Glimpses of Greece

It's been 30-years since I visited Greece. After walking around Athens I'm starting to feel like I'm “back home”. It's been great to hear and use my adopted language. I hadn't forgotten as much of it as I thought I might.

Plaka, Athens, Greece
Plaka, Athens, Greece

This is Karla's first visit to the country. We're off to see many of the “touristy” areas over several weeks sampling Athens, the Peloponnese, and the mainland north to Thessaloniki. Then we're off to Crete for week.  This will give her an overview of the country and prepare her for later in-depth visits to the islands.

Lot's Of Changes In Greece: Is It Better?

There's been lots of changes since I've been here — some for the better, and some for the worse.  I never thought I'd see the day when Greece would embrace the Euro for its' currency. The Greek economy has struggled over the past several hundred years and certainly since the days of Ancient Athens, 3rd Century B.C.E.

The change to the Euro is, in my view, a “damned if you do and damned if you don't” situation for the Greeks. All I know is I can't take a group of 20 people out to dinner for $50 as I might 40 years ago when the country was on the drachma. And I hate seeing the Greeks struggle as they are under the Euro. There's many sides to this long and complicated economic saga and I'll end my comments about it here.

Construction on the Acropolis
Construction on the Acropolis

We met some Albanian's on the Acropolis and I had a chance to practice my elementary skills with that language too. I'll have some functional fluency by the time we visit there. Albania remains one of the undiscovered jewels of the Balkan's not yet flush with tourists and investment dollars that could eventually price the country out of the tourist market for some travelers in the future.

The Acropolis has changed dramatically since my first visit in 1971.  Back then, you could waltz up the hill and walk all over the antiquities on the Acropolis for .25 cents.

At the Parthenon, Athens, Greece
At the Parthenon, Athens, Greece

Fast forward to 2015. The injection of Euro's and loans into Greece has brought much modernization and organization. Now the national parks feature uniformed civil servant workers and guards, modern kiosks, museums, parking lots, and much higher fees. The changes can be seen throughout the country and stem, in part, from modernization efforts before the Olympic games earlier in the century.

Ah, the Greek nightlife. Where else can you go and stay up all night socializing — talking to others over a coffee or alcoholic beverage of your choice? The Greeks have this lifestyle down to an art.

Thanks to AirBnB, we found a place to live in Kolonaki. The hotels were booked. Dozens of cafe's, bars, and coffee shops were open until the wee hours — some 24 hours nearby. And, as is typical, the Greeks want to know about every aspect of ones' life.

Where do you work? How much money do you make? What do you think of Obama? What about the Greek government and dealings with the EU over the loans? And isn't it true that the German's owe the Greeks reparations for WW II? The topics are unbounded.

You can hear Greeks yack about topics of all sorts 24 hours a day. We noticed one guy chatting all day long in 3 different Kafeneio's near our apartment every day.

Greeks love to learn how foreigners can speak their language. Astonished Greeks told me a) I was a Greek American (I'm not); another told me I'm a Greek national living abroad for a long period (I'm not); a third, that I was a foreigner raised in a Greek family (I wasn't), etc.

All of this is social talk for “let's see how much we can gab about while we drink coffee, play Tavli (the middle eastern version of Backgammon), and flip our worry beads”.  I laugh and poke fun at it — but I've missed it! Greeks socialize. American's watch TV and in many instances, keep to themselves.

But there are changes for the negative too. I never thought I'd see the day when graffiti would adorn the walls of the streets of Athens. Nor would I ever have thought areas in the country would harbor refugee camps. How times have changed.

After our time in Athens, we jumped into the rental car to run through the eastern Peloponnese to see ancient Corinth, Mycenae, Monemvasia, and Sparta. A stop at the Isthmus (Canal) at Corinth is a must! We read about it in our schoolbooks as kids. But to see it on location invokes a sense of awe.

The Isthmus at Corinth Greece
The Isthmus at Corinth Greece

We'll talk more about our adventures in Corinth, Mycenae, Monemvasia, and Sparta in a separate post.

Karla & Tom @ Epidavros
Karla & Tom @ Epidavros

After Monemvasia, we turned around and headed north past Athens halfway up through the country and on to the Oracle at Delphi, Meteora, and Mount Olympus in the North.  We stopped at Vergina where the now famous burial grounds site of Phillip the Great and his son, Alexander the Great, of Macedonia were unearthed in 1977.

Meteora, Greece
Meteora, Greece
Navplion, Greece
Navplion, Greece. Old city streets are converted into walking paths.

What's different from my visits here 30+ years ago? The roads. They're new and modern because of the investment since the Olympic games earlier this century. It's fairly easy to get around.

Cell phones and Internet service are new too, of course. They didn't have 'em the last time I was here.

It seems there are more English speakers here that were here years ago. I infer the Olympics and Internet service are proximate causes. But it's not spoken as widely as it is in other countries. Speaking Greek is still a necessity away from tourist industry workers.

Our brief to this country in mid-2015 was about three weeks long. It was a whirlwind introduction to the country for Karla. We'll be back in 2016 to visit the Northern Sporades.

— Tom, for RoverTreks

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