Things Greece Taught Me

by belinda

It’s been a whirlwind few weeks. I finally feel like the dust has settled a bit, so I can return to my online space and pause, reflect and write. I know travel stories are not always interesting to people who are not planning on visiting the same place, so I won’t dwell on what we did or what we saw, but rather on what my trip to Greece taught me – because there was a lot to learn.

That’s what makes travel of this sort so valuable actually…the time to simply think about things, away from daily demands or people (lovely as they are) who require your attention. It’s the ultimate luxury, time to think. Anyway, this is what I learned while on holiday in Greece for 10 days:

1.) The women there inhabit their space. They OWN it. No one cares if their thighs are not supermodel thin. If their bums jiggle (bums are SUPPOSED to jiggle am I right?). If they have cellulite or saggy skin. I saw 70-year-olds wearing tiny bikinis, women swimming, diving, running and having the best time – without worrying about not looking magazine perfect. This is how it should be. Why are we so judging of ourselves and others? Why can’t we simply swim in the sea and delight in the feel of sun on our skin? Why do we all want to look the same? Bodies are just bodies…they are all different and all are of value.

2.) There is large income disparity, but you do feel safe(r). It’s easy to believe that South Africa is the only imperfect place in the world. But walking through Athens I saw multiple homeless, poverty stricken people begging and living on the streets. There were numerous street children, stray cats, litter, graffiti. I knew Greece had been through (still is) some very difficult economic times but seeing it in real life was still surprising. There were definitely some areas of Athens that we felt vulnerable in, but we quickly realised this, changed direction and headed somewhere safer.

3.) They take things slower. This is a big generalisation because I was spending time on holiday, in holiday areas. But the Greeks seem not to be rushing around. They do a lot of sidewalk cafe sitting, chatting, eating and drinking. Isn’t that how it should be? Why are we all rushing around filling our days like mad things?

4.) They REALLY love ice-cream. For me, ice cream is okay. Like I know people like it, but I don’t really get what the fuss is all about. But the Greeks will eat an ice cream a day, and not just the kids, all the adults, of every age. For a country with a hot climate, us South Africans don’t seem quite as obsessed with this sweet creamy dessert. They also love iced coffees in the morning, which I’d like to see more of here – it totally makes sense in hot climates like ours.

5.) Everyone still smokes. Ash trays on every table of every restaurant. Smoking in hotels, smoking in coffee shops, smoking everywhere. Our bus driver even lit up a cigarette on one of the journeys we took! No one seems to be bothered by the cigarette/cancer link.

6.) Single use plastic is a problem. For a nation that is surrounded by sea and contains multiple islands, the Greeks don’t seem too bothered about plastic use, and it all ending up in our oceans. You’re still offered a straw with every drink, and a plastic packet with every purchase. No one is using reusable water bottles, and with most of the tap water on the islands being undrinkable, that means every person is buying a plastic bottle of water a day (minimum)…where does all the plastic go?

7.) My green eyes got a bit of interest. I didn’t realise that light eyes were such a thing in Greece, with about 4 people commenting on my “blue” eyes and having a good stare. I suppose they’re unusual.

8.) According to my taxi driver, tourism and shipping are the biggest industries, so most Greeks speak great English. I tried to use a few Greek phrases but everyone spoke English back to me – I was extremely grateful but also cognisant of how self-absorbed it is to visit a foreign country and just expect everyone to speak your language.

9.) The food is so delicious! Especially the fruit and vegetables: the tomatoes, oh my word! Obviously the Greek salads are amazing, although it took me a while to get used to the quantity of feta cheese on each one! No fussing about with sprinkling little bits on the top, why not have a whole large wedge all to yourself? The restaurants order it in these big drums, not those puny little plastic containers we buy here.

There was a lot of delicious fresh seafood and then our favourite discovery was dakos, which is a starter type dish featuring a dried savoury “rusk” topped with chopped tomatoes, olive oil, feta/mizithra cheese, capers and olives (sometimes) and oregano. SO good. I also liked the free salty snacks you get when you order a drink (yes I know it makes you order more drinks, but okay then). And the Greeks also eat a lot of pasta! (which I didn’t realise). I wasn’t a big fan of the local wine, but I did really like their local beer: Fix.

10.) Young Greek women are gorgeous and very feminine. They all have long hair and wear flouncy dresses and skirts (granted, it was summer), or those loose fitting trousers. Nothing too structured or masculine. Lots of bold lips and big eyes.

11.) The ferry and bus systems work well. The ferries leave bang on time and you can get around the islands very easily using them. We hadn’t planned on how to get from each of the three destinations we chose, but luckily with a combination of ferries, buses and taxis, we managed to get from A to B to C.

12.) They really value family/children. I know this sounds weird, because all societies should value children but it seems that the Greeks are especially fond and tolerant of young people. Kids are openly celebrated and cherished, and restaurants are all designed to be suitable for them to dine with their parents. It’s not really a case of children having to be seen and not heard. In fact, family units in general are very tight. My taxi driver Niko told me that he doesn’t understand why “we” want to leave our parental homes so soon after finishing school. “Why must I move out of the home age 23? I love my mother and I want to stay with her until I find a girlfriend or wife, why not?!”. Families all live around the corner from each other and see each other regularly – there seems to be less loneliness in general. It certainly gave me pause for thought.

13.) They have an instinct for beautifying things. What do I mean? They seem to use colour really well – the contrast of pure white houses and bright blue shutters, the fuchsia bougainvilleas streaming down walls, the way they can make even the outside of a derelict building look beautiful, by stringing up some pot plants in bright containers.

14.) The Mediterranean ocean is completely different.

It’s like a big turquoise bath. So warm, so flat, so inviting. You don’t just run in to the waves to wet yourself, shriek at the coldness of it all and then sprint back to your towel and the warmth of the sun. Every morning in Nafplio we’d witness groups of 5 or so elderly people, all having their daily meeting out in the ocean. Like you go for coffee, they went for a swim and then spent about 45 minutes treading water in the blue sea, having a good chin wag and catch up. I suppose the ocean is also more inviting when there is less chance of being bitten by a shark!

There was so many more things Greece taught me, but that’s enough reflection for now! We visited Athens, the island of Agistri, the island of Hydra and a town called Nafplio – all so different from each other. I think you could go back to Greece each year and experience something completely different from the previous time. What a special place, and what a special holiday with my sister.

Have beautiful weekends,




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