Monday, October 26, 2020

Greek Olives ~ A Time to Reap

Nets, Saw. Rakes. . .Ready. Set. Go. . .this year's olive harvest took place at The Stone House on the Hill last Saturday.  That quiet, peaceful sanctuary of a grove that I wrote about in the last post came to life with a flurry of activity as it always does during this annual ritual.  

Olive harvest 2020 - The Stone House on the Hill

Under a Mediterranean sun with a cloudless blue sky background - and with temperatures that reached 77F/25C before the day was over -- The Scout and The Scribe set out to harvest our olive crop with the assistance of two paid workers and a good friend who had volunteered for this rather arduous endeavor.

Raking olives from the branches

Our grove is small by industry standards, 17 trees. It requires only one day's work if we stay focused on the job at hand. Luckily, the fellow who directs the operation makes sure we do just that.  Because of the layout and the size of the grove, our harvest is done as it has been traditionally done for centuries here in Greece: by hand. 

Beating the branches, olives fall on the net

Every olive is either beaten, raked or plucked from the branches. It requires skill in knowing which branches need to be cut from the tree and which simply need to be beaten until those hard little green pebbles full of  oil go flying onto the net (or the heads of those beating cut branches below).  Luckily, the one directing the operation knows which to cut and which to whack!

Bagging the olives

Our grove is steep-terraced, ribbons of narrow land that cascade down a steep hillside. Just climbing the steps between terraces is a good workout but add to it a few hours of beating branches and we former city slickers know that we have put in a real day's work.

Koroneiki olives -small and filled with oil

I laugh when thinking back to that  romanticized vision I had of olive harvest (back in the days I read Frances Mayes' 'Under the Tuscan Sun') as I saw us eating a lavish lunch that I had miraculously prepared while also helping harvest, and we'd sip some wine and laze away a few afternoon hours basking in the wonder of the experience.  The reality is that I prepare sandwich fixings in advance, pull them out when break time arrives. We sip soft drinks, water or maybe beer. No time to dilly-dally as the harvest needs to be finished and the fruit delivered to the local processor. 

Another harvest under our belts

This year was the low-harvest year in the cycle of olive harvests; one year is high yield and the next is low-yield, as with many crops. So, harvest was - thankfully - completed within four hours as compared to over six hours last year.  We gathered 245 kilos/ 540 pounds of olives this year as compared to 377 kilos/831 pounds last year.

Nets are bagged up for this year

With three of the  five-member harvest crew being of 'boomer age' we congratulated ourselves when the last bag of olives was hauled up to the parking level (on the shoulders of the two younger crew members), because we'd made it through another harvest - a gauge to aging, in our minds. 

From Olive to Oil

We are up next!

The real magic of olive harvest comes in the evening when, at the appointed hour, it is time for our olives to become that emerald green nectar, extra virgin olive oil.  We often call the plant where this happens the 'olive press' but the reality is that, it is a processing plant with a complex system of  computerized tanks and machines that clean, prepare and process the olives. 

That's our crop!

It takes nearly an hour from the time they are dumped until the oil flows from spouts at the other end of the plant. 

On the way to washing, removing leaves

It is one of my favorite hours in life.  This was our fourth harvest and I was as giddy at the plant this year as I was that very first visit.  

Fresh bread, hours old olive oil

Taking deep breaths of air, thick with the vapors of olive oil, sitting in the break room eating a piece of fresh baked bread dipped in hours old olive oil and watching the steady procession of others who are bringing in crops, makes the time fly by.   

Separating water and oil 

It really seemed so little time had passed but the owner pointed a finger at us, then wiggled it, bringing us to the final processing machine - the one in which the water and oil are separated. . .then in seconds another employee pointed to the machine behind us, where wonder of wonders, our oil was flowing out the faucet. 

Vintage 2020!

Our oil.  Forty-seven kilos or 13.6 gallons. Two-thirds of our last year's harvest. A successful yield despite a drought and  a long-hot summer.

Last step: and harvest is a wrap!

Another year in the history books.  Another highpoint of expat life. Oh, what we would have missed had we not taken the chance to 'live differently' for a bit of time in Greece!

Thanks for being with us as we celebrate another harvest. As always we appreciate the time you spend here. Our wishes that you and yours continue to stay safe and be well. Hope you'll be back again soon and bring some friends with you!!

Linking soon with:

Mosaic Monday
Through My Lens
Travel Tuesday
Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday

Friday, October 9, 2020

In Greece ~ An Olive Grove Getaway

The air was still in our olive grove this morning, unlike yesterday when gusts were strong enough to send empty flower pots and chair cushions flying. Strong enough to make us wonder if those olives, so close to harvest, would continue to cling to their branches ~ but as always, they withstood the storm.

