Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Greece ~ Just a Year Ago. . .

Happiness is not a goal – it’s a by-product of a life well lived.
              -- Eleanor Roosevelt

A year ago this week we packed our bags and headed to San Francisco, California. A short jaunt compared to our usual travels: an hour and a half flight each way, a couple nights stay and we were back home in the Pacific Northwest.

Such a tiny little trip with such a huge impact on our lives.

The Stone House on the Hill - middle row, far right
Today, sitting in our home in Greece where we are living as full-time expats, I think of that trip as the first domino to fall; setting off a series of  life-changing events. We’d gone to that city by the bay to  make a case for being granted an entry visa to Greece. A face-to-face meeting at the Greek consulate. That began the process of obtaining a permanent resident permit; one that would allow us to stay here longer than 90 days at a time and also allow us to buy and register a car. 

The application process – as you long-time friends and readers know – was a lengthy endeavor and so focused on it were we that we wouldn’t allow ourselves to ponder the possibilities that having it in hand might bring . . .

Pursuing the Possibilities. . .

“We need much less, than we think we need.”
              -- Maya Angelou

Rainbow over the Mani 
We went from pondering to pursuing possibilities in rapid fire succession once we got those precious little plastic cards proclaiming us residents of our adopted country.

While I often encourage 'pondering possibilities and chasing daydreams' in my writings, there comes a time in life when you’ve either got to act on them or file them away and get on with the status quo. We knew in our hearts and heads, that for these two boomer-aged adventurers, it was time to act.

So here we are. . .now what?

“Many people lose the small joys in the hope for the big happiness.”
                            -- Pearl S. Buck

Afternoon coffee break at The Stone House on the Hill

It has taken a year for the dominos to fall into place and for us to settle in to this new lifestyle. Although we returned for full-time living last fall, the reality of being based here didn’t hit until we returned from our six-week visit to the U.S. 

The few days we spent in the Northwest, tagged on to the start and finish of our Hawaiian timeshare life, were interesting. We loved seeing friends there. Time didn’t allow us to see all that we’d have liked, but time is limited when one travels. We lived in hotel rooms, each stay being only a couple miles from what was once our home.

It was unsettling to be in an area we know so well and to slip into the old rhythms and routines: running errands, making appointments and shopping with such ease, yet feeling a bit of an outsider to it as well.

Wild flowers carpet the olive groves in February
Back at home in Greece we found ourselves returning to our rhythms and routines here as easily as we had in our former Northwest stomping grounds. Just as we got caught up with friends 'back there', we’ve spent the last week getting caught up with friends 'back here'.

A New Chapter at The Stone House on the Hill
It is the first time we’ve seen the Mani in February. The olive groves are carpeted in wild flowers, almond trees are in bloom and roses are budding. Mother Nature can’t make up her mind to dress for spring or winter so sometimes we have 65F/18C days and others a howling wind and rain.

With the logistics behind us it is time to really live in Greece. The Scout is mapping out travel options in the Peloponnese and further afield on this side of the ocean, we have a stack of books to read (we continue to avoid owning a television) and the seed packets I stuffed in my suitcases when we moved last fall need to be planted. Our days are full. We sleep soundly at night.

The Stone House on the Hill from the olive grove
We’ll be welcoming three sets of friends who are visiting in the late spring, I’m going to make good on my promise to learn more Greek and my writing journal – that has sat untouched for a year – is going to be filled with scribbles. Who knows? We might even attend that summer Sardine Festival that I’ve whined about missing while high stepping to the “Schengen Shuffle”.

We’ve got a year to enjoy this life before we get back on that Road to Residency and begin our next journey: renewing our residency permits.

“At some point you gotta let go, and sit still and allow contentment to come to you.”
                                                     -- Elizabeth Gilbert

Sunset in Kardamyli village
It’s been an amazing year and we thank you all for being with us as we leaped hurdles, celebrated successes, stopped at roadblocks and then accelerated at full speed ahead.  We hope you’ll continue to be part of the journey as this is the year when the real fun begins!  See you back here next week and until then safe travels to you and yours!

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

Monday, February 5, 2018

Ballistic missiles, tsunamis and other Tropical Tales. . .

We arrived in Hawaii the day after its now-infamous missile warning was issued – a false alarm that reverberated around the world.

A few days after we arrived we missed the tsunami warning for the island of O’ahu. It had been real but issued during the night and withdrawn before we woke.

