And yet, five years after we moved to Greece, we are still here. Something has kept us and is keeping us here. D, my husband, calls it Stockholm syndrome (half the time, at least, I think he is joking). But I have really been thinking lately about all the wonderful things Greece has to offer.
I got to five really easily, with hardly any thought. From five to seven required some reminiscing of our first few weeks in Greece, straight after we moved here from London in July 2008. I then squeezed the eighth point out with considerable effort. But the last two points? Those were tough! In fact they were so difficult, I considered calling the post '8 things I love about Greece'. Not quite the same ring, right?
So I asked D who obliged quickly and effortlessly. And, of course, the last two were the things that are so ubiquitous, so "everyday" that we forget about them, completely take them for granted.
So, here they are, in part as an exercise in gratitude, and in no particular order, the ten things I love about Greece:
1. The weather
As weather goes, this place does quite well. When we first moved here from London we spent every morning being surprised by the fact that the sun was shining and the sky was blue. Every morning!! That's because we moved here in July, which is right in the middle of the five months of no rain we get every year! It is wonderful (unless you are a gardener...)! And although there are four distinct season, including the occasional snow day in winter, spring and autumn showers and heat waves in summer; the weather is incredibly predictable and usually good. The best thing about it: it rarely stays bad for longer than 48 hours!
Coming from England, again, we were amazed at the diversity of scenery here in Greece. Athens is surrounded by three mountains (each higher than the highest mountain in England). This provides a dramatic backdrop for the city, for sure. We live on one of these mountains (on its "backside", ie not the side facing the city, but looking down towards the sea). They are the perfect playground for any outdoor activities - from hiking, to mountain running and mountain biking, they are ideal. Going a bit further afield, we have been stunned by the blue-green waters, the lakes, the forests, the dramatic coastlines and everything in between that we have encountered. Granted, none of if is looked after very well (but I will not go into this - this is a gratitude post) but on the plus side, the Greeks are not very outdoorsy people, so we usually get most it all to ourselves!
3. The food
Well, it's fresh, seasonal and usually grown within 100 km of where we live. There isn't the great variety we used to get at Tesco, but it tastes and smells a hundred times better. Fresh fruit and vegetables are also much cheaper. We might only get strawberries for two weeks a year, grapes only come in early autumn and watermelon is strictly a summer fruit, but this cyclical nature of what is available really makes you appreciate the changing of the seasons.
As for eating out, food is usually made of the above ingredients, simply prepared and tastes delicious! Yum!
4. How safe it is
Greece has changed a lot since the beginning of the crisis. When we moved here in 2008 we didn't think twice about sleeping with our windows open during the night. Although crime stats have gone up, Greece is still one of the safest countries in Europe. In most places around Athens you can walk around safely well into the night.
5. How child-friendly it is
Greece seems to be a paradise for small kids and their parents. You can take your kids pretty much anywhere and they will be treated like kings. Beware if you don't like strangers touching or cuddling your kids, giving them sweets and generally spoiling them - such behaviours are widely acceptable here. Waiters will fuss over your little ones and it seems that complaints about children in "adult" places, like restaurants are few and far between. In Greece the child is king! (For better or worse...) We are certainly looking forward to finding out for ourselves...
6. How friendly and helpful people can be
Note the careful phrasing of the above. Greek people can be amongst the most hospitable and friendly in the world. They will open their house and heart and will welcome you in with open arms. Sometimes. But when it does happen, it is beautfiul and you know that you have made friends for life.
7. The light
Well, I am not an artist, certainly not a photographer, but there is something magical about the light in Greece. It is soft and diffused in winter, stark and blinding in summer, and it changes constantly. There is nothing I love more than the softening of the brightness, as day turns to night in the summer.
8. The smells
Sounds dodgy... It isn't. I simply love the intensity of all the smells in this place. I love the smell of thyme when I got running on the mountain - my running shoes smell for hours after the end of each run. I love the smell of lavender rising up from our garden, the delicate aroma of orange blossom, the fragrance of rocket (yes, the salad green!) while I walk my dogs. The sea smells for miles, a salty, vibrant kind of smell, the rain smells well before it arrives and the pine trees fill our summer nights. It simply seems that everything smells more real here, more intense!
9. The history
It is everywhere you go. Down in Athens you will see the library of Hadrian, on the metro you will look at ancient housing and roads. Up the mountain you will bump into a byzantine church, built on (and something with) the ruins of an ancient temple. By the beach you will find the temple of Poseidon. You will run past the tomb of the Athenians in Marathon, when you do the marathon, and you will (hopefully) finish in the Panathenaic stadium. It is everywhere and it is mesmerising!
And finally... 10. The people
I might be biased in this. In fact, I am most likely very biased. But I have met some amazing people while living here. Talented, creative, resilient. You need to be all of the above in order to succeed in Greece. But there are people, even today, in the current economic climate, who manage to keep creating, succeeding, taking risks!
P.S. D suggested I included "the unpredictability of things" in my list. I simply couldn't. I might be learning to live with it, I might even be learning to see the funny side of it and be able to (sometimes) look at life here as an adventure, but I simply cannot bring myself to love the unpredictability of things. I am just not built that way...