Thursday, November 14, 2019

Hungary . . .for a little adventure. . .

The rain against the taxi windows blurred our first glimpses of Budapest. We arrived on a very dreary Sunday morning - the sky, the buildings and streets -- even the Danube River - were shades of gray.  A breeze stirred fallen leaves.

A rainy morning added to the ambiance of Budapest

Welcome to Budapest, the capital city of Hungary. Even with modern vehicles, trams and buses passing our taxi, I still felt like we were characters in one of Alan Furst's novels which are set in a variety of European cities. His plots delve into a shady and suspenseful time surrounding World War II. And this city on that drab morning felt shady and suspenseful!

So many choices and so little time!

We'd arrived here as part of a quick fall getaway: five nights here, to be followed by three in Vienna. We've been landlocked in Greece too long this year. The travel bug, dormant during that 4.5 month wait for our residency cards - our keys to being able to travel outside the country - had definitely gotten restless. You regulars here know one of the reasons we moved was to have a launch pad from which we could explore more of Europe and the Middle East and Africa.  

Euro on the left, Hungarian Forint on the right

We were hungry for an adventure to someplace we'd never been before. Hungary is satiating our appetites! After a flight of one hour, 40 minutes from Athens we are immersed in such a different culture - language, food, currency; everything has just enough foreign feel to it to make this trip most interesting.  

And some things are a bit too foreign for my tastes

With so many layers of history, we are having a hard time absorbing all there is to learn about this once Communist-ruled country.

Buda Castle from our room
It didn't take long to figure out that the five days we gave ourselves here won't be anywhere near enough to visit all the sights within the city of Budapest, let alone to get out and explore the countryside! We've barely had time to sample Hungarian cuisine and sip Hungarian wine.

Free entertainment outside our window

Our room at the Budapest Marriott on the Pest side (pronounced, pesht) overlooks the Danube River and the Castle on the Buda side of the river. We could easily spend our days doing nothing more than watching the never-ending river traffic: tour boats and river cruise boats mingle with barges and other river transport.

Taking a morning stroll across the Danube on Chain Bridge

The November weather has been what one might expect in a Central European country: a bit of sun, quite a few clouds and periodic heavy rain, and chilly for those us basking last week in summer-like temperatures in Greece!  Here we've shivered in temperatures hovering between high 40F and low 50's ( 4-10C).  A morning of sunshine has become a pouring rainstorm by evening.

Street scenes to take your breath away

Aside from the fact I should have followed my instincts and packed our long underwear and heavier clothes, we are enjoying this adventure in Central Europe. . .it reminds us how much of the world there is to see!  Regulars here and FB friends know that Budapest has long been on The Scout's list of 'must see' places. It wasn't as high up on my travel list, that is, before I arrived. Now I am talking about making this annual trip.

I am at a European Christmas Market!
In addition to the multitude of art galleries and museums, the historic sites are many and varied. We've logged more than a dozen miles walking from one to another in just a couple of days and filled most of another day touring by Hop-On, Hop-Off bus and boat tours. 

One of the unexpected treats we have had was the annual Christmas Market. And I do believe there will be another market operating in Vienna when we get there this weekend! I will certainly be telling you about those soon!

Who is this man? What was he playing for us? Stay tuned.
I know some of you were expecting a post on Monemvasia and I pre-empted that with this trip.  We are hopping a train tomorrow to Vienna before returning home to Greece next week. I will get back to it, but I've got a lot of things to tell you about our travels to this amazing part of Europe so hope you'll be back again for the next installment of Travel-n-Write! 

Safe travels to you and yours and thanks for the time you spent with us today.

Linking sometime soon with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Where There's Smoke ~ There's Olive Harvest

Just as they have for centuries, 
the rituals of olive harvest in Greece's Peloponnese are heralding in 
the month of November. . .

Tourist season gives way to olive harvest season

The signs of seasonal change begins here about October 28, Saint Dimitrios' Name Day. It is, on or near, that day that several tavernas in the surrounding villages will close for 'the season'. Tractors cease hauling boats from the harbor, pulling trailers filled with harvest equipment instead. Beach toys for tourists disappear from store shelves, replaced by tools and oil storage containers used in olive harvest.

