Greece: 8 travel lessons from Athens, Mykonos, Santorini

View from Cori Rigas Suites in Santorini

View from Cori Rigas Suites in Santorini

(Holy crap, I’ve had this sitting as a draft for nearly two months. Anyway!)

On Memorial Day, I returned from a week and a half in Greece with two friends (one of whom was invited to a wedding in Athens, which was the impetus for planning this trip). It was my first time to the country.

We spent about three days each in Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini—so I’m basically an expert about Greece now! Here’s some stuff I learned…

1. Making the tiniest bit of effort at the local language really does go a long way.

Though English IS everywhere. Poor Tori Spelling can't catch a break!

Though English IS everywhere. Poor Tori Spelling can’t catch a break.

We all know this and have heard it a zillion times, but I’m always surprised at its truth: I was a little nervous about Greece because (I’m pretty sure) it was my first time in a place where the official language did not use the Latin alphabet. (I mean, I don’t speak Italian but when I was in Florence, it was pretty easy to figure out what the signs for aeroporto or taxi meant.)

So a few hours before my flight, I printed out (yep, on actual paper!) some basic Greek phrases. Honestly, my friends and I couldn’t remember much besides “hello” (ya sou) and “thank you” (efkharisto), but those are probably the only two phrases you need anywhere. Plus, shopkeepers are generally so good at English (and even accustomed to non-native English-speaking tourists speaking to them in English) that our pathetic attempts at Greek were gratefully commented upon at least once or twice daily.

I’m not saying this to point out that we’re so great or enlightened; it’s just an observation that probably nobody makes an effort, ever.

2. Reading a Kindle eBook in public without any idea of the story may backfire.

My substantial breakfast at CDG

Energizing myself at CDG before hunkering down to read

It’s been some time since I purchased a new book since lately I’ve just been rereading the Song of Ice and Fire and Hunger Games series on my Kindle for the umpteenth time. But I decided that I needed something new for beach reading in Greece and after perusing the seriously depressing free options, I reluctantly shelled out $4.99 for the top-selling The Fault in Our Stars, which vaguely sounded familiar. (Seriously: How had I not read this book before? It’s been absolutely everywhere!)

I managed to read the entire thing during my 5.5-hour layover at Charles de Gaulle: not too hard since it was actually a YA novel (which I didn’t know). Note to future readers of this book: Do not read it in public. You will both audibly laugh and cry and garner strange looks from people around you.

On the plus side, I totally prepared myself for the film adaptation. And even though I’m completely new to the game, I’ve already joined the myriad of fans who have a lot of opinions about this movie.

3. People mistaking you for being younger while you are traveling is not necessarily a compliment.

Don't we look like we're in college?

Don’t we look like we’re in college?

Sure, the three of us usually get, “You’re HOW OLD?” comments individually at home quite a bit. But this happened even more often in Greece.

At first, it was a nice ego boost, but upon seeing all the honeymooning couples, we realized that people assumed we were young because only 20-year-old girls studying abroad travel in groups of three. Most women our age travel with their significant others. (I’m hoping at least somebody assumed we were in a polyamorous lesbian relationship.)

4. French cardiologists have no sense of humor.

En route from Paris to Athens, I sat next to this bespectacled guy who was nice enough to make sure I got a meal even though I was asleep. (Yay!) After we landed, while we were still waiting to disembark, I noticed his carry-on item and figured I’d engage in some small talk.

“That’s a funny thing to put on a bag,” I said, as I pointed at his black messenger bag that read HEART FAILURE 2011.

He looked at me like I was an idiot and replied, “Eet eez uh dee-seezh.”

“Uh…yeah, I know. I’m just saying, it’s kind of funny to walk around with a bag that says HEART FAILURE 2011.”

Doc Serious looked at me again and repeated, “Eet eez uh dee-seezh.”

I didn’t say what I wanted to say, which was, “Please. I’m an American. I know all about it.” Besides, heart failure isn’t a disease; it’s the q to heart disease’s p. Hmph.

Heart Failure 2014

Heart Failure 2014

Anyway, as I discovered a few days later at the Acropolis, where I saw at least three bags that read HEART FAILURE 2014, this year’s annual European Society of Cardiology conference took place in Athens. And I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have been the only person who thought that was a weird-ass thing to put on a bag.

5. Cats get slut-shamed in Greece.

There are so many stray cats in Greece that they get their own souvenir calendars. And guess who gets blamed for this overpopulation? Obviously the lady cats!

In Mykonos, we stopped by a little mini-mart near our hotel to pick up some postcards and water. There was a super cute cat there, and we noticed her, um, prominent teats. The grandfatherly owner commented, “She is bad, bad girl. Babies every year! Big boy cats here. They’re like tigers!”

Hmph. Let’s blame all the female cats for the proliferation of strays. Clearly the Greeks need a Bob Barker equivalent to cheerfully remind everybody to spay and neuter their pets.

The cats really were cute, though. In Santorini, we ventured to Oia to see the famous sunset from the restaurant Dimitri’s. But honestly, what is more compelling?

No wonder I was distracted.

No wonder I was distracted.

