Our Greek lessons in 30 days!
One of my first impressions of Greece as we rolled off the Anek Lines ferry, was how the full moon lit up Drepano Beach, Igoumenitsa and made the sea sparkle in its darkness. It welcomed us with open arms and from that moment on our love affair with Greece began. And now as we sit in Nafplio in the south-east Peloponnese, the full moon once again reminds us of his dominance over the night, signalling that we have, incredibly, had one calendar month in this beautiful land. It seems almost impossible to imagine that we arrived here just 30 short days ago on 11 April.
And yet in one month, we have already learned so much about the country, its customs and diversity, how to fit in with the locals and how to ease into Greek life effortlessly. I absolutely know that the next full moon will have taught us even more, although for now, I thought I would share my insights from my Greek teacher!
- Greece is amazing in spring. Before the sun turns on her power, you have some amazing weather that starts to acclimatise you
for the hotter days ahead. On top of that, the spring brings new life in the floral world with yellow cactus flowers, red, pink and purple bougainvillaea and the most intense deep red poppies. The kaleidoscope of colours just wake up our dark, winter eyes with joy and beauty.
- Talking about weather, the afternoons, at least at this time of year, seem always to be windy. There has been an uncanny pattern that as the sun’s heat rises, the wind decides not to be outdone. Even on the eastern edge of the Peloponnese, almost without fail, our afternoons have been rather breezy. It has been great to keep us cool, although does thwart our bar-be-que efforts.
- Wild camping is a joy in Greece. Now I know that this can be a contentious subject and often rallies the hotly debated issue of campsites v wilding. Although for those of you who follow us regularly, you know how respectfully we treat wild camping in terms of contributing back to the community for the privilege of camping in the wilds. At that’s the word I would use for camping in Greece – it’s an absolute privilege. We’ve camped in some of the most wonderful, wild, secluded and sensational places I have ever had the honour to call home and the memories they have created will stay with me forever. And certainly camping in this way, ‘out of season’ has caused us no issues with locals or authorities, despite indications in camping books suggesting otherwise.
- Of course wild camping brings its own problems such as toilet dumping and water. Water is not a problem here as almost every beach has a shower and tap, which you can fill up from – and whilst not potable water, it’s fine for showers and washing up. Just use bottled water for everything else. Also find yourself a marina that are two to a penny here, as they always have taps for the visiting boats. The toilet is a bit more of a challenge. The biggest advantage we have is that we have a second cassette, which has been worth its weight in gold, giving us up to six days if we need it. Although when it comes to emptying, we either drop into a campsite and tie it up with washing and internet or we find a garage who often let you use their outdoor toilet, if you fill up with petrol. So it’s doable, although it would have been more challenging with one cassette.
- And whilst talking about camping, it’s also worth saying that many of the campsites certainly early April are not yet open. The season doesn’t really start until mid May in Greece. And although some of the campsites are beginning to open up slightly earlier as us snow-birds are making our presence known, this is the exception and not the rule. So do be aware of this as you plan your trip if you are not a comfortable with wild camping.
- Not all wild ‘pitches’ are as they seem. There are some of the most wonderful spots to pitch up on, on beaches close to the water’s edge, although this does come with some dangers. Firstly, Greece is incredibly mountainous, which means that some of the roads to these out-of-the-way spots can be a trek, down narrow, steep and sometimes tricky to navigate roads. So we would recommend parking up and assessing on foot before making a decision to commit to a road that might be difficult to turn around in. These beaches, with their azure seas are a magnet. Why wouldn’t you want to park up close the sea with the crashing waves as your lullaby? Although do check these spots, as the pebble pitches lure you into a false sense of security and are not always as stable as they look. We had to tow two vans out of said beaches because their tyres sank into the pebble floor beneath them.
- Camping here feels safe. We’ve had some ‘incident’s during our 14 months full-timing and although it hasn’t put us off our wild camping experiences, it certainly turns your dial to ‘high alert’. Although so far in our first month, we have felt as safe as any other country we’ve been in.
- Travelling in Greece takes time. It’s a strange thing to see your next destination on the map just around the corner, and then, on putting in your co-ordinates, finding that 30km is going to take you 90 mins! Still, when you see how windy some of these roads are, you will understand why. There is no rushing here and the routes are so magnificent that you will want to take your time to breathe it all in.
Being in convoy is a great way to cut your Greek teeth. We’ve had the joy of travelling with our buddies Andi and Paul, from Followourmotorhome, for the last three weeks. And whilst we are about to ‘go solo’, having a chance to travel new lands together with someone else makes it for a great virginal experience. The support you can give each other is priceless and it enhances your confidence and pleasure in your early weeks.
- Greek customs are wonderful to share. If you come at Easter, go to Corfu, where they apparently have one of the most amazing celebrations on Easter Saturday and Sunday. It’s a short ferry ride on foot or bicycle from Igoumenitsa. May Day is where you will see ladies out picking their wild flowers for headdresses and wreaths to celebrate summer’s battle over the winter. And each morning locals gather at the most charming chapels found along the road and coast, to honour their Greek Orthodox faith and light their candles of remembrance.
