Cultural exchange programs in Greece

Greece is a country rich in culture and history. But how to explore these as a foreigner? Cultural exchange programs! These programs provide an opportunity to learn about Greek culture, language, and history, while also giving you the chance to meet and interact with local people. Here are some of the top cultural exchange programs in Greece:

The American Farm School

The American Farm School in Thessaloniki offers cultural exchange programs for students and professionals interested in learning about Greek culture and agriculture. The program includes cultural activities, language classes, and hands-on learning experiences.

The Hellenic American Union

The Hellenic American Union in Athens offers a wide range of cultural exchange programs, including language classes, cultural workshops, and study abroad programs. The programs are designed for students, professionals, and anyone interested in learning about Greek culture.

The American College of Thessaloniki 

The American College of Thessaloniki offers cultural exchange programs for students, professionals, and anyone interested in learning about Greek culture. The programs include language classes, cultural workshops, and study abroad opportunities.

The Greek National Tourism Organization

The Greek National Tourism Organization offers cultural exchange programs for students, professionals, and anyone interested in learning about Greek culture. The programs include language classes, cultural workshops, and study abroad opportunities.

The International Cultural Centre of Delphi

The International Cultural Centre of Delphi offers cultural exchange programs for students, professionals, and anyone interested in learning about Greek culture. The programs include language classes, cultural workshops, and study abroad opportunities.

The Aristotle University of Thessaloniki 

The Aristotle University of Thessaloniki offers cultural exchange programs for students, professionals, and anyone interested in learning about Greek culture. The programs include language classes, cultural workshops, and study abroad opportunities.

The American Community Schools of Athens 

The American Community Schools of Athens offer cultural exchange programs for students, professionals, and anyone interested in learning about Greek culture. The programs include language classes, cultural workshops, and study abroad opportunities.

The Greek American Educational Foundation 

The Greek American Educational Foundation offers cultural exchange programs for students, professionals, and anyone interested in learning about Greek culture. The programs include language classes, cultural workshops, and study abroad opportunities.

The Hellenic American University 

The Hellenic American University offers cultural exchange programs for students, professionals, and anyone interested in learning about Greek culture. The programs include language classes, cultural workshops, and study abroad opportunities.

The International Centre for Hellenic & Mediterranean Studies 

The International Centre for Hellenic & Mediterranean Studies offers cultural exchange programs for students, professionals, and anyone interested in learning about culture in Greece. The programs include language classes, cultural workshops, and study abroad opportunities.

Do you want to prepare yourself for a visit to Greece? Or do you simply want to learn all there is to known about this beautiful country? Leave your email below and get the answer to all your questions!

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Fast food in Greece

Whenever I travel to an unfamiliar destination, I am always happy to spot a McDonald’s right after I land. I can eat my beloved BigMac, without immediately having to learn about the country’s culture and food. It is convenient for me after a long and tiring day of traveling. However, upon landing in Greece, I have to break with my McDonald’s tradition and immediately dive into the Greek culture. Fast food in Greece does not come in the shape of a BigMac.

Why fast food in Greece is different

McDonald’s in Greece

Greece, unlike other European countries, has very few famous fast-food chains. McDonald’s, for example, is pretty common throughout the European Union. Where the USA has 45.1 stores per million people, the Netherlands has 14.6, Germany 17,8, and Austria is the European winner with 22.31 McDonalds’s per million people. Greece, however, only has 2.1. Less than 5% of the amount in the USA!

Besides, McDonald’s in Greece is not spread evenly around the country. Stores are located in Athens and the most famous Greek islands like Rhodes, Crete, and Santorini. They are mostly used by tourists visiting the country instead of by the locals themselves. So what fast food can you expect when you travel to the less popular destinations in Greece?

The history of fast food in Greece

Fast food in Greece has a long history, dating back to ancient times. In ancient Greece, street vendors sold a variety of foods, including cooked meats, bread, and fruits. These foods were often sold at markets and were considered a convenient and affordable option for people who needed to eat quickly. Like our McDonald’s burgers, ancient Greek fast food was consumed quickly and on the go.

Ancient Greece was also the birthplace (or time) of the pita Gyros. Street vendors, known as gyrostands, would often sell meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie, similar to modern-day gyros.

After ancient times, however, Gyros disappeared from the country for centuries. Until the Ottoman Empire invented döner in the 19th century. When the Greeks changed the döner meat from lamb to pork and added tzatziki, the famous pita Gyros was reborn. It became (again) popular throughout Greece and later even in the rest of the world.

Pita Gyros

In the 1970s, the electric vertical rotisserie was introduced. As a result, the popular pita Gyros were now easy to prepare and became a staple of Greek fast food. The dish was cheap, fast, easy to eat, and even local. Every region in Greece has its own variation of this famous dish with different sauces or vegetables. 

The pita gyros is the reason famous fast food chains like McDonald’s, struggle to survive in Greece. The network of gyrostands was well-developed by the time they came. While it was a new and convenient way of eating in the rest of Europe, in Greece, there was no need for another quick dining opportunity. 

The best Greek fast food

Gyros, souvlaki or bifteki

The most delicious and well-known Greek fast food is the pita Gyros. A pita bread stuffed with meat, tomatoes, onions, tzatziki, and potatoes. However, often these places also offer various types of meat. Souvlaki, skewers, or bifteki, hamburgers, are among the options worth trying. After you ordered your pita, the cook will ask you: Ap’ola? With everything? And for the best Greek experience, you reply with Nai!

Savory pita’s

Kotopitaspanakopita, and tiropita are the second most famous fast foods in Greece. These are savory pies made from phyllo dough stuffed with chicken, spinach, or cheese. You can find these pies in bakeries all around the country, and there are even small shops specializing in these pitas. The benefit of these is that you can buy them in the morning and take them with you on the road to eat whenever you get hungry. The perfect snack for a road trip to Greece

Crepes

My favorite fast food in Greece is Greek crepes. The pancakes from France, with a twist. There are crepe stands all around Greece, and they are nothing more than a counter with countless ingredients. You take a crepe and choose what you want to have it filled with. There are different kinds of meat, cheese, sauce, vegetables, and potatoes. But there are also fruits, biscuits, ice cream, and sweet sauce. The result is something that looks similar to a pita gyro. The taste, however, can have countless possibilities and you can make this food as heavy or light as you want it to be.

