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I’ve been visiting Greece for more than a week now and the time has flown by. It’s been a while since I have been to a country that felt so distinctly different and new to me – the last country I visited, Indonesia, was different than I was used to but, after years in Southeast Asia, still felt familiar even though I had never been there before.
Greece feels like nowhere else.
It seems like everywhere I’ve been I see the same color palette spread across the landscape and buildings – sage green, white, buttery yellow and all the shades of blue you can imagine. Often everything around me has felt very monochromatic and neutral, but sometimes I’ve been surprised with shocks of red and turquoise that remind me of the bright waters of the Andaman Sea in Thailand.
There is also so much white and blue everywhere – Greece must lead the world in white paint sales because just about everything is covered in the stuff.
The welcome and hospitality I’ve been shown and witnessed all around deserves a post in itself. I’ve never been anywhere else in the world where the vast majority of people have been so friendly, welcoming, inclusive and accommodating – and it seems genuine. I haven’t noticed any attitude or dismissiveness towards tourists, like I’ve seen throughout SE Asia and parts of Europe, and feel completely safe and taken care of. I’ve been offered food and drink and places to stay by people who have never met me before and who have asked nothing in return.
I’ve also never been to a place that completely shuts down in the low season. In Thailand things are definitely quieter in the low season, especially on small islands, but entire towns don’t completely shut down. I’m currently on Mykonos and there are only a few tourists on the island. Everyone else is working to clean up and shut down their hotels, restaurants and shops. Signs are up saying seeing you next spring and there are only a few places open to still get food.
Driving through Malia on Crete the other day, a major party spot, absolutely nothing was open – nothing. Bars were boarded up there were two lone tourists wandering the dark streets.
Normally I think traveling in the off-season has its perks…here it just wouldn’t be possible.
Even now hearing Greek spoken everyday, I still can’t recognize it. To me it sounds like a mix of Eastern Europe and Middle Eastern languages that I would never be able to pick out of a line up. It’s also strange and a little disorienting. being in a country where the people look similar to me, but the language looks so completely different than what I’m used to.
I know I’m visiting Greece in a kind of funny in-between time, but the weather has been so beautiful and mild with clear blue skies and sun every day – another reason why I can’t understand the low season shut down, it’s so nice out!
“I have a stupid question,” I asked my hosts my second night on Crete, “Do you consider yourselves European or….?”. After pausing for a few moments trying to figure out the best way to respond, they said things were complicated, but they didn’t really identify with being European necessarily.
There’s something about Greece that I can’t quite put my finger on. I had always thought of Greece as part of Europe, since technically it is, and that Turkey was really locatedthe crossroads of the East and West, but after coming here I realize it’s not that simple. The country may be geographically located in southeastern Europe, but it doesn’t feel like the Europe I know.
Some things, like bakeries everywhere and a cafe culture, definitely makes the area feel more European than, say, the US – but other aspects of the culture and lifestyle seem to fit more with the Middle East and even sometimes remind me of how things were done in SE Asia.
Additionally, I’ve picked up on a slight air of bitterness and resentment from some Greeks about what ‘Europe’ expects from them and wants them to ‘behave’ like. I guess my initial question wasn’t stupid after all.
Have you been to Greece before? What things about the place, people or culture stood out to you?