Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Viking Sea Disembarcation

Somehow, we go to bed around 8:30 pm and actually sleep. At 0215 we get our wake-up call as requested, and, as ordered, a beautiful breakfast shows up with a cheerful room service waiter, and we have coffee, tea and croissants as we hurriedly dress. We are to be in the terminal by 0300.

We are there by 0245, us and just about everyone else in our timing – Viking seems to attract those sorts, people who show up where they are supposed to be at the time they are supposed to be there. We are astonished to learn that there was a group ahead of us, they are just finishing up, and yes, there are a few pieces of luggage not claimed, so I guess not quite everyone made it on time.

We identified our luggage, which had been picked up outside our rooms the night before, watched as it was loaded into our assigned bus, and drove for about an hour to the airport. At the airport, there were baggage carts waiting, and we were able to check in very quickly for our flight. We are amazed and delighted; Viking truly has this down to a science. That’s not easy with 900 people disembarking on the same day. Kudos to Viking, even the smallest details are thought through.

As we signed in to the lounge, I said “Kalimeri,” which means Good morning, and the lady said to me “You’re Greek!” and I said no, I am not, but I got that a lot in Greece, I must have a Greek look to me. In truth, there is no Southern Mediterranean blood in me; mostly Scandinavian, French and Irish, or so Ancestry.com tells me.

We depart as the sun rises:

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Everything is smooth until we get to Paris. We have to get to 2E, hall M. We know this drill; it’s the same as last year. “Oh no problem,” the “helper” tells us and hands us this paper with a map and directions:

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You know what? I’m a map reader. I am really good at it. I navigate. We look closely; this map is useless. We start looking for signs and asking as we go, and we go quickly until we find the inner circle of hell, which is the passport line. We have priority passes, so we head to the priority line, but there isn’t even a line, and the real priority line is only for French citizens.

There is one huge shoving, desperate mass of people, all nationalities (except French) and then we find a secondary priority line, and every wheelchair goes to the front, and desperate passengers afraid they are missing their flight go ahead, and those who think they have the right push through, pushing their way in front of others. We are feeling desperate, too, our flight is in a very short time, but we don’t think the scramble to get in front of others is worth the price you pay in karma points.

I will tell you honestly, I have seen similar lines. Laborers in Kuwait lined up to get processed for residence visas. Refugees, desperate to escape violence and poverty, and afraid the gates will close before they get through. It is truly humbling to be a part of this line. Bread lines in which food is running out.

There is no one keeping order. The line inches slowly forward. It is like the end of times, everyone looking after his or her own needs regardless of others. There is little kindness to be seen in this line.

This is shameful. It’s not like this is unexpected. CDG needs to man their passport stations with enough personnel to allow these lines to flow quickly. It’s not rocket science, but it does take a bureaucracy which takes pride in their work.

This is not new; the planes wait, they take off a little later. We make our flight. As much as we love flying Air France, this experience is enough to make us re-think traveling through Paris.

Atlanta is straightforward. Our luggage, by the grace of God, is with us. We fly into Pensacola, and our son is there to meet us and take us home. All is well that ends well.

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November 18, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, France, Interconnected, Paris, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, sunrise series, Survival, Travel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Viking Sea: Katakolon – Low Expectations, High Return

We know from all our previous travels that this is a good day to have a down day. When you tour every day, details begin to blur, and enthusiasm wanes. We’ve lived amidst ancient ruins in Tunis, and Jordan, and while we love them, we don’t want to be trapped in groups of 40, unable to set our own pace.

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We opt not to take a tour, and have a leisurely breakfast in Mamsen’s discussing what, if anything, to do.

For many hours, we are the only ship in port, and then the Aida Bella also berths. They have their sound system on continuously, October-Fest sort of lively German song fill the air. It is hilarious, and we are really glad not to be on that ship.

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We think the design on her bow is hilarious.

There is a little town where we are docked, and we are eager for a walk.

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There are a lot of shops, most of which we are immune to because we shopped in Corfu. Then we find the Katakolon Museum of Ancient Greek Technology. This museum is small, but packed with very cool things. It has just opened, we are the only visitors, and the young woman at the desk shows us how a lot of the beautifully hand-build models demonstrate the old discoveries and how they were applied. I took this one blurry photo before AdventureMan pointed out the sign that said “No photos.”

