The last twelve months haven’t been easy, and I had to reach a little harder this year to come up with my favorite things. But when life hits, it’s important to hit back so for February 2021, I’ll list not 10 but 11 things I love about Greece. 🙂
Here they are –>
1) The Mani
Since international travel was unpredictable, local travel became more attractive, and I went on a road trip to the Mani, a part of south mainland Greece in the Peloponnese. In the Mani, you can easily spend weeks going from village to village and ancient site to ancient site. The landscape is beautiful and rugged, the beaches unspoiled, the tavernas offer inexpensive and amazing Greek dishes, and there are lots of hidden surprises in the area. My favorite was the shipwreck in Valtaki named Dimitrios. It is like straight out of a movie…I have included a picture for you. 🙂
2) Use of “oula”
In the Greek language, it is considered rude to be too direct so Greeks add “oula” to the end of a word to soften the delivery. If you want to ask for the price of something, “timi” (price) becomes “timoula?” (sweet, little price). Need a favor? “Hari” becomes “haroula” as in “I need a sweet, little favor.” I got good at that one this year…
3) Outdoor everything
As the pandemic unfolded, and it became clear that transmission was less likely in outdoor environments, I was very grateful to be in Greece. From outdoor cinemas, to beach bars and outside dining, everything is done outdoors anyway in the warmer weather. For the months we weren’t in lockdown, it was easy to keep our social lives moving along. The outdoor theatres (called theorion) are my favorite, and you’ll find them all over Greece, from tiny villages in Ikaria to the famous Thission Outdoor Summer Cinema in Athens where you can see the Acropolis from the seating area. It’s magical watching a movie under the stars on a hot Greek summer night.
4) Athens is cleaning up
Omonia Square used to be a really rough part of Athens where prostitutes and drug dealers hung out. Even in the daylight and with my dog, I never felt comfortable walking through the neighborhood. But this year, they’ve cleaned the square up by installing an elegant water fountain in the center, planting green grass all around, adding better lighting, and having police on patrol during the evening hours. I won’t say it’s like Union Square in San Francisco, but it’s starting to have that feel. Nice!
5) The food delivery people
E-food and Wolt delivery people were my unsung heroes during the pandemic and in the first lockdown, I saw them more often than I saw my own friends. Fast, reliable, and supporting lots of restaurants and food establishments, they became small symbols of resilience. I love watching them whiz through Athens on their scooters and bikes. Wolt also became a verb when I had to ask my friend “Can you Wolt me a burrito? I lost my wallet…” I like them so much, I even acquired my own Wolt jacket. Fashion circa 2020…
6) I became a Greek correspondent
Like many of you, the pandemic changed the way I earn money. With Airbnb and yoga income collapsing, I changed my focus, and 2020 is the year I became a freelance writer and the Greek correspondent for International Living, a site that helps people move abroad. It is almost like a small miracle because now I get paid to write about and promote the country I love.
Ert, the Greek national television station, started a free online movie service called Erflix, and I started watching a series called “Our Best Years” (Τα καλύτερα χρόνια μας). It’s the rough equivalent of the US show “The Wonder Years” and is set in Greece around the time of the dictatorship (early seventies). I love watching life in Greece during a different era, when things moved at a slower pace. And as another benefit, it’s helping my Greek. Thanks Ertflix. 🙂
8) Hidden neighborhoods
To relieve the monotony of being housebound during lockdown, I take my dog Andromeda on long walks most days. This was the year I explored Dafni, Exarchia, Kallithea, Gazi, Mets, Metaxiougio, Petralona, Tavros the list goes on. There are hidden corners everywhere, and our long daily strolls keep life interesting during Lockdown 2. I’ve found haute couture dress shops in Kallithea, modern lofts in Gazi, the organic food stores in Petralona, and even an ancient Aqueduct I had never heard of in Kolonaki. Athens has lots of secrets to uncover when you go off the beaten path…
9) The Greek government’s response to the pandemic
It’s a tremendously difficult situation and no country nailed it 100%, but Greece is doing a pretty good job. The administration follows science, takes measured actions, communicates clearly and regularly, and offers rational explanations for their decisions. They even came up with innovative ideas like “click away” when the holidays were approaching but the virus case numbers didn’t support a reopening of the shops. It hasn’t become “us against them” and instead the response felt like a mature approach to an international crisis.
