If you have had the luxury of visiting a particular foreign country more than once, chances are you have seen more than your standard menu of tourist attractions. You may also agree with me when I say that the true beauty and spirit of a country is often tucked away beyond the big city streets and well-known monuments.
For example, take the country of Greece, where I am currently working. I have had the privilege of exploring this nation over nine times. While I’ve climbed to the Acropolis too many times to count, and gazed at the incredible vistas on the beautiful islands of Corfu and Santorini, my favorite spots are not actually in any of these locations.
Over the years, a very dear colleague of mine who lives and works in Athens was kind enough to be my cultural ambassador to this lovely land. In that overwhelming Greek hospitality sort of way, he spared many of his own weekends taking me on the most amazing car tours I have ever experienced.
A memorable scenic trip was from Athens to Nafplio, the first capital of Greece. It is located a few hours away from downtown in the northeastern Peloponnese. During our trip, I was completely taken in by the tiny villages that were carved into the mountainside. No matter where we stopped, I couldn’t believe how kind the local people were, how tranquil the surroundings were, and how simple their lives still appeared to be. There were herds of goats passing by, large mountain peaks everywhere, and the most orange trees I have ever seen! Nafplio itself was also a little gem of a town with some of the best fish (red mullets) I have ever had.
When I landed in Athens this time around, I think I impressed my driver who picked me up at the airport with all of my extensive travels. He made the mistake of asking me if I had been to Greece before! Of course I proceeded to share highlights of my favorite excursions over the years. Well, I think my chat inspired our driver to offer my colleagues (many of whom had never been here before) a 10-hour one-day grand tour from Athens to Nafplio. They ventured to Corinth, Mycenae, Nafplio, and Epidaurus … and had the time of their lives.
One additional bonus they had was that the driver was a theology and philosophy major. Who better to see Greece with? My colleagues came back raving about their experience … not to mention the thoughtful “foodie” stops along the way for coffee, pastry, amazing lamb chops, and fresh oranges!
While it is a pity that some of my colleagues may only get to see the Acropolis from a distance, they will return home with a special experience that allowed them to soak in the essence of the beautiful countryside. I highly suggest that when planning your next trip, you consider setting aside a day or two of “beyond basics” exploration. It may actually turn out being the best part of your trip.
As always, kalo taxidi, which is Greek of course for happy travels!
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