Monthly Archives: May 2015

My first “real” tour outside Athens… or, how I lost two kilos in a day

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As many of you know, in 2012, after coming back from my long trip in Latin America, I decided to work in the tourism industry. I realised that my greatest passion is showing people “the Real Greece”. I like showing visitors what I like (and some things I don’t necessarily like) about “the real” Athens and Greece. The whole concept is to make people feel like locals for a few hours, or a few days – though it’s probably impossible to avoid all tourist sights and activities.

So I got involved with a few alternative tourism companies, like Alternative Tours of Athens, Dopios and, most importantly, Circle Adventures – we’ve done about 25 tours with the latter and going strong! I also launched “Real Greek Experiences” to offer travel advice and walking tours in Athens – website coming soon.

I’ve done many walking tours in Athens now – it’s something I will never get tired of, as there is always something new to see, and I simply can’t get enough of people’s reactions when I help them discover the hidden corners of Athens or a dish / dessert / drink that they wouldn’t know how to ask for. However, I hadn’t really thought of organising tours outside Athens – other than with / for my lovely English boyfriend.

But, a few days ago, I had an offer from another company to take three people to the Peloponnese. Rather short notice. Including archaeological sites. And lots of driving. And a rather tight schedule to places I hadn’t been for years.

Yikes.

My lovely English boyfriend is not only a writer and a blogger, but also an driver (an exceptional one, too). So it was just natural to ask him to drive us there – and as he loves a challenge, and a road trip, he didn’t hesitate one minute. It was also natural (well, half-natural) to ask my father to lend us his BMW, though I hesitated a lot before asking – that was something I had never done before!

But there you go, if you don’t ask you don’t get, and we did. Besides, renting a car proved to be a lot more difficult than we had originally thought – lots of tricks and hidden costs there!

So there we were, driving the BMW on our way to collect the clients, and needless to say I was nervous. When were the temples in Olympia built? Where did we have to turn after Tripoli? Who had designed that temple whose name I couldn’t remember? Having a GPS that doesn’t work in English wasn’t exactly helpful either (my lovely English boyfriend hasn’t managed to grasp our complicated language quite yet).

Tell you what, these were the loveliest people ever. An American couple from New Orleans, and one of their four daughters, with plenty of interesting stories to share and lots of questions about Greece! Within 10 minutes I had forgotten all my initial stress, and was enjoying the ride!

After driving around a lovely highway, a scenic route by the coast, and among several village houses, we arrived at the Ancient Site of Olympia. For those who like ancient Greece and are interested in archaeology, this site is an absolute must-see. Lots of history, amazing landscape, and rather few tourists…

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On the next day we started off by stopping on the beach at Kyparissia area. This, in my opinion, is one of the loveliest beaches in Greece, and possibly the longest one. There was noone else there, and I would have loved to go for a swim – but I’ll have to wait for July, when we’ll be back in the Peloponnese!

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Then we went on to visit a winery. This was not just ANY winery, it was Kalogris winery, in Kapsias village near Tripoli. It’s a family winery run by super-friendly people – they make about 11.000 bottles of wine per year, and two of them are named after the daughters, Kiriaki and Tatiani! We got to taste everything, while listening to rock’n’roll music – needless to say we all bought a few bottles, which we had to cram under our seats as the boot was completely full πŸ™‚ Obviously the driver had to pass on that one – so I owe him one…

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Our next stop was the first capital of modern Greece, Nafplion. Arguably the prettiest city in Greece (my other preferences include Ioannina and Chania), but also one of the most touristy ones, Nafplio sits on the coast and it’s a mix of beautifully restored houses, elegant touristy shops, blue sea and nice little cafes. Given the Venetians stayed here for a while, it also has a somewhat italian atmosphere. And lovely Italian icecream! We also found a weird church where, for the first time in my life, I saw an icon of the Holy Spirit (a dove) as well as an icon of God…

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Our last stop was the Ancient site of Corinth. After Olympia, I found this one to be less elegant and less interesting, but it might have been because I was getting tired. I did, however, manage to get a pic with my lovely boyfriend, who I guess I can call Dave from now on πŸ˜›

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Note: I’m standing on my toes. Those northern Europeans are tall!

After visiting Corinth, it was time to go back home. But first we had to take our lovely guests to their hotel in the middle of nowhere, and then return the car to my parents, while trying to squeeze our stories from two days in about a half hour as we were both knackered.

Weight next day: 49.9 kilos! All that stress and running around came with a price! Time for more ice-cream!

I loved this trip, and I can’t wait for more to come!

