Monday, November 1, 2021

In Greece ~ To Everything A Season

 To everything there is a season.  

In Greece, especially this Kalamata region, it is now the season of the olive.

Olive season has arrived in our world

The olive harvest season is upon us, heralding autumn's arrival. Brisk dawns and dusks open and close the ever-shortening days. The mighty wind that blows down from the Taygetos mountains this time of year has returned with its seasonal gusto. Some days it dances leaves and blossoms through the air and other times rips the awnings and hurls the sun-shade umbrellas out of their stands at local tavernas.

September's sunshine gave way to October's rain

When we set off in early September for a stay in our other world, Washington State, we left the lingering golden summer days of Greece behind us. We returned in early October to a much needed, but rather dreary, rainy stretch which served as the opening act of autumn. 

Our drought-stressed olives in August

As olive growers, albeit small time growers, compared to so many in the area, we welcomed the rain after a long, very dry summer. That summer drought and heat had turned our usually green olives into withered purple pimples on the branches.  'They just need rain', Taki, who owns the olive processing plant, assured us. Then he added, that while the rains plumped them up again, it also served to make them attractive to the pesky 'dako' as the olive fruit fly is known here. Those tiny winged terrorists can (and do) destroy crops rather quickly by boring eggs into the fruit when weather conditions allow. 

We didn't want to test fate with those inviting little olives remaining on the trees for very long, so we were among the first to be at Taki's olive processing plant when it opened for the season a week ago.

Olive Harvest

Friend Jean will attest to the hard work part

It takes a day to harvest olives at our Stone House on the Hill. It is a hard day's work, I think our volunteers would tell you, as we, like most in the area, harvest by hand. Olives are beaten from branches that remain on the tree and are stripped from those branches cut from the tree. Harvest and a first-round pruning go hand-in-hand here. 

Sorting the fallen olives from twigs is an important step

The olives fall on plastic nets, enormous carpets, that drape over our steep terraces. As each tree is completed we crawl on hands and knees raking them into piles and pulling out large twigs and branches. 

Mary and Ulysses had at work

This year's harvest was made more fun by having a team of volunteer harvesters join us for varying amounts of time during the day. Our harvest team consisted of expat friends, Chuck, from Kirkland, Washington, Jean and Mic from Portland, Oregon and visitors to the area, Mary and Ulysses, from the Seattle area.  Coordinating the efforts were two local harvesters - the two who know how to harvest and directed the operation, I might add.

Fellow expat Mic at work

Real verses Imagined

I still laugh at the vision I once had of olive harvest, formulated in part by Frances Mayes and her 'Under the Tuscan Sun' book.  In my imagined world, the day was more of an outing punctuated by a lovely lunch served with wine, perfectly matched tableware under those magical trees. After a few hours toil we would enjoy a repast of fine food and wine that would fill the afternoon.

A quick break then back to work!

That couldn't be further from reality here as our volunteer crew will attest! We work about three hours; about the length of time it takes to be unable to raise our arms above our heads or whack the branch hard enough to loosen the olives any longer (we are all boomers, after all). Luckily we fade about noon. Then we gather for cold cuts, cheese and lots of water, served on disposable table ware. 

Nets drape the hillside and are slippery

The break lasts less than an hour though and it is back to the grove where the pitfalls of harvest include falling on your fanny because the nets are slippery or whacking your forehead into an unexpected tree branch and seeing stars for a few minutes. (Do I have you lining up yet to volunteer for next year's harvest?)

From Olive to Oil

Our harvest at the oil processing plant

Our harvest was smaller than had been expected as this was the alternating year in which we should have had a heavy yield. We harvested 294 kilos of olives - filling seven and a half 50-kilo burlap bags. Our crop produced 40 kilos (equivalent to liters which are close to quarts) of oil.  Some of which we sold to the processor, some we will distribute to friends and family in the U.S. and some was earmarked for our volunteer crew. 

And here comes the oil! 

