First trip to Greece - any tips?

Old Oct 25th, 2000, 12:27 PM
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First trip to Greece - any tips?

My primary concerns are:

Do most people on the street in Athens speak English? Should I ask first "do you speak English", or is it so common that my asking that question might be viewed as insulting? What about on the islands? Do less people speak English?

Are there as many scam artists in Athens as I've heard, where taxi drivers give you the run-around? What about small hotels? I've heard they also try to play games regarding the room rates.

Old Oct 25th, 2000, 12:35 PM
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In my experience, I found most people in tourist areas speak English, as well as other languages. It is not unusual to come across a shopkeeper or waiter who speaks three or four languages. They will approach you with a simple question in the language they think you speak and wait for your response.

Outside the tourist areas I found many people who did not speak English. On one of my trips (1992) we went to Skopelos and Skiathos. We met only a handful of people who spoke English, but the people were so kind it really did not matter. If language difficulties concern you, stick to Mykonos, Santorini, and Rhodes, where many people speak English. Possibly Crete, but I've not been there.

I have heard stories about taxi drivers taking advantage of tourists, but I have not had problems myself. Also, no problems with hotels as I usually book in advance and know exactly what I'm paying. If anything, I've gotten discounts off the quoted rates.
Old Oct 25th, 2000, 12:39 PM
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We did have really bad luck with taxi drivers in Athens.

Most of the people we met in Athens spoke English. On the island of Poros (the only one I have experienced) far fewer people spoke English.
Old Oct 25th, 2000, 12:58 PM
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I haven't been there for 10+ years, but my impression was that residents spoke English much less than in Western European countries, which would be expected. I had no problems with taxi drivers (who did not speak English, but I learned enough Greek to give directions, etc). Seemed to be lots of gypsies trying to sell you junk that they claimed was authentic and they lied, at least in the plaka market area. I have an undergraduate degree in textiles so could easily tell quality and manufacturing process at a glance, luckily I could inform my friend who was considering buying a lace tablecloth from a gypsy that she was lying when she said it was handmade, as it was machine-made--that kind of thing, but you can get that type of lying in a lot of tourist market areas regarding quality, age, etc. Anyway, definitely ask if someone speaks English as it is not a bilingual country in any case, and I think it would be rude not to, even if lots of people spoke it. Some others might not agree, but the only countries I think it is not rude to assume someone speaks your native tongue are ones that are essentially bilingual (like maybe Canada). Sometimes you don't think of it and just start rattling off, and I wouldn't worry about it, they are used to tourists, in any case. I booked a hotel through an agency so don't know about hotels playing games.
Old Oct 25th, 2000, 01:15 PM
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I just got back yesterday from 19 days in Greece, and I can honestly say that not one person we encountered could not speak english, some less well then others but most people were quite fluent. I did learn how to say please, thankyou, and other simple things that nearly always brought a smile to someone's face, since a lot of people don't bother to learn even rudimentary Greek. As far as scam artists go, we had no problems with anyone, and I was a little worried about taxi's as well, since we did have a couple of bad experiences in Hungary. One thing that did help was having our airport transfer to our hotel room arranged in advance but we took 6 taxi rides in Athens and about 4 on the islands and did not have a single problem, none of them even smoked, maybe we were lucky though. In terms of scams, didn't see one. We had a bad experience with Swift rental cars (as recommended on I would not suggest yu book with them, I certainly would not. As far as small hotels go, we stayed at the Acropolis View and the Attalos, both very nice and very cheap, I had booked the hotels in advance via fax and therefore had fax confirmations with the price written on it, the room charge was never in question. The only incidence of crime we saw was in the Plaka when someone tried to steal a woman's purse, some local guys chased the guy, caught him and dragged him back to the woman...who was Greek, she literally got to toungue lash this guy and then hit him in the face, while the other two guys prevented him from moving. The only thing I would have done differently besides the rental car, is to have rented an international cell phone. Getting phones in Greece to work seemed really impossible, we bought phone cards, we even when to the main phone office and this was not just the booths, it was also in hotels, though we stayed in budget hotels, I imagine you would not have problems if you were in expensive places. Luckily, there were Internet cafe's everywhere, even in the heart of the Plaka and on the most remote island. Make sure you can access your email from other locations, like excite or hotmail. This came in so handy since we had a problem with our credit card and could not for love or money call the USA, I was able to email though and the problem got all cleared up. Bon Voyage.
Old Oct 25th, 2000, 02:52 PM
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Welcome back Thyra, sorry to hear about your car problems, I guess you didn't make it to Delphi.
Yippee: I was in Greece for a short time in Feb99 and 17days in Jan00. I did have a problem with taxi's a couple of times. Coming from the airport the driver pulled-over to show me a nightclub billboard and tripped the meter up a I forget maybe 800Dr. Another time the driver wouldn't use the meter but we agreed on a price 2000DR, but no big-deal $6US and it saved me a 45min walk on a Sunday at the end of the day. Have the hotel call a RadioTaxi they seem to be honest and use the meter IME.
A scam I read about and was tried on me 3 times once in a 3 block distance and again on other days was. A nice man will ask you for the time in Greek and then acted surprised that you are American, English, Aussie etc. He will try to befriend you and then ask you to step into his friends/relative's cafe that you will be in front of. After a couple of drinks you will get the bill for ~$100. This scam seems to be done between Syntagma Sq. and the Plaka area. Also if you're looking at a map or look lost they will also offer help again with the offer to have a drink.
Almost everyone in the tourist areas will speak English and it shouldn't be a problem. Even the taxi drivers will usually know the tourist sites and hotel names in English. Just be sure to learn all the polite phrases and you'll do fine.
HTH Regards, Walter

