When walking down the streets of Athens I was often confused on whether I was back in Italy or not, but store signs written in an alphabet made up of math signs and triangles reminded me I was just across the Adriatic sea. For the first time in my life, I visited Greece. Despite it topping the list in European travelling destinations, I never took the opportunity to go there and for a long time I was not quite ready to give up my passion for travelling up north. But after living for three months in Denmark, two weeks back in the Mediterranean were exactly what I needed and made me somehow feel as if I were back home. It wasn’t only the heat and the friendly, open people which reminded me of Italy, but the entire atmosphere and vibes Athens gave me the whole week I spent there. From the architecture, to the ancient ruins at every corner and the chaos all around I realised I was nowhere near Scandinavia anymore.
Greece is a land of good food, which comes as no surprise given its geographical position. “Here, we produce the best olive oil” our Air BnB owner Pantelis told us when he showed us the small locally produced bottle of Extra Virgin olive oil we could use to dress our salads “never believe the Italians when they say they do”.
Originally my dad comes from the region where Italy’s best and most exported oil is produced. I still clearly remember all those times when we would carry litres and litres of olive oil back to Rome each time we visited my grandfather. Once a 10 litre container spilt all over the car’s trunk while we were driving on the highway to the capital; our car smelled of bruschetta for the rest of its existence.
Athens is packed of “Tavernas”, typical, often family-run,restaurants filled with smoking Greeks and delicious food. Following the country’s tradition, we would order a set of starters each time and share the dishes. Upon our arrival, Pantelis explained how in Greece people don’t order their own single dishes at a restaurant, but they share multiple starters: from the famous salad, to grilled Feta etc. It was for sure the easiest and most delicious way to taste the varied cuisine the mediterranean country has to offer. It was in Athens where we managed to find the most local, tourist-free Tavernas which served the tastiest food.
When moving to the second part of our trip in Rhodes and Santorini, prices soared, tourists appeared and the people started becoming less friendly and more impersonal. In Athens we would walk every morning to our local bakery, where the owner Magda would serve us her delicious pastries and always treat us with something new every time. On the islands, most Greeks were less friendly and clearly more used to the massive flow of tourists which invade their land seasonally every year. Nevertheless, we visited stunning places. While Rhodes (apart from the beautiful Medieval town where our B&B was located) was extremely deserted as the tourist season had not started yet, Santorini was one of the most spectacular places I had visited in a while.
Imagine approaching an island made up of 300m high cliffs and topped with blue-roofed white houses which look like a thin layer of snow that has covered the top of a mountain. Our ferry arrived there at midnight when the full moon was illuminating the volcanic rocks while we were making our way in the island’s crater. Once you get there do not expect beautiful beaches because you will be disappointed; what Santorini is famous for is its stunningly beautiful, simple and elegant architecture. On the edge of cliffs, the main towns of Oia and Fira are built in white stone houses with roofs painted in cobalt blue. We spent one afternoon on the terrace of one of these stone houses on the cliffs of Oia and the view was breathtaking. Many gather for sunset on the tip of the island, carrying their tripods and sitting there till the sun has sunk behind the sea line. Many applaud at the end as a sign of recognition of how spectacular nature can be (I personally found it slightly exaggerating, but people travel all the way to Santorini to witness its sunsets).
We learnt however that the Islands solely live on tourism. It was increasingly hard to find good local restaurants or cheap cafes. All you get when walking through the streets are Greek men persuading you to dine in their “exclusively delicious” restaurants or buy their “unique” jewellery. The island of Rhodes was the biggest expression of the tourist-business. When we flew in from Athens, we thought we landed on a deserted land recently affected by a devastating plague. All stores were closed, hardly anyone was around and most buildings outside the town centre looked completely abandoned. However, the more we spent time there the more we realised those place were everything but abandoned. The worn-down look of the island was only the result of the tourist-less winter season. Everyone explained how business owners and hotels are slowly repainting their stores and cleaning up their swimming pools just in time for the summer season. “The restaurant might be open tomorrow” one shop owner told us in the old town of Rhodes on our first night while we were desperately looking for somewhere to eat, “they say two cruise ships are coming in”.
Finally, one tan and two weeks later, we made our way back to Denmark. We produced some journalistic work in Greece, which was the main reason why we were there as a group of students. I am getting ready for my trip to Ireland in three weeks, which I am very looking forward to.