Wednesday, February 23, 2022

The Expat World~ Expanding or Ending

'I am impressed the way you two were able to end your world back in the States and embrace expat life,' observed a new expat friend in Greece. He was pondering the pros and cons of  'leaving it all behind' for a life here.

Agios Nikolaos, our expanded world

'Expat life didn't bring that world to an end. It has simply expanded it!' we assured him. 

In recent months we've had similar conversations with a number of  Americans who are contemplating a move from one world to another, specifically from the United States to Greece. While their questions are many and varied the one common uncertainty for them is leaving all that is known for all that is pretty much unknown. The heart might be saying 'take the leap' but the head is thinking of logistics and loss.

American expats who have expanded their worlds

' What things do you miss? What do you enjoy? How do you fill our days? Are you glad you are here?' they ask us.

Their questions have made me stop and think about our world and how it seems to be working for us, and others we know, who've also decided to expand our worlds.  

Letting Go, Not Leaving

As expats we are planted in two worlds

The first and maybe the biggest concern about expat life is: how do you shift gears and leave one world to embrace an adventure in another?  I do believe it is really is a matter of letting go, loosening the grip but not altogether leaving that world 'back there'.
Arrow points to Our Stone House on the Hill in very rural Greece

We let go of a conventional suburban lifestyle in America's Pacific Northwest for one not quite so conventional in the rural Peloponnese, a half a world away. It takes a good two days to travel between our old and new worlds but I can assure those who ask, I feel very much a part of both. 

Letting go, not leaving that old life meant storing memories

Uprooting ourselves from our life in Washington State -- cleaning out accumulations of 'stuff' and selling our long-time home -- brought on the same angst that others have experienced when moving to a new home. Any one who's done it - including me -  will tell you there is always a bit of fear about letting go of the known for something new. . no matter how excited you are about the new. 

Olive harvest ~a new adventure of this expat life

We'd eased ourselves into this 'foot-in-two-worlds life' by saying we'd give the Greek adventure 'five years'. If it wasn't a fit, we'd return to the old life satisfied in knowing we had at least given it a try. 

We said that when we bought the Greek house, now eight years ago. We said it again when we applied for our first residency permit five years ago. We've just begun the application process for another three-year residency. 

Learning new ways of food shopping in our expanded world

In moving to Greece, we haven't given up our US citizenship. Nor have we become Greek citizens. We have simply been granted a permit to live full-time in Greece. The first permit was for two years, then it can be renewed in three-year increments (if we continue to meet the requirements set forth by the Greek government.) We didn't opt for the much touted Golden Visa, which sets a 250,000-euro threshold for investment in Greek property in exchange for a five-year visa. And buying property is not a requirement of residency, many expats in our area rent their homes. 

Note: This is different than the way our British friends apply and the length of their permits. . .so if you are researching permits make sure you are researching one that will apply to you. 

The Expanded World

New friends in my expanded world

My heart swells when I think of our new expanded world: all the friends we have made since moving to Greece, both expat and Greek. All the adventures, experiences and travels we've had. It contracts to think of all these wonderful experiences we'd have never had, and people we'd never have met had we stayed within the confines of that suburban US world. 

Greek and expat friends celebrate Easter Saturday night

We were asked the other day if we had much of an expat community where we live. And we certainly do! We are getting a total multicultural immersion as our expat friends hail from Britain, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Turkey and Singapore. . .just to name a few. And there are more than two dozen Americans now living in our little slice of Greece.

Expat Christmas lunch 2019 - multi-culture at its best

I think  one of the best Christmas's we've ever had was with a gathering of expats at a buffet lunch hosted by Swedish friends who live a short distance from us. Each expat brought a traditional holiday food from their country. What a fabulous and varied feast we enjoyed with a fabulous and varied bunch of people! 

Expats in Mani from France, America and England 

In the big cities, like Athens and Thessaloniki, there are formal expat organizations designed to help expats meet other expats. Here we have no need for such things. All it takes is a few trips to the village for coffee or wine. Because here you always speak a greeting or nod to others at nearby tables.  It doesn't take long for a bit of conversation to follow the next few times you see each other, and then, in many cases, a friendship isn't far behind.

