Practical Communication Tips For Holidaying in Greece

Many English words and idioms are derived from the Greek language. In addition, most Greeks speak at least a smattering of English, which is taught in public schools. So, if you’re planning a trip to famously friendly Greece there’s no need to be concerned about the language. That said it is always appreciated when visitors make an effort to communicate in Greek.

Useful phrases for travellers

Good morning - Kalimera (kah-lee-MEHR-rah)
Good afternoon / evening - Kalispera (kah-lee-SPEH-rah)
Good night - Kalinkta (kah-lee-NEEKH-tah)
Goodbye - Kherete (KHE-reh-tay)
Hello - Yassas (YAH-sahss) / Yassou (YAH- soo)
How are you? -   Ti kanete? (te-KAH-neh-teh)
Well / good - Poli kala (po-LEE kah-LAH)
Thank you -    Efkharisto (eff-kah-rees-TOH)
You’re welcome / please - Parakalo (pah-rah-kah-LOH)
Sorry - Signomi (seegh-NO-mee)
Yes - Ne (neh)
No - Ohi (OH-hee)
What is your name - Pos se lene? (POHS seh LEH-neh)
My name is … - Me lene … (meh LEH-neh)
Do you speak English? - Milas Anglika? (mee-LAHS Ang- lee-KAH)
I don’t understand - Den Katalaveno (then’ kah-tah-lah- VEH-no)
Can you help me? - Borite na me? (Boh-REE-tech nah)
Where is …? - Pou ine? (POO EE-neh)
How far is it? - Posso makria eenay?
How much is it? - Poso kani? (poh-soh KAH-nee)
Left - Aristera (ah-rees-the-RAH)
Right - Dexia (thek-see-AH)
Cheers - Yamas (YAH-mas)

A different kind of “sign language”

Greece has its own brand of “sign language” for which it is world famous. You’re bound to experience some colourful gesticulating between Greeks. However, sometimes what appears to be an argument might actually be some locals have a normal and not unusually loud, expressive conversation.

Need to know non-verbals

Don’t be too alarmed if a stranger tends to stand or sit a little closer than you are used to. Remember to keep eye contact, as letting your gaze wander during conversation is an affront. Usually Greek people are affable and helpful, even more so on the islands and you will become accustomed to some of the many gestures and facial expressions. Important ones include a kind of a nod when a local says “no”. Also, “neh”, which sounds like “no” actually means, “yes”.

Before you head off on your dream holiday

Ultimately, the Greeks welcome tourism as a mainstay for the economy. Most hosts at accommodation establishments, restaurants and sites and attractions will be patient with your innocent errors in communication judgement. Greek good-naturedness is world-renowned although every culture has its limits. At the very least enquire about and be respectful of the local customs of various parts of Greece as these might vary region-to-region on the mainland and island-to-island.

Obviously some of the more remote and traditional parts of Greece may observe some seemingly outdated traditions. Still, it really costs very little to be polite, to smile and to take along a user-friendly phrase book. Simple gestures such as greeting someone in the morning with a friendly “kalimera” will go along way to making friends. You might even enjoy learning the basics of one of the oldest languages in the world and come to appreciate the culture even more.

Greek Island Giants, Dolphin Pirates and Ancient Dragons (Part 2 of 2)

Of the 24 islands comprising what we know as the Northern Sporades, only four are inhabited. These are Skopelos, Alonissos, Skyros and Skiathos. The sea surrounding these islands is filled with a spectacular array of marine life including dolphins known to have swum here millions of years before humans ever learned to build boats or even doggie paddle. So much so that the National Marine Park of Alonissos and Northern Sporades was the first marine park in Greece. It is also the largest marine protected area in all of Europe.

Dolphin pirates of old

The ancient Greeks revered and respected dolphins as depicted in their emblematic association with Poseidon, God of the Sea. In fact, many people believe that some dolphins were once human pirates and there’s a story about this that involves Dionysus, the Greek God of Wine.

Standing alone on the shore looking handsome and regal, pirates nabbed him thinking he was a prince they could ransom or sell as a slave. A struggle ensued but they managed to get him to their ship. His captors had no idea he was a god until strange things started to happen on deck. A vine, full with grapes suddenly curled over the topsail. Ivy full with flowers wrapped itself around the mast. Wreaths circled the oar hole pins. Fragrant wine flowed along the decks. Even though the winds were strong the ship stopped dead in the ocean. Pandemonium broke out when wild animals manifested from nowhere.

