Showing posts with label The Mani. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Mani. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Expat life An Alternate Reality; but, of course!

You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place, like you’ll not miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.
                                             -- Azar Nafisi (Lolita in Tehran)
Sun sets in The Mani

The debit/credit card issued to us five years ago when we opened our Greek bank account expired several years ago.  On occasion since the expiration we've thought about getting a new one. . . but it has seemed more trouble than it is worth. It is a much different process here than the one used back in the States.
In our former life, we must have had three or four cards -- all unsolicited -- arrive weekly in our mailbox. Each from a different bank or lending institution and each activated by a single phone call. New cards for accounts we did have, were sent weeks before the card expired and each activated in a similar manner with a phone call to some faraway toll-free number.
Fruit and vegetable vendor in Stoupa - a new way of buying

Not so in Greece.  The process for getting a new card -- like so many things here -- is so completely different, that it sometimes feels like we are living in an alternate reality.  The way things are done here and the way we react to it,  just can't be reconciled with what was once our lives and behaviors.

We can thank our friend, Bill, who owns a taverna called Hades in the village for helping us get a grip on this upheaval to our senses. He says, 'It is an alternate reality. The light turns green and you think you should go, but everyone else is waiting for red.' 

Yes! That is it exactly! What once seemed logical, well, . . .just isn't.

He offered his insight several weeks ago while some of us were discussing our most recent experiences, often chuckling, sometimes shaking our heads at the stories being told. All the while knowing that each tale was true because we've all had the experience or similar alternate reality moments since moving to Greece. When telling these tales we usually exclaim with howls of laughter, that our friends and family 'back home' just wouldn't understand.  

A Greek balancing act in The Mani
But today I am going to try you out: we've had some realities this summer that are too priceless not to tell you about; realities like renewing the debit card. . .
Several months ago while having our passbook brought up to date(yes, banks here still record account activity in passbooks), I said to the teller that I'd like a new debit card. For some reasonat issuance, the card couldn't have two names, so mine had ended up on it.

 'But, of course!' he said, with a smile, using the ubiquitous Greek answer, we've learned, to any and all questions asked of a Greek, from a doctors to wait staff and bank tellers.

'You will need to bring in copies of your latest Greek income tax return, a form from the phone company verifying that you have a phone number and a copy of your latest utility bill.'  He then looked toward the section of the bank lined with a dozen desks -- only two of which were occupied -- and said, "And then you'll talk to one of them."
Now we've obviously gotten along without the card, but at that point it became a matter of principle for me.  I dutifully made copies and obtained forms and marched back to the bank a few weeks ago, ready to get our new card. (After all it accesses our account with our money in it so it would be nice to have a current card, I reasoned.)
Dining out, is one of the many things, done differently here

The Scout hasn't been sold on the need for the card and was skeptical about my efforts and insistence that very warm morning but humored me as we stood around the empty desks awaiting our turn to speak to one of the two people working at them. The customer ahead of us was getting a new debit card. It was taking awhile.
After nearly an hour's wait, there we were, seated at the desk, my paperwork laid out before the banker. Passports to the side. Ready for success!  As she called up our account on her computer, she began alternatively drumming her fingers on the desk and frowning at the screen. 

The absurdity of the situation hit me with such force I nearly fell off the chair. I looked at The Scout who seemed to be staring off into space somewhat in a self-saving trance and I thought I was going to start laughing. Who were these two people sitting here? This couldn't be us?! We don't do things like this  just to get a debit card. . . 

Ahh, but in this reality we do! And did!
This wine tour was more fun than a trip to the bank!

Meanwhile the banker examined the documents I'd presented, then returned to her computer screen and said, 'You still have a U.S. address. Do you have proof of your U.S. address with you?' 
I was ready! "Yes! I have a government issued driver's license from the State of Washington with my address on it and a photo as well."
Turning from the screen to look at us, she shook her head, 'I can't accept that. But, do you have a current utility bill from there with you?' 

But, of course, I didn't! 
At which point The Scout gave me one of those 'husband-to-wife looks' that carries the proverbial death threat and I said to the banker, 'We will obviously have to get the card later!'
Outside the bank's double security doors I raised my voice and announced to anyone within earshot, 'Done! Defeated! No card!'  Not now! Not ever! (I know I saw The Scout smiling out of the corner of my eye.)
I don't think we are in Kansas anymore, Toto!
              -- Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz
From The Stone House on the Hill 

There are eight homes on 'the hill' as we call our slice of The Mani. They are accessed by traveling on 'our road' ,a narrow asphalt track that winds through the olive groves, connecting the villages of Agios Dimitrios and Platsa. The road was destroyed two and a half ( 2.5!) years ago during a major storm. When we asked locals about when we could expect to have it repaired, the answer we got was,'nothing will happen to the road until the election.'   

