My notes on Greece 101

Old Oct 21st, 2014, 11:36 AM
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My notes on Greece 101

Hi all!

I’m still gathering all my info before I can get started with a ‘real’ trip report but I thought I would post a few of our ‘notes’ or random, 100% biased, non-scientifically significant, observations on Greece and Greeks made over our 3 week vacation.


The Greeks

DH and I agree that of all the places we have traveled, the Greeks are the nicest, serviceable, and most eager to please people. This applies to the ones in the hospitality business as well as those that are not. Everyone we met was incredibly polite and willing to help clueless tourists have the best possible vacation ever. Everyone was genuinely interested on where we came from, if it was our first time in Greece, if we were having a good time, etc.


Coffee

The one time they might look at you in utter dismay (and slight aggravation) is when you don’t know which kind of coffee it is that you want.
Coffee drinking is the national passtime. There are hundreds of types of coffee served so you must know what you want beforehand. An order for ‘hot’ coffee has to be followed through with a secondary classification Greek, Filtered, Pressed or Nes. If everything fails- you can ask for an ‘Americano’ but this open for interpretation. Orders for cappuccino were universally understood and delivered with high quality and consistent results. They don’t even frown at you if you order it in the afternoon (not that we did).

Cold coffees or ‘Freddo’ are an entire other universe of ordering possibility. We are not that crazy about them and the temps were on the cooler side most of the time so we did not get a full education on the subject. ‘Nes Freddo’ seemed to be the most popular sort among young and old basking in the sunny outside tables while animatedly talking to each other (yes, actually conversing, not staring into the cell phone screen) at a 100000 words per minute with a hand-rolled cigarette hanging from the corner of their mouth.

Bottom line was that we did not have a single bad coffee, even when it came not quite in the form we had in mind.


Smoking

The one thing is…Greeks smoke. Young and old, male and female. Everywhere. All the time. Including restaurants. Sometimes even between courses. Even cigars and pipes are accepted in outdoors in bars, restaurants and cafés. This is slightly made worse by the fact that all other tourists that have been forced to give up smoking in public in their own countries indulge without reservations.

We did not mind the much in the beginning but we both got head colds during the trip, so it became tiring. By the end of the trip it had turned definitely into a nuisance.


Worry Beads

Yes, men actually use them! I don’t know why but I thought this was not done anymore. We saw most men over 50 swinging and clicking away their beads…OR doing the exact same spinning movement with their car keys, lol. Lots of middle aged men as well.


Dining

Disclaimer: We did not go to any Michelin-star-contender restaurant. All observations were made at very casual places. Most were frequented by tourist AND Greek families.

I think that there are a lot of subtle yet highly important differences in serving behavior that make up for a lot of misunderstandings, particularly with American customers.

- There are places (Olympia and Delphi come to mind) where it is just unavoidable eating in the tourist strip. We found the even there the food was ‘good’. Not inspired or memorable but still a few notches above edible. We asked for recommendations in hotels and were told point blank that there were no places they could strongly recommend in town but they were pointed out a few ‘acceptable’ ones.

- The one notable exception to this ‘good’ rule was French Fries (which are served with almost everything grilled. The Greeks are master grillers, superb roasters and inspired bakers, but frying…. Nope. If the potatoes are roasted, they will most likely be good, if in a lemon sauce they might even be awesome. But –IMHO- the fries were not worth the calories anywhere. (If you want awesome fried stuff, go to Spain.)

- Your wine will not be poured for you in any of the restaurants. It just will not. It is just not done. It is not a lack in service. Tourists seemed to be aggravated by it and misunderstood it as ‘bad service’. Get over it and pour it yourself.

- The concept of different courses for a meal is not firmly ingrained into the Greek psyche, your salad and entrée might arrive at the same time or just minutes apart. If you want to have them in sequence you do need to specify this.

- Your half eaten plate will not be removed from the table until you ask for the bill or directly request that it is taken. The assumption here is that you will spend at least another hour in the restaurant after you are ‘officially’ done eating, you might find space in your tummy and eat two more bites out of that moussaka or dip your bread into the salad dressing. Again, if it bothers you, speak up and ask for the plates to be removed.

