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Myths About Greece

Have you fallen for any of these?

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Almost everyone traveling to Greece has a private image of what it is really like, long before they exit the plane. But is this inner Greece accurate? Find out if you've fallen for any of these dozen fallacies and fantasies about travel in Greece.

1. It's Always Hot - or at least Warm - in Greece

Summer on the Greek island of Lefkada.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Greece in the spring, summer, and early fall can be hot. But get caught in the strong winds, and even a sunny day can turn a bit cool. In later fall and winter, depending on where you come from, Greece can be cold. And visitors from perpetually warmer climes, with warmer waters, may get a little chilly at other times as well.

2. Greece Closes in Winter

The Parthenon and Acropolis under a rare blanket of snow.
Milos Bicanski/Getty Images
Some Greek islands get a little harder to get to in winter, especially if they have no airport. But guess what - Greeks live in Greece all year round, and seem to manage just fine. The tourist attractions remain open and there are plenty of hotels to accommodate visitors. Greece also has a great bargain ski season with a number of resorts, including some with extensive snowboarding areas.

3. Greeks Burst Into Singing and Dancing At Any Moment

Maybe this one is not quite a myth, depending on where you go - there are some tavernas with shows or a proprietor who decides to Zorba it up a bit. Or an inspired tourist may decide to get things going on their own to the piped-in music. But the best place to experience Greek dancing is to attend the local saint's festivals, a wedding, or a baptism. Sooner or later, someone will get up and start a circle dance. It could be you.

4. Greek Wine is Terrible

What's in that carafe?
Picture of Greek wine carafe copyright deTraci Regula; licensed to About.com
This used to be somewhat true - the rough wines produced after centuries of relative winelessness under the Ottoman Empire made wines in the birthplace of wine a bit sketchy. And it still pays to ask to taste-test Uncle Stavros' wine before ordering a tin carafe full of it. But Greece's bottled wines have grown up in the past couple of decades, moving far beyond the iconic retsina, and there are many good wines in Greece. One safe choice for the budget minded - Boutari. But please don't stop there.

Oenorama 2012
Greek Wineries, Winetasting, and Food Festivals
Crete's Haunted Winery

5. Greeks are Lazy, Overpaid and Financially Irresponsible

No, no, no. Of all the myths about travel in Greece, this one annoys me the most. Most Greeks in the tourism sector work every day from April into October, often pulling ten and twelve hour shifts. The patient shopgirl is probably making 4-5 Euro an hour; your waiter is probably not doing much better. Greeks in other fields work just as hard. The Greek financial crisis had many causes, but the average Greek had nothing to do with most of them. Don't believe me? Look at the expatriate Greeks in your own area.

6. Greeks Hate America

Greeks can ably argue policy details that leave many Americans' heads spinning. Debating politics is in their blood, and they will not hesitate to share their opinions when given any encouragement at all. But with almost every Greek boasting relatives in the States, there's no hatred of Americans - just annoyance with some policies and a few historic hiccups - such as the support of the U.S. for the hated regime of "the Colonels" in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The annual commemoration of November 17th, when the Colonels had students at Athens Polytechnic University shot, always includes a protest at the U.S. Embassy which is usually covered by the media, which keeps this unfortunate myth alive.

7. Greece is Cheap

Euros - for now.
Picture of Greek euros copyright deTraci Regula; licensed to About.com
Prior to joining the Euro, Greece was a true travel bargain. Since then, it has lost some of its competitiveness. Would a return to the drachma mean a return to bargain-basement Greece? Maybe - but in the meantime, Greece has encouraged the development of some world-class resorts. They won't be going on that much of a sale any time soon.

The Death of the Drachma
I wrote this piece at the time of the changeover, but perhaps I was a little premature - anyone here believe in "re-in-cash-nation"?

8. Greeks (and others) Drink Ouzo for Breakfast

A glass of Ouzo
Picture of ouzo copyright by deTraci Regula; licensed to About.com
Um, sometimes. But you won't find it on the menu. I have had raki prescribed as a cure-all to ward off an incipient cold one morning. Unfortunately, despite determined cries of "Yasou!" (To your health!)it didn't work, though I didn't mind being sick nearly as much.

9. All the Good Antiquities Have Left the Country

I polled some acquaintances to find out what their take on Greek travel myths would reveal, and this one surprised me - apparently the Parthenon-Elgin Marbles controversy has resulted in some people thinking that there are few sites worth seeing in Greece itself. (Again, I'm just reporting this one!) It's not true - Greece has amazing places to visit and enough antiquity-packed museums to keep even the most avid museum junkie extremely happy.

10. Greek Food is Boring

What? Emphatically not true. Greek food is delicious and is offered in a greater variety than ever, using the fresh traditional ingredients that make it such a healthy indulgence. What is true? It usually doesn't pack a lot of heat, in temperature or in spicy flavor, though Northern Greece adds its local Florina peppers. If you can't live without the bite of hot sauce, you may want to bring your own.

But some like boring food - which accounts for the reassuring tone of Dining Out Greek for the Timid

11. You Can't Throw Greek Toilet Paper into Greek Toilets

Amusing toilet signs may replace magazines.
Picture by deTraci Regula; licensed to About.com
Absolutely true. Place the paper in the wastepaper basket beside the toilet. Whether a true myth or not, most Greek hotel keepers believe that their narrow old pipes cannot handle paper. While more luxurious establishments may omit the handle little signs and stickers reminding users to use the basket, they would prefer you do so. And her are some more things you should know about Greece - but probably don't ... at least not yet.

12. Italy is in Greece - or Vice-Versa

It's Santorini, not San Torini
Picture copyright deTraci Regula; licensed to About.com
San Torini - the famed beautiful island with its violent volcano didn't it wipe out Pompeii? Oh, no, wait, that was Mount Etna, but surely San Torini is an Italian island, right? Well, not quite. There is no saint named "Torini", and the so-miscalled San Torini actually does derive from Italian - Santa Irene, Saint Peace, held over from the Venetian occupation of many of the Greek islands. But the current very Greek island is Santorini not San Torini, though it used to be called either Strongyle or Kallisti, both names which can still sound somewhat Italian.

The confusion of Greek and Italian sites doesn't stop there - I once had a travel agent contact me to find out how her client could visit the ruins of Pompeii during her day-long port stop at Piraeus, the port of Athens. While a complicated combination of planes, helicopters, and speed-mad taxi drivers (available in both Greece and Italy) could have made it just possible, I don't think it was the client's actual intention. Maybe she meant the Parthenon ?

It doesn't help that some of the best-preserved Greek temples are at Paestum in Italy, a remnant from the "Magna Graecia" period when Greece followed the Minoan model and set up colonies in many places around the Mediterranean, including all along the coasts of Italy before the rise of the Romans. Turkey also boasts some excellent Greek ruins from other colonies, which has caused strained relations with Greece when Turkey has used pictures of "their" Greek temples in tourism advertising.

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