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On Loving Greece

"Dear Matt,
I want to thank you for your guide. It really made our trip easy following your advice and your love for this beautiful country shines through your writing. We look forward to our next trip to Greece.
Maynard G Krebs

Crete ferriesI get e-mails like this every day. I enjoy reading them and some of them I save on my testimonials page where I have thousands. So many I stopped posting them because it seemed like showing off. It makes me happy that my website enables people to go through their holidays without going through some of the crap that I do. As for my love for Greece, well, I guess I do love Greece, or most of it. I certainly miss it when I am away and I have moments of quiet euphoria when I am here. But it is like when I say I love my wife. I hate it though when she snores, or turns off the AC in the middle of the night because she is cold and I wake up drenched in sweat, or that glazed robotic look she gets when she shops, or when she bitches and complains or tells the same story for the 500th time as if she is telling it for the first time. There's more stuff but that's besides the point. Greece is the same way. There is a lot I hate about Greece. Anyone who has lived in a third world country knows what I mean and Greece is like a third world country. So many people are working just for their own interests yet in such a careless way that if anything can go wrong it will and once it does it begins a spiral of problems that either exasperate you or make you smile at the perfection of Greece's imperfections.

Kamares, SifnosI suppose you could read my pages and conclude that I merely love Greece. I know the Greeks do. I get e-mails all the time telling me that my site makes them feel proud of their country but that's because I paint such a pretty picture. But if I was a Corvair salesman I am going to promote the sporty interior, comfortable bucket seats, and classic body lines, not the fact that it explodes on impact.

So I write about the things I like and those I don't, I try to include them in a way that allows people to avoid them, but in a funny way that may make light of an experience that had me on the verge of pressing the delete button for my entire website. These little things that drive me crazy about Greece don't seem so little while they are happening. They become funny later in the telling of the story because by then the anger is gone and I can see the humor of it, or the hopelessness of a situation that is spiraling out of control and will not stop until it reaches rock bottom or I can detach myself and find the secret escape hatch.

Ferry to SifnosLets take the ferries as an example. In a country where things run smoothly I would have caught one of the Friday morning ferries to Sifnos following my overnight trip from Lesvos. The schedule said the ship would arrive at 6:45am and there were 3 or 4 ferries leaving for Sifnos between 7 and 7:30am. But wait a second. Why are there four ferries leaving at the same time and then no ferries all day long until around 4pm when there are 3 ferries leaving at the same time? Why don't they space the ferries out every few hours? And why so early in the morning? Because ferry company A is afraid that if they leave at say 9am, then ferry company B will get all the passengers on their 7am boat. So they all bunch their departure times together and anyone willing to wake up at 5:30am has a choice of several boats. But if you miss them you have to wait til that night to catch another. And this is not just Sifnos. If you look at the schedule 80% of the ferries to the Greek islands leave between 7 and 7:30am. That creates a traffic jam of ships leaving and also delays the overnight ships from Lesvos, Chios, Crete and Rhodes which all arrive around 7:30am. These ships are massive and unload their cars and people at the same time as people are leaving for the islands. Pireaus is a madhouse at 7am. Then to make matters worse, the highspeed ships that go to the Cyclades return around 5pm, just as the second round of boats is leaving. So for another couple hours you have complete chaos as people are trying to board their ferry at the same time as thousands of people, cars and trucks are arriving on other ferries. Its a giant traffic jam of metal and humanity with the port policemen blowing whistles and trying to keep things somewhat organized, an impossible task when you have crowds of humans trying to make their way through other humans moving in the opposite direction as well as cars and eighteen wheel trucks. But except for this couple hours of insanity the port of Pireaus is pretty quiet and the port policemen can hang out, smoke cigarettes and wait for the occasional stray arrival of a boat from the islands.

Sppedrunner ferry to SifnosSo we missed the ferry and since this is Greece the next three ferries each had a unique flaw which magnified the missing of the morning ferry to the level of Greek tragedy. The best, fastest and cleanest ferry was booked solid. The other highspeed only had VIP tickets and would have cost us $500 for a three hour trip, and the slow ferry was a filthy rust-bucket kept afloat by bribes, which I could handle, however it took about 8 hours to go where a normal slow ferry would take less than 6. What would you have done in that situation? I seriously considered just driving to Lavrion, taking one of the frequent and reliable ferries to Kea and sleeping in my own bed that night, and even the next day at breakfast this option was discussed.

Kamares, SifnosWell in the end I convinced my family not to abandon me and go back to Kea and we took the 5:30 Speedrunner and made it to Sifnos in about three hours after being in the middle of the most hellacious traffic jam, wedged between a giant oil tanker truck and 300 cars and people that were getting off the Highspeed from Santorini and cutting right across the line that was trying to board the boat to Sifnos as soon as it emptied from its morning trip. I had a great vantage point of the port policemen directing traffic, answering questions and keeping their cool in the summer heat as people wandered around as if in a trance, trying to make the transition from quiet island life to the noise and confusion of Pireaus, the busiest seaport in the Mediterranean. The trip went quickly and despite sitting in the hottest part of the boat with my laptop actually on my lap and making me even hotter, I was able to catch up on all my e-mail and even check the baseball scores on SNY.TV and we had something of a welcome home party at Claudios Italian restaurant that night with some of my oldest friends from high school. In the end it was worth it and whatever angst and suffering I went through just made another funny story to tell at dinner and lunch the next day.

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