Showing posts with label expat life Greek travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label expat life Greek travel. Show all posts

Sunday, July 7, 2024

With Travel, Never Say Never

 When it comes to travel, we should 'never say never'.  We know that now.

In fact, I reminded myself of that a couple weeks ago in Santorini while having our photo taken by seat mates in a cable car that was dangling above a cliffside whisking us down - way down - to our cruise ship.

Santorini cable car to cruise ship port

'We'd never take a cruise through the Greek islands,' we've adamantly proclaimed for years, usually adding, 'and certainly never in summer!' 

Yet there we were on Santorini, our first port of call on a weeklong cruise through Greece - in summer! Never say never!

In a cable car off a sheer cliff in Santorini.

While we love cruising, we have long maintained that in order to get the real flavor of Greece -- nightlife in a village, driving those narrow winding roads that lead through small hamlets, or waiting for sheep or goats who have roadway priority -- you need more time than afforded on a cruise ship tour. You need to spend days and nights exploring this adopted country of ours.  

As for traveling in Greece in summer: no matter the mode of transport, it can bring on heat stroke and/or agoraphobia, a fear of crowds.

But sometimes reality and circumstances can challenge one's mantras about travel, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  

Blue and white of Greece's Santorini

Travel reality for us right now is limited to Greece. As expats who've reapplied for residency permit renewal, we can no longer travel in most of Europe without risk of fines and/or deportation for overstaying our time in the Schengen Zone. 

So, we'll be 'Doin' Greece' for a while. The good news is, that there is plenty of Greece remaining for us 'to do'. 

The Scout had been working on some travel options for June, and it didn't take long to conclude that a cruise would cover more territory and be as cost-effective and more time-efficient than traveling by ferry, staying in hotels, and eating out. 

Our room with a view - Celebrity Infinity

That's why we found ourselves setting sail on the Celebrity Infinity two weeks ago. The trip began with an overnight stay in Athens. It is good to get a taste of the big city after months of living in the rural Peloponnese, where we make our expat home.  

[Travel tip: We used an app, Free Now, to nab a taxi to the port the next morning - it worked like a charm -- establishing the rate and route upfront while bringing a driver within minutes. We recommend it highly.]

Athens' nightlife is vibrant

The ship would visit Santorini and Mykonos islands, as well as cities Thessaloniki and Kavala on the country's northeastern coast. One day was spent in Turkey, (Kusadasi, gateway to Ephesus). Turkey is not a Schengen country so we could travel there. Another day was a sea day - a mesmerizing way to spend a day.

Cruising in Greece

Access to and from the ship, cable car (on the left) or trail

Our first port of call was the Cyclades Island of Santorini, the postcard perfect poster child for Greek tourism. It has become such a popular destination that officials in 2018 began limiting the daily numbers of cruise ship visitors to 8,000. On the day we visited four cruise ships brought 7,000 visitors. Even with that number we can attest to the need for limits!

A single bus load of cruise passengers heading to Oia.

The cruise ship port offers three ways to access the island:  take a ship's tour so you can tender to the larger ferry port with vehicle access, or you go up that aforementioned cliff on foot or use the cable car. Donkeys were available, but thankfully, were not being hired often. We were warned in advance that cable car waits could reach a couple of hours in both directions.  

We opted for a ship's tour that left early and got us back before the brunt of cruisers came ashore.  We had no wait coming back in the cable car, but by early afternoon the lines were already endlessly long waiting to go up.  Temperatures in the high 80's discouraged many from tackling the cliffside stairway, which is shared with the donkeys and their poo. 

Waiting to get near that blue domed church in the distance

It has been more than a decade since we visited this island with a year-round population of about 15,500 residents and 40 taxis. Yet, it hosts about two million visitors a year.  It might be another decade before we go back but it was interesting to see it again, if even for a few hours.

Whitewashed, brightly trimmed home in Mykonos

Mykonos another insanely popular island in the Cyclades group, was our last port of call. While Santorini draws hordes of tourists, Mykonos is a magnet for the world's rich and famous. We were there a week before the Princess of Morocco arrived. Media report that a huge motorcade transported her and her son from the island's airport to the villa they'd rented. Ten of the vehicles carried their luggage.  She reportedly didn't like the way the villa was furnished, so she had furnishings, and decor flown in from Morocco - it took three trucks to deliver those items later.  

