Monday, November 30, 2020

Greek Garbage Bins and Other Simple pleasures

 You know you are seeing travel differently when the community garbage bins beckon as a destination.

Messinian Bay from our deck

Last week, as we two expats sat under a cloudless Mediterranean blue sky on the deck of our Stone House on the Hill in the Greek Peloponnese, I exclaimed that we 'got to' - not 'had to' - take our garbage to the community bins that day. I announced it with the type of enthusiasm, I used to have when talking about a cruise or trip to a favorite destination. 

It doesn't take much these days to count as 'a trip' away from home. We are getting a refresher course in simple pleasures as we experience this country's second COVID lockdown of 2020.

Destination: the community garbage bins

Taking a short jaunt to the garbage dumpster was just what I needed -- a serving of travel, even if in an amuse-bouche sized portion.

On the road home - Pantazi Beach

Our weather has blessedly remained sunny and warm so we rolled down the windows and let the breeze ruffle our hair as we drove along the beach road that would take us to the dumpsters. We picked up to-go cappuccinos and spent a few minutes in the village parking lot watching the waves before heading home. Simple pleasures.


The village in lockdown is rather forlorn

Only a few weeks ago, as November approached, I wrote of us being 'betwixt and between' in making decisions about returning to the States or for that matter, of traveling anywhere. We didn't have long to ponder as by the first weekend in November Greece was in full lockdown mode again. We aren't going anywhere for awhile!

The lockdown came swiftly and decisively. It was announced at noon on a Thursday and went into effect at 6 a.m. two days later. 

You may remember that last spring I was calling Greece 'the poster child of COVID prevention'.  Well, no longer can I brag about our adopted country. A steady increase in cases with a marked spike in October has nearly brought the Greek health system to its knees. Instead of springtime's 20 -30 cases per day, autumn's numbers had reached 2,000 - 3,000 cases per day.  ICU beds that numbered 300 countrywide in the spring have increased to more than 1,200 but the occupancy rate of those increased beds is now at 90%. Some areas have no more capacity and patients have been airlifted to other struggling hospitals.   

Sparsely populated Messinias prefecture - agricultural lands 

While the epicenters of the cases are our major metropolitan areas, Thessaloniki and Athens, increasing numbers of cases are being reported throughout the country. . .even in our sparsely-populated rural prefecture (county) of Messinias.  

The Scout waiting for dinner to go

Originally a three-week lockdown, it has been extended to four with hints it may continue on after the new end date, December 7.  Most of the populace, thankfully, seems in support of the lockdown and the only political debate brought up by the opposition party was whether it should have been imposed sooner.


Even chatting with friends, masks are required

We've been required to wear masks inside businesses since spring and outside as well for the last few months. The numbers of shoppers allowed in retail stores when they reopened last spring were limited. Small shops allowed only two shoppers at a time and larger stores had security officers admitting people, monitoring numbers and keeping shoppers out as occupancy limits were hit. Restaurants served smaller numbers of diners - and at distanced outside tables.

It wasn't like 'before' our spring lockdown but it was definitely a time of simple pleasures: dining out, shopping, freedom to go where we wanted within Greece. We savored those pleasures of the summer and early fall. We suspected they might not last.

Our current lockdown came with a curfew as well.  If you are out after 9 p.m. you had better be headed to or from work (and have documents to prove it), be seeking medical care or walking your dog near your home.

Our retail stores considered non-essential (including hardware stores, despite being in the middle of olive harvest) are closed.  Super markets, grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations are open, as they were in the spring lockdown.  

Prohibited goods during lockdown

One major change this time around impacts the supermarkets and their customers. Like supermarkets everywhere, these stores sell more than groceries. So as not to give them a sales advantage over the small retail shops that are closed, supermarkets are unable to sell items like computers and electronic equipment, clothing, books and cookware. It is a commendable act, until something breaks or rips or needs to be replaced.

