Greece - Anybody been there?

I’m organizing a trip to Greece for spring break 2007 for my campus (a small branch campus of a large university). In the past few years we’ve gone to Italy, France, and Spain with great success. We usually have a group of about 45 people, probably 60% students and the rest faculty and alumni.

This year, I’ve been tapped to organize the trip and was told that Greece was the place people wanted to go next. I’ve been talking to several travel companies so as to get a good variety of prices and itineraries. Since we’re a big group, we’re given a lot of flexibility in our itineraries. That’s where you folks come in. For those of you that have been (especially those of you that might live there), are there any places that I should make sure our group sees on this trip? We’ll have roughly 7 days in country, taking off a flight day on either end.

Any other advice about Greece (even stuff like it’s going to be cold so the students should know that they’re not going to be laying on the beach all day) would be appreciated as well.

Thanks for the help!

You can do one of two things…

Spend a couple of days in Athens and then take a bus tour around the country, or spend a couple of days in Athens and then take a boat tour out of Pireus around the islands.

I recommend the island cruise. Just make sure the cruise lines operate that time of year. You sleep on the boat and spend the day on a new island. A great mix of land and sea with travel taking place at night so no daylight is wasted while in transit. The boats are comfortable enough (but not exactly the QE2) and the food on board is palatable (though not memorable). If you can find a tour that covers, Rhodes, Ios and Crete, it will be unforgetable.

I don’t know exactly when spring break is, but Greece gets warm in April. In July it’s unbearably hot, at least for a Norseman like me. Cold won’t be a problem.

General advice: Time-tables are of purely theoretical interest; buses and the like leave when they’re full. There are plenty of scammers trying to feed on tourists. Tell the students not to be idiots, and they should be fine. Anything where someone stops you in the street to give you a lottery ticket is by definition a scam.

As for places to see, I’ve only been to Crete and Lesbos, but the palace of Knossos on Crete was amazing. Definitely a must-see.

I went to Greece in June 2003 on a highschool trip with 2 teachers and 12 other students.

We did a 10 day trip. Spent a couple days in Athens, saw the historical sights, got on a cruise ship and traveled the islands (Mykonos, Santorini, Crete, Rhodes, etc) then did a few more days in Athens.

We had a tour guide (a hot Greek guy named Kostas who was super awesome and gave me cigarettes) who took us everywhere. I was unfortnately sick for parts of the trip (bad sinus infection) and I have a bad memory so everything isn’t 100% clear. Just that it was hellishly hot and beautiful. Seeing things like the Acropolis, the Temple of Athena, Knossos, the Mykonos windmills, Poseidon’s temple…it was just so breathtaking. Just to stand somewhere with so much history was wonderful.

We went to the beach once…forgot where we were exactly. But it was rocky and painful to walk on. Lots of topless people who I didn’t want to see topless. But the Mediterranean is magnificent.

And drinking Heinekens and smoking cigars on Plaka in Athens was nice too. We were in high school so it was a novelty.

I’d say hit up all the best historical sites - they are worth it for their beauty. Athens is sort of scary sometimes - it’s a large city and I don’t remember how many times I saw “fuck usa” spraypainted there. Stick together and you will all be okay. Plaka is great for nightlife in Athens.

The cruise was the best part of our trip because the islands are just so amazing. The first time I can afford an expensive trip in my life, I’m taking another, longer cruise there.

No can do on the cruises. To the best of my knowledge (and several travel agents) the cruises don’t start up again until April. I’m sure somebody runs a trip, but I don’t think we’re real interested in that.

Thanks though!

Spring break is March. Looks like lows in the high 30s and highs in the high 50s as far as I can gather. However, I’m pretty sure when we get a little bit into the mountains it’s gonna get cold.

In the past trips the students have done amazingly well with not falling for scams and avoiding getting pickpocketed. Well, there was the case of the REALLY long cab ride one guy took in Cordoba, but other than that, we’ve done fine. Which is really surprising since some of them have never left the county, let alone the country.

Did you have any problem with the language? I’m a little intimidated by the non-Roman alphabet (which is weird to say).

Well, color me bummed out about not going to the islands. It just doesn’t seem like a possibility in March. I’d love to set this up for May, but that’s not in the cards.

So you went to Poseidon’s temple at Cape Sounion? It looked cool but I didn’t know if it would justify the side trip. I guess that’s part of the problem, all this stuff looks cool to me, but I don’t know how cool it is!