10) The holiday decorations throughout Athens in December 2020
As though the administration knew we would need help to keep our spirits up, they went all out with holiday decorations, installing decorated holiday trees all throughout the neighborhoods of Athens. Syntagma was at its finest this year–I don’t think I’ve seen more beautiful decorations before. For me at least, this helped a lot. They must have felt the same since the decorations stayed up well into January…
11) The Greek attitude in the face of crisis
The pandemic has been hard for the entire world, but as Greece was just coming out of a decade long economic crisis, it has been really difficult here. Over 20 percent of the country’s GDP is based on tourism, and the country has a very large elderly population, making the situation even more precarious. But the country came together, and phrases like “kali dinami” (good strength) and “ipomoni” (patience) became our daily mantras. This isn’t a pandemic thing though. I saw this same resilience during the 2015 referendum crisis. There was one week in July of 2015 when we didn’t know if we’d leave the euro zone or stay. Everyone was tense and stressed. In the middle of all this I overheard a taxi driver say to his friends “A beautiful woman is a beautiful woman whether we spend drachmas or euros.…we’ll be fine.” Yeah, we will..Thanks for the reminder Greece. Love you. ❤️
It is said that the cells of the human body regenerate every seven years. Since this week marks my eighth year living in Greece, I guess that means all of my cells are now from my time living in Athens. My body is Greek! It’s a nice thought. Every year around the anniversary I list ten things of love about living here, so here it goes for 2020–>
All throughout the streets of Athens, you can hear the paliatzis, a driver with a megaphone shouting out cryptic messages. When I first moved to Greece, I thought it was some sort of political announcement but I eventually came to understand they are asking for our old household furniture-like a self-appointed recycling program.
My favorite time to hear the paliatzis is after I return from a long trip away. When I hear that crazy megaphone voice I think “Yes, I am finally back in Athens..” I’ve included a link here so you can hear it yourself.
I’m surprised to be listing a Greek reality show about fashion models as one of my favorite things about living here, but the truth is… I’m obsessed. I started watching the show on YouTube to improve my Greek, but after the initial auditions and 20 young women moved into a house together, it was impossible not to get swept into the drama. I’m also learning lots of new words and phrases like:
parte ti dinami sas/πάρτε τη δύναμή σας=gather your strength
3) B&E Goulandris Modern Art Museum
In October of 2019, the B&E Goulandris Modern Art Museum opened in central Athens. The art at the Goulandris Museum could easily go toe-to-toe with the collection at SFMoma in San Francisco. It’s four floors of modern art including one floor dedicated only to Greek artists. The collection is impressively diverse. No one can say Athens doesn’t have culture.
4) Greece is going green
When I moved to Greece in 2012, plastic bags were everywhere, recycling was a joke, and I was met with confusion when I asked about composting. Not so anymore–Greece is waking up to the green moment with zero-waste stores like Plastikourgeio shop & lab in the center of Athens. Paros island is working to become the first plastic-free island. In 2018, the country banned free plastic shopping bags, and it’s working to abolish plastic straws. And over the last few months, I’ve started to see electric cars and charging stations in Athens. No word on composting yet, but I bet that’s coming soon.
5) The island of Ikaria
Last summer, I discovered the island of Ikaria, a blue zone location where a disproportionate percentage of the population live to be over 100 years old. The island is famous for its relaxed relationship with time–Ikaria has its own rhythm where no one rushes, and days seem to disappear without you realizing where they went. The island has beautiful beaches, great food and even a nice surf break. I went to Ikaria three times last summer and already have a three-week trip planned for this year including a Surf+Yoga Holiday I’m hosting there. Maybe you should come with us…
6) Greek names
I read Greek mythology when I was young, but I never thought I would have real-life friends named Athena, Aphrodite, Eros and Aris. It feels sort of majestic having friends named after the gods, though it is puzzling why I’ve never met a Zeus or Hera.
7) Smoking has been banned (for real) in restaurants, bars and tavernas.
Ten years after being passed, it seems the ban on smoking in public places in Greece is actually being enforced. The no-smoking ban went into effect in 2009, but it was widely ignored to the point of being comical. But then almost overnight, that changed, and now when I walk into a bar or taverna, it is smoke-free. I try to stay out of politics, but I do appreciate this element of the new administration.
8) The tiny specialty stores
All throughout central Athens, there are small stores specializing in the sale of a single thing: the doorknob store, the glass jar store, the rope store, the ladder store, etc. It is a mystery to me how these stores stay in business, but there is something very charming about the way you see so much expertise concentrated in a tiny shop. Most of the shops have been around for years, they are passed down through the generations and the owners really do seem to know everything about the single thing they sell. It takes a little longer to get your shopping done, but it is worth it.