Our traditional Greek ladder in our grove

Walking among the recently sprouted wild cyclamen the sunlight through the tree branches was soft; an autumn sun, hot, but not with the intensity of summer.

Morning in our olive grove

The quietude of the morning was so intense that the waves slapping the shore in the harbor below echoed across our hillside terraces. It was the only sound to be heard.

Stairs link the terraces in our grove

Our Olive Grove - it is one of my favorite Greek destinations and luckily it is only footsteps away. While savoring my quick getaway, I realized that I often 'talk about' the grove on FB but that I haven't taken you there in quite some time, if ever.  

Stone House on the Hill from our olive grove

Our Stone House on the Hill was built in an olive grove. We have a neighbor's grove to one side of us and our grove stretches several terraces down from our home. In the distance the hillsides are covered with the silver green of olive groves. We live in the land of the Kalamata olive. 

Olive groves carpet the countryside

Technically we are in the land of the 'koroneiki' olive, a smaller fruit with a high ratio of skin to flesh which is said to give our 'Kalamata oil' its aromatic qualities. The larger olive, that you would recognize as 'the Kalamata olive' often served on Greek salad, is simply called 'the salad olive' around here.

Some of our Koroneiki olives just weeks away from harvest

Our grove of 17 trees, somewhat small by industry standards and just the right size by ours, was an unexpected bonus of this house when we bought it. We knew nothing about growing olives back then - had no idea how to tend the trees nor when one would harvest the bitter green fruit they produce. Siga, siga, slowly, slowly, as they say here, we have learned. And have so much more to learn.

'The Scout' at work in the grove - February burn season

In fact our lives, just as most who live in this area, evolve around the olive grove these days. Whether it is time to prune, time to clear, time to burn cuttings, time to spray, time to harvest. . .each task is tied to a season, an ages-old rhythm of life in this rural area of Greece's Peloponnese. So important is the olive here that restaurants and retail businesses gear their operations around 'the seasons of the olive'. Many are beginning to close now in preparation of olive harvest which will begin in mid-October and continue through December.

The summer's drought turned some olives purple

Greece devotes 60 percent of its cultivated land to olive growing. Messinia, the region in which we live, has some 15.863 million trees.  So many olives are grown in our region, that by the end of the 19th century, there were 20 olive presses operating within the city of Kalamata, the big city to our north. These days the processing plants are located outside the metropolitan area in or near the villages sprinkled about the countryside.  We have five such presses within five miles of our home.

A favorite spot in our grove

 Sometimes though the harvest and production of the oil is secondary to the joy we get just being in 
the grove. It is easy to lose track of time when wondering among the trees pondering who might have planted them a century or so ago and the events that have occurred around them during that time. 

Life in the grove continues. . .

Looking at the fruit dragging down youthful branches that have sprouted from old gnarled stumps assures me that even in a year as unsettled as this one, life will continue no matter how upside down the world might feel.

A peace that surpasses all understanding. . .

Often times the early morning or late afternoon sun rays through the trees turn the grove into a peaceful sanctuary - the beams as powerful and reassuring as those coming through any church window. The Biblical phrase, 'a peace that surpasses all understanding' comes to mind. A moment of stillness, a few deep breaths and the inner compass is reset.  

Wild cyclamen at the Stone House on the Hill

Hope you've enjoyed your time in the grove today and hope we will see you back again when I will tell that pirate's tale I promised in the last post.  I've got to admit that I've been researching another article for a publication and just didn't get the pirate story researched and written.  

Where ever you are, we hope that you are coping with the continued COVID prevention measures and that you and yours are well. 

Linking with:

Mosaic Monday
Through My Lens
Travel Tuesday
Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Greek fishing ~ Tradition and Tourism

We often hear them before we see them. The sound of the engines calling out the passing of those small wooden boats, each carrying a lone fishermen to a distant place on the sea where he will set or gather his nets.

Alone on the sea - the fisherman sets his nets

Now that it has been a few years, we've come to recognize the distinctive sounds of the engines: a rat-a-tat-tat, or put-put-put, or a chuga -chuga sound alerts us to which of the boats will be sailing past our home overlooking the Messinian Bay each evening just as the sun sets

The same is true of the boat engine's call in the early mornings - sometimes before it is light enough to see them -- we know someone is either starting or ending their day's work. 

