, NAIROBI, Kenya, May 5 – As I attended the mandatory interview at the Greece Embassy, I was wondering whether I had 15 days to wait as my intended travel was in three days, where I was to attend a fabulous wedding somewhere in Santorini – one of the many spectacular Islands in Greece.
The consular attaché advised me that Santorini is very cold at this time of the year and I should try going in the summer. He was ready to return my documents but I politely insisted that I love the cold weather (big lie!) and a visa was issued within a couple of days thanks to the high level of efficiency at the Embassy.
Just like in any other tourist city and despite being the only African visitor at Athens International Airport, immigration officials were very friendly and there were no hiccups except that the airport is extremely commercial. Imagine not even a trolley comes for free; you have to part with some five Euros to get it unlike other places where I am used to free things, a trait of any ambitious Kenyan.
The domestic flight to Santorini takes 20 minutes from Athens and by the time we touched down, our group of five was ushered to a hired van with a capacity of 12.
We boarded and were ready to leave but the driver was dillydallying, apparently waiting for more passengers – like our very own matatus! We only came to realise later that once you take a cab in Greece you have to notify the driver that you want it express otherwise he will keep picking and dropping passengers without any warning to you, a luxury enjoyed in our country.
Our hosts were anxiously waiting for us with a sumptuous meal of lamb steak, a popular delicacy there, just like in Kenya. There were also lots of good drinks to help us relax us after our long journeys from different countries. As the night was dark, we opted to retire early.
The next morning was mesmerizing as we woke up to a beautiful blue sky. I started regretting that this visit was not my own honeymoon.
The landscape is breathtaking. Seeing it from our villa on a cliff off Thira Island, all I wanted to do was confess my undying love to someone!
The day started on an upbeat mood. The town is situated on a cliff with a side walk. Certainly, this is no place for those afraid of heights. We received a briefing and the wedding festivities kicked off. They were to last for five whole days! Meanwhile our group – a reunion from our university years -suggested that we try one for the road at a local tavern to hype up the mood as we go through the events of the days.
My friends ordered for a bottle of Heineken which in Greece is one litre as opposed to the export 330ml we enjoy in Kenya. The only way to get to the tavern in town was either to walk or ride on a donkey.
Now, please imagine a Kenyan weighing more than 130 kilos trying to hop on an ass, bearing in mind that the said individual hasn’t been on anybody’s back except his mother’s while still in nappies.
I considered it simply suicidal, and so my response was a ‘hell no!’ Nevertheless, I was there to cheer (and laugh at) the rest of the group.
The population of wondering cats and dogs in the city was astounding and even in the hotel room they have plates for those who feel ‘sufficiently philanthropic’ to the animals. I got the feeling that these animals enjoy the tourists’ visits as much as the country does, and the council has a silent policy that guests must feed these animals.
There were quite some fascinating times, habits and myths like ‘cigarette smoking is compulsory for any citizen and you can smoke anywhere, anytime’. Santorini is definitely a smokers’ paradise with no regard to the non-smoking visitors. These guys will puff away anywhere including the dinner table and in the cabs…the only way to get the cab driver not to light up is too tell him that the smoke makes you lose your memory, which may make you not find your wallet for the cab fare.
The entire festival lasted three days with lots of eating, drinking and dancing and these were lovely days that will remain embedded in our hearts forever.
En-route back we decided to sample Athens for two days as we revisited the oldest civilization and earlier source of knowledge in the world from the times of Aristotle. It has a beautiful heritage and some of the ruins of the oldest temple of Athens still stand. In addition, the ancient Acropolis (city on a hill) is still a center of attraction in the city.
In Athens, just like other cities in the world, traffic in a menace and one cannot fail to notice the great disconnect between the superb highway from the airport to the very narrow streets in Athens. Perhaps the Athens Olympic games account for the disconnect.
It was interesting to note that at the heart of politics where the Parliament is situated there are protestors who are permanently camped there and our informal guide commented that they are part and parcel of the tourist attraction as there are protests 24/7 with ranging reasons.
Having visited Kenyatta Market where one samples roasted meat to help you make up your mind on where to eat, it was interesting to see restaurants with agents beckoning one to come in and eat and the most interesting bit was that they were men, aged above 45 years – a complete culture shock!
Just like in any city, there are side shows. Here, one is advised not to take toilet signs too seriously otherwise you get the shock of your life as you see the wrong sex coming out of the toilets.
Once the cab driver discovers that you do not speak Greek, he will take the longest route to your destination. Another lighter side of Greece is that you will always get your bill right after you order, before being served!
To crown it all, we had to sample the night life and shake a leg…to be honest party life is the real deal in Athens! We sampled their music and moves, hoping that Eros – the goddess of love – would strike and that marked our well spent days in Greece.
Greece is a must for those who adore nature and appreciate God’s marvelous creativity in designing nature and its serenity and makes one’s spirit settle. As I was airborne out of the country, I could not fail to notice the disparity of the plane that takes you to Europe from the Middle East and the one that takes you to Africa.
It’s like a new shuttle operating in Europe and an OTC Bus for Africa!