Greece and Heading East


Taxation works. Sending the right price signals to consumers affects their behavior in the intended fashion.

In Australia, cigarettes are expensive. So we don’t see a whole lot of people smoking. Coffee, on the other hand, is cheap. And we see a lot of people drinking coffee.

In Greece I’m quite confident they’ve gotten things entirely wrong. Cigarettes are cheap, and these people are some of the most prolific smokers we’ve seen. Seems to me they particularly enjoy the really foul smelling stuff.


But the coffee. Just about anywhere you go from Athens to a remote island like Santorini you can expect to pay €2.50 for a shot of espresso, and €4.50 for something with milk in it. This sort of pricing puts even France to shame. Though, to be fair, unlike France the coffee they serve in Greece is eminently drinkable.

So we achieved a useful reduction in our caffeine habit. And now we smoke a pack a day.

Well, at least if that last bit were true, we could enjoy sharing the smoke filled space with all the others and pretend that we, too, are oblivious to the legalities.


Anyway, all that aside (and you all know how pro-coffee and anti-smoking we both are), Athens is a cool place to visit. The day we arrived did finally deliver the stellar weather we had been seeking. The bright blue skies made for postcard perfect pictures of the usual suspects.

We had to admit that the spectacle of ancient ruins including the Parthenon, the Olympian Zeus Temple in particular were every bit as incredible as the hype would have you believe.


Unfortunately it’s been easy for us to become numbed to the grandeur we’re faced with on an almost daily basis at this point in the trip. But we were happily snapped back into awe as we wandered from one site of significance to the next.

It was particularly interesting to think back over ruins of a similar age that we saw in Tikal, Guatemala, and consider how different these two civilizations must have been.


The wandering on that day was tough, on account of the overnight bus trip from Tirana in the morning. And I must say, whichever authority is in charge of these sites really needs to work on the signage. It was very difficult to work out the purpose and significance of each ruin we visited. Granted, a lot of it remains a mystery, and our cognitive capacities were certainly not at their peak, but in this instance the Greeks documentary prowess doesn’t come close to that of their restorative.

In Athens, you can make no mistake about where a large slice of Melbourne’s culture comes from. The Greek’s love of loud music, “fully sick” cars, strong flavors, outdoor drinking & dining, it’s on display in spades in Athens.

Heading to Istanbul, we didn’t plan on hanging around Athens long. In fact we had no intention of going to Greece at all, until we started madly chasing warmer climes. We didn’t fancy 24 hours of trains up and around the Aegean coast, so began looking toward the Greek islands for our route eastward.

We didn’t much like the idea of 10 hours on a ferry either (being wimpy seasick types) and luckily stumbled on a €1 flight (++ the usual taxes) to Santorini the very next day. So we departed Athens after just two nights.


We had received two warnings about pickpocket gangs operating on the Athens metro, including from the woman at the ticket counter on the way to the airport. I guess our attitude after having traveled in all manner of dodgy places for a long period of time having lost nothing made us much less careful than we should have been.

Despite my zippered pockets I managed to have my wallet pinched. Looking back and deconstructing the process I have to admit I’m very impressed by their methods, which must net them huge amounts of cash each day.

They target only people traveling to the airport, and only at a line interchange, by blocking your exit and lifting your wallet whilst you struggle to get past them in order to not miss your connecting train and therefore your flight. Afterward I was astonished at how much information your brain can miss (i.e. a hand in your pocket) when your attention is firmly focused elsewhere.

I noticed the missing wallet as I walked through the doors, so I whipped around and looked at my suspect. A bystander seemed to confirm my suspicion, gesturing as he walked off the train and onto another carriage. I followed him, and grabbed him, but then had my doubts as he feigned confusion.

Jess meanwhile was standing on the platform and we had a plane to catch. So I turned around, infuriated beyond belief, and left. Having had just 3 hours sleep the night before probably didn’t help. In hindsight I would have frisked the guy and at least stopped the train departing by standing in the doorway and considered the situation further.

All told, though, we got off pretty lightly. The wallet had just €10 in it, a drivers license, and unfortunately, our two preferred credit/debit cards. We have backup cards, and up until Europe were never carrying both these cards in a single place, but quite obviously had gotten lax about this. Lesson learned, and the replacement cards will be waiting for us in London.

The anger at having been outsmarted – and at being too relaxed – far outweighs the actual loss. But I’m over it now.

Landing in wind and rain swept Santorini after this incident didn’t do much to lift our spirits.



We spent a few days on Santorini, and armed with a rental car managed to “do” most of the stuff one does on the island. Which, frankly, doesn’t extend much beyond eating, drinking and lazing in pools, of which the latter was not an option given the weather.


It did clear up on our final two days, but even the sparkling blue hues of sky, sea and church dome didn’t really win our affections. The island also offers almost zero natural beauty – and reminds me of a rugged wasteland littered with milled stone and half finished and abandoned concrete construction.


Beyond the carefully manicured seafront cliffs in Thira it’s not a pretty place at all. We were quite surprised. The mass tourism – even now, let alone high season – was sufficient for us to declare the Greek islands a place we’re unlikely to return to.


That said, after an overnight ferry to Kos (what is with these timetables!?) we relented on our position a little. Kos is equipped with much more foliage, and a seemingly smaller scale experience and, against all odds, appears to have an excellent cycle path network!


We were also charmed by an old cafe owner, Theo, who regaled us with endless memories of his very happy days in Melbourne, before an industrial accident cost him his left hand and livelihood and forced him back to Greece. It was quite a touching farewell to the Greek personality before we boarded a ferry for our one hour trip to Turkey.


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