May 13-22, 2023
As we’ve traveled through five dozen countries, we’ve made it a habit to always try to learn a few basic words in the local language, whether Spanish, Swahili, French, Portuguese, Polish, Italian, etc. Being able to say “Hello”, “Goodbye”, “Thank you”, “Excuse me”, and “Toilet” are all important, and you can almost see the appreciation on the locals’ faces just for trying.
Maybe we’re getting tired, or burning out. When we got to Albania, I used Google Translate to look up a few basic words in Albanian. No doubt, with a little practice, it wouldn’t be difficult, but it wasn’t as easy as “Bom dia” or “Gracias” (or Diana’s “Avocado” in Portuguese). The added benefit (“easy way out”) that our hosts at the Hotel Victoria spoke excellent english made me acquiesce. And from Albania to Greece, and beyond, we just sort of gave up and became “those Americans” who don’t even try but just force english on the locals. Although we did still use Google Translate to read menus and signs, thus not forcing the staff to read the menu to us.
When most foreigners or tourists think of Greece, I believe one of two images come to mind: the Greek Isles, with their beautiful beaches, or the Acropolis, with the Parthenon and other structures from the fifth century BC.
Unfortunately we wouldn’t have time (or dollars) to tour the islands this trip, as we had already made plans to return home in June, but we had time to see the Parthenon, and we also managed to arrange a house sit in Greece for a few days to help our budget. As we rode south towards Athens with the intent of seeing the Parthenon, the difference between mainland Greece and the islands became more clear, and another thought from years ago came to mind.
Back in 2015, when I was just starting my ride south from Texas to the bottom of South America, I was camped near Oaxaca, Mexico when I overheard two couples discussing their travels. One couple had driven their truck and camper all the way to Patagonia, and were now on their way home to California. They made a comment about their anxiety over returning home and for the future: “You see and do all of this incredible stuff and you get to the point where amazing becomes the norm.”
Riding along through Greece, we discussed this. We are often asked, “What is your favorite place?” That’s a tough question to answer, as nearly every place we’ve been has been great, whether it’s a scenic vista, a food experience, or meeting locals. But one place definitely stands out: Norway. The natural beauty is mind-blowing. For good or bad, Norway has set the bar very high, and after all of the sights we’ve seen around the world, we often find ourselves passing by places now that we would have spent more time admiring before. Whereas I began my travels years ago with the thought that I should take a photo of anything that turns my head or catches my attention, now we found ourselves without any photos at the end of a day’s ride, having dismissed sights as “just another mountain”, “just another waterfall”, or “just another church”. We were feeling guilty about this. We had the opportunity that many people will never have, to travel the world, and we weren’t in awe of it at this point.
I’m not sure what I was expecting from Greece. There were a number of places on the mainland that I wanted to visit, but the weather was forcing us to head south instead. The photos you see in travel guides of Mykonos, Santorini, and Crete are beautiful, with turquoise water and white sand beaches. But we weren’t headed there.
Heading south along the coast we ran across this DC3 that had made a perfect landing atop a building near the town of Methone. The owner of the coffee bar was then forced to change the name to Cafe DC3.
Actually, I think the sign says “Cafe Club Airplane”.
We spent a night at Paralia Beach, a tourist resort area. Keep reading for more about our wonderful encounter with a hotel owner here.
We arrived in Athens and checked into our downtown hotel. From here — just slightly outside the normal tourist spots — we got a view of Athens. It looked a lot like the center of downtown of many large cities: dirty, with tons of homeless people. In order to walk from our hotel to the restaurant that we ate at multiple times, it was necessary to navigate around pools of urine and sidewalks lined with dozens and dozens of homeless. We were never approached by or accosted by anyone; they just live here. This was, if nothing else, real. I don’t know if it’s always been like this, or if this was a result of the economic hardships of a decade ago, or some combination.
Oddly, we caught the subway just a few blocks from our hotel, and found the subway system to be extremely clean, graffiti-free, and easy to navigate. The underground was much cleaner than street-level. Within twenty minutes we arrived at the Acropolis. Once again, we were thankful that we had arrived before the high season. The lines for tickets and to get in were short, and while the place was crowded, it was much less so than it would be in another month.
Busy, but nothing like a few weeks later when tourist season officially starts. This hermit can handle crowds of this size; just don’t ask me to deal with any more people than this.
The remains of the Parthenon. It is continually under restoration/preservation. Unfortunately, much of the current restoration has to do with correcting improper prior restorations, when rusting rebar and improper concrete were used.
Some parts actually were taken down to be restored, then reinstalled.
On a personal note, I had somehow imagined the Acropolis to be a much larger area with many more ancient structures (it is, actually, but many of the buildings are spread out; I would definitely recommend hiring a knowledgeable guide). And I don’t know why, but I always perceived it as being on the edge of town or outside of town. Nope, it’s literally on a hill smack in the middle of Athens.
Looking southeast from the Parthenon down to the ruins of the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
Detail from the remains of the Erechtheion, near the Parthenon.
Looking northwest, to the Temple of Hephaestus.
Wishing we had more time and could jump a ferry to the islands, we instead headed north again, back to Larissa, where we met our hosts for our house-sit.
Meet Tupac ShaCorgi. This guy was always happy and smiling.
Out of a couple of dozen house sits, I think this little guy is our new favorite pup. Just don’t tell Hank the Pit Bull in Austin. We still love him too.
Maybe I’ve been a bit too harsh on Greece. We enjoyed our house sit, and we had some other great interactions with locals. The two that stand out:
First, as we arrived at our hotel in Paralia, we were greeted by the owner and his wife. She spoke very little english, but we managed to have a conversation in our normal way of mime and a few simple words. In the process, I caught the term “POS”, which I quickly figured out was not her description of the local beach, but rather the fact that their Point of Sale software (odd how POS has been adopted even in Greek) was not working. She insisted that because they couldn’t process our credit card, we could stay for free.
Wow. Let me know when you run into that in the States.
I told her that we were going to walk to dinner, and I would find an ATM and get cash to pay for the room. She insisted that it wasn’t necessary, and we could stay for free.
We did find an ATM, and the next morning I paid her in cash. As we were loading up the bike, she walked up and pointed up at the rain clouds. It was supposed to rain all day. Through our mime game, she told us that it was going to rain, and we should just stay another night. For free, of course. Amazing.
The second memorable experience we had with a local business was in Athens, at Delicious Souvlaki, where we ate dinner three times. The first night I mis-read the menu and ordered a Number 8 and a Number 9 meal. I wasn’t sure how their system worked, so at one point I got up from our table to check on our order. I think this might have been a mistake, and was perceived as me questioning their abilities. When it arrived, it wasn’t what I thought we had ordered, but we ate it anyway (we aren’t ones to send food back unless it’s REALLY bad, and this was good, it just wasn’t what we intended to order).
The next night, when I ordered at the counter, I ordered a Number 8 and a Number 10 meal, which is what I should have ordered the previous night. When the guy at the register turned around and shouted the order to the cook, the cook responded, “Are you sure? Not a Number 9?”
Smart ass. My kind of sarcasm. I loved it.
When we came back a third night, the guy at the register, who was clearly either the owner or the manager, immediately recognized us and shook my hand. “You are my new best friends.”
Good people. Good food.
Delicious Souvlaki. Yes, it is. I recommend it.
Good food, good value.
So, yeah, Greece wasn’t all bad. It just wasn’t as amazing for us as our new norm.