The Old World

Keeping in touch with long-time friends - both sets have been to Mani

The truth is that it takes a bit of effort to remain a part of our old world when we are 10 hours ahead of it.  It takes some juggling and scheduling to communicate face-to-face or by phone. Written communication works 24/7. 

We've learned that those friends and family who want to keep us a part of their worlds do and many of those folks have even come to Greece to see our world first-hand. Thankfully with Covid rules easing, we may have even more come visit!

Decades-long friendship going strong in both worlds

The internet has made expanding our old world easier.  While we are enjoying new friends here we still have strong ties with those we have known for years 'back there'. There is nothing better than finding an email filled with chit-chat in the inbox. Or a Messenger note that simply says, 'thinking of you' or comment on a FB post. 

FB Messenger and Skype provide us the ability to make phone calls or video chats and we use them often.  And I have to tell you that those conversations keep us a part of the old world - sometimes better than when we were living in it! 

In Hawaii - now WhatsApp brings us face-to-face twice a month

My Hawaii walking buddies (one from the U.S. and one from Canada) and I haven't been physically together for nearly three years, but thanks to WhatsApp we see each other for visits twice a month and have done so since our last walk together on O'ahu.

Now to keep from sounding like Pollyanna about this expat life, I need to admit that we've lost touch with some friends. And it can happen whether they live a few miles or a few thousand miles away. Some we will hear from infrequently. Others will tell us they 'think of us often'.  And even that is better than being gone and forgotten!  

When the Worlds Converge

New friends from the Seattle area help harvest our new world olives.

Something we didn't expect was to be meeting new friends from the old world because of some Greek connection. Twice last year we had the pleasure of meeting and then becoming friends with people from Washington State whom we would never have met had we not moved to Greece.  

We met in Manson and they visited us in our Greek world

One set hails from the Seattle suburbs and another set from Manson, where we have our second home. Both couples were coming to Greece and made it a point to visit us!   It reminded us that there really is a convergence zone of our two worlds - the old one hasn't ended by any means, it just keeps getting bigger and better! !

That's it from the expats living in The Stone House on the Hill for this time around.  We hope this finds you enjoying your world and those who make it special.  Welcome to our new subscribers and thanks to you all for the time you've spent with us today in our ever-expanding world. Hope to see you back again, soon!

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Friday, February 11, 2022

Italy: A Bag Full of Memories

It probably looks like a purple purse to you. 

Actually, in certain light, it appears Indigo blue. At night it looks black..

No matter the color, it is far more than a purse to me: it is a bag of Italian memories.

I am certain that many of you reading this have in your possession something purchased during your travels that at the time you handed over your payment, you questioned your sensibility in buying it. Then, after you got home, you realized it might be one of your most favored treasures all because of the memories that it holds. If so, you will understand the tale I am about to tell. . .

'Travel-Shopping' in Europe

Window shopping - a favorite past time of ours

Those of you who travel light with carry-on bags may not understand our philosophy about travel and shopping. In fact one of the big pluses about living in the European Union is our ability to shop in other countries without thinking about whether the USDA  (US Department of Agriculture) or Customs will allow this or that item to be brought back.  That means we not only check bags, we take large, partially-filled suitcases as we plan to fill them with food, wine, and other useable and consumable items that we can't find in Greece, the country where we make our expat home. We were like kids planning a trip to a candy store when we began planning our Italy trip. 

Prosecco and limoncello display - store window in Venice

It would be a food and wine shopping extravaganza. In addition, we'd decided we might look for Italian leather shoes. Because the straps of my fake-leather backpack purse were falling apart, I  said I might also look for an Italian leather purse as well.  

So many pastas from which to choose

I am still not quite sure when that 'might look for' became an outright quest, but it did - and sadly for The Scout, it hit early and it hit hard.  I was inexplicably driven to find a purse. But just not any purse, it had to be the 'just right' purse. (all of you using purses understand that statement). 