Street scene Mykonos Town

In comparison our island arrival was pretty incognito.  Only two ships were in port -- a new port has been built outside Mykonos Town since we were last there. A shuttle bus transported those going ashore independently as we were to the old port. From there, we walked into town following its labyrinth of streets - originally designed to confuse 18th century pirates and still does a good job confusing day-tripping tourists.

Meeting up with friends is a plus of travel

Our stop here included a visit with fellow Americans Jeffrey Siger and his wife Barbara Zilly. I've mentioned him before on TravelnWrite: he left his law practice in New York and came to Mykonos to write whodunnits set in various Greek locales.  His books - there are 15 now - are as much a travel guide as they are crime fiction. In fact, we met on a Greek travel social media site more than a decade ago when he offered us some travel suggestions for the Peloponnese as he'd just written a book (Sons of Sparta) set there.

Port of Thessaloniki as the sun sets

Our stops in Thessaloniki and Kavala were the destination highpoints of the cruise for us. We've vowed to return to both cities, and I'll tell you more about them in a future post.  

Thessalonik's main square opens to the sea

Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city, is about an hour's flight from Kalamata, the airport serving our area of Greece. It was great fun arriving and departing by ship as it is located on the Thermaic Gulf tucked away in a corner of the Aegean Sea. Our ship docked at its port, so close to the city center that we got around without need of tours or taxis.  It is a vibrant city known for its festivals, events, culture and cutting-edge culinary arts.

City Hall Kavala

Kavala, just to its east, on the Bay of Kavala, is the principal seaport of eastern Macedonia. A city of some 70,000 that is filled with picturesque neighborhoods and historic sites.

Kusadasi, Turkey 

Kusadasi, Turkey will long be remembered for its heat - high 90F's/30C's - and its gauntlet of shopkeepers all wanting to sell me a leather coat. "Hey, lady, come try on. You want a leather coat from my shop." (It made me sweat just typing that memory.) And no, I didn't try on nor buy a leather coat!

Were we right or wrong?

Captivating sea scenes a favorite part of cruising

By week's end, we were in agreement that it had been an enjoyable cruise filled with pleasant moments and destinations that call out for a return visit.  We still think Greece needs to be experienced with longer stays than a cruise stop affords.  

The weather was indeed hot - record breaking hot in June - and impacted our experience. Summer is not the time to visit Greece. The heat and high winds in a couple of ports prompted us and many fellow passengers to cut shore exploration short. It simply wasn't pleasant to be outside. Spring and fall are beautiful times to explore Greece for those who can schedule travel then.

The tourist numbers were high, but not as bad as we had expected them to be. The worst congestion was on Santorini. We may have to visit it again on some November getaway.

Heading back to the cruise ship 

It was a good reminder that saying 'never' to something we've never tried, could cost us some great travel moments.  So, with a lot of Greece left to explore, we can only wonder what is up next!  Have you ever said 'never' to a travel experience then tried it? Tell us about it in the comments below or shoot us an email.

We thank you for the time you spent with us today and say welcome to our new subscribers!  We will be back with tales of expat life soon. In the meantime, safe travels to you and yours~  

Monday, March 18, 2024

Let's Go Fly a Kite!

Just like that, our hibernating village awakened to spring! Eateries are reopening, fishing boats are being painted and readied for the season. And celebrations are underway.  

Our village, Agios Nikolaos, awakens to spring.

I write today during a three-day holiday weekend in Greece. We end three weeks of Carnival celebrations on Saturday and Sunday, then on Monday kicked off Lent with meat-free feasting and flying kites and outdoor gatherings of families and friends.

Clean Monday's kite-flying tradition. Photo credit

Saturday and Sunday were filled with activities to end Carnival, here called Apokries.  Dressing up in costumes and masks - and often referred to as Halloween -- the events were fun and festive community-wide parties.  

Carnival comes to the village.

Carnival really got underway two weeks ago on Smoked or Charred Thursday, Tsiknopempti,  when barbeques appeared outside businesses and homes throughout cities and villages. Souvlaki (usually chunks of pork on a skewer) and other meat was served in generous portions and eaten with gusto.  