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Couchsurfing – the end of an era?

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I know the posts on this blog are getting more and more irrelevant to each other – that’s the good thing about having a personal blog, you can write whatever you want!

So today I would like to write my collected thoughts on my favourite hospitality exchange website – couchsurfing or CS.

I joined CS in early 2006, a few months after coming back from the UK, and I got hooked very quickly. This website offered me many things at once: the chance to travel, the chance to meet foreigners (something I had liked since childhood), the chance to meet like-minded people in my own city, and the chance to organise various events.

Since 2006, I opened my home to many, many people (I guess it might be around 200… don’t know!), I stayed with over 100 people in Greece and abroad and I organised, or helped organise, several meetings / parties / events / picnics / weekends away etc. I became a so-called “Ambassador” and I felt like I had a lot of responsibilities, and, let’s be honest about it, that I actually had an important role somewhere. CS became a big part of my life, and quite often (= almost always) I planned the rest of my life around it. My close friends who were not on CS complained that they didn’t see me very often. Let alone my family.

In 2012, I took a year off to go to Latin America – I’ve written a few things about it here – and I used CS extensively to stay with people, meet people, plan short trips, ask for information. I travelled for a few months, and when I eventually came back to Greece I discovered, to my surprise, that I wasn’t so interested in hosting people anymore. I was not even interested in meeting people, or organising meetings… What had changed?

Had I actually grown up or grown tired of meeting too many people? Well – several months on the road can offer you a new perspective of life, but I doubt that one year of travelling can change your perception so drastically, especially if your life afterwards is essentially the same routine as before. And I don’t think that “a year older” is too significant.

Was it that the website had changed a lot? This, to me, was a huge part of the reason why I wasn’t (and still am not) too eager to use it. On top of the fact that CS is a company these days, and it’s still thriving on volunteers’ work. However, hosting and meeting people per se has nothing to do with a website interface change.

Was it that the new “generation” of Couchsurfers was different? This is only an assumption, given I don’t really meet many CSers these days, but I tend to think that people these days use CS more as a way to spend no money and less as a way to connect with other people. I do hope I’m wrong here! I won’t go into whether people use CS for dating / hooking up – I guess all of us did at some point, even if it wasn’t our original intention. I do hope, however, that hooking up is not everyone’s main interest these days…

Was it that I joined AirBnB? Actually I don’t think so, as I’ve turned down dozens of AirBnB people, and only hosted four! I found hosting CSers a lot more relaxing, and a lot more interesting, as some AirBnB people just want a room and minimal interaction, and that’s really not my style!

Was it that I had decided that I want to make a living by offering alternative tours to foreigners? This is something I started doing in 2013, and I’m now offering several alternative tours of Athens with a few different companies. I wouldn’t say that “business is thriving”, but I was never too business-minded anyway. In fact I find it more pleasant to show people around for free, than to have paying clients, as the latter will probably have expectations, and it can be somehow stressful. But it’s probably affected my willingness to show people around.

Going one level deeper…

Thinking about my life a few years back, I am realising that the time spent with CSers was, to a certain extent, filling up my free time – perhaps it was even occupying my mind in ways that I couldn’t really see at the time. The more you do in your everyday life, the less time you have to think (this is probably why my friends and colleagues who have full-time jobs and children seem to have less time for abstract, seemingly pointless conversations). I’m not saying everyone is like that, and I’m not saying I’m having abstract, seemingly pointless conversations everyday – but it’s something I enjoy doing, and it needs time to think.

Getting to the point now, those of you who have been to my flat, or have stayed with me, might recognise this little tree below…

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This is a Christmas tree made of post-it notes, that I made one Christmas a few years ago, when I was too lazy to decorate a proper tree. All post-it notes were blank to begin with… and then I had this idea of asking people to write a little note before they left my home.

So, on my door, I’ve got messages from people who we are in touch with very often (my good friends Mutsumi and Duygu being two of them!), messages from people I’ve lost touch with but would love to see again, messages from people that I don’t even remember anymore (sorry!), and perhaps a couple of messages from people that I really, really don’t want to talk to anymore πŸ˜›

So this tree has been on my door for ages.

And now it’s time for it to go, and leave space for new things, because the longer you think about and live in the past, the harder it becomes to move forward πŸ™‚

Plus, I am not living on my own anymore, and, to paraphrase a famous phrase, different times call for different measures – (those ancient Greeks are everywhere)!

I’m not saying my boyfriend and I will never host again. Time will tell. But I prefer to spend my time with people I know already, and get to know them better. And the new “tree” on our door will look a little different!