Greece is a land for lovers and dreamers, writers and poets. Greece is where you learn to stand still and simply enjoy the very fact you are alive. Greece is where you go to truly understand the meaning of the word "Relaxation". Greece is not where you go if you like busses to run on time, or even at all, and Greece is definitely not the place to go if you are on a tight schedule or a planned itinerary. You learn the pleasure of slowing down to the pace of the islands. Take your time as you sit and watch the sunlight play off the white washed houses and golden ripples off the impossibly blue sea, listen to the fishermen chatting and laughing as they check their nets for the next day, if the weather is fair. Nothing much has changed over the thousands of years. Life is still run by the gods of wind, weather and the sea. No GreekIslander would ever dream of complaining about "pressures" or "deadlines". Life on the islands merely continues on its own shambolic but somehow well-ordered way as it always has, and if anything does go wrong, you are met with a smile, a shrug of the shoulders and a "What can we do?" It's just that simple.
For city people used to the hustle and bustle of a fast moving modern world, to edge into the Greek attitude and way of life can be challenging and frustrating, schedules and timetables seem only to exist to note how late you actually are, but wherever it is you are going, you always get there eventually and probably will have made some really good friends in the process, such is the natural openness of the Greek people. Greece must be experienced by meeting as many Greek people as possible, otherwise you stand a good chance of missing out on the true essence of Greece.
How to go:
It's easy to pick up a package tour to Greece, a nice hotel in a good part of your chosen island with everything sorted out for you, but by doing this you will miss the most exciting part of your trip, dealing with the Greek Transport System! It's fairly rough around the edges, but with patience and fortitude, you get where you're going and had plenty of fun at the same time. I feel sorry for those who do Greek Island Cruises. Many times I have sat at a harbor taverna watching the cruise ships come in, unload their passengers who hurtle towards the shops at full speed, frantically buying souvenirs before the ships hooter sounds and they are all shepherded back to their ship. That's not visiting Greece, in fact I think most of the cruise ship passengers hardly know which island they were on at any one time, a case of "If it's Tuesday, this must be Mykonos!"
To get the proper taste of Greece, take a ferry from Piraeus, the port near Athens, to which ever island you want to go to. Once you arrive at the port of your island, a hoard of children will descent upon you waving photo's of accommodation, shouting, "Room! Room! Room!" Take the closest to the harbor for a couple of nights and then when you have scouted out the town, you can more easily move to somewhere better. This is fun, and you meet plenty of people who will give you tips and places to go which makes your trip even more special! Whatever you do, don't restrict yourself to one island, just repeat the above on a couple of islands at least during your trip, each island is different and has a unique atmosphere all of its own.
When to go:
Small hotels open round about April and close roughly mid October. The rule of thumb is the further south your island is, the longer the season will be. Sometimes in late October when you leave your hotel, they will close up behind you and leave themselves for Athens for the winter, you being the last client. The hottest, and most crowded, months are July and August, that's peak season and you will be over run with crowds, rooms will be difficult to get, ferries and busses crowded and staff at taverna's will be a little snappy at times! For me, the best times to go is May and June, the weather is beautiful and everything is much less crowded, and in May, you have the chance of seeing the magnificent displays of wild flowers growing all over the islands. September is also a really nice month to visit, but the more northern islands start to get a bit rainy at that time of year. I once went to Paros in June one year, when the average temperature was meant to be 23-25 Degrees, it was actually over 40 Degrees for my entire stay with a very unseasonable heat wave, even the locals were getting edgy!
How to get there:
It's a bit of a problem getting to Greece from South Africa these days, since Olympic Airways have stopped flying here, but the best way would be via Dubai, with a bit of a stop-over. Be prepared for a good few hours wait. Turkish Airlines will get you there, but as they would rather you visited their own resorts on the coast, they tend to be a bit pricy. Eygpt Air is the cheapest but be prepared for a bit of a bun-fight at Cairo-I have heard of some extraordinary things happening to luggage at Cairo Airport, so be warned!
Greece is not just a place to go, it is an experience just waiting for you to discover. The islands, the sea and most important of all, the people. From spellbinding sunsets, smiling welcomes, ancient civilisations and a complete disregard for the norms of the modern world, Greece is a magic kind of medicine that no doctor could possibly prescribe, to be taken regularly, at least once a year!