A Tsiknopempti celebration makes ready in Kalamata

But like all good things, celebrations must come to an end, and this weekend moved us from Carnival's frivolity to a more somber celebration of Lent, which is heralded in on Clean Monday. In Greek the day is called Kathara Deftera, the day that officially starts, the seven-week period of fasting, and self-moderation before Easter. 

Clean Monday is similar to Ash Wednesday in western religion.

Kathara Deftera is celebrated with non-meat feasting and flying kites. (For those wondering about the kites: It signifies the ascension and purification of the soul; symbolic of the human spirit flying closer to God.  And for kids, it is just plain fun, no matter what the reason.)

Clean Monday's kite-flying tradition. Photo credit

Mother Nature has been a bit fickle this celebration weekend with rain and hailstorms dampening parades and concert plans in the region on Sunday but allowing for outside activities on Saturday and Monday.  

Kite flying at Pantazi Beach on Kathara Deftera

Monday's sunshine and light wind was just enough to bring early morning hopefuls to Pantazi Beach just below our home.

And it worked!

The holiday weekend brought a surge of visitors to our village. The rural villages often draw large numbers of city dwellers on holidays weekends; many are returning to their roots, their family homes, and others are simply seeking a change from the city.  Some 60,000 cars were recorded leaving Athens on Friday on the nation's highway - thankfully not all were headed our direction.  

Section of Agios Nikolaos waterfront road opened!

The weekend was such a big celebration that our village has even managed to completed repairs to a section of our main beach road and open it to traffic.  After a near nine-month closure, let me tell you, that is BIG news! And even more reason to celebrate!!

Close up of roadwork at To Limeni in Agios Nikolaos

And restaurants in the still-under-construction part of the roadwork, didn't let that stop them from opening their doors to the new season.

Seafood pasta a popular Lenten dish

I realize that some of you are all set to celebrate Easter on March 31st, as that is Easter's date in western religions.  Here, the Orthodox church is celebrating Easter on May 5th.  

Another feast: tzatziki, horta, falafel balls and calamari

As long-time readers know, the weeks leading up to Easter are my favorite time to be in Greece. I honestly think that the three Easters we spent in Greece prior to becoming expats here helped to tip the scales in favor of moving here.  There is no other season that highlights the coming together of families, culture, history, religion and traditions as well as do the weeks leading up to Easter.

Stuffed squid one of my favorite non-meat dishes.

Next weekend is another three-day weekend, the first of Greece's two Independence Day celebrations this year. One is in the spring and the other in October.  Both are times of celebration and pride in country and marked with strong displays of patriotism.  

Spring is here!

So, we are welcoming spring and the celebrations that it brings each year.  We hope that wherever this finds you, you are enjoying your surroundings as much as we are ours! 

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Thursday, February 8, 2024

Got a Bee in my bonnet!

It seemed odd that during the first week of February my garden would be buzzing with a swarm of bees. One or two maybe, this time of year but certainly not a swarm. Actually, there's seldom more than a couple zipping between blooms any time of year.

February blooms at the Stone House on the Hill

But at least a couple dozen of the winged critters were hovering around a water bucket I use in the side garden. I went to the front door and another dozen or so were swarming around another water bucket I keep there. When I picked it up, they swarmed around it AND my hand.

As with all mysteries about life in Greece - the place we live as expats - it took a while, but today the mystery of the bees was solved: 

The new neighbors

They are our new neighbors! And quite a subdivision of them is in the previously vacant lot between six houses in our neighborhood.  Not only have they settled in for a long stay, but it appears more of them are coming! And Google tells me that bees are social little creatures and that thousands could inhabit a hive. Lucky us! The new neighbors are many and sociable!

The bees live above our Stone House on the Hill

We've seen plenty of beehives in our slice of the Peloponnese. We are among the many who brag about some of Greece's best honey being produced right here. 

But none of the hives we've seen before were sitting among and this close to residential houses.  You better believe we expat neighbors have discussed the newcomers. We've speculated about probable regulations, and the unlikelihood of there being any about bee hives. But who would one even contact at the Municipality to ask, we chuckled. And what if they aren't allowed? Then what? More laughs.

The two police officers who patrol a wide swath of our area would surely get a laugh out of it as well if we were to contact them. 

