Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Stone House on the Hill ~ Welcome!


DSCF1377While we were in Greece we speculated on who might actually visit us there in the future. We’ve begun honing that list now that we are back in the States based on some of the responses we’ve had to our Stone House on the Hill.

Some wrinkle their noses, not quite sure what would draw us there – let alone, bring them to visit. Others furrow their brows, they still aren’t quite sure where ‘there’ is.

Yet, others brighten at the news. They tell us of their Greek travel memories or of their dreams to visit the country.

Some haven’t remarked at all. We are definitely getting a feel from the varied responses, for who may - one day - be walking across our bright red ‘Welcome’ mat!

One friend, who’s owned a second home in a sunny climate for a few years, remarked, “You don’t really want people to visit, do you?” She’s had some, shall I say, less-than-pleasant experiences.

At about the same time, an American blogger buddy of mine, Karen McCann, who with her husband lives most of the year in Seville, Spain, wrote a post entitled, 7 Habits of a Considerate Houseguest (she’s had a few and some who weren’t).

On the flip side, we've had two friends tell us that if they come, to provide them a list of needed items, and they'll pack an extra suitcase for us.

For now, we have the welcome mat out. The area is just too darn nice not to share with others!

The Questions

So many who are pondering the possibilities of a visit have asked us logistics and cost questions about getting to The Mani in the Greek Peloponnese where our home is located, that I thought today I’d answer some of them.

IMG000

Where do you fly to? What is your routing?

We fly to Athens, about a  4.5 hour-drive from our home in Greece. We fly out of Sea-Tac Airport near Seattle, Washington in the US Pacific Northwest. We shop around and choose the routing by 1) cheapest price, 2) with least amount of layovers and plane changes. The trip from Seattle  – with those layovers and plane changes – usually takes in the neighborhood of 20+ hours. The good news it is usually an over-night flight and you can sleep most of your way to Europe. And with the time zone changes, you arrive in Europe in early to mid-morning the next day.
Two routing examples: In spring 2014 The Scout nabbed us a ‘steal of a deal’ with a round-trip via Istanbul, Turkey for $608, round-trip, per-person. We flew Lufthansa Airlines from Seattle, with a plane change in Germany. After spending the night (hotel points) at the Courtyard by Marriott, in Istanbul, we caught the morning commuter flight  (Aegean and Olympic Airlines both have them) to Athens the next morning. Those flights of less than two-hours were about $180 round trip. And this routing allowed us a stay in amazing Istanbul on our return. We plan to do that on future trips, no matter which European ‘hub’ we fly in to: Amsterdam, London, Frankfurt, Paris, Istanbul  – are all possibilities depending on the airline.

This last December we adjusted our travel to avoid the horrendous ‘holiday hike’ that hits in the middle of the month.  We used Alaska Airline frequent flyer miles to get us to Chicago and then flew Delta round-trip from there to Athens for a bit more than $800 round trip. It was a reasonable price considering we were hovering at 'holiday season'. We changed planes in Paris, then flew to Athens, rented a car and set out for The Mani.
 
Flights on European low-cost carriers to the city of Kalamata, just over an hour’s drive from our house, originate in any number of European cities. Flying into Kalamata would certainly simplify getting there, in terms of times and price.

We found an Easy Jet flight in June from Kalamata to Vienna for just over $100US, for example.  We aren’t sure how useful those flights will be as our time at the house will likely be in the early spring and late fall – after those seasonal flights have quit operating. They’ve extended the season this year and everyone is hopeful they keep extending it. Who knows? Might be year-round one day!

teliko

2. Do you rent a car?

Yes. Major rental car companies (Hertz, Sixt, Avis, etc.) are represented at the rental car lot at the Athens Airport. It is a short walk to that lot from the arrivals terminal. Then a right turn out of the lot, a right turn and you are on the freeway – heading to The Mani. You will not end up in the middle of Athens in a traffic jam. (If you are seriously coming to visit, I have more detailed directions). 

The drive from Athens to Kalamata is on a modern freeway. It is a toll road, so plan on paying about 15-euros in tolls total along the way. Get some euros from the bank machines at the airport if you didn’t bring some with you. The amount of each toll is flashed on a screen as you approach the teller window and you must pay in cash - they do have change for bills.

PicMonkey Collage


DSCF0283Like in Italy, the Greek roadside comfort stations are worth stopping at because they are so incredibly nice. Bathrooms are clean, restaurants are amazingly large, and most have souvenirs for sale.

It is easy to pull off and on the freeway, unlike the Costa del Sol in Spain where you say a prayer and take your life in your hands with each entry. Here the exit and reentry ramps are long and easy to use.





