Greece for some reason wasn’t high on the list to visit for Amy or me. It wasn’t that we were against it but we really were not pushing for it either. Amy felt it would be a lot of work (and cost) – going island to island, logistically figuring out flights and ferries. Kendal on the other hand (as you read in her blog) really wanted to visit Greece and she made it well-known when we first started planning our adventure a couple of years ago.
When Amy looked into Greece she searched in Santorini and Mykonos (two of the more popular islands that most have heard of). We knew it would be peak season and very busy (which is not what we were looking for) so we did some more research and ended up getting a tip from the parents of Kendal’s soccer friend that Paros was very nice (thank you Tiffany’s parents). We chose to just visit one island and hoped to get a feel of Greece that way. Slow travel.
Some highlights I hope never to forget:
Paros – Paros is only 64 square miles with the longest beach length of 10 miles. It is centrally located in the Aegean Sea. We also chose to stay in one of the smallest villages on Paros being Aliki Beach; which is on the southern edge of the island. Some of this was research and some luck that we ended up in a great location and in a great hotel. Aliki is a storybook, Greek fishing village and is an ideal get away for families.
Hotel Afrodite – We stayed at The Hotel Afrodite as Kendal mentioned in her blog. This is a 30-year old family owned and run business that takes you in with such warmth and sincerity. For these hard working people their only desire is that you have a great time and have everything that you need to be happy. From the staffers that warmly pinched Keegan’s cheeks and rubbed his hair to the other staffers that loved Kendal’s self designed manicure, they were all so accommodating and happy. The hotel was always spotlessly clean and very reasonably priced. We all felt so incredibly comfortable walking around this authentic Greek and very quaint hotel it was sad to have to say goodbye. I’ll never forget the site of the staff that was there when we left, as they ran out of the kitchen to hug us goodbye.
If you are looking for a small, quite, slow-paced, beautiful, safe, family friendly vacation in Greece – we recommend Aliki Beach on the Island of Paros at Hotel Afrodite (they also have a few incredible villas with pools looking onto the Aegean Sea).
Late Nights – We tried to stay up a little later each night to catch dinner at the “proper” dinner eating time but it still never seemed late enough. There was an authentic Greek wedding going on in the village on Saturday night and the “Mama” of the hotel told us we should walk by and check out the music and festivities. We were so excited. Well, we had dinner on the beach at 9pm, stayed up late (so we thought) to check things out but people were still rolling in the wedding at 10pm just to sit down for dinner. We passed “Mama” on the street just walking in as well. We stopped so the kids could have an ice cream and Amy and I decided, since we are in Greece, we should share a glass of authentic ouzo! Doubt if we’ll ever do that again, ouch!! Any way as we look in the street, which is right in front of the beach, we see Arsenis (he’s a son in the hotel family business, and manages things. Arsenis also has a little celebrity status going on, everybody seems to know and like him). He stopped to say hi to us before he headed over to the wedding, it was 11:30pm. We wish we would have had more time to sit and talk with Arsenis he is the nicest guy that we really enjoyed talking to about, well, everything – hopefully one day we will have another chance. We were dragging from being in the sun all day driving the ATV’s and goofing around on the beach so we headed back. As we looked around, the streets were filled with families, kids of all ages and just plain old folk having fun, it was a beautiful site. By the way, at breakfast the next morning guess who drove up in her wedding outfit at 9:00am…yep, Mama. She laughed as she came in the garden to say hi to us – she said she was on her way to bed but wanted to give the kids her wedding table gift, candied almonds wrapped in lace. What a sweet Greek women!
