There's something exhilarating, magical, and beguiling about going to Greece. It's like going to Disneyland for the first time. You build yourself up for something incredibly amazing, and when you get there, it's even better! That's Greece. Her air, her people, her food, her music, her history...she is a country with endless charms and the creator of warm, everlasting memories.
But before you go, there are a few important facts to keep in mind. These are not meant as a deterrent, by any means (everyone should go to Greece at least once in their lives), but rather as a few bits of wisdom from the experience of travelling there five times in the last three years:
The suggestion to pack lightly bears repeating. The absolute necessities include VERY comfortable walking shoes, enough prescription meds to last throughout your trip, prescription glasses and/or contacts, cash and/or credit/debit cards and, of course, your passport. Keep clothing light, but bring a sweatshirt, sweater or light jacket for any possible cool weather. However, depending on what time of year you're going, it's usually warm and slightly humid, even in the evenings, so you won't need much in the way of heavy clothing. Leave room in your luggage to bring home some fun souvenirs and maybe a little ouzo and olive oil!
Some itineraries include long layovers at airports. There are plenty of places in most airports to sit and have something to drink and eat or do a little shopping. Also, you can make the time go quicker if you have something to read or if you bring a travel-friendly game with you, like UNO or dice. One of our personal favorites is Pig Out, or Pass the Pigs, as it's currently known.
3. FLIGHT/GATE CHANGES
Speaking of airports, check the overhead Departures boards frequently. These days, it's quite common for your gate to change, often more than once. Flight times can also change, and sometimes, flights are cancelled altogether. Most airlines provide you with alternatives and can often put you on standby on the next flight to your destination, but the sooner you're aware of the change, the better your chances are of getting on that next flight, so keep an eye on those boards!
4. PAY WITH CASH
Payment in Greece is almost exclusively done with cash, in Euros. Hotels will usually accept credit cards, but most other places...tavernas/restaurants/cafes, taxis, kiosks, street vendors, groceries and other types of shops...deal strictly in cash. You should familiarize yourself with current exchange rates between Euros and US Dollars before going on your trip. Also, when you use ATM's in Greece, it will appear on your bank statement as the US Dollar equivalent of your Euro withdrawals. So, if you withdraw 200 Euros in cash in Greece (or any country that uses Euros), and the current exchange rate is $1.42 USD for every one (1) Euro, your statement will show a withdrawal amount of $284.00.
5. HOTEL ROOMS
Hotel rooms in Europe, as a rule, are considerably smaller than hotel rooms in the U.S. This is certainly the case in Greece. Some of the larger chains and high-end hotels on the mainland are the exception, but for the most part, you won't find those types of places on the islands. Instead, you'll find charm and uniqueness, and always cleanliness, in which the Greeks take great pride. You'll also usually find breakfast is included. But bring your own washcloths because, for some reason, those are usually NOT included. Sink stoppers are also often missing from these rooms.
There are various and sundry oddities of the Greek twalletta... or WC, as it's referred to on most of the signs. One of these is figuring out how to flush...there are a number of different styles. What's really important to remember, however, is that in 99% of the bathrooms there, they ask that you do NOT put toilet paper in the toilet. There is always a receptacle provided for this purpose. It's not an easy practice to get used to, but do make an effort. Greece is an old, old country, and their sewage and septic systems are highly challenged, to say the least. It's always best not to cause your hosts any undue and unsavory labor, having to clean up an overflowing twalletta!
7. CHURCHES and BEACHES
If you enjoy visiting the many churches, chapels and monasteries in Greece, it's usually a good idea to dress somewhat conservatively before going inside the bigger ones. It's not necessary to wear anything on your head, but shorts and tank tops would not be your best choice. An exception to this seems to be the many roadside and hidden-away chapels that appear all but abandoned, save for a flickering candle inside. There's rarely another person at these little places, and it doesn't seem as inappropriate to go inside wearing attire that is more casual. In addition, as small and unassuming as they appear on the outside, these little chapels are often stunning on the inside.
On the other hand, going to the beach is a whole different story. Clothing is optional at some, and even when it's not specified, some go topless. But the joy of being in Greece (or, really in much of Europe) is that it's not a big deal. Bring a pair of beach shoes, though, because most are pebble rather than sand.
8. ANIMAL POPULATION
There are numerous street dogs and cats throughout Greece. You'll rarely run into an unfriendly one, and they are not necessarily mistreated; but they are somewhat neglected, for the most part. Most taverna owners do not object to you feeding them...in fact, they often put out leftovers for them. You can usually donate to the Local Dog Refuge and other similar organizations, but enforcement of spay and neuter laws is poorly enforced throughout the country; and the problem grows due to so many people abandoning unwanted litters.
Sixty-five percent of the population of Greece smokes. It's allowed practically everywhere, so it's pretty impossible to avoid. The good news is, you will rarely be sitting in an enclosed area, and the sheer clarity of the Aegean air helps to dissipate the smoke quickly, so you won't come home with clothes that smell like cigarette smoke.
10. AND FINALLY,
Don't ask for butter for your bread. A basket of wonderful bread is brought to the table at nearly every meal, and the many varieties make it fun to see what you'll get at the different eateries. But butter/margarine is NEVER brought to the table. If you ask for it, you will notice a slightly baffled look on your waiter's face, as he wonders for what purpose you would want butter. In Greece, bread is meant to be dipped in the communal salad bowl. Don't worry; double dipping is easily avoided during this exercise. Simply tear off a bite-sized chunk of bread each time before dipping, so it's always a fresh piece. Once you've tried this, you'll forget about the butter. There's always enough dressing in the bottom of the bowl for this purpose, and it is deliciously tangy and addictive!!
For more stories and information on travelling to Greece, please visit www.kgimagery.com