Last week we missed – again, by a day -- a high speed shoot-em-up freeway chase on O’ahu’s west side near our Ko Olina resort  in which the suspect was shooting at pursuing police and later held them at bay for 17 hours in the small town just north of us.

It seems that even a tropical island paradise has both 'wonders' and 'warts'.  Regulars here know I usually focus on the ‘wonders’ because I want to inspire you to pack up and head out on your own adventures or to entertain you armchair travelers. But sometimes the ‘warts’ are as interesting as the wonders and are worthy of focus . . . for example:

The Missile Alert

20180131_002331-1_resized (1)
The emergency alert showing on some cell phones in Hawaii
In case you’ve been off the planet or away from the news in recent weeks, here's the gist of what happened: On Saturday, Jan. 13th the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) issued the alert shown in the photo above. It appeared on some cell phones and the state’s warning systems.

(Intercontinental ballistic missiles are designed primarily to carry nuclear warheads so with the war of words going on between North Korea and the U.S. you can imagine the way the message was interpreted).

Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 headline in the Honolulu paper
Within two minutes officials knew the warning was sent in error - there was no missile -- yet it took 38 minutes to issue a corrected message. Now that might not sound like a very long time, but from the stories we’ve heard and read, it was for many an eternity and a horrifying one at that:

*families huddled together in interior closets and called loved ones elsewhere in the world to say goodbye. Then cell phone systems jammed and phones didn’t work.

*at least one man on the island of O’ahu had a heart attack,

* some hotels evacuated tourists, others had them shelter in place some issued emergency directives, others didn't.

* a local man told us he grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniels and headed to his roof to watch it end – he knew there would be no place to safely shelter, he said.

* a long-married couple visiting the island told each other ‘it had been a great run’, made themselves MaiTais and went to the beach to sip them while waiting for the end.

Remember, many residents of the island of O’ahu are only a generation away from - and can still tell personal stories of -- the World War II Pearl Harbor attack by the Japanese. So alerts for any type of imminent attack are taken seriously.

The Missile’s Fallout

The day we arrived on O’ahu; the day after the false alarm, the investigations were already underway. The employee in charge of pushing that button had done so in error, and was horrified about it, it was reported. News stories over the days following said the employee was placed on a leave of absence and death threats were being received at the agency.  . .

Headline Honolulu newspaper Jan. 31, 2018
Two and a half weeks later, the missile's fallout continues. On Jan. 31st headlines were still in mega-point type face and more information was being released about the investigation’s findings and conclusions:

*The employee who sent the false alert had been a ‘source of concern’ for more than 10 years. And had at least two times before this incident had confused drills with real events and had been ‘counseled’.

* 'HI-EMA had not anticipated the possibility of issuing a false alert and wasn’t prepared to issue a correction” and officials also mistakenly believed  they had to consult with the Federal Emergency Management Agency before  issuing an official notice of the alert being false.

* The Governor ‘was delayed in sending out social media notification because he forgot his Twitter password'.

* The employee was fired and the head of the agency resigned. (The employee has hired an attorney and been giving interviews to news media that counter some of the report conclusions.)

Then Came the Tsunami Alert. . .

Wind and rain often are part of an island visit
We first learned of the tsunami from an ex pat British friend back home in our Greek Mani who wrote a note saying, “Bloody Hell. . .now a tsunami?!”  I wrote back assuring him that the alert had been for the West Coast of the United States after an earthquake in the Pacific Ocean near Alaska. “No where near us,” I assured him.

Well, later in the day we learned that there had been an alert issued for our island as a second earthquake had occurred nearer Hawaii – several night owls here were up late enough to receive it on their cell phones.

Our resort  manager explained later that with a tsunami – unlike an incoming missile – there’s usually a four to six hour window before it hits so they were aware of the warning but opted to make sure it was going to stay valid  before rousting several thousand guests in the middle of the night. The alert was called off a few hours after being issued.

Ignorance is bliss, I’ve decided.

Shoot outs and other day-to-day realities

Beaches on O'ahu's west side
With a population estimate of 1.4 million people this island state ranks 13th in the US for population density.

The island of O’ahu (best known for its Honolulu and Waikiki Beach) has some 950,000 of the state’s residents. Crime shouldn’t be a surprise here but still it seems incongruous with the island’s beauty. We visitors find ourselves so enchanted with our surroundings we wonder how residents could possibly abuse this paradise with crime.

