Smart Cities and Maritime Shipping? | 6 Facts About Greece (Modern Times Edition)

facts about greece

When talking about the achievements of the Greeks we often think of Democracy, the Olympic Games, Astronomy, and Mathematics – all bound to our ancient past. With Modern Greece celebrating 200 years of independence, it is important to see some facts related to the achievements of Greeks in modern times.

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6 Facts About Modern Greece:

  1. Greece Continues Being the Leader in Maritime Shipping
  2. Two Nobel Prizes for Modern Greek Literature
  3. Athens Continues Being the Capital of Theatre
  4. Greek Island Holds the Secret to Longevity
  5. A Leading Smart City in the Greek Countryside
  6. 3% of the World’s Greatest Scientists are Greek

Greece Continues Being the Leader in Maritime Shipping

When thinking of Greece’s economy, the first thing that comes to mind, after the recent debt crisis, is the tourism and service industry. But one of the most important industries in Greece is maritime shipping. The country is in the top 10 ship owning nations, competing with Japan for the first place. The current fleet value is at 100.5 billion dollars, according to VesselsValue. The small country of approximately 11 million people surpasses China, a country of 1.4 billion people. As we have seen in previous videos, Greeks have been exploring the sea in search of resources, trading opportunities, and lands to establish new colonies, since the Bronze Age. And they never stopped dominating the seas.

Two Nobel Prizes for Modern Greek Literature

Western literature has been greatly influenced by ancient Greek literature, and especially epic and lyric poetry. Greece continues producing great writers and poets in modern times as well. Odysseas Elytis, the romantic modernist poet, and Giorgos Seferis, the well-known poet and diplomat, have been awarded with the Nobel Prize in Literature. The first in 1979 and the second in 1963.

Athens Continues Being the Capital of Theatre

Western theatre was born in ancient Athens and specifically in the theatre of Dionysus. And Athens continues being a cultural center with a focus on theatre. According to Athens Social Atlas, the capital city of Greece has more than 152 theatre halls, including the Odeon of Herodes Atticus that was built on 161 AD. The city is the perfect destination for any theatre lover.

Greek Island Holds the Secret to Longevity

The Greek diet and overall lifestyle have been connected to longevity for hundreds of years. Unfortunately, Greeks living in big cities and industrial areas have adopted different lifestyles – they stress more, cook less, and consume highly processed foods. But those living in the Greek countryside have generally continued following their traditional way of living. A specific island has caught the attention of scientists; that is the island of Ikaria. You might have heard the “Ikaria Study”, since the island has one of the highest percentages of people above the age of 90. It is worth mentioning that it is not just the diet that, according to the study, may contribute to the longevity of the islanders. The overall lifestyle, including the active social life and optimistic attitude, contribute to that. The NYT have called Ikaria “the island where people forget to die”.

A Leading Smart City in the Greek Countryside

In Greece, we might love tradition, but that doesn’t mean we are not open to innovations, following the paradigm of “polymechanos Odysseus”. Trikala is one of the first smart-cities in Europe by integrating new technologies into the daily lives of the citizens. The city, located in Thessaly, has over 80.000 inhabitants. The city has seen driverless buses, robotics kits in its 120 public schools, and countless other innovative programs and solutions.

3% of the World’s Most Referenced Scientists are Greek

Greeks make up around 0.13% of the world’s total population. Professor of Medicine at Stanford Prevention Research Center, John P.A. Ioannidis, presented statistics that showed that the percentage of referenced Greek scientists in the world reaches 3%. Many of them conduct research for foreign Universities. To be more specific, data retrieved from the database of Google Scholar, showed that 672 Greek scientists have been referenced approximately 17.000 times in various scientific reports.

The Greek Secret to Happiness | Unravelling the Greek Way of Thinking

In the 1960s’ romantic comedy film “Never on Sunday”, an American classicist visits Greece to find the secret to happiness. Years earlier, the book “Zorba the Greek” follows a young intellectual to the island of Crete, where he tries to liberate himself from his bookish life. Greece and specifically the Greek countryside and the Greek islands, are often portrayed as the lost paradise; the eternal vacation destination where time moves slowly and everyone lives a happy, long life.

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The truth is that it is hard to pinpoint what happiness really is. Is it an abstract philosophical idea or a measurable variable? The Sustainable Development Solutions Network, supported by different foundations, publishes the “World Happiness Report”, which tries to measure happiness based on six key variables, including income and absence of corruption.

Greece is objectively in a negative position in both cases. But, throughout the years, even during the difficult financial period of 2010-2018, Greece – or at least the Greek countryside- has been perceived as a generally happy place. Is this based on a stereotypical portrayal of smiling Greeks breaking plates and dancing syrtaki on a postcard? Or are there more things to consider when talking about happiness?

A Stoic Perspective on Happiness

The Stoic philosophers have long been associated with holding the key to a happier life. They understood that happiness is a mental state and, therefore, external factors, such as money or government corruption, are irrelevant. In other words, it is not the things that happen to you or your circumstances that influence your mental well-being, but the way you perceive these events and circumstances.

As someone who grew up in Greece and was influenced by the Greek culture and the Greek way of thinking, I have noticed that there are indeed many things that Greeks believe or do that help them be more content with their life.  

Happiness and The Greek State of Mind

The first thing that comes to mind is the attitude of Greeks towards indulgence. In the video on modern Greek culture, I mentioned that Greeks have intermediate scores when it comes to indulgence vs. restrain. That means that we learn from a young age how to do everything in moderation and enjoy the pleasures of life without guilt.

