Time to let go, clear, cleanse, and greet the new.
Blessings to you all in the New Year!
Full Moon, Blue Moon, Eclipse...What a perfect ending to 2009 and perfect beginning to 2010!
Time to let go, clear, cleanse, and greet the new.
Blessings to you all in the New Year!
As a twenty year Greek traveler with a two year residency in this extraordinary country, I’ve received a lot of questions from future Greek travelers: What’s the weather like? Which island(s) should I visit? When’s the best time to go?But I’m always struck by the things they don’t ask. So, I’d like to help you out. Here’s my gift to you—answers to those questions that you don’t know to ask--The Top Ten Not So Obvious Grecian Travel Tips:
1. Allow enough time. Everything from weather changes to long meals, leisurely taverna service, and extended coffee breaks, will affect your travel plans. Unless you’re with a tour group, allow for at least one or two extra days per week of flex-time, just in case. Have a Plan Alpha, a Plan Beta and a Plan Omega! Weather fluctuations can delay travel to most islands (unless you’re traveling by plane). This is especially true off-season when there are fewer connections. But don’t assume that you’ll avoid this problem by traveling during the summer. One year, one of the major ferry connections to the Sporades (islands in the Northern Aegean) had broken down and was out of commission indefinitely. Another year, I was stranded on the Cycladic island of Naxos, because “the captain decided to go fishing.” At least, that’s the reason I was given.
Instead, while there, why not enjoy the Greek way of life, and slow down! …if you can. I dare you!
2. Be flexible. If you aren’t flexible, Greek travel will be hazardous to your health. Honestly, you’ll end up with a stroke or a heart attack. Nothing may work out the way you planned, but this is part of the fun. Once, I was on the island of Paros with my cousin, on a small beach a few miles outside the town of Naoussa. We had arrived by a tiny caique. After several leisurely swims, we treated ourselves to an equally leisurely meal—a huge plate of mezedes (appetizers) and, of course, ouzo. It was a lovely day…lovely that is, until we found ourselves stranded — on the rocks lit by the pink-purple sunset— waiting for the little boat to return. We went back to the taverna, which had less than a half-dozen occupants, and asked the owner to call for a taxi. No answer. I sat down on a rock, enjoying the peaceful night…waiting. My cousin became more and more tense and was ready to walk the several miles back to town. I attempted to dissuade her, knowing full-well the disadvantages of sharing a small unlit road with crazy Greek drivers. I assumed it would all work out without a night walkabout. It did, when the last of the taverna occupants finally rose from their chairs and offered us transport. My cousin now remembers that crazy crammed ride as one of the most eventful of her trip.
3. Have access to cash. You will need Euros, cash, in Greece. You cannot use credit cards at most tavernas or when renting rooms from the locals. The vast majority of purchases I make in Greece require cash. If you have an ATM card, this is your best bet, but make sure, in advance, that it will work. Contact your bank, ask about extra fees, and have a backup in case your card falls through.
4. If traveling alone, try to blend in. This is always good travel advice and not particular to Greece. This is best accomplished by observing what the natives are wearing and adjusting your attire accordingly. Don’t forget Greek shoes and sunglasses. (Yes, remember the sunglasses--essential protection from that blazing Greek sun and dazzling light!) Greece is a fairly safe country for single women travelers, but exercise caution. You will, most likely, be approached by Greek men, so you need to know how to handle them. (See blog post, “Single Women Travelers and Greek Gods.)
5. Expect the unexpected. Follow the wise advice offered by my friend from Skopelos “Don’t be a tourist; be a traveler. He further explains that a tourist tries to change his surroundings to match his native country, whereas a traveler seeks to experience new surroundings. Most of my greatest Grecian adventures have been unplanned. A corollary to this--take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. I have an entire Greek community of friends that I consider family, all of whom I’ve met because I took advantage of these opportunities.
6. Don’t be alarmed by passionate exchanges in the middle of the street—and I’m not talking the romantic kind that you’d see in, say, Paris! Greeks are extremely passionate about everything. They express their opinions, usually quite openly. Even the quiet ones are passionate. Don’t let them fool you. If two people appear to be screaming at each other on the street, they may, in fact, be ready to murder one another, but more likely are discussing their preference of cigarettes.
