Showing posts with label a life in Greece. Show all posts
Showing posts with label a life in Greece. Show all posts

Friday, December 16, 2022

The Americans ~ Eight Years Later

 Actually, it is Amerikanos, (Ah-mear-E-kah-nos). Greek for the Americans, plural. 

'There, up on the hill,' says the Amerikani 

We usually say it as part of the phrase, 'the Amerikanos up on the hill' while pointing towards the hill on which our house sits.  It serves to differentiate us from the other Amerikanos who live in this area. And you might be surprised at how many do live here now. So many, that it isn't unusual to not know some of them. What a change that is from when we first arrived!

Eight years ago already!

It was eight years ago this week that we purchased our slice of the Greek Peloponnese. Little did we know at the time we purchased what has become known as our Stone House on the Hill, that it would ultimately change the course of our orderly life back in the Pacific Northwest corner of the United States.

Venice, two hour's flight, not two days away any longer

Back then we reasoned that a house in Greece would provide a base for exploring more of this country and other European countries, Africa, and the Middle East. We had expanded our travels on this side of the Atlantic after leaving our work life behind.  This Greek-base, we decided, would allow us to travel more often and go further.

We wanted a project and definitely got a few!

Truth is back then we were rather bored with that orderly life. We needed a project, something to do besides ease ourselves deeper into old age. This home certainly gave us a 'project' as the home was in need of updating and a bit of repair. As it turned out, each of the completed projects gave rise to new projects and continue to do so.

One last fling or perhaps a few more are in store. . .

And the purchase would constitute a - sigh - 'final fling' before we got too old to have such adventures. Age was among our considerations as we talked ourselves first out of, and then, into the house purchase. We wondered if we were then too old for such a leap into the unknown. Since we are still here, I guess we weren't - we are glad we took the leap!

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes. . .in our world

Development comes to the Mani 

As David Bowie sings, there have been ch-ch-ch-ch-changes in the Mani, since we became a part of it. Development is running wild in this once remote and little visited region of Greece. Both private home and rental accommodation construction continues to be on a fast track. It is difficult to find year-round rentals now in our area as so many have turned their homes into Airbnb's. One, a recently constructed Mykonos-style home on the hill above us rents for 1,000 euros a night. 

British writer and long-time Kardamyli resident, Patrick Leigh Fermor, who predicted several decades ago that the remote and rugged Mani would never attract tourists, would likely not recognize the place now.  Tourism is on an upswing.  

Hiking is drawing outdoor enthusiast here

We have local businesses that offer hiking and biking tours of the area.  A new launch site for parasailing has been constructed in a hillside village a few kilometers away.  Our beaches were filled with visitors up until October.  

New restaurant brings change to the village

Change doesn't always come easy. An upscale restaurant opened in our village last spring following an extensive refurbishment of a wonderful old building on the waterfront.  From our perspective, it is a delight to sit inside and admire the stonework as the previous traditional taverna had only outside seating. Yet, some continue to grumble about the change.

New 5-star hotel - Kalamata waterfront

Up the road an hour away, our big city of Kalamata is becoming the poster child for change: a new 5-star hotel in a refurbished early 20th century building offers a restaurant with a Michelin-starred chef at its helm.  Two abandoned flour mills on the waterfront are also being turned into hotels - one a 5-star and one a 4-star.  Next spring the city is the European site of a conference of travel bloggers, actually, 'content creators' (as they call us now). Some 350 are expected to come visit and write about 'our town'. 

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes . . . in us

Adapting to the Mediterranean lifestyle

At the time we bought the house we told ourselves we'd give 'it', the fling, the adventure, the house, whatever we called it, five years.  If we were ready to move on, move back or give it up we would.  Those years went fast as a blink of an eye.  

During which time, we began changing and adapting to our new adopted world, so much so, that we decided we wanted to live here as expats.  We are just entering our sixth expat year here and have a residency permit allowing us another year after this. 

Our world at night

We've quit setting timelines. We will be here as long as we are able and continue to want to be here (or as long as the government allows us to be).  I know a lot of you reading our blog are considering moves to Greece and other destinations in the world, so I would close with a quote attributed to Paul Coelho, 'Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute for experiences.'  

Thessaloniki bound

For those who responded to my teaser in the last post, you were correct! We are soon off to Greece's second largest city, Thessaloniki. Our decision to go there is driven partially by its beautiful Christmas decorations and partially by the call of its culinary reputation.  I'll report back on both next time!  Thanks for being with us today . . .in fact many of you have been with us through our entire Greek adventure, and we've loved having you with us!  Thanks to you all for your continued support and encouragement!!

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

Monday, June 18, 2018

A Summer’s Day ~ And a Greek Island Getaway

The boat was cutting through a liquid sapphire as it sped towards the island of Hydra.
The sky above us, cloudless.
The Mediterranean sun, intense.
It is summer in Greece.
And we were heading to a Greek island.
The Sapphire Sea
We’d dropped our houseguests at the Athens airport and were returning to The Mani, the place we call home these days. With plans for an overnight stay somewhere along our route, The Scout veered us a bit to the south of the main highway that links us to Athens and aimed our trusty Hi Ho Silver towards Hydra, one of the Saronic Islands off the east coast of the Peloponnese.

