Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Greece, July 16 2016 Arrival

A Latin teacher, I traveled to Greece with a teacher-friend from Virginia Beach and her Latin students through EF Tours. Although EF focuses on educational student tours, and we're not students, my husband, Don, and I were allowed to accompany the group. We were warned we would need to keep up with a tour paced for a group of teenagers. We figured we easily would.

Ha! We found we could do it if we took every opportunity to rest in the shade and lots of naps. Also if we actually slept at night (I'm not sure the teens always did).

After adventures with connecting flights, we arrived in Athens at a new airport built for the 2004 Olympics. The old airport, which we passed on our way to our hotel, is now a camp for migrants or refugees who live in tattered tents and under blankets. Our tour director was a lovely Greek woman, a professor of English, named Joanna.

Joanna, our EF Tour Director
Joanna poses with her friend, Puff the "Friendly Dragon"

We found Greece very welcoming to tourists. Many Greeks speak some English, especially in Athens and in the more touristy parts of the country. Tourists bring euros, which Greece desperately needs. The country has not really recovered from the 2008 economic recession or more recent austerity measures imposed by the E.U. Joanna says recent world events and negative publicity about the shutting-down of Greek banks have adversely affected the flow of tourists to her country. This is doubly painful because tourism is a major portion of the Greek economy. It's a shame, she says, because Greece is a relatively crime-free and safe place for tourists, and the bank closures affected only Greeks who kept their money in Greek banks. Even in the height of the economic crisis, tourists had no trouble withdrawing money through ATMs, which can be found all over Greece.

Our biggest surprise was to learn that water, and especially potable water, is a scarce resource in Greece. Outside of Athens we needed to drink bottled water, which is relatively inexpensive, usually no more than a euro for a big bottle. Water served at the table in restaurants can be trusted, but nothing else. Even in Piraeus, Athens' ancient harbor area, we were told not to drink it. This was an unexpected additional expense to our trip, but we quickly got used to it.

Another surprise was all the graffiti and street art in Athens. Joanna reassured us it's no sign of criminal activity but of creative expression. Various colors are not due to gangs but usually in support of soccer teams.

Click here for details of a potential trip to Italy in July of 2018.

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