Showing posts with label Greek ex pat. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Greek ex pat. Show all posts

Monday, July 6, 2020

In Greece ~ The Trip Decades in the Making

The trip we took last week, one might say, has been decades in the making.

For that reason, 'The Trip' we envisioned was going to a memorable one. It was the kind you think about for months in advance, pondering which destination would be 'the most special' - giving little regard to costs or logistics.

Four decades in the making 

'The Trip' to be taken in 2020 was our 40th wedding anniversary celebration. Special was the operative word in planning it. Those big ones don't come around often and at our age you don't know how many more are in the future. So, 'the something special trip' included visions of elegant cruise ships and/or exotic destinations.

Then 2020 was ushered in by COVID-19. . .

1980

Upon reflection, maybe we should have expected such a major unexpected turn of events, as we'd had a similar jolt to our wedding plans as well.

Back in 1980 -- just weeks before our wedding -- Mount St. Helen's blew her top and buried our central Washington State town in a layer of ash. At the time questions swirled about whether or not more eruptions were coming, if we would be able to get anyone to the church with the thick layer of ash covering the town, if guests could even travel to attend the event. There was also the question of: was ash hazardous to one's health?

For a time only essential workers were allowed out -- newspaper reporters of which I was one -- were among those workers. Because of the potential  health dangers we workers wore face masks when outside as a precaution. Sounds a bit like current times, doesn't it?

Just weeks before our wedding in Yakima, Washington

Fast forward four decades: We are now American expats living in Greece. As you know from my writings this spring, Greece took swift and somewhat draconian measures to curb COVID. As the lockdown lingered, and our world shrank, our anniversary plans were reduced to hoping restaurants might re-open so we could simply go out to dinner in the village. (I've written in earlier posts about how the pandemic lockdown changed the way we look at life - and this is a good example of that!)

Restaurants were closed during lockdown - take out was 'dining out'

However, lockdown success resulted in low COVID numbers in Greece.  That fact allowed the country to start opening to travel in early June. Hotels and restaurants are slowly coming to life. Luck was with us as the luxury resort - Costa Navarino -- re-opened June 19th, nine days before our anniversary.  And that, we decided, would be the anniversary destination!


Costa Navarino - In the time of COVID


As one follows the two-lane agricultural road through villages, olive and orange groves and vineyards that make up the most western 'finger' of the Peloponnese, the idea of ending up at five-star luxury resort seems rather farfetched.  But this posh place has been a showplace in Messinia since the first guests were welcomed in 2010. It wasn't until last year that we 'discovered' this oceanside oasis.


Our route to Costa Navarino

We are still giddy over post-lockdown travel freedoms so instead of the short two-hour route, we took a meandered drive around the point.  It is an area rich in history - and even in pre-COVID times wasn't overrun with tourists. The drive takes one to Koroni on the eastern shore; a once important port for Venetians because it was on the trade route with Middle Eastern crusader kingdoms. It, and its sister city, Methoni, on the western coast were known as the 'eyes of the republic' during the centuries this area belonged to the Venetian Republic. Each town offers tourists a castle dating back to those ancient times.

Costa Navarino might be considered the area's modern day palace for pleasure set on some 300-acres overlooking the Ionian Sea. It is home to the Westin Costa Navarino and the Romanos - both participating hotels in the Marriot Bonvoy hospitality empire. We don't golf, but that doesn't keep us from enjoying the views that extend over the  resort's two golf courses.  There is a spa, two pools, a variety of restaurants - all of the sort you'd expect to find at a high-end resort. This one offers a picture-perfect golden sand beach.


Golden sand beach at Costa Navarino


We hadn't set foot inside the lobby before we were reminded that travel during COVID19 is a whole 'new normal'. Protocols (mandated by the Greek government) are strict and fines and punishments are severe for those hospitality establishments not adhering to them. We suspect many may be with us for sometime.


Social distancing - 2 meters apart throughout the resort


Social distancing reminders were visible throughout the resort beginning at the entry to the hotel.


Temperature taken and awaiting check-in


While awaiting our turn to enter the lobby, two staff members wearing gloves and face shields greeted us with warm welcome and a question, "May we take your temperature?"  Once we cleared the temperature check we found ourselves separated by plexiglass windows from reception desk clerks  (all of whom were wearing face shields and gloves). Contactless credit cards were requested. 

Contactless is the new word in travel


Contactless seems to definitely be a 'new normal' for travel. 