'Captain' Adonis has one of my favorite boats in the harbor

The charm of those colorfully painted boats, piled high with nets when in the harbor, may have been one of the things that drew us to Greece. Now that we are expats living just outside a fishing village in the rural Peloponnese, the rhythms of the fishing fleet are a daily part of our lives. 

A solitary life on the sea - Agios Nikolaos

Over the years as we have watched the comings and goings of those boats we've speculated on how lonely a profession it must be. Alone, out at sea and far from anyone else, even though in this day and age internet and mobile devices have eased the isolation a bit.


Season begins with the boats returned to the sea

Greek Fishing Traditions

Many fishermen in our village -- like others throughout Greece -- are proud to be carrying on their family's tradition. Often times it was the work of father and grandfather, sometimes going back even further. 

Fishing in Greece goes way back. Some accounts say it dates back to the upper Paleolithic Age, 40,000 years ago. Fishing is depicted in the art of ancient Greece dating back to the 5th Century B.C.

The day's catch arrive in Gerolimenas 

Throughout Greece fishermen continue to use the same traditional methods as have been used for decades before them. With boats ranging in size from six to 12 meters (20- to 40-feet), the Greek fishing fleet is estimated to be around 17,000 boats. Yet, an amazing 30,000 - 33,000 people are employed, directly or indirectly, in the fishing industry here.

The Sunday morning's catch on display

Of the some 476 species of fish in Greece, some 90 marine species are caught and include: sardines, anchovies, cod, mullet, red snapper and plaice (flounder). But every fisherman will tell you the waters -- especially in our area -- are becoming 'fished out'. . .some blame the use of dynamite decades ago and others claim it is irresponsible fishing practices of the present-day. For whatever the cause, the catch is often small.  


Agios Nikolaos harbor in September

There is a charm and mystique about those boats and those who operate them. How often has one or the other of us said, 'Wouldn't it be fun to go out with a fisherman sometime?'

Greek Fishing Tourism

Captain Antonis - May 2019

Last year, for an article I was writing about expat life, I took the photo of one of our local fishermen as he returned to the harbor. At the time, we didn't know him but he always seemed to be working in the harbor when we would pass. It wasn't until a few weeks ago that we finally met Captain Antonis' because this year his boat and a sign near it, announced that he is now doing fishing cruises. The boat still has its nets, but it also sports a bench, a chair and a couple of stools.

Fishing boat trips from Agios Nikolaos

It didn't take us long to round up a few friends and set a date to get out on that fishing boat!

Leaving the harbor of Agios Nikolaos

On a bright Sunday morning we pulled out of the harbor just as we had watched so many boats do over the years. It was amazing how quickly we left the land far behind as we headed to the small marker floating out at sea, the marker noting where the fishing net had been placed.

The small marker shows the net location

It was time to gather the net - a most amazing feat to be done by one person. A pole and grip are attached to the boat gear shift knob so that the fisherman can reel in the net in the back of the boat and still manage to shift gears in the cabin. A masterful move to be sure!

Shifting gears and pulling the net

And then up came the net, and more net and more net. . .shift the gear and roll in more net. The wonder of what might come up in the net turned the adults on board into little kids again as our anticipation got away from us.

What would come up in that net?

'Maybe a big one today,' the Captain kept saying as the massive lengths of net began piling up.

Hauling in the net and hopefully a catch or two 

Little did we know at the time that we were experiencing a relatively new form of Greek tourism: fishing tourism. Fishing tourism come into being back in 2015 when legislation was passed that allows professional fishermen such as Captain Antonis - with the appropriate license -to welcome guests on the boats for recreational fishing or as passengers.  

Peloponnese tourism folks have been working in recent years on ways to develop alternative tourism opportunities in our area. Alternative tourism is loosely defined as that which gives experiences that are up close and personal with people and places one visits. This is one example of that: the tourist (as we were that day) getting to interact and participate in a real Greek fishing experience.

Lion fish will make some tasty soup

Now this isn't to be confused with recreational fishing where you rent a boat and go out with a guide and fish - this is strictly fishing tourism as done on a real-life working fishing boat.  

Fishing tourism, endorsed by the World Wildlife Federation, is a means of bolstering the livelihood of the fishermen while taking the pressure off the fish stocks. As of last December only 150 fishermen in the country were licensed to offer fishing tourism excursions.  

Untangling the net

We are most happy Captain Antonis is one of those offering such an incredible experience to folks such as us. As it turned out the catch was only a few small fish -- several of which the Captain returned to the sea. 

Setting off in the wake of pirates

The net was gathered within the first half hour, leaving us another 3.5 hours on the sea. And that I plan to tell you about next time because. . . we set off in the wake of pirates.  And pirates in this area require a whole story in themselves! Thanks for being with us today and we hope to see you back here again - bring some friends with you!