The left one came right up to me and tried to crawl in my bag! (Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure I would’ve noticed any rabies by now.) The Canadian restaurant owner even offered a travel bag for the cat if I’d take him home. Too bad I’m severely allergic.

6. Those famous steps in Santorini are TERRIFYING.

So. Much. Poo.

So. Much. Poo.

Nice view, right? Maybe from up here.

Forget about being a lazy American, and pay the €5 for the cable car to go up and down the steps.

Our first night in Fira, we decided to walk around and descend those famous steps. Oh man: I have no idea how this path got so romanticized because (1) they are covered in donkey shit and (2) they are slippery as hell, due to the donkey shit but also presumably due to donkey hooves. It was seriously terrifying to go down since there is no railing or anything, plus it smelled SO BAD.

Who rides these donkeys? When we first got to the top of the steps, we saw two women (who were already mounted on donkeys) shriek to each other about how they were too scared to go down. We got a slight head start, but we never saw those riders again (they definitely should have passed us) so I guess they just got their photo op and left. Good move, ladies.

Tip: Do not wear tractionless shoes, like I did. Or shoes that you care about at all because you will step into excrement.

7. Racist Americans are still racist abroad.

Eh, we all spoke English.

Douche bags in THIS crowd? No!

In Santorini, we did a pretty fun boat tour, on which we hiked a volcano (Nea Kameni), swam up to some “hot springs” (Palea Kameni), and enjoyed an even better view of the sunset (Oia).

At the hot springs, though, a group of 20-something dummies (who lived in NYC) was smearing the orangey clay stuff on their faces while loudly proclaiming that they were LeBron James. Mind you, this was right after the whole Donald Sterling debacle (wow, that seems like forever ago), which made this idiot behavior even more baffling.

8. I might not have needed to go all the way to Europe.

Totally authentic Greek food clearly not purchased from their Costco equivalent that was served on our dinner cruise

Totally authentic Greek food clearly not purchased from their Costco equivalent that was served on our dinner cruise

Upon arrival at JFK, the customs officer asked me where I’d traveled. “Greece?” he laughed. “You live in Astoria and went all the way to Greece?”

At least I made friends with some cats.

Here are some random photos from my Droid. There aren’t many since I rarely take photos anymore, and I realized that I didn’t even take out my actual camera.

Athens: May 17–20

Highlights included hanging out in Glyfada (where we stayed, since N’s friends were getting married there) and roaming around Athens, especially with the convenient €12 pass that grants access to most of the ancient sites.

Obviously we went to the Acropolis:

Athens: Acropolis

Athens: Acropolis

Here’s another one:

Athens: Parthenon

Athens: Parthenon

Someone tried to take a photo of a stuffed animal on that shelfy thing behind me and they were thwarted by Acropolis staff. No disrespecting the Acropolis with frivolous kiddie toys!

After the Acropolis Museum, we walked downtown to find the Temple of Olympian Zeus:

Athens: Temple of Olympian Zeus

Athens: Temple of Olympian Zeus

It’s GIGANTIC.

Mykonos: May 20–23

Oops. No photos from Mykonos. I was too busy soaking in the beautiful scenery! Highlights included visiting the beach at Kampari, walking around Mykonos Town, and taking a ferry to Delos where we met this Australian girl who proudly told us that her nickname was “Trashy Ashlee.” (Yes, as in Simpson.)

Highly recommend our hotel, Lithos by Spyros and Flora. The couple who owned it, Marina and Marios, was so lovely, and the bus stop was literally in front of the property.

Oh yeah, and the owner of Vasilikos, a restaurant right by Lithos, told us how some Greek restaurant near the Plaza Hotel sucks and that the best Greek food he had tried in New York is Stamatis in Astoria. Ha. I should check it out.

Santorini: May 23–26

We stayed at Cori Rigas in Fira, since we figured we’d make our way to Oia eventually. Really nice place built into the cliffs. It was on our first night that we RISKED OUR LIVES to climb down those steps.

On the second day, after visiting the Akrotiri and before visiting Oia, we made our way to a vineyard a little outside of the city.

Domaine Sigalas in Santorini

Santorini: Domaine Sigalas in Oia

Not pictured were the HUNDREDS OF DEAD FLIES everywhere. They love their red wine.

The next day, we took the bus to Perissa to hang out on a really peaceful black-sand beach. The customer service was amazing at Magic Bus and I’m bummed we couldn’t spend more time there. The co-owners were brothers who were sent to the U.S. for college and took serious pride in their hospitality.

The customer service at Magic Bus was amazing. I'm bummed we couldn't spend more time there.

Santorini: Magic Bus in Perissa

Later that afternoon, we did that boat cruise, where we climbed the volcano.

Santorini: Nea Kameni

Santorini: Nea Kameni

FYI, that island on the right is currently on the market.

I think that’s it, unless anyone is interested in my many cat photos.

Conclusion: Greece is cool. Visit it if you can.

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2 thoughts on “Greece: 8 travel lessons from Athens, Mykonos, Santorini

  1. Nicole says:

    I feel famous.
    Also, Trashy Ash was a Kiwi. I’m sure she’d be mortified you called her Australian.

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