Goody’s

When you are in Greece and crave McDonald’s or Burger King, there is an alternative you are more likely to find. Goody’s! Goody’s Burger House is a Greek fast food company with a menu close to the more famous chains. They serve burgers and fries, as you would expect from a fast-food chain. However, club sandwiches, pasta, and even something that looks like traditional Greek dakos, reveal that you are still in Greece.  

Moussaka and dolmades

While fast food in Greece is popular and widely available, it is important to note that the traditional Mediterranean diet, characterized by high consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and olive oil, is still considered one of the healthiest diets in the world. Many Greeks continue to follow this diet. It is not uncommon to see people eating traditional Greek meals such as moussaka and dolmades in fast food restaurants.

Do you want to prepare yourself for a visit to Greece? Or do you simply want to learn all there is to known about this beautiful country? Leave your email below and get the answer to all your questions!

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Explore Neapoli in Greece

This summer, I discovered the most underrated Greek town. Neapoli Voion, or simply Neapoli or Vatika. This small town is located in the South of the least famous “leg” of the Peloponnese peninsula. The one with terrible roads and very few tourists. If people know Neapoli, it is because the ferries to Kythira depart from here, or they are confused with the one in Crete. However, when looking for an off-the-beaten-track experience in Greece, this town should be on your itinerary.

Location Overview

Laconia, Peloponnese
City
1 – 3 days
Free
Yes
Yes

Location

Neapoli lies in the South of the Laconia region on the Peloponnese peninsula. Between the famous Mani region on the right and the well-known Porto Cheli on the left. You can reach Neapoli by car from Athens in four and a half hours. However, this route will not take you through the beautiful road I have traveled to get here. Therefore, I advise exploring the coastal roads leading down from Astros, making your way to Vatika an adventure.

History

Neapoli in Greek means New (nea) Town (poli). And although the town you can visit today is new, the city’s history started in ancient Greece. Between the 10th and 9th century B.C., Heraclied Boeus founded a city on the ground that is now Neapoli. He called it Boiai, named after himself. Boiai later became the port of Sparta and was an ancient Greek city complete with a forum and multiple temples. However, in 375 A.D., the earthquake that created Monemvasia destroyed Boiai. Only remains from this city are preserved and displayed at the Archeological museum of Neapoli.

In the Middle Ages, a new village arose named Vatika. And although the name Vatika is still used today for the region of Neapoli, the settlement was later renamed Pezoula. In 1837, the Bavarian architect Birbach designed an urban plan for a new town. Neapoli was created and grew to 3.000 inhabitants today.

City Layout

As an architect, I mostly like Neapoli because Birbach did a great job. The town feels well-designed, practical, and great for its inhabitants. Almost every house in Neapoli is no more than a five-minute walk away from the beach. In the middle of the beach is the port. And along the coast is the heart of the town. A boulevard as long as the town’s width, with stores, taverns, and bars.

Neapoli shows how important urban design is for a city. It shows how much architecture influences the way people live. In Neapoli, the locals can enjoy an early morning swim, endlessly sip coffee in front of the sea, and stroll at the boulevard at night. Even Thessaloniki, a city famous for its Siga Siga mentality, is not set up for a life as relaxed as here.

Sunset from the boulevard of Neapoli looking over the beach and the sea few clouds in the sky

Friendly city

The urban plan of the city also makes for a friendly environment. Besides the boulevard, there are hardly any cars passing through the streets, which are all one-way. You can safely walk around and even let your children play outside or walk to the beach by themselves. 

The town has a lot of green areas, with palm trees and other vegetation. And there are even front gardens! How often do you see those in a Greek town?

What I also noticed in Neapoli is that there are not a lot of abandoned or unfinished buildings around. This means that rules about construction are clear and complied with. Besides, it shows that people stay in the area, don’t have money problems, and take care of their property. 

Experience Neapoli

The town of Neapoli has a Blue Flag Beach, a couple of museums, and tasty food. However, I recommend you to stay in Neapoli because of the culture of the locals. Neapoli made me slow down because no one here seems to know what rushing is. Besides, there is a sea view from almost everywhere. 

If you are planning on visiting Neapoli, book accommodation up front. There are not a lot of places to stay in the area during the summer months. We found a comfortable apartment called Sea view house Matina on booking. I can recommend this place to any couple. It is close to the beach and boulevard, has kind neighbors, and above all, has an amazing view. Check the available accommodations in Neapoli and support me to keep writing. 

Experience Vatika

Vatika, the area around Neapoli, is full of beautiful untouched nature and amazing sites. Here are a few you should definitely add to your list of destinations:

  • Petrified palm forest. A unique natural phenomenon. Due to a similar process as Faraklou in Lemnos, but with a different and unique outcome.
  • Pavlopetri. An Underwater city of about 5000 years old situated in the clear blue waters of Vatika Bay. Don’t forget your snorkeling gear!
  • Kastania Cave. One of the most impressive caves in Greece.
  • Beach at Pounta and Elafonisos. The bluest water in the area, with big white sandy beaches.
  • The many churches in the area. They are located on top of mountains and have great sea views. 
small fishing boat in clear blue water with behind a white beach and mountains close to Neapoli at Pounta in Greece

Tips:

  • Visit Neapoli and Vatika during the summer months or at least in the months you can enjoy the sea. The beach is such an important part of this town that visiting during another season will not provide the experience I want you to have.
  • Live like a local! Swim, eat, and repeat throughout the day. Relax in this quiet town. Neapoli is the perfect destination if you want a combination of exploration and relaxation. A hike in the mountainous and rough landscape around is a must. But don’t expect nightlife, crowded shopping streets, or fancy beach bars. Just relax.
  • In the middle of Neapoli is a river that is always dry in summer and used as parking. However, when a summer storm comes, don’t forget to get your car out of this river bank. Last year, some tourists, as well as locals, lost their cars to the sea like this!
  • Combine Neapoli with Monemvasia, Gythio, Limin Ieraki, Elafonisos, or Kithira.

Curious to learn about more hidden gems in Greece? Leave your email below and explore Greece together with us!

Note

I visited Neapoli this summer, together with my boyfriend. Unfortunately, he got sick when we entered the town. My stay in Neapoli was, therefore, not what I had planned. I was worried about him and panicking about how our trip was going to continue since I did not have my driver’s license yet and needed to get back on the road the next morning.

