Sunday, November 12, 2017

Buying a Car in Greece ~ Hi Ho Silver and Away!

Sitting and sipping at our favorite hotel rooftop bar in downtown Athens, the accents of the foursome next to us were unmistakably American.  A few more sips, a bit more sunset and a conversation commenced:

“What brings you to Athens?” we asked. 

“We are taking a cruise from here,” they answered, “How about you? Are you taking a cruise?”

“No, we are here to buy a car,” our response caused a collective intake of breath at their table.

“We live here,” we added, trying to put the answer in perspective. (Another audible intake from the foursome.)

View of the Acropolis from the Electra Palace Hotel's rooftop restaurant/bar
Admittedly, ours wasn’t  the routine response from a couple of Yanks sitting at a bar in Greece. But we are finding that our life isn’t quite as ‘routine’ as it once was.  In fact, shopping for a car when living in the rural Peloponnese of Greece is far from routine. 

A Bit of Backstory

Teeny, tiny rental cars work well on teeny, tiny roads

We’ve been part-time ex pats for almost three years. During that time we’ve rented a variety of cars. Timing our stays with ‘off season’ tourism we've had some great rates. Sometimes as low as 15-euros a day for a tiny car to navigate tiny roads.

You dread this but it happens and you must pass each other
But over the course of a three month stay -- as is allowed in Schengen Countries -- that begins to add up even with the best of deals. And renting an automatic so that The Scribe could share driving duties with The Scout  was cost prohibitive.

PicMonkey Collage
The road to The Stone House on the Hill is getting worse, not better
We were ready to tackle the car purchase a year ago but just before we returned to our Stone House on the Hill, the area was hit by whats known as ‘the 100 year storm’.  The road to our house was trashed. There’s been no sign of repairs and the road continues to deteriorate.Tiny low-slung cars were no longer an option for our tiny  obstacle-course road.

We needed a tiny SUV.

We hit a reality roadblock last autumn when we learned: we could buy a home in Greece on a tourist visa but we couldn't buy a car.  We needed a resident permit before car dealers would talk to us. You regulars here know that we spent months on our ‘road-trip to residency’ , beginning it instead of the car search last September and ending it last June. Then we returned to the States.

Some of you've been with us long enough to remember that the car pictured below had come with the house when we purchased it but when it came time to register it in our names, it couldn’t be done. We sold it when its annual registration came around.
"Our" Diahatsu came as part of the house purchase

One Year Later. . . Autumn 2017

Back on the hunt again and armed with our residency permits, we decided a used Toyota RAV 4 or a Suzuki Vitara would do the trick both in performance and price - and both models came with automatic transmissions. In addition to the purchase price and registration costs, Greece imposes an annual ‘road tax’ based on engine size and an additional ‘luxury tax’ on cars less than 10 years old. Gasoline prices are about $7 a gallon here. (Why used? The price of a new RAV ranges from 34,000 – 42,000 euros, that’s $39,434 – $48,712 – more than we planned to spend!).

It wasn’t long before we realized. . .

We Aren’t in Kansas Anymore, Toto!

Roads in our area lead to delightful mountain villages
Unlike in the United States where you can find both new and used cars at a dealer, like Toyota; in Greece dealers sell new cars and used cars are sold from a multitude of used car lots.

There’s one major on-line used car site to which we were referred time and time again. So it became our search engine as it offered ads in both Greek and English. However we did have some translating of the translations to do:

“Living room: beige with skin” finally made sense: the car’s interior is beige with leather seats. Simple, right?

Some like this one left us wondering:  “Special prices for unemployed triplets large.” (We didn’t pursue that one!)

Then came the matter of fuel options:  diesel, gasoline AND propane; sometimes a combination of gas and propane were offered. Propane is commonly used to run autos in Greece. Whoa! We are talking a tank like that which holds fuel for the barbeque in the States. And you drive around with it in the back of your car! I read up on their fuel efficiency, safety and mileage BUT I couldn’t wrap my head around a high pressure tank of propane taking up space in the back of the car. (Before you ask: electric powered cars are not an option in rural Greece.)

So our requirements now included: gas or diesel fuel and an automatic transmission. We hoped one might be found among the 34 used RAV’s available throughout Greece on our trusty used-car website. There were fewer Vitaras.

While we were told Greeks don't drive automatics someone certainly is because several times in the course of the last few months, we'd 'find' a car, call and be told it was already sold. Or it was not yet on the lot. Or no one spoke English at the company and we didn't know if they had a car or not . . .this wasn’t going to be simple.