But it is the smoke from fires on November 1st that signal 'the season of the olive' is upon us.  From a practical standpoint, the first day of the month is the first day we can legally burn brush and cuttings accumulated during the hot, dry fire-danger spring and summer.  The underbrush in groves is also being cut and burned to make way for harvest nets.

Olive harvest spans several months, continuing into late December or early January in this part of Greece.

Koronieki olives grown at The Stone House on the Hill 

The olive grown here for oil - most often referred to as the Kalamata olive -- is the koronieki variety. The small fruit, barely the size of the little finger's nail, is packed with oil, which in turn is packed with poly-phenols, a natural anti-oxidant that has been linked to heart-attack and cancer prevention. Its history in Greek horticulture dates back thousands of years.

While the large growers enlist paid workers and volunteer crews to assist with the harvest, many of the groves are still 'mom and pop' operations where harvesting is done literally by a couple who've done their task together for decades. Many of the groves are like ours - grown on steep terraced hillsides inaccessible by machines even if machines were available. So our harvest is also done by hand.

Daco destroyed olives - 2018

Last year most of the growers - large and small - in our area lost their olive crops to the invasive 'daco' (Dacus oleae)  the olive fruit fly that devastated crops in neighboring countries before heading our direction.  Weather conditions were perfect for crop decimation. Our small grove of 17 trees wasn't spared: the olives had shriveled on the trees by August. But for us, it is a hobby crop; sadly, for many we know, it was a major lost source of income.

One doesn't think about the ripple effect of crop failure until it surrounds you. Restaurants resorted to buying olives instead of serving those they had grown. Residents had less money so shopping was cut back as was dining out and entertainment spending. From retail to restaurants - everyone in the village was touched by the crop failures.

A New Year ~ A New Crop

Harvest at The Stone House on the Hill 2019

The joy surrounding this year's harvest is palpable in the villages. 

Our dry, hot summer was the perfect condition for thwarting that pesky fly. Just to be on the safe side some, like us, augmented with use of 'bio' (safe) sprays that tackled the fly without harm to humans. 

Everywhere, the tree branches droop with olives. There's a near holiday feel to the herculean harvest task ahead.

In the five years since we bought our Stone House on the Hill, the olive harvest has became as big an event for us as for those life-long growers around us. We know we have some new readers since I last told you about harvest on the hill so sit back and join us on this year's harvest journey:

Volunteers work long and hard to make it happen

Our crew consisted of two paid workers (the two who directed the operation as they knew what they were doing) and six 'boomers': the two of us and two couples that had volunteered to help. (One couple flew in from Washington State and assured us at the end of the harvest day that they will come back to visit but NOT during harvest again).

While I write about the joys and the magic of harvest -- of which there are many -- I can assure you, it is a back-breaking, muscle-stretching hard day. We harvested our 17 trees in six hours: the first two hours were fun, the next two tolerable and the last two were outright torture.

The Scout at work

Humongous plastic nets were draped over the terraces to catch the olives. Olives are beaten or raked from the tree or from those branches that have been cut off of the tree.  Think multi-tasking: harvesting and pruning at the same time.

On hands and knees the quality control step is the final one in the grove

Part of our crew was charged with hauling the cut branches down the terraces to a burn pile on the lower level. Others were the 'harvesters' beating, pounding and raking branches until they couldn't raise their arms.  Then came the 'quality control' team who crawled on their hands and knees picking twigs and larger stubble from the olives, rolling those carpets of fruit until they are in a neat pile and ready for the burlap bags. 

Ares who directs the operation - Photo: Marti Bartlett

Thankfully the younger and stronger members of the team hauled the 50 kilo bags up the hill.

Our 377 kilos (831 pounds) of olives were deposited at the local olive press (nowadays a computerized but complex machine ) and at 7 p.m. the hour-long processing of turning the fruit to oil began:

Our olives enter the processor

Olives are first separated from remaining leaves and stems, then washed then the processing begins.

Oil to the left and water to the right - Photo: Marti Bartlett

A swirling mass of green 'goo' is churned until it arrives at the separator where water and oil have a parting of the ways. . . 

And then there it is: thick, rich olive oil!

