Categories
Greece (Athens, Delphi)

Scenes from a sunny house in Athens

AirBnB delivers again

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Kostas, me, Mitch, and Tania

This is our first major trip where by the time we return home, we will have utilized  AirBnB seven times! Today’s post is about our stay near the Athens International Airport with Tania and her son, Kostas (yes, another Kostas!).

Tania’s house is called “Sunny House” and it’s ten minutes from the airport, which was perfect for our needs since we were flying out of Athens the next day for five days in Crete.

Despite some communication problems between Tania and me during the day about exactly when and how we would arrive at her house, we finally met up around 4 p.m.

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The tile patio 

It had been a hectic day! We had taken a three-hour bus ride from Olympia (along the southern coast of the Gulf of Corinth), a subway transfer, and a ride on the suburbs-bound metro train. Tania could tell we were exhausted. After showing us the house, she said, “You look tired,” and she left us to rest.

However, before leaving, Tania’s son Kostas offered to handle ordering dinner for us later. We could look through the menus on the table in the apartment to make our choice, he said. After resting, we took him up on his offer and asked him to order two pork gyros from a local restaurant. In about fifteen minutes, a man on a scooter drove to our door with hot gyros in hand. Awesome!

Mitch and I ate our gyros on the sun-dappled patio table in front of our flat. It was a very warm day (some would call it hot), but with the breeze, it felt cool in the shade.

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I wish I had taken pictures right when we arrived. It was a great little place!

As we ate, Kostas was installing some tile around a concrete seating area on his mother’s patio. He came over and asked us if it would be all right if he cut some tile, as it would make quite a loud noise. Of course, that would be fine, we said. We didn’t want to get in the way of his project, obviously.

As Kostas worked, Tania swept leaves from her patio that joined ours. In front of her home, four trees provide lemons, oranges, apricots, and olives. She told us to help ourselves to all the apricots we wanted as there were simply too many to pick. We picked about six and carried them back to our place. Lucky for us that we’ve visited Greece during apricot season. (I never buy them at home because they’re rarely allowed to ripen on the tree.)

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Apricots fresh off the tree

After eating and resting some more, we both wandered outside to see Kostas’ tile project up close. As we spoke with him, Tania came out from her home.

“Sit, sit,” she said. Taking her cue, the three of us joined her around her wooden picnic table.

As the breeze stirred, we got to know each other a bit.

  • We visited about politics (Greece has elections in about a week; the United States’ 2020 election is already in the news).
  • We also talked about opportunities for young people in Greece, which seems to be a complex subject. For example, Kostas, a mechanical engineer completing a master’s degree in Romania, told us that engineers earn less pay than hair stylists. We relayed that teacher salaries in the U.S. also can reflect that disparity.

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  • We met their dog, Bruno. Kostas told us Bruno was a stray that they had adopted. Apparently, Bruno likes to chase cars. The road beyond the house,  a gravel one that feels like a country road, did occasionally have a car speeding by.
  • As we visited, a neighbor hollered in Greek over the courtyard wall. Tania spoke back and apparently invited the woman in. She greeted us with a smile, looked at Kostas’ tile project, indicated that it was coming along well, and went on her way.
  • Kostas gave us tips for visiting Crete, recommending that we check out Chania while we’re there.

Gradually, the clear night sky darkened. The sound of a flight taking off or landing could be heard in the distance and Tania rose from the table. About five minutes later, she returned with forks and plates of watermelon wedges.

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Olives are on the way!

We continued to talk and it occurred to me what a generous mother and son we had met. Both were eager to share about their lives and learn about ours. We told them about our daughter, who was returning to the U.S. from an internship in Italy, and our son, a college student studying photography and video production.

They were curious about Mitch’s familiarity with farming, raising livestock, and chickens. They were especially intrigued when they learned that Mitch even raises specific chickens for their feathers, which he uses to tie flies for fishing.

We also relayed to her details about some of our other AirBnB stays from the previous few days. One of those stays was actually a room in a small hotel. While it was a pleasant stay, it wasn’t quite the traditional AirBnB experience. People who choose AirBnb don’t want a hotel, Tania said. They want the experience of meeting local people.

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The next morning right before we left

Eventually, the conversation waned and a few yawns were heard. We all decided to call it a night, but before doing that, we went over our morning plans: Tania would taxi us to the airport at 7:30 in the morning so we could make our 9:15 flight to Heraklion, Crete.

