kalamata, primarily stocked with Greek books. A few souvenir shops and grocery stores in the villages near us have a few paperback ‘beach reads’ in English as well as books by Nikos Kazantzakis (Zorba the Greek and many other books) and Patrick Leigh Fermor, (Mani: Travel in the Southern Peloponnese and numerous other books) the area's two most famous writers.

Books arrived at the café where we get our mail!

If we want certain titles or a variety of titles to choose from we turn to Amazon or my preferred provider of books, Book Depository, which operates much like Amazon and is based in the United Kingdom.  They don’t charge postage to mail anywhere in the world! And that fact alone has made me a loyal customer.

Joan and Patrick Leigh Fermor's home outside Kardamyli
We also have a few eateries in the villages that kindly offer space for book exchanges so we have another source of reading materials.  Since so many of the ex pats in the area are British, we are being introduced to a number of their authors we’d have never discovered on our own.

We’ve been here nearly a month and are finally getting over the unsettled phase of life that we’ve been in since July.  I can tell you that a move such as ours causes earth tremors among the great bureaucracies of the world.  Those stories as well as the car shopping adventure are on the docket for future posts about this new ex pat life we've entered.

Got any ‘novel’ destination recommendations for us to explore this winter? If so, let us know. You can never have too many books on your 'must read' list!  Until the next time, safe and happy travels ot you and yours. Thanks again for the time you spend with us! (And thanks to those of you've who've rounded up new readers through your recommendations!)

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

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Americans in The Stone House on the Hill

We are known throughout the village as ‘the Americans’. Further clarification among the English who populate the area is: ‘the Americans who bought Barbara and Alec’s house’. To Greeks we are ‘the Americans in the house on the hill by Christina and Dimitrios.’ 

We are the house on the hill closest to the post in this photo
Our ‘big’ village, Ag. Nikolaos (St. Nick) and its tiny neighbor, Ag. Demitrios (St. Demitri) are so small, we don’t have a street address. In fact, it was just recently that the street (or maybe it is the area, no one seems quite sure) has been called “Kossova”. It might have been named for the person who once owned this land or for the once-owner of the narrow road on which the house is located. We only learned of the name because it was written on Christmas cards sent to the previous owners and we asked what it meant. (The Kalamata store owner who delivered our furniture used Google Maps to find us.)

We initially thought it was the name of the house. So far, the house has no name. But then it has no address, so guess that is fine.

The Scout strolls Ag. Nik waterfront near the fishing port
When ‘the crisis’ ( as they call their economic free-fall here) hit, the post office in Ag. Nik, closed. The mail is now delivered to Gregg’s Cafe, run by Gregg and his mother Frieda.  The mail table sits in the corner by the fireplace and is sorted by clothes pins that hold the packets together for each recipient. Yes, Amazon orders are delivered here as well. The cafe is the hang-out of English speaking residents – the Cheers-type place – where a conversation with one is a conversation with all.

So for any of you who want to try mailing us (and I have no idea the cost of postage to Greece) our address is:
Jackie and Joel Smith
Kossova (optional, as not anyone is sure what this is)
c/o Mani Messinias (this is the area and region)
Ag. Dimitrios 24024 (that number is important, we were told)
I am certain it will be news at the cafe when “the Americans” get their first bit of mail.


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