7. Do travel off-season, but not so far off season that everything has shut down. Spring and Fall are best—May-June or September-October. Off-season ferry or hydrofoil service may be limited, and even if you’ve managed to catch the only one that services your destination this week, you may arrive to find a ghost-island. This happened to my mom and me on the island of Hydra in early November. I had to locate the Port Police to find a room; they considerately set us up with a place in their relative’s hotel. By the time I returned, my mom had accepted a better hotel room from another local. Needless to say, for the remainder of our stay, I was on my best behavior, not wanting to anger the Port Police any further.
8. Do interact with the natives, but, obviously, show discretion. The Greeks are very social. Community and family are extremely important to them. This means that they will be confused if you sit by yourself—and will be tempted to join you—or ,at least, to sit as close to you as possible. They are also extremely curious and always open for a discussion. They capitalize on any opportunity to learn something new, usually as it relates to you.
9. If you’re American, and the Greeks discover this, be prepared for long political debates. At least yours will have a chance now that Obama is in office (in other words, you won’t be spending your entire vacation trying, unsuccessfully, to explain the actions of George Bush); and since we manage to be at war continuously, you will most likely not escape these discussions, nor the Greeks’ strong opinions either.
10. If you want to avoid cigarette smoke, then sit inside. You non-smokers are extremely fortunate. In the not-so-distant-past, Greeks smoked everywhere. Now law bans smoking indoors, including transportation vehicles—so you’re finally exempt from asthma attacks and smoky clothes. But this also means that you won’t be interacting with the Greeks as much, because Greece is a smoking nation.
So, now that you’re a little better prepared, Happy Grecian Travels!
*This post also appears on feisty foodie slash lit-chickie slash globe trotting wannabe Frenchie friend Andi's blog: Misadventures with Andi.
Thank you, Andi!
Athenian Garbage Can (ΚΑΛΠΗ, btw, is the sign for the ballot box)
Okay, this post comes with a warning. It’s not going to be filled with the usual lovely intoxicating smells, because, let’s face it, many Grecian smells are repugnant! Just thought I’d give you an opt-out before reading.
Still there? Okay, read away:
1. The rich smell of the sienna-colored earth: This one actually smells good. I almost understand why some pregnant women get cravings to eat dirt. It must be Grecian dirt.
2. The intoxicating perfume of night-blooming jasmine mixed with donkey dung: This combination is near and dear to my heart, being one of my strongest olfactory memories of Skopelos. Now, of course, donkeys are hard to find, which makes my nose even happier, as you can imagine. Jasmine will find you everywhere…even in the most unlikely places.
3. Diesel: This shouldn’t come as any surprise, since so many Greek vehicles run on diesel. The part that is surprising, to the extent of being disturbing, is that I actually miss this smell in sanitized California.
4. Cigarette smoke: This includes pungent freshly-lit to stale, and everything in-between.
5. Heavily-cologned men: Good or bad, depending on the cologne…and the man, of course.
6. Garbage and sewers: Especially common prior to elections (garbage strikes) and after big storms (No, I won’t elaborate.).
7. Garlic and oregano: Not only popular in Italy, these twins make an appearance in Greece as well. Garlic shows up in everything from mageritsa to tzatziki and skordalia (see previous blog posts here and here). At least garlic is good for your health. And oregano is not only a part of the traditional Greek salad, but dresses up fries and potato chips.
8. The wet salty sea: Close your eyes, take a deep breath…no! don’t do this at the harbor.
Dare I ask? What is your most memorable Greek Smell?
I think of Greece as a multi-sensual experience. Certain tastes, smells, sounds, sights and “feels” come to mind. After all the recent conversations about holiday foods on Twitter, it’s no surprise that I’ll start with the sense of taste today.
The following tastes remind me of Greece:
1. Cinnamon: The Greeks put cinnamon on many different dishes, including meat dishes. My fav, thus far has to be rabbit stifado (a stew with pearl onions) served with cinnamon (sorry, vegetarians!).
2. Lemon: Again, lemon appears in many dishes. It may be substituted for vinegar in a traditional Greek salad or appear as an accompaniment for not just fish, but chicken, lamb, or pork.
3. Salty everything: First thing Greeks reach for when those raw tomatoes or Greek salads hit the table is the salt shaker. Folks with high blood pressure or kidney problems should grab their portion before it gets generously sprinkled.
4. Anise: We must include the anise-flavored ouzo or tsipouro. I mean, we must!
5. Sharp Feta: True sheep’s-milk feta appears in many dishes, not just as a generous slab on Greek salads.
6. Mastic and Rose water: These flavors appear in everything from baked goods to confections such as Turkish Delight.
7. Thick pine-flavored Skopelos Honey, crunchy walnuts, and heavy rich Greek yogurt: You haven’t experienced the flavors of Greece until you’ve combined these three wonderful ingredients together!