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The creator of this museum in a man we would love to meet. We are nerds. We recognize and love talking with other nerds. This man happens to be an engineering nerd who wants the world to understand natural principles and how they have been discovered and applied to make our lives easier. He built the models, he created all the visual explanations.

The high point is a poster showing how each discovery and application is still used in the creation of modern cars.

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That poster was outside, and it was allowed to photograph it.

We walked back toward the ship, found a coffee shop alongside the port and settled in over Greek coffees to watch passers-by.

Nearby was a woman with some earrings I loved, in the “long life” pattern. She gave me a good price. I told her they were for my daughter-in-law, and she drew back, astounded, and told me she didn’t speak English well, so she must have mis-understood me, they must be for my daughter. I explained “no, I really love my daughter-in-law as if she were my own daughter and she gave me another pair of earrings for my mother, and lowered the price. (!) She told me it is the end of the season, these are the last cruise ships, and people are selling off their wares. It was such an unexpected blessing to meet her and talk with her.

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Late in the day, we leave Katakolon. The ship got under way so quietly, I didn’t even realize we were moving.

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November 18, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Travel | , , | 5 Comments

Viking Sea: Corfu

We are awake as we come into Corfu, the sun is rising and although the forecast was for rain, we have another beautiful day. All along, the forecasts have been iffy, but the beautiful weather has held. How long can this last?

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We take the panoramic tour, and although our guide is very good and very knowledgeable, we are uncomfortable in a group of 40, and drop off once we get to the city. Corfu is our kind of place, the old city has beautiful family-friendly parks, and wonderful narrow little streets, full of interesting shops. This is perfect, because although we are not big shoppers, we like to bring something special back for those we love.

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The truth is, we know little about Corfu. We wandered, bought a souvenir or gift here and there, but didn’t really get beneath the surface. We can tell Corfu is tourist geared; in each shop the prices are lowered and the proprietors quietly tell us, “It’s the end of the season, the last boats are here. Soon we will shut down for the winter.”

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We’ve wandered to a place we don’t know, and looking at the map doesn’t seem to help. We sit down for drinks at a restaurant, looking at the map and signage, and figure out that it is really hard to get lost; there is the old fortress and the new fortress, and we are between the two. To get back where we need to be – the Old Fortress – we need to wind back the way we came. Meanwhile, we had drinks; too early for lunch.

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When we found this square, I heard a voice in my head say “I could be happy living on this square.” I don’t know that is true, but I liked the feel of this out-of-the way, neighborhood-like little plaza, and I have lived in places with the same feeling. In the center, in the shadows, is an old well.

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By the time we get back to familiar surroundings, we are getting hungry, and find a lovely restaurant on the square where we can sit, watch people. The service is cordial and helpful, but not rushing us. When we order, he tells us the bread is still baking, and he won’t bring our salads until the bread is ready. That’s OK. When the bread arrives, hot and crusty, it is really OK, it is some of the best bread we have ever tasted.

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Melanzane salad, which is tantalizingly close to Baba ghannoush and yet not:

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Taramosalata, which is a paste made of fish eggs and maybe cream cheese, and sounds awful, but we ate this a lot in Greek restaurants in Germany, and I got to like it.

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Oh! The crusty fresh hot bread! I only wish you could taste this for yourself, it truly brings to mind “the bread of life.”

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AdventureMan’s Pasta Marinara, which had lots of seafood in it.

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My Moussaka was heavy and rich, tasty, but not a good photo.

We take our time, have a cup of coffee, and wander over to where we catch the shuttle back to the ship. We enjoyed Corfu.

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November 16, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Cold Drinks, Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Food, Restaurant, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Greece, Italy Have the World’s Most Overweight Kids

Most people know that the United States has a childhood obesity problem. Less well known is that according to the latest data from the OECD is that we are not actually the world leaders in experiencing this issue. It’s Greece and Italy who have the most overweight kids:

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This may not jibe with a lot of hype about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet but it turns out that said diet may no longer be especially popular in Greece and Italy. In 2008, Josef Schmidhuber of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization said traditional eating patterns in southern Europe had “decayed into a moribund state” and drastically increased their overall calorie intake and especially consumption of animal fat, salt, and sweeteners.