Too far from land and terrified, the pirates dived into the watery depths to their death. Dionysus took pity on them, turned them into dolphins and made them playful so that they would be unable to harm humans.

Beware the dragon’s lair

People from all over the world come to marvel at the proliferation of marine life in the Northern Sporades. This includes the playful pirates who bob, dive and swim at formidable speeds alongside day-tripper boats. Legend also has it that some time ago, a dragon with “teeth as sharp as knives and claws sharp as arrows” made his presence known on Skopelos. Whether he had been in a deep slumber or had just arrived, the island inhabitants fled. For many years, only those condemned to death were sent to Skopelos where the dragon was said to carry out the gruesome sentence.

Baiting the beast

When St. Reginos, a priest from the mainland heard of this practice, he was appalled at its barbarism. Disguised as a prisoner he was sent off to Skopelos and on arrival asked the other convicts about the dragon’s location. Confronted by the drooling visage of this powerful, fire-breathing creature he taunted it into chasing him across the island to a hill where he knelt and prayed. When the dragon arrived, God collapsed the hill on top of the monster. Buried under rocks the place became forever known as the Ravine of the Dragon, a local talking point still today. On windy days some people even claim to hear, when approaching or residing on Skopelos, a muted yet angry roaring sound coming from within the bowels of the island.

Greek Island Giants, Dolphin Pirates and Ancient Dragons (Part 1 of 2)

Greek Island Giants, Dolphin Pirates and Ancient Dragons (Part 1 of 2)

Islands are formed in several ways, but no discussion about Greek islands would be complete without some reference to myth and legend. In ancient Greece stories about gods, heroes, monsters and villains were critical to everyday life. Not only did they explain and justify everything, from religion and birth to the weather and war, they also gave meaning to the world in which the ancients lived. In fact, legend has it that the Northern Sporades islands were created not by nature but by giants.

Why the islands are “scattered”

Skiathos Island lies just off the east coast of the Greek mainland. On a map, you will notice that it forms a relatively close-knit trio of three islands with Skopelos in the centre, Skiathos to the west and Alonissos to the east. 

There are some 24 islands in the Northern Sporades but only four are permanently inhabited. These include the aforementioned trio and one other further east called Skyros. The name “Sporades” from which we get the word “sporadic” means scattered, and as taken from popular legend passed down through the ages, there’s good reason for this.

A rocky clash of titans

According to mythology the creation of Skiathos and other islands in the Northern Sporades were the result of an argument between two giants from the Greek mainland. Little is known about how the argument began but it culminated in a competition of strength and some angry rock throwing. Some of these gargantuan boulders landed in the sea, in a scattered formation, and became the Northern Sporades islands as we know them today.

Targeted by conquerors

Athenians, Cretans, Franks, Macedonians, Persians, Romans, Turks and Venetians have conquered the Northern Sporades islands. Most recently, they were invaded by Germans in the second World War. Still they rise up defiantly from the Aegean sea targeted nowadays by visitors rather than invaders, particularly Skiathos with its 64 incredibly beautiful and diverse beaches.

Daring pirate escape

Not even savage attacks by pirates could conquer the spirit of the people of Skiathos Island. Tired of pirate attacks, Skiathos townfolk at one point packed up all the worldly belongings their backs and donkey’s could carry and started a new life for themselves. They hiked to the highest hilltop on the island and built the medieval fort of Kastro, the remnants of which can still be visited today. According to myth some of the dolphins in the surrounding island oceans were themselves once human pirates but that’s a continuation of our story in part 2 of 2.

Greek Island Giants, Dolphin Pirates and Ancient Dragons (Part 2 of 2)

Skopelos Greek Cheese Pie Recipe With a Unique “Twist”

The ancient Greeks are said to have invented pie pastry as we know it today. In fact, in Aristophanes’ plays (5th century BC), there are references to small filled pastries. Tiropita, pronounced tee-roh-pee-tah, means cheese pie in Greek, and Skopelos Island in the Northern Sporades, is well known for a spiral variation of the dish. Usually fried as opposed to baked, it consists of a crisp phyllo pastry with a white cheesy centre (feta plus one other white cheese). Filling a dinner plate, the Skopelos Tiropita is the ideal starter, vegetarian main or side dish.