- Eating out here is a joy. Slouvaki (kebabs), Moussaka, Prawn Saganaki, Tzatziki, Taramasalata, Greek salad with fresh feta, olive oil and fresh oregano blossom, pitta breads, aubergine, courgette balls and meatballs are all laced with garlic and homegrown love. And it’s not that expensive. For two with a main meal and a beer each, you’re looking at €30. And what is so delightful, is that in each restaurant we’ve been in, you are presented with either a complementary liqueur or a biscuit cake at the end of your meal. We have found some wonderful places, off the beaten track. Some of the tourist places will draw you in with a their sales pitch, where you feel obliged to sit down. Avoid these and go back a couple of streets to find more authentic Greek hospitality in family run establishments. Out of season and in some smaller villages and towns, many of the restaurants will not have very much fresh food in and so their menus may be limited and frozen. You will though get plenty of grilled food, although not the long-baked dishes that Greece is famous for. Although hunt well for your restaurants and you will not be disappointed.
- On a practical note – lamb is really expensive here. I thought that we would have an abundance of lamb here, and although you can buy a whole carcass (especially around their feast days), minced lamb in particular is impossible. Because the meat is so expensive you pay €10 per kilo and given that most of that is bone, it makes for an expensive option.
- Whilst talking about money, the cost of living here is an interesting one. So far we’ve found that food is more expensive than say Spain, although perhaps on a par with Italy and France. Although the Greek wine is cheap, the boys say it’s not great, although they happily report that the Ouzo is superb. You can get a 2 litre bottle for €16. Other spirits are expensive so stock up before you come. Beer is more than palatable although again can be quite expensive. Six small cans of Fix larger is around €4.65. Do try the local road-sellers as their fruit and veg tends to be a little cheaper and more tasty, especially their oranges. Diesel prices vary; in larger towns like Igoumenitsa we were paying €1.29, although further south in the Peloponnese we found it at €1.15. And a lovely surprise has been the regularity of LPG. There are no issues on availability here and is coming in around €0.79.
- So far we’ve found three main supermarkets; Lidl of course are pretty much everywhere and there is also My Market and AB. At Lidl you know what you’re getting as it’s pretty standard across Europe, although the other two have some different ranges on offer and some staples that Lidl don’t offer.
- If you want big shops for clothing, haberdashery, health shops etc, then look for a larger town. In our month travelling south from Igoumenitsa to the eastern board of the Peloponnese, we’ve only come across two big shopping centres, Patras in the north and Nafplio, south east. Whilst butchers, bakers and local supermarkets have always given us our day-to-day essentials, other items like clothing etc have been a bit more limited, so you will need to work your way to a larger town for other essentials and the good old ‘Chinese Shops’.
If the ocean calls you, you will be treated like a king or queen. The waters here are incredible for all sorts of activities. We suggest that you wear water-shoes as around some of the coastline, the sea-urchins will act out their revenge on human imposters, so take care. There are jelly-fish too, although they look pretty harmless. Look out for turtles as they call this coastline home, evidenced sadly by one that was washed up on shore this week. The snorkelling apparently is amazing, if this is your thing.
- Talking the lingo. We have always adopted the philosophy that wherever we go, we learn the language basics, so we can at least show we’re trying. My sense is that the locals always appreciate you having a go. So I have put together The Motoroamer’s Guide to Getting by in Greek list, with some of the basics that we have learnt over the last month. Although it must be said, that many Greeks, especially in the retail trade, speak a little bit of English and German.
- The Greeks are the most delightful people; warm, welcoming, polite, helpful and engaging. We have loved being amongst them. They invite you into their kitchens, give you tasters in shops to sell their wares and are always offering you something complementary. They shake your hand, smile at you, wave and, there are often impromptu serenades at restaurants from budding Pavarotti’s. If you are ever in need, just ask and the Greeks will do as much as they can to help you. They have kindness at their very heart.
- The Greek economy may be in dire straights, although we haven’t really seen much evidence of this on the whole. Some of the roads are a bit ropey, although not as bad as we thought. Italy is definitely worse! In fact some roads have been recently relaid, making some of the advertised wild-spots listed in books and apps impossible to reach because of the drop. There’s evidence of new cables going in for better internet provision and some of the villas you see here are quite magnificent. The only real issue we’ve seen are some of the hotels in more ‘out of the way spots’ that just have gone to wrack and ruin. Otherwise I thought that Italy showed more deprivation than Greece, so far anyway. Interestingly, we found in Nafplio that they have half day shopping on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday – we’re not sure whether this is because of the economy or contributes to the state of the economy! So do check before shopping. This is not true though for supermarkets, it’s worth adding.
- The countryside is to die for. In our first week, I was so shocked to see such a rich, luscious and diverse landscape. In many ways it reminded me a lot of the Lake District in UK. Rolling hills, stunning greenery, dense forest and so many beautiful flowers. It will blow you away and that’s before you even set eyes on the craggy coastline with azure blue seas that invite you to test their waters and the ancient monuments that take you back to Greek mythology and historical intrigue.
So Greece, what else can we say? It has taught us a new tongue, it has taught us about the art of convoying, how deeply profound the Greek culture and heritage is and how much it has brought us into the heart of the way of life here. It is beautiful beyond any adjectives I could use from the Thesaurus and that beauty comes as much from Greece’s soul as what you see with your eyes. So if you are considering coming here, then do. It is a stunning place to learn about, call home and rest awhile. I have a fancy we will not want to leave. Here’s to more lessons coming in the next moon month of our Greek Odyssey that takes us to the island of Crete and then up the eastern coastline. For now, yamas!
Karen and Myles, The Motoroamers