In the end, I did like Neapoli more than I thought I would. While I planned on staying here to explore the Vatika region, I ended up surprised by Neapoli itself. However, I intend to go back next year to explore the area as I had planned. But I do know for sure that I will stay again in Neapoli.

Neapoli at the port food dakos wit an alfa beer white church behind and ferry on the water

Explore Xanthi. In the North of Greece

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Travel in Greece during your period

We, women, are never celebrating when it is that time of the month again. But when traveling, our periods become even less wanted. At home, you can curl up underneath a blanket, use heated pads, and eat chocolate until the worst part is over. But in Greece, you often don’t want to lose a day to our monthly call of nature. Instead, you want to be able to enjoy nature! Here are some tips on how to deal with a period when traveling, as well as what to expect regarding your period in Greece.

Traveling with your period

In the past ten years, I always ensured I would not have my period during any of my holidays. I was using birth control pills, and when abroad, I just continued taking them until I returned. However, in the past years, I decided to get rid of any form of medication. And although this made me feel better, it also came with uncontrollable and heavy flows, even when I’m abroad.

In Greece, I want to continuously explore the country’s beauty, swim daily, and never stop being on the road. But besides the cramps and back pain that come with my periods, I also regularly had to find a proper toilet and carry a bag of sanitary products with me. The freedom that I should feel while traveling got limited. I was living on a timer set by my tampon. Just because of the nature of being a woman. And I hated it!

Menstrual cups

A year ago, I discovered the menstrual cup. A funnel-shaped silicone cup that is inserted like a tampon but can hold the blood for 8 to 12 hours.

The menstrual cup gave me a new kind of freedom during my periods abroad. Twice a day, I have a shower to empty, clean, and re-insert it. In the meantime, however, I am completely free and don’t have to think about my period. There is no longer a continuous clock ticking if I don’t want to walk around with a red stain or smell. The cup holds long enough for me to live and travel as I would on any other day of the month. Besides, the menstrual cup takes up much less space in my luggage compared to non-reusable sanitary products. Easy to fit in a backpack, even when I’m planning to leave for a year. 

I am personally a huge fan of the former OrganiCup, now AllMatters Cup. They are available in different sizes, and if you pick the wrong one at the beginning, you can simple contact the store and they will send you a new size, or a refund.

If you order through this link, you will support me to keep writing!

Tips for using a menstrual cup

Don’t buy a menstrual cup to just put in your suitcase and use it abroad. I can almost guarantee that the first time you use one will feel strange and messy. The first time, I was afraid I had lost the cup, and when I finally found it again, my entire shower was red. 

It takes some time to get used to a menstrual cup, and it is better to practice using it at home. Youtube videos and the website of the product you choose, can be of great help and are necessary. However, when you find you’re way, it will be worth the effort! And it won’t take long until you get there.

Sanitary products in Greece

For women who use more traditional ways of feminine hygiene, there are a couple of things to consider when going to Greece. Although Greece is part of the European Union, when it comes to periods, the country knows big differences with, for example, the Netherlands or France. When looking for female hygiene products in Greece, the options are limited. You can find aisles and shelves full of sanitary napkins at pharmacies and supermarkets. But where are the other products?

Menstrual panties and cups are unknown to Greek women. But even stranger is that tampons are scarce in this country. Some shops will offer 1 or 2 boxes. However, throughout the whole country, you will not find a proper selection of tampons. Kind of like you’re going 50 years back in time. 

Greek women and their periods

Greek women mostly use sanitary pads during their periods. The young ones as well as the old. Greek friends of mine, for example, will not swim for a week when getting their period during a holiday. They uses sanitary napkins, as they learned from their mothers and grandmothers. And for them, a period means that they are limited in what they can do.

I once heard the Greek belief that tampons are less hygienic than sanitary pads. Supposedly because the menstrual blood stays inside when using a tampon. Causing infections or other problems. The fact that the rest of the world proves that no bad things happen when using a tampon doesn’t matter in Greece. The Greeks are stubborn and traditional, and this is what you notice in their stores.

Bring your own products

Unless you are a big fan of sanitary pads, I advise you to bring your own period products when traveling to Greece. Chances you will find your favorite (or any) tampon are just too small. And menstrual cups and panties are nowhere in the country.

Painkillers

If you want to keep exploring Greece during your period, you might need painkillers on the first heavy days. Although it is a good idea to take the product you usually use with you, Greece has some pretty good products available as well. However, many medicines in Greece are named by brand names instead of by active ingredients. Here is a quick overview of some painkillers that can help you to get through your period in Greece.

  • Algofren – this is an ibuprofen
  • Depon – a paracetamol
  • Salospir – an aspirin 

These painkillers are available at Greek pharmacies. Usually, you will not need a prescription to get them.

How travel can affect your period

The final tip on traveling in Greece and your period is to not worry if you notice a change in your menstrual cycle. Life changes can affect your period, and traveling is a big change. Jet lags, less sleep, a change in diet, stress, or exercise can all affect your cycle. So when you’re late (or early) during your stay in Greece, don’t worry too much. There is a big chance that it is just your body’s reaction to the change in your daily schedule. However, when you’re two weeks late or notice any other severe change you might want to contact a gynecologist. 

Frequently asked questions

  • How do I say period and tampon in Greek?
    In Greek, a period is called períodos, which you pronounce like per-ee-o-dos. A tampon is just a tampon in Greek. 
  • Where can you buy sanitary products in Greece?
    You can buy sanitary products in Greece at pharmacies, supermarkets, and mini-markets. For more options, there are big warehouses with make-up and other hygiene products you can go to. However, these are only available in the cities.
  • Can I talk about my period in Greece?
    Greek women are extremely helpful when you have your period. It is not taboo to talk about the female call of nature, and when you need help, they will openly discuss things with you. Men, however, can be slightly uncomfortable, but they will never refuse to help you either.
  • Do I need a shower for my menstrual cup?
    When using a menstrual cup, it might be a good idea to pack cleaning wipes for the cup. This way, you do not need a shower or sink to be able to clean up. Providing even more flexibility while traveling off the beaten track.

Do you want to prepare yourself for a visit to Greece? Or do you simply want to learn all there is to known about this beautiful country? Leave your email below and get the answer to all your questions!

