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Greece – The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly (and the Costs)

As we depart Greece it’s time to reflect on this historic country and look back at what kept us here for so long. I hope this gives you a sense of what Greece has been like for us through the eyes of two Kiwis with little initial expectations or knowledge about this country, other than a week in Corfu twenty something years ago.

On first impressions, driving through from the Albanian border into Greece in September we found ourselves on a stunning new (toll free) motorway that appeared to have been smoothly paved just for us. It was easy to see where the EU money had been spent. However, there were virtually no other cars around despite it being still warm and only just nudging the end of the tourist season. The countryside was dusty dry, with brown tuffs of what used to be grass all around us. It looked like it would crunch under your feet should it be walked upon.

It didn’t take long for the countryside to change through the season as we spent the winter months touring all over Greece.

Here’s the summary of our experiences with this historic country.

Stats:

Time of year in GreeceWinter 2017/2018
Months of the Year2nd December 2017 – 24 March 2018 - our blog is based on this time.
We also visited Greece in September, October 2017 (our first time)
Total number of days112
Weeks16
Number of overnight stops56
Longest duration in one spotEight nights (in Kalamata)
Favourite PlacesVourvourlou, Loutra Thermopiles, Acrocorinth, Diros, Monemvasia, Meteora
Cost of living€295.39 per week (costs)

Greece: The Good

There are so many wonderful things to say about Greece that it’s difficult to know where to start. However let me kick off with the people; they are outstandingly friendly and love to enquire as to where we are from. Ply them with a few drinks of Ouzo and you have a friend for life!

We sat one night on a beach with a father and son and offered them Ouzo to keep warm (it was winter after all and the son was an adult). The stories flowed and we soon discovered they had just lost their mother and wife and were out looking for some bonding and reflection time together.

One thing that intrigued me about the people in general that are out and about is the lack of women seen in public. We often saw groups of men, sitting outside or inside Tavernas (Greek for taverns) having a few drinks, laughing, playing cards, smoking, or just chewing the fat with their friends. The cafes were the same, from a couple of men, to a table full of men eating and drinking. But very few women! Where are they all?

Another pastime we noticed, again by the Greek men, was fishing. We often parked near the oceans edge on piers or just simply on the side of the beach. Inevitably there would be at least one man sitting on an upturned bucket or old rickety seat with fishing rod in hand. He would sit there for hours and hours on end. Oftentimes the spoils were few and far between due to the over-fishing of these waters for many years. At times we would offer a conversation and/or drinks, taking them tea or Ouzo depending on the time of day. In return we enjoyed fresh fish and calamari as well as Greek fishing lessons for Alan, which resulted in some tasty dinners for us both.

While on the subject of the ocean, I would have to mention how crystal clear the Mediterranean is in this part of the world. It wasn’t something we expected, and certainly in the south the waters sparked clear showing off its schools of small fish. A lonely turtle was even seen diving around the harbour at Monemvasia.

The beaches ranged from nice white sand, through to large pebbles, and rocks!

The next positive point to mention has to be Greece’s rich and stunning history . We didn’t expect to be visiting castles, archaeological sites and museums quite so much as we did, and we certainly visited our fair share. I must confess, rather self-consciously, to knowing very little about history, let alone Greek history. It had never really interested me in school or as an adult. However if any place is going to change that, it has to be Greece. The history lessons are everywhere for example in the construction techniques of the castles where the various styles of Venetians, Ottomans, Romans, and sometimes the Franks could be clearly identified over the centuries during whichever force was then occupying Greece. Talking about construction, we also learnt to distinguish between Doric and Ionic columns, plus Corinthian columns. Then there were the different styles of walls, buildings, and of course houses. I think I could almost tell you who was ruling in certain regions, due to the road construction still seen today.
One couldn’t think or write about Greece without mentioning olives. The trees are everywhere, and I mean everywhere. Plantations can be seen literally on the side of steep cliffs high up in the mountains, as well as right down on the plains and close to the ocean. I heard someone suggest one-quarter of Crete, the island at the bottom of Greece, is planted in olive trees and given it is the third highest export, behind petroleum (number one) and medications (number two), it wouldn’t surprise me.
So what else kept us in Greece for such a long period?

It has to be the weather. In fact as I start to write this, we have just crossed over to Italy where it’s raining and cold. We went from a balmy 24 degree high in Crete last week, to an overnight temperature of just 5 degrees Celsius last night in Bari, Italy.

The weather in Greece didn’t fail us. We experienced a light dusting of snow in Thessaloniki in the north, a couple of days before Christmas and that was the coldest we felt (about zero overnight). Even this was not cold enough for us to need our heating on all night. Then in Pylos we experienced a once in five year storm, which provided some great pictures as the waves crashed over the pier high enough to cover third story apartments.