Image result for maps of greece and islands
34 Toyota RAVs were available throughout Greece - a pretty big stretch for a search

Greece’s recent economic downslide has impacted car sales. We were told the numbers of annual new car sales have dropped to 80,000 from the 300,000 annually prior to 2008. But this drop in sales seems to have impacted all of Europe where business articles reported sales of 12.6 million cars in 2015 was two-thirds of sales in 2007. Car sharing, the economy and young people losing interest in cars were all cited as contributing factors to a decline in new car sales.

Bottom line: fewer new cars sold, fewer used cars available.

Third Time is a Charm

Focusing on Athens and its suburbs, we had two unsuccessful ventures (both 'adventures' but I will spare you the unpleasant details) to look at cars. Bottom line: we couldn’t even find the lots – and yes, we were using GPS!  Driving in Athens isn’t for sissies and finding a car lot was insanity at its finest moment. On both occasions we snarled and snapped at each other until we figured out how to get ourselves back to the freeway and returned to The Mani – in our rental car.

Mr. Nikos and The Scout discuss cars at his sales lot in Glyfada
Two weeks ago we used a different approach. We turned in the rental car at the Athens Airport, took the airport express bus into town and after a night of enjoying Athens as tourists, we  set out at 9 a.m. Monday in a taxi for a used car lot in the suburb of Glyfada (knowns as 'Athens Riviera'). Even the taxi driver, using GPS, took us to a vacant building on his first try. Eventually we arrived at the lot. A salesman named Nikos spoke English and assured us that the car we wanted to see was still for sale and in the back of the lot sat. . .

Hi Ho Silver and Away!
. . .a 2011 automatic Toyota RAV4 with sunroof, heated leather seats and so many whiz-bang features that it seemed like brand-new in comparison to the 2005 Camry we drove in the United States.

It took two days to complete the registration and obtain the license plates and purchase car insurance. During that time staff members took turns driving us between the sales lot, the insurance office, and the Toyota dealership (where the car underwent a pre-sale check). They even dropped us off and picked us up from the tourist area of Glyfada so we could sightsee instead of sitting at the dealership while waiting for the car inspection to be completed.

It took two full days, but at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, we were heading back to The Mani in our car. Mission accomplished!

Hi Ho Silver and Away. . .

The car’s silver color prompted my christening it, Hi Ho Silver. Inspired by a television show back in our childhoods that featured a ‘Lone Ranger' and his horse, Silver, (a fiery steed with the speed of light). The Lone Ranger would leap into the saddle and command, 'Hi Ho Silver and away!' (A phrase I plan on using each time we set off on a road trip to explore Greece and neighboring countries!)

That’s it for this week from The Stone House on the Hill.  Thanks for joining us on yet another adventure in ex pat life in Greece.   Hey, if any of you have an owners manual – in English – for a 2011 Toyota RAV4 laying around and want to send it to us, we’ll reimburse you for the postage!
Until we are together again, safe travels to you and yours. . . Hi Ho Silver and Away!!

Linking up this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Friday, November 3, 2017

Autumn Getaways ~ 'Novel' Destinations

The first rain of autumn arrived a week ago in the Peloponnese, carried in by a blustery wind.  Leaves, crisped by the summer's drought, were blown from trees and plants as the much needed rain dampened  thirsty gardens and groves. We stayed hunkered inside.

During the days that followed that storm, the sunshine and temperatures headed back up into the mid 70’s F and we headed back to the deck for some afternoon sunning.

No doubt about it; the seasons are beginning to change in Greece.

Signs of autumn in The Mani
It is definitely the weather – rain or shine – that invites curling up with a good book. Our 'summer of slogging' -- to bring us to this ex pat chapter of our lives -- didn’t allow any down time for such indulgences. We are more than ready to grab a book and be whisked off to some 'novel' destination to solve a murder or to watch a romance unfold or to follow along as someone else explores some new area or lifestyle.

For those new to our blog, we've moved to Greece and as of yet don’t have a television, so reading is our means of escape and entertainment. (And from the recent headlines we read on the computer, we aren’t in any rush to get a television.)

Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfous has been a favorite for decades
While I’ve got a stack of books just waiting to transport me to some new places in the next few months, I’ve also had some great springtime excursions this year via the written word.  Among the places I’ve visited are:

Kabul, Afghanistan

Deborah Rodriguez took me here in her book, The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul. With the coffee shop as a backdrop, five different women with vastly different stories come together in this debut novel, published in 2011. The book, originally published as A Cup of Friendship includes recipes, reading group questions and an interview with the author – all of which are icing on the cake for me! And the good news is, there’s another book I haven't yet read, called A Return to the Little Coffee Shop of Kabul.

Ramla, Israel

Product Details

Sandy Tolan’s real-life story of a friendship between a Palestinian and an Israeli reads like a novel, so I've included it in the 'novel' destinations post.  I am thankful a friend had recommended this in a FB post and spoken so highly of it that I was prompted to read it last spring.  The house depicted in the story and the lemon tree in the front yard are real. . .as are the character’s whose friendship of four-decades is highlighted in this story. I’ll warn you – it isn’t an easy one to read but it puts a human face on the headlines and it may be one of the best books I've ever read.

