Travel Tales

Greece, The Cradle of Western Civilization

Travel Tale No. 12 - Vol. 2


Greece, officially the Hellenic Republic, is bordered by Bulgaria, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania to the north and by Turkey to the east.

The Aegean Sea lies to the east of mainland Greece while the Ionian Sea lies to the west. Hellas lies at the juncture of Europe, Asia and Africa. It inherited nearly four centuries of Ottoman rule, and the classical Greece and Byzantine Empires. It is also regarded as the cradle of western civilization, the birthplace of democracy, western philosophy, literature, political science, and of course, the Olympic Games. It is a member of the European Union and Eurozone.

I first became interested in Greece when I had seen the movie: Zorba the Greek, and one week later found myself working for its star, Anthony Quinn, editing his autobiography: THE ORIGINAL SIN. My trip to Greece started out as the opening scene in a Keystone Cops film. It would have been slapstick funny had it not been so serious. The woman I was traveling with had just undergone a double mastectomy and was on chemotherapy. I had encouraged Marta, (not her real name) an Argentinean psychologist, to go on a cruise around the Greek Isles with me because I felt it would help her recuperate from her illness and recent divorce.

Marta was traveling from Arizona and I was coming from Florida, so we decided to meet at the hotel in Athens. The first thing we did, naturally, was to venture out to the Parthenon on the Acropolis. Hundreds of tourists swarmed up the stairs like a bee colony in motion, leaving little room for taking photographs. Afterward, Marta insisted on visiting a Greek Orthodox Church and speaking to a priest. Luckily he spoke English, and French, and German, and Greek, and was able to console her in her native Spanish. My tired feet were grateful for her need of prayers so that I could sit on the old wooden bench admiring the Greek icons in the cool church. That was the last peace and quiet we were to experience for a while in Athens with the noise of honking vehicles and terrible air pollution. Early the following hot day we took a speeding taxi, who overcharged us, to the chaotic port of Piraeus as our odyssey began in earnest.

No sooner did we arrive at the dock than confusion reigned at the security check point where our luggage was whisked away by an eager porter. While on board the ship at the outdoor buffet, I had mistakenly eaten the food comprising of salads with black Greek olives and sardines (which I love) and which had been out in the scorching Aegean sun; and which did not agree with me. When I went to our cabin to shower and change for dinner, I discovered to my horror, that our luggage had been sent on a ship to France. As I argued like a mummy wrapped in white towels around my hair and body that we needed clothes "immediately," poor Marta became hysterical saying that all her medications had also gone to France and she needed to take them "immediately." She was terribly upset because she had left her leather jacket in the speeding taxi, and now she had no jacket, suitcases, or medicine - and she didn't like the food!

We met with a very unsympathetic First Officer who informed us that those things happened all the time, so we should just calm down, and not get excited. Excited! At that point, I could decide to hate everything Greek, starting with the Greek salad which had made me sick as we sailed into choppy waters, or I could remain above the fracas. After all, that's what adventures are supposed to be made of: unknown challenges. Because I felt terribly responsible for my friend's precarious health, I informed the Captain that either we got her medicine delivered to our cabin and some clothes, or I would disembark and fly out of Turkey "naked"; then I'd create some bad publicity for the cruise line, so he should not get "excited." He agreed to have the agent meet the ship when it docked the following morning with all her medications, and gave us some cash to buy dresses in the ship's boutique. They were not exactly my Lillie Rubin cocktail dresses but at least we could go in to the dining room. Marta and I decided to play it up and walked in at night dressed in diaphanous togas, and silver jewelry looking like Aphrodites. The Captain was so pleased, he invited us to sit at his table.

By the time we arrived in Santorini, (named after Saint Irene) I was in much better spirits and thoroughly enjoyed riding a donkey up the cliffs. Marta and I wore out our hands signing our credit cards buying jewelry in the quaint shops at the top. I also bought a lovely dress and some silver jewelry as I was going to be singing the next evening on the ship. That night, as we had dinner al fresco overlooking the navy blue sea, a silvery crescent moon emerged surrounding a shimmering star, and with our little ship in the distance, the sheer beauty of the moment made us forgot all about our traveling travails. I sang "It's Magic" from the movie Romance on the High Seas.

Our journey continued to the cosmopolitan island of Mykonos where we let loose with some disco dancing. That evening, the ship's doctor and I headed for a Turkish casino to play Blackjack, communicating in Italian because he did not speak English, and the only word I knew in Greek was "luludimu" (little flower) which I heard the crew call me. I snapped several rolls of film on the other Greek Islands with white sugar cube houses and sky blue domes, dotting the talcum powdered beaches gracing the topaz sea.

Greece has the 7th longest coastline in the world with more than 15,000 kilometers. Four fifths of it consists of mountains making the country one of the most mountainous in Europe. The mythical Mount Olympus, once considered the throne of the Gods, is the tallest mountain in the country, so it is very popular with hikers.

This nation of 10,688,058 population, enjoys a high standard of living and its main economy is primarily based on tourism, shipping, banking, and construction. It welcomed over 18 million tourists in 2005, after the 2004 Summer Olympics. Its agricultural products consist of wheat, barley, sugar beets, olives, tomatoes, wine, tobacco, potatoes, beef and dairy products.

In 1940 Mussolini demanded that Greece allow Axis troops to enter the country and surrender. The Greek government said, "NO!" Italian troops poured over from Albania but were unsuccessful giving the Allies their first victory against Fascism. However, Hitler was able to later invade but the Greek Partisan Resistance fought fiercely. Germany retained its grip on this country until 1944 when German troops withdrew. The Jewish Community of Thessaloniki suffered the heaviest toll. After its liberation from Nazi Germany, Greece experienced a bitter Civil War between the Communists and the Hellenic Army, lasting until 1949, when the Communists were defeated in the battle of Grammos-Vitsi.

Greek culture evolved over thousands of years continuing into the Classical Greek, the birth of the Hellenistic era and through the influence of the Roman Empire, contributing greatly to philosophy, astronomy, science and the arts. 98% of the Greek inhabitants of the islands are of Greek heritage with only 2% of the population Turkish and other. Most observe the Greek Orthodox religion and 1.3% are Muslim. The official language is Greek but English and French are widely spoken.


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