Frequently Asked Questions about Greece
I recently came to the profound realization that by having a FAQ(Frequently Asked Questions) page then I would not have to keep supplying FSA's (Frequently the Same Answers). I hope this helps in your never ending search for information. In some cases I have included the links where you can find more info on a particular subject or a person who can help you. These are actual responses to people that I have saved. In some cases I have added things I thought would be helpful or subtracted things that I did not think mattered. If this page does not answer your question then send me an e-mail and I will try to help you. Or if you have comments about this page let me know too. If you find this page useful please share it with your friends and soulmates on Facebook or whatever social media has enslaved you. You can also get assistance by joining Matt Barrett's Greece Travel Guides Group on Facebook where you will get lots of the same and different answers from other people who travel to Greece regularly and some who live there.
1.What is the best Airline to get to Greece?
The best airline is the one that gets you there without delays for the best price with the fewest stops and layovers. People say "I will never fly such and such and airline..." but I have flown them all and they can all be equally bad or good. A great deal depends upon the crew, traffic and of course time of year. If you are coming from the USA Delta and USAir fly non-stop to Athens. For more on flying to Greece see www.greektravel.com/flying
2.Where can I find the best deals to Greece from the USA?
The problem with finding a great deal is that most travel agents don't want to spend a lot of time finding a great deal because the more they look and the better the deal is they find, the less they make. Travel agents don't make much money off tickets because of the commission cap imposed by the airlines. But there are deals out there. In fact there are a number of cheap tickets on just about every flight. But they are limited and when they sell out for that flight then you have to get the next cheapest tickets and so on. When you try to book a cheap ticket through one of the giant travel sites you do it by date so it is hit and miss on whether you will find a cheap ticket because the date you ask for may be sold out for that price but the day before or after may not. So what you need is someone who has made it his business to know where the cheap seats are. I recommend David Econopouly at www.greeceflights.com because he is a specialist on getting inexpensive flights to Greece. There is also paid advertising on his site and you can often find cheap flights on those. For more on flying to Greece see www.greektravel.com/flying
3. Are there hotels near the airport for early
departures or late arrivals? |
There is a hotel at the airport called the Sofitel but it seems to be out of most people's price range. There is also a Holiday Inn a few miles down the road. The reason it takes a long time to get downtown from the airport is because of traffic. If you arrive or depart early when there is no traffic the trip is about half an hour. See www.athensguide.com/hotels.html for the Athens hotels I recommend. The Hotel Attalos is where I stay and it is centrally located, clean and inexpensive. For information on getting to and from the airport see www.athensguide.com/airport.html
4.What do you recommend for getting to the islands? High-speed, ferry, or flight.
If you don't want to see Athens and you can make a connection to an island that does not have you waiting all day in the airport or sitting on the plane wondering if you will make the connection, then fly. But give yourself at least 3 hours between flights.
If you plan to spend the first night in Athens I would take the high speed. Here's why: If you fly to Mykonos in the daytime it is a half hour flight. But it will take you about an hour or more to get to the airport if there is traffic. Then you will have to be there an hour early. If there is no delay you fly to Mykonos and then you have to get from the airport to your hotel by taxi or bus. If you go by high-speed you take a taxi to Pireaus or just get on the metro. In twenty minutes you are on the boat and in about 2 hours you are standing in the port of Mykonos.
If you are
going to a further island and you don't think you
would like being on a ferry for 10 hours or more
then fly. But for any island that is within 3
hours of Athens (Pireaus) by highspeed you are
better off going by boat.
5. I have heard that on some of the islands little old ladies come to the dock and offer you rooms in their homes. Is this true and is it a good way to book?
This is somewhat true but on the most popular islands these little old ladies have been shoved aside by professional hustlers who are paid per head to bring travelers to the hotels. They are called domatia kamakis which means literally 'room harpoons '. If you are a back-packer and are not too picky about where you stay and want to have a lot of flexibility, in other words you don't want to be tied down to a schedule, then this is a way to go, just booking your hotel when you arrive. Keep in mind that in many cases when you have decided on a particular kamaki to go with, chances are that if you don't like the room you probably will take it anyway to avoid going back and starting all over again or wandering around looking for a room on your own, especially after a long boat trip. In places like Santorini where the port is nowhere near the hotels this is a major deal. Also in July and August things can get pretty competitive if the arriving tourists outnumber available rooms. Mostly the rooms are nice but I think if you know where you want to go and book in advance with a Greek travel agency you will have more of a choice and less pressure to decide. If you are worried about your budget just tell the agency how much you would like to spend and they will tell you if that is realistic or you should just take your chances with the domatia kamakis . Also some of the little old ladies who were offering rooms in their homes have built hotels in their backyards and are the ones hiring the kamakis. I believe you get more for your money by doing your homework on the web and working with a Greek travel agency that knows the territory. You don't have to rely on luck when you have access to knowledge. See also www.hotelsofgreece.com where you can actually book simple rooms and apartments in the last section for each island.