I’ll definitely recommend Plaka to them. I’ve seen it mentioned, but I’m glad to hear a “younger” perspective on it (he sighs as he realizes that 35 is officially “old”).

Since I took the trip in high school, it was very organized and the days were looooong…we got up at 6 or 7 most days…so things like side trips were built in. It was cool though, I got the most for my $2000+ or whatever I paid. :slight_smile:

And I lost maybe 5-7 lbs on that trip…didn’t care for much of the food, and their light breakfasts drove me nuts - I need more than cheese and crackers in the morning! But we had some variation of fried cheese at some open air restaurant that was to die for. Luckily my mom had foresight and packed cereal bars in my luggage.

One thing funny I noticed, that everyone smokes. I guess it’s a Europe thing (Greece being my first and only trip to Europe). I loved it. Everyone smokes, everyone drinks, etc. I could defintiely live over there.

Another cool thing is that the Olympic stuff was being constructed while we were there. And of course every little store had buches of Olympic stuff.

Plaka is something that should be checked out - bazillion bars. Also during the day there is shopping and whatnot. And they have a subway thing that is actually quite pretty at some stops (the below part). And check out the parliamentary building (I think that’s it) and see the guards and their unusual outfits.

I went to Athens with my son about 5 years ago in March for spring break. Not too much was open. We had a good time because he majored in the classics in college and we could entertain ourselves. We took a short cruise to the closest island and even the public restrooms there were not open until the week after we were there (can we say uncomfortable?). The weather was great, but not too much going on.

There are some cruises that do operate in March, but the people we talked to who took them were disappointed, nothing was open on the islands they visited.

One good thing, you’ll have the Parthenon to yourselves :cool: .

I have a friend who just returned.

He says the food sucks (he’s a pro chef) and to eat non-greek whenever possible simply because you won’t have that choice most of the time. He also says to eat lots of octopus.

I was there ages ago, but I really liked the restaurants…at least the local ones I found. You entered through the kitchen so you could see the food prepared, and then went into the main dining area.

Traffic is hell. I saw more accidents in Athens in three days then I saw in NYC in a year! I saw one taxi hit a pedestrian (not seriously injured) and the driver got out of the cab and screamed at the guy he hit, who was now lying flat on the street. Smog was horrible too, but I have heard that the air quality has gotten better. Still, I really, really liked Athens.

The Greeks were all very friendly to me, and I was duly impressed with all of the historical sites. I would go back in a minute if I had the chance.

We went from there to Crete (but it was summer) and had a great time - rented motorbikes and went to some off the beaten track villages.

Word of caution - Ouzo is a very sneaky drink…it looks like water, people drink it like water and stupid tourists try to join in. My friends and I got so wasted we could barely walk or talk - but the odd thing is, it stays with you. The next morning when you have cottonmouth and take one swig of water, you are as loaded as you were the night before. Took us all about an hour that morning to sober up again, just from drinking water!

Also, retsina is a local wine that tastes like gasoline…an acquired taste that few tourists ever acquire. You can order the same wine, without “resin”, that is better.

And some of the most beautiful people on earth live in Greece.

I spent a couple of weeks in Greece a few years back: I loved it.

Although I’m glad I spent time in Athens, it was extremely polluted when I was there (I hope it’s better now, as DMark implies), and my fonder memories are of smaller towns and villages. I love hole-in-the-wall restaurants that serve seafood (especially squid), so the ubiquitous kalamari were heavenly.

Doper Dog80 lives in Athens, and his e-mail is in his profile. Maybe he’ll show up in this thread…

Ah Greece. I too did the classical sites. Athens, the Parthenon, Epidaurus, Olympia…

You absolutely must go to the Parthenon and Epidaurus. I remember schoolmates standing in the theatre at Epidaurus spouting Greek verse and hearing it perfectly up at the top.

If you do fancy some Sprink Break type madness for a couple of nights (toga parties, drinking games, seeing how many people you can fit in a jacuzzi etc), or if anyone can’t face more culture and wants to go to a beach, may I suggest this place in Corfu?

You can get the train from Athens to Patras and then the overnight ferry or the approximately 10 hour bus ride from Athens, it’s not that bad a trip.

Athens is very smoggy- warn any asthmatics in your group to bring plenty of medication, even if they rarely need it.

