Greece has been featured a lot in the news recently due to its economic troubles. Greece’s economy depends in part on tourism. If you were thinking of traveling to Greece, next year might be the time to go in case the economy gets worse and civil unrest makes travel there difficult. No matter where you travel, it is always a good idea to check the U.S. State Department website when you are planning any travel abroad.My husband and I spent two glorious weeks in Greece last summer, sans enfant. We arrived in Athens to discover that some of the subways were on strike (which stunk because we picked our hotel based on its proximity to a direct subway line to save taxi fare). Not knowing much Greek, we were a little stressed but we managed to get a bus to a subway line that was running and eventually made it to our hotel. In the coming months there are sure to be more demonstrations and transportation interruptions due to the recent austerity measures taken by the government. It may be a good idea to avoid Athens but Greece still has much to offer.
If you are like me and prefer to make your own travel arrangements, Greece can be a challenge. A lot of services and smaller hotels are not linked to large website services like Expedia or Travelocity so you can’t really do one stop shopping on the internet as you can with other destinations. If you want to find the best places you really need to research on your own by searching travel review sites (like TMOM!), Google and even ask your friends. When looking, I found that a lot of hotels did not even have online reservation systems and you had to email the owner directly.
Although Greece is not a huge country getting from place to place can still take a while. Greek airlines offer many flights between Athens and the islands. Unfortunately, there are not always the flights you want between the islands. We took Olympic Air from Athens to Rhodes. We were able to book this online directly with the airline and had no problems. You can rent cars and mopeds to get around the islands. We were able to book a car through the Greeka.com website. On the mainland there are ample buses and train lines. There is also a vast system of ferries that can be a little more complicated and schedules are not always posted far in advance so you have to keep checking back.
Tip: take an overnight ferry to your next destination and save on a hotel room. Make sure you get an outside room with a window and bring motion sickness medicine. The rooms are not luxurious but they serve the purpose. We woke up in the morning to a spectacular view of the island of Santorini.
When to go Typically, the country is swarmed with tourists during the summer months and is especially swamped in August (when a lot of Europeans take vacations). We went in the last week in June and it turned out to be the perfect time. There were not masses of tourists and the weather was not too hot.
Since Greece is diverse and there is so much to see, deciding where to go can be a hard decision to make. As one of our destinations we chose the island of Rhodes. Bizarrely, Rhodes is rich in medieval history, which is the last thing you think of when you think of Greece. Old Rhodes is a walled-in city that was occupied by the Knights of Saint John from the 13th to the 16th century. In 1522, Muslim forces, led by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, arrived to capture the island with over 400 ships carrying 200, 000 men. The Knights had only 7000 men and its fortification to defend the island. Think Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: The Two Towers during the battle at Helm’s Deep. There is no way a few Knights, a dwarf and some elves could defend themselves against all those Orcs, right? Well, the Knights of Saint John held out for over six months before the city fell.
Much of the old city was destroyed and then restored throughout the centuries but the imprint of the Knights is still there. Although the Knight’s Palace of the Grand Master was actually destroyed in an accidental explosion in 1856 (later rebuilt by the Italians in 1912 as a holiday residence for the King of Italy and later Mussollini) there are still symbols of their iconic crosses and coat of arms everywhere. The only disappointment is that there is no original Knight armor on the island. Although the Knights are the main event here, the museums still feature lots of ancient history and artifacts about civilization before the arrival of the Christian conquerors.
Tip: Most, if not all, accommodations in the old town are small independently owned pensions or small hotels. These are basic no frills but charming rooms. Trust me when I say this: all the beds at these hotels are very firm. If you need a plush mattress, stay in one of the hotels outside of the walled part of town.
Much in the town is very tourist oriented with lots of shops and restaurants. We dined at Pizanias Kyriakos on Sofokleous, where we had the best calamari I have ever tasted, fresh tomato salad and grilled fish.
Beyond the Walls
You can probably drive to see all the sights around the island in a couple of days. After all the culture, we needed some relaxation so we headed to the Aqua Grand resort just outside the town of Lindos, only a couple hours from Old Rhodes. This hotel is a great example of what you can find if you do your own research. I read travel reviews from a number of sites and someone mentioned this hotel—which was not on any of the major travel sites. It was brand new and as a result the rates were three star for a five star hotel. Some areas of the hotel were still under development and the spa was still a work in progress but the rooms were beautiful and the views fantastic. My only regret was that we were only there for three days.
Lindos is a small resort town catering to many locals as well as foreigners. There are many shops and restaurants right near the beaches. We had a delicious fresh grilled whole fish from one of the food stands near the beach.
I can say without reservation that the people of Greece are so nice and welcoming. If we needed help or were lost there was always someone willing to help. We never felt that after interacting with us they turned around and thought “stupid tourists” or maybe they did and are just great actors!
In addition to learning about mythology and ancient Greece, I recommend the following books to entertain and get you acclimated to a modern-day Greece before you go.
Angels in Iron by Nicholas Prata – this is the follow up to the siege at Rhodes and is very exciting.
Dinner with Persephone: Travels in Greece by Patricia Storace – I found this author academic and a bit full of herself but she knows a lot about Greece
Eleni by Nicholas Gage – this is one of the best books I have ever read, aside from giving insight into 20th century Greece.