6. I have read where you say that it is better to book your hotels with a travel agency then directly with the hotels over the net. Why?
Greek Travel agents have discounts since they pay a much lower price for the rooms so they can be competitive with the hotel prices. In many cases they will pay for the rooms for the whole season in advance and have even lower prices because they can sell them for whatever they want as an incentive for booking. In other words if I am a travel agent I can offer the Grande Bretagne for cheaper then you will find anywhere else because you are booking a cruise or a week on Mykonos where my profit is high enough to make up for even losing money on the hotel in Athens. So by booking directly with the hotels the traveler may miss opportunities to save money. But the main reason is because if you book your hotel through the hotel then it is your responsibility to get to the hotel on the date you are booked. If you call the hotel in Santorini from Mykonos and say you can't make it because you thought there was a boat and there isn't, the hotel will still charge you since they could have given the room to someone else. But by booking with the travel agent the ferry schedule becomes their responsibility. See www.greecetravel.com/travel-agents.htm For those who want to book individual hotels without the use of a travel agency try Matt's Hotel Search where you can find and book hotels by price, catagory, location or whatever. Also see www.hotelsofgreece.com
7. You have pages for individual hotels where you can book. Why?
As for the hotels listed on my website many of the forms go to the travel agent who books that hotel. The forms that go directly to the hotels are the hotels that either have an in-house travel agency or are generally very helpful with information. The Athens hotels that I list individually are there because everyone needs a hotel in Athens, even backpackers and people who have an aversion to travel agents. But many people who book directly with the hotels realize they need a travel agency after-all. These people are seen wandering on Nikis street looking like they are lost and are approached by hustlers who bring them to a travel agency and end up booking something they would have gotten cheaper if they had just worked with an agency in the planning stages of their trip. For those who want to book individual hotels without the use of a travel agency try Matt's Hotel Search where you can find and book hotels by price, catagory, location or whatever. Also see www.hotelsofgreece.com
8. You say that travel agencies offer lower rates than the hotels but I have e-mailed a hotel and gotten lower rates than the agency. How do you explain that?
The travel agency gets net rates from the hotel before the season begins. If a hotel has an official rate of 100 euro for a double room the travel agent may get it for 70 to 80 euro which enables him to mark it up 20% and still be able to sell the room cheaper than the hotel offers it on their website. This is a partnership since without the travel agent the hotel could not fill his rooms. Some hotels will offer the rooms cheaper if they have a lot of empty rooms, in other words out of desperation. The problem with this is that it makes the travel agent look greedy when in actuality it is the hotel that is undercutting his partner (the agency). It is as if I sold hot-dog buns to all the shops in my town and then I went to the individual houses and sold them to the people for less than I sold it to the shops. When the individuals go into the shops and see the price on the hot-dog buns they will think "what a rip-off. If they are selling the hot-dog buns for so much more imagine what they will charge for the other things in the shop." Then they will stop shopping and the stores will go out of business.
So taking advantage of the greed of the hotel owner who undercuts his partner is fine if you have no ethics. But to put it in another perspective what if you were looking for a new camera and found one on Broadway for $500 but I told you to go to 10th street where you can get the same camera for $250. Only it is stolen. Your gain is somebody else's loss. But some people don't mind.
But even for those who don't have an ethical problem with this, how can you trust someone who cheats his own partner for an extra 10 euros? The hotel owner who undercuts his own cooperating travel agents is the last person I would want to have my credit card number.
9. I booked a hotel in Athens and when I arrived they told me it was full and I had to wander around looking for another hotel. Is this common?
This is not that common but it does happen occasionally. Unfortunately some hotels overbook to be on the safe side. When this happens something has to give and usually it is the late-arriving individual traveler, especially if he has not already paid for the hotel with a credit card. This is an example of why it is better to use a Greek travel agent then to book directly with the hotel or at least call on the day of your arrival and let them know you are on your way. A hotel is more likely to inconvenience the individual traveler because chances are there won't be repercussions. They don't want to deny the room to the customer of the agency that sends them thousands of dollars a year in business because next year they may take their business elsewhere. Regardless, in most cases the hotel will find somewhere else for you but beyond making a phone call or two they may not do much more and they may just shrug their shoulders and say 'sorry'. Again if you have an agent in Athens and you get to the hotel and they are full (which is unlikely) you have the concierge call the agency and chances are they will feel so bad they will put you up in somewhere better. If you want to book a hotel without a travel agency then hotels like the Hotel Attalos have secure booking forms and once you have paid they are not going to bounce you because they got a better deal from someone else. See also www.hotelsofgreece.com or visit my Hotel Search page.