The Scout working on a traffic jam on our road

And they knew what they were talking about because it seemed that about the time we saw posters going up for hopeful candidates back in March we also saw huge machinery lumbering up our road. Finally, repair crews began ripping out its storm-damaged sections and preparing it for a new surface.

Silly us! In that old reality, we expected the surface to be put on immediately. Not so in this reality. The concrete trucks didn't lumber past until May. (Of course the election was set for June so timing may have been influenced by that fact.)

Platsa, the village above us

The concrete trucks rolled past for several days as they repaired the section of roadway just beyond our homes. We talked of all the guests we could have this summer; people who've been afraid to bring their cars up our damaged road. We talked of a street party as the concrete truck dumped its first load on the damaged section we drive to get home.  They emptied the truck said they would be back.

In this new reality, we should have asked, 'When?'  as they haven't yet returned.
Several of us who travel that torn up roadway regularly decided we'd had enough. It was time to visit the Municipal Office and ask when the road would be repaired.  

The first husband-wife team was told, 'The contractor said It is done!' No one from government had checked his claim. But the team was armed with photos of the still unfinished road. So a quick call was made from the Mayor to the contractor and the new completion date was set for the next Friday. Nothing happened.
In early June the second delegation (The Scout and I) were also told the road was completed. Pictures were again shown. And soon the lady helping us reported: "The Mayor extends his deepest apologies but the contractor has run out of money and can't complete the job until he has money."  We (back in our old logical reality mode) asked when that might be. "When he submits a bill to the Municipality, we will pay him for the work and then he can buy more concrete to finish the work."  But, of course, we should have known that!

Repaired section or road above us
So the third husband and wife team went to the Municipal offices and the answer they got, was that the Municipality has no money to complete the job. 

But, of course, they were told, if we residents would like to pay for the repairs that would be most welcome. But, of course. . .,the government official added, we must first apply for a license to do so. . .

View of The Stone House on the Hill

Some of our alternate reality moments are much lighter and less frustrating than dealing with business and bureaucracy. One takes place each summer in our part of town. There is a family who has a home here and uses it only in the summer months. Wonderful people and we are always happy to see them arrive.  It was another alternate reality moment when we realized last summer that the male head of household likes to garden in the nude.  Now, after the initial stuttered conversation, I am able to greet and chat with him as though it is the most natural of things; me fully clothed and him fully nude. Sure wasn't like that in our old world though. . .

These are but a few of the many examples we have from the 'alternate reality' in which we live these days.  The quote with which I began this post is ever so true about becoming ex pats and leaving the old norm, that old reality behind:

'. . .but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.'

To alternate realities

Each expat we know here recognizes that he or she has changed. It isn't always easy. It doesn't always make sense. It certainly isn't how we used to be. We do things very differently. We see things differently. And then we think,

But, of course. That's why we wanted to be expats!.

Hope you have a great week and that you and your loved ones have safe travels.  Next week we will be talking about driving in Greece. . .that is another reality of Greek life!

Thanks for being with us today. Your time is always appreciated! And thanks to those who've written and commented, we so enjoy hearing from you!

Linking soon with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Greece: A Winter’s Day ~ An ‘Errand’ Outing

Wisdom comes with winters.
    -- Oscar Wilde

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: now that we've been here for two winters, I can assure you that we do have winter in Greece.

This year has been a poster child for winter with snow falling throughout the northern half of Greece while the rest of us were bombarded by cold temperatures, hail that turned nearby beaches white and rain. Lots and lots of rain. . .and wind. Lots and lots of wind.

This country – a playground for sun and sand seekers – proved again that it can also a winter wonderland.

A walk on a winter's day
As I wrote this post a week ago, snow was falling in northern Greece. It dusted our surrounding mountain tops but didn’t reach our home. The taller peaks of the Taygetos Mountains which border our Mani region are definitely snow covered while the lower hills look like they’ve been dusted with powdered sugar. For a few days our temperatures ranged from 4C to 8C (high 30’sF – mid-40’sF).

The Stone House on the Hill sits below a dusted mountain range
With no snow on the ground we were able to get out and about to run errands or rendezvous with friends.  Sometimes we went to the local coffee shop for a cappuccino, sipped by their toasty fireplace. Many times we simply stay at home listening to the wind howl and watching the rain fall.