9) I generally feel safe in Greece
Greece is a country with 11 million people and while things do happen, as a country it scores low for violent crime. The police presence is strong, violent crime is low, regular people are willing to get involved, and unlike my own country, there is no need for “active shooter” drills in children’s schools.
10) I have a church!
In April of 2019, I was baptized Greek Orthodox with the name Evangelia/Ευαγγέλια and as part of the process, I formed a relationship with a church and a Greek Orthodox priest. I love my church–it is called the Ragavas Church in Plaka, and it is where the revolution in 1821 started in Athens. They have a special bell-ringing ceremony on March 25th to commemorate the revolution, which works out well for me since that’s also my name day. If you are in Athens, you are invited to join me.
Thank you for reading!
In February 2012, I moved from San Francisco, California to Athens, Greece. I am chronicling that journey here. Each year on my anniversary of moving, I post the top 10 things I love about living in Greece.
Here it goes for 2019–>
1) The buskers along Dionysou Aeropagetou
The pedestrian zone near where I live is filled with street performers so it becomes like a progressive concert most days as I walk my dog Andromeda. I never know who will be there or what to expect-we have bubble blowers, musicians, an African bongo group, silk performers and dance troupes, just to name a few. There is even a woman who will put your hair in a stylish braid or updo for 5 euros. It’s on my list to try in 2019…
2) Beach Volleyball
Last spring I decided to learn beach volleyball. I wanted to be trained by professionals so I asked my friend Sakis Psarras where to go, and he directed me to the Attica Beachvolley Club. I love my lessons–we practice outside in the fresh air, barefoot in the sand. My teammates and coaches are so encouraging (bravo Lynn!) that in the beginning I got confused and thought I had real talent. But then one day, when I hit the ball right and the entire team clapped, I realized, no. It’s the opposite. I’m really bad, and they are trying to keep my spirits up…It’s ok, I wasn’t planning to go pro. But one day, I would like to play in a beginners tournament. 🙂
3) The Athens Riviera
This year I discovered the Athens Riviera and the beaches south of Athens in Glyfada, Voula and Vouliagmeni. I didn’t realize seaside near Athens could be so good. Lots of them are blue flag beaches and on par with many islands…The water is clean, the beach clubs are fun, and best of all, we have SUP Yoga at Astir Beach with one of the best sunsets in town.
4) Things get cheaper
The longer I live in Greece, the cheaper things seem to become. All around Athens, I now get discounts–discounts because I’m a yoga teacher, discounts because I live in the neighborhood, discounts because I’ve been coming a long time, discounts for reasons I can’t even identify, but I hear it often -μια άλλη τιμή για σένα! (another price for you!). This was not the case in San Francisco. It must be a Greek thing…
5) Athens is becoming a health food mecca!
When I moved to Athens in 2012, if I asked for “quinoa” and “nutritional yeast” I got blank stares. Now I get quinoa in the regular supermarket, and I choose between two brands of nutritional yeast in my favorite bio store. I can eat at Vegan Beat, Vegan Nation, Avocado and Nice and Easy—all an easy walk from my apartment. This was also the year I discovered Yi, the super healthy vegetarian raw food restaurant in Glyfada. If I could create a restaurant, it would be Yi. Everything is sugar-free and gluten-free, and the restaurant allows dogs. For me, it is a small paradise.
6) My new doctor
My new doctor, Nikoleta Koini, is one of the few US-trained functional medicine doctors in Greece. Functional medicine is science based, 100% individualized, holistic preventative medicine. It matches my medical philosophy almost perfectly so I was thrilled to find a highly trained functional medicine doctor in Athens. Now I have supplements that are precisely matched to my situation. It might take some research, but you can get great medical care in Greece.
7) Filotimo is part of the culture
The word “filotimo” exists only in Greek, and it means doing the right thing without expecting anything in return. I’ve seen it acted out time and time again.
There was the time my taxi driver Dimos came to pick me and my friends up in his personal car on a taxi strike day. He took us to the port but refused to accept money (ever) for the journey, because he wanted to respect the rules of the strike but also wanted us to have our holiday.
There was the time when I got sick in a mountain village on a weekend trip. All pharmacies were closed, but the souvenir store owner gave me his full package of Panadol. He was worried about me and wasn’t sure when I’d be able to get to an open pharmacy. He didn’t accept my offer to pay him, and in fact, he seemed confused when I tried to give him money.