Take your own temperature machine - future of travel?

Our room was spacious, the large deck offered views of the sea and the place was so clean that I didn't use any of my cleaning wipes I now routinely pack these days. 


Sanitized might be the room feature of the future

Our welcome gift last year was a bag of sea salt harvested at the resort.  This year we had a gift bag of disinfectant liquid, antibacterial handwipes, face masks and information on how to reach the hotel's onsite COVID19 doctor (one of the government's mandates for large hotels). 

Our wellness welcome gift

(A bit later a bottle of wine, sterilized wine glasses and a box of the hotel brand biscuits were delivered to the room as a welcome as well.)


Hand sanitizer machines on the beach

We followed set routes throughout the resort for exit and entry, no longer just veering off to ask a quick question at the reception desk - distancing was taken most seriously. Hand sterilizers were abundant and placed throughout the resort -- including the beach!


Scout moving hair from forehead for temperature check

Costa Navarino is a gated resort so when returning from an outing we were warmly welcomed back after providing a room number -- and this year also having our temperature taken  -- then the gate was raised. 

Love in the Time of COVID-19

I have to tell you that while it felt somewhat different (and this report might make it sound horrendously different), our stay was lovely.  High end and cheerful service from staff who were masked and gloved and working in temperatures in the 90F/30C range.  Accommodations that were clean and luxurious. It might not have been among our envisioned destinations a year ago, but we couldn't have chosen a better 'special' place.

The Flame Steakhouse - Costa Navarino

About that special celebration. . .The Scout had had his heart set on a steak dinner to celebrate the day.  The Flame Steak House Restaurant in the Golf Club didn't let him down.

Celebrating 40 years of new adventures


And who would have thought that we'd be celebrating our 40 years together as expats living our Stone House on the Hill near a delightful fishing village called Agios Nikolaos in the Greek Peloponnese?! My gift from The Scout ,a fishing net with four fish - one for each decade - couldn't have been more perfect!

Next week I'll be telling you about another palace . . .that of King Nestor's. . .it is just down the road from Costa Navarino.

As always thanks for the time you've spent with us today. Stay safe and stay healthy ~

Linking soon with ~

Mosaic Monday
Through My Lens
Travel Tuesday
Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday

Sunday, March 8, 2020

A Greek Spring: Carnivale, Coronavirus, and Conflict


Bucolic scenes are almost common place this time of year in our slice of the Greek Peloponnese.  Wildflowers are carpeting the olive groves while oranges and lemons ripe for the picking hang like Christmas decorations from the trees. 

Springtime at The Stone House on the Hill

This may be - in our collective opinion - the best season of the year here because the countryside's  idyllic scenes are a backdrop to villages coming to life with celebrations and events leading up to  Lent, or Sarakosti, as it is called here.

Lemons and wildflowers mark spring here
Lent comprises the 40 days leading up to April 19th, Easter, Pascha, in the Greek Orthodox religion.

Yet, the beautiful scenes and festivities are being a bit overshadowed by events putting a different spin on the season this year.  And it all seemed to start during Carnivale. . .

Carnivale/Karnivale


Kalamata Karnivali banners decked the streets

Carnivale, Karnivale, is the jubilant period leading up to the start of Lent; a time of celebrations involving eating, drinking and dancing. A time when cities and villages are as decked out and as festive as the party-goers themselves.

The Karnivale decorations were up and posters announced upcoming events in Kalamata on the day we chose to run errands there. By happenstance our trip to the big city fell on Tsiknopempti, 'Smokey Thursday'.  Tsiknopempti always falls on a Thursday 11 days before Kathara Deftera ('Clean Monday' the official start of Lent.).

Streets decorated for Karnivale

Tsiknopempti ( tsika - the burning of food and pempti, Thursday in Greek) is the day when all of Greece it seems lights up the barbeques and cooks meat. It is a day for carnivores; a time those observing a meat-free Lent can stuff themselves without guilt.

Sidewalk bbqs in Kalamata for Tsiknopempti
Restaurants and tavernas on every block -- even a car wash -- had the barbecues going and meat grilling as we made our way through town.  Back in the villages streets were being cleaned and preparations made for scheduled celebrations.

Karnavale cookouts

Karnivale spans three weeks in Greece: Profoni, or prelude; the second week Kreatini or meat week (during which time Smokey Thursday happens) and the third week is Tirofagou, or cheese week.