 

May 29, 2014 Posted by | Circle of Life and Death, Diet / Weight Loss, Exercise | , , | Leave a comment

Qatar returns statues to Greece amid nudity dispute

Hilarious! Thank you, John Mueller and the Guardian for this giggle.

Qatar returns statues to Greece amid nudity dispute

Culture clash erupts after Greek minister visits Doha show and spots ancient treasures covered in strategically placed cloth.

Qatar and Greece row – Kouros sanctuary of Ptoan Apollo Archaic 520 BC Greek Greece Museum

Naked ambition: cash-strapped Greece has long been wooing Qatar. The display was meant to ‘open a bridge of friendship’ between the countries. Photograph: Alamy

 

It was a spat that nobody wanted – neither the Greeks, the Qataris nor, say officials, the two nude statues that sparked the furore.

But in a classic clash of cultures, Greece has found itself at odds with the oil-rich state – a nation it is keen to woo financially – over the presentation of masterworks depicting athletes in an exhibition dedicated to the Olympic games.

“The statues are now back at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens,” said a culture ministry official.

The dispute, though authorities are not calling it that, broke when Greece’s culture minister, Costas Tzavaras, arrived in Doha last month to discover the “anatomically challenging” treasures cloaked in cloth for fear of offending female spectators.

“In a society where there are certain laws and traditions authorities felt women would be scandalised by seeing such things, even on statues,” added the official who was present at the time.

“The minister, of course, said while he totally respected local customs he couldn’t accept the antiquities not being exhibited in their natural state,” she told the Guardian. “They were great works of art and aesthetically it was wrong.”

The statues, an archaic-era Greek youth and a Roman-era copy of a classical athlete, were to be the centrepiece of an exhibition entitled Olympic Games: Past and Present. Bankrupt Greece was delighted to facilitate when organisers in Doha got in touch. Mired in its worst economic crisis in modern times, the debt-stricken country is eager for investment from the Gulf state, which this year promised to pour €1bn into a joint investment fund.

In another hopeful sign, the emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, recently bought six isles in the Ionian sea with a view to building palaces on them for his three wives and 24 children.

Visiting the Qatari capital for the opening of the show, Tzavaras seized the opportunity to describe the exhibition as “opening a bridge of friendship” between the countries. The discovery of the covered-up antiquities was a setback few had envisaged.

“We don’t want to portray it as a row, and we certainly didn’t want it to overshadow the exhibition,” explained the official. “It was all very friendly. When they turned down our request (to remove the cloth) the statues were boxed up again and sent back to Athens.”

Mystery, nonetheless, shrouds the affair. The show, which had previously been hosted in Berlin, features more than 700 artworks from around Greece, including numerous nude statues. It remains unclear why Qatari authorities had taken such umbrage over the antiquities in question, although officials in Athens described the young athletes – both from Eleusis – as being especially beautiful.

April 29, 2013 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Bureaucracy, Community, Cross Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Humor, Living Conditions, Public Art, Qatar, Values | | Leave a comment

Qatari Amir Buying up Greece

Ah . . . It’s great to be an Amir. And how wonderful, to buy your own wonderland, and help the locals while you are at it, LOL. No plans for development, just use by his wives and children . . . (Thank you again, John Mueller!)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/mar/04/qatar-emir-buys-six-greek-islands

Qatari emir buys six Greek islands for a song

Helena Smith in Athens
The Guardian, Monday 4 March 2013 20.23 GMT

The Greek island of Oxia, was the Qatari emir’s first purchase, which cost €5m.
The suitor is one of the world’s wealthiest men; the location happens to be the eurozone’s poorest country. But in an unlikely coming together of economic circumstances, the emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, has opted to splash out €8.5m (£7.35m) on six idyllic isles in the Ionian sea.

Closure of the deal – the latest in a global shopping spree that has seen the sheikh’s property portfolio spread from London to Beijing – has been met with glee in Greece, the west’s most bankrupt state, and Doha, where the royal household experienced 18 months of excruciating drama to take possession of the outcrops.

“Greece is that kind of place,” said Ioannis Kassianos, Ithaca’s straight-talking Greek-American mayor. “Even when you buy an island, even if you are the emir of Qatar, it takes a year and a half for all the paperwork to go through.”

