Sunday, February 23, 2014

Riding out the storm of negativity


If you’ve been following along on my adventure, you will have gathered by now that it takes tremendous patience for a foreigner (or even a Greek) to try and transact business in Greece.

First test of endurance is the byzantine bureaucracy.  It takes oodles of paperwork, stamps, copies, notarized documents, more paperwork – oh wait, that office is closed today… come back Tuesday – except, oh dear – they’re on strike on Tuesdays.  You get the picture.

Now I am at the point where I am dealing with engineers, builders, project managers, lawyers and accountants. (Yes, it's only taken me three (3) years to get that far!)  I have lost patience and trust with some and developed new relationships with others... all part of the learning curve I guess.

 Then there’s the sort of endearing, but ultimately soul sucking tediousness of one’s friends always smugly second guessing me.  Oh, they say they support your dream – but, really, they’re sort of being subliminally snarky and spiteful.  YES, dammit I HAVE heard the news about the Euro and the Greek economy. NO, the stuff you see on the late night evening news is NOT the reality (by the way – the riots in Montreal are far worse than anything in Athens).   I get the feeling that they want to see me fall flat on my face.  That may well happen, but for now, I am still proceeding. Slowly.  Oh, so slowly.

I know you watch the news and may have read an article two in the newspapers.  But I LIVE there for months at a time.  I live, eat and breathe the Greek economy and politics  16 hours a day. I follow the news, the banks, the stock exchange, the parliamentary debate.  I’m on it.  I am not stupid.  Neither am I omniscient; I am aware of the risks.  I have done my homework.  But as smart and as prepared as I am, I can’t predict the world economic situation.

But you know what I can do?  I can gather my courage, dare to dream my dream and roll the cosmic dice.  I’m sorry you don’t believe in me or have the faith in my courage that I do.  If it works, I will have a lovely home in my favourite part of the world.  If it doesn’t work, I will employ the safety nets I have in place.  I assume you will be my friend in either event.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Stay tuned.... more posts coming!

"I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world."

Socrates, philosopher (469 BC - 399 BC)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas in Crete!

I've been coming to Greece for almost 30 years now, but this is the first time I will experience Christmas and New Years.  At home in Canada, they just got walloped with a 40cm dump of snow.  Here, in Chania, it is 16 degrees and we are enjoying wine at a seaside cafe in the winter sun.

Happy New Year!!!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Six tips for a great Greek vacation

Turquoise seas, soft sand beaches, dreamy sunsets, history, culture, deserted islands, mountain villages, fabulous food and wine… Greece continues to lure vacation dreamers.  Yes, there has been economic uncertainty in Greece lately, but I want to assure anyone thinking of visiting – it is safe, it is calm, the people are welcoming and it is still a wonderful choice for a vacation.

I am often asked to help plan Greek vacations for people, including for my own travel agent.  After 30 years of vacationing and living in Greece, I’ve explored a lot of different options depending on my economic situation at the time – from five-star hotels to modest studios, hotel rooms and hostels.

Here are some ways to get the most out of your dream vacation, without breaking the bank:

Plan your route carefully.  So many times I have to caution first time visitors that they cannot see and do it all in a two week vacation.  You simply cannot cram in 10 different islands in 10 days.  It would be like saying you are going to San Francisco from Boston, but stopping off in Iceland for the weekend and then dropping into New Zealand if you have time.  Learn your geography and set a modest travel plan that is as adaptable, as circumstances change quickly in Greece.  Inter-island hopping is fun, if you have time and money, but a more sensible and economic approach is to select two or three islands in the same geographic group and thoroughly explore them.  There is always a next trip…… look at me!  Of the 2000-some Greek islands, I figure I have visited about 50 so far.  (It’s a heck of a to-do list!)

Travel in the off season.  I know a lot of people are stuck traveling in summer when the kids are out of school. But, in my opinion, this is the absolute worst time to visit Greece – too damn hot, too crowded and the prices are higher.  April to June and September to October are the optimum months for travel as far as I am concerned.  The weather is more reasonable, the crowds manageable and the prices, including air fares, drop substantially.

Be creative with your air travel.  Diligent research can pay off with cheap air fares.  Learn when and where the charter flights go. For example, if you can get yourself to London or some other European capital, you can get charter flights to Greece for under a hundred bucks.  Flying from the east coast of Canada, I’ve taken some pretty convoluted routes to save money – including going through Iceland or flying west to Toronto to catch a cheap charter east.  Doesn’t make sense – but hey that’s the airline business today.
TIP:  travel agents will not book the ultra cheap charters for you – you’re on your own there.  And, if chartering, make sure you know the airline’s baggage limitations, as the surcharges will add up.