Coronavirus arrives in Greece

The bus comes through the village twice daily

Shortly after Tsiknopempti, the celebrations it came to an abrupt halt.  It was because the Greek Health Minister - in a televised news conference -- confirmed two additional cases of coronavirus in Athens. He then announced the government was cancelling all remaining large-group Karnivale celebrations.

That announcement, last week, seemed a bit of an over-reaction at the time.  Two days ago when I started this post there were still only nine confirmed cases of the virus in all of Greece and 13 hospitals throughout the country designated as treatment centers. By this weekend though the number of confirmed cases has jumped to 45.

Wildflowers carpet the Mani in March

None of those individuals with the virus are from our area. A majority of the COVID-19 victims seem linked to a tour group that had traveled in Egypt and Israel. The three regions in Greece in which those travelers live have pretty much shut down all activities and events. Residents of those areas are not being allowed to travel internationally at this time.

Ironically, our former home in the city of Kirkland in Washington State, was labeled by the Washington Post newspaper as 'the epicenter' of the virus in the United States. The first U.S. death from the virus was in Kirkland. Several more COVID-19 deaths have occurred there. The state has been hardest hit in the U.S.- so far.  Media reports say shelves have been emptied in grocery stores as people stockpile for a possible quarantine, workers are working from home, rush hour traffic jams have disappeared and events are canceled. Friends living there describe the atmosphere as 'freaky'.

Our village Agios Nikolaos at night
In our area, The Mani in the southern Peloponnese, we are going about life in quite a routine manner. No one is - yet - rushing out to stock up on food, cleaning supplies or toilet paper as they are elsewhere in the world. We still kiss each other's cheeks in greeting and hug frequently. We do talk about the impacts of coronavirus on travel and are keeping watch on its spread.

I'll admit though after having read so many articles about supplies disappearing from shelves, I did decide to buy a box of disposable gloves at our local supermarket.  There were three boxes of them (a full stock) and all were dust covered.

The Scribe and The Scout after being held in Greece last year while awaiting our residency renewal, vowed we'd travel more this year. Our first outing is to France the end of April. If we cancel our week's reservations we lose the week - no refunds or changes are being allowed. At this point, we don't plan to cancel and The Scout has plotted four options for getting there and back.

Conflict at the border

We also have in Greece the matter of  an increasingly tense conflict with Turkey, our neighbor to the east. These two countries haven't been getting along well for sometime and headlines often call out air space violations and oil drilling concerns.

Islands mentioned below and our home near Kalamata are some distance apart

 But the current tense situation is caused by the overwhelming flow of immigrants and migrants into the two countries as they flee their warring homelands and seek asylum in Europe. The route to freedom takes them through both Turkey and Greece. My brief  recap below doesn't do justice to the situation - full reports can be found on most European and Middle Eastern media. I used several of those media to compile this synopsis:

Turkey is reportedly hosting 3.6  million registered Syrian refugees and immigrants from other countries like Afghanistan.  The Turkish president recently announced he was opening the border for them to the European Union - their route via Greece. He's quoted as saying he'll allow 'millions' of refugees and migrants into Greece.



Immigrants  have risked their lives on small boats trying to reach Greece

Greece, however, is at maximum capacity for housing refugees and has said, 'no more'. The few camps created since the exodus began five years ago are already far in excess of the numbers they were designed to hold.Thousands of men, women and children are being held on three Greek islands -- Lesvos, Samos and Chios -- per a European Union containment policy, while awaiting the processing of their asylum requests.

The migrants are saying 'enough'. Reports of growing vandalism and theft by some of those held in the camps has prompted the Greek island residents to also be crying, 'enough'.  Residents for years have rallied donations and care for those who've arrived on their shores over the years.

In January this islanders held protests, demanding help and support from the Greek government.   Media report that local vigilante groups are being formed. That was before the Turkish president announced he will allow even more migrants to enter Greece.

This week the American Embassy in Athens and the US Consulate in Thessaloniki issued travel warnings to Americans who are or who are planning to travel to those islands and the mainland's northeastern region of Evros, near the Turkish border.  It was reported that the US Embassy had received reports of violence against Americans trying to travel in Lesvos.

Springtime in Greece

As I said in the opening, it is a slightly different spring. We hope that wherever you find yourselves this week that you are healthy and untouched by conflict and Corona virus.  Wishes for safe travel if you are traveling and wherever you are: remember to wash your hands!