The isles, known as the Echinades, caught the oil-rich monarch’s fancy when he moored his super-yacht in the turquoise waters off Ithaca, took in the view and liked what he saw. That was four summers ago.

Qatar’s Emir and his wife. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters
When the royal eventually got off the yacht, he inquired about the pine-covered chain as he strolled about Ithaca in sandals and shorts. “They have a fund with a couple of hundred million in it,” enthused Kassianos, a former US economics professor who assumed the mayorship of Homer’s fabled isle three years ago. “And as far as I know they want to buy all 18 of the islands, the whole lot.”

The purchase, the biggest private investment in Greece, appears to have been a windfall for the emir, who drove a hard bargain in a market where investors are few and far between. The first island, Oxia, initially came with a price tag of €7m before its Greek-Australian owners agreed to let it go for just under €5m. Last week, Denis Grivas, whose family has owned the title deeds to the other five almost since the foundation of modern Greece, also settled on a price.

“The islands have been in my family for over 150 years but we are not rich enough to be able to keep such valuable properties any longer,” he said, ruing the soaring taxes the crisis-hit Greek state has slapped on real estate. “We are very, very happy to see them go. They have been on the market for nearly 40 years.”

With their pristine beaches, ancient olive orchards and natural coves, the uninhabited isles are “an ideal opportunity for a solid business investment with unlimited possibilities”, says the high-end “private island online” site, describing the properties as Mediterranean pearls. “The potential for development is very big … from developing tourist-style Club Meds or hotel facilities, to villas to sell or rent.”

But the Gulf royal does not appear in any mood to create tourist resorts on the retreats. Instead, said Kassianos, his aim is to build palaces for the exclusive pleasure of his 24 children and three wives. The architects have already moved in, drawing up plans to create a private idyll, although he has run into trouble with Greek law.

“There is a stupid law because in Greece we do everything upside down,” lamented Kassianos. “That law says that whatever the size of your land, your home can be no bigger than 250 sq m. The emir has reacted to this saying his WC is 250 sq m and his kitchen alone has to be 1,000 sq m, because otherwise how is he going to feed all his guests?”

To appease the locals, the Qatari, who is also being heavily courted by the government to invest in Greece, has promised to come bearing gifts. “His people said ‘what present can we give you?’ and I said the island needs water desperately,” said Kassianos. “A study to lay a pipeline from the mainland is already under way. That’s not bad when we’ve been trying to get a new port here for the past 40 years.”

The emir plans to moor his yacht off his new property this summer. Locals on Ithaca are getting ready. An honorary citizenship beckons along with a feast fit for a very modern Homeric hero.

“The next time he comes we hope to get him and his family off his yacht and into our restaurants,” said Ithaca’s mayor.

Emir’s Grecian passion

This is not the first time the 56-year-old emir of Qatar has shown interest in Greece. Three years ago, when the country’s economic crisis erupted, the Gulf kingdom pledged to invest as much as €5bn in real estate, tourism, transport and infrastructure, including habours and airports. But perennial delays and the perils of Greece’s Byzantine bureaucracy were such that Qatar pulled out of the projects.

Last month, following a visit to Doha by the Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras, interest was rekindled when Qatar signed up to take part in an international tender to develop Athens’ former international airport at Elliniko, one of the most sought after slices of real estate in Europe. The Gulf state has also shown interest in purchasing the famous beachfront Astir Palace hotel, once a stomping ground for celebrities outside the capital.

The emir may be rich but he is business savvy. He had wanted to buy the Ionian isle of Skorpios, where Jackie Kennedy married Aris Onassis. The deal fell through when the late shipowner’s granddaughter, Athina Onassis, refused to come down in price. She is selling for €200m.

• This article was amended on 5 March 2013. The original referred to one of the most sort after, rather than sought after, slices of real estate in Europe. This has been corrected.

March 7, 2013 Posted by | Financial Issues, Holiday, Home Improvements, Qatar, Shopping, Social Issues | , , | Leave a comment

Phoenix: One Thing Leads to Another

In our lectionary readings for today, St. Paul talks about a bay in Crete, facing northwest and southwest, at the west end of Crete, called Phoenix Bay. I’m a bit of a geography nerd, but with the miracle of Google Maps, and the Internet, I found the bay, and even better, I found a hotel I would love to stay in.