Winters are wet at times in The Mani
It is those incredibly nasty days that make us appreciate the other winter days when Mother Nature  turns on her charm. On those days, temperatures shoot towards  60F’s. And it is on those days when we set off to run a most routine errand -- like depositing our garbage in the community bins or buying groceries -- that we can’t resist the temptation of what I call an ‘errand outing’.  

It is amazing how much fun an ‘errand outing’ -- almost a miniature staycation -- can be. And we probably should have done more of them in our Pacific Northwest when we lived there, but traffic congestion and windows of travel time always seemed to take the edge off such spontaneous outings.
Here, with no traffic and a new world to explore, we simply set off. . .like the day we drove around the bend to the village at the end of the road:

On a winter's day in The Mani. . .

I’ve recently been reading of high-priced travel destinations designed so that the traveler can  ‘tune out and turn off'; simply disconnect for a bit of time. No cell phones, television or computers.  Lots of walks and time spent outside.  'Time to reconnect with yourself. Slowing down your pace,' are the marketing hooks used to lure guests.
If  those people signing up for those getaways read this blog, they’d know they could have the same experience by running errands in rural Greece. . .we leave the phone in the car, turn off the computer and don’t own a television: instant, easy and cheap disconnect!

New paths to explore on an errand outing

On those spring-like winter days like the one that prompted us to take this outing, we’ve explored the villages around us. It is amazing what you can find in your ‘own backyard’ if you simply give yourself permission to get out and enjoy it instead of being tied to a self-created ‘to do’ list.

What would we do with this place if we owned it?
The photos in this post come from an outing we took to a village, quite literally at the end of the road. It  is one of those almost-deserted villages that you read about in the mainstream media. The ones where the young people have left, leaving a couple dozen full-time residents most of the year and less than a dozen in winter. Families return for August summer vacations or other holidays – and then the place comes to life.  While many of the homes are sporting new paint and plants, some sit forlornly abandoned.

Imaginations soar  in village settings. . .
We find our imaginations working overtime as we wander through the village on its narrow foot passageways that lead to and past ages-old stone homes; the towering gray stone structures typical of the architecture found in this area. We ponder the history of the village and wonder how it must have been back when the olive press was operating here. . .how many stores and restaurants did it have operating? Ships, we’ve read, used to sail from the small harbor here bound for Kalamata and other ports of call.

When we are lucky enough to happen upon a bench we do as A.A. Milne's famous quote says. . .

'Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits...' 

Exploring our world includes sitting time

We ended this errand outing by sitting on the single bench that overlooks the town and harbor. The sun was warm on our flannel shirts, it was a reminder that winter will soon be drawing to a close. Spring can’t be far away.

Errand outings are easily accomplished. They can be a long or short as you want them to be and require no advance planning.   Now that I’ve planted the seed,  are tere some places near you that you’ve been thinking of exploring that would make for a perfect as an errand outing?

Let us know in the comments below or shoot us an email.  Where ever your travels take you ~ enjoy! Thanks so much for the time you spend with us here!  We’ll have a few more tales of our Arabian nights coming next week - hope you'll join us then!

Linking today with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday

Friday, September 28, 2018

Stretching Our Horizons ~ Mani to Manson

You are the one who can stretch your own horizon.
              -- Edgar Magnin

I like the idea of stretching our horizons but when it requires a 22-hour day of air planes and airports followed a few days later by a four-hour cross-state driving trip, I’ll admit I was questioning the need for such expansion.

Lufthansa brought us from Athens to Seattle -

If you’ve been a part of our adventures for any length of time, you know we are American expats who live full-time in Greece. We pulled up roots in the US just over a year ago and set off to ‘live differently’ for awhile. Remnants of our US life went into a storage unit and we set off for adventure.

Our Stone House on the Hill in the Mani, Greek Peloponnese
It didn’t take too many months though before we started asking ourselves: Do we really want to keep paying for an expensive storage unit in the Seattle suburbs? Do we need a U.S. address? Do we need a place to call our home when the adventure ends?

The other end of the horizon - Manson, Washington

The answers resulted in the latest stretch of our horizon.  We still live full-time in rural Greece, but also have just moved into a home in rural Washington State.  It is the ‘just in case’ place where our belongings are a bit more lovingly stored and comes with an assurance we have a place to go when the dreaded ‘if’ appears on our current horizon. . .if Greece doesn’t renew our residency permit. . .if health (mental or physical) dictate an early end to our adventure. . .if we tire of ‘living differently’ elsewhere in the world. We've had reports that a 'Medicane' (Mediterranean hurricane is barreling towards the Peloponnese this weekend while we are in the States moving so we are hoping that one of those 'if's' isn't, 'if a storm destroys our home while we are away. . .'

