Ancient Greece (Hellas) gave birth to many of the ideas that define western culture, from the epic poetry of Homer, to the philosophical and mathematical treatises of Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Euclid, and Pythagoras. The rugged, mountainous landscape is dotted with the remains of great cities and monuments of this classical golden age, which reached its zenith in the 5th century.
Just over 3 million people, one third of the country's population, live in Athens, the bustling modern capital. By contrast, the countryside is largely untouched, and the traveler in Greece will encounter many delightful traditional villages where the way of life has changed little since the Middle Ages.
Greece is hot and dry from late June until the end of August, but a brisk northerly wind, called the meltemi, helps mitigate the heat. Autumn and spring temperatures are mild. It rains infrequently.
Greetings and Gestures
Greek people generally shake hands when being introduced or when meeting someone for the first time in the course of a day.
It's not such a big deal in Greece. A service charge is usually added when you eat in a restaurant. Other than that leave the change on the table after you've paid. It's the same with taxi drivers. Round off the bill upwards as a tip. Porters, hotel maids, tour guides, barbers and public toilet attendants all expect tips.
Chicken, veal, lamb, grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice and the famous pastry baklava will all tempt you. Even "fast food" is fabulous. Try the souvlaki, meat shaved off a large skewer in a pita. For drinks try the ouzo, an anise-flavored liqueur that tastes like licorice, but watch out for the retsina wine. It's flavored with resin, and isn't to everyone's taste.
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The Navy base at Souda Bay is on Crete, the largest of the Greek islands. Its sunny beaches, warm seas and affordable prices draw thousands of tourists. A major attraction of Crete is the 11-mile-long Samaria Gorge, which provides spectacular views. Zeus, the father of the gods, was said to have been hidden away on Crete as a baby to save him from being murdered by his father. The beautiful Dictaean Cave near the village of Psyhro claims to be the place where Zeus hid.
Crete figures in Greek mythology in other ways. It was also the home of the legendary Minotaur, half man and half bull. The Archaological Museum at Heraklion, the major city and capital of Crete, holds the remains of the 3000-year-old Minoan civilization that grew around the nearby legendary palace of Knossos, of Minotaur fame. Crete is also the place from which Icarus supposedly took off on his ill-fated flight, which took him too close to the sun melting his homemade wax and feather wings.
The capital city of Athens is a major attraction. The first thing you'll notice on arriving there is the big rock in the center of town. That's the Acropolis, where the city began. Those ruins sitting on top of it are the Parthenon, built by the ruler Pericles in honor of Athena. No matter how short your stay, you must make it to the top of the Acropolis, for a look at this grand, partially restored temple and for a commanding view of the city.
The green and luxurious islands of Corfu and Rhodes are big tourist attractions, with marvelous beaches. When approaching Rhodes from the sea, you will not pass between the legs of the Colossus of Rhodes. This huge figure, only slightly smaller than the Statue of Liberty, was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world but was toppled by an earthquake in 227 B.C. In any case it probably didn't straddle the harbor as myth would have it.
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