Stereotypes & Culture. My Big Fat Greek Family

Twenty years ago, in 2002, the Greek-Canadian actress, Nia Vardalos, became famous with her movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. As both actress and writer, Vardalos won many awards for this romantic comedy, which she based on her own experience of being Greek. Although the movie is full of extravagant Greek stereotypes as an expression of the Greek culture, being in a similar situation myself, I can only say Vardalos was able to capture the actual experience of being with a Greek. Keep reading to find out why!

The movie

My Big Fat Greek Wedding tells the story of (Fo)Toula Portokalos, which translates into the orange light of God. Toula is a thirty-year-old member of a large Greek family living in the U.S. Against her family’s will, she leaves her father’s restaurant and starts college. With her independence comes self-esteem and a new look. Then, she meets Ian, the American man she starts dating. Secretly at first, but as their relationship progresses, the Greek family gets increasingly involved.

This is where the fun part of the movie starts. The differences between the American and Greek families create hilarious scenes. As the Greeks are with too many, too loud, and stuck in their own beliefs and traditions. Real Greeks.

Watch it in Greece

Until I went to Greece to meet my boyfriend’s family, I had never watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding. However, when I was there and expressed my family-based cultural shock to friends and cousins, they all told me the same thing. Watch that movie!

During my third week in Greece, I decided it was time to do so. Surrounded by my boyfriend’s relatives, I watched the movie. And the only thing I could say was: Shit! I live in this movie!

Stereotypical Greeks

The movie is full of well-chosen Greek stereotypes that express the culture. The women are over-emotional, the men overly-stubborn, and the whole family, in general, over-involved. Dinners are with too many. There is always too much food. And the family cheers so many times you are happy when you only get tipsy at the end of a night.

Observing all these stereotypical Greek habits, it is clear that Vardalos is, herself, raised by a Real Greek family. Or at least a family very similar to the Greek ones I know. The funny thing about the movie is that for non-Greeks, it seems just a comedy with exaggerated stereotypes. The Real Greeks, however, know that there is a truth in this exaggeration.

I believe the best thing about the movie is how Vardalos captures what a Greek family feels like for a non-Greek. With just the right amount of exaggeration, she is able to reveal the experience of a cultural shock.

My cultural shock. The more I started getting used to my boyfriend’s family, the less the movie resembled my idea of a Greek family. However, when I met them for the first time, it showed exactly how I felt.

My first week in Greece

During my first week with the Greek family, I encountered almost every aspect of the movie. We had family dinners with over 20 family members who all shared a similar name and called the same woman yiayia, grandmother. The family covered all the stereotypes of the Greek culture. And their volume: Loud and Louder. Just like in the movie.

Food was the most important thing. Everyone wanted me to eat continuously, even when I was not hungry. Not eating was me being shy and could not have had anything to do with the three full plates I already finished. 

The women of the family were the first ones to accept me. Part of this meant me being hugged, kissed, held, and stroked. But on the other hand, being a part of them meant that I was supposed to listen to them complaining. That is what Greek women do when they are together. Complain about everything they are tired of, but continue either way because it makes them happy. 

Then there were the men of the family. They all worked in the family business, but their most important job was to educate me about the history of the Greeks. How happy I should be to be with a Real Greek, a member of the greatest civilization in this world. And they all wanted to know if I was a good girl, the most important question to ask a person.

Appreciate the differences

My Big Fat Greek Wedding starts as being quite negative about the Greek way of life. Toula is tired of her over-involved and controlling Greek parents. She wants to be less Greek and more normal. She starts with summing up all the stereotypes of the Greek culture. However, as the movie, and her relationship, progresses, she gets more respect for the Greek way. 

A similar change is visible with her parents. First, they are against Toula’s relationship with Ian. He is a xeno, a foreigner, and should not be allowed to date their Greek daughter. But as he is willing to change to fit into their family, they learn to accept him.

For me, this change feels real. At first, I felt overwhelmed every time I was with my boyfriend’s family. But the more I got to know them, the more I understood them and started to see the beauty in their way of life. My initial cultural shock evolved into an appreciation of Greek culture. And today, I even miss the Greeks when I spend too much time in my own country.

Give it time

Being with someone from a different culture can be difficult at first. Maybe you manage to find a life beyond your own culture together. But as soon as family gets involved, cultural differences become painfully clear. Often you will be far away from home, your family, and your daily life when you meet them. Your partner’s family will not put a filter on their culture, and you will be with them 24/7. Of course, this can be extremely confronting.

But don’t let this first encounter scare you. The cultural shock can be hard at first, but it will pass. Remember that your partner was raised in this family but still turned out to be the man or woman you have fallen in love with. It might be that a part of this strange culture is what made you love your partner in the first place. But it takes time to reach this level of understanding.

We’re all just people

In the end, we’re all just people. We might have been raised with different beliefs about family, work, and love. But these ways do not have to be limited to one country or culture. 

As a Dutch, I learned to be private and organized. However, I also have ADHD, which goes completely against those two things. The Greek culture taught me that I do not have to try to fit into my own culture if that is not who I am. I can be myself, and as a person, I do fit in somewhere. 

Every culture might have a shocking stereotype like the Greek culture in the movie. But there is a truth in this stereotype for everyone. Maybe you are not Greek but very stubborn, part of a huge family, eating too much, or cheering too often. There is a part of the Greeks in all of us. And every Greek has a part that can belong in any other culture. We are all just people. Culture is not more than what surrounded us when we grew up. And as adults, we can choose our own culture.

Did this article trigger your curiosity about the Greek culture? Leave your email below and discover the Real Greeks!

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Nature, religion, and a box of bones. The monastery of Timios Prodromes

The holy monastery of Timios Prodromes offers everything a culture-loving tourist in Greece desires. From the mountainous landscape to incredible architecture, fascinating stories, religion, and exclusivity. With just 50 reviews on Google, this monastery might be the hidden gem of Greece.

Location Overview

Arcadia, Peloponnese

Religion / Nature

2 hours

Free

Yes

No

Location

The holy monastery of Timios Prodromes lies just west of Argos, in the Arcadia region of Peloponnese. This region is known to hold the oldest signs of human life but is still an area filled with lush green mountains and a limited population today. Arcadia’s beauty made its name develop into a poetic term. The idyllic vision of unspoiled wilderness.