There are many cultures that promote a very strict disciplined lifestyle. And that can be translated as having long periods of avoiding sugar, fats, alcohol – you name it – and then a weekend of emotional eating or getting blacked-out drunk, even putting themselves in great danger. The object of indulgence is demonized and people feel guilty for giving in. Now, that doesn’t mean that there are no Greeks who fall into a vicious cycle like this, but this mentality of constantly feeling guilty is far from the Greek way of thinking.

That may surprise some, since the modern Greek culture is heavily influenced by the teachings of Greek Orthodox Christianity. The latter suggest an ascetic, simple life, that focuses on mind and soul over matter. Today, however, this lifestyle is usually followed by people who choose to live in monasteries, rather than the average Greek Orthodox believer or even priest. Greek priests are often the “life of the party” of every village – drinking and dancing in traditional festivals.

But even the ascetic life of the monks is not free from pleasures. Monasteries in Greece are always located in breathtaking locations, usually on a hill to have an inspiring view. Keep this in mind because this will make more sense later.

Now, another thing that may contribute to the happiness of Greeks is the mindset that everyone deserves to have a good, fulfilling life.No matter the size of your house or the amount of money saved in your bank account, you should avoid misery at all costs. We often say «η φτώχεια θέλει καλοπέραση» – “poverty needs fun”. It may sound cheesy but dancing, singing, and telling jokes is for free. And other fun activities, such as eating and drinking with friends, do not always cost a fortune.

What I’ve noticed when I got in touch with people living in other countries in the world is that there are certain cultures that make people feel guilt for having fun and enjoying life, when they are things missing from their lives – including money. The Greek way of thinking dictates that you should not postpone happiness. You should enjoy life, with all the means you have, now.

Then we have the concept of “meraki” – and specifically working with meraki. Meraki is when you put all your effort towards your work. Have you ever watched an old man in an Greek island making a kaiki – a traditional fishing boat? How slowly and carefully he carves the wood and paints the details. Working with meraki, with all your attention and focus, is the opposite of what a modern economy needs to be the world’s leader: mass production and quantity over quality. But it can make you feel more creative and fulfilled with your work. More content with your life.

Another thing that comes to mind is the concept of “comicotragedy” in the Greek culture. Situations that are both comical and tragic, in which laughing and crying are both acceptable reactions. Foreigners are often surprised to find out that their favorite upbeat song that everyone dances to is actually describing a painful breakup. Greeks don’t have less tragic events happening to their lives than others. But they learn that they can make jokes with the things that bring them down, such as losing a job, a relationship or dealing with a health issue. It may be a coping mechanism but… it works!

Last but not least, let’s not forget that Greece has a collectivistic culture, where people keep strong ties with their close family members. You always feel like someone has your back and, by seeing yourself in a group, it is less likely to question your purpose and the reason for your existence.This of course is a double-edged sword, since you may feel too comfortable with what you have – you may be reluctant to take risks, open a business, or take a different route than the one of your family members. But today’s topic is about happiness, not risk-taking.

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Overlooked External Factor for Happiness  

But are Greeks happier only because of their way of thinking? Well, there must be some external factors as well. I am not going to be mentioning the role of sunlight and vitamin D, since studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency is also prevalent in Greece. But here is one external factor that I believe is connected to those living in the Greek countryside being overall content with their life. It may sound strange but bear with me.

Have you ever noticed how most Greek villages are located on a hill, built amphitheatrically, and overlooking the sea? Greeks have been placing a great focus on location since ancient times. They would avoid areas that are flat, dark, and far from a water source. There were practical reasons for this but, at the same time, living somewhere with a great view uplifts your spirit. You may live in a tiny house in a small village, but you feel like the king of the world. You have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, fish from the sea, and a house that you wouldn’t change for anything, no matter how humble it is. The magnificent landscapes are attributed with inspiring ancient Greeks to travel and explore new places, hence starting trading and building a strong civilization.

There are other parts of the world, even in the biggest economies, where living in nice landscapes requires a lot of money. Hills are reserved for the upper class and there are particular areas with affordable housing. People who struggle financially have to live in buildings that resemble boxes. Grey walls, no natural light. In this case, happiness and inspiration require a heavy wallet.       

Is a Happy Life an Exciting Life?

Before we end this video, I need to address that there is no global definition for happiness. In Greek, «ευδαιμονία» or «ευτυχία» is perceived as being overall content and satisfied with your life. Not necessarily smiling excessively, being always in a good mood, or living an extraordinary life. It is about the small things. Enjoying a cup of coffee looking outside your window. Taking care of your plants and making sure that your home feels homy, no matter how small. And most importantly, knowing that you are worthy of happiness – now, not sometime in the future, when everything will be perfect.

Learn Greek at Home During Quarantine

If you are interested in learning Greek but there are no classes taking place in your area, don’t be discouraged. Helinika, a platform dedicated to the Greek language, history, and culture, offers affordable Greek language lessons online. Learn Greek during Quarantine.

This Is Your Sign for Learning Greek

You have been debating whether you should start learning modern Greek and you constantly postpone it. Whatever the reason might be, here is the sign you were looking for. Start learning Greek today.

6 Random Things Greek People Do | Greek Culture Facts

Are you looking for some Greek culture facts? Today, we present to you six (6) random things Greek people do. From adding oregano on everything to saying one thing and meaning another, here are the most random facts about Greece and the Greeks.

