Late January 2015 I rocked up to Greece ready for an adventurous trip around Europe with Team Podstel. I’d done a little Google search into things to do and places to see beforehand but, as I always say, you never really can understand a country and all its oddities until you’re there breathing in the air of the land.
I decided I loved Greece in the first hour, when Ika, our first hitch driver of the trip, serenaded us with opera about beautiful mountains as he drove us into Athens. Since then I fell deeper and deeper in love with the people, the culture and the absolutely amazing nature.
During my romance with the country I learnt a thing or two that I was totally oblivious to before I went to Greece, so on reflection, I would like to make a song and dance about now:
1. The Crisis
The first and most startling realisation I had in Greece was the blatant effects of the crisis. There’s a lot about the crisis in the news at the moment, particularly since the new Syriza government came in but it’s not until I arrived that I discovered how real it is.
You see abandoned buildings, cars, schools, abandoned everything. When you start speaking to people you hear about wage cuts of up to 75%, people losing their jobs, homes – all sorts. At home I found it so easy to ignore the situation, switch the channel over and push it to the back of my mind. But not now I’ve seen it with my own two eyes. I’m no politician but the country needs support – where’s the love Europe?
2. It snows in Greece
Although Greece does enjoy sun for 300 days a year it also can get pretty nippy in the winter, so please, listen to locals and don’t go camping in January with a summer sleeping bag because Greeks do in fact know what cold is too.
Sunday 5pm I was chilling outside in my tshirt soaking up the last rays, Monday 12pm I was soldiering through a blizzard in the mountains. The weather can be just as crazy here but luckily I absolutely love a good winter wonderland. There was more snow here than I’ve seen for years and the child in me was released again. This was just a few hundred meters above sea level. Go further up into the mountains and you even have ski resorts.
3. Yes there is more than the beaches
Many tourists have discovered some of the 3,000+ beautiful Greek islands but how many of these knew that the mainland is actually 80% mountain?
Team Podstel got to see a fair few mountain ranges while passing through the country but the Pelion Mountains in particular are absolutely stunning; a definite must see.
Mount Olympus (home of the Greek Gods) in the Olympic Mountains is a very special mountain. I was hitchhiking looking out the window admiring the dramatic view of a distant mountain when later that day I found out that it was in fact Mount Olympus that I had been totally mesmerised by. It’s hard to describe so just go see for yourself. I will be back in Greece one day for a closer view of that giant for sure.
4. It’s graffiti capital
I have honestly never seen so much graffiti anywhere before. Athens is the epicentre of it but there’s graffiti in every city, town, village, bus stop, sign post and country road I’ve been to here. I personally think that the graffiti paints a story, which I could probably understand even better if I could read Greek.
Obviously some is a lot better than others – art vs. scribble but personally I think that there’s something quite endearing about it all. It gives Greece character. And there’s definitely some budding talents hiding away in Greece. Podstel definitely know where to come to scout out someone to graffiti our walls.
5. Never refer to Former Yougalsalvia Republic of Macedonia as just Macedonia
Macedonia is a region in northern Greece. Former Yougaslavia Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) is a country, which at some point or another in history was part of the Macedonian region of Greece.
Alexander the Great was from this area when it belonged to Greece (we’re talking BC here). He was Greek in terms of culture and heritage. Geographically speaking he was form what is now FYRM. So that’s where the rivalry comes in. For some reason Greeks refer to FYRM as Skopje, which is the capital city. Just bare this in mind to avoid going into the ins and outs of Alexander the Great too often.
6. They have brown grizzly bears
Did you know you get bears in Europe? I didn’t. In rural northern Greece (as well as other neighbouring countries) you can find bears! Something to keep in mind if you’re going to be wild camping in the area but don’t worry it’s very rare that you’ll come across them. They avoid people and would only attack if they felt that their cubs or themselves were in danger.
7. The bakeries are delicious
Independent bakeries are all over Greece. The fact that they are usually independent means that they can experiment as they wish. They don’t work to someone else’s guidelines, only the customers. Each one is a little bit different but It all tastes so good. Fresh ingredients, fresh products, happy customers. Mmmmm.
So there’s some of my realisations from Greece. I don’t claim to be an expert by any means as I still have a lot of exploring to do in the country.
But what I can say with certainty is that I would recommend anyone else to go and discover the beauty of this diverse land.
Have you guys been to Greece? I’d love to hear about your experiences below.