While some might call us prudent others might see us as paranoid.  We simply see it as stretching our horizons once again.  Hopefully to include the best of both worlds.

From one end of the horizon to the other

PicMonkey Collage
Lake Chelan on the left, Messinian Bay on the right
It seems we are drawn to water.  We wanted to be near the water no matter where we landed on earth. In Washington State, our new village of Manson sits on the shores of a 55-mile-long glacier-fed lake. In The Mani, we are in Greece’s Peloponnese – overlooking  the Messinian Bay (where the Aegean and Ionian seas meet).

Agios Nikolaos - Messinias Mani

We are Village people.  We’ve adjusted to village life in Greece like fish to water. The fishing village, Agios Nikolaos, (Saint Nikolas) and still called by its Slavic name Selinitsa by many locals, has a few hundred year round residents.

It swells with tourists in the summer.

St. Andrews Episcopal Church - 1897 built of logs - oldest building in Chelan

Manson, where we’ve re-planted our American roots had a population of just over 1,400 in the last census. It is an unincorporated community seven miles beyond the larger town of Chelan, with a year-round population of about 4,000.

Chelan and Manson swell with tourists in the summer.

Groves and orchards Our Greek life puts us smack dab in the midst of the Land of Kalamata olives. In fact our home is in a small olive grove and The Scout has dusted off his orcharding skills (learned in his family’s Chelan apple orchard decades ago) and put them to use in Greece.

20151119_155419 [622832]
The Stone House on the Hill from our olive grove 
Now, we’ll be returning to that same agricultural area where he honed his skills and be surrounded by those orchards that haven’t given way to vineyards.

Manson Vineyards
Vino with a View: In the Chelan/Manson area wineries have been sprouting at an amazing rate of speed; they number in the dozens. Apple orchards began giving way to vineyards a couple decades ago and the growth of the industry hasn’t slowed. The photo below was taken at Nefarious Cellars and vineyard which are on the site of what used to be The Scout’s family apple orchard.

It will be fun to be walking distance to several ‘tasting rooms’ – those places operated either by a single winery or by individuals offering a variety of wines – and also easy driving distance to wineries themselves.  Hopefully our visits to Manson will coincide with those facilities being in operation.

Nefarious Cellars - on The Scout's old apple orchard
Regular readers know we sing the praises of Greek wines, served by the pitcher at restaurants – good quality without pretense and usually so inexpensive that we still are marveling at their incredible low prices. And much of our favorite wine is grown and produced right here in the Peloponnese. (We have been shell-shocked at wine prices in Manson: $10US for a glass would buy us two liters of wine in the Mani!)

Wine at sunset at the Stone House on the Hill
So our quest to expand our horizons continues as we this week begin moving our things into the house in Manson.  While in so many ways our two worlds are similar, in many ways they are vastly different (I'll tell you about those in a future post). But it will keep life exciting (perhaps a bit disjointed as well).

They moved us out of our old world and are moving us into the new one
We’ve allotted ourselves three weeks in which to get our belongings organized and all the logistics of establishing a new residence completed.  We’ve not had a lot of down time since our arrival but hopefully by next week the internet will be functioning and I’ll have time to give you an ‘inside’ peek at the other end of our expanded horizon.

The Scout and the realtor in front of our Manson house
Again, thanks for all of you who’ve come along on this adventure – either in real time or in the blogosphere. We are most appreciative of the time you spend with us and are grateful for your help and words of encouragement.

Until next week, safe travels to you and yours ~

Linking this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Best of Weekend

Monday, July 2, 2018

Greece ~ Living the ‘New Normal’

‘We have a normal. As you move outside of your comfort zone, 

what was once the unknown and frightening, becomes your new normal.’

-- Robin Sharma

PicMonkey Collage
Ice cream for lunch - a new normal in Greece.
Today we ate ice cream for lunch. 

With the Mediterranean sun shining and Grecian temperatures climbing, it seemed the thing to do. 

It wasn’t the first time, as we’d done the same thing two days ago. . .and a couple weeks ago. Giving in to the temptation of this frozen delight is really beginning to be a noontime normal. What I find interesting is how ab-normal it would have seemed back in our lives in the U.S.

Normal has become an operative word in our ex pat lives. We seem to have two standards of normal, the old one and the new one. Since last July when we made the decision to move from our Pacific Northwest home to Greece as full-time ex pats, we’ve had days there and here in which nothing seemed normal and other days when things were remarkably normal.

One thing we’ve learned in the last year is that nothing can turn the context of normal upside down faster than moving to a new country and adapting to its lifestyle and culture.

