Travel

10 Reasons You Should Go To Greece

Updated 1 year ago David Stone
On the Ferry / Rhodes to Symi
On the Ferry / Rhodes to Symi
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Haven’t we been through enough in our stranger than anyone expected election year? Wouldn’t a week or even 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 clearly defined reasons why Greece is where you want to be, at least for a while.

Greece Is Beautiful

When you look from lots of angles, Greece is a ravishing gem. 

After inhaling exhaust fumes, bumper to bumper in traffic, or just dodging millennials lost in their cellphones on city streets, the nearly hallucinating loveliness of the Aegean refreshes your appreciation for the exquisiteness nature offers for free. 

Clean, dark blue waters flash to aquamarine near the shores of ancient islands sailed in wonder by Odysseus and by First Century Christian apostles as they spread their gospel.

And that's just the surface around which Hellenic charms catch your eye.

People Before Rules

As George Hatzimarkos, governor of the South Aegean Region, explained, Americans can appreciate Greece’s not being bogged down by rules and regulations, an annoying phenomena he took note of when visiting the U. S. 

(He also has several funny stories about being a life-loving Greek hemmed in by rules.)

People freely respect one another’s rights here without the government’s telling them when and how to be nice to each other. 

The easiest way I can explain this is that, while I can’t recall seeing a single “No Smoking” sign anywhere in Greece, I smelled far fewer cigarettes, stogies and skunky marijuana than I routinely do in New York —  where smoking is prohibited nearly everywhere. 

Consideration of others is a private, not public concern, leaving Greeks to respect one another voluntarily.

People Are Kind

I wondered if the kind helpfulness 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 along a strip of shoreline stores and risked missing the last ferry of the day. Somehow, I got assigned to go back and round them up. 

As I was running alongside Sheryl, my last rescue, carrying her astonishingly heavy bag, hustling to the ferry before they raised the gate, two men on motorcycles pulled up alongside us, offering seats first to her, then to me, and raced us to the dock just in time. 

As far as I can tell, these men had nothing to gain. There were no hands out at the end of the ride. It seemed, like so much else, to be standard Hellenic generosity.

No Tip Jars or Up Turned Palms

Speaking of “hands out,” Greece is free of the grasping tip jars and expectant service workers that make almost anything, from a simple cup of joe over the counter to doorman service, an uncomfortable dip into the world of tipping. 

Underpaying business owners, back home, count on this as a way to keep their profits high and expenses low. People of wealth as well as those who want you to think they are prefer keeping tipping around as an institution because it’s a tool of power and control. 

The only person I met who was looking for a handout was a 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 for all I know, and I gave him a euro.  

He thanked me, I think, and probably God blessed me as is standard in New York. 

All told, it’s just more comfortable buying goods and services when you are not an immediate part of the payroll plan.

Elena Kountoura Is Greek

Elena Kountoura is one good reason to visit 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 before winning election to parliament in 2004. 

As brilliant as she is attractive, she now serves as Deputy Minister of Tourism, which is how I got to meet her as part of a group half made up of visiting Americans and half of Greeks eager to have us love their country. It proved an easy sale. 

If her fluency in English, French and Spanish in addition to her native Greek isn’t impressive enough, an earthiness and accessibility you’d never expect from someone of her achievements is. Translation: she laughed at a couple of my jokes

She explained — convincingly — how the passion that animates Greek men also makes them “great lovers” while interested parties in our group took mental notes. 

On a more serious note, she explained that her country’s difficult financial situation means that her budget for promoting tourism is much smaller than in competing countries, none of which are any more beautiful or accommodating than Greece. 

Today, the Hellenic Republic is a bargain of the century, its wonders as awe inspiring as ever. And you can help one of the most dynamic, smart women in the world, my friend for a couple of hours, Elena Kountoura, get the most out of her budget.

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 wars in 2015.

The Greeks took strangers’ children lowered into their fishing boats to safety on 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. Although the beaches of Lesbos are again pure white, the tide of refugees ended, that story — nor the one accented by bravery, not horror — has not been told.

For their bravery, the tourist industry has been rewarded 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?

Greek Food

One of the greatest benefits of travel is that, almost always, someone else shops, cooks and cleans up after us. Knowing that still didn’t prepare me adequately for the pleasures of Greek food as it is served in the country of its origin.

Truth be told, I tell people I’m a vegetarian, although 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. So, that informs what I have to say about Greek food.

It’s great, and I can’t imagine that adding meat to the equation would change the experience of freshness, artfully designed accents and cooking to perfection.

You know 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. 

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.

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.” 

So much has been lost, but if you let your mind wander a little as you look at the sculptures still standing, you can picture how they looked, vividly painted in their time, how modern, two-thousand years ago.

Observe the many acropolis built without modern tools across the ancient towns and islands, the still strong buildings that have stood through storms and earthquakes, and you can’t help being in awe of how far into the future these pioneering artists strode 

Greece Is Islands

While the mainland is the core of Hellenic history, the place where Aristotle walked and Socrates drilled down, the islands sprayed like tossed flowers into the Aegean have distinct histories and thrilling 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 in Kos while sipping lemonade.

The islands are so perfect, you could pick any one and design the visit of your dreams. 

Corfu, for example, inspired both Homer and Shakespeare but is better known for its 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 that ring the caldera that sunk to the bottom of the sea.

Crete, the land of Zeus, has a history stretching back 6,000 years. A big island, Crete has room for everything from world class beaches, a large National Park, and a charming, historical city, Chania where you can 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. 

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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