Ecosystem in the Aegean Sea – We decided to take a 4-hour snorkeling tour in Aliki and were happily surprised when our guide and owner of the facility came out with a book before we put our wetsuits on and spent 45-minutes talking to us about; 1) what exactly we would be looking for and; 2) engaged us in a discussion of the current activities of the specific marine life in Paros. This area is still one of the most uninterrupted ecosystems in the world. One of the reasons we see the varying colors of blues and greens off of the beach is because is contains such a strong and healthy plant life below. Posidonia is a sea plant that provides vast amounts of oxygen (you can kind of think of it as a rainforest under water – and it needs to be preserved). It’s prohibited for fisherman to fish within 1.5 km from shore and they should only use specific approved methods when they do fish. Unfortunately that’s not always the case and when they trawl they interrupt the posidonia and the inhabitants within the posidonia. As the discussions continued I found how large spread the ripple effects are from the current economic state of Greece. The snorkeling was surreal and at one point we could not see a single boat as far as our eyes could reach. We docked in a cavern that once was encompassed within a cave but the ceiling center had collapsed which allowed us to examine, in crystal clear water, what survives in sunlight and what survives in darkness. We learned how and where photosynthesis occurs as well as the different types of sponges and how they survive. We had some great conversations with Sara and are so happy we chose to take a chance that maybe we’d learn something – we definitely did.
Economy of Greece – I started reading a little more heavily about the Euro financial situation about 1.5 years ago when the many articles regarding the unflattering term of PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) were surfacing heavy. I never could have imagined we would be in Europe when this was hitting the fan not to mention the increased growth of the problem within not just the EU but also the possible worldwide ramifications. While we were in Aliki we received an email from the taxi service (that Amy had very smartly booked on-line through a UK website) that the taxi drivers had went on strike but not to worry they would still be at the port waiting for us. We were lucky to have an unmarked ride waiting for us. Taxi drivers are upset for a number of reasons but the main one is that they paid $80,000 euro (some reports as high as $150,000 euro) for a taxi license but the government believes that the current taxi drivers control the market and have monopolized this sector. So their plan to resolve that is to allow competition in at an extreme advantage with an “ease to market” strategy by now only charging $3,000 euro for the same license and liberalizing their sector. The taxi’s lined up in front of ports and airports disrupting one of the countries strongest revenue sources, tourism, which accounts for 16% of the country’s total economic output. The night before we left they had extended their current 48-hour strike for another 48 hours. With taxi’s not in operation the public transportation system was much heavier than usual so it made it tough for us to get around. We had scheduled a tour guide for 5 hours (to get the most education as we could out of the short time we were there) to show us the main sites. He called us the night before and sadly informed us that he would need to cancel because he drives a taxi and if he was caught with us he would most likely get in a lot of trouble. We ended up finding our own way to the Acropolis by foot but unfortunately missed some of the other sites we had planned on seeing as well as the education we were hoping to experience. The taxi’s are just one area of this very huge problem. One of the primary protest areas was right by our hotel, we did see protest activity but what we saw was all non-violent and groups carrying signs . The government is not just targeting the taxi sector but is focusing on reforming 135 professions to help reduce their huge debt.
The unfortunate thing is this recent taxi strike effects everyone even an establishment like Hotel Afrodite. Because the taxi’s established a blockade on the port and the airport, tourists are having a hard time getting to their hotels. So if a tourist had a 5 night stay but now they need to reduce or cancel, this greatly effects an already struggling economic sector not to mention all the critical ancillary costs to bars, restaurants on the beaches, grocery stores, snorkeling, wind surfing, etc. that all get effected. When you are in this scenario it’s hard to see that you are hurting yourself but you believe you have no other choice. Unfortunately the result is things continue to get worse. Even the ecosystem is effected, for example, with the lack of tourist to these hotels and restaurants the fishermen sell less so they need to cut fuel costs and do what ever they need to to fish as close as they can to shore (by trawling and disturbing the ecosystem) in what ever way they can so they can feed their families. These are basic consequences but powerful ones. Now throw Italy, France, Germany, the financial markets, the banks, what effects this may have on the Middle East situation, etc. When you really sit back and try to list the ripple effects this has within our world it can be taunting. I am anxious to see how things play out in Thursdays summit meeting.