Driving to the monastery, you discover what poets mean with Arcadia. A small winding road leads you away from Argos. Over the mountains, along steep cliffs, and through old forests and small villages, you reach the monastery. Only the journey by itself is a beautiful adventure.

the monastery of timios prodromes from afar. three white buildings in steep grey and red cliff on green mountain
The monastery of Timios Prodromes from far

Architecture

Greeks have proven to be masters in the matter of the architecture of religious buildings. Churches and monasteries all around the country are built in the most surprising and remote places. The monastery of Timios Prodromes belongs to this category.

The monastery is located around a cave in the hollow of a cliff, 200 meters above the ground. From afar the religious site is an almost invisible structure in a giant gorge. Close by, however, the monasteries multiple story counting man-made buildings are revealed.

There is a central courtyard with a church, refectory, and guest rooms in the three surrounding buildings. Each of these buildings is integrated into the cliff, with at least one natural interior wall, the mountain itself. For the man-made part of the buildings, a similar rock is used. You can feel the connection this monastery has with nature everywhere.

the monastery of timios prodromes from the courtyard. stone building with wooden balustrade en pitched roof underneath a rocky cliff and blue sky
One of the buildings at the monastery of Timios Prodromes

History

The cave behind the monastery was used in ancient times to worship Pan. Pan is the God of the wild, shepherds, and flocks, with his homeland in Arcadia. In the 8th century, the cave started being used for the religion we know today, and in 930 the first monastery was built. Making the monastery of Timios Prodromes the oldest monastery in Greece. However, the entrance says that the opening was at 1126, and what happened in the 200 years in between is unclear.

What is clear is that the monastery has played a significant role in many wars due to its remote location. It has been a refuge for the civilian population, a military hospital, and a supply station for Greek soldiers. 

During the Second World War, German soldiers came to the monastery for food but offended the Orthodox faith. This made one of the priests very angry, and he forced a German soldier to the ground. The rest of the priests got afraid. “They will kill us all!” They ordered the priest to stop and offered food to the soldiers. The priest, however, became the high priest of the region due to this heroic attack on the German soldier.

Modern times

The monastery has been the main monastery in the area until the 1960s. Then, a nearby and better accessible monastery received the tears of the virgin Mary, something that is believed to only occur in the holiest places in Greece. People stopped coming to the monastery of Timios Prodromes. From 2004 till 2009, the monastery, as well as the road leading there, were renovated. An effortful job since materials still had to be brought up by hand. However, this did not increase the number of visitors. The monastery is mostly quiet, without tourists, both religious and cultural.

The experience

When entering the monastery, the place seemed deserted. There was no sound other than the rushing of the wind. The only sign of life was a black garden hose. Following this, lead to the courtyard of the monastery, where we first met father Germanos. He was watering his flowers, wearing capri pants, flip-flops, and sunglasses. We were afraid to disturb him or even see a priest without his religious attire. Father Germanos, however, was very pleased with our arrival. He greeted us friendly and spent the next two hours showing us around. Something very unique for Orthodox priests, who usually just mind their own business.

entrance of monastery timios prodromes with marble entrace and steel gate. A black lantern on curved ceiling light coming through hallway woman entering with backpack and long skirt
The entrance of the monastery of Timios Prodromes

The tour

The church

From the courtyard, he leads us to the church, where we light a candle and honor all the religious icons that are special to this place. In the church, some murals date back to the 18th century, and father Germanos tells a story about all of them. He describes how all Orthodox sanctuaries are located to the East but not here. This church is an exception and faces the South. Since it is built inside a cave, there wasn’t much to choose from in orientation, but the murals falsely claim the sanctuary does face East.

After the church, he takes us to a small staircase leading up to the cave where the history of this monastery started. But first, we enter the church’s attic. Here, he opens two wooden boxes, one filled with bones and the other one with skulls. The last resting place of the previous priests that served in this monastery.

The cave

The cave is extremely long and dark. He tells us how previous priests used to store food and fresh water here because it stays cool during the hot summer days. He takes out his mobile phone to turn on a flashlight and takes us to the back, where stalactites and stalagmites have grown over the years. A beautiful place!

The monastery

After the cave, he invites us to his current project, the renovation of the guest chambers. Small rooms, carved in the rock of the mountain, for his fellow priests from other monasteries. He renovates the rooms by himself, one by one, and he is very proud of his result so far. 

We climb to the roof of the monastery, where you can feel how small and vulnerable we humans are. Chunks of the cliff above have tumbled down on the roof. He proudly tells us that no one got injured from any falling rocks here. God protects all in this place.

The living quarters

At the end of our tour, father Germanos invites us into his house for fresh water and loukoumi, a traditional Greek sweet. He has a small home, with a living room and kitchen. And in his fridge is a small plate of fassolada. He explains how eating here is the same as anywhere else. Priests don’t eat meat, but do use a microwave to heat up his leftovers

Father Germanos seems sad when it is time to say goodbye and walks with us to the main entrance, continuing his storytelling. We are always welcome to come again, and may God protect us on the road home.

The buildings at the monastery of Timios Prodromes

Life at the monastery

Father Germanos lives most of his days in solitude. Or together with God but without other humans, as he calls it. He keeps himself busy with more than just praying since he has to take care of the monastery by himself. He waters the flowers, cleans the monastery, renovates the guest chambers, and gets his groceries from the villages around. 

Father Germanos has a friend in the village on the mountain on the other side. Another priest who helps him in the monastery when he asks. And he is happy when a visitor comes to see the monastery. However, father Germanos might get trapped for weeks during the winter months. Bad weather and cold can close down the road. He doesn’t worry or feel scared or alone when this happens. God will be with me and protect me, he says. His biggest fear seems to be an old cypress tree that grows in his garden. After 300 years, it started dying. He asks all his visitors how he can revive it. 

His life seems easy, and his calmness and contentedness add to the spirituality of the place. I am not religious, but the location and the openness of father Germanos at the monastery of Timios Prodromes made me feel something ethereal. Maybe not God, but at least thankful for nature and the opportunity to discover it. Grateful for my own life and happiness. Blessed with the experience of a place so pure.