For those new to TravelnWrite, when we bought our Stone House on the Hill on a rural, olive-tree carpeted hillside in the Peloponnese seven years ago, what we knew about olive oil would have fit in a table-sized dispenser of the stuff.  

As it turned out the property on which our stone house sits also had 17 olive trees - and unbeknownst to us at the time, a whole new segment of this expat world was about to open.  

Our Stone House on the Hill at the top of the grove

Slowly, slowly, or siga, siga, (see-GAH) as we say in Greece, we've come to learn about the seasons of the olive. There is the early spring pruning long before the trees flower, the cutting of the grasses after the wild flowers are spent. After the olives begin to grow we move into the spraying season (bio, we are told)  to combat attacks by those dakos. 

Harvest, the crescendo of seasons, begins in the lower elevations where we are the end of October and will continue through the end of December and early January as crops on the higher elevations ripen.

Our olives heading to press

Freighters are now marking time in the Messinian Bay, waiting to be loaded with oil that will be taken to countries like Italy.  Find that surprising? Well read this article from Epoch, pure Greece (there are others to be found on the internet, if you still find this a remarkable fact):

Is your Italian olive oil really Italian?

The world seems to love Italian olive oil, and many bottles of oil seem to be packaged to display their Italian origin.  But here comes the crunch, when you buy a bottle of oil that says Italian on the label, if you check the small print on the label you may see that what you are really getting is Italian oil blended with olive oil from other countries,  especially with premium quality extra virgin olive oil from Greece.

Italy uses and exports more olive oil than its farmers can grow.  Natural olive oil from Greece tastes just as good, if not better, than olive oil from other countries, but it is cheaper to produce. Italian brands buy Greek oil, mix it with their own and sell it to you, quite legally and stated on the label, as Italian product.  Greek olive growers grow and press more olives than home consumption can use and so they can sell their excess olives to Italy.

Our fresh pressed olive oil 

Thanks for being with us and welcome to our new subscribers! We've been busy changing our world in Greece the last few weeks and next week I plan to tell you about it. . .hope you'll be back then!

Linking sometime soon with:

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Making the Sea Dream Come True

It certainly wasn't going to be like any cruise ship we'd been on before, I thought, as we pulled our roll-away suitcases towards the small vessel docked in Dubrovnik, Croatia on that summer Saturday. 

Sea Dream II in Dubrovnik, Croatia

And it certainly was going to be different experience as European Covid restrictions on travel were loosening and in some cases, lifting, but still very much present. 

Cruising in a time of Covid - a bit different but not bad

The ship we were boarding isn't even called a 'cruise ship', it is a 'yacht'; a designation given it by virtue of its size and the high-end service for which it is known. We were boarding the Sea Dream II for our first taste of small ship cruising. This week-long cruise would mark our return to cruising after a long 'dry dock' as result of  Covid lockdowns. 

The pool deck was a favorite gathering spot - Sea Dream II

The ship - smaller than any we've been on before -- accommodates 112 passengers who are spoiled silly by a 90-member crew. At the time of our sailing, cruising was still in its post-Covid infancy, and as a result we had less than 50 passengers on board. A good number of them were Americans. 

Ship's arrival in Koper was big news

Our ship's arrival in Koper, Slovenia drew a bevy of journalists, television and print media, to greet us as we were literally the first cruise ship to arrive in the port since the fall of 2019.

Good weather allowed all day dining in the Topside

I'll admit that at the time The Scout found the deal, I'd never heard of the ship nor the company of the same name that owns it.  The fleet consists of two ships: Sea Dream I and Sea Dream II. Both come with high user and industry ratings. Repeat guests - of which there were many on our sailing -- are fiercely loyal not only to the brand, but to a particular ship; so much so, several told us, that they won't book the other ship regardless of how tempting its itineraries and prices.  

A table for two aboard the Sea Dream II

It didn't take many hours on board to understand what prompts that loyalty and how quickly it develops.  Service was impeccable - culinary waitstaff were almost attentive to a fault.  The slightest hesitation while eating - or heaven forbid, leaving anything on our plate - was cause for alarm among them as perhaps something didn't meet our satisfaction. 