There was the time I was out with my friends late at night on a Greek island holiday. The taxis had all stopped, and we were eight kilometers from our hotel stranded without a clear way to get home. One of my friends approached a group of men sitting at a café and within minutes, one of them was driving us to our hotel. This time I knew better than to offer money, and my friends confirmed, yes, he would have been horrified if we tried to pay him.
I could go on and on, but you’ll see for yourself. Even people here for short visits usually experience filotimo in one way or another.
8) Greece ignites your creativity
I think it was Lord Byron who said “If I am a poet, the air in Greece has made me one.” I would say the same—if I am a writer, living in Greece has made me one. I’ve written two books since coming to Greece and before living here, I was an accountant who never planned to write anything. It is hard to describe, but there is something in the air or energy that sparks your creativity. And it feels so nice.
9) The olive culture
It seems everyone in Greece is within three degrees of separation from an olive grove—their parents have one, their uncle has one, their best friend has one. The thread of olives runs all throughout the country as part of the social fabric. I’ve even been scolded for buying olive oil—it is usually gifted around. I should also mention the variety. I used to think that Greek olives meant Kalamata olives. Not so. There are dozens of varieties, in all shapes, sizes and colors. I have included a picture for you here. Olive oil is even used in baptisms—which leads me to my final favorite thing.
10) I am a Greek Nona!
I have saved the best for last. This year I became the Nona (godmother) to my friend Maria’s daughter. The godmother’s role is to be a spiritual advisor, and apparently she bestows some of her traits to her godchild. I’m not sure about how that works, but if I get to choose any traits, I’ll give Alexia the gifts of resilience and joy. If she has those two, I think she’ll have a good chance for a happy life. And as part of this process, I’m getting baptized Greek Orthodox myself this Easter. The transformation is almost complete. Θα είμαι Ελληνίδα. ❤️
If you missed the prior years’ lists, they are below. Thank you for reading!
1) Athens street art. I love that there is graffiti everywhere in Athens. It’s edgy and colorful and gives the city so much character. If you want blank, clean grey walls, there are plenty of Northern European cities to choose from. Me? I prefer Athens. 😉
2) Greek words that don’t have a direct English translation. There are lots- like meraki/μεράκι (the essence of yourself that you put into your work), filoxenia/φιλοξενία (to offer generous hospitality to strangers), filotimo/φιλοτιμό (doing the right thing without expecting anything in return). I also like that Greek has three words for love (agape/ ἀγάπη, eros/ έρως and filia/ φιλία). They say that language follows the culture…
3) The sense of time in Greece. I teach a “Rise and Shine” yoga class that starts at 11:00 am on Sunday morning. The name isn’t meant to be a joke, and both my students and I struggle to make it on time. Thanks Greece—you make an honest woman of me. ❤️
4) Christmas in Athens. Syntagma Square is joyful with a brightly lit tree and a colorful fountain, Citylink is super festive and alley next to Little Kook is so over the top it is hard to describe… You might not think of Greece for the winter, but you should….
5) There is a certain charm to the fact Greece is so offline… With one of my apartments, I must go in person to pay the shared building expenses, which never total more than 15 euros per month. The building manager is an elderly man in his 70s who uses a walker to get around. When I arrive, no matter the time, his apartment is spotless, and he is perfectly dressed. His desk has a gigantic ledger book with a million little notes of payments probably going back decades. Sometimes he is alone, sometimes he is having coffee with another elderly friend, but he always asks me about my life, my family and if everything is ok for me here in Greece. The whole transaction takes about 20 minutes, and honestly, there is something really touching about it. Something that would never happen if we just used Paypal.
6) Street food! Downtown Athens has become like the United Nations of inexpensive food. There is Street Wok, Falafellas, Grexico, Vegan Nation and Pink Flamingo Dim Sum just to name a few…
7) The colors. The grass on Filopappou Hill becomes the most vivid shade of green in the winter. Some Athens sunsets make the buildings turn this beautiful pink hue. During the summer, the sea becomes this brilliant crystal blue. And when the Parthenon lights up at night, it becomes a shade of yellow that is magical.
8) In Greece, time is shared, and outcomes are sold. With my two Airbnb apartments, I’ve had countless repair people come to fix things. They only charge me if they can actually fix the problem, otherwise the visit is free. Same goes with veterinarians—if I take with my dog to the vet but they decide nothing is wrong, the visit is free. It is amazing, and very different from my life in San Francisco.
