Thursday, 29 August 2013

Shining Greece: A Portrait

One of the first things I asked myself before starting to plan my trip to Greece was: shall I go to the mainland or to the islands? Do I want to see spectacular ruins or enjoy the idyllic sand beaches and the gorgeous marine landscapes with a frozen yogurt in my hand? I ended up choosing a bit of both.

Santorini sea view



Crete was almost a forced choice because of the cheap Ryanair flights, but once I researched a little I was very excited that I would be visiting Knossos palace, the cradle of that Minoan civilization I have studied in history books. I was also fascinated that Crete had been a colony of the Venetian republic, and I wanted to see if I could connect. For my second destination, I chose Santorini, the most celebrated among the Greek islands, and one that I have been willing to visit for years. Because I am a ruin geek, I decided to end it up in Athens, visiting the Acropolis, a UNESCO world heritage site and a marvel for all culture and history enthusiasts like me.


The Parthenon
 
But apart from fulfilling my craving for ruins and culture, what did I find in Greece? First of all, wonderful and friendly people who speak impeccable English and will help you if you're lost even if you don't ask for directions, who will call the bus station if your bus is horribly late and you think you're about to miss your boat, and who will do everything to make your stay more comfortable. Second, I found charming tavernas decorated with flower-covered trellis where you can eat traditional Greek food for cheap prices, free museums  for students, and a culture that goes much further than that of Ancient Greece.



A taverna in Crete
 
Greece has a charming beauty that resides in its being at the outskirts of Europe, and yet having shaped the way we conceive our world: Western philosophy, theatre, history, democracy, they were all born here. This is not the only reason why Greece is so special: it has a shining light that hits you and almost blinds you. This is not metaphorical: when you walk up the Acropolis or when you are contemplating one of the many sea views you are always flooded with light and resplendent colours, to the point that the camera struggles to manage the shots.



Loutro, southern coast of Crete


Nowadays Greece is talked about for the horrible financial and economical crisis almost more often than for its tourist destinations, but I didn't hear Greek people complaining about it. Greeks are joyful people and love to hang out, drink a glass of wine or a beer, and nibble some food while speaking about everything and anything. Their beautiful language is fascinating, but it's incomprehensible to me, and I can  totally understand why the saying "It's all Greek to me". I also wanted to try the weird feeling of being illiterate, because I am not able to decipher the Greek alphabet. Unfortunately, all the signs were written in both Latin and Greek alphabets: good for the tourists, bad for my desire to immerse in a foreign script.


A prank in the Samaria gorge hiking trail
 
A funny thing is that Greek people are completely disillusioned with the services and public transport in their country. "What, there was actually a bus from the airport to the town in the middle of the night? I can't believe it!" or "Yes, you can go there, it's gorgeous, but I doubt there's a bus that goes to such a secluded place". In spite of their warnings, I didn't have many problems with the public transport: as long as you don't have tight schedules, and you do your research before leaving (something I do meticulously), you should be fine. Just don't expect every bus or boat to be on time: it's Southern Europe, everything is slower! Get over it!
 

Greek public transport, LOL. Just kidding!

Another thing I enjoyed are the animals all around you when you go hiking, especially in Crete: donkeys of course, but also  wild goats, lambs and sheep who stare at you. And then there's Athens: traffic, pollution and breakneck bus drivers. But that's another story!

Sheep in Crete

Greece has left me wanting for more: I can't wait to see the rest of the country. On my list for the next visit there are the islands of Corf├╣ and Rhodes, the ruins at Ancient Delphi, and the monasteries of Meteora.



Greek flag looking out on the Libyan sea

 
Stay tuned for the report of my Greek adventures, including a DIY hiking experience in Crete, a nightmarish 5-hour boat ride with puking Asian people, and how I got to sleep inside a cave.

4 comments:

  1. Sounds like an awesome trip! Greece is on the top of my bucket list but I feel I would have the same dilemma; visit museums like a nerd or relax on the beach? Such hard life choices, lol.

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    1. Yes, and the problem is that to achieve a little bit of both you have to go through horrible ordeals like 5-8 hours boat rides or expensive flights. But... it was really worth it. And I appreciated the open ruins much more than the museums. You're right: such hard life choices, ahahahah!

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  2. Sounds like an amazing trip with the best of both worlds. Given the choice I'll usually pick museums over a beach, but it's perfect when you can combine both (like Barcelona for example) - even if you do have to endure long hour boat rides in the sweltering heat! Those kind of tasks make travelling more adventurous anyway! Beautiful photos too... I'm definitely tempted by Santorini.

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    1. I'm not a big fan of beaches either: I just like to check them out, take a few pictures and appreciate the atmosphere and the nature. As for lying on the beach, it's not my thing. In Santorini there are a couple of beaches for they are not marvellous: it's more about the landscape, even at the beach, so it was perfect for me.

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