. . .minutes later, the moment the day has been leading to....  olive oil!  And for us, lots of it this year. Our yield was 70 kilos or 18.5 gallons of emerald green, spicy olive oil.

It is anticipated that Greece will produce 300,000 tons of oil this year, a 60% increase over last and 11% more than the usual annual average.  It will contribute to the European Union's member state's projected production of 2.1 million tons of olive oil.

End of the day and I am still upright! - Photo: Marti Bartlett

It is an amazing experience and each time harvest day ends I say a little prayer that we'll still be physically able next year to roll up the shirt-sleeves, get a bit dirty and a lot tired, and be a part of such a time honored tradition.

A 'tsipouro' toast to a good year - Photo Marti Bartlett

Our harvest was a success thanks to the expertise of Artan Koxhai, and our good friends and volunteers:  Mary and Greg Burke who traveled from Washington State to assist and Marti and Chuck Barlett, fellow expat friends from Kirkland Washington here in the village. And of course,Taki and his son Giannis who turned our fruit into oil.  

Another thanks to photographer Marti Bartlett for the photos she shared for use in this post.

And thanks for being with us on this harvest journey!  Welcome to all you new subscribers ~ hope you'll all be back next week when we are off to Monemvasia, one of the most enchanted spots in the Peloponnese!  Until then ~ wishes for safe travels to you and yours!

Linking sometime soon with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Getting Our Kicks on Route. . . 97

'Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.'
                              -- Jack Kerouac

I know, you are thinking I've made a doozy of a mistake. Because everyone knows you get your kicks on Route 66 - that stretch of highway crossing America that has been immortalized in song, fiction, film and travel paraphernalia.

But let me tell you that you can also get some mighty fine kicks on Route 97 as well! 

I'll admit that before setting out on our latest road trip, I hadn't given much thought to that stretch of north-south road known as Route 97. We've traveled it often as a means of simply getting from one place to another. 

Gettin' our kicks on Route 97

Regulars readers know that we are American boomer expats who gave up suburban Seattle life and spend most of our year living in Greece. Last fall we replanted our part-time U.S. roots in the small unincorporated town of Manson, on the shores of Lake Chelan in eastern Washington State.

It didn't take long to realize that even though we both grew up in Eastern Washington, that our familiarity with the area has faded over the decades. In many ways the territory surrounding us here feels more foreign - at least unfamiliar - than does Greece.

Our new wheels being delivered to Manson

So, during our month-long stay this fall, we declared it time to get out and explore this new-to-us territory. After taking delivery in Manson of a Toyota RAV we'd purchased on line while still back in Greece, we set off. Traveling a portion of Route 97 was our first outing. One of the things we learned is just how much of a name for itself, our old - somewhat familiar - Route 97 is making.

Things we didn't know about Route 97 

Route 97 - a scenic wonderland awaits travelers 

* It is one of the longest north-south highways in North America. It runs north from Weed, California, through Oregon and Washington, crosses the Canadian border into British Columbia where it becomes the Alaska Highway at Dawson Creek, B.C. It concludes at Watson Lake.

* If you traveled its full length -- 4,130 kilometers or 2,566 miles -- your journey would take you through semi-arid desert, interior rain forests, grasslands, mountain ranges, urban centers and rural settings so charming they could be movie sets.

* Route 97, in the Pacific Northwest is bordered on the east by the Columbia Mountain Range and to the west, the Cascade Range. The route winds through lush wine country and past old west ghost towns, places once teeming with mining activities.

A tribute on Route 97 to the Indigenous Nations and their people 

* Between Wenatchee, Washington and Cache Creek, B.C., Canada Route 97 promotion is a partnership between North Central Washington, Thompson Okanagan, B.C. and three Indigenous Nations.

*In Washington State the route got its start thousands of years ago as a trail used by the Indigenous people. The Columbia Cascades of Route 97 passes through lands of three Nations: Nlaka'pamux, Okanagan (Syilx)  and Secwepemc. Miners and early pioneers were to follow those same pathways as they settled in what is now the area encompassing three counties: Chelan, Douglas and Okanogan.