The shootout I referenced in the opening of this post took place on the Main Road on this end of the island, a few miles northwest of the resort. It involved a high speed chase with the fleeing suspect shooting at pursuing officers and ended with a 17-hour stand-off at a residence in the town of Waianae.. The alleged ‘shooter’ was reportedly under the influence of crystal methamphetamine, or ‘ice’ as it is called.  No one was injured and the suspect is being held on $3 million bail.
(Sounds more like an episode of Hawaii-5-0 than reality, doesn’t it?)

Junk card along one of the Waianae country roads
I’ve been working on a freelance travel article while we are here which has taken us to new territory on the island – beautiful places tucked away in the shadows of the Waianae Mountain range.  One of the most startling things about this new area was that locals are dumping cars along side the roadways.

We asked a local resident about the unsightly dumping and she said, “The Mayor came out and made them clean it up. They were all gone – they hauled them away but then they were all back again.”  'Really??', we asked ourselves. Sadly, that section of roadway looks worse than some third world countries we’ve visited. Warts, to be sure.

So . . .Warts or Wonders?

Lanikai Beach - windward side O'ahu
We’ve been asked a dozen times by people we’ve met this trip, “Why are you living in Greece?” but no one asks, “Why did you come to Hawaii?”   No one questions this tropical paradise as a destination. The parade of wide-bodies jets begin arriving early each morning from Asia and Australia and by early afternoon the parade is coming from the United States and Canada. The number of visitors here topped 9.4 million last year.

Ewa Beach area looking back at Honolulu and Diamond Head
Hawaii and our island of O’ahu haven't lost their magic despite bungled emergency alerts, irresponsible dumping, crime and other ‘warts’.

Sunset from our timeshare home at KoOlina - O'ahu
Bottom line is: no place is perfect – despite what the tourist organizations tell you.    And Hawaii’s welcome and its wonders continue to overshadow its warts. We are thankful the missile alert wasn’t real – what a shame it would be to destroy this tropical paradise . . .

That’s it for this week from the island of O’ahu. Our time in Hawaii has gone rapidly. Won’t be long before we are heading back to The Stone House on the Hill. Thanks for the time you spend with us and we wish you a safe and happy week until we are back together again.

Linking up this week with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration
Best of Weekend

Saturday, January 27, 2018

How Sweet that Taste of Tripoli!

No, not that Tripoli.

Not the one in Libya. And for that matter, not the one in Lebanon.

I am talking. . .‘our’ Tripoli – the one in the Greek Peloponnese. The one located about half way between our home in The Mani to its west as it is from Athens to its east.  A two hour drive from either direction will get you there.

Tripoli - the heart of Arcadia
Overview of Tripoli  Photo credit: traveltripolis.gr

It’s one of the largest cities in the prefecture of Arcadia, And it boasts a population of somewhere between 26,000 and 42,000 depending on which Greek statistics you want to use. We know its a big city because it rates more than one exit from the Athens – Kalamata highway.

I have to admit we've driven past those exits numerous times - as we've done with other such cities and villages along our route -- speculating on whether or not to go explore. Other ex pats had recommended the place for car repairs or for shopping. Certainly, not for a getaway. 

But on this particular trip we decided it was time to check out the neighbor to our north.

The distance between the highway and the city center is a long boring stretch of unimaginative buildings that house car repair shops and industrial equipment (down-right dull and certainly not inviting) that we could understand why no one we knew went there for a get-away.

But after that introduction, we were blown away by the city itself!

It was a treat to arrive at the main square, a bustling place where cars and pedestrians jostled for space. We found a curb-side parking spot several blocks away and set off to find our hotel with the clack-clack-clack rhythm of our suitcase wheels alerting those we passed, that tourists had arrived in town.

St. Basil's Square Tripoli
Past the towering Metropolitan Church of St. Basil, which was built on the site of former the Beqir Pasha Mosque.  Who knew such a structure with such history would be this town’s centerpiece?

We were in search of a 4-star hotel that had been highly recommended on a number of traveler review sites. A 4-star. . .in this Tripoli!?  Somewhat skeptical, (based on our preconceived notions of the city), we decided to take a look before we booked a room there. A few stops to ask directions and we arrived at the Hotel Anaktourikon (also called Anactoricon) – the oldest hotel in the city.  Those travelers reviews had not steered us wrong! It was 4-star!