10. I am leaving for Greece in a week and am feeling very anxious about being a single girl traveling alone and simply traveling. Do you have any advice?
You will be fine in Greece. Not only will you be made to feel welcome (especially as a single girl traveling) but you will meet many people and probably make friends that you will stay in touch with. Greece is the safest country for women traveling on their own and for that reason there are many women traveling alone there.
As for anxiety...I always get it. I am a wreck for several days before I leave and often full of doubt. I have come close to canceling trips several times and calling a psychiatrist instead. It has a lot to do with breaking your routine, which is what a vacation does. We are creatures of habit with a fear of the unknown and as you get older and more settled it gets worse. Once you have actually left your home and begun to travel the anxiety leaves and the excitement sets in and you wonder what all the angst was about.
is the difference between getting a transfer or
using a street taxi from the airport or the
When you book with a travel agency transfers are usually part of the package but you can save a few euro by booking it yourself with an individual English-speaking driver like George the Famous Taxi Driver. See www.greecetravel.com/taxi
12. What is the best way to rent a fully furnished apt.or house in Athens?
The best way to do this is with assistance. To do this blindly on your own would be frustrating and confusing and you may end up being far from the sites in an area you are afraid to go out in after dark.
The areas I recommend living in are Plaka, Pangrati, Thission, Koloniki, Agia Paraskevis, Halandri, Kiffissia, Psihiko, Glyfada, Voula, or Vouliagmeni.
If you want something short term or monthly in Athens or the islands see www.greecetravel.com/villas
13. Where is Katakolon is and why is there no mention of this place anywhere and yet the cruises all go there?
I had never heard of it either until I realized that it is a small port on the western part of the Peloponessos and the reason all the cruise ships go there is because it is the closest port to Ancient Olympia. Anyway I got so tired of this question that I actually made a page for Katakolon at www.greecetravel.com/peloponessos/katakolon
husband and I would like to go to Sifnos next year
but cannot find any travel agents in the UK that
go there. Do you know of any?
15. I know August is the busiest season but it is the only time I can go. Is this a bad idea?
If August is the only time you can go then it is better than not going at all. It is best to book early. Any island will probably be crowded so you may as well go to one of the more popular ones which will at least have the infrastructure to deal with the number of tourists and Greeks who visit the islands during that month. Any of the popular islands would be fine.... Santorini, Mykonos, Paros, Naxos.... See www.gree ktravel.com/greekislands
16. Do you have any information on buses, either local or long-distance?
I have some info on buses. It's in my Athens Survival Guide. I think I have the schedules for the buses and trains for all over Greece. The page is www.athensguide.com/schedules and I have added another section which I got from the Athens News which has information on buses and just about everything else you can think of and that is at www.athensguide.com/practicalinfo .
17. Do you have any suggestions for day-trips from Athens?
If you go to my Athens Survival Guide there is a page of suggested excursions outside the city. www.athensguide.com/rafina.html Also of course there is Delphi: ( www.greecetravel.com/delphi ), the Argolis ( www.athensguide.com/taxitrip.html ) and the islands of Aegina, Poros, Hydra and Angistri all close enough to Athens for day trips. There is also the One-day Saronic Gulf Cruise that visits those islands and goes almost every day of the year. A great half day trip is to the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion and of course you can't go to Athens and not visit the Zoo. There are also a number of beaches on the outskirts of Athens you can go to by public transport or taxi. I recently made another page for day trips at www.athensguide.com/day-trips
18. Why can't the travel agencies give me the ferry schedules?
The reason they can't give you the schedules is not because they don't want to or they are not nice people but because of the work involved in getting the schedules since the Greek ferry companies only release the schedules the week before and even then you have to double check to make sure they are correct. What that means is that the agencies have to call up the ferry company and ask if there will be a ferry for a particular date and this can take a lot of time since they have to remain on hold until the ferry company finally answers. A travel agency will go through all this trouble to book ferries for their clients who book hotels with them, not merely as a courtesy but because they want to be sure that the client can get to the hotel. You can find the weekly schedules from Pireaus, Rafina and Lavrion at www.openseas.gr but before you book hotels on your own based on the information on that or any other website get a verification because I have seen schedules that I know are wrong including the one on my own site.
