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What did I expect to see when travelling from New Zealand to Greece?

New Zealand: a small country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, marked by some as so geographically irrelevant it’s rudely left off world maps entirely.

In short: it’s isolated, so the closest I’ve been to Greece is in front of a television screen. Most memorably when I was 12 years old, it was 2008 and the year Mama Mia was released, filmed on the island of Skopelos. I saw it three times at the cinema. While ABBA and Meryl Streep are by no means an accurate representation of Greece, its people and its culture, one thing was unmistakable; the locations made for an incredibly aesthetic cinematic experience. The extensive span of crystal clear water and golden sand beaches, the characteristic white buildings with splashes of blue and tumbling pink bougainvillaea. For a young girl in awe of the magical place that this film revealed, a seed was planted, and 11 years later here I am flying into Athens.

Greece: the cradle of Western civilisation and one of the most visited countries in Europe. Offering so much more than Mama Mia than this little New Zealander could imagine. When I tell people my next stop is Athens they either respond with an envious sigh and mention they’ve never been but have always wanted to go, or their eyes light up and fog over with a reminiscent haze as they begin to talk excitedly about where, why and what I must see. So what is it that makes this place so appealing? Not just for me, but for the millions of travellers that frequent Greece each year.

The History

The Parthenon, part of the Acropolis, is probably one of the most defining architectural features of Greece to those who have never been.

Its towering marble columns and extensive views of the city make it a bustling tourist attraction, and it will be one of my first stops. While I don’t know a lot, Greek mythology and the Gods have become popularised in Western culture and are portrayed everywhere from Disney films like Hercules to blockbusters like Clash of the Titans, so Zeus, Poseidon and Hades are all familiar. As well as mythology, Greece is home to founding philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Whether or not you’ve read their work, you’ve heard their names. The first settlers in New Zealand probably arrived between 1200 and 1300 AD and Brittish colonisation officially occurred in 1840, so in comparison, historically, New Zealand is a baby.

Travelling allows us to broaden our horizons and provides a unique experience to learn first hand. For me, Greece will be no exception and I’m eager to take such a profound step back in time.

 

☞ Related: A Simple Guide To The Most Famous Greek Philosophers

What To See In Greece – History

  • See The Acropolis and Acropolis Museum
  • Watch a play at Herodotus Atticus Theatre
  • Walk Around Monastiraki and Plaka

The Place  I Come From 

© Marcia Welch
© Marcia Welch
© Marcia Welch
© Marcia Welch
© Marcia Welch
© Marcia Welch
mountains in New Zealand -
© Marcia Welch

The Place  I Come To

Aeropagus Hill in Athens
© Marcia Welch
delphi theatre
© Canva Library
Athens Definitely Greece
© Definitely Greece
Castle in Corfu Definitely Greece
© Definitely Greece

The Lifestyle

People who have lived in Greece have told me that the pace of life is relaxed.

While things don’t move as quickly, it’s purposeful. Essentially you’re on island time, which is a mentality I can very much appreciate, but often don’t have time to practise. Life can be hectic and even traveling can be quite exhausting, so the prospect of being in a place that welcomes and even forces a more relaxed approach to living is inviting. And when there is so much to be appreciated, what a good mindset to be in.

What To Experience in Greece – Lifestyle 

  • Become comfortable with the driving situation (on the other side)
  • Sip coffee by the water without a care in the world
  • Stop to talk to random Greek yiayias (and try to understand what they are saying)

☞ Related: Greek Coffee Culture 

  • Have raki in Crete
  • Go swimming at night (since the water is always warm in the summer)
  • Go out for dinner at “Greek time” (after 8 or 9pm)
coffee spot Athens Greece
© Definitely Greece
Thessaloniki waterfront view sunset
© Definitely Greece

The Food

I’m a foodie, so as well the pleasure I gain from the destinations themselves, eating the local cuisine is a large part of how I immerse myself in the culture, not to mention it’s delicious!

The opportunity for trying traditional Greek food at home is minimal, but what I have tried I have enjoyed. For example, dolmadakia, which is rice wrapped in grape leaves, courtesy of the local farmers market. Occasionally, I attempt to make a Greek salad at home, but one thing I’ve learnt so far on my travels about traditional food is that nothing can beat the version made at its place of origin. Maybe its the combination of local ingredients, original recipes and exquisite locations, but honestly nothing can compare.

A macaroon in France, magnifique. Gelato in Milan, fantastico. And Greece? Of course a traditional Greek salad is a must, and will likely be a vast improvement of my own. Spanakopita and souvlaki are some savory treats well known even to those who have never been to Greece. You name it, I will be trying it. 

What To Experience in Greece – Food 

  • Have seafood I haven’t tried before
  • Have Greek Salad with the correct amount of extra virgin olive oil (a lot)
  • Real spanakopita (try to pronounce it correctly)
  • Skip the Greek coffee (sorry Greek friends)
  • Have my first souvlaki (with tzatziki)
  • Try bougatsa (pie with custard)
Traditional Food Definitely Greece
© Definitely Greece
Dolmadakia Traditional Food Definitely Greece
© Marcia Welch
baker holding on bread in Ikaria island Greece
© Definitely Greece
Traditional Taverna in the mountains of Crete
© Definitely Greece

Where to from here!

When traveling to a new place I crave authenticity, something that can sometimes be hard to achieve as an outsider.

So when researching, must-see historical places and most authentic places to eat at, are my priorities. However, language barriers and limited knowledge in such a large web of information can be hard to process. Food is left uneaten and historical places left unseen! Even with boundless resources, no amount of googling can offer you the opportunities that a local can. It saves time and stress and sometimes the best places are those less well known and off the beaten track, which won’t come up on your top ten searches on TripAdvisor. 

Coming from a small town in New Zealand to Greece is a big deal and part of my excitement comes from the unknown. My interpretation of Greece is based on the stories, pictures and experiences of those before me. And while we may be isolated, I have the benefit of arriving with a completely blank slate, ready to fill it with the places, people and adventures that Greece has to offer. I’m beyond excited to unravel this Mediterranean mystery. 

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