Greece in the Time of Coronavirus, Or, How I Spent my COVID Vacation
Hi all, I'm back!
You didn't know I'd gone to Greece for a month? Well, then, I guess I know someone who isn't in The Greekish Life Facebook group! Or who isn't following on Instagram. I'll let it slide. This time.
All kidding aside...wow. For one, this was the longest vacation I'd ever taken (retirement rocks), and while it was an unusual trip in many ways, due to personal issues and COVID-19, it was everything my body and soul needed.
This was my fourth attempt at a visit to Greece in the last year and a half. Personal issues cancelled the first attempt, and coronavirus restrictions knocked the second and third tries out of the realm of possibility. But finally...FINALLY...I was able to get on a plane, face mask on and hand sanitizer at the ready, and go to our beloved Greece.
And it was...a little weird, frankly.
It's likely some of you travelled to Greece this past summer, so you know what I'm talking about. You have to show your vaccination card to get an indoor table at a restaurant. You need to wear a mask in all stores and indoor spaces (and they are NOT shy about making sure you follow the rules). Only a limited number of people in a store at a time. Do Not Sit seats on the metro and in airports to insure social distancing.
And no live music in tavernas. No dancing. This one was the hardest of all.
I had no problem with the other stuff. But the lack of music and dancing was the tougher pill to swallow.
Still, it was all totally worth it. The trip was varied and wonderful, if a bit of an endurance test at times, but there were pockets of sweet relaxation in there, too.
My trip bookended in Athens, starting at my favorite little hotel, the Hera, near the Acropolis. I've stayed here three times now. It has the advantage of being just steps from the Acropolis Museum, Makrigiannis Street and the Plaka. It also has an excellent tiki bar right next door, which absolutely influenced my choice to stay there the first time (because as some of you know, I am a giant tiki geek). I go there a couple of times every time I stay in Athens.
After Athens, my cousin and I set out for a ten day road trip around a good chunk of the Peleponnesos. This was a cousin I had met as a teen and re-connected with when I started doing genealogy, and we've become great friends since.
We started in the glorious medieval walled town of Monemvasia, where we stayed in an exquisite 800 year old guest house that had hosted two Byzantine emperors back in the day, as well as having been the headquarters for the Venetians when they controlled that part of Greece. Monemvasia is one of the most photogenic places I've ever seen - you can point your camera almost anywhere and get a great picture. If you've never been, it's a stunning Gibraltar-like rock attached to the mainland by a causeway, and you can only drive up to the gate. After that it's foot traffic only inside, due to the narrow and frankly mildly hazardous rocky steps and alleys.
(Articles and photo/video galleries will be coming for most of these places in the coming months, by the way, so keep an eye out.)
After Monemvasia, it was a quick stop in the colorful and very Instagram-able little fishing town of Gythion, then on through the Mani peninsula to Areopoli. Mani was magnificent - a wild and rugged peninsula dotted with it's famous tower houses and hidden turquoise beaches. Areopoli doesn't look like much until you find your way to the Old Town, and like old towns everywhere, that's where it's the best. Lots of activity, shops, tavernas and a flamboyant array of colors.
Then it was on to Messinia, just outside the city of Kalamata, where the famous olives are from. We visited the huge site of Ancient Messini, as well as the little village of Aris, where our great-grandfather's people had originally come from before they moved to Arcadia, which was our final leg of the trip.
In Arcadia we stayed in Dimitsana, a gorgeous mountain town full of old stone houses and intriguing alleyways, with an amazing view of the green valleys below it. Arcadia is wild and lush, and we got hopelessly and hilariously lost along a terrifying rocky road with only a single wild boar hunter to ask for directions. (It's funny how religious you can suddenly get when you're lost in the hinterlands with no cell service and an excellent chance of a flat tire or busted axel. Oh, and WILD BOARS. Also jackals, apparently. We think we heard some yapping in a valley at one point, as the Peloponnesos is one of the areas in Greece where you can still find them.)
We stopped at the Temple of Apollo at Ancient Corinth on the way back to Athens. Then I was off to Rhodes for the solo part of my trip.
