I recently returned from a 10 day romp through Greece, and I can’t wait to go back! The streets are lined with healthy lemon, orange, and olive trees. The smell of honeysuckle is in the air. You can feel the pulse of the city just walking down the street taking in all the sights.
April is the beginning of the tourism season so it wasn’t very crowded. This time of year the temperatures are venturing into the upper 60’s & lower 70’s. To be honest, it exhausts me to imagine vacationing when it’s any warmer over there. The sun can really take it out of you if you aren’t careful over when outside. There is a reason most homes have marble floors and huge roll-down shades on their balconies & windows.
Athens is a wonderful, thriving city! The view from downtown in any direction is full of hillsides crammed with houses & buildings, tightly packed together. On a typical day it may take you over an hour to get from one end of town to the other by car. Most citizens use public transportation to commute. Athens is the only city in Greece with a Metro System – It’s fairly cheap and easy to use, with color coded routes. Most major tourist destinations like the Acropolis are easy to travel to using the metro. If I can use the Metro System so can you.
Stores and banks close mid-afternoon for the day. Some of the chain stores may have extended hours. Restaurants and small shops may close between 12pm – 3pm for siesta, and then reopen for the dinner crowd. Credit cards are widely accepted at the museums & in most restaurants located within the tourist areas. That said, expect to pay cash euros if you shop for souvenirs in the Planka (market) at the foot of Acropolis hill. In general, the Greeks do not haggle on prices, but if you offer a lesser price they just may take it. If they don’t bite on your offer, just accept the originally stated price and enjoy your purchase. Haggling over prices is considered rude. The Planka area is known for is pickpockets. Be aware of your surroundings and you should be fine.
The Acropolis admission just increased from 12€ to 20€ per person. This pass includes entry to the Theatre of Dionysus, Ancient Agora, Roman Agora, Hadrian’s Library, Keramikos, and the Temple of Zeus within a 4 day validity period. Archeological sites tend to close at 3pm in the early season, but they may extend hours as late as 5pm during the high season. Early morning visits are recommended to avoid crowds and the midday sun. A trip to the Acropolis involves a lot of uphill walking even if you arrive via the Acropolis Metro stop. I was so glad I wore comfortable shoes with good tread. Take your time getting up there, and motivate yourself knowing there is a fruit slushy store across from the ticket booth at the entrance… no joke, it was the best 4.50€ I spent that day 😉
2.5 hours North West of Athens is the historic site of Delphi. This was a wonderful day trip that allowed me to see the Greek countryside as we ventured into the mountains. Again, it is advisable to set out early morning, and stop midway for a lite bite to eat. (Fruit or pastry with Greek coffee is a no brainer) We passed through a picturesque little town called Arachova right before we arrived in Delphi. This was a nice destination to stop on the return trip so we could treat ourselves to a nice big meal & some shopping.
A ticket to the Delphi Archeological Site run 6€ for students to 12€ for adults, and admission into the Delphi Museum located at the bottom of the hill next to the Archeological Site entrance is included. This site also closed at 3pm, but the museum was open until at 4pm. After the trek up the slippery stairs of the Archeological Site, past all the temples to the Gymnasium and Stadium, we were ready for a nice fruit slushy. Luckily they have them in about a dozen flavors at the Café located outside the Delphi Museum. I highly recommend a leisurely sip of watermelon flavored slushy before venturing into the Museum. You can breeze through the museum in less than an hour.
Aegina is a summer vacation hot-spot for Athenians that is known for 4 things: Beautiful Beaches, Pistachios, the temple ruins of Aphaia & the Monastery of Nektarios. We had the pleasure of vacationing there over the weekend. Ferry prices range from 8€ to 16€ depending on the type of vessel you take, and the ride is only about an hour. Once you arrive in Aegina’s port you can rent mopeds or quads to roam around the island. Both vehicles are street legal. Let’s take a guess at what we chose…
If you ever have the chance to visit Aegina, please load up on the pistachios because they are the BEST pistachios I’ve ever had. They are soaked in lemon as part of the roasting process. I miss them already! The Monastery of Nektarios is centrally located. It houses the tomb of Saint Nektarios, who was canonized by the Greek Orthodox Church during the 1960s. He is fondly known as the Walking Saint who grants miracles to the faithful. They say if you put your ear up to his tiny silver casket you will hear his footsteps. For the record I didn’t hear any footsteps, but we’ll see if my request gets granted. As for the temple ruins, they are located on the highest hill of the island. It was a fun drive getting up there on our quads. The temple has been rebuilt 3 times over the years and it is in good shape. Aphaia is a goddess compared to Athena. Local lore says this temple is the place to visit if you looking for a dose of fertility. Admission here was only 8€.
Greek food was a wonderful discovery. Forget all we Americans think we know about gyros here in the states. Over there, they serve gyros with either chicken or pork, no lamb. Meals come in 2 styles- shaved as we are used to, or cubed and grilled on sticks. Personally I prefer the sticks, and half of the fun is to fold the gyro in half and then pull the 2 sticks out, leaving the meat inside the gyro. Also expect french-fries in your gyros. If you opt for the chicken option, they will try to serve it with mayo instead of tzatziki sauce. Greek Salads are simply cut up tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, olives, feta and maybe capers drizzled in olive oil and salt and pepper. These salads are served with most meals and are quite enjoyable.
Greeks aren’t very big on processed sugar, so they drink lots of water, coffee, tea, and juices. My host didn’t even have sugar in her house?! Tap water is ok to drink unless you are on the islands. Baklava and other sweets are a rare treat to the standard diet. A Greek would have a spinach pie for breakfast for example, and look at you oddly for ordering a piece of baklava for yourself. Greece also has several alcohols in addition to Ouzo you should try: Retsina is pine sap wine made popular in recent years. It tastes similar to a chardonnay even though it contains no grapes. Rakomelo is a honey flavored mixed drink made in Crete. It tastes like bourbon, but the aftertaste is all baklava. I just love this stuff! Aegina has Pistachio liquor that is wonderful mixed with other spirits.
It would be fair to say I will always carry a little piece of Greece with me. It touched my heart in a way I find hard to describe without getting all cheesy. My new Greek friends now consider themselves family… and I gotta admit, I feel the love in return. If you ever journey to Greece be sure to relax and enjoy it! Take part in the hospitality offered. Share some kind words with a fellow traveler or local Greek. Try new foods & beverages. Dip your bread in the olive oil on the Greek Salad plate. Shop at the weekly street markets, and browse the locals produce and meats. Soak up the afternoon sun. You’ll never forget your journey.