It’s not a fancy hotel, and it’s not expensive. It appears simple and clean. But look at the location! Alone! You can’t even get to it by driving, you either drive to a village and take a ferry boat to the hotel, or you hike overland about half and hour to get there. It is ISOLATED! (I love isolated hotels!)

The hotel is calls itself the Old Phoenix Look at its setting:

What is so special about us?

The Old Phoenix can only be reached on foot or by boat. There is no sound of traffic and everything moves at a slow and laid-back pace.

The guests come here looking for peace so they are unlikely to be noisy themselves.

All our rooms have large balconies overlooking the Libyan sea.
Our food is simple, traditional Cretan fare, cooked daily from fresh local ingredients by the family.

Despite the quietness there is a whole range of things to do including lazing on the beach, snorkeling in some of the clearest waters in the Mediterranean, easy walks to serious hiking, canoeing and excursions by boat to the neighbouring villages.

Watching the two sea turtles (Caretta caretta) that have chosen to live in our bay since 2010 is also a nice addition to the quiet entertainment that I can be had during the day.

We have stayed in the general area before, and loved it. We were in our early 50’s, and we heard of a hike that was beautiful and challenging and unforgettable, and we knew we had to do it or we never would – 20 km, starting out hiking downhill, which sounds easy but after a couple kilometers you discover muscles and weaknesses you never knew you had. The only way we completed the hike was that there was no alternative. You had to keep going because there was only one way in and one way out.

At the end, we were almost dead from exhaustion, and the next day we could barely move. It’s one of the BEST things we have ever done. 🙂 The Old Phoenix is not far from this 20 kilometer gorge.

I would really love to find this hotel and stay there four or five days, it looks special. You don’t find a lot of hotels like this one, remote, family owned, small, quiet – and every room with a gorgeous view of the sea.

August 24, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Exercise, ExPat Life, Travel | , | 6 Comments

Cretan Olive Oil

This response is to a post I wrote October 25th on The Olive Oil scandal, that even when you buy a brand you have thought is reliable, you may not be getting what you paid for. For me, it was particularly horrifying to discover they were adulterating the olive oil with hazlenut oil – I don’t have a severe allergy to hazlenuts, but they make the insides of my ears itch. I avoid hazlenuts!

I keep getting such good responses to the post – and I have a partiality (disclaimer!) to small producers of anything, from olive oil to soap to pecans . . . I love buying from the entrepreneur.

Which is why I have taken this response from the comments page and made it an entry. Thank you, Mr. Sassone, for your thoughtful addition to this subject:

It is indeed a shame that the majority of the olive oil on the American and world market has been adulterated by unscrupulous sellers looking for enormous profits.

That is why I started growing olives on the island of Crete, making extra virgin olive oil-EVOO, and importing it to the US. I personally observe all steps in the process from the time the olive flowers bud on the tree until the EVOO goes in the can. I know it is the cleanest, freshest, highest quality, and most healthful EVOO you can buy at any price.

I also offer all customers copies of test reports from independent laboratories that show the exact quality. Acidity is 0.17%. Total polyphenols are 165ppm. Peroxide value is 6. Nothing can compare at any price.

When people buy EVOOs that are labeled as a mix of oil from several countries, they must take this into account: How clean was process to gather the olives? How clean was the factory that processed the oil? How clean were the trucks that transported the oil to the ship? How clean was the ship that transported the oil? You can see where this is going. At any one or more of dozens of steps in the process, contamination can occur. Some of the olive producing countries do not have food the safety standards like the European Union or US Food and Drug Administration.

My curiosity got the best of me. Recently, I sent samples of 13 EVOOs sold in the US for lab testing to find out just how good or bad they are. I dont have a web site just yet, but will publish the results as a comparison to my oil. So long as I keep complete control of the entire process, I can improve the quality of my oil each year.

My EVOO is now available in the US. It is the finest quality and most healthful EVOO you can buy at any price. Send me and email if interested. kretareserve@cox.net Thanks. Tony

November 6, 2007 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Cooking, Entrepreneur, Health Issues, Hygiene, Shopping, Social Issues, Technical Issue | , , , , | 7 Comments