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Random Things Only Greeks Do:

  1. Employees for Pumping Gas
  2. No Self-Service
  3. Enjoying a Glass of Plain Water
  4. Pedestrian Lanes= Decoration?
  5. Oregano on Everything
  6. Indirect Communication

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10 Winter Destinations in Greece | Greece Beyond Summer

Greece is without a doubt the ultimate summer destination. With its mild climate and one of the longest coastlines in the world, millions of people visit the Hellenic Republic of Greece every year. But Greece is more than sunny beaches and clear blue waters. Here are Greece’s top winter destinations.

10 Top Greek Destinations for the Winter

  1. Mount Olympus
  2. Arachova
  3. Northern Pelion
  4. Meteora
  5. Zagori
  6. Trikala of Corinthia
  7. Xanthi
  8. Mounts of Attica
  9. Athens
  10. Thessaloniki

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#10 Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki is the second biggest city in Greece and one of the most beautiful ones as well. Situated in the Greek region of Macedonia in northern Greece, the port city of Thessaloniki has been a cosmopolitan city for many centuries. Known for its unique architecture, relaxed lifestyle, and rich history, Thessaloniki attracts many visitors every year. The city is also one of the places that see some snow from time to time during the winter, with many Greeks visiting it for this exact reason!

Another reason to visit Thessaloniki is the fact that is considered the food capital of Greece. Do you like sweet treats? Try the traditional sweet-savory bougatsa pie with lots of cinnamon and you will instantly fall in love with the city. Do you prefer fine dining? You will find plenty of restaurants to choose from. Since the Greek summer can be quite hot, hence reducing people’s appetite, make sure to visit Thessaloniki in the winter.

# 9 Athens

The capital of Greece might be visited all year round, however, it is recommended to visit it during the winter. Just ask a tourist who did outdoor sightseeing in Athens in July. Athenian summers are always very hot, with the temperature reaching often 40 degrees Celsius during the day. Therefore, coming during the winter is more enjoyable.

The city of Athens is always sunny, and the temperature can reach 20 degrees Celsius even in December. Pack your lightest coat and a few thin sweaters (or your shorts if you are from Scandinavia) and climb up the Acropolis of Athens and the Filopappou hill. Walk around the ancient Agora and National Gardens and explore the ancient cemetery of Kerameikos. Visit the Acropolis Museum, the National Archaeological Museum, the Benaki Museum, and Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center. Go thrift shopping in the second-hand markets of Monastiraki and Omonoia and order a nice cocktail in the bars around Square Klafthmonos.In the winter, there are also several theatrical plays. If you understand Greek at a basic level, watching a play in the birthplace of drama is a lifetime experience.

#8 Mounts of Attica

Athens is situated in Attica, a region with rich history. Attica is visited throughout the year by nature and hiking lovers because of its mountainous landscape. Try exploring Mount Hymettus, Penteli, and Parnitha. These mountains were considered “magical” since ancient times and there are often visited by paranormal investigators. A great example would be the “haunted” cave of Mount Penteli. If you love skiing, you can also visit Mount Parnassos ski center!

#7 Xanthi

Due to its geographic location, Xanthi is one of the most culturally diverse cities in Greece. Situated in the northern region of Thrace, Xanthi welcomes many visitors during the winter. The city is known for its unique architecture. Byzantine churches, next to Ottoman-era mosques, and neoclassical buildings from the 19th century. Every winter, the city celebrates one of Greece’s most popular events: the carnival of Xanthi. It is recommended to visit the folklore museum, the old town, and the nearby waterfalls.

#6 Trikala of Corinthia

In the North Peloponnese, Greece holds one of its greatest secrets: Trikala. The picturesque town is known for its beautiful landscape, traditional homes made out of stone, and numerous winter traditions. Many families visit Trikala during Christmas to see the “Mill of the Elves” – the most beautiful Christmas themed park in Greece (which is completely free of charge). Not only that, but Trikala is one of the few smart cities in the world! It has automated citizens service center, mobile check apps, wifi for everyone, smart lighting system, smart parking system, smart waste management, and many more advanced municipal services. Trikala was also the first city to use driverless buses!

#5 Zagori

Zagori is a region in the Pindus mountains in the Epirus region of Greece. The area is known for its magnificent landscapes that are very rare in southern Europe. Rare animal species such as the brown bear and the wolf reside there. Greeks visit the area during the winter months to hike or explore the 46 traditional picturesque villages, known as the “Zagorochoria” (the villages of Zagori). Zagori has two national parks, traditional arched stone bridges, crystal-clear waters, and numerous Byzantine churches. It is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places in Greece.

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#4 Meteora

If you love climbing, you might already know Meteora. It is a rock formation in central Greece, near the town of Kalabaka. The area is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List and is visited by people from around the world who are intrigued by its unique landscape. On top of some of the hills, there are Christian Orthodox monasteries that were built there during Byzantine times. Many climbers attempt to climb on top of the hills and countless film companies have asked for permission to film there. Meteora is one of the magnificent places to visit in Greece during the winter.

#3 Northern Pelion

Although South Pelion is a secret summer paradise, Northern Pelion – a mountain range in central Greece, is Greece’s winter hidden gem. Do you love skiing and winter sports? You can visit the ski resort of Chania. Do you love hiking? You can explore the cobblestone trails connecting Pelion’s traditional villages. Pelion is one of the few places where you can experience heavy snowfall in Greece.

#2 Arachova

The most well-known ski resort in Greece is the one of Arachova. It is situated next to one of the most picturesque villages of the entire country, Arachova. Located in the region of Boeotia, not very far from Attica, it gathers many visitors from Athens. The village is known for its woodcut creations, dark red wine, traditional carpets, and chylopites – a type of pasta that dates back to Byzantine times.

