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WHEN Scottish journalist Marjory McGinn and her partner Jim Bruce decided to head to crisis-hit Greece for a one-year adventure, relatives and friends told them they were crazy.

It was April 2010 and Greece was in economic meltdown, with massive national debts of 360 billion euros.

"The country's on its knees and you're going there to live and work – you must be totally bonkers," said a friend as the couple packed their 10-year-old Ford Fiesta to the gunnels with suitcases and prepared to leave Scotland for a five-day drive across Europe to the remote southern Peloponnese.

But Marjory and Jim, both in their mid-50s, were undeterred. Changing circumstances had sparked their desire to move to Greece, a country they had visited many times and both loved.

Jim had left his job as a sub-editor on the Evening Times after 10 years, and Marjory, a freelance feature writer, was finding it harder to sell stories.

They planned to spend around a year in Greece, writing travel and lifestyle articles and operating a website and blog on their adventures – and they were taking their crazy dog, a Jack Russell terrier called Wallace, with them to a country with zero dog tolerance, where the neglected animals are often chained to trees.

Despite Greece being an economic basket case and the government forced to introduce tough austerity measures, the couple managed to extend their one-year adventure to almost three years.

And Marjory has written a non-fiction book about their first year living in the wild and rural Mani region, near Kalamata. Entitled Things Can Only Get Feta, it has just been released in paperback.

"It's a light-hearted book that charts our first year living in the hillside village of Megali Mantineia, where life has changed little in centuries. We mixed with goat farmers and olive harvesters and befriended many of them," said Marjory, whose late father John was born and raised in Glasgow's Calton.

"It's also about our escapades in the Mani, including battles with scorpions, goat slaughtering and other macabre local customs, and encounters with big-hearted Greeks, struggling through the crisis.

"We were amazed by the stoicism of these people coping with increasingly harsh austerity measures, proving that Greece still has heroes, if not euros."

The Mani region, flanked by the 7900ft-high Taygetos mountains, is so isolated that many of the villagers Marjory and Jim encountered had no clue where Scotland was.

THE couple told them it was above England – but the locals would scratch their heads and reply: "But where's England?"

More educated Greeks knew a bit about Scotland and its history. One of them said: "We Greeks suffered 400 years of Turkish occupation – and you Scots had the English."

A goat farmer woman called Foteini, who became a good friend, didn't know where Scotland was exactly. "But the name at least sparked some cultural recognition. She started pointing excitedly at her knees, shouting "foustaneles!" (kilts) and performed a manic jig by the roadside," Marjory recounts in her book.

"Foustaneles are short, pleated skirts worn by many rural Greek men, accompanied by white tights and black shoes with woolly pom-poms on top that no Scotsman, however, would want to be seen dead in, and probably would be, if he ventured out in this get-up on a Glasgow street at midnight."

Other Greeks knew Scotland from the Mel Gibson movie Braveheart which, as a mark of solidarity, is shown on TV there on every public holiday that celebrates the freedom fighters who won the Greek War of Independence against Turkey in the 1800s.

During their time in the Mani, Marjory and Jim also mixed with British expats, many with holiday homes there – but very few were Scottish, mainly because there are no direct flights from Scotland to Kalamata.

Only a handful of expat Scots have settled in the region – and Marjory wrote about them in a feature for The Herald magazine, which caused controversy with its headline "Trouble in paradise".

In her book, she recalls how some of the English expats read the story and objected to the 'negative' headline and mild criticism of them in the article for not bothering to learn to speak any Greek, and sticking to expat enclaves.

"One guy got very angry and described me as 'the most dangerous woman in the Mani', which I thought was hilarious," said Marjory.

The book also details some of the escapades of the couple, including battling black scorpions which invaded their rented village house and the day they smuggled Wallace into a 2500-year-old archaeo-logical site in a backpack – with chicken sandwiches to keep him quiet.

"We'd driven a long way to this site but they wouldn't allow dogs in – probably for fear they would pee on the fallen columns from the Ancient Greek temples – so we had to resort to subterfuge," said Marjory.

They also visited the fabled Cave of Hades – the gateway to the underworld – at the tip of the Mani peninsula, and discovered hidden churches with jaw-dropping frescos, some dating from the 12th century.

"Our happiest times were spent mixing with the village farmers," said Marjory, who speaks some Greek. "They welcomed us into their lives, their homes, their gatherings.

WE even joined them on a back-breaking olive harvest, using traditional methods."

After stretching their adventure to almost three years, the couple reluctantly decided to return to their home in Dollar, Clackmannanshire, last December, as the crisis became more severe and started to impact on everyone's lives.

"We have no regrets about going to Greece during the crisis. It was one of those risky, but fabulous, mid-life adventures that has completely changed our lives," said Marjory.

l Things Can Only Get Feta, by Marjory McGinn, is published by London publisher Bene Factum Ltd and is available in paperback and Kindle from amazon.co.uk.

For details visit www.bigfatgreekodyssey.com

A GLASGOW couple's gap year turned into a three-year Greek adventure after they quit their jobs and moved to the sunshine. Here Marjory McGinn and her partner Jim Bruce reveal how despite pals thinking they were crazy, their travels have become a real novel idea.