Tips:

  • There are actually two monasteries with the name Timios Prodromos in Arcadia, Peloponnese. This is the one that we visited for this article.
  • Father Germanos is extremely welcoming but does not speak more than a few words of English and German. The best experience is, unfortunately, in Greek.
  • The monastery is not accessible by wheelchair or for people with difficulty walking. You can get to the entrance by car, but after you park, you have to climb some steep stairs to reach the entrance.
  • This is a monastery, meaning you can not enter with every type of clothing. Women need to wear a long skirt or dress, men can not wear shorts, and shoulders have to be covered. Read our tips for visiting religious sites.
  • Although father Germanos is really open, friendly, and even has some humor, he is also very religious. Don’t offend the Orthodox church and treat him with respect.
  • The holy monastery of Timios Prodromes is located in a beautiful mountainous landscape with many religious sites at amazing places. Combine with a visit to the small church inside an old church ruin just North of Nea Chora. Or the famous monastery of Panagia Melevi.
  • Not that much of a religious tourist? Go hiking in the beautiful mountains around, or enjoy the blue waters of the Argolic Gulf on the beaches around Astros.

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Explore Xanthi. In the North of Greece

The day I heard my Greek boyfriend is from North-West Greece, I felt a bit sad. Why didn’t I find a guy from Crete, Kefalonia, or Mykonos? How am I supposed to enjoy my summers, spending an entire month in Xanthi? The only place in Greece that can have months of rain. And just 60.000 inhabitants in a region of almost 500 square kilometers.

Three years later, however, I realize how I based my opinion on prejudices. Asking me today if I want to go on a holiday in Crete, I would reply, only if we visit Xanthi as well! This small and unknown region in western Thrace stole a place in my heart.

Thrace,
mainland

City

5 days

Free

Yes

Yes

Why visit Xanthi?

Looking at the facts, Xanthi does not do well. The region does not have the bluest seas, the highest mountains, the most picturesque towns, interesting archeological sites, or idyllic churches. Xanthi is not the best at anything. However, it has everything. And that’s Xanthi’s power.

After waking up at the beach house in the morning, I have the freedom to do anything. Go for a swim or go shopping in the city center. In the mountains, I can go hiking or canoeing. I can get lost in the narrow streets of the old town, visit multiple archeological sites, or see an idyllic white church on a lake surrounded by flamingos. The best thing is, I can do all of the above without meeting other tourists and not spend more than 30 minutes in a car!

The region of Xanthi

The region of Xanthi is bound by mountains in the North, on the border with Bulgaria. In the South, the region is enclosed by the Aegean sea. In between, there is a plain, where the people of Xanthi used to grow tobacco. Which used to be the most important part of Xanthis economy.

The city of Xanthi consists of two parts. The old town, on the foot of the mountain Augo. Augo means egg in Greek, which perfectly describes the shape of the peak. Below the old town, towards the south, the new city of Xanthi is built. From here you are going towards Xanthis coastline.

In the east of the region are the wetlands. Home to many different bird species and part of Natura 2000. In the middle of a lake, part of these wetlands is a small monastery, built on a wooden deck in the water. In the winter, this area is home to thousands of flamingos.

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How to get to Xanthi

Xanthi doesn’t have an airport, making the region not easily accessible. In the summer months, however, many smaller airplanes fly from Athens and the islands to both Kavala and Alexandroupoli. From here, Xanthi is very close by.

The other option for reaching Xanthi is to fly to Thessaloniki. You can take a rental car or bus from here. This journey is about 2 to 2.5 hours, depending on how Greek you drive. On your way, you will pass the giant lakes of Korneia and Volvi, but you will also see Halkidiki and drive through the mountains. 

Is Xanthi expensive?

No. Xanthi is not (yet) discovered by tourism, meaning that prices here are Greek. You can buy a coffee, with a bottle of water, for less than two euros. Going out for food at one of the many tavernas costs approximately 10 euros per person. And staying in a hotel with two people during the summer costs only 60 euros a night. Outside of the summer season, prices will drop to 50 or even 40 euros. Besides, along the coast are many privately rented beach houses which usually offer a pretty good deal.

Meet the real Greeks

The prices make Xanthi the perfect place if you want to stay in Greece for a longer period and get to know the Greek culture. Tourism is not a big thing in Xanthi, so every person you meet or see during your stay will be Greek. 

Great events to visit in Xanthi are Carnival, Easter, Christmas, their liberation day on the 4th of October, and the old town festival at the end of the summer. But even the usual days here are worth experiencing. Pick up bougatsa for breakfast in the morning. Work only till 2 in the afternoon. Leave town for a swim in the summer, or a hike in the winter. Enjoy long and tasty Greek lunches. And visit the main square or the old town, at night. That is what life is like for the locals.

What to do in Xanthi

Here is a list of all the things you can do in Xanthi:

  • Go to the beach in Myrodato or Mólos. Or visit the beach bar Porto Moló at night.
  • Hike in the mountains, especially from Augo. The view on the top is amazing.
  • Canoe or barbecue on the Nestos river. 
  • There is also an accessible “monopati” if you want to watch the river on foot. From here you can see many old railway tunnels through the mountains.
  • Visit the Holy Monastery of Saint Nicholas.
  • Get lost in the old town.
  • Visit the bridges around Xanthi.
  • Watch flamingos in the lakes during the winter months.
  • Visit the Pomaks villages, like Smithi or Echinos.
  • Eat at local taverns, or try bougatsa, and a lot of other sweets.
  • Go to the Bazar on Saturdays. It used to be the biggest one in the Balkans.
  • Visit the waterfall of Levaditis.
  • Have a look at the great mansion of Manos Hatdjidakis. One of the greatest worldwide recognized music composers of Greece.
  • Walk the path of life.
  • Hang out at the square, together with the locals.

How long to stay in Xanthi?

As I mentioned before, Xanthi is perfect for a longer stay in Greece to blend in with the locals. Nonetheless, a shorter stay is also possible. Rent a house or room at the beach and relax for a week or two. Or, go hiking in the mountains. To visit all the landmarks of Xanthi four or five days should be enough. However, I do not recommend staying only for those days. Xanthi has to grow on you, so give it a chance!

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Greek taverns

In most countries, you go out for dinner at a restaurant, or an estiatorio in Greek. However, many Greeks don’t go to an estiotorio when eating out. Instead, the Greeks eat at taverns. But what are these?

What is a tavern?

