As an Athenian born Greek, I had the pleasure in my younger years of discovering archeological treasures such as the Acropolis and Delphi as well as traveling to many beautiful Greek Islands including Zakynthos, Sifnos, Tinos, Mykonos and Santorini.
I’ve also traveled to Athens during one of many taxi, garbage, journalist, metro, pharmacist and even public worker electricity strikes. The electricity strike was particularly fun since we would be sitting in the dark wondering when the lights would come on again. But, it would only last a few hours every few days, so no one got particularly upset.
It still astounds me how the Greek people accept these strikes as a way of life. And, to be frank, I have said to myself more than once, that this will be the last time I come back to Greece for a very long time. Yet, every couple of years, I feel an attraction or pull that makes me long to visit this crazy, but stunning country again.
This past summer, I especially wanted to visit again considering all the awfully bad press about Greece if only to satisfy my curiosity for whether anything had changed. To my strange relief, after visiting Athens and the ecotourism island of Alonissos for two weeks this past month, I can safely say nothing has changed at all. For the most part and despite all the press, Greek tourism was up.
We arrived at the Athens Airport during what was the tail end of a taxi strike. Tourists were left to take a bus or metro into the city or make fast friends and quickly negotiate with their new “cousins” Kostas and Yianni who would take them where they needed to go in their own private cars. It’s a bit crazy, but it is safe and the system trudges on.
Basically, Athens was the same as it has been for years. As with every major city, some areas are absolutely lovely and other neighborhoods are best left alone. The riots of the past year, focused on a 4 block radius directly in front of the Parliament Building in Syntagma Square, left no trace (save the occasional graffiti sign) anywhere in the area.
The weather was lovely; the new Acropolis Museum was spectacular and very informative even for my 6 year old, and my favorite restaurants and shops were still offering wonderful food and service. If it wasn’t for the incessant smoking, I would consider it idyllic.
However, what is important to remember about Greece is that it is not necessarily a place for those who desire their itinerary to be set in stone prior to arriving at the airport. Where’s the fun in that? Back in my college days, it would be so easy to hop on a train anywhere in Europe, arrive at any station and then book accommodations on the spot. Strictly based on how many stars you wanted the hotel to be and how much you were willing to pay, you would reserve the room sight unseen. There was very little negotiation and rarely did I stay in a disappointing place.
This sort of impulsiveness has disappeared with the advent of the Internet, but in some places – Greece being one of them – not only can you still satisfy your craving for spontaneity, you will be rewarded for it in terms of unusually spectacular accommodations, extremely friendly people and relatively inexpensive and safe family vacations, especially if you pass over the islands that consider themselves party-central such as Mykonos, Kos, Ios, Skiathos and some areas of Crete.
You can, of course, book some of your accommodations online, but basically, it is difficult to reserve island ferry seats and vacation activities more than one week in advance. Thankfully, this is not a problem for the laid-back Greek people who always manage to make room for one more person.
So, if going with the flow in a family vacation setting that will inspire you at every turn is something that appeals to you – Greece will not disappoint in the least.
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