A fellow blogger, Juergen Klein, who writes 'dare2go' blog  has been unable to return to his home in Australia this year. as result of COVID response by that country. He and his wife are in Greece. He recently noted  that having not planned to winter in Greece, he needed winter pajamas because the nights do get cold here. He found them at a supermarket but was unable to buy them until the lockdown is over. Again, the fair trade effort is great until you as a customer in serious need of an item.

Takeout dinner - my favorite!

The majority of restaurants, bars and tavernas are closed in our nearby villages - a handful are open limited hours, providing takeout coffees and food. There has been no inside seating allowed for months. Outside seating is now forbidden as well. We aren't allowed sit while waiting for take out food. Going out 'to' dinner has become going out 'for' dinner. It is still one of life's simple pleasure to be sure!

Hiking is an approved exercise

We are allowed out to exercise and can have up to three persons in a group when doing so.  Hiking and walking are simple, but most welcome, pleasures! 


Permission for movement granted

As in the spring, we must text the government for permission to leave our homes for any of six allowed destinations/reasons and face hefty fines if caught out and about without permission in hand. Fines are also levied for not wearing face masks.  Those not able to text are allowed to print out government forms, fill them out prior to each trip and carry them with them. Fines per violation are now double that of the spring at 300 euros ($359US per violation). Retail store owners found in violation of lockdown guidelines can be arrested. . .some have been according to Greek newspapers.


Wine, moon in a parking lot: simple pleasures

The Greek media report that the government has purchased 25 million doses of Pfizer's Covid vaccine. The country's population is about 10.4 million, so it sounds as though there will be plenty to go around.  Especially after reading the report of a survey done last week in which one of every three Greeks surveyed said they wouldn't get the vaccination although the government is providing it free of charge to all citizens.

Immunizations will begin late December or after the first of the year.  Fingers crossed that there will be enough available locally for those of us 'vulnerable age group' expats to also get the necessary doses . . .

Parking lot sea wall- a simple pleasure destination

We hope that where ever you are reading this that you and your loved ones continue to be safe and well and that you are also enjoying simple pleasures.  Add a comment or drop a note and let us know how you are handling COVID in your part of the world. 

As always, thanks for the time you spent with us ~ we will see you next week when we will do a bit of time travel back to ancient Greece. . .at a place within a few hours drive of our home here. 

Linking soon with:

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Greece ~ Sailing In the Pirates' Wake

 Ahoy, Mateys! Permission to come aboard is granted. . . 

We are sailing off on a trip through history; a trip that follows a section of rugged coastline near our home in the Mani region of the Greek Peloponnese on waters once plied by pirates.

Setting off in the pirates wake - Greek Peloponnese

That's right. Pirates! Move over Johnnie Depp and Jack Sparrow - the Caribbean has nothing on the Mediterranean when it comes to pirates. . .aside from a blockbuster movie, maybe!   While you've probably heard much about Greece's ancient cities and civilizations and philosophers, I bet many of you haven't thought of pirates as a part of the country's history.

Messinian Bay- Greek Peloponnese

Frankly, neither had we until we moved here and started hearing local pirate lore. In all fairness -- as many tale-tellers note -- there was a rather vague dividing line between "free" trade and piracy in these parts.  A young Greek friend of ours once said with a laugh, "They teach about my ancestors in school saying they were heroes, but they were pirates!"

Areas of the Mani remain dry and barren to this day

The emergence of pirates in the Mani is said to have been in the 1600's. Many attribute the Mani's harsh unforgiving landscape, infertile soil and dry - drought-like - conditions for sending settlers, who couldn't make a living on land to the sea to seek their fortunes. 

Just the word 'pirate' brings to mind a high seas adventurer and is often used interchangeably with corsairs, privateers and buccaneers. However, each of those monikers has a slightly different definition. Take these two for example:

Remains of an ancient harbor

Pirates were raiders who acted autonomously - their aim was for their own benefit. The word comes from the Greek verb 'peiromai' meaning to endeavor. 

