A relatively short text-based post about a country we only ever hear the worst about in the media. Is it really all doom and gloom over here? Let's delve a little further...
My latest return to Greece signifies my third visit this year - that's more return-visits in 2015 than any other country. Coincidence or not? I'm honestly not sure but reading through some old postings, I notice that I was quick to identify something special about this country. In fact, I couldn't have had a more positive experience from my first five days in Athens back in April and then there was my birthday in Corfu resulting in an Instagram post stating "...............". Then of course, there's been these really enjoyable last few weeks. In short, it would be easy to summarise the many wonderful things about Greece in one simple sentence:
'The people, the culture, the family-comes-first mentality, the ancient history, the hundreds of inhabited islands, the slow pace of life and of course, the voluminous amounts of food'.
But I don't want to summarise, instead I feel compelled to provide you with specific examples of Greek hospitality I've either experienced directly or my fellow travel friends have. Such acts of kindness that should make us question whether there really is anywhere quite like Greece or its people... though I'm already sure I know my answer to that. Believe me that's not easy for someone with Italian heritage to imply...
Let's start with a guy I met in Chania told me he had arranged an 'express' laundry service meaning a bloke in a van came to him to collect his dirties to take them away for the wash and dry to then return them later. The service came to 14 euros so the traveller handed him 15 euros. The Greek man thought he had the 1 euro change but in actual fact, didn't. As such, he handed back 5 euros taking only the 10 euro note!
The last few days I moved on from Chanie to Heraklion (the island's capital) and I've since met two really great guys and they each, unsurprisingly, had a story relatable to the Greek people...
Mangel was lost and asked the first person he saw for directions. The man on the street not only obliged, he escorted him to the hostel. Mangel was so shocked, he instinctively offered the man some money to which the man apparently became agitated at the mere suggestion.
A couple of weeks back Andrew was at the beach in Chania, actually the same one I was at shown in my last post. Being another solo traveller, he was chillin' on his own. Later he would hear the words shouted from a far, 'Boy, come, come' - with a follow up hand gesture signalling him to come over to a small group of people. He recalls a couple of them coming out of the sea with a bag to then join the others already on land. Curiously, he approached only to be first offered (and subsequently educated) on the edibility of sea urchin. Not sure what they are? Neither was I, give it a Google.
Basically a couple of locals and gone out into the sea to find sea urchin that are typically attached to the rocks. They cut them out (somehow) and brought them to shore to eat. Completely randomly they called Andrew over to eat some with them!
If those two tales aren't enough, I too have experience or observed acts of Greek kindness, well, that'd be more like three when you consider the hospitality I enjoyed earlier this year with Nick the Greek and his family. (Wonderful time discounting the food-poisoning of course!).
My first brief, but notable example is that the final bill of my extended stay in Chania cost 36 euros. I had the exact money only to be told, 'Don't worry, 35 is ok'.
Then literally only yesterday I went for a morning stroll through the pleasant centre streets of Heraklion in search of some breakfast. I selected a random bakery place and ordered a large chocolate croissant. The transaction went through and then I thought 'sod it' and ordered a mini chocolate doughnut too as it looked so good. I had the 30 cents ready from the change I previously received only for shop lady to give me a warm smile and say 'No, it's ok'. Huh!?
Then there's the warm and caring desire to care for the ubiquitous felines. I mean cats really are everywhere in Greece on a scale I've not seen before. Thankfully though the vast, vast majority of street-cats I've come across (of which there have been plenty), look to be relatively healthy and well fed. I've seen the locals bring all sorts of food for them including what looked to be spaghetti bolognese!? Those who know me well will know that I joined this 'caring for cats' club long ago.
Should the significance of all of the above not be obvious to you, it's this: you'll have to spend a considerably longer than two weeks in a different country before you see all of that happen. Here in Greece, you could easily find all of that happening to you in less than a single week!
If you've never visited Greece before (like I hadn't prior to April 2015), you really must come here to enjoy all that I've spoken about and all that I've shown you. Then consider that I haven't made it to some of the other highly regarded places of natural beauty, Halkidiki on the Greek mainland and the island of Santorini to name a couple. (Although you'll find exquisiteness on any of the many other islands I'm sure).
Although I know very little about the political and financial ramifications of Greece potentially exiting the eurozone, I know I'll be very sad if it happens. I just pray the people aren't too badly affected and that they continue to remain as they are - the kindest, warmest collective bunch in all of the Balkans and probably way beyond...
In a few days I will leave Crete having tallied two weeks here. My plan is to fly to north Greece and work my way down through the country (don't know how challenging that may or may not be) before hoping to reach Athens - again - but this time for my journey home. I felt a little lump in my throat as I wrote that.
Poignantly, it looks like this will end where it all started, in beautiful Greece.