t = teaspoon
T = tablespoon



1 kg all-purpose (plain white) flour
2 cups extra virgin olive oil
1 T vinegar
1 t sugar 2 t salt 1 litre water (use as much as you require to make a firm dough that doesn’t stick when you roll it out)
Oil for frying


1 kg feta
1.2 kg anthotyro or mizithra (sweeter white cheese to balance out the saltiness of the feta)


Sift the flour into a mixing bowl.
Pour in the vinegar.
Add the salt.
Knead slowly by hand, gradually adding water.
As the dough starts to form, add the olive oil and knead until firm (neither too hard nor too soft).
Cover with cling film so that it doesn’t form a crust.
Leave to rest in a cool place for at least an hour.

Roll out the dough to a thin consistency in a rectangle approximately 1 metre in length.
Crumble the cheeses and spread in a strip approxi
mately 1/3 along the length of the pastry surface.
Roll the dough into a cigar-shaped cylinder and seal the ends.
Twist into a snail-like coil.

Heat the frying oil in a large frying pan.
Before the oil reaches boiling point gently position the spiral pie in the oil.
Pre-boiling point placement prevents the pie from puffing up too quickly (prevents the pastry from cracking).
Fry for 1.5 to 2 minutes on either side (total of 3 to 4 minutes) until crispy and golden brown.
Remove from the pan, drain on paper towel, allow to cool slightly and serve.

Easy Island Hopping from Skiathos to Skopelos

Island hopping is an essential part of the Greek experience. Visitors to Skiathos, the most cosmopolitan of the Northern Sporades islands, is ideally situated for hopping over to and exploring neighbouring Skopelos, in a half or full day. The name, Skopelos, means “cliff”, “rocky” or “reef” and, as you come sailing around the last island headland and enter the u-shaped port, you’ll see why. The centuries-old town of Skopelos rises up sharply from the sea and has the characteristic Greek island whitewashed houses, blue-framed windows and doors.

What to see and do

In spite of its quiet reputation, Skopelos has beaches (not as many as Skiathos though), museums, and the National Marine Park, which is the largest conservation area in Europe. It also has more than a hundred churches and monasteries, quiet extraordinary for a relatively small island. Restaurants and shops line the waterfront and there are ATMs.

Wander through Skopelos town by foot, moped or donkey. No cars are allowed. This is largely owing to the face that the old cobbled lanes are too small, quaintly so, which adds to the special ambience of the town. That said, road infrastructure does allow for car travel to and from other parts of the island.

Famous movie location

Most of the scenes for the hit movie, Mama Mia, were shot on Skopelos and Skiathos under the auspices of a fictional island called Kalokairi. Cast and crew stayed on Skopelos for a time, and some of the locals were extras in the movie. In fact, if you are an ardent Mama Mia fan, you might get a few pointers from the locals as to the spots frequented by some of your favourite characters (actors).

Getting there

There are various options for getting from Skiathos to Skopelos. All are by sea.

Flying Cat: Euro 16.50 (one way), Euro 33.00 (return)
Ferry: Economy Euro 9.50 (one way), Euro 19.00 (return); upper deck Euro 12.50 (one way), Euro 25 (return)
Day trip boats: With a guide approximately Euro 25.00 (return)
Boat charter: Depends on the number of people in your group and the time of year*

If you select the day trip option be sure to book the Agios Nikolaos and select a trip that includes Victoria Sandels (link to Victoria’s “Skiathos Traveller” site) as your guide. If going by ferry or the Flying Cat you are left to do your own thing. Whatever your preferred mode of getting there, do some research to familiarise yourself with Skopelos before leaving Skiathos. Get a map from the information cubicle on arrival in the port. On your walkabout look out for the toilets on balconies and be sure to try the famous tiropita, a large phyllo pastry stuffed with a deep fried spiral of cheese.

*Prices correct at time of publication.

Skiathos Island’s Magical Faraway Tree Forest Walk

Typically, when you think of Greek Islands, you think of endless beaches and chilled drinks with miniature umbrellas in them and you wouldn’t be wrong. Skiathos is such an island but it offers much more, including an extraordinary woodland adventure that’s more than just trees.

This magical forest walk as it’s aptly and popularly known by those in the know, starts just below the 18th century Kechria Monastery, which is worth a visit in its own right. In fact the four water and olive mills, the ruins of which can be seen along the walk, outdate the monastery by more than a thousand years.