We arrived at the Hotel Anaktoricon Tripoli
We'd just arrived at what turned out to be one of the nicest hotels we’ve ever stayed at in Greece – and we’ve stayed in quite a few. Its location on Ethnikis Antistaseos, one of the city’s many pedestrian streets that branch off St. Basil’s Square, was perfect for strolling to the town’s many dress, gift and bookshops, cafes, bakeries and restaurants.

Being off-season there was availability and we could choose the room we wanted. After looking at a couple we chose one with a balcony overlooking the pedestrian street. The bed was as comfortable as a Marriott bed and a 2016 renovation had made the hotel’s interior simply stunning.

Gallery image of this property
A room at Hotel Anaktoricon - Tripoli, Photo credit: Hotel Anaktoricon
The room rate 65-euros ($77US) included a buffet breakfast – a perk that as is pretty typical at many Greek hotels. What wasn’t typical was the massive buffet feast we found waiting for us the next morning.

Breakfast buffet was included in the room rate at Hotel Anaktorikon Tripoli
After getting settled for our overnight stay we set off to make the most of the remaining daylight hours. Back we went to St. Basil Square to begin our explorations. 

Newspapers on paper are alive and well in Greece
While in the United States the general feeling is that 'print media' is going the way of the dinosaur, as a former newspaper reporter, I am delighted to tell you there’s no such thoughts here – print-on-paper media is alive and well as evidenced by this display outside a grocery store.

Directly across the square from the church we found the somewhat famous Mega Kafenion, the Grand Cafe, a place that has drawn locals and visitors for more than a century and has become a trademark of Tripoli. Elderly Greek men gathered around several tables played Backgammon and sipped Greek coffees at the time of day we stopped by.

PicMonkey Collage
Mega Kafenion, the Grand Café, is a trademark of Tripoli

Back down the pedestrian street we went past one of the city's many museums, this one the Archaeological Museum, housed in one of the stunning neoclassical buildings - there are many such buildings here. Past the Malliaropouleio Theatre, that overlooks another of the city’s squares, Petrinou Square.  Open since 1905, two theatre groups are based here and give performances and host events throughout the year.

Malliaropouleio Theater - Tripoli
People watching is made easy in this town. Beautifully decorated cafes and bars have interior and outside seating that open onto the pedestrian streets. It was difficult to choose which one to use as a viewing stand but we finally chose a place about two blocks from the hotel called the Chocolate Bistro.

PicMonkey Collage
A chocolate bistro - our kind of place Tripoli
We strolled the well-lit pedestrian streets, ate dinner, and visited stores until late into the evening. A final stop at Areos (the Courthouse) Square, bordered by a large park to one side and cafes on the other, it begged for a return visit when we had more time to spend here.

Areos Square - Tripoli
Our taste of this Tripoli was enough to bring us back again. For you outdoor enthusiasts, there is seasonal mountain climbing and skiing on nearby Mount Mainalo. There is plenty to see and do in the city - we'd recommend picking up a copy of the tourist guide that offers information and maps in Greek and English.
It is definitely worthy of a 'get-away' whether you live just down the road as we do or are visiting the Peloponnese as a tourist!

Travel Tip:  We found that hotel we stayed in on Booking.com. When I put in my date the site said, 'One room left. 125-euros’.  Knowing it was off-season and the likelihood of the hotel having only one room left, we decided we’d go directly to the hotel and check it out first.  As I said above, we had a choice of rooms and paid 65-eruos.  Just sayin’ . . .

For more information on Tripoli check out their tourist website at http://www.traveltripolis.gr  (its in Greek and English).

That’s it for this week. Safe travels to you and yours. Hope to see you back here next week. Bring some friends and family with you!  Thanks again for the time you spend with us!

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

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Heading to the Other 'Home' ~ Make that, 'Hale'!

Hale ~ ‘Home’ in Hawaiian

As the pilot announced our approach to the Honolulu, Hawaii airport on Sunday, the person next to me shifted and stretched as he observed, 'Boy this is a rather long flight, isn’t it?’

It had taken six hours to travel from Seattle to this island state in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Ko Olina on O'ahu's western shore from the airplane
I simply nodded. He wouldn’t have comprehended that this was just the final leg of our 8,700 mile journey which had begun days before on the other side of the world. This flight simply marked the end of our journey and our arrival ‘home’ – albeit the short-term variety.