Corsairs operated on behalf of his sponsor and that sponsor could have been a nation or a member of an aristrocratic elite. It comes from the Latin words: curro - 'to run' and cursus for 'course'.

The Mani was a particularly good, strategic position for piracy because it is located between the eastern and western Mediterranean. Its coastline in many areas is rocky, sheer cliffs. 

Map credit -

While there were many pirates who sailed the sea, here they also perfected a  pretty clever type of piracy, a land piracy. The story goes that in the region of Thyrides, -- meaning 'windows' as the many caves in the sheer cliffs there were called --  land pirates in the caves kept watch for passing ships. They would extinguish lighthouse lights, then put lights on the rocky shoreline or attach them to goat bells so the ships would run aground.  Then they would loot them and take the humans on board as hostages. That area is today known as  the area of Cavo Grosso near present-day Gerolimenas. 

Bay at Gerelimenos once a pirate stronghold

That stretch of coastline from Cape Tainaro north along the western coast (left side on the map below) was said to be feared by sailors through the ages. Travel guides in the 18th century urged ships to keep a safe distance from shore when traveling past the Mani.

Pirate s from Cape Tainaro up the western coast

The coastal village of Oitylo, was called by foreign travelers, the 'Grand Algiers' as result of excessive piracy and the slave trade that took place there. The pirates took hostages and either used them as ship rowers, demanded ransom for their release if they had ties to wealth or sold them as slaves.

Oitylo village overlooks this bay

"Piracy from land and the slave trade that was taking place in Oitylo reminded of Algiers, the major slave trade center of North Africa," write authors of the book, 'Piracy in the Mediterranean, The Mani Pirates.'  

Such a label it had that Jules Verne in his 1884 adventure novel set in the Greek Peloponnese during its War of Independence, The Archipelago on Fire even mentions 'Grand Algiers'.

Mani coastline - Peloponnese

No one can say for sure how much piracy took place in our area but names of local pirates continue to be passed down through the generations - they are remembered as both villains and heroes as many of them fought in the Greek War of Independence.

Today the bays near Oitylo and Gerelimenos are popular tourist destinations and draw thousands of visitors to the Mani.  The days of piracy are long gone.  But vivid reminders of those days still remain as one sails along in the pirates' wake.

Caves near our home in the Mani

On our recent adventure with Captain Antonis (that I wrote about a few weeks ago, Fishing Tradition and Tourism) we got a great view of the caves near our home where locals tell us that villagers once hid from pirates. 

Another fortress on the sheer cliffs

A bit further down the coast as we exclaimed about what appeared to be a fortress built into the sheer wall on the coastline, the captain simply replied, 'It was a time of pirates.'

Well, me hearties (that is friends, in pirate lingo) thus ends our tale for today.  We are always thankful for your time and send wishes for continued health in this time of pandemic and continued lockdowns and curtailments.  

Those wanting more information on Mani history and piracy should read the book mentioned above as well as Mani sections in Desolation Road and Zorbas websites.

We'll be back soon with more tales of travel and expat adventures ~ hope we'll see you then!

Linking soon with:

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

Monday, November 2, 2020

A Greek Autumn ~ Betwixt and Between

Autumn and its unhurried months of September and October have led us to November in our slice of the Greek Peloponnese.  It is a time of betwixt and between those scorching summer days and those chilly winter days when we are bombarded by strong winds and heavy rain. 

Gythio on an autumn Sunday

It has been a gorgeous time of year with gardens coming back to life, roses, lantana and geraniums in bloom, and olive harvest filling the air with the scent of fresh-pressed oil. The drought-stricken hillsides have gone from shades of brown and tan to lush variations of green created by the first of the season's rain. Sunsets have closed out our days with a blaze of autumn gold and orange.