So many shops and temptations in Bologna

It had to be: reasonably priced (under 50 euros), large enough to carry my wallet, sunglasses as well as The Scout's. Thanks to Covid, it needed to have room for the packets of hand wipes, masks, and the documents we must carry to show proof of vaccination. . .both CDC card and passport are required. And I am a writer, so there needed to be room for pens and notebook. The more outside pockets, the better. Zipper closures, a must. In a perfect world it would work as both purse and backpack. . .and preferably be a nice muted tone, suitable for all seasons.  

The Quest Began

Our Italian souvenirs

We had no problem finding the food items we wanted nor the books, shoes, and wine as evidenced by the photo above of our treasures.  But the purse, that was another matter.  And it wasn't for lack of choices as there were stores selling 'real Italian leather' purses on every block, sometimes two or three stores side-by-side! In some stores the products looked like leather and some didn't. I began using our down time in the hotel to research leather - how to know it, buy it, not be scammed by fake products. . .and I was stunned at all there is to know about leather.  

And more purses. . .

I'll spare you the details, but in short: There is the feel and the smell and the look and the color, to consider. Then there were the grades of leather, ranging from man-made cheap to off-the-charts expensive.  

Finding The Purse

Purses and more purses

As we roamed the streets of Bologna, my search was casual and began to pick up steam by the time we got to Verona. At least once during every outing, I'd ask The Scout to wait 'just a minute', which to his credit, he did without complaining.  I'd emerge from the store announcing the bags were too big, too small, wrong color . . .or style. . . or price.  My quest intensified.

Italian leather purses. . .everywhere!

As our stay in Venice was nearing its end, I decided that my old bag would just have to serve me awhile longer. Then as we returned to our hotelon our almost last day, there was a purple. . . or was it blue. . . or black purse in a shop window caught my eye. 'This will be the last shop, I promise,'  I told The Scout.  The shop keeper retrieved the purse from window display, then pointed out its features: a backpack or shoulder bag, visible and secret outside pockets, It was cavernous. It came with guarantees and it smelled and felt like real leather. And it was on sale! Down from 150 euros to 49 euros -- it met all my requirements but one: it was purple and there were no other colors in that style.

Shopping in Venice along canals

So I asked myself, who really needs a sensible purse in a muted color these days?  And now with my purse on my shoulder and my favorite red leather gloves, I look like a member of The Red Hat Society. Back in the 1990's The Red Hats were everywhere it seemed. Groups of women across America celebrating their age (they had to be 50 years of age and older) - maybe flaunting their age --  by wearing outrageous red hats and purple attire to lunches and events.

Red Hat Society would approve

Much to The Scout's relief, I announce quite often these days, 'I love my purse!'. . .but I think I love even more, the memories it holds of our trip to Italy and the adventures we had in finding it!

That's it for this week. Hope to see you back again soon. Welcome to our new subscribers and followers and as always thanks for your time and wishes for safe travels. Hope you'll take a minute to tell us about those treasures you've found on your travels in either the comments below or shoot us an email!

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Saturday, January 29, 2022

Venice ~ Nothing Can Compare

We stood in the open mid-section of the vaporetto, braced against our suitcases and chilled by the cold wind that whipped off the canal that late November afternoon. We could have sat inside but didn't want to miss one minute of the sights, sounds, and smells that are Venice.

Venice vaporetto taking passengers to stops along the canal

We'd selected three cities to visit during our early winter 10-day Italian Escapade: Bologna, Verona and Venice.  I think we may just have unintentionally saved the best for last! 

Venice Revisited 

Oh the city of gondolas is magical

It wasn't our first visit to this centuries-old city built  atop some 117 small islands separated by 150+ canals and  connected by more than 400 bridges. But it certainly had been too long since we'd been back. On this late autumn trip we had arrived by train after spending a night in Verona then boarded a boat headed for our hotel in the San Marco district. Luckily our stop was one of the last so we could do some sightseeing along the way!