#1 Olympus

It was believed to be the home of the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece. The kingdom of Zeus and Hera. A magnificent mountain that reaches the heavens. How could it come second or third on this list? Mount Olympus is one of the most popular hiking and climbing destinations in Greece. It is also a ski mountaineering destination for avid skiers! On Mount Olympus you can find several beautiful villages, including some ghost villages such as Morna. The village was abandoned for unknown reasons and many urban legends have spurred over the years. The village was built on the “dark” side of Olympus, where sunlight is limited. Since ancient times, Greeks avoided this part of the mountain, since it was visited by chthonic deities, and not by the gods and goddesses who resided at the top.

7 Hidden Paradises in Greece | Secret Greek Destinations

Close your eyes and try to think of Greece. What was the first thing that came into your mind? Was it the white and blue houses on a hill in Santorini? The temple of the Parthenon standing proud on the Acropolis hill of Athens? For many people, Greece is connected to specific popular destinations: Santorini, Mykonos, Zakynthos, Crete, Corfu, and Athens. But what about the rest of the country? Here are seven Greek destinations that people who don’t live in Greece rarely know. Stay till the end to discover an unpopulated island that could be described as “heaven on Earth”.

Seven Hidden Gems in Greece:

  1. Chrysi Island
  2. Elafonisos Island
  3. Mount Pelion
  4. Monemvasia Fortress
  5. Epirus Region
  6. Halkidiki Peninsula
  7. Samothraki Island

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#7 Samothrace Island

Some of the most iconic Greek islands are the Cycladic islands, which are known for their dry, golden terrain, white-blue houses, and great Bronze-era civilization. Samothrace island, however, looks nothing like those islands – but it does have a rich history.

Located in the northern Aegean Sea, Samothrace has dense vegetation, a lot of natural springs, and many picturesque villages. The island used to be an important religious center in Hellenic and pre-Hellenic times.

If you have watched the video on the Eleusinian Mysteries, then you might remember a short reference to the so-called “Kabeirian Mysteries”. An ancient Greek cult with members from different parts of Greece would meet in the Sanctuary of the Great Gods that is located there and perform ceremonies to a group of chthonic gods called Kabeiri.

Today, many people visit Samothrace for its beautiful nature and numerous archaeological sites. It also has some popular camping sites. Some of the places you should visit are: the Paleopoli (where many ancient temples are located), the island’s waterfalls (including the waterfall «Fonias”, which means “Murderer” in Greek), and the mountain “Feggari”, which means “moon” in Greek.

#6 Halkidiki Peninsula

If you are not from Greece or from a neighboring country, chances are that you have never heard about (C)Halkidiki. Located in the northern Greek region of Macedonia, this peninsula can be easily located on the map; all you have to do is search for “Poseidon’s trident”.

The first two “prongs” of the “trident” are known for their beautiful beaches (which often have a natural shade), well-known restaurants, and bars. Northern Greeks are often quoted saying: «Σαν την Χαλκιδική δεν έχει», which can be translated as “No place like Halkidiki”. You might also remember from another video from Helinika that Aristotle was born there.

The third “prong” of the “trident” is known as “Mount Athos”, and it is an autonomous polity where 20 Greek Orthodox monasteries are located. Some date back to 800 AD. It is important to note that the monasteries cannot be visited by women.

Some places that you should definitely visit are: the Trani Ammouda beach, Possidi beach, and visit some archaeological sites, such as the Sanctuary of Ammon Zeus.

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#5 Epirus Region

Epirus is a region located in the northwestern part of Greece and it is one of the few places with an alpine climate in the country. It is rugged and mountainous, with a rich vegetation consisting mostly of coniferous species. Epirus has also a big variety of animal species: bears, wolves, foxes, deer, even lynxes.

All these make Epirus a very unique place in Greece. You should definitely visit the Vikos National Park, Pindos National Park, Cave of Perama, and the Dragon Lake (Drakolimne). The central city of Epirus and lake Pamvotida are also two places worth visiting. When you visit the historic city of Ioannina, you can try the traditional frog legs served in the local restaurants.

If you visit during the summer, you should definitely go to the city of Preveza, which is situated in the seaside. You can find some of the most beautiful green-blue waters in this region.

#4 Monemvasia Fortress

Although most people around the world are aware of Greece’s ancient history, fewer know its Medieval past. The Island Fortress of Monemvasia in South Peloponnese is a reminder of Greece’s Byzantine history.  

Monemvasia means “one-way”. The fortress was built in 583 AD, during the reign of the emperor Mauricius, on a rocky island which is connected to the mainland with a narrow road. Monemvasia is one of the most romantic Greek destinations and it should be on every architect’s checklist. Visit the Byzantine churches, the old castle, the folklore museums, and the house of Yannis Ritsos, one of the most well-known Greek poets.

#3 Mount Pelion

If you have watched Helinika’s video narrating the Argonautica, then you might remember Pelion; a mountain at the southeastern part of Thessaly that forms a peninsula resembling a hook. Jason, the leader of the Argonauts, spent his childhood and teenage years there, along with his teacher, Centaur Chiron. This mythical mountain was believed to be the home of the wise half-horse, half-man creatures.

Today, Pelion is often described as “paradise on Earth”, combining mountain and sea in one place. If you visit Pelion during the winter, it is worth visiting the northern part of the mountain; the picturesque villages of Milies and Zagora, but also the ski center of Chania.

During the summer, south Pelion is known for its beautiful coastline – the wild and crystal clear beaches facing the Aegean sea and the calm and family friendly beaches facing the gulf of Pagasitikos. Papa Nero and Potistika are some of the most popular summer destinations for people who love deep and wild waters, contrary to the swallow and calm waters of most Greek coastlines. Fun fact: most of the scenes in “Mama Mia 1” were filmed in South Pelion and some neighboring islands.