Dinner was served under the stars - Sea Dream II

Staff not only knew our names from the get-go, but within 24 hours seemed to have memorized our preferences as well.  On my first morning on board I'd gotten up early to watch our arrival in port. I had asked for a black coffee with 'just a splash of milk'. From that morning on, each time I set foot upstairs to watch our arrivals, I was greeted with, 'Good Morning, Mrs. Smith, here's your coffee with just a splash of milk.'

One evening I nearly swooned over the curry entre and told the chef that it was so good I wished I could have it the next night as well but I knew we'd have new choices then.  He shrugged and said, 'No problem. Just tell your waiter you want the curry and I will make sure you get it.'  Yes, indeed, I ate curry two nights in a row!

It was as if our comfort, happiness, and our appetites were the first and only priority of each staff member.

A State(room) of Bliss

Chilled champagne greeting in our cabin

There are no balcony cabins on the ship and we were surprised at how little we missed them. The recently refurbished staterooms were large and comfortable places to relax and recoup between daytime excursions and nighttime entertainment. The large window brightened the space and provided ample viewing.

The Lounge - footsteps away from our cabin

Because the ship was so small our cabin was footsteps from the lobby and not far from the entertainment lounge. From both areas one could access the small pool deck on the aft of the ship. A library, piano bar and 'casino' as the single five-seat Blackjack table was called, were a floor above us. The ship's uppermost deck but two floors away. The formal dining room one floor below us. A single elevator was more than enough to accommodate the entire ship as most opted for the stairs. 

Something for Everyone

Becoming kids again aboard the Sea Dream II

Time and time again, we encounter people who pronounce themselves, 'not a cruise people' based on their stereotype views of cruising, the large group tours, the formal dining, the activities. . .their lists go on.  I now have a perfect comeback for them: 'then try small ship cruising.'

Bike it or hike it on this cruise

There are no large groups, period. Tours were usually no more than six people. Tours weren't required. Independent exploration was encouraged. 

Country-club casual was the dress code.  If you wanted to dress more formally you were welcome to do so, but it wasn't required.

As for on-board activities: we had two afternoons in which the ship and the sea became a playground for the 60-something-adults who became kids again when the sea 'toys' came out.  Many swam while others lounged on the diving platform, some set off in the small sailing slips, others road  the Banana Boat and many took turns jetting about on the ski-doo. And for the the land-lovers, a fleet of bicycles were available on a first-come, first-serve reservation basis at every port of call. 

Cruising in a time of Covid

The library was warm and welcoming

There's no denying that Covid has changed - at least for now - the way we travel.  For this 10-day get-away, we flew to Dubrovnik from Athens and from Milan, Italy back to Athens, and visited three countries (Croatia, Slovenia and Italy) as part of the trip. We filled out Passenger Locator Forms (in theory, used to find you if someone with whom you've been in contact comes down with Covid) for four countries, the cruise line, and for one of the airlines. 

Vaccinated and tested, no mask requirement for passengers

We were tested for Covid on Thursday prior to flying to Croatia , then tested again on Saturday before being allowed to stay on the ship. That testing was done at poolside on board (and once you were deemed 'negative' you were offered champagne and escorted to your room). We were tested again on board on Thursday in order to enter Italy on Saturday. On Friday we were tested again, this time just in case it was needed to enter Greece on Sunday (it wasn't needed, btw, but better safe than sorry). 

We all had to show proof of full vaccination prior to even arriving at the ship. A requirement, as passengers, that we wholeheartedly supported.

All staff wore masks at all times

Because we all were vaccinated and so frequently tested and found negative, passengers were not required to wear masks on board.  Staff members, although vaccinated and tested regularly, did have to wear masks. We did wear masks on airplanes, in airports and the cruise terminals and on shore as required.