19. I have booked my hotels through the net but am having trouble finding out if I can get to the island and how to get tickets. Why won't the travel agents sell me ferry tickets?
The Greek Travel agencies do not make money off ferry tickets. They make their money off the hotels since they get a cheaper rate then you get and then they can add their commission and still offer the hotel for the same or less then what the hotel offers directly. If you contact the agency and have already booked your hotels and want to buy ferry tickets they won't help you. It's because not only do they make almost nothing on ferry tickets, but if you don't show up they are stuck with these useless ferry tickets that they had to pay for. If you pay them for the tickets with a credit card the comission they pay the bank for using the card is more than the profit on the ferry tickets. If you know which islands you want to visit then have the agency book the hotels because then they can make sure you can get to the island.
20. Which island would be the best for a
Santorini . It is almost
a tradition and agencies like
packages on their websites.
21. My wife and I are doing all of our own
arrangements in advance, including hotel
accommodations, ferries/hydrofoils, etc. Any good
Web sites with summer schedules?
think they will save money by booking directly
with the hotels but the Greek agencies have
discounted rates for many of the hotels. Add this
to the convenience of the travel agency taking
care of your ferry info and tickets and you will
realize it makes sense to have someone who knows
what they are doing, and can answer your
questions, handle your arrangements.
You might try www.greecetravel.com/create-an-itinerary if you know which islands you want to visit and how much time you want to spend there and an agent will give you a price and a suggested itinerary.
22. I have seen some boats called High-speeds, others are hydrofoils and others Express. Is there are difference?
The highspeeds, catamarans and the hydrofoils (Flying Dolphins) are actually very fast boats. What a ferry takes to get to an island they do in half the time. The boats that are called 'Express' in most cases are just ferries which they stuck the name 'express' on so people would think it was fast. The Blue Star ferries are something in between a slow ferry and a highspeed. They have cabins too. The highspeeds just have seats.
23. What is the best way to get to Alonnisos,
Skopelos and Skiathos in the Sporades Islands?
24. What is better to bring, travelers checks or dollars and is it easy to change them?
You can exchange dollars and travelers checks at any bank or exchange service and there are even banks in the airport. The banks that will exchange money will have the rates posted outside. They all have basically the same rates and commissions. Some have no commissions but I imagine it is because they give you a lesser rate. Anyway it is not much and it really does not matter where you change your money or whether it is in dollars or travelers checks. I usually bring a credit card for emergencies and there are ATM machines all over Athens and on most (if not all) the islands. Most people use the ATM machines now. They feel that if you use a travelers check you get hit in both directions, buying and selling.
25. Are hotels in the region of Omonia square
dangerous at night?
26. You recommend the Hotel Attalos but in a guidebook I read it says it is in a seedy area. So why do you recommend it?
Any guidebook that says the Hotel Attalos on Athinas street is in a seedy area has not been updated in fifteen or twenty years because that is how long it has been since that area was anything resembling seedy. There used to be a couple hotels on the street that had prostitutes that gave the area a bad look but they have been closed down for ages. The area of Athinas between the Central Market and the Monastiraki Flea market is working class with shops and several tourist hotels. It also borders Psiri which is the restaurant-nightlife center of Athens.
27. I have heard that Santorini is a spectacular island and should not be missed. But I have also heard that there are a lot of tourists. Should I skip it?
It is true that Santorini is one of the most popular islands and there are a lot of tourists, particularly in Thira, Oia, Perissa and Kamari. Santorini is not just a beautiful Greek island, it has to be one of the most visually spectacular places in the world and that is why it is so popular. But you don't have to stay in these places. The village of Akrotiri is quiet and still pretty much a Greek island village like you would find on one of the less popular islands. So you can go to Santorini and still stay in an area that is still relatively traditional. That being said, few people have complaints about Santorini and even those seeking something quiet have been impressed with Santorini and were glad they went there. Same goes for Mykonos. If you are looking for somewhere quiet go to Sifnos.
28. I am bringing my hair-dryer. What current does Greece use and what equipment will I need?
Greece is on
220. We in the USA are on 110. Many modern
appliances convert automatically but you will
still need a little plug adapter that will make
your plug fit in the holes for the Greek plugs.
They sell them at Praxitelous street down from
Syntagma or right next to the
Hotel Cecil on Athinas street. There are a
number of electical shops there and scattered
around the city. You can also find a little
conversion kit at shops like Radio-shack. But some
appliances need a transformer. It should say on
the side if it works on 220. If you are unsure
take it to Radioshack.