Pelion is also a popular hiking area for locals. The “kalderimia”, the traditional cobblestone pathways, connect small villages to each other through beautiful natural landscapes – forests, rivers, and waterfalls.

#2 Elafonisos Island

Elafonisos is one of Greece’s hidden gems and, to be honest, revealing it comes with a feeling of guilt. Situated between the Peloponnese and the island of Kythira, the beautiful island has a history that dates back to ancient times.

Its name derives from the Greek word for “deer” (Ελάφι), since it was inhabited by deer in the past.Today, it is a protected biotope of the program Natura 2000, since it is the home of countless rare Mediterranean plants and animals, including red tulips goulimyi, green sea turtles, microbats, and European blind snakes. Some of the paradise-like beaches are Simos, Panagia, and Lefki.

#1 Chrysi Island

Chrysi means “golden” in Greek. Also known as Gaidouronisi, Chrysi island could only be placed on the first position. It is an uninhabited Greek island in the South Cretan Sea, very close to the town of Ierapetra.

The island is known for its Minoan ruins from 1800 BC, its Roman cemetery, its old lighthouse and salt pan, a 13th century chapel dedicated to Saint Nicholas, and its crystal-clear waters. The island has swallow and safe waters and it attracts anyone who loves snorkeling and diving.

The beautiful island is so small but, at the same time, it has such a long history and such beautiful scenery that could be described as the ultimate Greek destination. You can reach it by boat from Ierapetra and other places in Crete, such as Makrigialos, and Myrtos.

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Did you know any of these places? Also, would you add any other lesser-known Greek destinations to the list? Leave a comment down below!

Coffee and Drinking Culture in Greece: Dos and Donts

If you take shots of ouzo οr drink the sediment at the bottom of your “Greek” coffee, you need to watch this video. Here is what you should know about the coffee and drinking culture in Greece.


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Greek Coffee Culture (+ Tea Consumption in Greece)

You might know Greek coffee as “briki coffee” or as “Turkish coffee”, because, yes, Greek coffee is no other than the traditional coffee consumed in Turkey and it is speculated that it originates from the Arab world. Greeks started drinking this type of coffee during the Ottoman rule of Greece and it was always referred to as “Turkish”. Things changed, however, after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, when the Greek-Turkish relationships became strained. Many coffee distributers and coffee shop owners realized that the word “Turkish” on their menus would bring negative emotions to their customers, hence reducing their purchase intentions.

Nowadays, less and less people consume this type of unfiltered coffee, not because of its Turkish origins, but because they prefer coffee that does leave any residue at the bottom of the cup. The sediment is very bitter when consumed by accident and it has no practical use in a modern society. In previous centuries, the shapes of the sediment were often interpreted to reveal truths about the past, present, and future. But this practice is not as popular nowadays.

Greeks take coffee very seriously and Greece is one of the top coffee consumers per capita in the world. Despite popular belief, Greeks today have a preference for Italian coffee, specifically espresso. Since the climate is rather warm, cold and iced coffee is very popular. It is named “freddo”, which means “cold” in Italian, and, surprisingly, freddo coffee is more popular in Greece than in Italy. In the past, before “freddo espresso” gained popularity in Greece, people would often make “frappe”, a cold beverage made with instant coffee, sugar, and milk. Frappe was invented in Thessaloniki in 1957 and it is becoming less and less popular nowadays.

In general, you will find three types of coffee places in Greece: the sophisticated «καφετέρια», the traditional «καφενείο» or «καφενές», and the practical “coffee-to-go” coffeeshops. A «καφετέρια» is a sit-down café where friends gather and drink coffee, not just for the shake of getting caffeinated, but also for chatting and catching up with each other. This is a weekly habit for most Greeks who meet with their group of friends every weekend to socialize and drink coffee, usually before or after lunch. In these types of coffee shops, you can find Italian-style coffee and its Greek variations, such as “freddo espresso”, while the traditional unfiltered Turkish coffee or frappe, are rarely included in the menu. Ordering sweet and savory pies is also very common in these types of coffeeshops.

A «καφενείο» or «καφενές» is a traditional coffee shop that you can find in small villages and some touristic parts of the cities. The term derives from the Serbo-Croatian “kafana” and it describes the coffee shops that were very popular in Balkan countries during Ottoman rule. When they were first established, they were the only places of socialization for men, while women would usually meet at home. If you visit a «καφενείο» today, you can order Turkish/Greek coffee, frappe, and alcoholic drinks that were also established during the Ottoman rule, such as ouzo and tsipouro. Prices are generally low in these shops and you might notice that the patrons are mostly elderly people.

A “coffee-to-go” place is -as the name suggests- a coffeeshop that does not have a sitting area and you can only order coffee to go. These places are popular among professional drivers, students, and people who work in offices that do not provide coffee machines for their employees.

If you have watched Helinika’s video on the Greek culture, then you might remember that the Greek culture is collectivistic, which means that drinking coffee is a social activity, as with eating meals, and drinking. “Coffee-to-go” shops were popularized after the arrival of American coffee chains that introduced the concept of drinking coffee on-the-go. Greeks usually spend at least one hour sited at a coffee shop, since this is a common socialization activity. You may also notice that waiters and waitresses rarely interrupt a conversation to ask for the bill, as it often happens in other European countries. In the Greek service culture, asking for the customer to pay as soon as they finished their drink or meal is often considered impolite.