On our Own

Dining at the Municipal Market

While other cruise lines were still requiring passengers to be a part of a ship-sponsored tour on shore (even in countries not requiring it) we were most pleased we were free to come and go on our own on Sea Dream.  That allowed us to set off and explore what we wanted, when we wanted. Including setting forth for dinner on shore in Rovinj, Croatia, at a small restaurant tucked away in a corner of the Municipal Market.

Returning from port as the sun sets on the Adriatic

Being on a small ship, and visiting places the big ships can't logistically access also allowed for long stays in ports of call; often times only needing to be back on board long after the sun had set.

A Taste of the Adriatic

My words and photos 

I've purposely not mentioned our itinerary because I focused on the ports of call in an article I wrote for The Mediterranean Lifestyle magazine. Hope you'll take another minute to click this link and see where our little ship was able to take us. The ports of call were amazing!  Hopefully it will bring back memories for those of you who've told us you have traveled these waters and maybe move the Adriatic a bit higher on the bucket lists of those who haven't!

Thanks for the time you've spent with us today!  We've just returned to stormy Greece after a month in our U.S. home.  Next week I'll have a few more travel tales for you, so hope you'll be back with us!  And a big welcome to our new subscribers!! Nice to have you with us~

Linking soon with:

Monday, September 20, 2021

Welcome Back to the 'Old Country'

 Welcome back to the 'old country' read the note on a gift given us by long time friends last week. 

Back in our 'old country' Washington State

It was a warm greeting, yet, a bit startling to realize that it applies to us these days. As expats living in Greece for most of the year, Washington State -- particularly this eastern side of the state where we were born and raised -- is for us now, the 'old country'.

Lake Chelan from The Butte

By definition, 'old country' is one's country of origin, the homeland, birthplace, mother country, father land. . .all of which fit these days for our Washington State.

A New, Old Country

Advertisement 1914

Manson, an unincorporated village on the north shore of 55-mile-long Lake Chelan, is where we've planted our part-time American roots.  I loved finding the announcement pictured above in historical records as I've always wondered how this little place came to be.  The downtown 'core' is about two blocks long with eateries and winery tasting rooms occupying the old buildings. While they might have built those 'drug store, hardware store, etc.' back in 1914, only two of those types of businesses remain: a grocery store and hardware store.

Downtown Manson

Several decades ago when The Scout first introduced me to this small town, the 20-minute drive between it and the larger Chelan town where he was born and raised, seemed a route into the boondocks as it led through vast apple orchards punctuated with  a few scattered residences.

Planned future residential development

There are still beautiful views over the lake and a few acres of orchards remain but now the route passes several large residential developments, a casino and four wineries.  Construction is booming and home prices are soaring. 

The Lookout development between Chelan and Manson

It seems many in the metropolitan areas learned during Covid lockdowns of 2020 that working remotely could be done from near or far. Many urban- and suburban-ites are relocating to this rural part of the state. The Lookout, pictured above, fills 63-acres with what seems a continuously expanding nest of new homes. Developers describe this resort community as featuring a  'new urbanism' concept. 

Lake Chelan and Wine Country

Lake Chelan, 55-mile-long glacier-fed lake

Lake Chelan, a body of water that reaches a maximum depth of 1,486-feet deep in places, stretches from the town of Chelan at its eastern tip to Stehekin at the head of the lake. Stehekin can only be reached by water craft or float plane.  The lake has always drawn tourists in the summer months and now winter recreational activities in the oft-snow-covered nearby foothills and mountains are making tourism a year-round industry.

Washington State Wine Map

Of course, the burgeoning wine industry here is luring many vino enthusiasts to the area. Lake Chelan AVA, a wine region designation now more than a decade old, has more than 30 wineries and  300 acres of land planted in wine grapes. 