Autumn sunset from the Stone House on the Hill

Until this year we'd never experienced an entire autumn in Greece. As long time readers know we usually return to our American home in Washington State for a few weeks this time of year. There, we also have that best of betwixt and between as we've missed the summer's heat and enjoy the autumn colors, the apple and grape harvest before winter's blustery cold, snowy weather arrives.

Apples in Manson, Washington - our other home

We can thank this year's COVID pandemic for providing these two expats the opportunity to experience the full spectrum of this lovely season here. With travel restrictions, pandemic precautions, testing, isolation, paperwork and the like, frankly taking a trip anywhere sounds almost overwhelming.

Yet, even though we are thoroughly enjoying our Greek world, it has been a bit unsettling to know we have a home in the States that we may not see until. . .well, until . . .well, we just don't know, when.  We find ourselves somewhat betwixt and between our worlds for lack of a better description.

Messinias Bay in September

As columnist Emma Brockes wrote of the expat experience in time of pandemic last week in The Guardian newspaper, 'It is one thing to stay away when you can't be bothered to travel, and another when the option is removed.' She continued, " 'We'll go home in the spring,' we say, as if anything is likely to change.' "

In our case, we'd planned to spend month of August back in the States -- that was a decision made long before the word COVID-19 became an everyday word. After COVID arrived we talked of September and then October and then of  November. . .

Oh, for those days of travel. . .

There are flights between this side of the pond and the States. It is just that the shifting sands of this pesky pandemic seem to be in a constant state of movement these days.  So a traveler doesn't know what the rules might be from one day to the next or one country to the next. And it is impossible right now to fly to the States from Greece without transiting another country on this side of the pond. In the last few days France and the United Kingdom have locked down their countries, Germany is in partial lockdown. Greece is in a partial lockdown beginning tomorrow, Nov. 3rd.

Originally our hesitation about returning to the States was whether Greece would allow us back in upon our return. Currently American tourists aren't yet welcome in Greece because that country's COVID- numbers have been too high. Two exceptions are if you are a Greek national returning from America or are a permanent resident here. 

Would we be allowed back in Greece?

Our attorney here tells us that we are permanent residents by virtue of that little government issued residency permit card we carry with us.

However,as we have waffled in making a decision to go or stay in Greece, this adopted country of ours -- the once poster child for COVID prevention -- has had its numbers of cases skyrocket.  Not so very long ago, the daily cases averaged 20 - 25 and this weekend we hit 2,000 cases in a single day. Cases continue to be at 1,500 or above.  The number of intubated patients are nearing 200 in this country that early-on reported having 300 ICU beds available.

The 2020 travel look

As I was writing this post a headline flashed across my screen that two areas of Greece have gone into total lockdown - residents in those two place are being required to text the government before leaving their homes.  Our region isn't there . . .yet. We suspect it is coming.

The next COVID wave seems to have arrived. Tomorrow we return to wearing facemasks indoors and out throughout the country. Hotels and hairdressers remain open for now. So tomorrow -- instead of flying to Seattle -- we head out to get hair cuts and then spend a couple nights at a hotel within our Messinias region.  Who knows? That might be the the last outing for us during this betwixt and between time.

February day in Manson - where our US roots are planted

So now we talk of a return to the States, perhaps, in February. 


Thanks to the many of you who wrote to ask whether the recent earthquake that struck the Greek island of Samos and Izmir, Turkey impacted us.  Another headline just flashed across my screen while writing this saying two more earthquakes had hit the country today -- we have been blessed to have missed them all.  Thank you for checking on us.

Wild cyclamen carpet the groves in autumn

As we watched the live report on Saturday of 40 rescue workers trying to extract a woman from her home, now a concrete mass of rubble as result of the earthquake, we decided that being betwixt and between as we are, really isn't such a dilemma after all. Our homes are standing and we are well.

Where ever you are we hope that you and yours continue to be well and safe.  Hope you'll return next week when we will have more Greek expat travel tales for you! 

Linking soon with:

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

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


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