The Lemon Tree grew out of a 1998 NPR documentary in which Tolan reported on a friendship between a Palestinian man and an Israeli woman that served as an example of the region's fragile history.

The Syrian Desert 1930’s

And among my favorite novelists is Agatha Christie. When I’d run out of murders solved by her Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, I turned to some real-life books she’d written.  The only book I had time to read during our ‘summer of slogging’ was her book, Come, Tell Me How You Live, a memoir about the time spent in Syria in the 1930’s on archeological digs with her husband, Max Mallowan. It was as entertaining as her murder mysteries, emphasizing both her wit and sense of humor (which you’d have needed, I suspect when living in a desert in the 1930’s!)

The good news is that while looking up the photo of this book, I came across another by her grandson, rather recently published, titled, The Grand Tour – Around the World with the Queen of Mystery. I suspect it won’t be long until I am traveling around the world with her, however, this book has drawn real mixed reader reviews on Amazon, so maybe I’ll ponder its purchase for awhile.

A perfect place to read a book

After writing that last sentence about Amazon and knowing that in the past any such reference has brought an outcry from some who don’t like the giant, I thought I should tell you about access to books in this part of Greece. In a word: limited! 

We have two small bookstores in the village of Kardamyli, about 20 minutes away. There’s a bookshop in Kalamata, primarily stocked with Greek books. A few souvenir shops and grocery stores in the villages near us have a few paperback ‘beach reads’ in English as well as books by Nikos Kazantzakis (Zorba the Greek and many other books) and Patrick Leigh Fermor, (Mani: Travel in the Southern Peloponnese and numerous other books) the area's two most famous writers.

Books arrived at the café where we get our mail!

If we want certain titles or a variety of titles to choose from we turn to Amazon or my preferred provider of books, Book Depository, which operates much like Amazon and is based in the United Kingdom.  They don’t charge postage to mail anywhere in the world! And that fact alone has made me a loyal customer.

Joan and Patrick Leigh Fermor's home outside Kardamyli
We also have a few eateries in the villages that kindly offer space for book exchanges so we have another source of reading materials.  Since so many of the ex pats in the area are British, we are being introduced to a number of their authors we’d have never discovered on our own.

We’ve been here nearly a month and are finally getting over the unsettled phase of life that we’ve been in since July.  I can tell you that a move such as ours causes earth tremors among the great bureaucracies of the world.  Those stories as well as the car shopping adventure are on the docket for future posts about this new ex pat life we've entered.

Got any ‘novel’ destination recommendations for us to explore this winter? If so, let us know. You can never have too many books on your 'must read' list!  Until the next time, safe and happy travels ot you and yours. Thanks again for the time you spend with us! (And thanks to those of you've who've rounded up new readers through your recommendations!)

Linking this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Greece: Oh Nuts! We missed the Chestnut Festival!

The Greeks know how to celebrate. They’ve got festivals for name days, saints days, and holidays. They even celebrate the sardine in our village. And just up the road there’s a village that celebrates the chestnut. 

Chestnuts roasting on the open fire. . .Jack Frost definitely not nipping at the air
We’ve never been in town for the mid-summer sardine festival, but we haven't missed the chestnut festival for the last two years. We are simply, well. . . nuts about it! This year, however, our delayed return to Greece as the events unfolded related to selling our house in the U.S. meant that we arrived here just ahead of our houseguests and we set off on a road trip with them returning just before festival day. We skipped the festival to focus on household chores.  The good news is that by settling into full-time life in the Greek Peloponnese we’ll have no excuse for missing it and all the other festivals coming our way in the future.

One advantage of being a shutterbug is that you can relive those festivals with a click of a computer keyboard. So come, let us show you the festivals that we have attended:

Chestnuts roasting - a very hot job
The village in which the festival is held in our area is named Kastania – for the chestnut tree, of course! And I should mention chestnut festivals are held in many villages in Greece – someday perhaps we’ll get to experience one in another region. However, it would be difficult to top this one.

Festival central - in the middle of the village

On festival day the village square becomes ‘festival central’ as residents and visitors alike gather to eat, drink, visit and listen to music. . .and as the day becomes night, to dance if the notion strikes them.

Festivals we’ve attended in the village are remarkably commercial free – no corporation has naming rights to the square or the event, as has become the norm back in the States. And aside from a row of arts and crafts tables (items made locally) there is little call to spend money.