Old Country Favorites

Another orchard gives way to home construction

While we note with each visit here the continuing changes in the landscape - new residential developments, new wineries, and related businesses -- we also are relieved to see that icons of the past remain vibrant in the communities of Chelan and Manson:

Manson Grange Hall

The Grange Hall in Manson is still serving as the social gathering hub of the community. In the U.S. the Grange originated in 1867 as an association of farmers that provided social activities, community service and conducted political lobbying for the agricultural industry. Grange halls were located in nearly every agricultural community in the state. The summer's Farmer's Market in Manson is aptly held in the parking lot here each week.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Church - Chelan

 St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Chelan is the oldest permanent structure in the community. Built in 1897 this log church was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.  It has been serving congregants since its doors opened. (It just reopened its doors to in person worship this month  -having been closed to state Covid closure mandates).  

Inside the Ruby Theatre Chelan, WA

The doors opened to the Ruby Theatre, just down the street from the church, in 1914.  It is a step back in time to go to a movie here and it is one of the most popular places in town.

Small retail businesses now operate out of the building that housed the Chelan Transfer company - a place that served freight, express and stage lines. 

Campbell's the hospitality icon of Chelan

Campbell's Resort is a sprawling modern complex and popular convention site on the shores of Lake Chelan. The family-owned business began in 1901 and the original hotel building is now home to the resort's restaurant and bar.

We are halfway through our stay in the 'old country' and our explorations here will continue.  Hope you'll join us for another look at central Washington State next week.  Until then, safe travels to you and yours and as always, thanks for the time you've spent with us today!

Linking soon with:
Travel Tuesday
Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Expat Life: Neither Here Nor There

 We are here now. Not there. 

Lake Chelan at Manson

'Here' being Washington State, tucked away in the Pacific Northwest corner of the United States. This is the land where we were born and raised; where we lived most of our adult lives. 

That is, until we decided to live a chapter of our lives 'there', in Greece.  

Our village in Greece, Agios Nikolaos

Thanks to time zone changes, we left 'there' Tuesday morning and arrived here some 20+ hours later on Tuesday evening. We are now in that afterglow period of international travel known as jet lag. It is a strange bedfellow to be sure. I chose the word 'bedfellow' on purpose because sleep, or lack of it, is for what jetlag is known. 

Autumn, a good time to be here. . .or there!

Now, in my third morning here, I continue to wake at 3:30 a.m. After an hour of tossing and turning, I get up having finally decided that I am not going back to sleep. No, I won't sleep until maybe noon when suddenly I simply can't keep my eyes open, my head drops to my chest and I am out for several hours. Those who've made similar long distant journeys know the feeling.

From one side of the world to the other

Jetlag is Real

Jetlag, is real and also known as desynchronosis or flight fatigue. According to my Google research, it is the result of:

  • A disruption of circadian rhythm: a biological day and night clock. This occurs when the person travels to different time zones.
  • Influence of sunlight- light affects regulation of melatonin
  • Airline cabin pressure and atmosphere- changes in cabin pressure and high altitude could lead to jetlag

Land of Starbucks and Washington Wine Country

Cures for Jetlag

After warming up my second cup of coffee (it is now 5:30 a.m.) I began researching jetlag cures.  First suggested cure: limit caffeine. Not a chance! We are back in the land that gave Starbucks its start and I can't pass up the opportunity to get a java jolt from my old favorite. Second suggestion: avoid alcohol. What?! We are now in the heart of Washington Wine Country, walking distance to a dozen tasting rooms or wineries. . .so that isn't going to happen either.  Third suggestion (my own, btw): just live with it!  A couple more days and I'll settle in to the swing of things on this side of the world.  

We knew when we chose this foot-in-two-worlds lifestyle that jetlag would be one of the negative side effects of the choice.  What we hadn't considered when considering travel between our two slices of the world, was that a pandemic would hit two years into our adventure. We didn't even consider the ramifications after it hit . . .until we began traveling again. 

Those 20 Hours Between Worlds

Getting a test - step one for travel

I really had wanted to tell you that travel in these Covid-influenced times isn't much different than it was before the pandemic turned the world upside down. But travel is different and it probably isn't going to swing back to the old ways any time soon, if ever.  

