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Just a simple threadbare gypsy soul, wandering from blessing to blessing on this earth.

August 9, 2012

Things I Learned in Greece

1.     Everyone speaks English.
Coming to Greece gave entirely new meaning to that old phrase, “It’s Greek to me.” When you pick up a bottle that says “νερό” on the label, you get a little confused. Some of the letters look like they belong in your native alphabet, but those accents look French. Wait a minute... is that Korean? Hang on... how do I actually pronounce this? Is this really water? By all means, try to learn a few words in Greek. It’s polite, after all. But when in doubt, you can just ask, and that’s nice to know.

2.     The entire Greek sewer system cannot handle anything but bodily waste.
As it was explained to me, the system is archaic. It needs to be replaced, but repeated attempts have proved fruitless. Every time you dig in Greece, you unearth an ancient ruin that has to be reported to the government, turned into an archaeological site, and protected by wooden structures with sheet metal nailed over the top for a roof, but nobody will study it for months.  You can’t touch it. After all, it could be evidence proving the existence of Odysseus.

3.     Tourist maps are not to scale.
Following the map to Corycian Cave, shown in the hills a mere three inches above Delphi (a 4-inch town), took me six miles up through private farmland where the path disappeared, though a faded sign pointed up the next mountain and into the woods. I started to panic. Nobody would hear me scream (save the goats), or be able to find my discarded body. Immediately, I headed back down. Four hours of walking in the searing heat and nothing to show for it save my feet swollen like satiated leeches.

4.     Don’t expect to drive faster than 30 mph.
If you’re in the city, you’ll be stopping for lights, pedestrians, and a million stray animals. On the main roads, you’ll be stopping for buses, herds of goats, and a million stray animals. On the islands, you’ll either be crawling around other vehicles on cliff side single carriageways, making 175-degree switchbacks up and down the mountains, or trying not to hit the stray animals. If you suffer at all from motion sickness, bring your pressure point bands and medicinal capsules!

5.   Ruins are everywhere.
Literally. When you grow up hearing stories about ancient Athens and Sparta, Helen of Troy, and Odysseus, everything seems so removed from current life. When you're in Greece, however, you can't spit without hitting either an archaeological site or some uncovered ruins. In fact, about twelve of them are within a 20 minute walk from central Athens! Just remember to take your walking shoes, because as much as I love them, Crocs and Converse do NOT cut it. Yowch.

6.   Don’t drink the water on the islands.
Don’t run your toothbrush under a tap, order drinks with ice, or open your mouth in the shower. In my group of eleven people, seven of them are mass ingesting electrolyte replenishment tablets (some after bouts of liquid anal explosions). I am tender-tummied enough to have brought a 10-liter “amoeba bag” with chlorine tablets to kill the belly bugs. Not only is my bum squirt free, I have a ready supply of cold water sitting in my mini fridge. Nice.

7.     The food is cheap and sinfully delicious, so eat out!
Don’t waste your shekels on €3 “ham” sandwiches. They’re not what you’ve grown to expect in a sandwich, and besides, I have yet to see a pig in Greece. Go for the real Greek food: gyros, spanakopita, souvlaki, stuffed vine leaves, and seafood. It’s an island nation after all! What’s that, you say? Vegetarian? Then Greek salad is for you. Can’t stand seafood? Then order some battered zucchini chips and spaghetti. Italy is quite close and her influence is strong. Why don't I have a photo? I spent all my time eating!

8.     There are almost no dress codes or behavior rules.
If you want to walk to the beach in your bikini, go ahead. If you can hobble along the rocky coast in your platform heels, do it. Want to show up to a restaurant in your speedo? So be it. Just last night I saw a dozen people in cycling shorts and miner’s headlamps washing their picnic dishes in the sea and singing Lady Gaga songs to a guitar whilst passing bottles of Bacardi and Coca Cola Light.  Okay… that last part was us. Just don’t swim in swimming pools after sundown – there’s a national law against that. 

9.     Island time is not scheduled time, on time, or any other kind of time.
What is on your posted itinerary may or may not be the time at which people arrive for meetings, ferries dock at their final destinations, or breakfast is served. These are just guidelines for planning your day, and scheduled events will probably change times without much notice. Further, nothing will get done in the afternoon. It’s hot, and really dusty, and you just had a huge delicious meal, anyway. That’s when you get to siesta, wash the dust off your feet, go for a swim, and relax! Ahh, vacation…

10.   Get up early.
It's cool (relative to the usual daytime hours), there is generally a breeze off the ocean, the sunrises are gorgeous, and you feel like you have the entire world to yourself. Never in my life have I seen such a beautiful sun, haloed in a clearly outlined golden ring and reflecting eternally off the water. Yes, I had to get up before the cocks began to crow, and yes, I stepped into some unseen goat feces in the dark, but my solitary morning jogs were made absolutely worth it with a final stretch like this.

Thank you, new friends & fellow journeyers to into the unknown, for the wonderful time!


  1. Great post Heidi!
    Glad you loved our beloved Elada and could offer a tourist's persepective.
    Good luck with the book and great to have met you.

  2. Love the list. And great pictures!

  3. Sorry -- that anonymous post was just me, Chuck S

  4. Aaaaahhhhh, my threadbare gypsy soul is back home and I can sleep a bit more peacefully and breathe a bit lighter. I missed you Lou.

  5. We went to a Greek restaurant tonight and I tried the spanakopita in your honor. It was better than a spring roll. Is the tzatziki sauce supposed to have carrots in it? On another note, above the toilet was a sign that said to only use a few sheets of toilet paper because the pipes were very old. I thought the sign might be a tradition brought over from Greece based on what you said, but the rattling pipes confirmed the sign.

  6. I only needed the electrolytes in Athens (maybe I'd acclimated by the time I was on Ithaca ... sort of), but yes to not drinking the island waters. Found that out on Kefalonia.

    Great round-up of your experiences, Heidi. Though I did find the map distances to be much shorter than expected, but that might be the effect of our sprawling western Canadian distances. :-) So glad we got to meet and spend some time with you.

  7. So wonderful to read an outsider's perspective! After living here for ten years it's all just become 'normal' to me. I sometimes forget life is a little backward to what others are used to. So wonderful to have met you, Heidi. I hope you stay in touch! xx