Aqua Alta 2012 in Venice  - photo from a blog post about that trip

Our last stay in 2012 was during a time known as 'acqua alta' (high water); a time when the city is flooded by high tide bringing the canals up over its walkways and piazzas. We didn't venture out often back then as each outing meant a balancing act on raised platforms installed for pedestrians to get around on when the floods occur. We hoped we'd not have a repeat of that weather phenomenon during this stay - and luckily, we didn't.

Famed Rialto Bridge - Venice

During our five day stay we planned to explore this fabled city's quarters, or sestieri, as they are called. Our overly-ambitious plans included visits to two nearby islands, Murano (for its glass) and Burano (for its lacemaking and colorful buildings). However, we were so taken with Venice we never made it to them. 

Exploring on a sunny but chilly morning

We again set forth on foot (as you do here until you are traveling on a canal) without any itinerary or 'must see' list. However we ended up visiting more tourist attractions than we had in the past because there were no lines of tourists.  We can probably thank the season and the lingering concerns over Covid for reducing the number of fellow visitors, but honestly, it was almost too good to be true.

No one taking a photo of the Bridge of Sighs - incredible sight!!

Take the Bridge of Sighs. . .on past visits so many tourists have wanted to take its photo - or worse, a selfie of themselves and the bridge - that we usually avoided the area all together as standing from where I took the photo above felt like being a sardine in a can.

We stood at that railing with few others

With maybe a dozen or so ahead of us, the line to check Covid vaccination status was longer at St. Mark's Basilic than was the ticket line. Absolutely no wait for tickets and no crowds inside. We were able to buy tickets once inside (again no wait) and visit the upper level art gallery and outdoor viewing area on the roof - again with only a handful of  others.

Waiting in the rain for the restaurant to open

The weather was fickle - one day we'd have sunshine and on another, rain.  It was chilly in the daytime and got rather cold at night which prevented us from enjoying the many bars and restaurants with tables and chairs that spill out onto the piazzas.  But it was never so extreme as to keep us inside as had the acqua alta on the previous trip.

The major sestieri (districts) of Venice

There is nothing better to our way of thinking in Venice than setting out on a walk with no destination in mind. Twisting walkways lead you over bridges, past shops, through piazzas and reveal all sorts of treasures that we find as interesting as those highly touted tourist sites. Take for instance:
Window food and drink storage

  A favorite walk was through residential areas, admiring flower boxes, shutters and facades on the ages-old buildings. It was  fun to spot places like the window sill above. It was cold enough to keep food and beverages chilled outside and that is just for what this window was being used. 

Ambulances and emergency rooms

We are both fans of Donna Leon's Inspector Brunetti novels. Often a victim is taken to the hospital by ambulance in these 'who-dunnit' stories. It was interesting to see what the ambulances and emergency room entrances look like in a city whose 'roads' are canals.

Dock builders balanced on beams over the water

We found it interesting to watch workers balance on narrow beams - walking, and kneeling -- on the frame they were putting into place.  I'd not seen construction equipment working from a barge before nor workers balancing as if they were ballerinas. 

Did I mention the food?

Needless to say all the walking we did worked up both thirsts and appetites in all three cities we visited.  I haven't yet told you much about Italian food and drink. The next post will take you to public markets, shops, bars and restaurants. . .I promise to make your mouth water in a 'Taste of Italy'  

An Aperol Spritz

For those of you who are reading The Mediterranean Lifestyle magazine, you'll get a taste of Italy in  my article "A Bite of Bologna" that appears in the just-published Feb/March edition.  This edition is available on line and for the first time ever - in print as well!  

My article in The Mediterranean Lifestyle Magazine

That is it for this time around. We send wishes for safe travels to you and yours and thank you for the time you've spent with us strolling through Venice on a winter's day. Please come back for a serving of Italy's culinary arts and bring a friend or two with you~ 

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Thursday, January 20, 2022

That Night in Verona. . .

 'Romeo, Romeo. . .wherefore art thou Romeo?' Juliet called out in Shakespeare's tragic tale of two star-crossed lovers.

Verona Italy street scene

Romeo was in Verona, Italy, as was his love, Juliet. 

And on a chilly weekend not so long ago, so were we.

