Tag Archives: tourism

Island hopping revisited

As my work has it, I’m currently preparing a travel guide for a few of Greece’s best and lesser known islands. Mykonos, Santorini, Paros, Naxos, Antiparos, Amorgos, Skiathos, Ios and Aegina. Yes, it’s not a bad project to be involved in, considering alternative options would involve stories related to the current recession. While doing the research and writing, I looked up some pictures I’d taken on holidays which inevitably and brought back memories and  led to some realizations. First, I’ve really been around. I saw pictures of a younger me standing under a whitewashed archway, smiling and holding my dress so that the wind would not reveal too much. Others of friends seated around a table, feasting on seafood, faces slightly burned from spending the day at the beach, eyes revealing a generous consumption of wine.  I even found pictures of a tiny me attempting to feed a donkey somewhere in Paros, taken at a time when you had to develop the film before you could see if the exposure was any good. 

The project has been keeping me busy for weeks and will continue to do so for a few more. It is by no means a complete guide, it will just feature what I consider to be the highlights, a first acquaintance to allow one to discover even more. More importantly, I’m hoping to convey, even to a smallest degree, a sense of their uniqueness, a feeling of the atmosphere and the reason why people keep coming back. 

Last year's holiday: Paxi islands in Western Greece

Last year’s holiday: Paxi islands in Western Greece

Second, people make their preferences crystal clear. I haven’t yet met a person who didn’t include Santorini in their bucket list. I see it all the time in Pinterest’s boards. Especially those who consider tying the knot and want to find the perfect romantic getaway. Cheesy, but true. Party animals want to know about Mykonos and Ios and so on. If you ask me, I crave peace, quiet, clear waters and a good meal, so I go for the more obscure islands, the ones where you’re least likely to come across the package-holidaymakers. Avoid travelling during peak season also improves dramatically my travel experience. Don’t be fooled by my eclecticism though. I’ve done the mainstream island tour in my twenties and enjoyed it thoroughly.

Last year, I went to Paxi and Antipaxi, a small cluster of islands in the Ionian sea, right below Corfu, in western Greece. These islands are not exactly obscure. They are very popular with new skippers who want to take their sail boats for a spin, but they have managed to escape mass tourism. If you visit early in the season you will be rewarded with low winds, emerald waters, countless little coves and beaches, captivating scenery and truly amazing food, especially in Logos village. I highly recommend it. 

Do you have a favorite Greek island? Interested in visiting one?

How well do you know the city you live in?

Yesterday, I spent my day roaming around the city with my good friend M., as we tried to rediscover the city’s neighborhoods for a new project we’re preparing.

“You think we’ll find anything decent in Plaka? It’s just so touristy,” I said to my friend as we exited the metro. We were in one of the most touristic areas in Athens and one I’ve been dozens of times before. The old square we met was filled with people strolling and gazing at the small shops of the nearby flea market. A girl with pink ray-bans was trying to take a picture of herself and her boyfriend.  She couldn’t get a good shot because she was giggling all the time.

“I don’t know. I hope so,” was the answer by M.

It was a glorious day, full of sunshine with the scent of bitter orange tree blossoms filling the air. I wondered: Are cities like people? Can one live in (with) one for years and never know its real character, its secret places? 

I had my notebook out with a pen hanging from the spiral. As we walked, we observed and took notes. Walking up steep Dioskouron street and turning right in narrow Thrasivoulou street, a new world appears before our eyes. We stop to catch our breath and look down at the amazing view of the small houses, the Roman Agora and the old Ottoman mosque. The hustle and bustle of the city is gone and the alley is so quiet, we feel we might be the first people to have ever been there. We’re not, of course.

In a city as old as Athens, every inch of land, every cobble has been stepped on by millions of people. Some of them wore togas, some army uniforms, some plain clothes and some – more recently – sneakers. Of course, how does one keep up with the changes of a city? One never really has time to wander aimlessly around his city, does we? We’re always going somewhere.

Following the road that takes you around the Acropolis Hill and into Koukaki, another neighborhood clustered at the feet of Athens’ main tourist attraction, we chat with local shop owners and try some produce in a delicatessen. “If they hadn’t told me to come here, I would have never bothered,” said M. while devouring a fresh sandwich with veggies and goats cheese.

I didn’t know that, if you made the effort, people would be so eager to start up a conversation, to explain what they were selling, to comment on the social impact of austerity. Athenians are so talkative. Then I realize, it is me who never had time to talk to anyone, rushing to work and back again. Sitting on the marble staircase of an art-deco house, I jot down some information about the neighborhood and look around at the people walking up and down the street.

Housewives carrying their supermarket bags, youngsters with headphones on, pensioners sipping their coffee at the local cafe, immigrants gathering around one of the few remaining card phone booths in the city. Athens has been changed before my eyes and I hadn’t noticed anything. It’s sweeter, harder, more open, more curious, less innocent, more tourist friendly, less pram friendly (all these poor young mothers having to step down from the pavement with their pram because of the illegally parked cars), a bit cheaper, more extreme.

Four hours later, my notebook is full of names, addresses, impressions, corrections, exclamation marks. “Well, I didn’t expect that. Old Athens can still surprise me,” I mutter.