I had plenty of preconceived notions of what I thought Greece would be – beaches, white washed buildings, picturesque villages on cliffs. But one of the best aspects of travel isn’t confirming what you already know or think about a destination, but rather coming away with new things you’ve learned. Like every other trip I’ve been on, I left Greece having learned plenty about this Mediterranean archipelago nation.
Ouzo Isn’t Always Clear
This black licorice flavored spirit is a celebrated alcohol in Greece, available in trendy beach side bars and local tavernas. When I ordered Ouzo one night in Mykonos, I was surprised to see a milky liquid served in a high ball glass; to me ouzo was always served as a clear liquid in a shot glass. It turns out that it’s not uncommon to serve the spirit mixed with water and over ice. And while the essential oil of anise (the primary flavoring in ouzo) is soluble in alcohol, it isn’t in water, causing it to separate and emulsify which gives the drink its milky appearance.
Ruins are Everywhere
Greek history is one of the richest and most prolific in all of Western Civilization. Advanced cultures from the Mycenaens and Minoans to the classical Hellenic Greeks and the Romans have all called the Greek Islands home and have left their imprints on the landscape. Mosaics, temples, columns, castles, forts, and statues can be found on just about every inhabited island, and not only in museums. Some ruins are top tourist attractions, but other isolated sites can be found in the middle of modern day farms in relative obscurity and isolation.
Lunch is Surprisingly Cheap and Delicious
Gyros pitas are one of the most economical and delicious lunches I have found while traveling in Europe. A warm pita is stuffed with gyros meat, french fries, fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and onions, and is topped off with a healthy dose of Tzatziki sauce. Total cost? Between two and three euros. Not bad for a filling, delicious, and healthy lunch.
Orange Juice Is Not So Cheap
I was blown away by the price of orange juice in Greece. Some restaurants were selling a small glass for as cheap as 3 euros, but it wasn’t uncommon to see it for 6, 7, or even 8 euros. I could bring home several gallons of OJ for this price back home. Luckily, every hotel I stayed at offered a breakfast including orange juice, Greek Yogurt, croissants, jams, and fruit, usually for only 3 euros TOTAL. When staying in Greece, picking up these breakfasts at the hotel can often be the most economical way to start the morning.
Tavernas Provide A Taste of Greece
The Taverna (not to be confused with the English term ‘tavern’) is a constant in Greek culture and cuisine. Tavernas are typical Greek restaurants serving all the staples such as souvlaki (grilled meat), moussaka (eggplant, meat, béchamel sauce), calamari, octopus, gyros, and Greek wines and spirits. There is a wide range of Tavernas, from the waterside tourist restaurants luring visitors with their promise of ‘special prices’ to the back alley Tavernas offering a glimpse into authentic Greek life.
The National Dance of Greece Comes From A British Movie
For a country with such a rich and extensive history, it’s interesting that the national dance of Greece is from a British movie that came out in the 1960’s. The dance was performed in ‘Zorba the Greek’, a cult film from 1964 as a variation on a much more traditional Greek dance. The dance is performed by interlocking arms with your neighbor, side stepping, and leg kicking. The tempo increases after each measure until all the dancers are worked into a frenzy, with their feet unable to keep pace with the rapidly increasing music tempo.
The Sunsets Draw A Crowd
The Geek Islands are one of the foremost destinations for watching sunsets, and revelers gathering to celebrate the sunset can be found on each island.On Mykonos, the windmills provide a scenic foreground to the setting sun. Naxos has the famous Temple of Apollo which provides a popular window for the sunset. On Santorini, the crowds pack the narrow staircases and alleyways in the cliff side city of Oia to watch the sun make its descent. Each setting draws crowds eager to watch the sun as it finishes its journey for the day below the horizon.
You Don’t Have to Go to Santorini To See A Blue Domed Church
Before visiting, one of my quintessential visions of Greece were the white-washed churches with the striking blue domes hanging over the Aegean sea on the island of Santorini. I thought these churches were unique, Santorini landmarks.
Imagine my surprise when I saw similar churches in every village and town on every island I visited in Greece, such as this church in Paros.
Greece Has Some of the Clearest, Bluest Water in the Mediterranean
I’m not sure how one goes about measuring how blue water can be, but I heard this line over and over again while traveling in Greece. The small island of Thirassia maintains a deep, clear harbor and it was here that I experienced swimming in an ocean clearer than many swimming pools. Despite being over 30 feet deep, I could see clearly all the way to the bottom.
Tourism is Alive and Well in Greece
Worries about the European debt crisis crippling tourism in Greece seem to be mostly unfounded. While the global recession and concerns over Greece’s inclusion in the Eurozone have had some impact on tourism in the country, the industry as a whole seems to be alive and well.
Anecdotally, ferries, restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops all seemed to be conducting plenty of business on my visit, and there was no shortage of British and German visitors packing the beaches and American visitors arriving by cruise ship.