With that confirmed, I asked if I could take a picture for my blog and, of course, they agreed. Kostas offered to take the picture. His long arms are good for that, he told us.

We thanked Tania again for the watermelon and wished Kostas well with his studies.  And with that, we turned in for the night.

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Photo: Pixabay

Thanks for reading! Click like if you enjoyed this post. What’s your experience with AirBnb? Follow this blog for more travel stories from Greece.

 

Categories
Greece (Peloponnese)

Meet our AirBnB hosts: Kostas and Toula

Our fabulous hosts at Mycenae

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Mitch, Toula, Kostas and me

AirBnb offers something that a traditional hotel doesn’t: contact with local residents. We met Kostas and Toula on our first night in Mycenae after three weeks on Skopelos Island.

That day, we had ferried to Skiathos Island, flown for 25 minutes to Athens, then taken a bus to Athens’ KTEL terminal, and finally taken a 1.5-hour bus ride to Fichti, which is just down the road from Mycenae.

Kostas was waiting for us under an olive tree in Fichti. When the bus stopped, the driver made no announcement and there were no signs indicating we were at our destination. Mitch decided to ask the driver where exactly we were and when the driver replied, “Fichti,” Mitch scurried to get our luggage from the hold. At that point, I realized that Mitch was not coming back. (He told me later he thought iI was right behind him.)

So I quickly grabbed my purse and hurried off the bus.

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Our AirBnb at Kostas’. We climbed up that spiral staircase to our door.

Kostas was expecting us to be arriving on this particular bus. I had been in contact as our plans unfolded throughout the day with his daughter Sophia, and she had kept him in the loop.

However, since we had booked our Airbnb under my name, when Mitch climbed down from the bus first, Kostas asked him, “Marilyn?”

But then Kostas saw me climb down, realized that Mitch was not Marilyn and we made our introductions.

Kostas was so friendly. He talked the whole drive back to our apartment. He told us about his daughter and son, who currently lives in Canada. In fact, Kostas lived in Canada at one time for several years, which explains why we were able to communicate so well. He struggled with finding words at times, but overall his English is excellent considering he is a native Greek and nearing retirement age.

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The sign on the outskirts of town showing the way to the ruins.

When we reached the little town of Mycenae, where our apartment was located, Kostas pointed out the mini-market and two or three tavernas, which we visited the next day.

Inside our apartment, Kostas and Toula showed us around the one-bedroom apartment. It had a nice living room, large eat-in kitchen, full bath, and plenty of seating with an extra couch tucked here and there. There was WiFi, air conditioning, a washer, and a large tile front balcony with clothesline.

They also took great pride to show us the fridge, which they had stocked with six eggs, a small carton of milk, local honey, a loaf of bread and toasts, apples, oranges and apricots. Kostas also showed us a bottle of olive oil fresh from his groves. (He farms olives and oranges, he told us.) We used the olive oil to cook eggs for breakfast the next two mornings. They also provided instant and Greek coffee, which we made on a single-burner stove.

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Kostas and Toula kept lots of games in the apartment. Here are Greek Scrabble pieces.

Their generosity and hospitality were incredible… above and beyond! They have definitely mastered the art of what AirBnB calls “the extra touches.”

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The view off the side of our front porch balcony. Those are apricots in that truck. Olive trees in the distance… and right by the truck also.

The next evening, we visited with the couple again when we inquired about how to get a taxi back to Fichti. We visited inside their apartment, which was located on the ground level of their three-story building. Over small porcelain cups of Greek coffee, water, and fresh apricots, Kostas offered to drive us back the next morning, as he and Toula were making a trip to “the big city” of Argos.

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The view off one side of our front porch balcony.

We also met their sweet little Chihuahua-mix dog, Kirra, who sat on my lap and stared deep into my eyes. She is very old, Kostas said, which you could tell from her fully gray nose and jowls. She rolled over on her back in my lap as we talked.

Toula, who speaks as much English as I speak Greek, multi-tasked all the while. (Several times, Kostas would stop the conversation and translate to Toulah.) She kept her eyes on a TV program, and occasionally listened in our conversation about Kostas’ and our kids, job prospects in Greece for young people (there aren’t many, he said), the cycle of world superpowers, and how Greece needs the help of larger countries to succeed.

 

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The highway between Fichti and Mycenae was quiet at night. Earlier in the day, tour buses from Argos drive through. It seems that maybe Argos gets most of the tourist business.