Leaving Metochi for Hydra
The Saronic islands are some of the closest to Athens; a quick ferry or catamaran trip away from Piraeus,where the Athens port is located. We opted for the ‘road trip’ way of getting there: driving along the coastline of the ‘first finger’ of the Peloponnese to Metochi where we left our car and took a small passenger-only boat to Hydra. It was an even quicker ferry trip: 25 minutes. (Cost was 6.50-euro per person each way and parking 5 euro for each calendar day).

The coastal road to Metochi; guardrails festooned in oleander
These spontaneous, without set destination, outings are the kind during which one of us will  say, “This! . . . This, is why we moved here.”

This is why we sold our home of 30 years put our old life in a storage unit in the far away U.S. Pacific Northwest and moved to a full-time life in Greece.

A road trip that takes you to a Greek island. No bottom-numbing airplane journeys. No huge suitcases.

Simply a whim and and overnight bag.

Ferry from Metochi arrives at Hydra harbor
Hydra (hee-draw) is one of our favorite island destinations. This time of year, there are plenty of  ‘beautiful people’ strutting along and enough mega yachts arriving at its compact crescent-shaped harbor to give it that feel of Santorini or Mykonos. But it has managed to balance tourism with its small island charm that continues to make it warm and inviting.

The last time we stayed here was on a blustery night in late October a few years ago. That time of year, fFew commercial establishments were open. We followed a local man who greeted the ferry with a sign ‘rooms for rent’ to his hotel.  The sheets were thin; the room clean. The island, simply magical. We vowed to return one day.

We were charmed then by the fact that no motorized vehicles (except a tiny garbage truck) are allowed on the island.  You walk or hire a donkey, horse or water taxi to get around. The harbor area is so compact it is easy to get around on foot.

Aperol Spritz break for harbor-watching

This time of year bars, restaurants, coffee shops and ice cream parlors ring the harbor with outside seating. . .perfect places to sit and soak up the ambiance of Greek island life. Mega yachts share the harbor with the village fishing fleet (fishing and sponge gathering were once major industries here but now tourism takes top billing.)  Ferries and water taxis buzz in and out like busy bees.

Name your destination and these fellows will get you there 
Some of you may know of Hydra because Canadian song-writer Leonard Cohen lived there for many years and penned several tunes there. The island is included in Henry Miller’s 1941 impressionist travelogue, The Colossus of Marousi. 

Mega yachts always add a touch of class to a harbor
This trip we arrived without reservations – on a late Thursday afternoon – we wouldn’t recommend arriving without them this time of year on a weekend or anytime in July and August.  We found accommodations at a charming hotel – Hotel Sophia  - on the waterfront. Opened in 1934, it was the first hotel, they say, in Hydra. Our modern, air conditioned room with en suite, was 90 euros a night and included a full breakfast. (The sheets were thick and wonderful).

Hyrdra Harbor at night
As day tourists headed out, Hydra turned up the charm. The harbor quieted for the night and cafes that had been bursting with diners and drinkers hours earlier emptied. The night’s stillness was broken only by the clanking rhythms of riggings on the ships.

Nighttime scenes and sounds are only surpassed by early morning when the pack horses arrive to take loads from supply ships.

Heading to the harbor in Hydra
The work crew paraded past the entry to our hotel so with steaming cups of coffee in hand we followed them around the corner to the harbor to watch the show; rituals of daily Greek island life that has continued through the decades.

Just one more for balance. . .
If you are planning a Greek island getaway, do put the Saronic Islands on your list. We don’t think you will be disappointed! We plan to return to Hydra—then hop through the chain of island by ferry.

Just a bit more . . .
That’s it for this week from The Stone House on the Hill.  We hope you’ll be back next week for another installment of life in  Greece. We thank you for the time you’ve spent with us on this little road trip. Until we are together again, good wishes for healthy and happy travels ~

We are linking up with a fine bunch of bloggers this week at:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Best of Weekend

Friday, March 23, 2018

In Greece: ‘Come, tell me how you live. . .’*

“It is okay. . .do not worry,” she said her smile reflected in the mirror before us. “It is okay.”

I mustered up a grimace of a smile and squirmed a bit in my chair saying, “Signome (sorry). . . but it is the first time for me.”

“Do not worry. . .” she repeated as she bent over my head, paintbrush in hand and went to work.

Sunset in the village of Kardamyli 
She was correct – I needn’t have worried. My first visit to a beauty salon in Greece turned out to be perfectly fine.  Although for the rest of the day I sported a 'do' that I likened to US newscaster Diane Sawyer's 'do' in the 1980's, the procedures used on me were the same as those of my long-time friend and hairdresser in the States. 

20180313_153655Voula, the hairdresser’s English was limited and my Greek simply a whisper of necessary phrases. A Greek friend had written in my notebook new phrases I might need, like, “I want to look at the colors. . . Mix the colors. . .Highlights.’

I’d pointed to them as Voula offered a reassuring smile and repeated the English phrase, “Do not worry.”

Then it was done. Check. Another ‘first’ in this ex pat life behind me.