Christmas day gave us a very mild 15 degrees and from here as we headed further south the good weather followed. At one stage it was touch and go as to whether or not we would see Meteora due to its high altitude and snow, however the weather gods were with us, and the magic of this place wasn’t hidden, nor was it missed.

Betsy, our Motorhome, doesn’t have snow tires or chains, so we had to be mindful of driving conditions in the winter months. That was never an issue as we headed further south to the Peloponnese region and even less so in Crete, where the warmth was immediately obvious.

We were told to expect fresh beautiful produce in Crete at this time of the year and this was certainly the case. The citrus fruit was abundant and vibrant, (not to mention free and some, like the lemons, were even at Betsy driver’s window height and reach at times), the tomatoes tasty and the aubergines perfect. We made the most of this wonderful resource and not only was the fresh produce beyond our expectations, but the cost of eating, or buying food to cook ourselves was incredibly inexpensive. One thing I noticed that was different to home was that a grocery store often didn’t sell fresh bread as there was often a bakery within 100 metres down the road. Sometimes the fruit and vegetables were limited in the supermarket, especially the smaller ones because there would be a green grocer nearby and the local butcher was also just a few doors down. I understand that this keeps the local producers in business and I liked that we get three or four opportunities to talk to and meet the locals. In saying that, the language barriers were interesting and their language not the easiest to learn, let alone their alphabet and even a simple act of trying to sound out the word was near impossible when you see the Greek alphabet!

Another good point about Greece is the vast amount of attractions to visit. There seems to be no end of opportunities to visit tourist type destinations, like the caves at Diros, the Crete Aquarium in north Crete, literally hundreds of archeological sites, castles, fortresses and not forgetting the acropolises. Some are free of charge like the hot thermal stream we came across in Thermopilion and the world’s supposedly oldest olive tree in Crete. When travelling in the off season many of the entrance tickets are reduced by 50% or they just leave the gates open and you can enter for free.

The scenery varies widely throughout Greece, from tall mountains, rock formations, caves, beautiful sandy beaches, green rolling paddocks, dusty dry paddocks and stunning mountain vistas. One of my personal favourites when it came to scenery was the waters around Vourvourlou in the northern part of Greece in the Chalkidiki Peninsula region.
Being a Cancerian, the star sign of a crab, I am naturally drawn to the water, however I also cannot overlook the absolutely stunning mountain scenery of Meteroa where Monasteries were built thousands of years ago literally on top of tall skinny rock formations and they are still standing today!  To read more about this stunning location, see our Meteora post.
Another plus for me personally, is the cats in Greece. They are adorable, cuddly, and mostly friendly. We miss our cats from home so having the opportunity to enjoy these feline friends was a bonus.
Last but not least is the cost of living in Greece. I suspect that you would struggle to find cheaper living anywhere else in the EU or Schengen countries.

We met a chap from another part of Europe who had rented a house for the winter at one of the lovely beaches in Crete and said he was paying €200 per month for the pleasure. I don’t know how big it was or how many bedrooms, however, I figure that’s a pretty decent figure.

If you wish to find a place to sit, relax, soak up the culture and sun, and not have it cost you the earth, then look no further. It’s definitely one of the pluses of Greece.

Greece: The Bad

 

When thinking about the ‘bad’ I have included the maintenance, or lack thereof, that is particularly evident throughout Greece. I am talking about maintenance of buildings, roads, pavements, and local facilities like water taps. While I say this is bad, I would actually rather put this in the ‘sad’ category (if I was to write one).

This lack of maintenance appears to be part of the financial crisis Greece has been in for some years. They still seem to be struggling to find the money to fix basic local government infrastructure. Unfortunately that is one thing that tourists notice and may make decisions about staying longer or coming back based on the ability to access some services, or the general appearance of the country

The interesting thing is that if basic maintenance is overlooked for too long, the cost becomes more expensive, i.e. replacement of lampposts are expensive, whereas painting them to prevent the rust happening would have been a cheaper option. However, the fiscal purse strings and their priorities must be a real headache for those governing and charged with this responsibility. Glad it’s not my job.

It would have been interesting to see Greece before this country was swallowed up in the financial crisis as I think it would have provided an additional layer of harmony to this lovely country.

The lack of money doesn’t just extend to the local government’s purse, as there are several partially privately built homes that have simply been abandoned in the midst of construction. Some have been weathered and starting to fall down, others have trees growing through them, whilst others have been tagged with graffiti.   This too best sits in the ‘sad’ category.

