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Reflections on a trip to Greece July 27, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Testimonials.

Sometimes it takes a trip outside this country to get a better, fuller perspective of what it truly means to be an American.

Recently, my fiance and I had an opportunity to travel to Greece for 10 days. The trip entailed stops on the islands of Crete and Santorini, as well as three days to explore that ancient, gritty and wonderful place, Athens.

Perhaps the first and most searing sensation I can report on was the heat. Though the country is always hot at this time of year, we had the misfortune of experiencing Greece during the middle of a heat wave. The temperatures in Athens topped out at 46 degrees Celsius (that’s 115 degrees Fahrenheit). I can honestly say that before hiking and traipsing around the mountains, gorges and ancient ruins of Greece in those conditions, I never truly understood how unbelievably exhilarating and satisfying (and life-supporting) drinking cold fresh water or swimming in a clear blue sea could be. Ice will never have so much value for me as it did for those 10 days.

One of the most wonderful and convenient things we found as we traveled about was how much the Greeks go out of their way to make communicating with people from other countries less difficult. Unlike most Americans, the Greeks obviously don’t feel threatened by making speakers of other languages feel at home. Almost all the signage is bi-lingual, and serviceable English is spoken by just about everyone who lives in the cities, and even by many in the countryside. Watching their desire to make tourists from the United States and other countries feel comfortable makes me embarrassed to observe how so many here in America think it’s a sign of weakness, or worse, to offer bi or multi-lingual opportunities to non-English speaking people.

Another of the great experiences of visiting Greece was the opportunity we had to explore and experience Greek food. While I had not previously been a big fan of Greek food, my preference has always been Italian, I was amazed at how delicious and simply prepared the food was. Walking around the markets of Athinas Street in Athens, we could readily see why. Everywhere one looked there was fresh and locally grown produce. Never a bland or pulpy piece of fruit or vegetable; each item sampled off the stands was juicy and flavorful. Unlike here in the States, the produce of Greece isn’t genetically altered, nor designed/engineered to stay “fresh” for the great distances that must be traveled to bring the produce from where it is grown to where it will be consumed.

Each of the three places we visited was wonderful and distinct, but Crete was the most rugged, and most like what it has always been. An island approximately 150 miles long by 50 miles wide, it has mountains rising 8,000 feet that drop right down to the sea. There are numerous gorges that bisect the mountains and which are ideal for hiking, though don’t do as we did and attempt to hike through one on the hottest day of the season. Here the wildness of the countryside is only a short distance from the energy and activity of the cities that are mainly located along the coasts. It was not unusual to have to stop on the side of a steep mountain road as hundreds of goats would pass with the only sounds being their bleating cries, clanging bells and the calling voice of the goat herder.

While politics and thoughts of war and peace were purposely put aside for our trip, it was impossible not to be reminded of the negative effects Bush’s war in Iraq is having on how Europeans view the United States. Fortunately, and to a person, we found that the Greeks, and the many others who have immigrated there, loved Americans, but hated the war. Remarkably, we talked with some Americans that were so embarrassed by Bush’s policies that they actually claimed to be Canadians. And one Iraqi immigrant, a waiter at a restaurant in Chania, Crete, felt compelled to inform us in great detail how so many Iraqis, at first happy about having Saddam removed, now are worse off than before the invasion.

Perhaps the most unexpected sight we came upon occurred while driving up through a mountain pass in western Crete. In some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever gazed upon, rounding a sharp corner, an array of nine huge wind turbines stood majestic along the ridgeline of the mountaintop. How ironic it was to be in the home of the 3,500-year-old ancient Minoan civilization, one of the sources of modern western civilization, only to see a more advanced technology than some Cape Codders seem even willing to consider.

Wonderful as our experience in Greece was, the country and its great monuments and ruins suffer from much stress. The monuments, always a target for destruction by invading marauding armies and Christians looking for marble and stones to build their churches and monasteries, today are suffering from the toxic effects of environmental pollution.

As so many Greeks were keen to observe, even when compared to only a couple of decades ago, the country has lost some of its unique distinctness. Like so many of the major international tourist destinations, Greece is becoming more internationalized, homogenized, and yes, even more Anglicized. Unavoidably, the world is becoming smaller and more interconnected. While in many ways this is a good thing, showing that we humans have more similarities than differences, it does tend to create a sameness about each location with the intrusion of all the worldwide corporate images and products.

Inexorably time moves on, and obviously nothing can stay the same. But still it is sad to think that as modern high-speed and accessible transportation and communications make the world an ever-smaller place, there will be fewer and fewer locations like Greece to explore that are so completely different than what we know and are used to here at home.

Source and Copyright > Article By Richard Elrick, Publication Date 07/27/07 at > From the Left – Reflections on a trip to Greece

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