Sometimes that little notebook seems to be our cheat sheet to living. It holds phrases, words, names, notes on things like how to order a loaf of bread at the bakery (using Greek words and not pointing) and an oft-used chart of the Greek alphabet and its translation to letters in English.

We've found at times the approach to completing a task is so vastly different from what we knew that we don’t think we’ll ever get the hang of ‘it’ -  whatever ‘it’ happens to be at that particular moment. Other times they are so remarkably similar that we sail through with the greatest of ease and then chuckle at the similarities; much like the hair appointment.

So, how do you live?

During our six-week sojourn back on U.S. soil we were often asked about living in a foreign country –  not deep soul-searching questions like, “How’s your view of the world changed?” or “How have you changed?” but more questions about day-to-day living here in the rural countryside of the Greek Peloponnese. There is a certain curiosity about living differently. So today I'm answering a few of those questions again . . .

* You have a washer and dryer don’t you?

Clothes are hung on the line to dry

Yes, we have a washer: brand new with a multi-page handbook – all in Greek – that undoubtedly tells us all the settings and special things it can do. We don't read Greek so we've pushed the button that makes it run and each load is washed for the same length of time in whatever the temperature the machine was set at when we purchased it. (No longer do I have to worry about delicates vs. normal settings, hot vs. warm water.)

No dryer. Clothes, bedding and towels are hung outside to dry but for a few weeks in deepest, darkest December and early January, when storms and cooler temperatures prevent drying. Summer’s drying time is a couple of hours and other season’s could take a couple of days.

Wash day is determined by the weather – not the amount of dirty clothes. (When necessary, we hang things on the foldup/fold out clothes racks inside.)

*Do you still go to a gym to work out? Are there places near you to walk or jog?

PicMonkey Collage
'Stairmasters' at The Stone House on the Hill

There are exercise facilities in Kalamata, the big city an hour to our north, which makes it too far to go to on a daily basis.  We do get a workout in the yard and olive grove. Numerous articles have been written about exercising in your garden so we think of ours as our garden gym – and being on a hillside provides a natural ‘StairMaster’ workout.

We could ride bikes along the village roads if we were so inclined – we aren’t. And so many paths and walks to be taken in the nearby countryside that we will never get to them all.

*Do you cook at home? Is there a supermarket nearby?

From my kitchen cupboard
Some, we think, believe that every night we eat roasted goat and Greek salads at a seafront taverna. Au contraire!  Since settling in we eat at home most of the time with one or two dinners out a week. 

As evidenced by the items pictured above – all of which I purchased at supermarkets here – we can get a taste of the old life quite easily.(BTW, we prefer the oregano-flavored potato chips sold in Greece.)

What is nice about shopping here is that we can get items like Italian cheeses for a fraction of the cost we’d have paid in the United States. We also have some great fresh Greek cheeses. On the other hand, I paid nearly 7 euros (about $8.50US) for a small jar of Skippy peanut butter. but when you miss peanut butter, you pay the price – and eat it sparingly.

A vegetable garden in the making 
We are testing out our green thumbs this year by expanding our vegetable garden. It isn’t really necessary (thank goodness) as we have municipal markets (think Farmer’s Market) that operate year round in the two cities on either side of us, Kalamata and Areopoli and also have visiting fruit/veggie and fish vendors who sell from their pick ups or vans  and who regularly come through the villages. Sometimes we get lucky and the flower vendor comes through town as well, although we have several nurseries nearby.

PicMonkey Collage
Flower vendor in Platsa

*So do you have water, sewer, garbage like in the States?

We do have ‘city water’ at our house; just not quite sure which village provides the municipal water.  However its high mineral content makes it undrinkable from the tap (just like our timeshare in Scottsdale, AZ) so drinking water comes from the fountains scattered about the villages. We have a septic tank.

We take our garbage to municipal bins located throughout the villages and on the roads between them. From those regular garbage trucks pick up the refuse and deliver it to waste sites. We do have recycling efforts here and bins to separate plastics, paper, metal and glass.

PicMonkey Collage
Getting drinking water and hauling garbage

But ‘making a water or garbage run’ usually is tied into having a cappuccino or a glass of wine so those 'chores' end up being a treat.

Cappuccinos after a garbage run - what a treat!
As the weeks have become months, we find ourselves acclimating to our new routines and ways of doing things.  Like anyone who’s moved to a new home in a new area, we must think a bit more, be a bit more flexible in our approach to doing thing and celebrate each new ‘first’ that is successfully accomplished in our new surroundings.

We’ll be back next week with travel tales and stories of life in Greece.  As always, we appreciate the time you spend with us here and love reading your comments and emails.  Safe travels to you and yours ~

*The title  for today’s post is borrowed from one of my favorite reads: an autobiography written by Agatha Christie Mallowan (the Grand Dame of mystery books) that chronicles her life back in the 1930’s when she and her archaeologist husband, Max, lived at ‘dig sites’ in the Middle East.
It is a small book but a fun read for those who want to live differently or just want to take an armchair getaway to another place and time.

Linking up this week with some or all of these fine folks:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration
Best of Weekend


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