The next ‘bad’ thing on my list is…

Parking!

The parking lines mean nothing, zilch, naught, nada. At some time, in the deep distant past they were painted on the ground as decoration or to use up excess white paint leftover from something else important. Now there is just the faint vestige of colour to indicate that there is supposed to be some order to the parking. Cars can park on the footpath, (people can then happily walk on the roads, not that they need an excuse) and there’s never any hurry or urgency to get off the road. Parking can happen in any direction also which is handy when you have one of those tiny “Ka’s” or “Smartcars”.  You can park parallel, angled (in parallel spots), head on, nose in, back in, on a pedestrian crossing, the curve of a corner, or just double or triple park alongside other cars providing you put your hazard lights on as this indicates a legitimate car park!

You soon discover this is only bad until you need to do the same thing yourself, and then you are grateful for those who pioneered this phenomenon before you.

It would be remiss of me to mention parking without delving into some of the finer points of driving.

In Greece the road speed limits are purely a guide. They don’t have any legal ramifications at all. And overtaking must, and I mean must only be attempted when approaching a blind corner on a narrow windy road. Passing on long straight roads with kilometers of visibility is to be discouraged otherwise you may lose your Greek identity. Making an extra lane when there isn’t any is encouraged as is under-passing (passing on the blind side). If you travel slowly then driving on the shoulder is for you so you can allow the oncoming vehicles to pass safely while overtaking on a blind corner in the pouring rain at speed.

It’s also a national sport to see how close you can cut into the vehicle you’ve just passed without hitting them. The closer you get the higher the score.

Other than that, the driving and parking is perfect in Greece.

Next on my list is the Rules – or lack thereof. Now when writing this I didn’t know if the lack of rules should go in the good or bad category. So the jury is still out, keep reading and see what category you would put this into.

When we talk about lack of rules we often refer to the signposts that tell us what we can or cannot do. For example, the ‘No Parking’ sign seems to encourage people to park underneath or near it. The ‘Stop’ sign at an intersection actually means just slow down and give way, there’s really no need to stop if you don’t want to. Or perhaps you can just park under it.

Who said you can’t park near a stop sign??
Then the solid double white lines on the road don’t actually mean no passing, they just mean pass more quickly and cut in sooner than otherwise acceptable and that cars coming the other way should be driving over on their hard shoulder to give you room.

The use of mobile phones while driving I believe is normally a no-no in most countries, however in Greece the rules don’t apply. In fact the best time to use your mobile phone is when riding your scooter with trucks traveling towards you at speed head on, and as the rider you keep both your hands on the phone! I kid you not. In fact we had this recorded on dash cam and unfortunately I didn’t keep the footage before it got overwritten. Can you imagine our horror seeing the person on the scooter traveling at 50kms with no hands steering it and no eyes on the road or on other traffic. Scary stuff!

While still on the subject of driving, we anecdotally heard that a driver’s license in Greece is unofficially optional. When having a collision with another vehicle, it’s a rarity to find the driver actually licensed. This makes for an interesting insurance claim. I’m grateful we didn’t get to experience this first hand.

One of our favourite ‘no rules’ is that motorhomes can park and camp overnight wherever they like. This we used to our advantage when wild camping most nights. Given how beautiful the scenery is throughout Greece, to be able to stop and camp with the ocean outside our door every morning enjoying million dollar views was absolutely priceless. Back home in New Zealand, people would literally pay top dollar to see the views we woke up to every morning.

Bali Beach, Greece in winter. No shops, cafes, or restaurants are open – just the beaches, which suits us down to the ground
Ruins are everywhere and we love that they remain original.
I hope this ‘no rule’ rule is never rebuked, as it’s one of the attractions of Greece, in my humble opinion.

The last ‘bad’ item on my list is another one for the ‘sad’ category. And that is the high taxes imposed on those running businesses. I say this is bad and sad because I am guessing that this is a symptom of the financial crisis and the controls imposed by the organisations who have lent Greece so much money. The VAT tax in Greece reaches a high of 24 per cent on some purchases. Therefore it’s no wonder that many companies run cash businesses and offer lower prices for cash. It’s good for the purchasers, but doesn’t help the economy or the government to get back on their feet quickly.

Other taxes are not exempt, for example income tax, company tax and road tolls (another tax) are all very high. We wonder how the locals afford to drive on the motorways as these are the highest tolls we have come across to date.

When walking down the street of one unnamed town, we saw a sign on the shop door of a hairdresser saying “closed due to tax fraud”. The government authorities obviously caught up with this business owner. Interestingly this sign was in English as well as Greek.

That’s it for my ‘bad’ list.

