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

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!

Sunday, November 26, 2023

In Greece Where There's Smoke. . .

The old adage, 'where there there's smoke, there's fire' takes on a different meaning in Greece. 

Olive harvest and burn season in Greece.

Because in Greece where there is smoke, it is likely from a cigarette. 

Our recent house guest was the one who called it to our attention as he viewed our world from the perspective of a first-time visitor to Greece. 'Don't they worry about lung cancer?' he asked, as we approached an eating establishment. Then reminding us of the impacts of secondhand smoke he directed us to areas where we might least be impacted by the neighboring table's smoke.

The ubiquitous ashtray 

While smoking inside public facilities is illegal and punishable by fines, it is okay to smoke outside while seated in restaurant and bar patios, waiting areas at bus or train stations, and outside of airports. 

What gobsmacked our guest was the numbers of people smoking. 

What gobsmacked us was the realization that it didn't bother us anymore - in fact, we hadn't paid it any mind until it was pointed out to us. 

Smoking is a tradition, a part of Greek everyday life. They smoke packaged cigarettes, they roll cigarettes, they vape. A survey a couple years ago showed that nearly 37% of the population regularly lights up. In fact, Greeks aren't the only ones. Many of our fellow expats and tourists who hail from countries on this side of the pond also smoke. 

Cigarettes and coffee cups a normal table next to us this morning
 
Each time our guest pointed out instances of smoking, we thought about how little attention we pay to it and behaviors that once could have caused us great concern and consternation.  

Mom and the kids 

Smoking is simply such a part of the fabric of Greek life that despite the implementation of a spate of laws and fines to curb it within the last decade, there appears to be little desire or peer pressure to kick the habit. 

It got me to thinking about other behaviors we have come to accept as normal, but which are bona fide health hazards. Things like not wearing helmets on bikes or motorcycles, transporting multiple people onto a motorcycle or scooter at a time, or riding in the back of a pickup.  We see them done all the time.

Helmet-less in Greece and having a good time

Don't get me wrong. There are laws and fines concerning smoking and they have - generally -succeeded in preventing smoking inside public venues.  Greece has a helmet law, dictating a 350 euro fine for failure to wear them on motorized bikes of any power. (Once we laughed at an elderly man who zipped past bareheaded on his scooter, but he stopped and put on his helmet before pulling into his driveway. He was more fearful of his family's reaction than getting a ticket, we speculated.) 

Tourists travel the main highway to Kalamata with helmets

You can tell a tourist on a rental bike by the helmets he or she wears. Helmets are recommended for bike riders but not required. Despite our narrow roadways and uneven surfaces, there is a slew of locals who ride bikes but don't wear helmets. 

Harvest time vehicles at the olive processor


It isn't illegal to ride in the back of a pickup.  From a practical standpoint in our area, that is the way many olive harvest crew members get to a grove and back. It is normal to see workers seated in the bed or a truck atop nets and holding onto equipment. Sometimes they ride atop the load in the small trailers pulled by tractors. 

Making a right hand turn after stopping for a red light is illegal in Greece. Maybe it is for safety, maybe not. But it is done so routinely in the United States that we have to think twice when the light is red, and we stop then start to make a righthand turn before it turns green.

Annual equipment tests are mandatory.

Wearing a seat belt is compulsory inside a car but some of the vehicles driven here are so old I doubt they are even equipped with seatbelts. It is interesting, though, that all car owners are required to have an annual vehicle test; one year it is for emissions and the other year for brakes, lights, shocks and a number of other parts. We suspect few of the old beater cars actually are tested by their owners.  

The law requires child restraint seats and the young parents we know adhere to without question by young parents.

A new way of life

In our area of the Peloponnese, we have two police officers and one patrol car. Sometimes we see them on break at a local taverna having a coffee and cigarette, other times patrolling the area. We suspect they don't spend a lot of time monitoring smoking in local establishments nor making stops for minor traffic offenses. If unhealthy behaviors are going to change, it will need to be from personal choices. 

Frankly we like this somewhat contrarian approach to life. While we haven't taken up smoking or riding in the back of a pickup, we certainly don't find it objectionable. It is a part of the culture of the community in which we've chosen to make our home. Sometimes we find the lack of laws and government enforcement refreshing. Here you take responsibility for your own actions and can't blame someone for not warning you of hazards. 

Wild boar warning sign in the Mani

A goal of our expat life was to experience a new culture, even adapt to it.  And after nearly a decade of cultural emersion -- without even being consciously aware of it -- I think I can safely say we have adapted to much of the Greek lifestyle.

Yet, if this post has made you think we are living somewhat on the wild side of life here. . .let me assure you that we probably aren't. Because here they do warn us about the wild side of life. . .the wild boar warning sign pictured above is case in point.

How about your travels? Have you encountered any local behaviors or traditions you found objectionable? Or which you thought of as a health hazard, but the locals didn't? 

We thank you for your time and send wishes for safe and happy travels to you and yours~ hope you'll join us next time when I ponder the question of being too old to be an expat. . .


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