For those wanting more information on Captain Antonis' cruises:
The cost for four hours for up to 6 people including food and beverages was 180 euros. To book a cruise email the captain at:, phone +30 27210 77544.

Linking soon with:

Monday, September 7, 2020

In Greece ~ The islet, The egg and Helen of Troy

Just as twilight was turning the sea and sky a dusty rose on a Saturday evening two weeks ago, the blaring of horns on fishing boats broke the stillness that usually accompanies sunset. 

It was such a cacophony that we raced to our front deck to watch the gathering of the silhouetted boats near the small fishing harbor below us. 

At twilight the boats began circling in the harbor

'Has someone drowned?" I asked The Scout, who was scanning the water with the binoculars. 'Did one of the fleet just sink?' We'd never heard such a commotion in our Peloponnese neighborhood even during the height of holiday celebrations. We'd also never seen the boats gathering as they were in our sleepy little village of Agios Dimitrios.

The Egg Dedication - Photo credit: Takis Fileas photo

It wasn't long before the shrill squeal of a microphone being tested joined the honking horns. It was then we turned our attention on the harborside where a stage and plastic chairs had been set up in an area that normally serves as a parking lot. 

'The Egg' on the islet

Must be 'The Egg', we agreed, in answer to my earlier questions, as 'The Egg' is one of the biggest things to happen here in recent years.  And the reason the egg is here can be attributed to another big even that took place here centuries ago. . .or so the story goes.

The Islet and the Egg 

The islet and The Stone House on the Hill (left) - Peter Coroneas photo

As the photo above shows, there's an islet just off the coastline in front of our Stone House on the Hill.  To the casual observer, it seems but a small outcropping of rocks but its size belies its rather enormous history. 

It was this very islet on which Helen of Troy and her brothers, the Dioscuri twins; Castor, the mortal son of the King of Sparta and Pollux, the supernatural son of Zeus were born.   

According to legend, the supreme god Zeus fell in love with Leda, wife of the King of Sparta. So Zeus turned himself into a pale white swan that was fleeing from an eagle and took refuge in Leda's arms. 

From that encounter Leda produced an egg from which Helen and the Dioscuri twins were born.

Pefnos Islet and The Egg

I know. You are probably thinking, oh-no, there she goes again mixing fact and fiction, legend and real life, just like I did a few weeks ago when I wrote about Nestor's Palace.  But to get a feel for our expat life here, you must get a dose of the real and imagined from me every so often because that is the world in which we live. 

As I wrote before, the mixing of the two does start messing with your mind because we find that even  we speak of mythological people and places as if they are real. I tell people that Helen was born on the islet in front of my house as a matter of fact, just as I used to tell people I lived down the street from a Starbucks in Kirkland.   

But writers through history seem to have confirmed some of these claims about this rather unusual birth. In fact Pausanias, the ancient traveler, mentions as early as 150 BC that the Dioscuri were born on this very islet. There was once a pair of  bronze statues of the brothers on the islet - they were mentioned in writings as 'recently' as 1795. 

Only history knows what happened to those statues but I can tell you the island now has a very tangible egg honoring that long-ago love story.

The Islet hatches an Egg Summer 2020

The egg's creation this summer was spearheaded by Greek sculptor Giannis Gouzos and archeologist Petros Themelis. And Dr. Elias Moutzouri is credited with the photographic materials. Funding, in part, was provided by our Municipal Government.

The Egg in the beginning stages - Credit on photo

I have to tell you that in the beginning we paid little attention to the actual creation of the egg. There was activity on the islet but often swimmers use it as a starting or stopping point so we gave it little notice until it seemed to become the talk of the village.  'Have you seen the egg being built!?'

The Egg on the Islet

Work continued for several weeks as the project creators were shuttled back and forth by boat to the islet. And then as if out of nowhere, the egg appeared. 

The Egg being built

So back to that Saturday night. . . the night the Egg was dedicated.  Sitting on our deck we listened to song after song sung by Greek vocalists in honor of Helen and the love story that led to her birth. After night fell, a lone fishing boat's light highlighted the egg. There is something about the ease with which real and imagined can be mixed here and on nights like this the two blended in perfect harmony.

As always thanks for the time you spend with us as we give you a look at our expat world in the Greek Peloponnese. Next time we  are doing a staycation Greek fishing village style! Come back for a different look at this place we call home, Agios Nikolaos!

Linking sometime in the near future with:

Mosaic Monday
Through My Lens
Travel Tuesday
Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday


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