PicMonkey Collage
Traditional bean soup - a festival highlight
We learned that at the first festival we attended when we attempted to buy two bowls of the traditional Greek bean soup. The aroma drew us to the taverna on the square where volunteers were ladling soup from an enormous vat and bowls lined the table. “We’d like to buy two bowls,” we said. Absolutely, not! They were free.

PicMonkey Collage
Churches are open in the village
Many of the village churches are open during the festival and we never miss an opportunity to visit them. Kastania, a quiet little hamlet tucked away in the hills, is one of our favorite destinations.  We were a bit taken back when we visited on Easter Sunday and found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a Rick Steve’s tour group. (This American travel guru seems to have 'discovered' the Greek Peloponnese and he’s got some 20+ tour groups heading there in 2018. We hope he doesn’t do to it what he did to Paris’s Rue Cler, often called Rue Rick Steve’s for the guidebook toting tourists who patrol its streets seeking those places he recommends).

Village streets wind up the hillside - too narrow for cars, you walk
The interior of this village, like so many in Greece, is accessed on foot.  Its pathways a maze among ancient stone walls and buildings, with some interesting nook or cranny at every turn. And because the village is on the hillside it makes for a good workout to walk from the lower town to the upper.

Slate roof - up close as you head up through the village
Many of the village homes have slate for their roof.  The walkway takes you up close in a number of places.


'Secret gardens' tucked away between the closely set buildings always seem like finding treasure as you happen upon them.

Renovated tower overlooks the square

That’s it from us this week. We are busy settling into this full-time residency in Greece.  The fall planting is underway in our garden, the olive harvest is now days away. We've undertaken a new adventure: buying a car in Greece . . .it isn't as easy as you may think! (But it will certainly make for a future blog post, that's for sure.)  Thanks for your time and all the good wishes you sent after reading our last post. 

Until next time, our wishes for safe and healthy travels to you and your family.

Linking  up with these fine folks:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Greece ~ An Autumn Homecoming

“Life offers you a thousand chances... all you have to do is take one.”
                                                                             – Frances Mayes

We are home.

Nestled into the edge of our small olive grove on a hillside in Greece’s Peloponnese, the Stone House on the Hill -- that captured our hearts and imaginations three years ago --  has drawn us back again in our annual autumn pilgrimage.

This time it is different. We are no longer tourists marking our calendar with the 90-day deadline for leaving this Schengen Country. We are residents who are settling in for awhile.

We are home in Greece.

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Stone House on the Hill foreground, Agios Dimitrios and Agios Nikolaos - our new world
The journey between Seattle in America’s Pacific Northwest and this hillside haven in the region known as The Mani is a hefty one. The flight to Europe takes about 10 hours no matter which gateway city – London, Paris, Amsterdam, Munich –  you choose as a connecting point for a flight to Athens. (There are no direct flights between Seattle and Athens.)

Thanks to time zone changes, you arrive the next day whether you leave Seattle in the afternoon or evening. Then, the flight to Athens adds another four hours to the journey. From there a car or bus ride completes the journey another 3 – 4 hours.

20151119_155419 [622832]
The Stone House on the Hill - our full-time home for the near future
As those who’ve been with us for awhile know, our journey to residency took a bit longer. It was September 2016 that we took the first steps towards becoming full-time ex pats and finally in June concluded that journey.  But all that is history! The bags are unpacked. We are settling in.
We are ready to see what direction the next year might take us!

PicMonkey Collage
Too many choices for adventure!

“I had the urge to examine my life in another culture and move beyond what I knew.”
                                                                        – Frances Mayes

Moving into The Stone House on the Hill mindset

P1040523Last week we checked off the last of our Pacific Northwest ‘to do’ list for pausing our lives there. Once aboard the plane we refocused on our ‘to do’ list  here.

I realized that while I told you last spring (probably more than you ever wanted to know) about the time spent obtaining resident visas, I never got around to telling you about what was going on at the house.

Now we are ready to start some new projects and finish off those we started a few months ago.

So lets pick up the story there. . . 

With the idea in the back of our minds that this might be a full time home for us (for long before I mentioned it to you all), we tackled some projects to warm up our rather stark stone house.

Starting at the Top

We’ve always been taken with the wood ceilings of Greek houses. Problem was ours came with a concrete ceiling that gave an industrial factory or hospital-like feel to the place. Painting it a light blue, softened its impact but still it felt factory-like. If we were going to be here for awhile, it was time for change.

We chose a traditional Greek style from yesteryear for our new wooden ceiling. Back in the old days, our carpenters told us, they didn’t have the machines to make the wood slats interlocking so they were joined by a narrow strip of wood.

PicMonkey Collage
New traditional-style wood ceilings at The Stone House on the Hill
We were taken with that old look and were thrilled at how the change warmed up the interior. We’ll be finishing them off with a varnish or paint wash this fall – we ran out of time in the spring.