Translating the Greek tavern, or taverna, gives a few results. One says that it is a small Greek restaurant. However, I have been at taverns that can seat up to a hundred people. So being small is not the correct requirement for a distinguishment between a restaurant and a taverna. Also wrong is the definition that implies that a tavern is a Greek cafe with music and dancing. Although this might happen in some of them, it is not a standard and does not happen in every tavern in Greece. It is also not the case that a Greek restaurant is a taverna. As mentioned before, Greece has estiatorios. Actual restaurants that are not tavernas. So what is the proper translation of tavern in English?

There is no single word that explains the meaning of the Greek tavern. It isn’t a bar, lunchroom, diner, saloon, or any other type of food establishment. The closest translation is maybe a dining room. A tavern is a place for a not-at-home-hosted dinner party. A place to feel comfortable with friends or family, without dishes at the end of the evening. A place for sharing food and conversations while not worrying about a giant bill. 

The requirements of a Greek tavern

Dishes & Prices

Greek taverns don’t have a menu, and if they do, they don’t use it. Ordering at a Greek taverna happens through the waiter, who will tell you which dishes are available that day. Taverns serve local dishes and specialties, often depending on the season of your visit. In many fish taverns, the waiter invites you to follow him into the kitchen. He will show you the fish they caught that day, and from these, you can pick out the ones you want for your table. 

Local seasonal products make the prices at a tavern pretty cheap. In non-touristic tavernas, mezes and salads are around 4 or 5 euros. Main dishes start from 7 or 8 for meat. Fish can be slightly more expensive, as well as taverns in touristic islands and cities.

Service

Since prices at a Greek tavern are low, service might slightly differ from what you expect when eating out. First of all, cutlery is not placed on the tables as it is in a restaurant. It often comes in a basket or holder, and you should spread it around yourself. Besides, there is always a giant paper towel as a tablecloth. This might look strange on your first visit. However, the paper cover is much needed for Greek family dinners. I can not remember one evening without this thing getting entirely covered in food and drinks. 

Lastly, the chairs. The most uncomfortable but traditional wooden seats. I believe these chairs are the most recognizable feature of Greek taverns. During the summer, they can be even more uncomfortable, wearing shorts or a skirt. So cover your upper legs when you go. Unfortunately, they will always remain a part of the tavern experience. 

Share

A Greek tavern is a not-at-home alternative for a Greek dinner party. The table has to be full of food, and everyone should share. Don’t order your own dish at a tavern, especially not the salads and the mezes, the starters. Depending on your company, you might choose the main dish yourself. However, more often than not, this one is shared as well, especially in fish taverns. All the food goes to the middle of the table, and everyone serves him- or herself from there. And if a dish is about to finish, you just order it again.

Good to know is that although the mezes and salads are categorized as starters, this does not mean they will be served before the main course. This is the case in many other countries, but in Greece, everything is served whenever the cook finished preparing it. Usually the starters will come before the main course. But then the main course comes right after, before you finish what is already on the table. This might seem strange to you but is a wonderful part of the Greek culture. There can never be too much food on the table.

Sharing in a Greek tavern is not limited to just the table. In small villages and rural areas, the tavern owners, as well as their guests, take care of the stray animals that live around. You don’t have to feed a dirty dog during your meal, but it is very common for the Greeks to (after they finish eating) give some to them. When you’re dining outside, of course. Eating inside, you might see Greeks putting leftovers in a napkin, which they take out to feed the animals in the neighborhood. It is nice to do the same!

Don’t rush

Although Greek taverns might be a place to eat, spending quality time with friends and family is more important than actually eating food. Drink and have conversations. Enjoy and don’t rush through your meal. That is what makes a tavern better than a restaurant.

In a tavern, I can have a lunch that lasts for 4 hours or a dinner that takes 6. And this is what makes the traditional Greek taverna part of Greek culture, Siga, Siga. No one will send you away or say they need your table if you’re not ordering any more. You have all the time and can stay as long as you want.

Free dessert

There is always a free dessert, usually fruit, at the end of the Greek tavern experience. Good to know as a tourist is that the free dessert usually is served when asking for the bill. It is quite rude to refuse it and instead quickly pay and leave. Reserve some extra time, talk with the owner or the waiter, laugh together, and leave when all the free extras are finished.

Tips for visiting a Greek tavern

How to find a tavern?

As a foreigner, it might still be hard to understand the difference between a restaurant and a tavern while picking out a place to eat. The first tip is that a tavern is much easier to find than a restaurant, especially outside the bigger cities. Secondly, look at the menu. When dishes are cheap, prices are handwritten and adjusted, the menu is local, Greek, or hard to find you found a tavern. Lastly, when the chairs look uncomfortable and old, you have found one! 

Do you have lunch or dinner at a tavern?

You can have both! Most of the traditional Greek taverns are at least open from 12 till 12, but in touristic areas even longer. You can eat anything at any time. There is no distinguishment between a lunch and a dinner menu.

Good to know is that although Greek taverns are open all day, they often do have an hour or so, around 18.00, in which they close the kitchen to prepare for the night. During this time, only simple dishes and drinks can be served.

Make sure to bring cash!

Throughout Greece, it is tricky to rely on a card for payment, but don’t do so when you eat at a tavern. Some tavernas do not accept card payments and only allow cash. Make sure you have enough money with you before you sit down.

For the vegans amongst us

Are you a vegan? Most Greek taverns either serve meat or fish. However, being a vegetarian or vegan should not hold you back from this Greek experience. Every taverna does have at least some plant-based options. Check out the 10 vegan dishes you can order in every Greek tavern, or try one of the many Greek cheeses.

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A Greek baby is a family project

Whoever believes that babies are just the offspring of their parents, has never been to Greece. In this country, having a child is a process that involves the whole Greek family. Even long before the child is conceived.

The whole family wants your child

I stopped counting the amount of times yiayia, mother, and sister mentioned it was time for me to contribute to the Greek family. It started one year into the relationship with my boyfriend and continues till today. In every conversation I have with them, the future baby is mentioned.

But not only the Greek women closest to me won’t stop pushing me to procreate. Uncles, friends, cousins, nona. Everyone in Greece seems to get impatient when it comes to my motherhood. Even a Greek two-year-old keeps asking me when my baby will arrive. Him, I can simply answer, saying that the stork didn’t arrive yet. But to the rest of the Greeks, it is difficult to explain.

