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Greece - Sailing the Ionian Islands

After spending two weeks away from home in Greece, the first week sailing the Ionian islands (highly recommended) and then tanning our bodies in Mykonos, and dealing with the easy going Greek people makes me realise how easy a society can function without the need to regulate every part of day to day life. Australia is ruled by 3 levels of government, each demanding their pound of flesh from citizens, imposing laws and operating seemingly for selfish benefit and not for the betterment of the citizens legislated to vote (with threat of fines) their representatives into their positions of power. While there are friends and family we cherish, as far as the levels of regulation encountered first hand on a daily basis back home, if we left it all tomorrow and moved to a beachside hamlet somewhere in the Mediterranean, the over-regulation and enforcement would not be missed for a minute.

Of course these idealistic musings will be written from a sun kissed deck somewhere on the Ionian Sea and in hindsight will be scoffed from a work desk back in Sydney but that is the beauty of idealism (and holidays).

Traveling with another couple and driving across mainland Greece to meet our yacht, we were constantly amazed at how simple life could be and despite seeming confusion with the absence of regulation, mutual respect from locals to each other, combined with a little patience make for a happy community. A great example is in the driving habits where a car may pull up to drop off a passenger, not pull over to the side of the road as would happen in Australia, but stop with traffic forming a queue banking up behind as a little old lady steps out of the car or a delivery driver picks up his gyros for lunch. We remarked regularly that this sort of effort in Australia would cause some sort of punch-up or road rage incident especially in Sydney! The best example, however was a young fellow in a red fiat who pulled in to the convenience store outside the new port in Mykonos, one of the busiest roads on the island. He parked the car with half of it poking out onto the narrow roadway. For about 15 minutes as he waited in line to pay for his groceries, not only was he blocking some other patrons so they couldn't leave, the passing buses and trucks along with all other traffic was restricted to one-way only. So an orderly system of coping with the situation was formed by each lane taking turns in coming through the remaining lane. This happened without anyone so much as batting an eyelid, raising the familiar one-fingered salute or sounding their horn.

When you think about this example not simply as a solution to road rage, but take it as a deeper insight into the way of life of our Greek hosts, how accepting they are of others and their plights, allowing them to get on with their job without causing any unnecessary stir, it makes you wonder how Australia became so jaded. Maybe it's just a city thing and is why we seem to seek out tree and sea changes, opting out of the jostling city life.

Our Mykonos host, a pragmatic Albanian who had lived in Greece for over twenty years explained it quite simply when we asked him where the police were on the island. He said in his broken but very understandable English, 'Mykonos very small island, where you gonna go? Why need for police?'

I'm not suggesting Greece is a perfect society by any stretch, the news of the day would have us believe the Greek economy is far from well funded and the country is in a debt crisis. But at the coal face, the people with whom we had exposure, always seemed to wear a smile, with a shrug of the shoulders they carried on with a coffee and an ouzo, chatting within their circles of friends!

We certainly loved our trip away, and through rose coloured glasses would love to host events in that region on board our own yacht sharing the beautiful landscapes and sailing that we discovered with International guests. Now we are really daydreaming!

Despite a confused beginning to the trip, which included two extra passengers and a boat that wasn’t as promised, put on board our Beneteau 50 (slightly overcrowded with 10 POB including crew) we departed Lefkas Marina for the port of Vathi, a not too distant port for our first taste of Greek village life and more importantly, Med mooring (the method of dropping anchor, reversing and securing lines to bollards on shore) for the evening. The evening departure meant winds had dropped and not a chance of sailing… We did make an effort to put up the sails coming out of the marina just for show. Two hours later with med mooring completed in the dark our starving crew walked the plank in search of a hearty meal. All of the villages we visited are completely set up for arrivals by sea with restaurants, tavernas, cafes and boutiques readily accessible a short walking distance from the boat.

Our standard meal across the trip was a greek salad with tomatoes boasting a rich, full flavour, olive oil that tasted of olives and a slab of feta cheese on top for self service, unlike the crumbled feta and artificially ripened tomatoes we are used to in Australia. These were always accompanied by servings of bread, oil and vinegar. Portions were amazingly generous and a meal averaged at 20-25 euro per head with adequate drinks of ouzo and beer/wine.

The biggest cultural difference if there were any (I was constantly being confused for Greek being of Sicilian heritage) was the idle time of local men who sat in groups at cafes from around 10am drinking coffee, then after 12pm usually drinking ouzo. We assumed they were either retired or local fishermen, but who knew what they discussed, how long they had known each other and what time they went home, but there was a strong bond with all these men and they always greeted each other with a big smile and hearty handshake or hug. This may be the early influencer of Australia’s cafe set but I am happy to say there were no middle aged men in Lycra (MAMIL’s) to accompany this group of gents. Greek people were always up for a chat and my three words of Greek with their minimal English made for interesting conversations. We had one shop assistant even tell us there was no such thing as a dolmade (Vine leaves!) Annabel was shocked and disappointed by this revelation but relieved when we found them on the shelf. We laughed about this and the price of dolmades across the islands became an index by which we were able to gauge the pricing of everything else. I.e. If dolmades were cheap, the island was cheap, however if a tin of dolmades cost over 4 Euros, we knew to be wary of local tavernas and restaurants because they were inflating the prices for tourists. This was a rarity and we used it as a source of humour more than anything else. Read more here

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