This is the 10th year we’ve journeyed to Hawaii in January for a month of tropical living. What makes this year’s trip different is that this is the only 'home' we have left in the United States.

Our Stone House on the Hill, far right small gray stone home in this photo
Our full-time home is on a rocky hillside at the edge of an olive grove in the Greek Peloponnese. We moved there last fall after selling our home on the outskirts of Seattle. And in doing so, made our ‘commute’ to the timeshare life we’ve lived for a decade a whale of a lot longer. But this segment of the 'old life' was one we weren't ready to give up.

PicMonkey Collage
The journey between homes is a long one
Our journey began with a four-hour drive to Athens and an overnight stay at the airport hotel there. An early departing Aegean Airlines flight the next morning got us to London’s Gatwick airport where we had another overnight stay.  Wednesday morning we boarded another early morning flight from Gatwick to Seattle.

Norwegian Airlines flies Boeing 787 'Dreamliners' to Seattle from Gatwick
We could have shaved some time and hotel stays off that by flying British Air from Athens but it would have come with a much higher ticket price. Instead, we’d opted to try Norwegian Air, the European low-cost airline, that is taking that side of the world by storm.

Even though we knew it was popular, we were surprised at how large its presence is at Gatwick.

Norwegian Airline counter at Gatwick
In September the budget airline, which flies to 150 destinations world-wide, began flying between Seattle and London four times a week. Flying this airline to Seattle can cost as little as $500US or less, round trip in economy class, with an additional charge for food and beverages ordered on board and for bags checked.

Affordable Luxury

PicMonkey Collage
The Lounge at Gatwick
Being a low-cost airline, it doesn't have a Business or First class section, yet it offers what we consider 'affordable luxury' in its Premium Economy class. For a trip as long as we were taking, that's what we wanted for at least a portion of this journey.

Premium Economy offers large reclining seats, with food and beverage service provided as part of the ticket price. We also had access to the Business Class lounge at the airport.  Our cost was about $1,300 per ticket – several hundred less than the price of Premium Economy tickets on British Air and we had no extra charge for seats (British Air charges for advance seat selection).

Two seat side, bulk head - perfect!
Waiting for takeoff  with feet up and not yet fully reclining, it had already exceeded our experience flying British Air Premium Economy last fall.

A Mimosa or a Buck's Fizz by any name, is tasty
Wine and beer are complimentary in Premium Economy and our flight attendant made sure that my Mimosa (or a 'Buck’s Fizz' as it is called by our British friends) was as generous a pour as The Scout’s club soda! A second round was offered before meal service commenced. We had a choice of fish, meat or chicken entry. We chose the fish which was flavorful, not overcooked, but steaming hot and tasty (on an airplane! - can you believe it??).

Dinner was served
The lights were dimmed as were the windows (the Dreamliner’s features include enhanced air filter systems, mood lighting and extra large windows that turn dark instead of closing completely.)

Lights and windows dimmed 

We set off for The Land of Nod and hours later awakened to the second round of food – this one a cold plate was just as tasty had the first had been.

Second meal service as tasty as the first
Had we flown in the Economy section we’d have made our food choices from the screens at each seat and the flight attendant would have brought the order from the galley and payment would have been made by credit card.

Menu choices included food and drink
As you can tell, we were pleased with that experience and are singing the praises of the new airline. I should note, that our praise is not based on any compensation we received from the airline for saying good things about them. . .they don't even know we are raving about them. But we wanted you to know as many of you are contemplating travel to Europe and it might be worthwhile to check out this airline.

That’s it from our Pacific Paradise this week.  Welcome to our new readers this week (thanks for getting in touch with us and letting us know how you came across TravelnWrite!). And thanks to all of you for the time you spend with us.

We are linking up this week with:
Best of Weekend
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Monday, January 8, 2018

Then came Saturday morning and . . .

A trip into the village on a Saturday morning is always interesting but last Saturday was made even more so by the fact that it was Epiphany. . .the day of Blessing the Water. . .