Kostas also told us that it had been several years since he had been up the hill to the Mycenaean ruins. In fact, when he had been there before, he had been working there. “They charge too much to see it,” he said. “They think they are the United States and charge a lot for it.”

We explained that the 12€ tickets didn’t seem that high to us, but then again the culture of Ancient and Classical Greece is revered perhaps more when you don’t grow up around it. To us, it’s an amazing site. Perhaps to Kostas, it’s just a bunch of old rocks.

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I had chicken souvlaki and Mitch had pork souvlaki.  Both were served with french fries. We also had tzatziki as an appetizer. The weather was beautiful. Taverna owners and/or waiters walk right up to you on the sidewalk asking you to dine at their establishment.

We then made arrangements to meet outside the apartment at 9:30 the next morning for the drive back to the Fichti bus station. Kostas also said he would help us buy our bus tickets back to Athens.

As promised, we all met the next morning… fifteen minutes ahead of schedule.

The four of us made the ten-minute drive back to Fichti. We unloaded our luggage, then I sat with it under a tree while Mitch and Kostas walked across the street to get the tickets. Toula waited in the car. After a few minutes, she emerged from the car, and we hugged, kissed cheeks European style, and said, “Thank you,” to each other. Soon, Kostas and Mitch emerged from the bus station with tickets in hand.

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The Fichti (say “Fith-ya”) bus station, about ten minutes north of Mycenae

Of course, Kostas absolutely would not accept the 20€ Mitch tried to hand him, waving his arms and stepping back when it was offered. So, while Kostas and I hugged, Mitch tossed the bill onto his car seat. With her limited English, Toula couldn’t refuse it.

We took our seats under the tree, and turned to wave goodbye to our hosts. Kostas, now finding the bill, shook his head. “I don’t want it,” he said.

“Goodbye!” we shouted. He continued to shake his head.

“We would have spent it anyway for a taxi. You take it,” Mitch explained.

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This Greek Orthodox church is right around the corner from Kostas’ and Toula’s place.

Kostas finally conceded, smiled, and pulled away. “It’s been good to meet you,” he said.

“It was good to meet you, too,” we replied.


Thanks for reading! We’re on our way to Olympia today from Delphi. At least two bus station transfers, we think, but we’ll have to confirm with the driver. The bus station in Delphi is actually inside a restaurant. You just ask one of the waiters and he instantly turns into a ticket clerk.

Click like, leave a comment and follow my blog for more stories from our trip to Greece.

Categories
Greece (Skopelos)

A tour of our studio apartment in Greece

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Here’s what €40-80 will get you on Skopelos Island, depending on time of year

I thought it might be interesting to write a post about our lodging here in Skopelos Town, sometimes called the Chora, on Skopelos Island in Greece.

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Here’s our front door.

We’re staying in a room that sleeps three people at Mayorka Studios, which is located just a three-minute walk down the hill from Skopelos Foundation for the Arts (Skopart). This is the arts center where my husband Mitch is pursuing a three-week artist’s residency.

The studio we’re staying in runs €40-80 night, depending on the time of year. July and August are the most expensive times; it varies greatly after that. In addition, if you come to the island to participate in a Skopart artist residency, your rates may be lower.

Mayorka Studios comprises twelve units perched high on the hill that overlooks Skopelos Town below. In fact, if you look in the picture below, you can see the apartments in the extreme upper left corner. They are not white, but instead are painted a light coral color and have red tile roofs.

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You can see Mayorka Studios in the very top left of this picture, right along the edge.

Our room has a king-size bed and a twin. It also has a limited kitchen with a few pots and pans, an ice cold fridge, double sink, a small two-burner stove, …

and a kettle that boils water in no time flat.

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The entrance. You can park on the lot there by the scooter, but no one here right now has a car.

The kitchen has the main appliances we need, but not a microwave or oven; however, I don’t think that microwaves are as popular here as they are in the U.S. As for the oven, yes, I would like to have one of those–even more so than a microwave, actually– but oh, well. My daughter’s apartment during her first internship in Venice didn’t have an “oh-ven” either.

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Rather plain Jane, but perfectly adequate.

The kitchen also contains the basic utensils needed, but we did have to go buy a sharp serrated knife for slicing tomatoes. (We have Greek salads with nearly every meal to make sure we get our daily allowance of feta cheese.)

The bathroom has a small shower and a hand-held shower head that hangs over the faucet. The shower at our AirBnb in Athens featured this same type of shower setup, so it must be common here. It’s a little awkward to get used to… you’re never just standing under flowing water. You have to hold the shower head. Kind of a pain. Man, am I a whiner or what?!