29. I will be coming to Athens and bringing my laptop with me. How can I use a local internet service provider?
Find out if your provider has a local number in Athens. If not then you would be better off going to an internet cafe and getting your mail by going to your providers website on the computer there. Contact my friend Tom Mazarakis at www.greecetravel.com/phones and he can tell you if your provider is represented in Greece and give you advice on staying connected and maybe by the time you read this there will be a service available that works through the cell phones. There are now internet cafes all over Athens and the islands and you can ask at your hotel for the one closest to you. You can also get packages from several internet providers like Otenet.gr but unless you absolutely need your laptop for your work it is much less a hassle to just use internet cafes. If you do bring your laptop you can connect through the phone lines in many hotels but keep in mind that even local calls are more expensive in hotels. Some hotels now like the Hotel Attalos have free wireless for their guests as well as a free computer if you don't have a laptop. You can also buy internet cards that for 10 euros give you time on the net though these are dialup connections and can be slow.
30. I wonder if you can recommend to me places (like clubs or even tavernas) to hear some good Rembetika in Athens.
When you get to Athens get a copy of the weekly Athenorama (pronounced ath-ee-no-ra-ma) available at any kiosk or magazine stand. It is in Greek but take it to the concierge of your hotel and he will tell you where to go and how to get there. You can also check my listing of nightclubs and bars at www.athensguide.com/nightlife.html but the Athenorama will be more up to date. In the summer most of the clubs with the big-name musicians are closed but in the neighborhood of Psiri you can still find live music played by unknowns and some of them are pretty good. In the Plaka there are a couple rooftop and garden restaurants with live music around Mnisicleous street but it is a mixture of rembetika-laika and tourist music. Though they say it is hard to find a restaurant with both good food and good music, my friend George at Fantasy Travel says Stamatopoulos Taverna is good and always tries to get me to come with him there. (I don't because I know he will make me dance and then I will be embarrassed). Personally I like the Platia Iroon which is in the square of the same name in Psiri because they have live authentic rembetika, played without amplification by the owner Nikos and his very talented friends. Also in the afternoon by the small church of Kapni Karea there is a tiny cafe called Kapni Karea where a couple guys play and it can get pretty festive there. In the meat market there is the Stoa Athanaton which has shows in the afternoon with some well-known musicians. Try to find where Babis Tsertos is playing. He plays very authentic laika and rembetika but usually in the summer guys like him play out-door concerts and are not in the clubs.
31. I am looking for a warm island in Greece to
spend a winter at. Any suggestions?
32. Do you have an idea of temperature and does
it rain during the winter?
33. What Islands do you go to when you visit Greece?
I usually try to go to one new island everytime I come, or if not new, one I have not been to in many years. But the islands I go to every year are Sifnos, Lesvos, and Kea. One island I my wife has a house on, one my sister-in-law has a house on and the third I have lots of friends so it is like home for me. I also go to the Peloponessos every year and when I visit Greece in the winter I try to go to one nearby island like Aegina, but mostly I stay in Athens because it is so much fun then.
34. What are the best islands to party and meet people from all around the world?
The best islands to meet young people to party with are: Ios, Mykonos and Santorini but there are places in Crete, Rhodes, Hydra, Paros and Naxos that can be just as fun and crazy. But the party scene on the islands is seasonal. You can't come in October and expect to have a wild time. The time to come if you want to party is July and especially August when the Greeks and Italians join in. But Athens is a lot of fun in the off-season and there are still bars open on many of the islands.
35. Is it possible to catch a ferry from Athens to Istanbul, Turkey?
There is no ferry from anywhere in Greece to Istanbul nor from the Greek mainland to Turkey. The easiest way to get to Istanbul is to fly. To take a ferry to one of the border islands and then cross over to Turkey and then take a bus would take several days. But there are daily boats in the summer from Rhodes, Kos, Samos, Chios and Lesvos to Turkey. The schedule is reduced in the off-season. You can also take a bus or train to Turkey but it is a long trip.
36. Is the water in Greece drinkable?
In most places the answer is yes but if you are the type who uses bottled water at home or has a filter on your tap for drinking water then you will be happy to know that they sell bottled water everywhere. Some islands have a water-table that has been mixed with sea-water and it does not taste very good and you will want to use bottled water there too. It is fine for bathing though. But Athens water is of as good or better quality then the water that comes from your tap at home and on the islands and villages with springs you will be drinking water of the quality that you buy by the bottle at home.