View from our 'hood to the neighboring village

The bees' sociable ways could be considered 'pestering', but they certainly aren't classified as 'pests', so the private pest control service would get a laugh out of it as well. 

And really, no one wants to hurt them, we'd just like them to move a few miles into the wilderness. Perhaps a relocation service? More laughs.

Home of the bee hives, our home lower right corner

The lot is for sale, asking price is 350,000 euros - thus, buying the lot and moving the bees is not an option. 

So, like with many things that don't quite compute in the expat mind, we will file this away as another one of 'those' experiences that serves to remind us we are living on foreign soil. It simply can't be treated as it would be 'back home'.  

And the bees are a good segue into another topic of expat living we are currently focused upon and that is the quest for the residency permit.

On the Road to Residency Again

Those residency permits - a reason to rejoice!

Long time readers probably just rolled their eyes, and said, "Oh, not that again already!!' But yes, with a permit that requires renewal every two years, one must start gathering documents, dotting 'i's' and crossing 't's' several months in advance of 'expiring' as we call it. We've started the' pre-app' preparation.

The good news is there has been no change in the required amount of income, health insurance or documentation required to make us eligible to continue living here.  We gather it, submit it and wait for it to be reviewed, and that is where the bad news comes in. . .

The traveling life brought us to Greece. . .

Note to new readers: it is during the review process that we are not allowed to leave Greece, other than for trips as might be necessary back to our home country.  The reasons for not being allowed outside we are told, is that our temporary residency paper only signifies we've applied to continue to be residents.  It doesn't guarantee we will be granted a renewal.

With it, we are basically just like non-visa travelers who visit countries in the Schengen Zone. There is a 90-days-in and 90-days-out rule which travelers, and apparently, we, must abide by.  Because we have been living here, we've technically already exceeded those 90 days. So, if we leave Greece, we could be barred from returning because we'd overstayed your 90 days.  

No welcome after 90 days

Staying longer than 90 days in the Schengen Zone is considered a serious offense and could result in fines, penalties, deportation or forced exit and being blacklisted for future travels.

After having the Immigration officer taking our fingerprints in Kalamata two years ago say in a no-nonsense voice, "You cannot travel out of Greece until you have your permit.' (The Scout had asked if a week getaway to Italy was allowed - it clearly wasn't.) we aren't going to travel outside Greece while waiting our permit.

A Lengthy Lockdown Ahead

Greek islands beacon during lock down

Fully prepared to spend a few months 'locked down' in Greece we were lining up destinations to see in the coming months. It took 4.5 months to get that bit of plastic two years ago, so perhaps it would be six months this time, we speculated.

Staycations ahead

Last week we came close to booking a cruise for January 2025. Just before we did, we learned Greek Immigration is understaffed and backlogged. Seriously backlogged. They are currently reviewing applications submitted last April 2023.  A ten-plus-month wait. We may not have our permits by next January! We didn't book the cruise or anything else.

Too Old to Be an Expat?

Petra, Jordan

A few posts back I took a light-hearted look at when one might consider oneself too old to be an expat. This backlog in Immigration has prompted us to think about the question again in a more serious vein.  While the years go quickly here, the years are going quickly, period. We aren't getting any younger and we ask ourselves how many of the years left before us do we want to spend locked down and unable to travel?  It is a question being asked by many expats right now. 

For now, we will continue gathering our documents for Immigration and prepare road trip plans for Greece in 2024! 

As always thanks for being with us and wishes to you for safe travels.  Where are you traveling this year? Let us know in the comments below or by email - we may just be traveling vicariously with you!!


Sunday, December 17, 2023

A Holiday Holibob

 'Tis the season in jolly ol' Greece. 

Downtown Athens goes all out at Christmas.

Christmas is just a countdown away and Greece's larger cities are decked out in their holiday finest. Being a country where 81- 90% of the population identifies as being Greek Orthodox, Christmas, like Easter, is a major event.

A December storm churns the water in our harbor.

Christmas comes during winter in the southern Greek Peloponnese, the place we've made our expat home. While the seasons' characteristics are different here from those in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, we definitely have four distinct seasons. 

Our Greek Christmas is being heralded in with a kaleidoscope of changing weather:  rain and windstorms, sunny days and downright cold nights in the low 40F, or 4.4C. So, we humans are also decked out for the season: sweaters, neck scarves and coats. 

