After spending eleven days with students on a trip entitled “Grecian Odyssey”, I feel pretty confident highlighting the “best” and “worst” of Athens and Southern Greece. Considering the amount of ground we covered, I can’t believe there is still the northern part of the country we didn’t see – but we did spend several days in Athens, traveling at mach speed through Peloponnese, and the coastlines of the Ionian and Aegean Seas.
Best Way to Get Around:
Normally, I’m a big time fan of walking. Yet in the case of Greece, I’m going with light rail or charter bus. We traveled via charter bus, city bus, light rail, and walking. Everything was far apart, even in the city. One night I convinced our group to walk to the Acropolis at night (it said it was just a mile away!) but unlike other European cities, there was nothing fun to see along the way. This was true everywhere we walked. The city bus was a heinous experience and I couldn’t get the smell out of my nose for a day. Light rail was cheap, fast, and took us a long distance easily. The charter bus got us out of the city to the archeological ruins and beaches.
Best Archaeological Site:
Obviously everything was cool, but if you could only see one, I’m going with the Temple of Delphi. Set way up in the mountains, the temple is more of an ancient community marketplace, with a huge auditorium that overlooks the mountains, and an ancient stadium way at the top 2000 feet above sea level. It’s impossible to comprehend how they built these enormous structures this high up.
So much of the Grecian history we saw was outside, but we did get to visit several museums along the way. My favorite was in Athens, called The Byzantine and Christian Museum. Located near a couple other museums and the National Gardens, it was perfect for an art history nerd like me – from prehistoric artifacts (much the same as many other museums we visited) to huge paintings, statues and tapestries into the middle ages. My students agreed that the museum was vast and we wished we had more time to explore.
Also, the staff were extra helpful when it was clear we were lost Americans.
In nine nights, we stayed in six hotels. That’s a lot of packing and unpacking! In Athens alone, we stayed in three different hotels. My favorite, however, was in the mountains at Hotel Neda. The town was small, quiet and much cleaner than many other places we visited. The hotel featured breakfast and dinner on the top floor, overlooking the town and the mountains. Our rooms were modest, but clean and the food was excellent. They also had a nice pool with an attached bar, for only 45 – 60 euro a night.
If anyone can give you an accurate rating of a great beach, it’s me. I have much experience and a high standard. The Greek beaches we visited ranked pretty high for me, and each one was different. My favorite was in Tholo. The water and beach were clean, the surf was gentle and the sand was powder fine. Along the beach were a lot of locals, and you could lounge in a chaise under a grass umbrella, or rough it with a towel on the sand.
Since our hotels covered all our breakfasts and dinners, lunch was the only meal we really had to search for. Only once was I disappointed in my food (and it was because the waiter didn’t understand my order and I got a weird plate of spaghetti with giant briny shrimp). We ate at my favorite spot twice, in the Plaka District, called Metropole Cafe. The heat was oppressive but they had a breezy covered patio with a huge menu. We tried everything.
But honestly, our meals everywhere were good. The Greeks know how to EAT.
And they also know how to drink non-alcoholic drinks. Everywhere had fresh squeezed juices, orange, peach, pineapple, banana, cherry… We had many frappes and blended chocolate milks, milkshakes, and slushies.
But now on to the worst…
Everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. It was sad that while visiting some of the most important historical places in the world, they were littered with sheer trash. While driving throughout southern Greece, some cities straight up had piles of garbage half a mile long. It was explained to us that one region had to taken public money to build a recycling plant, and then misused the funds and never built the plant, but continued to amass garbage.
Even the National Gardens, touted as one of the nicer places to picnic in the city, was littered with wrappers and water bottles.
Man, you hear about it on tv, but to see it is another story. From the moment we left the airport, it was clear that things are not going so well in Greece. Every single town had a multitude of dilapidated buildings, or ones that were halfway built and never finished. Cars were old and beat up. The city was full of empty shops, covered in graffiti and garbage. It felt like no one even lived there, which must be true since the unemployment rate is 47%.
It would be really easy to create an album of pictures that show the glittering beaches, immense plates of food, and archeological monuments but to ignore the reality of what’s happening in Greece seems irresponsible. The Greeks were an incredibly friendly and relaxed group of people, and there is much to see there, so go spend your money and give their economy a boost.