Route 97 in Washington State

The Columbia Cascades Route 97 - where we traveled

While our new Washington home puts us within easy driving distance from Canada we didn't make it to the border on our six-hour outing. We went only as far as Omak some 44 miles (64K) from the border.

A portion of Lake Chelan as seen from 'The Butte' 

We set off from Lake Chelan - a glacier-fed 55-mile long lake. Heading north we followed first the Columbia River and then the Okanogan River to Omak. This small town is home of the Omak Stampede, an event that brings the old West to life each year.  The Stampede draws thousands each year to this small town but on this crisp autumn morning we had the place to ourselves.

Omak Home of the annual western Stampede

Murals decorate the buildings in Omak

While there we saw several murals which tourist brochures credit as the work of  Frank Matsura, a 19th Century Japanese photographer. I couldn't find any reference to murals, but the guy's history is fascinating and worth clicking that link to read!

Rawson's Department Store didn't let us down

Then on to Okanogan town, five miles to the south. We once visited a Western outfitters store there, the type that caters to the clothing and supply needs of cowboys and cowgirls (yes, they still exist in the Western United States). The place has been around since the mid-1950's and in itself is worth making a trip to Okanogan to visit. We were delighted to find it still going strong and now it has all sorts of clothing and shoes! Okanogan is so delightfully 'Small Town Americana' that I could have filled this post with photos taken there.

Scenes like this make a road trip special

At Okanogan we opted to return home driving on the 'old Route 97' that cuts through orchards and vineyards high above the 'new 97' that follows the Columbia River.

Apple harvest is underway along old Route 97

We returned to the low lands at Pateros, a town at the confluence of the Columbia and Methow rivers.

Every July Pateros is the scene of the Apple Pie Jamboree. From the size of the apple packing sheds  (those facilities that receive apples from the grower and pack them for world-wide distribution) there was no doubt in our mind that the Apple Pie Jamboree is being held in the right community!

Apple Pie Jamboree - takes place in Pateros

If you go:

Had we wanted to make this outing an overnight trip, we'd have likely stayed at the 12 Tribes Casino and Hotel located just off Route 97 between Omak and Okanogan.  It is a small facility but upscale with the hotel attached to the side of casino. Two eateries on the property make it an easy roadside stop.

Next year we plan to explore several of the other loop drives that take off from Route 97. For maps and tips on those drives in Washington State and Canada check out the Route 97 website, (click the link to access).

Views along Route 97 are spectacular

That's it from the Pacific Northwest. Our month here has gone rapidly and we are packing up to return to Greece. After all, it is almost time to harvest those olives of ours!  Hope you'll be back soon for more tales of expat travel and life. Until then, thanks again for your time here and wishes for safe travels to you and yours ~

Linking soon with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday

Sunday, October 6, 2019

In Greece ~ Where there's a Will, there's a Way. . .

'End?' No, the journey doesn't end here. 
                  Death is just another path. One we all must take.                  
                                                                            --- J.R.R. Tolkien

Death and dying isn't a typical topic for someone whose blog focuses on travel and expat life. But if I approach it from the standpoint of a journey, then it really isn't such a peculiar subject, is it?

As with all journeys, some advance preparation is required.  And preparing for this journey is no different. Well, it is different when it is done in Greece as we were to learn. . .

Our slice of The Mani - Greek Peloponnese

. . .We've oft-times been told since buying our Stone House on the Hill  (and again when we purchased Hi, Ho Silver, our Toyota RAV), that as property owners here we should have a Greek Will.

'It will just make it easier,' has been the explanation for needing a Will. Now while we aren't convinced of that, should the plane go down or other disaster strike us both dead at the same time, but we finally decided to hedge the bet and do it.

The Stone House on the Hill - Platsa, Mani Messinias, Greece
This year seemed a good year to tackle that somewhat morbid task as we were already up to our ears in Greek bureaucracy. We'd made it through the paperwork required for our residency permit renewal and were stuck in Greece waiting for our permits.  We were also searching for the documents required to comply with a Greek government directive to file a cadastry (land survey and registration). So, why not take the stack of paper work a bit higher we asked ourselves and set about our task.

Greece - daydream or nightmare?

Before you can write a will you need to know what you want done with the property. And that was a dilemma:  to whom should we bequeath 'our daydream'?

