I Love Visiting Greece. True, Trump’s got us banned from the European Union, but we can dream about better days ahead, can’t we?
By David Stone
Enough with the degrading drama our poor performing leaders pump out every week… Wouldn’t a week or two of sanity and infinite beauty, steeped in ancient culture, be as sweet as a happy jaunt in the Elysian Fields?
We covered some of this in Greece: Spa for Exhausted American Spirits, but here are ten reasons why Greece is where you want to be, at least for a while.
1) Greece Is Beautiful
When you look from lots of angles, Greece is a ravishing gem.
Inhaling exhaust fumes, stalled in bumper to bumper in traffic, dodging millennials lost in their cellphones… The hallucinating loveliness of the Aegean refreshes your appreciation for nature.
Clean, dark blue waters flash to aquamarine near the shores of ancient islands sailed in wonder by Odysseus. First Century Christian apostles sailed here to spread the gospel.
And that’s just the surface around which Hellenic charms catch your eye.
2) People Before Rules
George Hatzimarkos, governor of the South Aegean Region, explained on a warm night in Rhodes. Americans who love visiting Greece appreciate not being bogged down by rules and regulations, he said.
(A life-loving Greek, he told me several funny anecdotes about a trip to New York City.)
People respect each other’s rights here. The government does not tell them when and how to be nice to each other.
I can’t recall seeing a single “No Smoking” sign anywhere in Greece, but I smelled far fewer cigarettes, stogies and skunky marijuana than in New York.
Consideration of others is a private, not public concern. Greeks respect their neighbors voluntarily.
3) People Are Kind
I wondered if the kindness I saw in Greece was a distortion. Tourists may be treated differently by vendors in hope of conditioning sales.
But then, one day in Symi, a few of my friends lost track of time while shopping shoreline stores. They risked missing the last ferry of the day. I went back to round them up.
Alongside Sheryl, my last rescue, I carried her astonishingly heavy bag. We ran to reach the ferry before the gate came down.
Out of nowhere, two motorcyclists pulled up. We jumped on behind, and they raced us to the dock just in time.
They had nothing to gain. No upturned palms at the end of the ride. Standard Hellenic generosity.
4) No Tip Jars or Up Turned Palms
Greece is free of tip jars. Service workers aren’t forced to grovel to make ends meet.
Tipping keep profits high and expenses low for business owners. It’s a tool of power and control. But not in Greece.
I met one well-dressed panhandler working the Friday evening streets in Athens. He spoke to me in what I assume was Greek, but could have been Mandarin. I gave him a euro.
He thanked me, I think, and probably God blessed me as is standard in New York.
It’s just more comfortable paying for goods and services when you are not part of the payroll plan.
5) Elena Kountoura Is Greek
Elena Kountoura is a good reason to love visiting Greece, the Hellenic Republic.
A former international model, named one of the ten most beautiful in the world by CNN, Kountoura turned to publishing in 1997. She was elected to parliament in 2004.
Brilliant as she is beautiful, she serves as Deputy Minister of Tourism. That’s how I got to meet her. She joined my traveling friends for lunch.
She’s fluent in English, French, Spanish and her native Greek. She’s also earthy with a great sense of humor.
Translation: she laughed at my jokes.
The passion that animates Greek men also makes them great lovers, Kountoura told the women in our group.
On a serious note, she told us that her country’s difficult financial situation means that her budget for promoting tourism is much smaller than competing countries’. None of them are any more beautiful or accommodating than Greece.
The Hellenic Republic is a bargain. Its wonders are awe-inspiring.
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6) Greek Bravery
A recent story in the New York Times tells us about the impassioned empathy with which the people of Lebos rescued refugees risking their lives in leaky, overcrowded boats, fleeing the war in Syria in 2015.
The Greeks took strangers’ children, lowered them into their fishing boats and took them to shore. Some lives were lost, but many were saved as local fisherman and tour boat operators put their livelihoods aside to help.
“The whole village is proud of what we did,” Theano Laoumis is quoted in the Times article. “You didn’t know who to save first, there were so many people. But we did save them. It was only natural. That should bring good publicity, not bad.”
But then, in typical mass media style, reporters descended on Lesbos and began generating content suited for click bait headlines in the U. S.
“It turned into a spectacle,” Yorgos. Sofianis, a shepherd who joined the rescuers told the Times. “Sometimes they would stop photographing and help the refugees, but many were just here for business.”
That business ended up being a partially told story that left the heroes stranded and punished for their efforts. The beaches of Lesbos are again pure white, and the tide of refugees ended, That story, nor the one accented by bravery, not horror, was not told.
For their bravery, the tourist industry got hit with an 80% drop off in visitors, empty beaches and lonely restaurants.