Minimal decorations that first year in Greece!

We celebrated our first Christmas in Greece in 2014, within days of purchasing our Stone House on the Hill.  The village celebration was low-keyed. Decorations were minimal. And they were minimal in our rather empty house as well. 

Since that first Christmas here we have watched the holiday celebration and merchandizing pick up momentum primarily in the larger cities. Some big city store displays went up in November and rival 'the over the top' gaudiness of those in the United States.  

Christmas Agios Nikolaos 

Still 'the reason for the season' remains at the forefront of the holiday and many Christmas traditions are alive and well. In many villages, like our Agios Nikolaos, the decorations remain minimal. The photo above of the star at harborside was pretty much the extent of our municipal decorations a couple years ago - this year, even the star is missing. 

Kalamata our holibob destination

So, it was time, we decided last week, for a dose of big city Christmas and we set off for an overnight. . . 

 Holiday Holibob

Kalamata, the vibrant port city on Messinias Ba y

A holibob is a slang British term used to describe a short holiday or a getaway as we Americans would likely call it.  It perfectly described our overnight away from home in Kalamata. 

Kalamata is the second biggest city in the Peloponnese and getting bigger every day. We go there often for shopping, appointments and repairs. . .but we seldom take time to enjoy all the things that make it a popular tourist destination.

Kalamata's working waterfront lined with accommodations and eateries

Kalamata has recently been featured in numerous travel publications, blogs, vlogs, reels and writings since a conference of travel writers held last May drew 300 content creators to town and blew them away with its charms! Being a part of that gathering and seeing it through the eyes of visitors helped make it our holibob destination of choice.  

Waterfront gets decorated

One of the loveliest of Christmas decorating traditions in Greece is the lighted boat, the Christmas Boat, which pays tribute to the country's maritime heritage.  Kalamata proudly has one of the largest lighted boats on its bustling waterfront.

Kalamata's jewel in her Christmas crown

Just a few blocks inland, the towering Municipal Christmas tree is the centerpiece of the city's pedestrian-friendly shopping area.  The lighting of the Christmas tree took place a few nights before we were in town and drew hundreds of spectators. The ceremony's climax was an enormous silent fireworks display - done silently in consideration of children and animals. 

Decorated storefronts lined the streets of town

Storefronts still exist and line the streets of Kalamata. Retailers have turned the area into a winter wonderland. The pedestrian shopping area is lined with eateries and coffee shops, offering space heaters for sidewalk tables this time of year. Each place was so inviting that it was difficult to choose which one to visit.

A great spot for people-watching

Heaters were in use in the patios.

We ended up inside at one of our favorite lunch spots and found it transformed into a most vibrant cocktail bar in the evening. Luna Lounge is housed in one of Kalamata's heritage buildings that survived an earthquake (which destroyed much of the city) several decades ago. Local lore says it was once home to a popular Speakeasy. Alcoholic beverages are now legally sold there, and its popularity continues. The place was packed.

Luna Lounge, housed in a heritage building, once home to a Speakeasy.

Greek traditions don't have St. Nick, or Agios Nikolaos, being the giver of gifts.  Agios Nikolaos is honored on December 6th - as the patron saint of sailors and seamen.  Instead, it is Agios Vasilis, (St. Basil) who brings the gifts to good little boys and girls on New Year's Day.  

But we couldn't help but notice that a jolly fellow in a red suit had taken centerstage near the Christmas tree this year.  He was inviting me into Santa's House, when I snapped this photo:

Santa in his Kalamata Santa's House

Fully satiated with Christmas spirit we headed back home less than 24 hours after we'd arrived. We'd feasted, toasted and immersed ourselves in a big city Christmas.  It was great fun and a change of scenery, but as we sipped a cappuccino at harborside one morning after our return, we decided sometimes a holibob really serves to remind you just how spectacular home is - even without a lot of decorations. 

Agios Nikolaos on a December morning.

We thank you for the time spent with us today and send sincere wishes for holiday happiness to you and yours.  May you enjoy whatever holiday you are celebrating and if you aren't celebrating a holiday, then wishes for a happy day! Safe travels to you - hope you'll be back again and bring a friend or two with you!


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