Greece: The Ugly

 

Before I tell you what’s on my ‘ugly list’ I want to share a true story.

I mentioned to a fellow motorhome owner that I was writing this story and the first question was ‘what is the ugly?’. I was surprised that someone would jump straight to the ugly. Is this human nature? Are we curious, or do we just like to get into the dirt immediately?

This threw me a bit because there are so many good items on my list that I would rather have shared, but this camper didn’t want to know about them.

Now that I’ve kept you in suspense long enough here’s my list of ugly for Greece.

Rubbish!

That’s it; rubbish is the only thing that made it onto my ugly list.

Let me explain. In fact pictures show a thousand words.

It was sad to come across this in such a beautiful location.  So we decided to do something about it, instead of just grumbling.

Here we are in the most angelic spot of Greece, the Chalkidiki Peninsula and we came across this mess. In looking through the rubbish it actually appears to be left by someone camping. Is this the work of locals camping or tourists? I don’t know and I don’t want to guess.

And that started our mission to collect other people’s rubbish from the area around where we stayed for the night.

However the beautiful beaches of Greece are also littered with rubbish with the biggest culprit being plastic bottles. I know this is not a surprise to many, especially to those working with or supporting the organisations who make it their business to rid the world of plastic.

So what can we do about it?

We made it our mission to clean up wherever we stay. Before we leave an overnight location we collect at least one rubbish bag full of garbage and deposit it in the local nearby bins. What’s interesting is that there are ample bins around Greece but yet rubbish doesn’t find its way into them. We shared this on a couple of Motorhoming Facebook pages and were overwhelmed with the support we had from fellow motorhomers.

I have another solution to the rubbish problem in Greece and that is EDUCATION. At school in New Zealand we were taught to be a “Tidy Kiwi”. This instilled national pride into the country and forty years later it has stayed with us.

I suggested on my Facebook post that instead of children selling chocolate to raise funds, I propose we pay them for every bag of rubbish they remove from the beaches and parks around their area. This is a win/win solution as it will also bring awareness to the issue of unsightly rubbish and hopefully prevent these children from becoming offenders in the future.

Rant over.

Greece: The Costs

During our time in Greece, 112 days, we spent €295.39 per week. This was made up of an average €92.31 per week on groceries, €5.19 on lunches out, €11.61 on dinners and €4.21 on food, which is basically street food. Our grocery budget included cat food, not for our cat (we don’t have one) but for many strays we encountered as you saw above.

The grocery total excluded alcohol which was recorded separately. The entertainment/attractions budget had us investing €165.50 (€41.37 per week) on our (my) history lessons.

This weekly figure didn’t include maintenance on Betsy, our Motorhome.

Our travel costs were €40.50 per week, which included among other things the cost of traveling to and from Crete by ferry. The trip over on 6th February 2018 from Githio to Kissamos cost €232 and returning on 22nd March 2018 to the same port, the cost was €202.

If I was to extrapolate all the above costs to a monthly figure, we are looking at roughly €1,290 per month, (€300 x 4.3 weeks per month). This sits at the lower end of an expected €1,200 – €1,500 per month that many people reportedly budget on for typical monthly living expenses while touring in a motorhome around Europe.

Greece: Where we visited

Below are the various locations where we visited in Greece during the months of December 2017 to March 2018, roughly in the order of our stay. Our first time in Greece was to go sailing around Skiathos and Skopelos in September 2017.

We have GPS coordinates and motorhome service details for each location, which we are happy to share on an individual basis. Please feel free to drop us an email should you be interested in this level of detail.

Greece MainlandPeloponnese Region** Island of CreteGreece Mainland
VolosKyparissa Kissamoss Monemvasia **
Leptokarya Lemon BeachPilos (Pylos**)KoymvariNafplio
ThessalonikiMethoni ** MalemeMycenae
Agios VasileiosThines Chania Iguana BeachKato Vasiliki
Kavala Batis BeachKoroni Livadi Beach (Bali) Menidi
AlexandropulousKalamataHeraklion Igoumentisa
Nea Iraklitsa Agios Nikolaos Thalassokosmos
OlimpiadaNeo Itilio Agios Nikolaus
Chalkidiki Peninsula
Mani Region Irapetra
Vourvourlou * Diros ** Kata Kastelliana
Nikiti Harbour Mavrovouni Matala Beach *
Neos Marmarus Githio Rethymno
Meteora **
Loutra Thermopiles *
Delphi
Aspropyrgos
Athens
Korinthos
Acrocorinth *
Aigio
Agios Vasileios
Patras
Ag. Panteleimon
Olympia
* Depicts favourite places that are un-miss-able!
** Our all time favourite places to visit – check out our blogs on these places

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