As tempting as it is, to spend your days soaking up the sun, swimming in the clear, warm seas, under the magnificent, magical blue skies of Greece, try to see as much as you possibly can of this enchanting country.Not only to see all the amazing things that Greece has to offer but to get to know the Greeks, their customs, their traditions, their spirit, their unquenchable thirst for life.
Here are ten tips which I think will help you to do just that.
1. Know Greece before you get there
Learn as much as you can about Greece before you visit. Search the interenet, ask people you know, who have visited Greece, to suggest things for you to see and do. Buy a book, “The Lonely Planet” and “The Rough Guide ” series are both excellent.
They have all the information that you will need. Apart from giving the history and description of places, from the most popular tourist attractions, to the smallest villages, they have useful telephone numbers, suggest hotels, restaurants and bars, along with street maps. Much easier, I think, to look in a book, than using an ipad, or iphone, where you may also be clocking up a large bill!
2. Sample Greek breakfast
Greek hotels have the most delicious breakfasts, do though, if at least only once, have breakfast away from the hotel. Try some of the things that Greeks eat for breakfast.
If you like savoury, go for a cheese pie or the tasty spinach pie. If you have a sweet tooth, you will love bougatza, a sort of custard filling in crispy, flaky pastry, covered with icing sugar. Sample the Greek yogurt slathered with natural Greek honey. Don’t forget the freshly baked Greek bread, sprinkled with sesame seeds. Eat your breakfast sat outside the cafes and watch the Greeks starting their day. The children heading off to school, business men having their Greek coffee to bolster them up for the busy day ahead. The women going to the market for the day’s provisions.
3. Eat at the lesser known tavernas and restaurants
Try the lesser know tavernas, restaurants, coffee shops and bars. See what the local Greeks like to eat and how they enjoy themselves in their spare time. Ask local waiters, hotel staff and shop assistants: “Where do they eat “, “What do they suggest you order?”
I think that you will find the bill will be much less than if you chose to eat in the busy tavernas and restaurants, catering mainly for tourists. You will be eating real Greek food too, not steak and chips!
4. Venture further afield
Hire a car , take a coach tour or ask about the taxis that do day trips, see as much as you can of the surrounding area. All hotels have information about coach trips and transport. Ask about trips to local wineries and vineyards or to see how local cheese is produced. If the area is well-known for olives, ask about seeing where the olives are pressed, to be made into olive oil, “Liquid gold” as the Great, Greek poet Homer called it.
5. Walk!Go for walks. There is no better way, than on foot, to notice all the small details around you, missed when travelling by car or bus. Take in the scenery, see the picturesque Greek houses.
Notice the vibrant colours of the flowers.
6. Smell the jasmine!
Be mesmerized by the deep blue of the sky, the tranquil sea.
6. Drink ouzo, eat octopus
For lunch visit the ouzeries. Try out the tasty appetizers (mezedes): that always accompany the unique, aniseed-flavoured ouzo.
7. Visit local monasteries and churches
Greece has some beautiful monasteries and churches. They contain many interesting artifacts: icons, relics of Saints and wall paintings many of them Byzantine,
The nuns are always very welcoming and pleased to see visitors. They usually offer you something, a Greek coffee with a piece of Turkish delight on the side.
Or the uniquely Greek “Spoon sweets”. This is fruit, all kinds of fruit are used, preserved in a sweet, heavy syrup, offered on a dainty plate and eaten with a spoon. Always brought to you with a glass of cold water.
8. Stroll around the local street markets
Every town in Greece has its street market. Here they sell anything that you can think of, from the abundant fresh fruit and vegetables, to clothes, kitchen utensils and useful baskets.
They are colourful, lively places. Have your morning snack there from one of the many stalls selling souvlakia, pies or the delicious loukoumades: small round doughnuts covered in natural Greek honey and dusted with cinnamon.
See (And hear!) the famous Greek bargaining in action! Buy some of the local preserves to take home with you. Remember beautiful Greece when you ear them.
9. See the traditional Greek dancing
Wherever you stay, there will always be: “The Greek Evening”. Do go, click your fingers to the catchy Greek Syrtaki and shout out the occasional “Opa” at the more daring of the dance moves!
Notice the intricate detail of the traditional dance costumes. Some have been handed down in families for generations.
If you are lucky, you might come across a small, off the tourist track, local bar or taverna, where the Greek men spontaneously get up and dance. Don’t only watch their feet, or the way they move. Watch their faces, they become lost in the moment. The Greek men dance with such passion!
10. Take home local products as gifts and souvenirs
As nice as it is to have colourful Greek ceramic bowls and plates, to remind you of Greece, once that you are back home, buy local products as gifts for friends and family. There’s so much to choose from: natural Greek honey, local wines, ouzo, dried herbs, olives, olive oil. The list is endless.
Give your friends and family a little taste of Greece. So much nicer than a clockwork bouzouki!
If you follow these ten tips, you will see another side of Greece, a different Greece, the real Greece.
You will have met the Greeks and you will love them! Believe me: You will be back! Until then, live and feel the spirit, the essence of Greece , through reading Lawrence and Gerald Durrell’s books about Greece and the Greeks.
They both loved the place with a passion. Living in Greece is exactly as if you are actually living in the book written by Gerald Durrell: “My Family And Other Animals”. Just wonderful!