Thanks so much for the time you spent with us today ~ let us know in the comments below or an email how life is going in your part of the world ~




Linking this week with:

Mosaic Monday
Through My Lens
Travel Tuesday
Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday














Saturday, August 3, 2019

In Greece ~ Is this it?

With due respect to the original lyrics of this popular 'Drifter's' song. . .

. . .And then it happened, it took me by surprise. 
I knew that he felt it too, by the look in his eyes. . .

It was a look of disbelief, actually.  

The text message had arrived on our Greek phone Monday morning. But, as with regular mail, we've become rather relaxed about checking for texts in this expat life of ours. So it was late Tuesday when I noticed the message that seemed different from those of  the usual telemarketing kind.




'But, of course', as we say here, it was in Greek ,as most text messages we receive are. We tried sounding out words. Google translate indicated two of them were something to do with 'residence permit' and we promptly forwarded the message to our attorney with the question, 'Is this it?'.


It was at our attorney's house last Sunday morning, while chatting on her porch (it was an appointment; we were picking up legal documents, but as I've said before, we do things differently here) that she'd reminded us to watch text messages: that is how we would be notified of our residency permits.

Now for those who've been following the saga here and on Facebook you know that we've been in the midst of the renewal process for what feels like forever.  Those plastic cards are what allow us to live full-time in Greece and conversely, to leave Greece. Back in December we began identifying the required documents. In February we gathered them, had them notarized and apostilled. They were translated into Greek and submitted to immigration officials in mid-March.

At that time we received  temporary -- papers with our photos stapled to them -- residency permits which would serve as identification until the small plastic cards were issued.



Two years ago after receipt of our first residency cards -

Two years ago when we first went through the process, it took - what we thought at the time - a very long seven weeks to get the cards.

This year it took 4.5 months.  



Why we live in Greece - views like this

While one can speculate on any number of reasons why there was such a delay, the most universally accepted one seems to blame the country's "Golden Visa" - an enticement for investing in the country. The Golden Visa' is a five-year residency permit offered to those who purchased property valued at 250,000 euros or more. A plum, you might say, while the rest of us apply for two- and three-year visas. The Golden Visas applications have overwhelmed the centralized review conducted in Athens. Recent media reports say some hopeful purchasers were told they'd have interview/application appointments in 2021!  And some investors, according to the same report, have decided to look for property elsewhere in Europe where the visa offer is the same, but the processing time far shorter.

With that kind of backlog, we probably should have been pleased back in early July when we stopped at the Immigration office and was told by Mr. Milas (the face of authority who sits behind the glass enclosed counter holding your life in his computer), that we needed to be patient as it would likely be six months and we'd maybe have cards in September. . .



We couldn't leave Greece so we flew to Thessaloniki from Kalamata

He clarified again that we could not leave Greece (other than to go back to the US) without those cards.  So the spring and summer travel seasons passed us by and as we've watched them go, we learned several important truths about ourselves:

 * We really aren't good at being patient! ('We've already lived here for two years! How long can it take to issue two plastic cards?!' we'd snarl periodically.)

* We are getting older and our travel days are limited. (Do we really want to be in a position of not being allowed to travel while we are able? - That well may be a question that determines whether we decide to renew our residency permits again in three years.)



Greece - we can call it home again for another few years


 * Our move to Greece was to be a launch pad for travels on this side of the world and when  grounded, we get cranky. (Yes as we watched great travel deals come and go on the computer screen, we'd sigh and say, 'If we weren't being held in detention. . .')

*We value our freedom yet have taken it for granted. ( We Americans pride ourselves on being from the 'land of the free' so when some government tells us that we aren't free to travel, it feels very uncomfortable.)

*The immigration process is humbling and intimidating. We finally understand the concept of being square pegs trying to fit in round holes.(Do we meet the financial and health insurance requirements? Did we get the right documents? Will they accept 'xyz' document as proof of. . .?) 

 *We empathize with immigrants. 

 *We have learned and grown. When I first wrote here about our frustrations of 'being grounded', I received many interesting responses from you, telling of your own, or the experiences of your friends and family members when applying for residency in the United States. They were enlightening, some downright amazing.


You are not allowed to smile in these photos but you can laugh out loud when you look at them!

The text message turned out to 'be it' and the next morning we raced to the Immigration Office to collect those precious cards.  It was all over in less than 10 minutes, and really rather anti-climactic. 