Now it is important to also talk about the consumption of tea in Greece. Although neighboring countries, such as Turkey, consume a lot of tea, Greece ranks at the 50th position of tea consumers in a list of 55 countries. In fact, many Greek people dislike the taste of tea and drink it only when feeling sick. In the Greek mind, tea is more like herbal medicine, rather than something you drink to enjoy. Of course, there are many Greeks who are devoted tea lovers!

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In a nutshell:

  1. Greeks love coffee.
  2. Drinking coffee is a social activity.
  3. Greek coffee is actually Turkish coffee.
  4. Young Greeks prefer iced Italian coffee.
  5. There are three types of coffee shops in Greece (modern, traditional, to-go).
  6. Greeks are not big fans of tea.

Drinking Culture in Greece

Many foreigners are often recommended to drink ouzo, an anise-flavored aperitif, or tsipouro, an unaged brandy, when visiting Greece. These two, especially ouzo, resemble a popular alcoholic beverage from Turkey called raki. But visitors often taste these drinks in a way that surprises locals. They drink it plain and warm, in shot glasses, as if it is tequila.

Ouzo and tsipouro, however, are served in highball glasses with a lot of ice cubes and, sometimes, with icy cold water. Greeks also like drinking ouzo and tsipouro in the summer, preferably by the sea, along with seafood. These drinks are also paired with “meze”,  a collection of selected dishes that are shared among everyone on the table.

“Meze” does not have Greek origins. It was adopted during the Ottoman rule and you can find meze restaurants in different parts of the world. Ouzo and tsipouro, however, are Greek beverages and their history takes us back to Byzantine times. There are speculations that ouzo in particular was consumed in ancient Greece but under a different name.

Ouzo, as we know it today, started getting produced in 1932 in Lesbos island. Tsipouro, on the other hand, is linked to the 14th century Greek Orthodox monks of Mount Athos. It is important to note that these two drinks are recognized as products with a Protected Designation of Origin in the European Union, prohibiting their production outside of Greece and Cyprus.

It goes without saying that Greeks also produce and consume wine from ancient to modern times. Ancient Greeks had a god dedicated to wine and his name was Dionysus. More than 6.500 years ago, Greeks would export wine, usually made from vitis vinifera (the common grape vine), in the Mediterranean region. Some well-known grape varieties today are: Agiorgitiko, Kotsifali, Mavrodaphne, Xinomavro, Assyrtiko, Malagousia, and  Moschofilero.The island of Santorini, Crete, Thessaly, the Peloponnese, and northern Greece are some of the most popular wine producing regions in Greece.

Greeks also love beer, especially in the summer. Some years ago, archaeologists discovered that ancient Greeks consumed beer since the Bronze Age, despite previous speculations that they only drank wine. There are many breweries in Athens, the Cycladic islands, and other parts of Greece.  

If you have watched Helinika’s video on the Greek culture, then you might remember that the Greeks have generally a balanced relationship between restrain and indulgence. That means that, for a lot of people, there is an ease at controlling desires and impulses, without associating certain activities with shame and guilt. Greeks indulge in alcohol regularly, without necessarily getting tipsy nor drunk.

Drinking a glass of red wine with dinner is often recommended by cardiologists and it is also common to meet with friends and colleagues after work for a glass of wine. At the same time, the concept of getting wasted on the weekends is not very popular. Alcohol is usually paired with food or snacks, such as almonds and carrot slices. Since the Greek culture is also a collectivistic culture, drinking alcohol alone at home is usually frowned upon.

In a nutshell:

  1. Greeks drink alcohol regularly but in moderation.
  2. “Boozing” culture is not popular in Greece.
  3. Beer and wine have been consumed since ancient times.
  4. Cardiologists often recommend a glass of red wine per day.
  5. Ouzo and tsipouro are protected names in the EU.
  6. Alcoholic beverages are usually paired with food.
  7. Drinking alone is often frowned upon in Greece.

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Five Unique Winter Traditions from Greece | Christian and Pagan Customs

Greece’s geographic location and long history have enabled the establishment and adoption of various traditions. Some of them can be traced back to Greece’s pagan roots, others are related to the Christian Orthodox faith, and some have been adopted from other cultures and religions. Forget Christmas trees, Christmas carols, and Santa Claus. Let’s see some of the most unique Greek customs and traditions that are celebrated during the winter months.

Unique Greek Winter Holiday Traditions:

  1. The Feeding of the Water Spring and the Unspoken Water
  2. Nautical Christmas Decorations
  3. The Smashing of the Pomegranate
  4. Cutting the King’s Pie
  5. The Theophany and the Great Blessing of the Waters

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The Feeding of The Water Spring in Thessaly (The Silent/Unspoken Water)

If you have ever visited the picturesque villages of Thessaly, a region located in central Greece, then you must have noticed the traditional stone drinking fountains that are located in each villages’ central square and on some key-locations in the cobblestone routes that surround them. These water fountains, called «βρύσες» (vrises) in Greek, are being “fed” every Christmas eve or New Year’s eve.

The “feeding of the water spring” (το τάισμα της βρύσης) could be described as an offering to a deity that is connected to the water element. Young maidens walk towards the water fountain late at night and pour honey and butter to “please” it. Depending on the location, various other items, such as olive tree branches, are “offered” to the spring. The latter then starts gushing the “silent” or “unspoken” water, as they call it.

The young women fill in their clay pitchers and return home, bringing many blessings to their household. While carrying it home, they are not allowed to talk to each other or to anyone else, hence the name “silent/unspoken water” (αμίλητο νερό). This water is used similarly to “holy water”, mostly for “cleansing” the house on a spiritual level. In certain regions, the unmarried women use the water to make predictions about the future, usually revolving around their marriage and future family.

