A week prior to flying out to Europe for my Classical Greece and Rome Jan Term course I watched Youtube videos and read dozens of articles about Italy and Greece. I wanted to be as prepared as I could be for the trip. The only problem was there was very little information on Greece in comparison to Italy. While I may have Googled, “gypsies in Greece,” the information I found wasn’t exactly insightful. I recall watching one guy talk about how you shouldn’t mention the economy to the Greeks, which I thought was common sense. Why would I even bring that up? My goal was to have a fun experience, not infuriate the locals.
Greece may not be as romanticized as Italy in my mind, but it still has a unique charm of its own. I’ll admit, before I took off on my journey I was far more excited about going to Italy : it’sknown for its pasta and pizza filled cuisine and its architecture which are things that I enjoy. All I knew about Greece was that the Greeks love meat. Sure I knew Greek mythology, but how would that help me navigate my way around the country? Needless to say I felt very unprepared for my journey to Greece.
The first night we spent in Athens I was overwhelmed by signs written in Greek letters. At least in Italy my basic knowledge of Spanish made it easier for me to make out what things meant. In Greece, I had no idea what those symbols were trying to tell me. Luckily most of the people living in the cities we visited—Athens and Nafplio—knew English. It really amazes me how most of the people we encountered on my trip knew at least two languages. The amount of people that knew English in Greece blew me away. It made me wonder how people from other countries genuinely want to learn English just so they can communicate with American tourists, and how we in the U.S. aren’t really encouraged to take up another language. I mean do you really think that four years of Spanish, French, etc. is enough?
Another thing that took me by surprise was how American food chains seemed to follow us all the way to Greece. On our way to our hotel in Athens I saw a lot of hot dog places, a KFC, and a Domino’s. At some point during our trip we even stopped at a Starbucks, so there were American-friendly places there as a safety net for any U.S. tourists who found themselves at odds with Greek food.
The food in Greece was very hearty. I personally wasn’t a huge fan of the authentic Greek dishes so after a while I would seek out places with food that reminded me of home. I couldn’t always eat at those places because when we went out as a class, we would always end up eating Greek. Fortunately for me I like to eat meat, so when the main dish was chicken or lamb, I would have no problem eating it.
If you’re a vegetarian you should know that Greece is not really a vegetarian-friendly place. Whenever we ate at an authentic Greek restaurant, my vegetarian friend would only have one option to choose from and that option always looked about as appetizing as a soggy sandwich. We would end up passing her our appetisers — which were usually salad and spinach pie — so she wouldn’t starve. There are probably some food places in Greece that vegetarians can enjoy, but when we went to dinner as a class the options were very limited.
Even though the food in Greece was a hit or miss for me, one thing I could always count on finding was a furry companion. Greece is filled with tons of stray animals. Everywhere we went our class was greeted by cats and dogs. While it was uplifting to have furry animals follow us around on our journey, it was also heartbreaking. A lot of these animals were clearly not getting enough food and some were ill or injured. If I could I would have saved them all and given them homes. I did find comfort in the fact that the locals look after these animals. People go out of their way to feed the strays even if they don’t or can’t adopt them off of the streets.
Generally, the people of Greece were kind, but if you ever go to Greece one thing you definitely have to be on the lookout for is “gypsies.” The Plaka — which, for those of you who don’t know, is a village within the city of Athens — was filled with scam artists. There was even graffiti on walls that read, “scams this way” probably because it is a larger tourist area. Being scammed or pickpocketed is something that can easily be avoided. All you really need to do is have your wits about you, make sure you are always aware of your surroundings, and hold onto your belongings at all times. It can be intimidating when they get in your face. I had three men follow me and try to corner me as they blabbered on and on about why I should buy whatever it was they were selling. I also saw one man put a necklace on a girl who wasn’t talking to him and then try to convince her she had to pay for it. Kids couldn’t even be trusted. They were used as bait. My advice is to just walk fast and not talk to them, eventually they will give up.
Scam artists were only really a problem in Athens. I found myself more at ease in the city of Nafplio. Personally, I think this is the place to visit. Athens was cool and all, but Nafplio felt safer. Plus, it is on the peninsula of Greece where the sea is right there and beheld with a scenery far more beautiful than in Athens.
The reason I took the course Classical Greece and Rome was because I was interested in the history behind the literature. Visiting the sites where Virgil and Byron walked was very special to me. Even if you aren’t into literature or philosophy and don’t know the story behind a temple, the sites themselves are breathtaking. Being in another country makes you think about how huge the world really is and all the places you can explore. I hope one day we can live in a world where more people can experience the beauty around the world.