37. We have been asked to send a signed photo-copy of our passport and credit card in order to make a booking with a travel agency in Greece. Is this normal?
Most agencies have some method of protecting themselves from credit card fraud. By faxing a signed copy of your card they have proof that it was you who made the charges and not someone who got a hold of your cc number. Some agencies may not do this but once they have been burned by someone using a stolen credit card then they will too because the credit card companies refuse to pay them and they get stuck holding the bag, paying for hotels, cruises etc.
38. How much do travel agents charge in comission?
The ones on my site don't charge the customer a commission. They get discount rates from the hotels and that enables them to sell to their clients for less than the hotels charges. Same with cruises and tours. So you could say theu get their comissions from the hotels and cruise and tour companies.
39. How can I get from the Cruise terminal in Pireaus to the Acropolis?
The easiest way is by taxi of course. Many people have a pre-arranged taxi waiting for them and they visit the Acropolis and the main sites in Athens and see a lot in the limited time they have between arrival and departure. See www.greecetravel.com/taxi for more information. You can also get to the Acropolis by metro. From the cruise terminal you can walk along the port (keeping the water on your left and the city on your right) until you come to the Metro station. It is an old building, very distinctive just beyond the square with all the buses. Take the metro to Thission, it is about 5 stops and will take around 12 minutes. When you exit the station you will see the Acropolis in front of you. Just walk towards it. Come back the way you came or from Monastiraki which is on the same line. See www.athensguide.com/newmetro.html
40. Do I need an international drivers license to rent a car or a motorbike?
I have never been asked for anything besides my North Carolina license for renting a car and I rent them all the time, everywhere in Greece. I think that info about the international driver's license was printed in some guidebook and then all the others just copied it over and over again. If you had to have an international ID to rent a car all the car rental companies would go out of business. T hat being said I recently got the International Driver's ID which is issued by AAA though I have never been asked to show it.
41. The Greek Embassy website says that travelers to Greece are required to have travel insurance. Is this true?
I have never
heard of such a thing and nobody has ever asked
someone coming into the country if they have
travel insurance. I can also tell you that 2 years
ago I had a medical emergency (I cut my foot and
had to get stitches) and not only did they not ask
for my insurance or money, they did not even care
what my name was. They have socialized medicine
and if you get hurt or sick they treat you and
that is that.
Some countries, like South Africa for example, require insurance to get a visa, but this has nothing to do with Greece.
42. Is there a place to leave our luggage in Pireaus near the ferries?
There is a place to leave luggage in Pireaus. It is a cafe in the port, right on the dock near where the Cyclades ferries are. You will see a bus station in front of the ferry ticket offices. Behind the offices is a big cafe and they have a luggage storage section. They also have an internet cafe. They are open 24 hours too. There is a place to leave luggage at the airport too but that is pretty inconvenient unless you are flying everywhere. Many hotels like the Attalos allow you to leave your bags when you go off to the islands. See also www.athensguide.com/ferries.html
43. I have heard that the Greeks are rude. Is this true?
This is untrue in a general sense but of course there are exceptions. I think many Greeks don't hide their emotions very well. In most countries the people who have contact with tourists are well trained to keep a smile and be polite no matter what. I don't think you can do that with the Greeks nor can you control who the tourist comes into contact with because the entire country is visited, not just a few scattered resorts on one or two islands. But at the same time that you have a few people acting like jerks you also have those who go above and beyond the call of duty or hospitality. So its not a matter of saying the Greeks are rude. The Greeks are a little bit of everything. Greece is not Disneyland, or a resort. It's a whole country and you can't make a whole country behave the way you think they should. That is why when you go to places like Jamaica you have barbed-wire fences around the resorts and beaches where the tourists go. In Greece you go everywhere and meet everyone.
44. My father was born in Greece. Do I have to serve in the military if I come to visit?
Most likely not. As a foreign citizen with Greek ancestry you can come to Greece for 3 months and not worry about the military. But if you plan to stay longer you should find out what your military status is because it depends on a number of variables and in some cases you can pay a fee and buy your way out because practically speaking they don't really want you in their military since you will be fairly useless if you don't speak Greek and more trouble than you are worth. Dorian Kokas provides the service of finding out the military status of Greek-Americans, Canadians or whatever.. See www.athensguide.com/dorian (Dorian passed away but there is still info on his website. If you still need assistance contact Matt)
45. If I were to book the hotels, planes
tickets, transfers myself, how much would I
You would probably not save much and it would take you days or weeks to do badly what a travel agent can do well in a couple hours. The itineraries they offer are good deals because they pay less for hotels then you do and they can sell it for the same or cheaper than the hotels do directly. The tickets you won't save on because they don't make any money on tickets. Transfers you may save a little by not doing them or using George the Taxi Driver you can save maybe 20 euro on the airport trip. But the real problem is the ferry schedules. If you book on your own, until you are sitting on the ferry steaming to the island and the hotel you booked you won't know for sure if the ferry exists because there are no reliable ferry schedules on the web.