Verona at Night

We were here as part of our 10-day Italian Escapade that began in Bologna (see previous post) and ended in Venice.  Both cities have charmed us on past visits. We'd decided to include a one-night stay in some place we'd never visited before - one located along the train's route between our two old favorites. A mix of nostalgia and new is always a good travel combination.

Verona - a stop between Bologna and Venice

After much pondering and a bit of research we decided that night would be spent in Verona, a city of 265,000.  

That Night in Verona

Rooms, considering it was late November, seemed surprisingly scarce and rather expensive. As it turns out we were visiting on the weekend of the Verona Marathon - an annual event that traditionally draws a couple thousand runners to the town.

We ended up paying a bit more than we had planned for a hotel room, but in return, got more than we ever could have imagined. Due Torre Hotel was a few blocks from the city's main square, a few blocks from the winding Adige River and opened onto Piazza Sant' Anastasi. 

Piazza Sant'Anastasia - Verona

In other words, a perfect location for setting off on foot to explore.

Lobby Due Torre Hotel - Verona, Italy

I have to admit that I could have spent my short stay just sitting in the lobby of our hotel, a former palace of the Della Scala, a Middle Ages clan who are remembered for both being murderous tyrants and patrons of the arts.  Quite honestly it felt we'd stepped back in time (despite all the modern conveniences) and were staying in a palace!

The Lobby Bar - Due Torre Hotel Verona, Italy

The Italian hotel group that operates the hotels outdid themselves on restoration of this facility. The lobby and its elegant bar were among the most stupendous we've ever seen. Breakfast, included in the room rate, was served one floor above the lobby in an equally elegant dining room..  And I just have to add for all my fellow pet lovers, the posh palace welcomes animals. These two four-footed guests were adorable!

Four-footed guests are welcome at the Due Torre Verona

Romeo and Juliet 

Back in 1562 when Shakespeare created the two lovers, he had no idea of the 21st century marketing tools they would provide this northern Italian city. Souvenirs of every size and shape pay tribute to Romeo and Giulietta, as Juliet is known here.

Now we all know that they were imagined characters, but that didn't deter city authorities back in the 1930's when they selected a house and added a 14th-century style balcony to it and for good measure put up a bronze statue of Giulietta out front.  

Waiting for entrance (under the star) to Casa di Giulietta

Today this tourist attraction continues to draw hordes of people. If you are willing to stand in the incredibly long lines and buy a ticket, you too, could stand on the balcony. It didn't appeal, especially after seeing the massive number of tourists waiting to get in on a late Saturday afternoon.

Exploring Verona 

We not only bypassed 'the' balcony, we didn't seek out any of the other tourist attractions here. We opted, instead, to simply enjoy the city. Our plan was simple: stroll around the town until we tired, then we'd rest up, and head out again in the evening: 

Verona's porticos

So under ancient wood-beamed porticos we went, past charming restaurants and retail stores.

Piazza's were teeming with people in Verona

Then across piazza's lined with cafes; their outdoor seating areas overflowing with people enjoying the sunshine while sipping afternoon beverages. 

This rainbow of temptations caught my eye in Verona.

It seemed this city had a bakery with windows filled with tasty temptations, on every block. And had we not been 'saving ourselves' for a pasta dinner, it would have been most easy to give in to temptation!

Section of the Adige River in Verona, Italy

We left the bustling central area and made our way back to the hotel through the quiet residential areas fronting the river. The horse-shoe shaped Adige River cradles the city on its route to the Adriatic Sea. The empty sidewalks at river's edge were a striking contrast to the busy piazzas.

Saturday night in Verona

Following our pasta dinner we strolled back to the hotel on once-bustling streets that had nearly emptied. The pace of those few folks who were still out had slowed. It was so quiet that. . .  

Evening in Verona 

. . .with a bit of imagination you could almost hear Giulietta calling out in the distance, 

'Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?'


That's it for this Italian stop, we were off to Venice the next morning. And that will be the topic of my next report.  As always, thanks for being with us for this segment of our Escapade and we hope you'll be back for the next installment.  Until then, wishes for safe travels to you and yours~

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