As luck would have it, the talented father-son duo, Ilias and Dimitri, who installed our ceilings are also our neighbors. They live, and have an enormous carpentry shop, at the foot of ‘our’ hill in the village of Agios Dimitrios (St. Dimitri). Young Dimitri speaks English so I also explained a storage dilemma I had in the kitchen. He scratched his shaved head, flashed a big grin and a week later he and his dad solved my problem with a piece they’d created in that workshop of theirs.

PicMonkey Collage
New shelf - new look for the Stone House on the Hill
We also finished the project undertaken last fall when we re-did the main floor bathroom (at the top of the red stairs).  We’d not liked it from the get-go but we’d been unable to find a tile shop in the big city of Kalamata, an hour north of us.

We knew there must be a glut of such shops, but the few we happened upon offered small dust covered displays, and the proprietor – usually elderly – only spoke Greek.  We’d wait while he summoned a son, daughter, friend, nearby shopkeeper to come and translate for us and then learn that the style we liked was no longer being made. (That begs the question, “why was it still in the showroom?’, but I digress.  . .) 

I can’t tell you the hours spent searching for ‘a tile shop’.

Finally we found a store! And these are big-deal, high-five-hand-slapping accomplishments for ex pats!

It is a magnificent store where English was spoken, and that sells an amazing array of Spanish made tiles. We’d driven past it on numerous occasions but there was nothing in its name to tell us they sold tile (friends finally directed us there).  The staff helped us find an installer - the bathroom got its much-needed make-over last fall. We finished off the moldings and ceiling work ourselves this spring. The old is on the left and our new look on the right below:

PicMonkey Collage
That shower base on the left was stained the color of the dirt here - impossible to clean

That Mediterranean Garden of Ours

One can never have too many plants in a Mediterranean garden, we’ve decided. So our garden keeps growing, make that enlarging, as I am not sure about the growing part. Our plans are to create a new ‘garden in the grove’ where flowers and vegetables will live happily ever after. Consider the photo below the ‘before’ photo. Fingers crossed, it will look vastly different after a few continuous months of effort. That little border strip already contains hibiscus, calla lilly, lavender, lantana, plumbago, geranium and daisies  – they are all there in the photo – just too small to see. And I should tell you we found the summer's drought and heat took a heavy toll on this project -- we are back to square one.

Soon to be a 'garden in the grove' - I hope!

Plumeria starts
One of the head-shaking parts of travel for us, is discovering the similarities in the world’s gardens. We are not sure whether we need to thank those early day explorers or Mother Nature for intermixing the worlds’ flora.

Those plants I’ve named above could just as easily been part of my Pacific Northwest garden. I brought lavender, dafne, and iris starts with me from Kirkland this fall to add to the iris growing in the garden here. Last spring I  brought those plumeria (frangipani, as it is known in many places), starts from Hawaii.

Roses, geraniums, chrysanthemums, and anthurium are among plants that flourish here.

Work began in the spring to enlarge the side garden - and the summer destroyed it all

“Although I am a person who expected to be rooted in one spot forever, as it has turned out I love having the memories of living in many places.”
– Frances Mayes

And Don’t forget travel: Europe the Middle East and Africa Await!

Egypt is so close we have no excuse not to return!

You travel enthusiasts out there, take note: don’t let all this ‘home projects talk’ make you think we are daft enough to have given up our travel ambitions.  Just the opposite!

Part of the selling point of living on this side of the sea was to shorten flying time and to make travel more affordable and easy to accomplish.

In four hours we can fly from Athens to London and in just over two to Rome, Italy.  We can be in Cairo  in under two hours and Dubai, in just about seven. With the proliferation of low-cost carriers in Europe, such flights cost little.

The number of airlines and flight frequency is steadily increasing at the Kalamata airport, only an hour’s drive from us. 

One of our spring road trips took us to this delightful location
And there’s still so much of Greece waiting to be discovered as well.   I can assure you that the travel tales will be continuing as well as the stories of adapting to ex pat life.

“Any arbitrary turning along the way and I would be elsewhere; I would be different.”
                                                                                -- Frances Mayes

The quotes in this post are all from Frances Mayes, whose 1996 memoir “Under the Tuscan Sun” first sparked the possibility of ex pat life in Europe and a subsequent book “A Year in The World” further fueled the idea. 

Those of you toying with the idea of ex pat life – and many of you have said you are – as well as armchair travelers would find both enjoyable reads. 
As always, we thank you for the time you spend with us and look forward to welcoming you back again next week.  Your comments and emails are treasures. 

Safe and happy travels to you and yours~

“Where you are is who you are. The further inside you the place moves, the more your identity is intertwined with it. Never casual, the choice of place is the choice of something you crave.”
      --- Frances Mayes

Linking up this week with these fine bloggers:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Expat Life ~ With a Foot in Two Worlds

All my bags are packed
I'm ready to go. . . 