46. Is it true that in some hotels there is a waste-basket because you can't flush toilet-paper down the toilet?
It is true of many hotels. Some of the higher class hotels you can actually flush toilet paper down the toilet and most hotels in Athens you can too. But on many of the islands you can't for a couple reasons, the main one being that the pipes are narrow and the water pressure not strong enough to get the toilet paper to that place it is supposed to end up and since it takes longer to decompose then the stuff it is following, it clogs up the pipes and makes a big mess which I have experienced first-hand.
Some people get bummed at the thought of a waste-basket full of shitty toilet-paper but I tell them to take comfort that it is the toilet paper they and their loved ones have used and the baskets are cleaned by the maid daily. You can actually request hotels that allow you to flush toilet paper. Try www.greecetravel.com/create-an-itinerary and write that under comments and it will amuse the agent but they will do it. Here's a tip from a traveler for those who are horrified at the prospect of sharing a room with dirty toilet paper: ..we take the baby nappy bags, the ones you get in a pack of 100 scented... use these to put your loo paper in, tie the bag off (as you do when putting a nappy in) and then stick these in the bin... nice & easy, cheap and clean..keeps the smell nice also..
47. You have too much information on your site. Can you just tell me what I should do?
Yes I know I tend to get carried away and instead of making things easier for travelers sometimes I give them too many choices. But I have made a page for people who feel like you at www.greektravel.com/suggestions
48. Which is the best travel agency on your website?
They are all good. If there was one that was not it would not be on the site anymore. Which one you should use depends on you and what you want to do in Greece. For example Fantasy Travel is the largest and most organized so if you need every detail taken care of you go with them. They also are more experienced with high-end clientele and have an eye for quality when it comes to hotels. Plus they get room comittment at the best hotels which means they can offer them for less than other agents because they buy the rooms for the whole season and can sell them for whatever they want. Aegean Thesaurus are a small, highly efficient, high-tech travel agency based on Sifnos so they are right there on the island, but can book anything the other agencies do. Dolphin Hellas was the first agency on my site and are very concientous and well organized and people love them. You may find one hotel is cheaper with one agency but another similar hotel is cheaper with another agency so it all works out in the end. I use them all but I come to Greece two or three times a year. Some people request info from all of them and go with whoever is cheaper in the end. But my feeling is if you pick any and work with them the end result will be the same. You will have few if any problems and you will have made the most of your time in Greece and probably come back and use them again.
49. Is your Guide in printed form or for sale anywhere?
Not yet. I was working on a printable form of my guides beginning with my Athens Survival Guide but then Rick Steves called and asked if I would write a book with him, so I put it on hold until I see what happens with Rick. If we do the book together you will be able to get much of the material from my websites in that. If it does not happen there have been offers from a couple companies but most likely I will just take all my material and put it in a pdf file as I was originally planning to do and people can print it out. But in the meantime you can do what most people do which is print out what you need and put it in a big bundle or loose-leaf and as you finish using it leave it behind for someone else to find and use. I find pages from my guide everywhere I go.
50. Do you have the ferry schedules? (Most popular question)
Only for this week and you have to e-mail me to get it and tell me the dates you want to travel.
You can count on there being at least a ferry and/or a highspeed leaving every morning at 7:30 for the islands of Syros, Tinos, Mykonos, Paros, Naxos, Ios, Santorini, Kythnos, Serifos, Sifnos and Milos. There are boats to Samos, Crete, Lesvos, Chios, Rhodes, Kos, and Patmos leaving every evening or almost every evening. Getting between the islands can be tricky especially those in different island groups. I don't have the schedules between the islands but if you know which islands you want to visit I recommend using this page: www.greecetravel.com/create-an-itinerary and let a travel agent book your hotels and ferries and save you the aggravation and organize your trip more efficiently and save you time and money.
51. Is it true that in some Greek restaurants, you smash plates to show your satisfaction? If so, where can I find one of these types of restaurants in Athens?
This used to be common in restaurants that had live music but now they throw rose petals on the musicians and the people who get up to express themselves through dance. According to Tom Mazarakis there is nowhere that plates are still smashed unless it just happens spontaneously in a spirited moment.