Pretravel testing, and documentation are the keys to even being able to start an international journey these days. Then there are the protocols for travel.  Who would have thought that a year and a half later, we would still be dealing with such matters? Each member state of the European Union is grappling with how to handle U.S. travelers and the United Kingdom has all travelers running a bureaucratic gauntlet. The U.S. isn't yet welcoming non-citizen/resident card holder travelers from outside its borders. 

It is about the journey these days - (Beebe Bridge Chelan)

Airlines are juggling itineraries and schedules. We've started making travel plans as if throwing darts at a board.  We hope to hit the date we want, the bulls eye, but will take some outer ring should our dart fall short. We had segments of two versions of this trip cancelled before we finally hit on one that got us back: 

Our journey ended up being from Athens to London Heathrow then on to Seattle. Our same day travel on British Air had a 2.5 hour layover in London. Once that routing would have been 'a breeze', but not in these Covid-colored days. 

Columbia River - near Wenatchee, Washington State

We were flying from Greece, considered an 'amber country' (color is determined by number of Covid cases). It could have been worse as there are 'red' countries and it could have been better as there are 'green'  countries.  As an 'amber country' had we had a longer layover in London requiring us to leave the airport and spend the night (as we have often done in the past) we would have had even more testing requirements and possible quarantine. 

Because we stayed 'airside' (never leaving the terminal) vs. 'landside' (where you go through immigration) we had to have only one 'brain-tickler-up-the-nose' test prior to departure and several documents proving our health and providing contact tracing information.

Grape harvest is underway - wineries are busy

The contact tracing is done with a document called a PLF, passenger locator form. While Greece allows us to complete one of those per family, the United Kingdom requires one per person. That document when printed out was four-pages long for each of us. We had to provide not only flight numbers but seat numbers on those flights as well as the time, hour and minute of arrival.  

During our check-in process in Athens, we saw two individuals who were refused boarding passes until they could produce a completed PLF, in printed or digital form, for the UK. Now in fairness, British Air emailed us notice of the need for this document and those required by the US nearly every other day for two weeks prior to departure. Links to the documents were included in the emails. There is NO WAY anyone flying that airline couldn't have not  known they were needed.

I mention printed documents because airlines are now suggesting those over the mobile device because people searching for the documents, being unable to access them, etc. has slowed the check in/arrival document check process.  We noticed many -- ourselves included - now carrying file folders in airports.

Apples hang like ornaments this time of year

A negative rapid antigen test with the swab up the nose, is required to enter the U.S. and while the U.S. says it must be taken within three days before travel, the United Kingdom says 48 hours before travel.  The devil is in the details these days!

The U.S. also requires a signed and dated 'Attestation' form in which the traveler swears, or 'attests', that he/she has had a negative test. Those documents were collected in London prior to boarding the flight to Seattle.  Now it would seem they might want to see that actual test report, but no, they only wanted our sworn statement that we had tested negative. 

Blueberry fields forever - berry harvest was done weeks ago

Masks are required both in airports and on airplanes. It is a fact. Simple as that. I just read the U.S. is toughening its stance and upping the fines for those who refuse to wear masks. 

You honestly want to shout, "Score!!" and wave your fist in the air once the documents are checked and approved. Frankly, there was a comfort in knowing everyone on our 787 aircraft had tested negative and was wearing a mask.  It is something I am not sure of when shopping at the local grocery store, 'here' or 'there'.

Farmers Market - Chelan

Now that we are back to our roots we are looking forward to welcoming guests, seeing friends and exploring the area - all things Covid restraints limited on our last trip here.  The summer flurry of tourists has abated, pears are being harvested, apples hang like ornaments on trees, and just-picked wine grapes are being transported to local wineries. 

Hope you'll join us next week for a look at our slice of the Pacific Northwest. Our wishes for safe travels to you and yours And, as always, thanks for the time you've spent with us today. Safe travels ~

Linking sometime soon with:

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


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