It is not clear when this custom was established in Thessaly. Its ritualistic nature and the act of making an offering to what appears to be an elemental deity can, however, lead us to the conclusion that it is rooted back to Greece’s pagan culture and religion. The “feeding of the water spring” bears close similarities to another Greek tradition, which takes place every spring or summer (depending on the region).

Klethonas (Κλήδονας) is an ancient Greek ritualistic custom that was re-established by the Christian Orthodox religion and takes place in certain parts of Greece to this day. The custom occurs in the span of two days and it entails the collection of the “silent/unspoken water” and the storage of this water in a container made out of copper. The women drink the water and sit outside, waiting to hear a voice that would reveal the name of their future husband. Another way to predict who they will marry is by falling asleep and seeing the image of their future husband in their dreams. This is not the only way to celebrate the Klethonas and the use of the “silent/unspoken water” may differ from region to region.  

Today, Klethonas is connected to John the Baptist who is believed to reveal the future. However, ancient Greek historian Herodotus and the geographer Pausanias do mention Klethonas in their observations; in ancient times, the omens of the Klethonas were revealed by Zeus through Hermes.

Since many young people leave the countryside and move to bigger cities and since the traditional gender roles have evolved during the years, customs such as the ones of Klethonas and the “feeding of the water spring” are becoming less and less known.

Before we get onto the next tradition, it is worth mentioning that similar customs take place in other parts of the world. For example, there is a Scottish custom called the “Unspoken Water” that entails the collection of water from under a bridge late at night and under complete silence. The water is then used to heal someone who is sick. There is no proof that the Scottish custom has been inspired by the Greek custom nor the opposite, which makes the tradition even more fascinating. Perhaps, the answer could be found in Carl Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious and the set of universal archetypes that are manifested in different cultures in similar ways.

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Decorating a Christmas Boat Instead of a Christmas Tree

Nowadays, most Greek households associate Christmas with a decorated evergreen tree. This is a custom that was introduced in Greece in 1833 by the Bavarian prince Otto who ruled as the king of Greece for thirty years, but was adopted by the Greeks in the 20th century, after witnessing depictions of holiday gatherings in foreign movies and tv-shows. Since pine and fir trees are not common in the coastal areas of Greece, a lot of people use fake but realistic-looking trees that people store and re-use year after year. But what did the Greeks decorate before the adoption of the Christmas tree?

If you have ever visited Greece, then you know the importance of the sea in the country’s culture and economy. Greece, a country of 11 million people, is the world leader in maritime shipping, with the current value of the Greek-owned fleet standing at almost 100 billion dollars. If you are not new to this channel and you have watched Helinika’s playlists narrating the Odyssey and the Argonautica, then you already know that Greeks have been dominating the seas since ancient times. It comes as no surprise that Greeks have been decorating their boats -big or small- with Christmas lights for centuries.

This custom might be getting less and less popular today, however, it is well-established in the Greek islands and in the most important port-cities of Greece, like Piraeus. Since not every single Greek person owns a boat, it is very common to own a miniature wooden vessel. This vessel is put in display in the living-room and lit with various lights. Since many Greek families have members who work in maritime shipping and are often absent during the holidays, the wooden vessel symbolizes the love and devotion the whole family has for the seamen while waiting for them to return.

The Smashing of the Pomegranate

A panhellenic custom that survives to this day is the smashing of the pomegranate on New Year’s eve. When Greeks are invited to a NY’s eve party, they sometimes offer real pomegranates or objects depicting this fruit to their hosts. A pomegranate often hangs above the house’s or apartment’s main entrance, bringing luck and blessings to the household members and all of their guests.

During the countdown, minutes or seconds before the arrival of the new year, the hosts smash the pomegranate by hitting it with their right hand against their front door. In this way, the fruit’s red seeds scatter around the house, bringing luck to all of its members. If someone ends up getting red stains all over their clothes, he/she is believed to be the luckiest of the year. This tradition may differ depending on the region of Greece you visit.

It is not clear when this custom was established but we do know that the pomegranate fruit has been featured in countless ancient Greek myths and was used in agrarian rituals, such as the Eleusinian Mysteries. According to the legend, pomegranates sprung from the blood of Adonis, the most handsome mythical Greek man to have ever lived. Persephone, a deity we have talked about in the past, is also depicted holding a pomegranate. That is because she was trapped in Hades, the ancient Greek underworld, after eating pomegranate seeds.

The Cut of the King’s Pie (Vasilopita)

Vasilopita (King’s Pie) is a pie that is prepared, blessed, and shared by families and organizations, such as schools and companies, on the 1st of January. The pie has a hidden coin, real or fake, and the person who finds it in his/her piece is believed to be the luckiest of the year. The recipe varies from region to region, but it usually looks and tastes like sweet bread.

The tradition is associated with Saint Basil’s (Άγιος Βασίλειος) day on January 1st, hence the name. Saint Basil the Great was the bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia from 370 AD till 379 AD and he is believed to be the one who brings presents to children on New Year’s Day. He is the Greek Orthodox version of Santa Claus with the difference that he is visiting on January 1st instead of Christmas.

The tradition is common in countries that follow the Christian Orthodox religion, and its roots go back to the Byzantine Empire. The tradition of the cut of vasilopita resembles the tradition of the “three kings’ cake” that is established for the past three centuries in France, Portugal, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, and New Orleans. However, this custom is associated with the biblical three wise men (or Kings) who visited Jesus on the day of his birth rather than with Saint Basil.

It is worth mentioning that the name Basil (Βασίλειος) derives from the ancient Greek «βασιλεύς» that means “king”. Therefore, the Greek custom is translated into “King’s Pie” rather than “Basil’s Pie”.

