After the cool sophistication of Paris, Greece is a burst of warm relaxed sunshine.
Under the bleached blue dome of the sky, we have spent the last week exploring the ancient sites of the mainland. Names that roll off your tongue and evoke ancient civilisations, Athina, Epidavros. We raced at Olympia (and after many heats, the winner is a hotly contested result, with claims and counter-claims of cheating). Unfortunately, we forgot to consult the oracle, and Delphi was closed due to the Greek elections. We have swum in the extraordinary waters around Zakynthos Island. We have driven over barren rocky hills, through olive groves and eaten apricots which taste like the sun.
Speaking of food, the food of Greece must be so firmly entrenched in my DNA, that I could eat forever. So simple and so good. I particularly love the great slab of fetta atop the Greek salads, sprinkled with dried oregano and doused with olive oil. And wine from small tumblers served in metal jugs.
Bretto‘s – the prettiest bar in Athens.
The children, the girls in particular, are really into the Greek myths. So, despite a fair amount of driving, it has been a real joy to explore the ancient temples and to imagine what life was like. Our guidebook has been the Horrible Histories: Groovy Greeks, which does put a certain bent on things. Did you know, if you were a Pythagorean, you believed if a man led a bad life what he would come back as? A woman! We were not so impressed with that. But Jock’s head is madly trying to work out if the 20’ statue of Zeus at Olympia was solid gold, or gold leaf; and the girls are wondering if Zeus and God get along. Any tips?
The trip to Zakynthos Island was a break from the driving, and a chance to swim in post-card blue water. We braved a strong headwind and a wild bouncy boat ride to Shipwreck Bay. The boat then took us around into small limestone caves, where the aquamarine waters were shot through with sunlight. Zakynthos is stunning, it is quite mountainous and seems to be composed entirely of marble. Many of the smaller beaches drop straight into the sea, with cliffs either side. The rocks of the beach are pure white, which makes the water a surreal blue.
While it is still early in the summer season, everywhere we have been there is evidence of the debt crisis. Things are not as upbeat as we remember from our last visit (12 years ago), and hotel operators and taverna owners are pessimistic. They are also very pleased to have customers, and we have been treated with great kindness. On our way to Delphi, we spent a lovely evening in a town called Galaxidi. The town has been inhabited since 1500B.C and was once a centre of wooden ship building. We had a delicious meal on the town square adjacent to a playground. We asked for some icecream for the children’s dessert and because they had so few customers, they did not have any, so very apologetically a plate of delicious Greek yogurt and cherries were brought out, free of charge. Similar stories are repeated everywhere we go. Not only are the number of Greek tourists down, but the number of internationals as well. Many of the owners have put this down to the media scare tactics. We were here for the elections last Sunday, and we have felt nothing but welcome. I feel as safe in Greece as I did 12 years ago, and certainly as safe as I did in Paris. I think if you get involved in a political rally, well, you probably deserve it. And it’s not as if the rally’s are easy to stumble across.
From our experience, Greece remains one of the perfect holiday destinations, particularly for families. It is a friendly and relaxed place; within minutes of arriving at the Metro station, Jock had has his cheek (affectionally) pulled; Bill and I were offered nips of ‘fire water’ just because we were Australian; shop owners actually speak to the children (in whatever level of English they have); we are greeted with smiles and ‘Kalimera’; we can eat dinner at restaurants on the beach while the children play and we get to swim in water like this:
Next stop: my grandparents island of Kythera.