Greece in November
We had the opportunity to tag along on a trip to Greece that S’s cousins were taking. We spent about six days there covering Athens, Crete, and Thessaloniki. Turns out, Greece in November is a great idea if you are interested in visiting historical sights and in cuisine rather than island/beach-hopping. Thessaloniki was a bit cooler, but Athens and Crete were sunny, clear, and mild. Perfect sight-seeing weather. And more importantly, the place wasn’t overrun with tourists so lines were pretty much non-existent, and we actually had breathing room to walk around and soak up the sights.
I also highly recommend traveling with a Classics guy (S) and a couple of super outgoing, gregarious people (S’s cousins). There is no question that some of the most entertaining experiences we had on this trip would not have happened without them. My contribution to the trip, you ask? Mostly a healthy appetite, and an inappropriately bright jacket. (After seeing it in several unflattering instagram pictures and feeling extremely un-blendy, it might be time for the pink monster to go).
First Stop, Athens
We started our trip with two days in Athens. It really is something to walk among ruins that are thousands of years old and to imagine the characters of those times, but at the same time see all of this history surrounded by everyday modern life. It also feels a little strange that they let you actually walk among everything. As we were walking through the National Gardens on the way to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, we would come across signs directing us toward small groupings of ancient remnants. And there, just sitting in the grass, would be parts of columns, busts, etc.
We primarily hit the major sites:
- Acropolis/Parthenon – with amazing views of the city along the hike up
- Ancient Agora – including the well-preserved Temple of Hephaestus, the Museum, and an entertaining hour of searching for “The Shop of Simon” where Socrates supposedly hung out with his cobbler associate. We didn’t find it, but as much wandering as we did, we definitely walked where he walked. And that is just nuts.
- Temple of Olympian Zeus
- Roman Agora
- National Gardens
- Plaka District
Greek Cultural Tips
Along the way, we kept identifying notable nuggets of Greek culture (much of it in comparison to our new home, Paris). I’ve compiled that list below, in no particular order.
- Everyone speaks English and seems happy to do so. So you skip that whole 2-minute verbal dance that we normally do of saying something in French in a poor accent, getting a response in French that is way over our head, offering up confusion, and then finally operating in English since that is really easier for everyone.
- There aren’t rules. In Paris, there are customs dictating what is/isn’t considered polite, where to sit if eating vs drinking, and just a general level of formality. I didn’t find any of this in Greece.
- Greek people are friendly. Like really friendly. I don’t think I’ve been using that term correctly before, because I think I just learned what friendly looks like. In France, I’ve been saying that we’ve had nothing but great experiences with the French, and that is all true; everyone has been nice to us. But, first impressions matter and if you make a decent effort, they will usually meet you half-way. In Greece, nearly everyone we came across went over and above. You walk into an establishment with a confused look on your face (my natural resting face in Paris), and they will come to you and guide you.
- Water, water, everywhere. They always give you water when you are drinking or eating. It is immediate and plentiful. You don’t have to ask for it (like in Paris). And you don’t have to pay for it (like in Rome).
- Snacks! You always get snacks with your drinks. Usually mixed nuts and/or olives. But before you go putting a handful in your mouth, a word of caution based on some personal experience. The olives have pits and the pistachios have shells.
- Every bar/restaurant seems to play covers of American music. We rarely heard Greek music.
- The language is beautiful. The script alone is gorgeous, but I also love the way it sounds. We tried to learn a few words along the way. And the fact that beta is pronounced like a v in modern Greek really threw us.
- Gyros. With fries in them. Who doesn’t love a dish that incorporates fries rather than just relegating it to a side? And at 2-3€ a pop, it is an unbeatable value.
- There are a lot of strays. I’m used to seeing stray dogs, but there are a surprising number of stray cats.
- We think there is a glass floor phenomenon there…at least in Athens. They were everywhere.
- They smoke indoors!? It’s so weird to see this. And what’s kinda funny is I’m pretty sure there is an actual ban on smoking in indoor public places and that it is just widely ignored.
Enjoy some pictures of Athens below. Next Up: Crete!