Old Oct 25th, 2000, 03:08 PM
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Regarding taxi drivers, one comment seems in order. Taxis in Athens are IMO excessively cheap ... and this is a source of problems mostly if one catches a taxi on the run. Visitors apper not to understand that, to make a living, taxi drivers need to use their cars more or less like buses ... driving approximately on a set itinerary and loading passengers on their way. So, if 4 people that don't know each other travel a certain distance, each of them will end up paying a set amount (which has little to do with the meter ... actually if the meter is running, 4 times the set amount will add up to about double what the meter is showing). A party of 4 people shouldn't therefore "demand" the meter to be set to zero meaning to pay only what it'll show after covering the distance. Things would be simple if people just payed what the driver asks after the ride (I would be surprised if it isn't less than 1/3 of what it is at home! Once visitors appear not to understand this, there are very few taxis that will stop on the run for a small group of visitors. We almost didn't make it to the ferry in the Piraeus as a consequence. To be able to get hold of a taxi I promised the driver a GDR 1,500 bonus over the meter reading.

When you make your hotel call a taxi to drive you to a specific point, the amount you'll pay is normally agreed over the phone ... and it's at least twice what the meter would show.

Old Oct 25th, 2000, 03:50 PM
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PS: Walter and Paulo... you guys are the best!!! Thanks so much for all of your help (Yipee, these guys are IMO the real Greece experts) The information I recieved from both of you was utterly invaluable and made my trip sublime...Infinate and heartfelt thanks to both of you and all the Fodorites who helped me out.
Old Oct 25th, 2000, 05:24 PM
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We were in Greece in September. Athens was at the end of our trip, and we had heard all the horror stories about Athens from fellow travellers. I'm happy to say that we had absolutely no problem in Athens. We took a taxi to and from the airport. In both cases, there was no problem with the fare. The first cab was not only air conditioned, but the driver had a no smoking sign posted! We were very happy!

I first visited Greece 24 years ago. It seems as though a lot more people speak English now than did at that time. But if I had to approach someone on the street for directions, whatever, I would ask first.

Re Thyra's comment about phones, we had to call home once to speak with our housesitter. I had the Canada Direct card (I'm Canadian) and there was a number to call from Greece to connect with Canada and I was able to use my Bell Canada calling card. I ended up doing that at a phone booth in Santorini - I wasn't able to use the card at the hotel for some reason. (I've done the same in Australia, it's really handy.)

About hotels, I had booked 3 of our hotels here in Toronto through a Greek travel agency. One hotel (Attalos in Athens) I booked on my own. We didn't have any problems with the Attalos or the hotels on Naxos or Rhodes. It ended up being ok in Santorini, but we had a few panicky moments when the owner of our hotel claimed he didn't have our prepaid reservation. We got that straightened out the next day and he finally admitted it was his problem, not ours. I think he was trying to pull a fast one and put us in a cheaper hotel down the street, but he did end up giving us a nicer room and all's well that ends well.