DSCF0282Car rental prices vary, so it is best to shop around.  Figure 20 – 25 euros a day. (We have heard rentals can be had for as little as 11-euros a day but we haven't yet found that.)  Small cars here really are small. Two roll-aboard sized suitcases will stuff the backseat. Either pack light or book a larger car.  US citizens do not need an International Driver’s license. And yes, for those who’ve asked about ‘automatics’ they do rent them. I have pictured an automatic shift to the side. It requires shifting from first to second but it is done with the hand lever - no feet pedals for shifting.


A stop in Kalamata
DSCF0016The modern freeway ends at Kalamata , about three hours from Athens, and becomes a scenic, but curving two-lane road into The Mani.  For that reason – and the fact that we’ve been up for some 24-hours with cat-naps and airplane food keeping us alive – we have spent the night in Kalamata.  We’ve stayed at a waterfront hotel - Phaerae Palace -- that has one of the best European buffet breakfasts we’ve ever eaten included in the rate, for about $100  (depending on the season) a night in a room with balcony and view of the water. The breakfast is served in the rooftop restaurant (photo on the right).  Then we head out refreshed the next morning.


If you spend the night there, the town’s Archeological Museum in its historic district and the open air Municipal Market are worth visiting before setting out on the final leg of your journey.

DSCF1488The last leg of the journey takes about an hour and a half, especially if you get behind a large truck as we did when I took this photo.

That’s another reason to complete the journey in the morning’s daylight – when wide awake!









3.  Do you have to have a rental car? Couldn’t we take a bus?

You probably will want a car while you are in The Mani, but you could wait and rent one after you get out of Athens or Kalamata. There are rental car companies in Stoupa, the small village very near our home.

DSCF1495

And yes, there are long distance buses that run to and from the villages and Athens -they connect in Kalamata.

In Athens there is an express bus (5-euros) will take you to and from the arrivals/departure terminal at the airport and the bus station where buses leave for Kalamata and other destinations.  We took the bus from Kalamata on our return home and it was a modern, Mercedes Benz, and the driver was great. This express bus from Kalamata took three hours and 15 minutes to reach Athens and the tickets were 22-euro per person. It would cost a bit more from the villages near our house.

PicMonkey Collage
 
4.  Does anyone there speak English?

Yes, nearly everyone we’ve encountered speaks English and on the occasion we are in a situation of no-English, they always find someone nearby who does speak the language and will help out. That’s not an excuse not to visit!

We’ll tell you about our neighborhood and the foods – the nearby cafes and tavernas and the markets – in a future post.  Thanks again for stopping by as always we appreciate the time you spend with us. Hope you'll recommend our blog to others you know ~ thanks to those who've done just that!

Linking up this week:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox  
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route  
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Blessing the Water ~ in Greece

Theophany ~ the ‘showing forth of God’ or the ‘manifestation of God’
We were lucky to have our recent time in Greece encompass holidays. While Christmas and New Year’s Day were both were celebrated, neither came close though to the festivities in our village of Agios Nikolaos for January 6th’s Feast of Theophany, or Epiphany.

DSCF2952
Agios Nickolas fishing port and main road
In the Christian world, Epiphany, 12 days after Christmas, pays tribute to the baptism of Christ when for the the first time the Holy Trinity appeared before mankind. Here the Orthodox Church celebrates the day, with Megas Agiamor, one of three types of Blessing of the Water that is done throughout the year by the church.

The season’s unusual cold spell that brought temperatures to all-time low’s and blanketed parts of the country with snow, had threatened to drive the religious celebration indoors. “If the weather is good enough it will likely take place at 10 in the morning,” we were told, ‘if it is bad it will take place in the church.”

DSCF2957
The procession from the church to the waterfront in Ag. Nikolaos
The previous day’s storm winds died and clouds disappeared during the night. We woke to a cold, but blue sky day. The processional from the church to the water’s edge, took place around 10:30.

DSCF2958
The processional - Jan. 6, 2015
The Priests were keepers of the Gospel and the Cross that would be blessed and tossed into the water a total of three times before the ceremony ended. The first two tosses, all part of the  service, seemed like practice runs to those of us less well-versed in the tradition.

DSCF2960

The crowd gathered around the priests and the young robed assistants took their place at the water’s edge.

DSCF2962
 
DSCF2963A blessing and a toss. . .while across the harbor, young men – members of the congregation readied themselves for the bone-chilling water . . .










DSCF2966
 
The Cross is tossed. . .the race was on. . .