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Theophany, the Greek version of Epiphany

On the 7th of January, people who follow the Greek Orthodox religion celebrate the Theophany, also known as “Phota” (Φώτα). This day celebrates the baptism of Christ and symbolizes people’s spiritual rebirth. There are several customs that take place in Greece on that day but the most common one is the “Great Blessing of the Waters”.

A priest from each village, town, or municipality visits the nearest coastline and sings hymns to bless the waters and protect the people working in the sea, such as fishermen, sailors, and mariners. On the rare occasion that a village or town is not close to the sea, the priests bless the nearest pond or river. The custom’s roots take us back to the third century AD and it is obviously associated with the Christian Orthodox religion.

In some parts of Greece, the 7th of January is also closely associated with the «Dance of the Goblins”. Goblins (Καλικάντζαροι) are believed to be chthonic tricksters that are only able to step foot on the Earth’s surface when the waters are “unbaptized”. According to the legend, they roam the streets between Christmas and the 7th of January, just before the “Great Blessing of the Waters”. In some villages, the locals scare away the goblins by dancing and singing loudly or by organizing bonfires.

Four Things to Avoid in Greece | Greece Travel Advice

Some time ago I posted a video with do’s and dont’s in Athens, Greece. But I realized that there are other things that I did not mention and that do not apply only in Athens. So today I will discuss some things to avoid when traveling or moving to Greece. Before we get started, make sure to subscribe and stay till the end because the last two things I will mention are literally lifesaving.

Things to Avoid in Greece:

  1. Splitting the Bill
  2. Not Tipping
  3. Dress Appropriately When Sightseeing
  4. Showering When the Water Heater is On

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When Eating and Drinking in Greece, Avoid Splitting the Bill

You are eating out with friends in a restaurant in Greece and it is time to pay the bill. Although a lot of bars and restaurants nowadays offer the option of having each person pay individually, splitting the bill is considered bad etiquette and it is generally frowned upon. In Greece, restaurants are responsible for creating a bill for every single table and not for every single person who is eating there. Then, it is the responsibility of the people who sit on the table to find a way to pay for everything.

That is not only because it is way faster for the waiters and waitresses who need to attend other tables, but also because, in Greece, it is common to order food as a group and not as an individual. For example, Greeks usually order a bunch of different dishes that they agree upon and each person gets an empty plate to fill it up with anything they like. Just like a family would do at home.

It is important to remember that Greece is considered much less individualistic and much more collectivistic than countries such the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, without that meaning that people have less individual rights or anything like this. It is more about how well people integrate into groups and how easy it is to take decisions as a collective.

Tipping Might Be Optional in Greece But It Is Also Expected

Tipping in Greece is not mandatory, as it is in the US, and you definitely don’t have to do any calculations to make sure that you tipped an acceptable amount. However, unless the service was terrible, you are expected to leave a tip on the table that you deem appropriate for the service. That applies mostly in cafes, bars, and restaurants, rather than hair salons or other businesses that offer some type of service. Tipping taxi drivers or employees in self-service restaurants is less common. However, when ordering food, tipping the delivery man or woman is recommended.

There is no specified percentage of the bill that should be offered as a tip. Most people would agree that one euro for two cups of coffee and five euros for a 25-euro bill at a restaurant are acceptable. When the amount you have to pay is too small, it is preferred to round things down: giving 2 euros when the bill says 1,65. However, leaving 1-2  cents as a tip is worse than not leaving a tip at all.

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Dress Appropriately When Sightseeing

Most museums and archaeological sites around the world have dress codes or at least a few rules regarding what is not allowed to wear. The same applies in Greece. As in most European countries, the dress code in Greek museums is very relaxed – you don’t have to dress up formally or cover your entire body, but you might be asked to cover up if you enter without a shirt or with a crop top.

What most visitors do not know is that there are stricter rules when visiting archaeological sites. For example, the Herodion Theater of Athens does not allow the entrance to anyone wearing hilled shoes, since they can ruin the marble auditorium. Furthermore, if you are visiting historical churches and monasteries, you might be asked to cover your legs, whether you are a man or a woman.

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Avoid Showering When the Water Heater (Boiler) is On

Houses and apartment buildings in Greece have two different water heaters: one powered with solar energy and an electric one. The second is used only on the rare occasion that there is no sunlight for over 24 hours. Also, some old houses do not have a solar powered water heater installed.

If you have to turn on an electric water heater when travelling in Greece, note that you shouldn’t let it run for hours. It is extremely costly and the chances of starting a fire due to an electrical short circuit are high. But the most important part is to always turn it off when someone is showering. Many water heaters are not properly insulated and showering with the water heater on can lead to electrocution.

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Dos & Don’ts in Athens, Greece

athens travel advice

What are some weird facts about Athens, Greece? Can you throw your toilet paper in the toilet? Is the tap water safe in Athens? Are you allowed to drink in public in the Greek capital? These and other questions are answered in Helinika’s new YouTube video. Don’t forget to subscribe and stay connected!

Athens Travel Advice | Athens Travel Tips

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Greek Christmas Cards Featuring a “Karavaki”

“Karavaki” means “little boat” in Greek. Although many Greek households decorate Christmas trees during the holidays, the original Greek Christmas tradition is to decorate the family’s boat or a tiny miniature vessel. Helinika has created two designs for Christmas cards, featuting a “karavaki”. “Χρόνια πολλά” (Chronia polla), a common Greek greeting during the holidays, is written across the card. It means “may you live many years”. Order the cards and send them to your friends and family this or next year!