Fixing that failure in Western journalism is worth a trip, all in itself, don’t you think?
7) Greek Food
One of the greatest benefits of travel is that, almost always, someone else shops, cooks and cleans up after us. That still didn’t prepare me for the pleasures of Greek food as served in the country of its origin.
I tell people I’m a vegetarian, but the story is more complicated. For a while, I used “flexitarian,” but spent too much time having to explain. My friend, travel writer Jan Eckland , calls me a “pescatarian,” which is closer to the facts.
My point is, I don’t eat meat, but I do eat fish and dairy products.
Greek food great, vegetarian or not, and adding meat wouldn’t change the freshness, artfully designed accents and cooking to perfection.
If you love visiting Greece, the food’s part of it.
The fish you buy at the market or have served to you in a restaurant…? There’s a good chance it was fresher and more delicious before it was shipped out of Greece.
A plate of recently caught and cooked sea bream surrounded by Greek salads, olives and crisp leafy vegetables hits a peak of pleasure, one that can only be improved with local wines.
Even breakfast from a buffet is an extraordinary pleasure in Greece. Then, mix in the lovely people preparing and serving and you’ve started your day close to heaven.
8) Greek Art
So much is said about Athens as the founding place of democracy and modern philosophy, you may not know that Greece is also the earliest recorded birthplace of modern art.
Folks love visiting Greece for its history of art.
Next time you marvel at the art of Fra Angelico, Giotto or Botticelli, keep this in mind: the paradigm shifting Renaissance that changed art and literature in the Fourteenth through Sixteenth Centuries was a revival. That’s what “Renaissance” means.
What were they reviving? Classical Greek art from the high point of Athenian culture.
That’s right. More than a thousand years before, peaceful, democratic, philosophical Hellenic artists were dabbling in the use of perspective and color that the rest of Europe would later “discover.”
Much was lost, but if you look at the sculptures still standing, you can imagine how they looked, vividly painted in their time, how modern, two-thousand years ago.
Acropolis built without modern tools the ancient towns and islands. Still strong buildings stood through storms and earthquakes… You’re awed by how far into the future these pioneering artists strode
9) Love Visiting Greece: The Islands
The mainland forms the core of Hellenic history. Aristotle walked here, and Socrates drilled down. The islands sprayed like tossed flowers into the Aegean have distinct histories and presents worth indulging.
I spent an activity packed week in just a tiny corner of Greece, mainly on the islands of Rhodes, Kos and a few smaller places, like Symi and Halki, blessed by days of uninterrupted sunshine.
Even in that small space, there was more than enough to do, from Rhodes Old Town awash in centuries of churning history to Zia, a quiet, hilltop retreat where you can watch the sun set above Kos while sipping lemonade.
The islands are perfect. You can pick any one and design the visit of your dreams.
Corfu inspired both Homer and Shakespeare, but it’s better known for a lush, relaxing environment. Rated the 5th Best Honeymoon Destination in the World, Corfu also chimes in the top ten (#8) of the Most Relaxing Beaches.
When a catastrophic volcanic eruption blasted an Aegean Island apart, many hundreds of years ago, Santorini was reborn as one of the most breathtaking places on Earth. The towns of Ola and Fira cling to cliffs overseeing beaches of black, red and white lava pebbles ringing a caldera that sunk to the bottom of the sea.
Crete, the land of Zeus, has a history stretching back 6,000 years. Crete makes room for everything, world class beaches, a large National Park, and a charming, historical city. In Chania, you stroll the Old Town, influenced by centuries of Venetian rule, before enjoying a glass of spectacular Cretan wine.
Then, think about this. Greece has another 220 occupied islands waiting for you to step onshore. You may never run out.
10) The Hellenic Republic Is All the Time
The truth is, despite all the hype about sun-washed beaches and idyllic honeymoons, that there is never a bad time to visit the Hellenic Republic, Greece’s official name.
Sure, in winter, beach vacations are out, but if you’re like me, you probably don’t take beach vacations anyway. Even if you do, why not make a change and appreciate all that’s available out of season when the prices for airfare and lodgings drop by half.
The history in Athens, the islands in the beautiful, blue Aegean, the people, the food, the culture are all there in January and February. You get to enjoy them more freely with the crowds thinned out.
Temperatures in Athens and throughout the islands are comfortably in the upper 50s, springlike for much of the U. S. You can explore the cities, towns and beaches in relative comfort.
A big surprise for Americans, however, are the “Greek Alps,” a mountainous region in the north where you can ski in the winter and hike among castles in the summer.
In short, Greece has everything visitors enjoy, twelves months of every year. You can chose among a cornucopia of options that will always leave you wanting more.
Visit Greece. The brave, beautiful people of the Hellenic Republic deserve it, and so do you.
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