DSCF2967

One of the three would be the first to reach the Cross.  That young man received a cash prize from the church. Then as tradition dictates, he added more to his ‘catch’ by taking it house-to-house and person-to-person blessing places and people who in turn made small donations – that he would get to keep.

DSCF2975
This year's cross-bearer conducted blessings of homes and people
While he went to work delivering blessings, the gathered villagers celebrated, greeting each other and sipping a bit of Greek brandy, Mextaca, which had been served in plastic cups to the assembled. Some of us, like my friend Sue and I, returned to the café to finish our coffee and tea we’d been sipping while waiting for the processional to appear – we’d dashed off to watch the ceremony like everyone else. Our cups were where we’d left them . . .no one worried whether we’d return to pay or not. . .that’s the way it is in this village.

PicMonkey Collage
 
Thanks for stopping by – we always appreciate the time you spend with us.  Hope you’ll take a moment to comment, we love hearing from you! In our next post, we'll tell you how to get to this wonderful little village and our Stone House on the Hill.

This week’s link ups are with:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox  
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route  
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Greece ~ Discovering Our “Secret” Garden

Having lived our entire lives in the US Pacific Northwest – where gardens are folded up and put away between October and May – it sounded idyllic to be able to ‘garden’ in December and January in Greece.

DSCF1221
Our bedroom window
We were realists, though. We’d seen that garden: it needed work in the spring, it needed more work in the summer and when we walked through it the week before purchasing The Stone House on the Hill, it appeared it might take the rest of our lives to ‘garden’ this place back to its one-time beauty. Still, we thought, it had potential. . .

And that’s not to say there weren’t beautiful spots tucked away in this Mediterranean challenge, like the bougainvillea blooming outside our bedroom window.


DSCF0040
View frrom our parking area
The garden makes up most of the grounds of our Stone House. It cascades down a slope from its parking area, loops to the side of the house and then leads into our small terracd olive grove (if you missed that post, click the link).

Our home is one of four built on the edge of a century-old olive grove on a hillside above the small villages of Agios Dimitrios and Agios Nikolaos (St. Dimitri and St. Nicholas) in The Mani area of the Peloponnese.


Come Take Stroll through the Garden  . . .

We had bouts of cold wind and rain, so our gardening efforts were somewhat limited during our 28-days, but as I did last week with the interior of the house, I want to show you some before and after photos of this still-a-work-in-progress-potential-oasis:

Let’s start at the side of the house where it appeared the previous owners had a small un-used, and definitely unloved patio that sat forlornly near the garden’s sole lemon tree. “This will be the Wine (tea or coffee) Patio,” I said so many times that it became a mantra.

PicMonkey Collage
Before photos on left, patio revealed on the right
After a morning spent cutting and yanking vines and old growth we discovered that ‘tiny’ patio was huge! It will be loved and used. Not only will we sip wine there, we just might dine there as well!  And for you gardeners reading this, the lemon tree is one that produces year-round so no matter when we visit we should have – or at least their fragrant blossoms  – lemons, like these growing in December.

PicMonkey Collage
Our lemon tree in December
As we removed layers of vines from the patio we began discovering our ‘secret garden’ hidden away under the growth.  We opened up planting areas (for the Christmas poinsettias), and found a number of plants including a French Lavender and wonderful bits of stonework. . .all just waiting to be discovered.

PicMonkey Collage
Discovering parts of our secret garden
There is still work to be done on the side garden, as evidenced by the photos below. The previous owners were apparently content to use the ladder pictured to get from the upper garden to the lower one at the side of the house; the one that leads to the wine patio. We are having stairs built next month and we will focus on this area during our next stay:

PicMonkey Collage
The challenge area - we did plant iris along the wall to get something pretty there
Then there was the matter of the garden behind the house.

DSCF1235A sloping hillside, we thought, without much definition. 

First step was to cut, pull, dig and clean out.

Ground cover is a good thing, but there is such as thing as too much of a good thing.

So we went to work and after several days, guess what we found?







PicMonkey Collage
Work begins in the left photo - and revealed many surprises underneath the olive tree
Hidden beneath the growth were some of the original terraced stone walls of the olive grove. We also unearthed granite stones, iris beds and a carpet of nasturtiums.

DSCF3013
Morning sun highlights the iris we discovered
“The secret to being a bore is to tell everything.”
-- Voltaire
With those wise words in mind, I will end this week’s tour.  But not before I show you some of the garden blooms and colors -- in December and January mind you!!

PicMonkey Collage
Our garden blooms
Hope to see you back again soon. Come experience the special celebration in the village on January 6th and in a later post I'll take you through the neighborhood and village. By the way, if you have ideas for the side garden, do let us know!