8. Sweet peach and tart sour cherry: These difficult to find fruit juices in the U.S. are available throughout Greece.
What is your favorite Taste of Greece?
National Archaeological Museum, Athens
Warning: This blog post, brought to you by popular demand, is intended for mature adult audiences only. If there are any teens or tweens out there—I don’t want to anger your parents, so you best skip this post.
You’re a go-to-it kind of Gal. If something needs doing, you’re the one to do it. You’re self-sufficient, organized, intelligent, and in great shape. You’ve worked hard to create the life you desire, and are in control of just about everything that can be controlled. You’ve put in long hours for your time off and earned the vacation of your dreams.
Because you are independent and enjoy a change of scenery, you’ve decided to head to Greece.
You’ve heard that it’s a safe place for single women travelers.
Well, you may want to rethink a few details. Although you may head off to Greece alone, unless you’re Billie Jean’s twin sister, you aren’t going to be alone for long. (I’m talking the tennis star, folks, not Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean) Even the Billie Jean situation can be remedied with your first trip to a topless beach. No disrespect to Billie Jean, by the way. She has accomplished oodles for us women, and I thank her for this. But, that’s my point. All of her amazing accomplishments will go unnoticed. In Greece, appearances are everything. And women, no matter how accomplished or brilliant, are seen as women first.
Take my first trip. I had just finished twenty-five years of education, completed my residency in obstetrics and gynecology and was literally dying to get my body (and soul) over to Greece. I had planned two lovely, serene, brainless, anonymous months. Well, I guess two out of four isn’t bad. I’m sure you, by now, can guess which two Greece delivered. Out of my two months there, I spent only five days alone.
There’s the feminine thing, but there’s also the social thing. Greeks see a single woman traveling alone and, once they’re convinced you’re not a putana (the same word in Greek and Italian), they all take pity on you. Forget anonymity. Forget autonomy. Greeks, if you are unaware of this fact, are highly social beings. If you’re hoping for anonymity, stay in the U.S. Forget about Greece. Heck, people still bump into me, acting like my long-lost relatives, recognizing me from previous trips. Who are these people?
So let’s tackle the single female thing first. When you are alone, you are available. You are, literally, free, the Greek word for unmarried. And I’m talking both meanings. Every woman is the same to every (older than you) Greek man. Age discrepancies do not compute, as long as the man is the older one. As for me, within the first hour of my arrival on my Greek island destination a certain Greek God blocked my way, his perfectly sculpted body perched precariously atop a tiny motorbike--hard to ignore, even if he hadn’t been screaming at me in Greek. Lord knows I tried, unsuccessfully. He finally asked in English, “Why are you not speaking to me?” And I answered, “Because I don’t understand what you are saying.”
Enter my first Greek boyfriend—which brings me to my next point. If you truly want to be protected from Greek men, you have two options:
#1. Do not leave your room. This, however, is not a fail-safe method, since there are an awful lot of Greek men who already know where you are…the taxi driver who dropped you off, the owner of your hotel, the guy down the street at the kiosk, the men on the main street who stared at you as you got out of the taxi, the guy waiting on the side-street below your balcony--just hoping to get a glimpse of you, preferably naked…
#2. Get a (temporary) Greek boyfriend. (They are too high-maintenance to keep long-term. Believe me, I should know.) No one else will touch you, literally and figuratively, because you are his property now, and he will protect you. It’s as if you have an invisible diamond layer of skin, one you are clueless about—clueless, that is, until he dumps you (but that’s another story). The code is clear. Greek men don’t mess with other Greek men’s women (doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, but it definitely takes two). You’re thinking, but then I won’t be alone. Women, forget the “alone” thing; it’s not going to happen. Were you listening?
I recommend #2, after years of rigorous personal testing. If you aren’t yet convinced, I have an exercise for you. When you first arrive in Greece, walk into any empty cafe or taverna (a task in itself), and sit down. Bet you that the next group of Greeks—and it will be a group—to walk in will sit down right next to you.
So, I’m wishing you a lovely brainless trip to Greece. Please remember to send pics of your personal Greek Gods. Kalo Taksidi!
Oh, and because there are always a few in every reading crowd—please please don’t take me so seriously! Don’t need anyone blaming me for STIs or heartbreak! (and no, of course all Greek men are not like this. Honestly!)
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