Consider a studio rental.  Although meals in restaurants are still very reasonable in Greece, a studio apartment has the advantage of a small kitchenette so you could make at least one or two meals a day.  With so many fascinating markets stuffed with inexpensive fresh foods, it’s kind of fun to assemble your own fixings for breakfast or a picnic anyway. 

Greek cheeses - YUM!
For families, consider a villa rental.  This is especially thrifty if you rent in the off-season and is super economic if two families share the costs.  You get the luxury of a well-equipped villa (usually with a pool and barbecue) and a dependable home base to make day trips from.  Compared to per night costs in a hotel, this is a great savings.


Cruises and tours.  I’m not a huge fan of cruises and group tours, as I don’t like to travel in herds.  However, sometimes this is the cheapest way to cover a lot of ground fast. It’s also a good way to see a place for the first time so you know what you want to REALLY see when you come back on your own and what you can give a miss to.

For example, I had always wanted to cross the Theban plains and visit the amazing site of Meteora.  Negotiating the Greek national highway was too frightening – besides, I wanted to spend my time drinking in the astonishing views, not navigating the road signs and sucking in truck fumes.  A reasonably priced three-day tour was the answer.  It was just long enough so I didn't have the urge to  kill my fellow bus mates, yet long enough to get a good grasp of the area.

For a really cool holiday, consider chartering your own sail boat with some friends – with about eight of you, it’s actually cheaper than a hotel and the ship comes with its own captain and crew and will take you where you want to go.

Yes, yes, as I write this, Greece is a political and economical basket case.  However, life goes on there.  It is still a must-see on your vacation list and the economy and the lovely people of Greece can certainly use your tourist dollars. 

And please – trust me on this one – the stuff you see on the nightly news is wildly overblown and exaggerated.  No one is getting mugged, arrested, or otherwise inconvenienced except the few masked anarchists lobbing rocks at the parliament buildings.  Outside of the few blocks around the Parliament in Athens, the vacation destinations are calm and welcoming and still a great bargain. 

Bon voyage or as we say in Greek, Kalo Taxidi!!!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

It’s only fair. . . 10 tips for guests

I ripped pretty hard on villa owners. To be fair, it's now the guests' turn. . .

1. Toilets. Yeah, I know, if you’ve been following this blog you’d almost think I had a thing for toilets. Not really, but they seem so essential for comfortable travel, I have to comment on toilet etiquette. In Greece, toilets operate differently than they do in North America and much of the rest of the world. This always causes some consternation among visitors. Read my lips: the only thing that goes down the loo is the stuff that comes out of your body. No paper. No plastics. Nuthin’. This is not some weird cultural affectation - there are practical reasons. (1)The Greek plumbing pipes are, for reasons that escape me, engineered too narrow to take semi solids like paper. (2)The S curves are engineered too tightly to allow stuff to be easily flushed away and (3) Their septic systems didn’t plan on so many people using it. Trust me – you want to get used to putting your paper in the little bin by the toilet like everyone else. I can’t tell you how unpleasant it will be to be standing ankle deep in your own waste whilst explaining how this happened to the old Greek lady who owns the place. Trust me. Adapt.

2. Towels. Greek studios or villas come with crisp clean white towels and sheets, but no face clothes. If you need one, bring one from home. You might also want to bring your own beach towel or mat, although you can buy them here easily and more cheaply than at home. Don’t be a slob. Do you really use a towel only once at home? This is a country of limited water resources, especially in high season. Be thoughtful.

3. EOT. This is the Greek tourist authority that governs legal rental properties. They have arcane rules, which is why you might not find any salt and pepper left behind by the last guests. Food safety and all that. Licenced places have a little blue EOT plaque on their building. This is not to say the other places are bad... just flying below the tax radar.

4. Electricity. Bring your own plugs and converter from home if you are bringing your own hair dryers and such. (These days, most villas and studios have hair dryers, by the way). Your computer, phone, iPod, battery chargers and other supermodern gizmos generally have a built in converter and therefore you only need the plug – but check to make sure so you don’t fry your gadget or the villa.