Thanks – as always -- for the time you’ve spent with us in Greece. It means a lot to have you with us.
Happy Travels~

Linking up this week:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox  
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route  
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Greece ~ Our first 28 days. . .

And so it began, our new chapter in Greece.  We’d caught that daydream we’d been chasing for nearly a year.  There we were – finally - in that Stone House on the Hill on a chilly December afternoon, ten days before Christmas – the purchase completed only hours before.

DSCF2916
From Agios Dimitrios village our house on the hill is the one on the right
Despite having visited it so many times during the ‘purchase dance’ we did with the sellers, it was still a bit odd walking into the house that first time as its owners. The dancing was over; reality hit. It was time to get to work on all those, ‘we could do. . .’ and ‘what that place needs is . . .’ challenges we’d given ourselves.

And we had only 28 days before our flight back to the States.

PicMonkey Collage
This was the furnishing we bought with the house.
As part of the deal we’d purchased the place ‘furnished’. . .a house that had a hospital white interior (floor tile, walls and ceiling) and its main level crammed with well-worn, out-dated, over-sized furniture.

It’s downstairs was filled with boxes of belongings of the sellers – they would be stored with us the first week of ownership waiting for shipment to England.

Step One: Out with the old. (Not a lot of takers for the old stuff – but we did get rid of it!)





Step Two: Give some life to the sterile interior. (Painters arrived the first week!)

PicMonkey Collage
Testing colors and prepping the walls
What happened during those 28 days . . .

PicMonkey Collage
Then and now. . .
We used red for accent on the stairway to the bedrooms and on the fireplace. Softening the wall colors with a ‘meadow yellow’ or ‘biscotto’ color.

PicMonkey Collage
Then and now. . .

We bought smaller furniture.

PicMonkey Collage
Then and now. . .

And have opted for a country-style décor in this country home set in an olive grove.

PicMonkey Collage
Then and now. . .
We paid tribute to the lemon trees in our garden, with bedding printed with lemons and our bed and bedding  colors, are blue, yellow and green.

PicMonkey Collage
Then and now. . .
As soon as the boxes were moved out, we turned our attention to the downstairs, an area we call the guest suite, or The Garden Suite. Here we gave a nod to the plant, Lavender, by painting the sitting area a pale green and the bedroom lavender.

PicMonkey Collage
Top photos from July and December, bottom photos 'after'. . .
Again, we warmed it up a bit with garden/country flavor:

PicMonkey Collage

And we were at the end of our stay by the time we got the walls finished in the bedroom, but we'd made a start! There’s a lot more to do to decorate this place, but that will come in due time. We look forward to the scouting trips for accent furniture, wall décor and other adornments that are out there waiting to be found.

PicMonkey Collage

Sorry for the length of this one, but so many of you have asked to see the interior that I had to do a bit of ‘show and tell’ today.  Next week, I’ll show you what we got accomplished in the garden when the weather permitted as well!  Thanks for being with us today!

Now that I am back in the land of internet, I am linking this week with:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox  
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route  
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Greece: Trash Talk and Socrates

“All I know is that I know nothing.”
-- Socrates
Truer words were never spoken, than those of Socrates, the ancient philosopher, I’ve concluded after being in Greece for three weeks. Our time here has spanned both an old and new year – the time it seems that people get introspective and think deeper, philosophical thoughts. I have been thinking with such introspection it seemed the best way to tell you about them was with some ‘trash talk’:  garbage collection, quite literally.
 
DSCF1168 Maybe it is the atmosphere or something in the water, but we’ve become a bit philosophical after spending time in Greece.
 
On this visit, we’ve cut ourselves off from television and have significantly reduced computer time, mainly because the house doesn’t have either. We’ve tapped into another’s w-ifi (with his permission) and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
 
 
 
We’ve spent a lot of time outdoors – working with our hands and thinking with our heads; not relying on a Google search for a definition to answer questions. Our time and our ‘being’ has allowed for pondering. A gift of time in a manner of thinking. (When’s the last time you gave yourself unlimited time to just ‘pondered’ something?)
 
Back in the Northwest I’ve been involved with an organization that is focused on developing cultural competencies. I’ve thought a great deal about that concept as I have thought about our garbage and yes garbage and cultural competencies do go hand-in-hand for the purpose of this writing: 
 
 During one of our first visits to this area - the southern Peloponnese region of Greece - I had exclaimed in what I call ‘ignorant tourist’ disgust, “OMG! Those people are throwing their garbage in the public bins!” 
 
Two years later we bought a house here:
 
DSCF1211
The Scout on a garbage run
And quickly learned that is the way garbage is collected!

