It’s early on a Sunday morning in July. The temperature is already at 30c, and we have just wound our way through the little side streets of Panormos. The bakery is open, and the smell of fresh bread wafts down the road as we pass the kafenion. The obligatory cluster of men are sitting outside sipping Greek Coffee (Eliniko Kafe) chatting animatedly about growing vegetables. Bright pink bougainvillea and geraniums spill off of terraces, and washing is draped to dry in the beating sun. We can’t believe this is our life now, we are actually living in Crete.
As we meander down the lane, we catch sight of the turquoise sea. The frothy waves are breaking on the shore, as little fishing boats bob up and down in the harbour. Mr Sidestepping-Normal is a keen swimmer. Within minutes he is wading out into the sea with Dora-dog at his heels following.
As I stand there squinting in the bright sunlight, laughing at Dora as she swims backwards and forwards between us, I take a second to appreciate how lucky I am. How grateful I am for this moment. It all sounds very idyllic doesn’t it? So after years of saving, and having lived in Crete for almost a year now…
…Is reality living up to the dream?
We are definitely guilty (as many people are) of imagining how things will be with our rose-tinted glasses on, but is life living up to the dream?
The simple answer is that most of the time, yes it is. The sun doesn’t always shine, but we have a fantastic quality of life.
At the moment it’s the height of the summer. We go to the beach with a picnic most days, and enjoy siestas and late dinners. As the summer draws to a close, we can look forward to having the winter off to enjoy doing what we want to do.
We have more-or-less found what we were looking for, but there are many aspects that we didn’t bargain for. This journey keeps on evolving. We are facing feelings and thoughts that we never considered having. Let me explain what we have learnt so far, what we didn’t foresee and what we see coming next…
How did we envision our new life?
We dreamt of having more time, working less, enjoying long hot summers and soaking up a new culture. We talked of renting out our stone cottage, therefore not needing to work so much, and of spending time together exploring nature, growing vegetables and indulging in lazy lunches.
When we first arrived, one of the most profound feelings (that we weren’t expecting) was feeling tied-down. We started to feel suffocated by owning so many possessions and having two properties. For many years we had been living quite happily without our ‘things.’ We had shipped them over to Crete a few years prior to actually moving, and had become used to living out of a couple of carrier bags.
Once we arrived, we suddenly became the owners of two properties and lots of possessions. It was really overwhelming and we felt weighed down by it. We are starting to adjust to it all now, and in comparison to most people, we don’t own very much. We are aware and conscious that material things aren’t important, which is the most fundamental thing.
Struggling to make money…
For a start, we didn’t get around to renovating our cottage yet! We will be tackling the renovation this coming winter in anticipation for next season. Consequently, this summer we haven’t earned any income from renting it out. We have been trying to make ends meet by taking on seasonal jobs, but as we are beginning to learn, the wages in Greece are extremely low. It’s been an eye opener to say the least!
You would imagine that because we have very few out-goings, we would easily be able to manage on the part-time seasonal jobs that we have found. We have quickly realised that this isn’t the case. We now understand that the low paid seasonal jobs require you to work long hours, every day, all season, which we are reluctant to do. The whole reason for moving here was to gain more time and freedom.
It’s been a real eye-opener to work for such a small amount of money. We count ourselves very lucky to have options and opportunities to change our situation. There are many people working for very low wages here, with no hope of improving their situation.
“It’s been a real eye-opener to work for such a small amount of money. “
The worry of making enough money this summer to last through the winter, has been very stressful. We have seriously considered all of our options. Initially, we started to think that maybe we were foolish to make this move. Maybe the people that had warned us of the risks were right.
We made the drastic decision to vacate our home (the villa) to try and rent it out for the season. Luckily a kind friend offered us the use of her tiny unused apartment for free. In June, we moved out of our house in the hope of making some money by renting it to tourists. Unfortunately being a newly listed rental with no reviews, we really struggled to get bookings. To make things worse, this summer season is the worst one in years for tourism.
We started to worry about pinning our hopes on our stone cottage renting next year and we spent hours talking of how we can make enough money to survive and make ends meet. Having discussed it for hours, days and weeks, we both stand united. We don’t want to go back to the UK.
“Having discussed it for hours and days and weeks, we both stand united. We don’t want to go back to the UK.”
It naturally takes time to adjust to a new country. At the beginning we were excited to experience and learn so many new things. As we have settled into our new life, I particularly feel as if my identity has been stripped away. I cannot be understood, and I can’t understand. The people in our old life knew my character. They could tell you what I stood for and what I believe in. The barrier of a different language leaves every conversation naturally coming to an end after a few basic sentences.
I never realised how much I love being me. I love to share and talk of my views, and seek out people to have meaningful conversations and learn from. In this new life, I am characterised by the country I have come from, and which village I have moved to. People don’t know the details of my character. It puts more pressure on us to learn the language and break through this communication barrier.
Missing family and friends…
We have also discovered that the core group of friends and family that we have, were whittled down. Sorry to make it sound like the auditions on the X- Factor! They are the most important people to us. They are the people that have always been there for us, would do anything for us, and in return, we feel the same about them.
Naturally over time, people enter and leave your life, but we have such a strong circle of people around us that we love. We really miss seeing our friends and family and sharing the most simple pleasures, like a cup of tea and a catch up.
Meeting new people…
It’s hard to meet new people in a new country. Unless you are fluent in the language, it is very difficult to discern people’s intentions. We have met the most wonderful and horrible people. We have thrown ourselves into new situations and tried our hardest to make friends and integrate. Just as at home we wouldn’t find common-ground with everyone we met, the same applies here. It’s even more difficult to gage their character and views because of the language barrier. I have always used my gut instinct to guide me. Usually it works, but it has failed me a few times here.
Lets sum it up…
Things are getting easier all the time. We are still settling-in, and know that it will take time to adapt to such a different way of life. We are having so much fun on this adventurous journey. We’ve met new people, tried new food and learnt the beginnings of a new language. Furthermore, we’ve experienced a new sort of freedom, that working full time could never permit us to experience. As an example, we had the whole winter off and transformed our dilapidated villa into something beautiful.
When we were living our normal safe lives in England, we were never pushing our boundaries or progressing as people. We’ve learnt so much about ourselves. I know it sounds really cliche, but it’s true.
We have experienced intense ups and downs, that have truly pushed our characters. It’s also pushed us as a couple. We only have each other to rely on, and we experience each others highs and lows. When we are feeling upset or frustrated, we tend to take it out on each other. Equally, we share the joy together too.
So what’s next?
That’s a good question! No matter how challenging it can be sometimes, the thought of returning back to our hometown to find regular jobs and fit back into the system, fills us with dread! It’s just not going to happen.
We are hungry to progress and learn and fulfil our true destiny. There are still some changes to be made, but we LOVE our new life. We ideally (if money will allow) want to have a balance. Alongside living in Crete, we want freedom to use the winter period to make extended trips to the UK to get a fix of friends and family. We also want to spend time travelling and seeking out like-minded people through schemes such as help x
We are still settling-in and fine-tuning everything, but one thing is for sure, we still want to sidestep normal.
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