Old Oct 28th, 2000, 11:09 AM
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If you want to share your holiday experiences in Greece, you might be interested in a new newsgroup called
Basically, it's for anybody who loves to visit Greece and wants to talk to others who feel the same. It's not meant to be a place for people to air their political views - there are already plenty of other forums and newsgroups where you can do that. It's just somewhere to have a chat with like-minded people who want to bring a little Greek sunshine into their cold, dark evenings.
So, if you fancy pouring yourself a Metaxa and re-living some of your experiences, or talking about your plans for future holidays, please come and join us!
It's available to all ISPs worldwide, but if it hasn't reached your newsgroup server yet, please send a request to your ISP to add it.
Look forward to hearing from you.
Old Oct 28th, 2000, 12:30 PM
Caitlin H
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We were in Greece at the end of September.

Regarding Taxis - we found this a very negative part of our experience. I did not find one taxi during my time in Athens who would agree to use there meter. We were always quoted a fixed price - which to an American may be cheap therefore not an issue - but to an Australian was not.

One taxi quoted 2000dr without the need for haggling which we thought ya-hoo - a reasonable one for once. When we got to our destination I have him a 5000 dr note but a second later he was waving a 500dr note in my face saying I had given him the wrong amount. I and my partner are positive it was a 5000 we gave him, and my partner believes he saw him swap the notes, but we were of cause stopped on a main road with impatient Athenian drivers tooting up our backside and in my confusion I just handed over more cash. Not a positive experience.

Regarding people speaking English - in the major tourist destinations you will have no problems at all. The only places we found people did not speak English was when we hired a car in Naxos and mainland Greece - very few people spoke English off the beaten track. We did not find this a major problem, though it certainly meant we stayed lost a fair bit longer several times through not being able to communicate with people (one classic and memorable moment when we had stopped in a tiny hillside village in Naxos and parked our car next to the school basketball court and wandered away. It was hysterical trying to mime playing baseball - and completely ineffective too - we ended up finding it anyway. Heaven knows what the people in the Cafe thought we were trying to say.

Old Oct 28th, 2000, 03:37 PM
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As in any large city, be wary of any overly "friendly" or talkative stranger who approaches you - odds are they are trying to distract you.

I had only one case of outright attempted taxi fraud in Athens last summer. The chatty driver wanted to talk about the US, my the trip was going, etc. (conversation was mostly in my broken, but passable, Greek). The taxi driver had cleverly rigged up his meter, so the meter was within a couple of inches of his hand on the shift knob. He was able to subtly press a button with his knuckle .. scarcely detectable. Every time he tapped the button, the meter would jump a few hundered drachma .. very fishy.

A trip I reckoned as 1000 Dr, came out about 4,000-5,000 Dr ! I didn't call his bluff until we got to the destination, for fear I would be unceremoniously dumped along the way, with my 16yo son. When we arrived at the destination (Lycabettos hill), I simply stated "the price is too high", & I reached in & pressed his "cheat button" to show his scam was discovered. He sheepishly shruuged & asked "What's a driver to do?" I offered a much reduced rate (probably still too high ..), which he accepted. Somwtimes I wonder how these drivers can make a living at all, since fares are cheap, what with taxes, cost of gas & repairs, etc.

Other times, I had drivers take what was perhaps a more circuitous route than I thought best; not outright fraud, but perhaps milking the fare for another 100-200 dr .. small stuff I didn't sweat.

General tips:

- have a general idea of the "lay of the land" & where your heading, so as not be taken on a wild goose chase.
- be alert
- ask your hotel desk, in advance, what the typical fare might be, so as not to be taken advantage of.
- note there are often surcharges & surcharges on the surcharge .. generally legitimate (but confusing), so ask the hotel desk what to expect. for example, beyond a basic luggage allotment you charged extra per case, and extra charge for summoning taxi by phone.

I also had a couple of drivers who were very professional: clean mdoern taxis, no smoking, no monkey business with the fares.

Regarding English language, I agree generally with previous posters. I think it's more polite if you can ask in Greek, whether they speak English or not. English speaking is not universal, even in touristy destinations.

Within 5 minutes of renting a car in Athens, I got pulled over by a traffic policeman for an illegal turn. The policeman did not speak English. Fortunately I knew enough basic Greek to indicate I was lost (true!), etc. After checking my license, he waved me off without any ticket or fine. I don't think I would have gotten that treatment if I was jabbering in English, or if I had behaved anything but humbly.

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