Tom recommends any of the following night clubs where you can either go for just a drink at the bar (drinks cost $7 to $15 each) or you can book yourself a table and have a late dinner. Dinner for two would run $150 to $200. Note that the show doesn't start until around midnight and goes on until 4 or 5 in the morning so be sure to take a long nap before going out.
Sygrou 259, Nea Smyrni, Tel.210 942-7580, 1, 2,
52. Do the travel agencies make money from airline tickets?
They make 8% but they pay 3-5% to the bank for credit card bookings and then if you add the time factor it ends up costing them money which is why they won't book only tickets. But they will for the clients who book hotels, cruises and so on.
53. Lonely Planet says that it is illegal to bring Codeine into the country and I use a prescription drug that contains codeine. Will I have any problems? Who can I contact to get the official ruling?
Nobody will put you in jail for having a drug with codeine in it and unless you tell them nobody will know. If you have a perscription you have nothing to worry about. E-mail Tom Mazarakis and he can give you the un-official ruling which will be closer to reality to further reassure you. This is what he says:
"Don't worry about it. There are hundreds of drugs that are considered to be controlled substances in Greece, just as they are throughout the world. Most of these drugs, including those that contain codeine, require a physician' prescription. If you have such a prescription, the customs authorities will not give you any problem. Over 12 million tourists visit Greece every year and probably half of them take all kinds of prescription medication that is necessary for their health. Obviously, the Greek authorities are very well aware of this fact and will certainly never do anything that would jeopardize anyone's physical well being. Therefore, go ahead and bring all the medications you expect to need during your stay in Greece and as long as you have a bonafide prescription you will be within the parameters of Greek law on this issue."
54. What is the best time to go to Greece, e.g. not too warm and not too cold?
The best time is June or September. See www.athensguide.com/weather.html
55. When dining in the restaurants I noticed that they have a cover charge, we were confused if that was basically the restaurant including the tip in the bill?
There is a cover charge in all restaurants but this is not the tip. It is sort of like a charge for bread and napkins. But the tip is 15% included in the price of the meal. If you go to a sit-down restaurant and you buy everything to go each item will be 15% cheaper. This is by Greek law.
56. If someone approaches me on the street and wants to take me to his bar or travel agency should I go?
I wouldn't. There is a well-known scam where a man introduces himself to you on the street and invites you to see his bar. You go to the bar and then all these girls come out of nowhere and ask you to buy them a drink and then you get an enormous bill when it is time to leave. Then a couple guys usually bigger and stronger than you join the 'conversation' to intimidate you. You may be able to negotiate a lower bill but it is still more than you want to pay if you think you are going to see a guy's bar because he seemed friendly. With travel agencies a guy asks if you are looking for a travel agency and takes you to the agency he worls for. You tell them what you want ferry tickets to Sifnos and they tell you there is no boat today or it is sold out and in the end you walk out having booked a cruise, a hotel and a day-trip to Delphi. Chances are you will have a good time but since you made the booking because they gave you wrong information intentionally in order to sell you something more expensive then I would include this under scams too though some might argue that these are legitimate travel agencies with a technique that tests the boundries of 'ethical business.' (I am being diplomatic).
57. I bought some jewelery at Byzantino and had my VAT tax stamped and mailed at the airport on my exit. I have yet to get my refund. Is there anything I or the store can do?
There is nothing the store can do. They have already paid your taxes to the government and now you have to wait for the government to get around to giving you your refund. It can take a year or more and all you can do is be patient. Actually the best thing to do is forget about it and when it eventually arrives it will be like a gift. But if it is any consolation the money does eventually arrive (or so they say).
58. Are there any "slow" boats between Heraklion and Santorini for someone that is prone to sea sickness?
If the sea is rough then slow is not better, it's longer. Anyway if you take a dramamine or even half that usually works. Its not worth worrying about because if even 5% of the people who were afraid of getting seasick on a Greek ferry actually got seasick on a Greek ferry there would be long lines outside the toilets. These ships are huge, modern and are more like flying than being on the sea.
59. How do the travel agencies know the ferry times when trying to put together an itinerary if they don't post the schedules ahead?
They don't. They guess. Then they keep calling the ferry company until they get confirmation that a boat will be going. Then they book the tickets. In the meantime they have already booked the hotels but because they have a relationship with the hotels, if the ferry is not going the day they hoped, they can change the hotel reservations without a penalty. A person booking directly with the hotel on the other hand may not know there is no ferry until too late to change the reservations without a penalty.
If this page does not answer your question then send me an e-mail and I will try to help you. Or if you have comments about this page let me know too.