Daydreams are wonderful things but we had to be honest: how many others see our Greek property as a daydream?  We thought about our small and scattered family (the members of which are still trying to figure out what time zone we live in let alone giving thought to visiting us there). While many friends have ventured to Greece to visit and proclaimed us to be  'living the dream' a few have added they could 'never do it'. 

So our daydream would undoubtedly be their nightmare should they find themselves beneficiaries of it.

The trip to the Mani is a long one from the Pacific Northwest

After doing a quick Google search of the topics of inheritance and second homes, we were comforted in finding we are not alone; similar dilemmas are being experienced by many boomers.  Those folks who chased their dreams and who own second homes, vacation property -- even those with timeshare ownership -- have been roaming the web seeking guidance on what to do with those properties so that family or friends aren't saddled with some unwanted inheritance.  

Sunset in Agios Nikolaos

And there seems to be a lot of us out there:

** The last U.S. Census reported that vacation home ownership had grown by 27.7% in the period between 2000 - 2010 as one million new cabins and cottages had been reported as vacation/second homes.

** The U.S. Social Security department reported in 2016 that half a million U.S. citizens receiving Social Security benefits lived outside the U.S. (I suspect a good deal of them own property and are probably dealing or dealt with the inheritance dilemma.)  

In general, the articles advise simply selling the property. They point to the sudden responsibility of paying for taxes, insurance, maintenance and travel to the property as likely being cost prohibitive for the beneficiaries. In all likelihood that is the route most, including us, plan to take. But our Greek Will is designed for the "Bam - You Are Both Gone!" scenario.

To Write a Will. . .differently

With decisions made that will keep all family and friends from being saddled with unwanted daydreams, it was time to write our Wills and I mean that quite literally.  We'd opted for the 'simple' Will. 'But, of course', as we say in Greece, 'Is anything simple here?'

Writing a Will in Greece - quite literally

First, we had to hand-write a Will on a sheet of lined notebook paper in Greece. No typing. No computer print out. CURSIVE writing. . .you know, that means of written communication that isn't being taught anymore in some schools in the U.S.

Our village, Agios Nikolaos - 

Once our Wills were written, we visited our attorney who in turn translated them into Greek. She then visited the right government offices to have them stamped as accurate translations. Then it was to be a simple matter of going to the Notary in the village and filing them there.  We would each be issued  a number which the survivor or our Executor would present to the Notary when the time comes to dispose of our property.

The Notary (a quasi-judicial figure in Greece) is in the village two days a week. She conducts business in a second floor apartment-turned-office on Mondays and Thursdays. So on a hot summer Monday morning we made our first visit. There is no waiting room so we joined others sitting or standing on the stairway leading to the office-apartment. The Notary was so busy, we were told to come back that afternoon.

The documents with 'those numbers' on them

Back we went. This time we made it to her bedroom-turned-office. The walls are lined with shelves of official document holders.  Here records of land purchase, cadastres and Wills are kept. She speaks little English and we, far-less Greek.  But we understood we would need to return Thursday as she needed to prepare documents in order for us to file the Wills. She told us we'd need to have an interpreter at our next meeting as the document had to be read and explained to us in English.

It was August - the month that most of Europe closes up shop and goes on vacation. We couldn't find an interpreter. Our meeting was moved to the following week when our attorney could join us and interpret the document.

Stamps make documents official in Greece

We gathered in the office, and the documents were read and translated (only after our attorney placed her hand on a Bible and swore that she would translate the document honestly). Basically the three-page document said we were filing a Will. That number we needed was on each document though. They were stamped, initialed and signed. Copies given, copies filed.

We had completed the task, yet I wondered for awhile how anyone would know we were dead if that plane goes down or the car crash happens.  Then I thought, even in Greece 'where there's a Will, there's a way. . .'

Daydreams realized -

That's it for this week! Next week I am switching our focus to the other side of the world where we are making a part-time life and where there's all sorts of country just waiting to be discovered. As always, thanks for the time you spend with us ~ we do appreciate your interest in our adventures and misadventures in the ex pat world. Safe travels to you and yours ~

Linking sometime soon with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday



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