But I can assure you that as we handed over the temporary permits, our passports and watched as the official checked one document against another and studied his computer screen, we held our collective breaths (we've learned nothing is 'a given' in this process). It wasn't until we had the cards in hand and were leaving the parking lot that we breathed a sigh of relief.


A toast to you all for your support and encouragement: Yamas!

Let us offer a toast of thanks to you all! You helped ease us through a most tedious process.

So many of you have been  cheerleaders -- and you know who you are. You left encouraging messages on FB posts, you wrote comments on the blog posts,  you wrote emails inquiring about the process, you let us know you were out there cheering us on. 


Our friend and attorney, Voula



Also a 'shout out' to our attorney, who has held our hands and gone 'to bat' for us with Immigration officials.Voula Spireas came into our lives nearly four years ago at the recommendation of fellow American expats.  She divides her time between her law practice in Kalamata and her family home in Kardamyli, now called Yioryitsa's Backyard.  There she operates an Airbnb and the courtyard has become a gathering place for special events. Voula is a stalwart of the arts, culture and historical community. And the best part of this process has been that she's gone from being 'our attorney' to being a good friend as well.


I close with a promise no more posts about residency permits (for at least two and a half more years when the renewal process starts up again).Safe travels to you and yours!  And next week I will get around to telling you about driving in Greece. . .I've got a real horror story for you!

Linking soon with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday








Friday, July 5, 2019

Life In the Peloponnese ~ Our Story

Marti, my friend from Kirkland, Washington in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and I regularly meet for morning coffee in the village, Agios Nikolaos in The Mani. It's the place the two of us and our husbands call home these days.


I walk into town for these get-togethers from our Stone House on the Hill. My route leads through the olive groves and along the sea. Seldom am I passed by more than two or three cars or motorcyclists, maybe a fellow walker or someone on a bicycle.

Prior to one of our get-togethers I varied my route following the backroad (there's only one) through the town, meeting up with the village's main road (also only one) along the harbor as I made my way to our appointed meeting place: Hades Taverna.




My circuitous route was so that I could take photos to illustrate an article I was writing for an on line magazine about our life here. Along the way I waved to Freda who, with her son Gregg, run the cafĂ© that also serves as our post office. I then paused near the harbor at the kafenion where a group of village gents were gathered -- most likely just as village gents had been that first day The Scout and I happened upon this place, now more than six years ago.  I'd almost bet some of them were seated in the same chair they've sat in for years.



I chuckled as they bantered with the fellow selling the day's fresh catch. It was Saturday morning - a gloriously beautiful day. Summer's heat hadn't yet ratcheted up into high gear as it has now. I moved on and passed Sofia who runs the village's only clothing store - which is only open in the summer. We hugged and kissed a greeting as one does routinely in European countries and discussed the weather and fashion before proceeding on our ways.



Once settled in with our double cappuccino's (which are served in ceramic cups here with cookies on the saucer)  Marti and I began our debrief of the week's activities and absurdities. My neighbors drove past and waved and called out greeting.  Adam, the plumber from two villages away, stopped in for a coffee and chatted for a bit. We called out greetings and waved to others we knew. We watched the passenger bus that comes through twice a day make the tight corner turn, speculating on whether this would be the day it didn't work.


The editor for whom I was writing the article and taking the pictures had asked me to tell her readers what had brought The Scout and I here and what life in rural Greece was like.  This Saturday was a good example of both what brought us here and what keeps us here:  It was an ordinary Saturday morning in this part of Greece.  Yet, it was extraordinary. 

My article was published this week.  I posted it on FB so many of you have already read it, but I know a number of you are not FB fans so I am sharing it on the blog as well.  The publication, Travel with a Challenge, is published in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada and is now in its 19th year. With an annual world-wide readership of 1.24 million, its articles are written for mature travelers and profile a number of alternative travel experiences. You travel enthusiasts out there might want to check it out!

In the meantime, hope you enjoy my article, which can be read by clicking on the link below: 
Moving to the Stone House on the Hill



All the photos used in this post and in the article were taken in our village.

Until next week, safe travels to you and yours ~ and thanks to those who've written on Messenger and sent emails this week about this article and the last blog post.  As always, it means a lot to hear from you. To those who've shared my writings, my deepest thanks! And to all who've reached this point in this post - thanks for the time you spent with us today!

Linking this week with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday






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