. . .'Cause I'm leavin' on a jet plane
Don't know when I'll be back again. . .

                                                          -- Lyrics by John Denver, sung by Peter, Paul and Mary

“Leaving on a Jet Plane” is one of my favorite pre-travel theme songs.  This year perhaps its lyrics are a bit more poignant and at the same time a bit more exciting than ever before. We will soon be off to Greece.

And for the first time ever, we won’t be returning to a home base in Washington State.
We’ve always had a home in Washington. And that’s what makes this such a journey into new uncharted territory for us.

From the airplane - Washington State's Mount Rainier
P1050095Regulars at TravelnWrite know we’ve just concluded a “Summer of Slogging” at our Pacific Northwest home; cleaning out and organizing our life’s accumulations in order to embark on a new adventure: living in Greece.

[For those new folks – we purchased a home in Greece 2.5 years ago and obtained our residency permits this spring. It was the nudge we needed to go from our part-time to full-time ex pat life.]

With treasures tucked away in storage, given away or sold, we put our home of 30 years on the market two weeks ago. In a head-spinning blink of time it sold within 48-hours.

In two weeks, we’ll be boarding a flight to Athens.  With our heads still spinning, we have yet to feel the euphoria of freedom and adventure that so many ex pats before us have promised will happen.

Not Here Nor There

Instead of swooning over newfound freedom we are teetering between two worlds; feeling neither here nor there. A Twilight Zone of sorts.

Our destination: The Mani, Greek Peloponnese
Cue up Rod Serling (those of you of a certain age will know who I mean). In that quiet tone he’ll tell the viewing audience,“The Smiths  have just realized they are in a world of limbo – no longer rooted in the U.S. and not yet planted in Greece. Their only way out is through a maze of lists, logistics, and lessons.”

In the grand scheme of things, our Twilight Zone is nothing. Compared to those uprooted and homeless as result of hurricanes, wild fires, floods and social unrest, what we are experiencing is a blip on the comfort zone. Yet, when your world is shifting – if even by choice, as ours is – the change process is seismic.

The Logistics and Lists of Leaving

Way back in June we told you all that we’d be back in Greece by mid-September. Heck, yes! No sweat! We’d clean out the house, put it on the market, come back in a few months when it sold and complete our move.

Arriving in Athens, Greece

That was the plan alright but as the old saying goes. . .life has a way of happening while you are busy making plans for it. Time to regroup, take a closer look at those lists and logistics and forge ahead. . .

Regrouping and refocusing - taking a closer look at details
Changing dates:  We now have an early October date to move out of the house. We have a date for closing the sale. We have a new departure date for Greece.  And none of those dates are the same.
If all goes as planned (and that phrase is our new mantra) paperwork will be completed one day, we’ll finish moving out of our already-pretty-empty-house another, we’ll spend a couple nights in a SeaTac Airport hotel and two weeks from today we will fly to Greece.
* A lesson learned: we were able to change both the date and destination of our return flight on British Airways for little over $1,000 for both of us and we were able to stay in the previously booked premium economy section. That was less than we’d have paid if we’d have cancelled this the trip (the return leg of our trip here in June) and rebooked it using premium economy with the low-cost Norwegian Airlines and a regional airline.

“Moving abroad. . .must sell. . .” the reality is that no matter what they tell you about storage units, you can’t get the contents of a three-bedroom home into a 200-square-foot-storage unit. And further, in a hot housing market, volunteer agencies get mighty selective in the donations they accept.
*A lesson learned: We’ve attempted to donate some of our furniture that won’t fit in storage, to organizations serving the needy and homeless. Several of them have on line lists of items they will accept.  Two organizations in the Seattle area, charge a fee to cover the costs of picking up your donations.  The fee is $300 for one group and $500 for another.  We’ve opted to sell the furniture using on-line classified ad sites.

PicMonkey Collage
Our cars and Herbie

Soon to be Car-less in Seattle:  After having been a two-car couple for decades, (with Herbie my ‘69 Bug a pretty face in our garage) we are going car-less. We sold both of our cars to friends in the eastern part of the state. Herbie (sob!) has been sold to a local classic car enthusiast. Timing is everything at this stage of the game and our friends are working around our schedule, taking our last car the morning of our departure for Greece.
*Lesson learned: Opting to sell the cars will result in no storage costs (for Herbie alone the quotes were from $200 US a month to $350) nor insurance payments or licensing costs which amount to savings of several hundred dollars. On the downside, we will need to rent a car when we come back for visits, but the savings will pay for it.
This was too many bags - we'll have more this trip!
Packing the Bags:  While packing boxes and garbage bags has been the main focus of the summer, I’ve also been packing travel bags.  We are breaking all our previous rules about traveling light and will be herding more bags than either of us would prefer.  But we’ve realized that all those things that we’ve previously left ‘at home’ when we travel, for example those file folders with tax, medical and other ‘life’ information, also need to relocate.
*Lesson learned: By flying premium economy we are each allowed two free checked bags, an additional carry-on bag and one personal item.  We explored the cost of shipping a suitcase or a box the size of a suitcase and found it to be $200 for each piece and some who do international suitcase shipping don’t serve Greece.
Washington State ferry and Seattle Space Needle - icons of our life here