We have become “those people” who at first impression left me so aghast. In fact, I chuckled at my change in this particular activity when on New Year’s Day The Scout asked, “Shall we take a garbage run and check out what’s happening in the village?” Would this be trash talkin’ or trash travel? It certainly is a step towards making me a bit more culturally competent and less quick to judge.

DSCF1184
The road to our house - a road that connects two villages

And as I’ve had time to ponder the concept, it does make perfect sense.  The roads here –like this one in the photo that leads to our house – in many cases are small.  Not so very long ago they were dirt tracks through olive groves. Ours, a bumpy little asphalted ribbon up the hill connects two villages, but certainly is not a road that could accommodate a garbage truck!

DSCF1178 Trash bins – and they include recycle bins as well – are located throughout the towns, on larger roads and along the highway, which in this area is a two-lane road.

My list of logical but distinctly different cultural nuances doesn’t stop with garbage collection, it continues to grow with each passing day.

For example: collecting used toilet paper in a trash can aside the toilet and not the throne itself with its small plumbing pipes, makes perfect sense as it would plug them and fill the septic tanks); or heating water as needed when the solar power isn’t enough to do so. It is a matter of flipping a switch to heat water and then turning it off after a period of time to cut the electric use and bill. . .

Different countries, different cultures, and different ways of doing things. When it comes to travel it is good to remember the words of Socrates – All I know is that I know nothing -- before making those quick cultural judgments. 

How about you? What have you concluded about people and places before knowing their full story. . .the one that explains actions and behaviors?

We do wish you a Happy New Year and hope that you’ll spend time exploring the world with us in 2015! See you soon~

Hopefully I am linking up today with Nancie’s Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Greece: Trimming the trees on Christmas Day

While many of you were gathered around your gaily trimmed Christmas trees unwrapping gifts on Christmas morning, we were busy ‘unwrapping’ the gift we had given ourselves this year.  We were trimming, quite literally, our olive trees in Greece. (Still can’t quite believe they are ours, but they are!)

IDSCF1116 ’ve had fantasies about owning an olive grove since Frances Mayes in her “Under the Tuscan Sun” book planted such a notion a couple decades ago.

It sounded so Mediterranean. . .so exotic. . .so just. . .well, . . . just plain wonderful!

The 15-tree olive grove that terraces down the slope in front of this stone house were a selling point.


 I get to experience that ‘Frances Mayes’ life’ and Boy-of-the-Chelan (Washington State)-apple-orchard gets a return to his roots in a manner of speaking.

We knew it was an unloved, untended olive grove even way back last summer. What we didn’t know but have learned in the 10 days we’ve owned the place, is that our lovely trees are sick from their recent neglect.

DSCF1285
Our grove
DSCF1360 “Cancer.” The diagnosis no one ever wants to hear, even when it is a tree. “We call it olive cancer.” explained our friend, Yiannis, somberly as he looked closely at one tree.

“This will have to be taken to here”, he said of the cutting necessary on my favorite old tree at the corner of the house.DSCF1361



Prior to Christmas Day our friend, Vagelis, had done an inspection of the trees in the grove and in a similar grave tone, told us the trees needed sunlight, they were too dense. And as a result a fungus-like growth was growing on large trunks and small branches. The growths are as large as the olives.DSCF1294


Olive harvest and pruning runs from late November to February in this part of the world so we are here at the right time to supervise such an activity. And Christmas Day, turned out to be the time the workers were available so our ‘tree trimming’ was rather unconventional and quite literal this year:


DSCF1290
Trimming the trees Christmas Morning
With agility that defies comprehension the two workers climbed into the trees, cutting, sawing and cleaning out old growth.

The trimmed tree, we were told, should look like an upturned baseball glove – waiting to catch the sunlight.

DSCF1314
In six hours the trees were trimmed
The two workers came with a ladder between them and in six hours had trimmed our trees and burned the branches they had removed. We decided not to harvest this year’s crop of olives.

DSCF1298
Branches are cut and burned during the season such burns are allowed
Our ‘tree trimming’ made for a most memorable Christmas and has enticed us to return for another Christmas here next year: we might actually be harvesting our olives!

DSCF1307

Thanks for stopping by today and to our many friends and followers we wish you a Happy New Year! Your comments,DSCF1365 emails and messages mean a lot – especially as we embark on this new adventure in Greece. 

We really do appreciate having you join us at TravelnWrite and hope you’ll continue traveling with us in the coming year!

And to those of you who’ve requested more garden and house photos. . .they are coming, we just have a bit more work to do before the Phase I unveiling.

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...