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And now for the other angle.

The toilet functions, except for “the rule.”

That would be the “never flush paper” rule, which was also awkward to get used to. Flush NO paper, not even the dirtiest paper? Nope. Apparently, it clogs up the pipes. So, instead of tossing your paper into the toilet, you just toss it into the lidded trashcan. I noticed this same rule at a hillside restaurant near the Acropolis in Athens. That place had a large lidded basket for the used paper. IMG_9411

Our king-size bed is very comfortable and firm. There are plenty of good pillows also. The place is spotless thanks to the housekeeper who drops in every morning around 10.

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Yep, that’s a bathroom. Notice “washing machine” next to toilet.

The TV (an old tube version) doesn’t seem to work. I suspect that the batteries in one of the remote controls are dead; however, I still can’t seem to get the little black box that sits on top of the TV to be friends with the actual TV.

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Shower with hand-held faucet. This was a new one for me.

But it doesn’t really matter, since the one night I was able to get something to watch, it was a soccer game with a Greek-speaking commentator (duh). So it was no great loss, but still. I get a kick out of watching TV when I’m in another country. I think it’s fun to learn what people in different countries are interested in,  their perspectives and priorities.

As for laundry, we wash it by hand.

Yes, you read that right. In fact, there’s a lime green plastic washtub wedged between the toilet and the wall specifically for the purpose. We take the tub, put it on the floor of the shower, turn on the water, sprinkle in some powdered Tide for handwashing and get to washing.

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The housekeeper dries the sheets in the breeze.

Then we rinse (sometimes in the tub, sometimes just in running water) and hang the wet duds on the clothesline on our balcony just like everyone else.

 

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Outside our door

It works really pretty well, and yes, saves a lot of energy. I can handle not having a dryer, but a washer really would be nice. Our place in Athens had one, and even though we were there for only two nights, we washed a load of laundry. (And honestly, I do think it might be a little unusual to not have one in our unit.)

So even though we handwash our own clothes, can’t flush toilet paper, and the TV doesn’t work, this place is still the bomb. And that’s because…

it’s all about the balcony.

The view is absolutely incredible. In fact, who needs a TV when you have a front row seat to the best show in town all day and all night?

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View from the balcony

Watching the ferries, tour cruises, and boats of all shapes and sizes sail in, unload, and sail back out will probably be one of my best memories from this entire trip. We can also see people way down there walking up and down the harbor front street. And late at night, when the balcony doors are open (and they usually are, because it’s quiet and safe up here), you can hear live Greek folk music rising on the breeze from the Paganitsa Tower taverna. It’s heavenly.

I guess you could argue that the balcony is our only sitting area, however. You’d be right. There is no indoor dining area, for example, or an easy chair to sit in.

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If you stand along the railing on the balcony, this is the view of the town to the right of the port.

Last Saturday night, during the second night of the music and dance festival, when students were showcasing their modern dance routines, someone must have been performing to “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran. Those crazy-good chords floated up from the performance at the City School down below…

another nice memory.

So, except when we’re in the kitchen fixing meals, if we’re in the apartment, then we’re on the balcony sitting in the two wicker rattan love seats, looking out at the Aegean Sea, and maybe sipping a glass of wine. There’s a glass-topped table there and that’s where we have breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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This just shows the top of the apartments. Notice the solar water heater on the top unit. Each unit has one of these. Hottest water ever!

We’ve dined out only twice in the week and a half that we’ve been here. We head to the grocery store downtown (or catch a ride with friends from Skopart) whenever we need to pick up a few things. I know we’ll eat out a few more times eventually, but I’m perfectly fine with eating in, shopping at the little market, and buying just what we really need for that day.

That seems to be the way they do things here.

 

 

 

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Mitch walking down to our apartment. 
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Right outside our door. Almost to the killer stairs… see next photo.
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A shot of the studios from down below on the stairs that descend all the way into Skopelos Chora. These stairs are killers. Wear good shoes. Walk slowly so your knees aren’t jarred with every step. You’ll get very fit just walking around Skopelos on a daily basis.

 


Thanks for reading! I thought it would be interesting to show our digs while we’re on Skopelos Island in Greece. The rates for lodging are highest in July-August; however, Greece is still relatively inexpensive compared to other locales. Click “like” if you found this interesting and feel free to leave a comment.  If you’ve stayed in Greece before, what was your experience like?