“The address and phone number associated with this account?” I’ve had three encounters in recent weeks – at retail stores, service providers and state agencies that all asked for some account identification that included either an address or phone number.  Hmmm. . . so what do we use to access those accounts when we don’t have an address or phone numbers?
*Lesson learned:  We will maintain a U.S. address by using a mail forwarding company in our town.  For $20 a month, plus a small charge and postage costs, they will forward our ‘snail mail’ to Greece.  By not having a land line, internet provider and cell phone as we do now in the U.S. we’ll save more than $300 a month, nearly $4,000 a year. We’ll rent a mobile phone during future extended stays in the U.S. or do like we did only a few short years ago when we traveled without mobile phones.  Wouldn’t that be a novel thing to do?
PicMonkey Collage
Homeless in Seattle . . .but not Homeless  ‘How does it feel to be homeless?,’ our U.S. friends are asking with increasing frequency. ‘When will you be home?’ our friends in Greece are asking. It’s all in your perspective.
Home for the indefinite future will be in our Stone House on the Hill, on the edge of our olive grove overlooking our slice of The Mani. In three week’s we’ll no longer be ticking off lists and logistics, but will be scheduling our olive harvest. We’ll still be listening to our UW Husky football games (broadcast live in the early morning hours of Sundays) and following our Seattle Seahawks on internet feeds and FB updates. We’ll read the Seattle Times and watch televised feeds to keep up with Washington and U.S. news. We’ll welcome guests from the Pacific Northwest to our home. We’ll come back and visit.

*Lesson learned:  In June I was thinking of life as chapters - this one closing and another beginning. I've changed over the summer. I now think of it as life's continuing story, a single chapter in which the setting may change, new characters are added, the plot will have new twists and turns; but it all will serve to make the chapter larger and more interesting. It won't be a chapter's closing.

Again, thanks for being with us and all your words of encouragement and excitement as our adventure unfolds.  We appreciate your time and love reading your comments and emails. Hope you’ll return again next week and bring some friends and family with you! Safe and healthy travels to you and yours~

Linking this week with:
Through My Lens

Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Towering Tales ~ Feuding, Fighting and Families

The road clinging to the cliff side had become so narrow that I shut my eyes and gripped the door handle to the side of my seat. . .all the while praying that we wouldn’t meet an on-coming car. The Scout, behind the wheel, was navigating our ascent up the mountain on a roadway, barely wide enough for our small SUV.

We’d set off last spring to find a village that had been recommended as a ‘must see’  in a region of the Peloponnese known as the Mesa or Inner Mani. The higher we went, the more narrow the road became, offering no pull out or turn-around on its winding ascent.

The Mesa Mani, that begins about an hour’s drive to the south of our Greek Stone House on the Hill, is a wild, wondrous area that overwhelms the senses. Such a rugged, vast area -  in places so remote - that it can put your nerves on edge. . .

Wide open spaces of the Mesa Mani - Peloponnese
We were traveling through one of those nerve-jangling areas that provided us with magnificent sweeping views of this storied land  (when I had the courage to open my eyes, that is).

“Gripping that door won’t save you,” The Scout, in his matter-of-fact way observed aloud, never taking his eyes of the narrow strip of pavement or his hands off the wheel.

I wondered if we’d mentioned to anyone we might be coming this way, just in case we were to end up somewhere in the bottom of the ravine our route was rimming. . .

The road quite literally less-traveled  Mesa Mani Peloponnese
“Let’s get a coffee” when we get there, I suggested through gritted teeth, my eyes still shut.
Now had we read the guidebook before setting out I would have never made such a ridiculous suggestion, but then had we read the book, we likely wouldn’t have been on this road to Mountanistiki either:

Just us and the wind in this hilltop town - Peloponnese
The road, was just as the book described it: ‘really quite a driving experience with vertiginous drops’ [that] . . .leads to a depopulated ghost town set on a mountainous ridgeline at 600 meter (1,950 feet) elevation’. Yes, it described it all to a tee!

No coffee to be found in this town - Peloponnese
With the wind as our tour guide, we followed the town’s narrow walkways past crumbling structures and fences. ‘Why had it been built and why had it been abandoned?’ we pondered. ‘And who might still be living among the ruins?’ 