Church - Kastania
Epiphany, January 6th,  in Greece is also known as Theofania or Fota. Sometimes it it called Little Christmas or Three Kings Day.  It, along with Easter, is one of the most sacred holidays in this new adopted country of ours. More than 90% of the country’s population (statistically, speaking) belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church.
Villagers began gathering early at the cafes along the harbor
By the time we got to town – shortly after 10 a.m. the village cafes along the harbor (those that are still open this winter, that is) were filling rapidly because the harbor is center stage on this day.  The Greek church's Blessing of the Water commemorates the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the River Jordan and the manifestation of the Holy Trinity on this date.
The harbor takes center stage on Jan. 6th
Settling in for a coffee at one of the cafes we waited for the church bells to announce the processional that would make its way to the harbor. The bells rang out. . .and from the village church just around the corner, they came. . .
Off to Bless the Water in Agios Nikolaos
We stood as small group made its way to the harbor. . .
The blessing begins
. . .then we shutterbugs clustered around the dock where the blessing would take place. Many of us left our tables at the cafes – no worries about ‘paying before you leave’ as they knew the patrons would return at the ceremonies end.
While across the harbor only two young villagers were brave enough to jump into the frigid water to retrieve the cross tossed into it as part of the blessing ceremony. There were dozens of swimmers in the village up the road but not here this year.
Who will get the cross and be blessed the rest of the year?
The blessing was read and the cross readied. . .
PicMonkey Collage
Blessing of the Water - 2017 Agios Nikolaos
Then. . . splash! The cross was tossed and retrieved in a ceremony that has been repeated throughout the decades in this small village in the Peloponnese. What a joy to be able to experience it.

And who got the cross?
The one who retrieves the cross is considered blessed for the rest of the year. He carries it through the village – donations are made (which we were told he got to keep) and the festivities came to an end.

Blessing of the Cross - 2017 - Agios Nikolaos
Saturday morning returned to its normal routines. As we set about our errands, I couldn't help but smile because this morning was one of those that helps answer the question I asked in last week’s post, “Why did we want to move here anyway?!?!”

Again a Kali Chronia to you all ~ Happy New Year wishes to you all. Thanks so much for the time you spend with us!! Safe travels to you and yours ~ Hope to see you here next week.

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

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

An Ex Pat New Year ~ Looking Forward and Back

Janus ~ the god of portals and patron of beginnings and endings
With two faces he looks forward and back.

                                             -- Roman Mythology

See the source image

We are big into gods here in Greece but it is the Roman’s god Janus that I believe is the god of ex pats everywhere. The ex pat lifestyle requires a good hard look back and then one serious look forward when making the leap from one world to the next.

Being an ex pat requires endings to make way for beginnings.

The month of January got its name from him because it is considered the doorway to a new year which makes it a perfect time to reflect on this ex pat life we’ve chosen:

The Scout's fire at The Stone House on the Hill
I’m the early riser so starting a fire was my job on a deep and dark December morning a week ago. Our Stone House on the Hill was cold. The fire built the night before by The Scout had gone out. With my left hand aiming our trusty flashlight (or torch, as my British friends would say) I was sitting in front of the fireplace trying to restart a fire. I was being reminded why when even in the best of circumstances, I am not the regular ‘fire starter’ in this household.

Back in our 'other life', I’d have gone on autopilot, turned a button, and the gas fireplace would have lit instantaneously.

But we left that life behind in October and have since early December been in the midst of what has become a series of power outages caused by wind and rain storms in our slice of Greece. On that cold morning in the dark, I have to admit I was asking myself,

Why was it we wanted to move here anyway?!?!?

On our road home we followed the harvesters 
Those of you've who've 'been with us' this year know the answer to that question as I’ve been waxing poetic about it for months.

If 2018 goes as planned, it will go into the record books as our first year as full-time residents living on the edge of an olive grove in the Kalamata area of the Greek Peloponnese.

On a winter's day not far from our home

So with the heat back on and lights on I am a much happier gal, but still thinking about the question I snarled to myself the other morning. Perhaps the short answer to the question is that we wanted to turn off the ‘auto-pilot’. We were in a pattern of living that required little thinking and participation; we'd lived that life so long we did it on autopilot. Televisions operated by remote control, machines dried the clothes and washed the dishes at the push of a button, gardens were tended by hired help and groceries could ordered on-line and be delivered to our door.

New Roads to Explore, New Bridges to Cross

Ex pat life isn’t for the faint-of-heart, the thin-skinned nor for someone who likes the routine and regular patterns of life.  As some days -- I think my fellow ex pats would agree -- nothing feels routine and regular when living in another country and culture. (But that is also what makes it fun!)