5. Environment. The Greeks pay only a token nod to environmental issues, although things are getting better. Facilities for recycling are not common on the islands and, sadly, you will see plastic bottles and crap on the beaches and gorgeous countryside. Doesn’t mean you have to add to the mess. Conserve water. Use electricity in moderation (do you really need to leave the lights on all day while you’re at the beach?). And dispose of your waste sensibly.

6. Cats, rats and unicorns. You will see many, many stray cats

and dogs on the islands. Some are in better shape than others. Many of these animals are homeless, but sort of taken care of by the villagers when possible. The feral cats serve a purpose that we don’t need to talk about in polite company. Most islands have an animal welfare organization that rescues animals and campaigns for neutering. Do something good and make a donation please.

7. Road safety. The Greeks have, bar none, the worst

driving safety record in the EU. If you’re a pedestrian, don’t wander around in a daze. If you are driving, keep well over to the shoulder of the road (double do-not-pass lines mean nothing here) and let other drivers by. Parking is a bloodsport. Good luck.

8. Manners. Mind your manners please, you’re a guest in this country. Leave your everything-is-better-at-home arrogance at the airport. It’s not better, it’s different. Why in the world did you want to travel if you think that way? Be respectful of the local customs. Be nice to your landlady. Clean up after yourself. Don’t be a slob.

9. Money. Always have small bills. The ATMs spit out 50 Euro notes, but try to break them down in places where they handle a lot of money. Your landlady won’t have small bills. Negotiate your rent in advance and, yes, rent is still negotiable on the spot. If you book on-line however, the price is pretty much set especially in high season.

10. Enjoy. Savour. Have fun. Appreciate. Delight. Keep your wonder. Be grateful.

Friday, March 16, 2012

From a villa renter to villa owners: 10 tips for happy holiday villa stays

1. Toilet paper. I know, it’s not my favourite subject either. But, listen, I just flew for 20 hours to get here. I am jet lagged. Greek plumbing is VERY different from what I am used to. So, what’s up with the one roll of toilet paper? Did you think I brought a stash with me in my suitcase? Do you think that after a 20 hour flight, landing in a strange village in the dark, I am likely to run out to the supermarket? Please leave me enough toilet paper to get me through a few days at least.

2. Towels. I am tired and stinky after that long flight. Don’t be mean with the towels. This is in your best interest. I will use your drapes.

3. Pillows. Change em out at least once a season. I have no great desire to sleep on other people’s drool. See note above about using your drapes.

4. Garbage. I come from a world where there is weekly curbside pickup. Please leave me instructions for what to do with my garbage. Do you pick it up? Do I have to take it some place? What about garbage bags? Can you leave me enough to manage? Otherwise I will throw my icky stuff directly in your bin and you can damn well wash it out when I leave.

5. Water. If you have a villa in an area where the water is not safe for drinking, please let me know. And as a kindness, please leave a few large bottles of water for me to tide me over until I can figure out where the market is. If you don’t let me know, then we will probably need to review Tip # 1 about toilet paper.

6. Kitchen gadgets. I am tired of annually outfitting villa kitchens. How about a can opener, corkscrew, decent bread knife and something more substantial in the pots and pans department? Dish soap would be nice too – for some odd reason, I never think to pack a bottle to take with me from Canada. Oh – and a cutting board, please. I will use your countertops otherwise.

7. Electricity. Hopefully your guests are smart enough to understand about the different power requirements for appliances and come equipped with plugs and adapters for their own stuff. However, in the countryside here there are lots of planned power cuts for mysterious reasons. The power company helpfully posts notices around the village – but I can’t read Greek very well. Can you let me know?

8. Security. Those little personal safes are great. Remember to leave me the code, please. Also, remind me about locking windows and doors when I go out. Bad things happen to good people – even though we prefer not to think about it. Thankfully, property crime is still pretty low here in this country.

9. Batteries. In my 30 years of renting everything from cheap studios, moderately priced hotel rooms to posh villas, I have yet to find one that has fresh batteries in the various gadgets. I routinely need to buy batteries for TV and air conditioner remote. It’s not a big deal, but it is annoying. I’d rather spend my time in a taverna or on the beach than fannying about the village trying to find someone who sells a AAA battery for a decent price.

10. Be nice. I’m coming back. And in this day of instant social media, I am definitely telling my friends and I will very likely write a review.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


I got my deed. I got my deed. I GOT MY DEED! Not bad - only took 18 months!!!! It's about 12 pages long and devotes as much space to my genealogy as it does to surveyor's measurements and map coordinates and has more stamps on it than a parcel from the North Pole!