- Yes, you do need to ask for the bill. Greeks (and any other civilized culture, IMHO) understand that presenting you with an unrequested bill is equivalent to asking you to leave. They will not bring it until you ask for it. Don’t just sit the seethe because it is not brought. Ask for it. A simple gesture across the room will suffice on most occasions.

- That bill will include a ‘service’ or ‘bread’ charge of an euro or two. This is done in many countries and it is not intended to nickel-and-dime you, it is just a fact of life. We were never charged more than an euro per person.

- Tipping is not required or expected as in the US. Rounding up a few euros to the next bill should be sufficient for average service. Even a tip for ‘outstanding’ service should be around 10%.

- Most restaurants (particularly outside Athens) will bring you with the bill a complementary after dinner drink of Raki or Metaxa (partake with care!) and either a small portion of dessert or some fruit for dessert. This is basic and does not warrant a five star review on TA by itself. You are not obliged to eat or drink any if you don’t want it.


To be continued….
marigross is offline  
Old Oct 21st, 2014, 11:44 AM
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Might I throw one in? When walking around The Acropolis, there are very slippery marble slabs all over, with gravel sections interspersed. The marble is unbelievable slick and I had rubber soled walking shoes on; I cannot imagine those with leather sandals, heeled ladies shoes etc. we're not falling all over!
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Old Oct 21st, 2014, 01:51 PM
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Accessibility

DH hurt his knees at the beginning of the trip so we paid extra attention to steps, access routes and effort level in general during this trip.

Greece is not easy for people with mobility issues. Period.

You don’t even see many tourists with baby strollers. Even families with 3 kids were using sling and back carriers. As in one parent with toddler in the back and a baby in the front loader, the other parent with a front carrier for the little one and a backpack with all the baby supplies. I admire their stamina and degree of enthusiasm. I would not even consider going on a trip like that. We saw similar arrangements more than once.

The Parthenon might have that elevator to get on top, but –unless you have the upper body strength of a trained athlete- once you are there you would still need someone else to push the wheelchair, and push hard. There is gravel, stones and lots of rubble and most motorized chairs are not going to cut it.

I think that none of the other classic sites are accessible. Even without a wheelchair, some of the older/less fit folks had a hard time in Delphi, Mykenes and Epidaurus. The Meteora monasteries are certainly not easily managed and I’m not sure if a trip to look at them –though still impressive!- from the parking lot is worth it.

The easier sites among those we visited are Olympia and Ancient Nemea.

I’m under the impression that perhaps Chania, Heraklion and Nafplio would be mostly OKto move around and enjoy. However, most restaurants will still have their restrooms either in the basement dungeon or way high in the attic.


Sensible Shoes

People, if there is a country in which you really need to wear sensible shoes, it is Greece. Refer to ‘Accessibility’ above.

As Debi said, there is lot of marble in Greece and marble is not your friend. It is hard on your knees at best. It is slick, slippery and treacherous to walk.

I never saw that many tourist on crutches with broken/distended arms and legs before.

BTW, I got myself the (ugly) new Skechers Go Walk 2 and absolutely loved them! They did not slip at all and the memory foam was great. The only slight drawback is that since they were so flexible I could still feel cobblestones and rubble under my feet. Still, wholehearted two thumbs up.


Driving

To paraphrase the late Julia Child, you just ‘need to be fearless’.

There is a system to driving in Greece. Do not mess with it and you should be alright.

- The most important point to this system is that you need to understand and accept that you do not own your lane. Lane lines are there simply to be considered as general guidelines.

- Greeks drive fast but you don’t need to feel pressured. Move to the side and let them go by.

- Two lane roads: Each driver straddles the shoulder line to their side of the row. At least 1/3 of the car needs to be on the shoulder at all times. Drivers will pass next to you (on both directions) on an imaginary third line in the middle. Even in curves. At any speed. Do not panic, move as much as you can to your right and let them pass.