While it is hard to determine an exact number of ex pats, in 2016 the U.S. State Department estimated there are 9 million of us out in the world exploring new roads and crossing new bridges. That’s about the population of New Jersey and about two million people more than the populous of Washington State. There must be some reason for that many to be scattered about the world.

Admittedly many are working outside the U.S. but others of us are boomers, enjoying retirement years in a different world from that which we knew. . .

What drives a desire to be an ex pat?

I continued my research and found boomers' reasons for choosing to be ex pats are as varied as the statistics about us. Ex pat, by the way, comes from the Latin words: ‘ex’ – out of; ‘patria’ - country.

Among the reasons I found cited were:

Around the corner and walking distance from our house
Days spent in the sun -  I’ll have to admit that more sunshine and a warmer climate helped draw us to Greece (even if we do have severe wind and rain storms a few times a year). Seattle claims 152 days of sunshine and Kalamata 219 such days.

Treasures like this are found in our countryside
Medical costs are cheaper – In our case we have found that our medical insurance coverage (which is required to obtain a residency visa here) costs about $560 US a month and it covers us for six-months each year in the U.S. as well as anywhere in the world. We were paying just over $700 a month in the U.S. with only limited coverage outside the U.S.

Fruit and vegetable prices are incredibly cheap to us
Cost-of-living is cheaper/financial rewards – Those ex pats in our area from the U.S. generally agree that food and entertainment (dinner and drinks out) are much cheaper than back home.  We were surprised to talk with some ex pats from Britain and Germany who felt the prices here were much higher than their 'back home'. It is all in your perspective, we concluded.  We can have a lovely meal, in a nice restaurant with a sea-view and drink all the wine we can safely consume and drive home, while paying about $25 U.S.

Gasoline, on the other hand, costs about $7 a gallon and most of us ex pats in the area do a lot of driving because we want to explore our surroundings so fuel costs are definitely higher for us. We pay a road tax annually (as opposed to Washington State where it was tacked on to the per-gallon-cost) and our tax was 433 euros or about $525 US for 2018. Cost of insuring the car was about the same here and there.

Looking back at 'our' point in the Mani from the one west of us
Internet and phone costs are where we are seeing a real savings. Our landline, mobile phone and internet cost us more than $200 a month in the States (even the months we weren’t there to use it). Our internet is 100 euros ($120) a year and we’ve spent about 70 euros ($84) on our cell phone (data, text and talk) minutes in the last three months.

Property taxes – Our taxes in Kirkland were $8,200 a year for a home with a peek-a-boo view of Lake Washington. We pay 348-euro ($417) a year here for a smaller home but one with a near 180-degree water and mountain views and a 17-tree olive grove.. (As property owners we are required to file income tax forms each year as well even though we have no income generated here.)

A base for more travel – One of the reasons we wanted to have a home-base in Greece was for quicker and easier travel to European and Middle Eastern destinations.  Many boomers are travelers but those long-haul flights of 10+ hours can do in a young person let alone people our ages.  Living on this side of the Atlantic we can visit any major European city in a couple of hours flight time (and for a lot less than setting forth from Seattle).

Cruising the Nile in Aswan - less than a five hour trip from Athens
And one of the reasons that struck a real chord with us was, ‘fear of a life unlived’. When it comes right down to it, I bet that is why most boomers have chosen the ex pat life.

The life of an ex pat can be frustrating some days – like those without heat and lights -  but far more days are filled with rewarding experiences than challenges. We’ve turned off the automatic pilot and are required to fully engage in life: mental, physical and emotional. We've heard those same sentiments expressed by fellow ex pats here and elsewhere on this side of the Atlantic.

'One reason people resist change is because they focus on
what they have to give up,
instead of what they have to gain.’
                                                --Rick Goodwin

Many of you have said that you’d like to be an ex pat. We’d loved to hear what country is calling out to you and why you want to live there.  Others of you shudder at the thought. We’d love to hear your thoughts as well on why this different lifestyle doesn't appeal, so leave us a comment below or shoot us an email.

And before we sign off this week, I do have to thank the creators of Getting On Travel, an on-line luxury travel publication aimed at the boomer traveler for including TravelnWrite in its list of Top Blogs to Read in 2018!

On that note, thanks again for your time and interest and Happy New Year wishes to you and yours. May it be happy and healthy and filled with travel (armchair or real)!!

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