We spent our first months in Greece. Even though everything was Greek to us, (we only managed to decifer and transcribe the greek letters to english ones, understanding the meaning was one bridge too far) we loved being there. In a nutshell, here are some things we love about Greece.
Look at the odd shape of Greece on a map. One view makes you suspect that the country has a vast coastline. As soon as you set foot on Greek soil and start driving around you realise that the map is a grave underestimate of the amount of nooks and crannies you can discern in the coastline. Line that temperamental coastline with christal clear water, and you will start to understand what makes Greece so special to us.
Unlike common belief, you do not have to go to the Greek islands to discover plenty of beautiful secluded beaches with island mountains or the rest of the atol as a back drop. We suspect the Greeks keep quiet about the mainland, they don’t promote it abroad, so that they can keep the hidden treasure to themselves.
Greece has got proper mountains all over, where wild bore thrive (and breed like rabbits). These mountains drop into the sea and continue sculpting the seabottom, creating solid walls where different species of small fish feed, a network of caves full of sponges, …. Diving and snorkelling are far from boring. Big fish can only be found under 30m, providing Arthur with excellent spearfishing training.
Even if you get out of bed on the wrong foot, just take a stroll outside, suck up some fresh air and enjoy the scenery. Immediate improvement!
Epitomy of live and let live
In Greece a lot of things still happen freestyle and the Greeks regularly have to use common sense to make things work. This was a breath of fresh air, compared to Belgium where everything is overly regulated, with as side-product that its inhabitants seemed to have lost the ability for common sense decisions.
Take traffic as an example. In Greece there are no superfluous white markings on the road which you are not allowed to cross. Traffic just flows, because people are alert drivers, and work on a first-come-first-serve principle. Rules are guidelines, to be applied when suitable. The way it should be. In sharp contrast to Belgium where you get fined for parking with one tire slightly on the white line, even if it was only for 15 minutes to drop of your toddlers in school, it was pissing with rain, you posed no hazard to anybody whatsoever, and there was no suitable parking in at least 2km from there.
In Greece, the cops would probably hold out an umbrella and help you carry your kids! Greek cops don’t go and pester people or fine them with ‘contend of a police officer’ if you dare ask ‘why are you writing in your book’. Hell, since the austerity measures they are even fine driving with two cops on 1 motorbike.
Another example is city planning: If you drive around in Greece you’ll discover houses built on the most adventurous locations. Seems like you can build pretty much anything you like and wherever you like, as long as you don’t bug the neighbours and don’t mind building your own access road.
Making a plan, conducting a little business, seems to be the core.
Greek spelling is another one. The helpful Greeks know that foreigners have a hard time with their Greek spelling. For our convenience they also put the english spelling underneath the greek place name. Only observation is that there are no clear-cut rules for this. It is perfectly normal to see the same name spelled in 5 different fashions before you reach your destination.
In Rafina alone we pick up 2 rock radio stations: Red FM and Kiss FM, giving you the opportunity to listen to Rock music as much as you like. We believe that the type of music you can find in a country says something about the psyche of the inhabitants. In Greece, Rock music is still quite popular (not only with a select group of 40+) and a few youngsters still make there own new stuff. There are various other stations as well, leaving space for everyone’s preferences. A stark difference to the uniform dull and brainless noise that is popular in too many places.
We arrived in Greece in August and had splendid weather up tot he middle of November. Beautiful blue skies, radiant sun, most often no clouds. We counted a total of 3 incidences of rain (at night). Wind could be very fierce on some days, but then it was just a matter of picking the right area to go to. December started with a cold bite, but as soon as the wind drops and the sun appears weather remains quite enjoyable. We were surprised to encounter snow on our way to Sparta. We left the sunny Kalamata beach and did not take into account that the scenic route meant crossing a mountain pass on which snow is quite a common occurrence. December and January had their coldish days but that did not stop the eldery people from going for their daily swim. In February spring started… So definitely not a bad place to be, climate wise.
Souvlaki, Cappucino Freddo, Tsipouro
A standard food item when you travel around Greece is souvlaki. It comes in many shapes and sizes and is the best as far as fast food goes. Another striking observation is the always present cup of coffee: in cars, on mopets, motorbikes, on the bus, in pedestrians’ hands. Often in the form of a frappe or cafe freddo, an iced coffee. Our favourite is the cappucino freddo. We liked it that much that we even purchased a hot and cold milk frother for our boat. When it comes to beers, we found ‘Fix’ to be worthy of its’ name. Another experience not to miss is to try some home-brewn Tsipouro. Like Ouzo, it is a distilled liquor with aniseed taste, but each household has their own recipe. We completely vouch for the version that our landlady’s mom makes. She explained in greek and sign language how she tramples the grapes with her bare feet (special ingredient!) and comes to the final product. We found it tasted better than ouzo, even if the room started to spin after a few sips…
Being a contractor in Greece must be terrible. Every time you try and dig a foundation you end up doing a new archeological find: some greek temple or roman bath house, another amfitheater, a byzantine church… The country is rife with old ruins, musea, and archeological sites. Old stones lithered everywhere. It is mind blowing to see how many remnants are still to be found. It fills one with awe to look at the skill and knowledge we have lost over the centuries. If they could build complex buildings like that, with the tools they had available at that time, then what is our excuse?
Child friendly, hospitable people
Travel with a child and all Greek doors open to you. You will not enter a shop, get out and back in your car without that same child receiving a bar of chocolate, a biscuit, a juice, a small present. They just can’t help themselves. And no, they are not only friendly to small children. We found the Greeks to be very hospitable. We made some good friends there. Don’t be put off by the flood of incomprehensible words and expressive faces when you first meet them. They are not scolding you. Far from it. We have met many people that went out of their way to make us feel welcome.
Blend of cultures
Greece lies at the start of Western civilisation. It was the leader of the world for several centuries, then declined. It has fought many wars, amongst themselves or foreign invaders. It is used to dealing with an influx of other cultures. This at present days makes it a true melting pot: tourists getting stuck there, brits, germans, and russians looking for warmer climes. Greece is also known for its recent influx of refugees. Or should we rather call them economic migrants that are passing through Greece. They are looking for better infrastructure, their beds made up for them, not a country in economic crisis. So they just use Greece as entry point in the EU and move on to Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden from there on.
Good value for money
Many Greek people are suffering because of the economic crisis. They joke and say that all the sunshine and beautiful beaches are very expensive for them. A normal wage is 500 Euro a month, without guarantee that you will get paid. Social benefits like pensions have been cut drastically. Yet people survive. They are not sitting around moping. They make the best out of it.
The economy in decline certainly had its advantages for us. Food is a whole deal cheaper (and tastes a lot better) than in Belgium. In top touristic season (july and august) prices go up, but after that visiting a museum or archeological site goes back to dirt cheap.
We decided (if we were to believe in reincarnation) that in our next life we want to return to this life as either one of two options: we want to be a greek child adored and spoiled by everyone around us, or we want to be a greek pet. The only shops in Greece that were still thriving despite the economic crisis, apart from coffee shops, are pet shops. You can find pet shops everywhere, which have top of the line foods and appliances for all beloved animals. There are many street dogs and cats, but all of them are well fed and looked after. The local Lidl had its resident friendly and well kept dogs. It is not abnormal to get adopted by a dog when you go to the beach. One often sees people walking 3 to 6 dogs that decided this was going to be their new master.