So what makes it magical?

Imagine an enchanted wood with hollowed out ancient trunks and gnarled mystical tree roots. In fact some of the trees are so gnarled and hollow you can climb right into them. The ferns are especially tall and you can’t help but feel a little like Alice and the oversized chair in a forest wonderland.

Now picture the sun peaking through a virtually impenetrable canopy of lush foliage, nature’s little creatures whizzing past or fluttering gracefully about, patches of moss, lichen and floral groundcover. Add to this the fresh aroma of herbs growing wild in their bunches as you descend deeper into the hedgerow and you’ll have a fairly accurate image of what to expect. Note the emphasis on the word “fairly”. This is one of those rare occurrences where even the most beautiful photography cannot capture the special quality of the place.

Getting started To get started, head off to Kechria Monastery in the early morning. It’s approximately eight kilometres from Skiathos Town. Best to go by vehicle and not on foot. The sun warms up quickly and blazes by late morning. It can get scorching in the open forest areas and incredibly humid in the dense woodland in spite of the latter’s shady canopy.

Need to know

Make sure you have a comfortable pair of walking shoes. Trainers will do. Take some bottled water, a sun hat and sunblock. There are no ablutions en route but the forest eventually opens out at Kechria Beach, where there is a taverna to have some lunch and rest your weary legs.

The walk can be quite taxing if you’re not moderately fit and takes approximately five hours at a leisurely pace. The path is marked every so often and generally cleared so that you can see where to go. While you might pass one other couple or a handful of nature enthusiasts, this walk is known for it’s unusual quiet tranquility so the sounds of the gurgling brook and nature are noticeably amplified. This makes it even more intimate. Skiathos Island’s magical faraway tree forest walk really is Elysium (Greek heaven) and should be top of the must do nature list.

Uncovering Evangelistria Monastery’s Revolutionary Past

On the slopes of the highest peak on Skiathos Island, you’ll find the most beautiful and arguably the most historically significant monastery of all the Northern Sporades islands. Set amid pine and cypress trees, visitors are immediately struck by the tranquility of the place.

You can get there by car or on foot. Either way it’s a lovely meander up the mountain. When entering the complex you can’t help but tread softly and conversation with companions drop to hushed, reverent whispers.

Important symbol of Greek pride

The first Greek flag with a white cross on a blue background was woven, blessed and hoisted for the first time at Evangelistria in 1807. It was on the very same flag that leaders of the revolution were sworn in and made plans to liberate the nation. Later, in the 1820s freedom fighters and refugees sought refuge here and the monastery provided material support and economic assistance to the revolutionaries.

What to look out for

Skilled craftsmen began construction in 1794 and the monastery was completed in 1806. Today, the buildings and grounds are well kept. The main church, a cruciform design covered by three high domes is in the centre of the monastery complex. It contains various wall illustrations and icons, which have both religious and artistic merit.

Monk-made wine

Pop into the little shop in which you can purchase Alypiakos wine made by the monks themselves from on site vines. Famous Greek writer, Alexander Papadiamantis wrote in his short story, “The Black Ignoramuses” that Alypiakos wine is “suitable to relieve the sadness and worries of the world” but you’ll need to try it and decide for yourself.

Entrance fees and other observances

Entrance to the complex is free but donations are appreciated. You are required to pay 2 Euro per person to enter the museum building but this is a measly sum for a worthy browse. The loom on which the first Greek flag was woven can be seen in the museum among other interesting pieces. Information is clearly marked in both English and Greek.

Also, so as not to cause offence, cover your shoulders and your legs at least to your knees. Wraps are readily available for this specific purpose and the dress code applies to both men and women.

There’s a café just above but separate to the monastery, which serves light refreshments and provides lovely views of the mountains, sea and nearby islands.

Best time to visit

Any historical and/or religious attraction is always best visited on your own or in small groups. Luckily, even in peak season, tourists never overrun Evangelistria. So you really do get to have a uniquely intimate experience. In addition to the complex being well preserved, the site of real life monks at a table in the courtyard adds to the authenticity of the place. In it’s relatively short existence, by ancient Greek monastery standards anyway, Evangelistria has witnessed human efforts to get closer to God and the Greek struggle for independence. Who knows what other secrets it harbors.