The town, its houses and towers built between 1880 – 1910, was definitely a ghost town with perhaps evidence of one or two places still being occupied. 

I suspect its towers, pyrgos, as they are called in Greek, could have answered our questions. They are among some 800 towers that remain scattered about the Mani; towers that have played a major part in its history.

Oh, the tales they could tell about the feuding, fighting and families . . .

The tales these towers could tell - Peloponnese

Towering Tales

Limestone rocks - Mesa Mani, Peloponnese
Let’s begin at the beginning: A popular local story about the Mesa or Inner Mani, is that when God created the earth he was left with a pile of rocks and he put them in this expansive arid area. Its early settlers, the Maniots, used those rocks to build homes, fences – and towers.  The competition for its scant resources, necessary to sustain life and livelihood, led to feuds and that’s where those towers come into importance in this area’s history.

Every village still has a tower or two in the Mesa Mani - Peloponnese

Families built tower houses – ‘mini castles’, as they are often described – some five stories high, and accessed upper levels with ladders that could be pulled up behind them. Holes were built in the walls from which they could shoot a gun or dump boiling water or oil on unwanted arrivals.  While this may sound like a medieval tale, this was the way of life going on well into the 19th Century in this part of Greece.

Towers, towers everywhere - Mesa Mani, Peloponnese
Unlike the Outer or Exo Mani to the north where a village was ruled by a single captain of a family, this area often had several feuding clans residing in a single village.

“Sons were called ‘guns’ as wielding one was their main virtue,”
explains Andrew Bostock in his book, Greece: The Peloponnese.

I should note that the towers also came in handy to ward off a variety of foreign invaders and pirates who played a significant role in the area’s history as well. 

Postcard pretty Vathia in the southern Peloponnese

Unlike the ghost town we visited, there are some pretty spectacular tower towns that are easily reached. One is Vathia, a post-card-picture-perfect town; home to a few permanent residents. It is said to have once sported a ‘forest’ of towers. One account from 1805 tells of a war in the village that lasted 40 years and cost 100 lives. 

Vathia - Mesa Mani, Peloponnese
There were three types of towers and they were indications of a clan’s strength and unity: the war tower, the tower house and the tower dwelling. They dot the Mani-scape. Many have fallen to ruin; some are being or have been restored. Some modern homes are built in the tower home design or have incorporated a tower into their design. Many towers these days are downright charming.

Today's tower is most inviting - Peloponnese
Yet, they are a testament to the times when the area was definitely a rough, tough place. You are wrapped in history everywhere you travel in this area. And sometimes, when you least expect it, you come across some rather ominous reminders of the not-so-long-ago past like this sign we saw mounted on the side of a building in a village called Dry:

PicMonkey Collage
If only we could read a bit more Greek. . .

Armed (pun intended) with just a bit of folklore and history, a trip through this part of Greece can stimulate the senses and the imagination. While locals could probably tell you the exact history of each tower we are content in conjuring up possible storylines while speculating about. . .who carried those stones, how long did it take and how did they do it and when?

Can you see it there on the Cliffside?
We aren’t the only ones who come up with storylines about this place. Jeffrey Siger, our friend who spends his time on the island of Mykonos writing crime novels set in various Greek locales, visited the Mani and has penned both interesting blog posts about his research trips to this area: and conjured up a very good story in his sixth book in the Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis series. Well worth a read if you are visiting the area, and like us, love reading novels set in areas you are visiting.

If You Visit:


As vast and deserted parts of the Mani may seem, it is home to 98 of the 118 listed traditional settlements of the Peloponnese. And within many of those villages you will find tourist accommodations, tavernas and eateries.

We stayed at the family-owned and operated Citta dei Niccliani. It is just outside the village of Gerolimenas during this trip.  It provided affordable luxury accommodations which were most welcome after a day’s explorations in the area.

Table tops at this Aeropoli restaurant are tributes to the towers
A recommended route links Aeropoli on the west to Gythio on the east with a stop at to Tenaro at the tip of the point in the south.  Allow plenty of time though to explore villages and soak up the views along the route. It can be done in a day, but is a far richer experience if done a bit more slowly.

The ‘highway’ is a well-maintained two-lane road. Invest in a road map, sold at larger grocery stores and tourist shops, that is printed both in Greek and English. Some road signs are in Greek and a bilingual map is the key to deciphering them. The road I described in the opening is not ‘the highway’.


That’s it for this week.  Thanks for the time you’ve spent with us ~ as always, we appreciate it! And thanks to those who’ve shared these posts on FB with friends and family. If this is your first visit to TravelnWrite, use the sign up button on the right hand column to receive these weekly  in your inbox! Safe travels to you and yours ~

Linking this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration


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