9) Greek taxis. Taxis in Greece are extremely cheap and easy to hail. I call it the Yellow Line because for just a little bit more than the price a metro ticket, you can effortlessly get across town. And the taxi drivers themselves are a whole experience. Maybe I will never have a car again…
10) Each year I discover new places. Last year, it was Sifnos, the most delicious island in Greece, where I will return this year to host a yoga holiday. The island has several hot spots like Apollonia (named after Apollo), a really colorful downtown with festival bars and clubs, Artemonas (named after Artemis), a village with great tavernas and art galleries and Platis Gialos, a beachside village with excellent restaurants. And it’s a new year so we’ll see what adventures 2018 holds… 🙂
I really recommend everyone post an annual list of what they love about where they live. A hidden benefit is it keeps your mind on the lookout all year long for things you like about where you live. So nice! ☀️☀️☀️
Top Ten Things, February 2017
While I continue to struggle with the language, I have now found a Greek school I truly love. It is the basement of a church building, and my classmates are from everywhere in the world—Afghanistan, Russia, Portugal, Moldova, Bulgaria, and beyond. The best thing about the school is the teacher, Yannis Kappa, who is very sensitive and careful with us so despite the fact I flush red with embarrassment at least once per lesson, I leave class feeling very nice. The second best thing about the school is that it is free and a 10 minute walk from my house. Amazing.
My new puppy is a special Greek breed called the Hellenikos Poimenikos (Greek Shepherd). They are bred to fight bears and are known for being very loyal, tough, independent, strong-willed and a bit stubborn. She, in particular, is also very joyous. 🙂
Getting things repaired in Greece is very inexpensive. I had my boots from last winter resoled, cleaned and had two holes repaired for 5 euros. The boots were ready the next day, and the shoe repairman even sewed a rose pattern into the hole patch—so nice!
It turns out the mountains in Greece are just as beautiful as the islands. This last year I discovered Meteora. Its views literally take my breath away.
I have found a Krav Maga studio I love. The teacher, Michalis Kafetzis is very charismatic and inspiring, and I didn’t realize how much I would like being part of a team. Plus, I am getting very strong…
Greek Easter. Even though I’m not religious, I love going to church at midnight with my Easter candle and then having the special dinner afterwards. Part of the fun is that it feels like all of Greece is celebrating together. 🙂
Despite the economic situation, the city remains very vibrant. It has places like the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, companies like Forky.com and Taxibeat, and restaurants like Sushi Mou (whose chef was named one of the top 100 chefs in the world). Greece, it seems, is staging a comeback. 😉
The coffee culture. Coffee and its consumption are a huge part of the social fabric and keep the city lively. At all hours of the day, the cafes are filled, and they even have coffee delivery all over Athens—on scooters and on foot with these special silver trays.
After five years in Athens, I now have local friends who have known me for most of that time. Having a shared history with people I live with is worth more than I can explain and was the thing I missed the most when I first moved from San Francisco.
For the roughly what I paid for my last car in San Francisco, I was able to buy a small apartment near Acropolis. It is on Airbnb, so if you are coming to Athens, you can stay in it. 🙂
Top Ten Things, February 2016
Koukaki has been named one of the 10 trendiest neighborhoods in the world: http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2016/jan/11/worlds-coolest-neighbourhoods-airbnb-rentals-bangkok-japank-kuala-lumpur
It is totally normal to book a doctor or manicure appointment at 9:00 pm…
In less than 2 hours and with under 100 euros, I can easily change cultures, languages, currencies, and cuisines.
It’s easy to be emotional in Greece. I’m very uncomfortable crying in public but the few times I’ve done it here, everyone leans in–way in–to see what’s wrong, how can they help, etc. There is no possible way to get away with “I’m fine.” They don’t accept that at all…And it feels so nice. 🙂
I am 4,000 miles away from the US Presidential Election.
Greek merchants are very flexible. In instances when I haven’t had enough cash with me, they’ve let me buy groceries, pet food, get my nails done and have medical appointments with a casual wave of the hand—“you can pay next time!“ Once they even let me rent a car without my driver’s license…impressive. dear greece, you remind me that all things are possible…
Even though I have visited maybe a dozen Greek islands, I still feel like I’ve just scratched the surface. There are so many islands you can stay interested for years and years…
I can go to the laiki (outdoor market) and buy all the fresh fruit and vegetables I need for a week for less than 25 euros. And it’s fun.
I now know enough people that I randomly bump into friends when I’m out on the street. That might not seem like a big deal, but when you start from zero, it’s huge.
The pace of life I have here has allowed me time to write a book. I’m very grateful for that and I’m not sure I would have been able to do it in my more fast-paced San Francisco life.