The whole family will be there when your child is born

Let’s say I agree with the Greek family on having this much-wanted baby of theirs. Let’s say I am pregnant, and the family is pleased with that. This will not be the moment the Greeks will back off and let me have their soon-to-be new family member in peace. No. Involvement only gets worse from here.

My family-in-law has a whole plan ready for when I will have a child in the Netherlands. Mother will come over at least a month before I will give birth. Father and sister, including her two children and husband, will follow as I am about to give birth. Together they will ensure we will not be alone with the child. At least for the first year of his or her life.

Having my potential child in Greece will not make things less of a family project. Here, the people who will come to support me while giving birth will not be limited to the 6 closest family members. Instead, like with any other Greek baby, excluding the ones during COVID restrictions, the whole family will be there. Yiayia, pappous, aunts, uncles, and friends will all be at the hospital. Like a crowd at a concert, they will cheer when the baby enters the stage.

The whole family has to agree on the name of your child

When the baby is born, the discussion about the name will start. Naming a newborn is something valuable to the whole Greek family. You can not just pick the name you want your child to have. Instead, the family expects you to use the names of the child’s grandfathers and grandmothers. Wanting something different results in endless discussions and arguments.

My sister-in-law, for instance, wanted to break with Greek traditions and give her daughters more international names. But not naming them Ierini and Argiro, the names of their grandmothers, was perceived as a shame to the whole family. In the end, they agreed on Rene and Iro, still referring to the grandmother, in a slightly more modern way. Unfortunately for my sister-in-law, it was a compromise. She wasn’t able to name her children as she wanted if she liked to remain respected by the Greek family.

The whole family raises your child

Raising the child will continue the be a shared job, done by the whole family. Especially the grandmothers will fight over who gets to spend the most time with the child. It is rare for a Greek child to have a day without meeting at least one family member. And if something happens to the child, everyone will be there to help. While in other countries they say, ” it takes a village to raise a child”, the Greeks just need their families.

Feeding the child, picking it up from school, and taking care of it when it is sick, are all done by the entire family. When the child grows older and is about to go to university, the father and uncles will discuss what option would give the child the best future. And later, when the child grows up and needs a job, it is often a family member who will provide one.

The whole family loves and supports your child

As a non-Greek who might, at one point, become a mother in a Greek family, the whole family involvement seems quite overwhelming. I want my child to grow up carrying the name I find suitable. I want to be in charge of how the child is raised and what he or she will learn about this world. Every Greek mother is overprotective towards her child or grandchild. While I have more of the Dutch laid-backness, which I would love my child to have. But is that possible when yiayia and aunts teach him or her to be scared instead of curious? When the whole family is involved in raising your child, it is difficult to stick to your own beliefs on how to do this.

On the other hand, Greek children get so much love, care, and attention when they grow up. They learn how to care for others and the importance of social connections in life. They always have someone to talk to. The family provides an extremely safe place from where they can discover the rest of the world.

Being a mother in Greece and having the help of everyone around you, does sound better than being on your own, having to rely on expensive daycare and schedules. Although the Greek families are overwhelming, they are there to make your life less challenging, and your child more loved. Which both result in you being a better parent.

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Traveling through Greece, you might have noticed all the old men, endlessly sipping coffee in front of a traditional kafeneío. These men seem to be a static part of the decor of every Greek village, but where are the women?

The timeline of women in Greece

The grandmothers

Let’s start with old times, the generation of our grandmothers. When they were young, it was taboo even to talk about a woman going out for coffee with her friends. The Greek women from this time were supposed to stay in, take care of the family, the house, and of course the cooking.

The Greeks used to have a saying, “η καλή νοικοκυρά είναιδούλα και κυρά”. Which can be translated into something like, a good housewife is a slave and a hostess. A wife was the possession of the man she was married to, only existing to support him and their family. She was allowed to go out for groceries, pick up the children, or go to dinner together with her husband. But not alone, not to meet her friends.

The reason behind this was not the masculine will to control women. It was their insecurity and sensitivity more than their authority. The Greek men were extremely jealous and afraid that other men might look at their wives.

My Greek grandmother had a husband like this, and she was the perfect housewife. One day she went shopping and found the most beautiful color of lipstick, which she bought to surprise her husband. However, when he came home from coffee that afternoon, they got into a fight. How could she wear that beautiful lipstick! All the men would look at her!

The mothers

Luckily, things changed during the generation of our parents. Women became more independent and no longer listened to the fears of their husbands. They started going out with friends and some of them got a money-earning job. However, this did not change much to the decor of the Greek village.

Although the Greek women started going out more, they would not endlessly sip coffee at a kafeneío every afternoon. Instead, they meet on town squares, at home, or simply go shopping. And even if a Greek woman goes for coffee with a friend, she will not do this at the same time as her husband. While the men go to work in the morning and sip their coffees in the afternoon, the women have a coffee when the men are at work and start their laundry and cooking when the afternoon begins.

We

Understanding what happened in our generation will explain why the villages are still full of men, and how this will change in the coming generations. After our mothers slowly started entering business life, today it is the most normal thing for a Greek woman to work as much as her husband. However, this does not place these women in the Greek kafeneíos, instead, they are now spending their days at the office. Probably you have noticed that most men, that are part of the village scenery, are older. All the young people, both male, and female are either working hard in the big cities or have left the country. There are no young women that can afford to sit in between the old men to show us, tourists, that the country is, in fact, full of emancipated women.

With the women of today’s generation working, it are often their parents who take care of the children, since daycare is not really a thing (yet) in Greece. And although taking care of kids becomes more and more a shared job between the grandparents, they stick to some of their traditions. Grandfathers still go for a coffee for a couple of afternoons a week, while the grandmothers take the mornings or evenings for themselves.

The future

I believe that in a couple of decades, the Greek towns and villages will look completely different. Maybe the Greeks that are currently away from Greece will come back to the country, and the kafeneíos will be full of families and playing children. But the other option is that the traditional Greek coffee places will slowly disappear, together with the generations that created them. It would be a shame because even though the many men make you wonder about the position of women in the Greek culture, they also show what life can be when you take it slow. I sincerely hope that kafeneíos will keep existing, not for the men, but as a place to escape the fast pace of the world we live in today.

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