Normal - conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.

Greece - a normal scene
The mere fact I’ve given so much thought to normal and am now writing about it, isn’t normal by my old behaviors. But with more time to think about such things these days, ponderings such as this seems absolutely normal. What I am most surprised about is how quickly we human beings can adapt to new environments.  And that seems to be a key to whether or not ex pat life agrees with you or not. 

I've read any number of articles about why ex pats return to their home countries.  Bottom line seems to be: they wanted the normal they once knew. The challenge of a new language, new culture, new environment was too much for them.  With only nine months of full-time ex pat life under our belts, we are still in the infancy of this adventure; so in our case, bring on the new normal!

Normal is as Normal Does?

On Sunday we went on an outing back into the mountains, an area we'd never explored before. We found four new villages that will require return visits for further exploration. To get to them though, we traveled on roads that once seemed frighteningly narrow and winding. These days those once-unnerving roads seemed quite normal.  A new normal to be sure, but normal all the same.

You wanted to go where?
The photo above, taken last week during a ‘normal’ trip to the grocery store, illustrates an entertaining new normal for us.  Old normal for us was frustrating bumper-to-bumper traffic jams on multi-lane roads that brought cars to a standstill. In this world’s  ‘new normal’ it just might be a cow that stops us in our tracks!

Whether traveling roads, shopping or cooking, there is usually something that occurs or is required that gives a moment of pause and we have to think a bit harder and do things a bit differently but that’s why we came here. What amazes us is how quickly so many of these ‘foreign’ things have started feeling routine and normal.

Agios Nikolaos on a June evening
As those of you’ve who’ve been with us awhile know, this will be our first full summer here. We’ve had brief samples of both June and July but never have experienced a full three-month run of summer.

“Is this normal?” asked our recent guests a couple weeks ago, when they made their way around tables that filled the village’s main street. “They tell us that the crowds will get bigger in August,” we replied, but whether they are normal size summer crowds we have no idea.  Ask us again next year.

Stoupa beach on a June morning
We had a storm hit this week that brought high wind and heavy rain for a couple of days to most of Greece, including our area. The road between Athens and Corinth was flooded and closed for a short time, and ‘nornally’ dry river beds were filled with gushing water. 

“Not normal, for this time of year,” long-timers told us. We’ve spent three springtimes here and haven’t seen rain like we had this June, but whether it is normal or not, we couldn’t tell you for sure.

Cloudy skies in June - normal or not
Two weeks ago we woke one morning to find our water tanks bone dry. Not a drop of water to be had out of any tap in the house. (Of course, we had houseguests at the time. So the water truck was summoned and tanks of water delivered to return us back to normal.) 

Our water supply comes to us from ‘the Municipality’ (an entity we have yet to clearly understand) and when we reported our drought they seemed surprised at our situation.  The locals tell us that’s because we ‘normally’ don’t run out of water until in August, when the reservoirs are 'normally' pumped dry or the water diverted to the tourist-filled villages along the sea.

Pantazi Beach - near our home

One new normal for us is the lack of travel plans for summer getaways. Our startled friends say, “But you ‘normally’ go somewhere!”  We’ve never before lived in a place as spectacularly beautiful as we do now, so we’ve decided to join those sun-seeking tourists arriving each week in the villages, and enjoy this place we call home.  Perhaps it will become a new normal for our summers.

Mesimeri spent on our deck
Our staycation here has us completing our chores and errands before the clock strikes 12 each day which allows us to luxuriate in a favorite new normal: similar to the Spanish culture’s siesta, we have in Greece mesimeri which means midday and generally refers to the time between 2 – 5 p.m. but also means ‘quiet time’. 

Scenes of the village where we run our errands
This guilt-free quiet time is ‘normally’ spent resting, napping, reading and catching up on correspondence. Then it is time to think about food and drink; sometimes consumed at home and other times at one of the many tavernas, cafes and restaurants that come to life in the summer. Eating and drinking out with regularity is another new normal that we’ve adapted to quite well.

Dinner at Stathi's is a culinary treat - how many mezes can we eat?
We eat different food at a different time in far different settings than we did before moving here. But as with eating ice cream for lunch, going to the grocery store, watching weather and all things here the new normal is feeling quite normal these days!

Image result for quotes on doing things differently

We hope that your travels take you – armchair or real time – somewhere that is ab-normally wonderful!  Thanks for being with us again this week as we took a bit of an introspective look at ex pat life.We’ll be back again soon with more tales of our Grecian Summer and do hope you’ll be along to enjoy it with us!  Safe travels to you and yours ~

Linking up this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Best of Weekend


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