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Greek islands life

Life in the Greek Islands

Visitors to the Greek islands will soon notice that the Greek way of life is quite different from that at home. The first hint will probably be the relaxed Greek attitude to timekeeping. They have a motto - do tomorrow what you can do today - and this easygoing approach to life fits in well with the tourist on holiday.

The unhurried Greek seems to enjoy life and this is nowhere more apparent than at the regular religious festivals when a whole island can turn out to enjoy the street celebrations. Greeks are also very hospitable, especially to strangers. They have a word for it 'filoxenia', althoughit means more than just being friendly.

Literally, it means 'love of strangers' and it may result in getting invited to a Greek fam ily celebration and being offered the best food and wine in the house. Greeks take great pride in generosity to strangers and it is what can define a Greek island holiday. If you don't have cash to pay for a taverna meal you will be told to 'pay tomorrow'; if it rains (unusual) you may be offered an umbrella to return when you are next passing.

Family is also very important to Greek culture. Sons usually stay at home until they are married. Mothers tend to dote on sons, especially when they are young. Men rarely help with the running of the home and many will be found in the local cafe, especially early in the morning before going to work.

The climate plays its part too. Days start early before it gets too hot and afternoons can be taken up with a siesta from 2pm - 5pm. Greeks will often return to work from 5pm - 8pm. They also eat late - usually after 10pm - and families with children can often be seen enjoying a taverna meal after midnight. In this way the Greeks manage to pack two days into one.


Greeks and the euro

Greek money
Euro coin
Greek notes
Euro notes

Exchanging money on the Greek Islands

Years ago Greek holidays were among the cheapest in the Mediterranean. Now that Greece is in the Eurozone and prices are on a par with those in the UK.

No other currency than the euro is accepted and it is best to exchange currency at a bank or at any money exchange kiosk. Take care over the commission charges on changing money in Greece as they can vary widely. The money exchange rate is the same throughout Greece and banks or official exchange shops should offer the daily going rate for the euro.

Euro coins come in eight denominations: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents.
Banknotes come in denominations: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 notes.

Commission rates on changing money at some airports can be very high (they often have to pay expensive rents). If you must change money at the airport it is probably best to get just enough to last a couple of days until you can get to a bank. Banks in Greece are usually open 8am - 2.30pm Monday to Thursday and 8am - 2pm on Friday. Greek Island banks usually close over the weekend. Banks on larger Greek islands do tend to stay open later the afternoon and some will offer currency exchange facilities in the evening during the tourist season. The worst place to exchange money is often a hotel as transaction rates can be very high indeed.

It is a good idea to always have some cash on hand if you are island hopping in the Greek Islands. You can use a cash card on ATM machines but rates can be high and it is not unknown for Greek cash machines to run out of money, especially on the less popular islands. Some Greek islands only have cash machines in the main town. There are also reports of ATMs refusing to dispense cash and only offering cryptic messages instead although I've never come across this myself.

Click here for the late euro exchange rates

There are no restrictions on the import or export of currency but you must declare sums over €10,000 or equivalent if you are travelling outside the European Union. All the major currencies are widely accepted at banks but extra charges can be applied to currencies other than pounds sterling. Credit cards are widely accepted in shops, stores and restaurants located in the main resorts but if you are travelling to more remote villages then you are advised to take some cash with you.


Greeks and health

Greek medical services Citizens of EU countries can obtain a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which replaces the old E111 form in the UK.
This entitles you to free state-provided medical treatment but it won't cover the cost of medicines or nursing. Outside Athens few seem to know or care about the form.
Better to get good travel insurance, keep receipts and claim when you get back.

Greek pharmacies

Many Greek islands have a health centre despite their small size. Young trainee doctors are often posted there for our equivalent of an intern year and are usually very good and, most importantly, often speak excellent English - so you can explain what is wrong without an embarrassing pantomime performance.

Pharmacies are also a good place to visit for common ailments. Pharmacists in Greece are very often highly trained and can offer good medical help and advice for free - unlike assistants in British chemists who always seem, to me at least, one pill short of a party. Again there is usually someone there who speaks excellent English. Medications can be rather more expensive than in Britain.

Care in Greek hospitals has much improved in recent years and is now generally very good too. But note that nurses will only perform medical duties - they will not look after you as the proverbial angels do in British hospitals, you are expected to take care of yourself ill or not. On the islands, of course, you won't get to hospital without a boat trip.


Greece and junk

Skiathos street
Skiathos street

Greece and concrete

Greeks love concrete. They pour the stuff everywhere, usually very badly. Wet cement is tamped down with old bits of wood and the result - an uneven, unsightly mess.

As long ago as 1997 the government clamped down on shoddy and indiscriminate building, but it was already 20 years too late to save many streets from breeze block squalor. It can be seen everywhere.

Take care on the street too. Repairs are often unfenced, kerbs can perch 20cm above the road and concrete steps can vary enormously. You get used to it, but beware - most holiday accidents happen in the first 24 hours (well before you get used to it).

No Greek street scene would be complete without an unfinished building on the go. Houses are often left half finished, some for years at a time. Builders may turn up from time to time for a brief flurry of cement mixing, but then they leave the half-built homes for weeks, months, even years

Naxos street
Naxos street

Greece and litter

Landscapes of such beauty that leave the rest of us gasping in wonder are seen by the Greeks as nothing more than a thumping good site for tipping a load of old junk. There is a hillside in Kefalonia that is awash with forgotten washing machines, coolers and fridges and a seaside cliff site in Paros that looks like a demolition junk yard.

Roadside verges on the islands are almost everywhere covered in litter. Plastic bags are the most popular, but cans, bottles and nylon rope are not without their followers. In towns and villages you will find roadside bins surrounded by bottle, boxes and bags.

The biggest litter dumps of all are often the beaches and the sea. Plastic bags bob along like shoals of jellyfish and bottles, cans and nail-riddled driftwood are a common sight.

Paros hillside
Paros hillside

Greece and fencing

I am not one to argue that chain link fencing does not have its place in the modern world. Military installations, industrial compounds, dangerous mine shafts and poisoned wasteland all need protection from interlopers and crude ugliness may be the price to pay for making such sites secure. Not in Greece.

Greeks throw up chain link fencing anywhere and everywhere it is bent, rusting, broken and completely ineffective for its original purpose (whatever that may have been). The stuff just lies around in a purposeless sprawl.

There is a historic coastal site at Alyki in Thassos of astonishing natural beauty that boasts the ruins of some of the earliest Christian basilicas. It also harbours a concentration camp labyrinth of ten-foot-high rusty chain link fencing, the only purpose of which appears to be to keep visitors off the ruins.

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