I'd never been to Rhodes before, and my first views of the almost neon-blue waters with the coast of Turkey on the horizon did not disappoint. I spent the first few nights in the Old City, a medieval-era section separated from the main, modern city by a wall and three dry moats. Several gates allow mostly pedestrian traffic in, but with the exception of certain taxis and delivery vehicles, it's a no-car zone. My fabulously over-the-top hotel, owned by two famous Greek fashion designers and tricked out accordingly, was at the top of the famous Street of the Knights, and had a view out my window of the Palace of the Grand Master. What a location! I was smitten. The room itself (two rooms, actually, as they overbooked my last night and upgraded me to a suite) looked like something out of Arabian Nights. I half expected a genie butler.
After the romantic Byzantine glories of the Old City, I spent my final couple of nights in the dazzling white village of Lindos. Flanked by two gorgeous sandy beaches and with an acropolis crowning the white sugar-cube houses, Lindos is a big vacation destination. It was PACKED with tourists, even in late September. I heard as much German as I did Greek. It's another no-drive village, so if you ever plan to stay there, plan your luggage situation accordingly or you will suffer. You will need to schlep or wheel it from where the taxis drop you off at the main square to wherever your hotel is. There are donkeys to carry you, if you want that sort of thing, but otherwise you're on your own.
I even took a day sail to the nearby island of Symi, with it's blue-green harbor and pastel neo-classical houses lining the port.
Lindos is utterly beautiful, and nearby St. Paul's Bay is now on my personal World Top 10 Beaches list along with places in Bora Bora, Thailand and other select locations, but plan your holiday carefully. If you don't like crowds, go much earlier or later in the tourist season.
After my short flight back to Athens, my cousin and I immediately drove to the nearby island of Evia, where she and her husband have a little country house and small farm. Yes, we drove to the island, as Evia is extremely close to Attica, and there are two bridges (as well as a ferry service) that connect the two. There are many Athenians who have a little place tucked away here, as it's an easy hour and a half drive from the city to a place with glorious beaches, olive groves and sweet little towns.
Her town, Eretria, is very ancient, and new archeological digs are constantly springing up. Ancient sites dot the area randomly, and you'll see the remains of temples and ancient gymnasiums and such just on your way to the bakery or the beach. It's quite amazing. Evia is not a first-tier tourist destination, and I kind of love it for that reason. It still feels real and low-key, with all the stuff you'd need as a traveler, but without the frenetic atmosphere and crowds of the more popular holiday destinations.
(I'm happy to report that, while the horrific fires that burned huge portions of Evia this summer have left their scars on the hillsides, I saw brave new little swaths of green amongst the burnt patches, and it made my heart smile.)
After a few restful days among my cousin's olive, fig and pomegranate trees, I was back in Athens, and had found a wonderful little apartment in Monastiraki on Athinas Street. It looked sketchy as hell from the outside (if you know Monastiraki, you know it's a bit of a mixed bag in many ways), but go up six floors and it was a neat, clean and very modern little apartment, with a huge balcony that had a view right down to the main square. If I ever stay in Athens again for a more than a few nights, I am absolutely choosing an apartment again!
It was a great pleasure to meet up with friends in Athens, too! It was fun to introduce Gregory from GreekAncestry.net to Tiki Athens, and I was able to meet a Facebook friend in person (Thanks again for brunch, Olivia!).
And now I'm home, unpacked, and my tan is fading. *sigh* But my physical and mental health have had such a boost from this trip, and despite needing to do a few things differently (like take a COVID test to prove I was negative, or I wouldn't be allowed to fly home), it was all absolutely worth any minor hassles that came up along the way.
If you are considering travel to Greece and don't mind adapting to the new tweaks, I would 100% encourage you to go. I'm very glad I didn't wait "until all this is over" - whenever THAT might be.
Got any questions for me about travel to Greece in the time of COVID? Email me at email@example.com and I'll try my best to answer, based on my experience.
Now armed with many new experiences and photos, I'm hoping that I'll be getting out more content for this website than I have in recent months. We'll see. Interest, subscriptions and engagement in general have been disappointing, so I'll have to keep assessing if the effort is worth keeping it going. I hope it is.
Wishing you happy travels, should you choose to take them,