The Parthenon is beautiful, but will only take a morning of your time. I was staying in a hostel in the Plaka, so a friend and I walked up the hill to the Acropolis early in the morning to avoid the heat and crowds, got there at 8am when it opened, back down to the Plaka for lunch. Of course, I was there in August, and it was just too hot in the city to stay for more than 2 nights.

There are plenty of touristy type places well used to backpackers and students- they’re usually very cheap, but fire and safety isn’t high on the agenda. Be careful when finding places to stay- check for fire exits and overcrowding in dorms.

Souvlaki, moussaka, Ouzo, barbequed lamb and the ubiquitous Greek salad are usually safe food and drink choices- vegetarians might face difficulties, vegans will get a look that means “we think you’re crazy, here’s a salad”.

Lastly and very importantly- don’t put used toilet paper in the toilets.

I have been (in June/July), and my son has been twice.

He took a March school trip a couple years ago. The day he arrived, it snowed.
But the weather improved from there. April is likely warmer. You could just stay on the mainland, there is plenty to see and do there, but I can’t imagine going to Greece and not seeing an island or two.

Ferries can be booked in March, but dates and times will be irregular. Flights are available and can be reasonably priced.
You should see Athens; the Plaka and the Parthenon. Many people enjoy the Cycladic Islands, which would work for you and your timeframe.

From there, you should fly out as far as you can, and work your way back to Athens/Piraeus. You might not have enough time to get to Crete or Rhodes, which are filled with historical spots. But if you figure out the ferry schedule, it might be doable.

IMHO, you should not miss Santorini. The view of Santorini’s caldera is breathtakingly, staggeringly beautiful, and the volcano trip is fun and interesting.
You could fly out to Santorini, ferry to nearby Ios for springbreak fun and frolic, then overnight ferry back to Athens/Piraeus.

If you do not want to take on Santorini, you would enjoy the beauty of Corfu, which is very close to Athens. Sometimes parts of Corfu can feel like a British or German holiday camp, but there are unspoiled places where you can really get away.
And yeah, as Irishgirl mentions, the Pink Palace is there for the more hedonistic types.
Greek food is simple–but not bad at all if you stay away from the touristy spots. In more traditional restaurants, the customer will be invited into the kitchen to check out what’s available and choose for himself what he would like prepared for him. On Crete, you might be invited to try Raki–fairly wicked liqueur which I believe originally came from Turkey. Another popular Greek beverage is Nescafe, a sort of unsweet frappucino.
My absolute favorite thing to eat in Greece was yogurt with honey. To die for.

I recommend Crete. It will be warm and pleasant in March. Lots of historical sites, lots of options for other activities. There will be boat tours, etc. What could be NEAT is to skip Athens outright, fly to Crete, then do a two-day trip to Santorini on the ferries. Prices will be low for that time of the year and you will be stunned on Santorini…

But that skips all of the touristy things that people expect from Athens. I dislike Athens, but I did see the major sites and am glad I did…but…my opinion is to skip it all and go elsewhere now. So maybe 2 days in Athens to see stuff, then hop an overnight ferry to Crete (which is sorta cool) and fly out of there at the end.

-Tcat

It’s my experience that Greeks working in the tourism business (restaurants, hotels, museums and so forth) generally speak English, albeit heavily accented. My experience is limited though since I’m Swedish and a surprisingly large number of Greek islanders speak Swedish, usually because they worked for a while in Sweden in their youths.

That’s understandable, but getting used to it is much quicker than you think. It’s not that different.

Greece would not be at the top of my list for vacation spots if seeing the islands were not an option. Like others have said, Athens is big and rather dirty, and lacks most of the charm of other large European citites. I honestly wouldn’t want to spend more than 2 days there, given other options. If you can find a way to see the islands, I second Santorini–when I was there (in '99) I stayed at an amazing hostel with an incredible ocean view from the room for about $6/night. Greece is fantastic, but rather different from the rest of Western Europe. Have fun!

Thanks for all the advice folks! Keep it coming if you have anything else to say.

I feared as much about the islands being important, but alas, it wasn’t the hand I was dealt. A senior professor and the administration told me to organize a trip to Greece for spring break in March, so that’s what I’ve gotta do and do it in that timeframe.

Here’s roughly the spots I’m looking at going to (in no particular order):

Athens (obviously)
Delphi
Olympia
Epidaurus/Mycenae
Kalambaka/Meteora

I’m not familiar with the last, but I can’t fault any of the rest: you’ll have a great time.