- Do not panic when you see other cars passing vehicles in tight, blind curves where passing is clearly not allowed. They count on the other car straddling the shoulder, making enough space for them. This is why you also need to let go of your preconceived driving notions have at least part of your car over that line at all times. You might cause serious accidents without being at fault.

- Always look for motorcycles. They come from everywhere at any time and speed. As far as we know, no rules apply to them.

- We drove a couple thousands kilometers. Outside the big toll highways we saw a total of 2 signs with road numbers and one was wrong. Do not look for them and do not trust them. Study your map beforehand as all directions are given by town name.

- 99% of the time there are signs with Latin letters following the ones in Greek. It is really not difficult.
marigross is offline  
Old Oct 23rd, 2014, 05:43 AM
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Very funny - and very accurate!! A great read thanks
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Old Nov 5th, 2014, 03:15 PM
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Fantastic!
odie1 is offline  
Old Nov 6th, 2014, 08:54 AM
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Totally agree with you.

Are you going to write a trip report detailing the places you went?
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Old Nov 11th, 2014, 03:01 AM
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Isabel - Marigross has written a wonderful trip report 1,000,001 steps. you should check it out
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Old Nov 13th, 2014, 10:17 AM
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This is so accurate. I was in Greece the first two weeks in October. Hospitality exceeded my expectations and I am ready to go back. Thanks marigross!
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Old Nov 13th, 2014, 10:30 AM
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I love the Greek people, they are indeed very nice and accommodating. I found that many of the restaurants and hotels seem to employ foreign workers many from Eastern Europe. They were also very friendly and everyone seems to speak perfect English.

My favorite food was the Greek salad. Here in our hometown all the Greek owned restaurants serve Greek salad with lots of lettuce. So I was surprised when our Greek salad had just red onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives and a slab of sheep milk Feta. I would move to Greece just for the salad, and their Feta cheese! I don't understand how the Greeks have a high life expectancy and smoke as much as they do!?
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Old Nov 13th, 2014, 04:32 PM
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Nanabee, your observation about restaurant/hotel workers from Eastern europe/ balkans may be based largely on Santorini, THE most touristy island ... that's why so often people remark that Santorini doesn't reflect the Greek culture that much any more. In Naxos, SIfnos, Folegandros, Milos, Samos, oh a dozen other islands, the staffs are Greek, and mainly local, from family that owns & runs the taverna or small (not deluxe) hotel.

The fluent English derives partly from the school system which now starts English study at aget of 6. Thus, almost everyone in Greece under about age 40 now is fairly competent in English. Our schools should start foreign language that early... when young brains & ears are still forming patterns.

Your salad discovery was the True Greek salad not the one you get in the US ,,, it's actually called horiataki, or "village salad" and in Greece it never has lettuce (for one thing, the country is very dry and lettuce requires lots of watering). In the US, they put in lettuce because people expect lettuce in a salad and of course, it's cheaper than the other ingredients. One funny thing; when I make village salad, I crumble the feta right in -- but restaurants put it on top so you'll see that you're getting your fair share,..
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Old Nov 13th, 2014, 05:42 PM
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Your observations made me laugh and in my experience were spot on. Went to Greece twice last year and was totally smitten. What a beautiful country. I think Americans underrate it as a European destination, IMHO, exc. for visiting the islands which are more about beaches, fun, and sun, for many who go there. For ancient history, rugged gorgeous countryside and hospitable people Greece can't be beat. I can't wait to go back. And, yes, every man of a certain age is swinging and clacking their worry beads.
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Old Nov 14th, 2014, 08:18 AM
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Nanabee is right — there are lots of foreign workers on the islands in summer, even on the smaller ones. Naturally in family-run restaurants and tavernas family members will be employed first, but seasonal workers are also used, many of them foreign. When a young well educated Greek son or daughter finds a full time job, they are not necessarily interested in waiting on tables or cleaning rooms in the family business. In the small hotel I stay at on Antiparos the housekeeper was Polish. ;-)
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