The airport is busy this Tuesday morning.
It’s just like the beforetimes.
Vaxx Passports and Passenger Locator Forms in hand, Morena and I are boarding a plane to Athens.
We’ve printed everything out on real paper, like boomers, just in case, but the girl at the gate just glances at them and waves us through.
It’s good she just glances instead of scanning the QR code, because…
Well, more about that later.
For now, we’re in seats 17E and 17F, and it would appear that international travel is happening again.
Welcome to Athens, Greece
A few hours later we’re on the ground in Greece.
It’s 5PM local time by the time we’ve gotten out of the airport and driven across half of Attica to the hotel.
Our first mission: beer and protein.
Across the street there are a few kebab joints… or, as they’re called in Greece, gyro joints.
We sit down outside one, and the overly friendly waiter says, “Welcome to Athens”. I guess we look like the kind of people who just got off a plane.
Beer and protein arrive quickly. Good times are had by all.
After that we’re off to see some sights. My first impression of Athens is a bit underwhelming. It actually reminds me of Spain 20 years ago. Before everything got all hipster – at least in the big cities.
But the Acropolis is there, and so are all the other heaps of rubble you’d expect in a city with thousands of years of history. There’s Hadrian’s Library (rubble with columns), the Temple of Olympian Zeus (more rubble, more columns), the Ancient Agora (rubble, many many columns)…
You see where I’m going with this.
After so much rubble tourism, we start to get hungry again.
I’ve spotted a nice place for some octopus, so we go in and ask for a table. The waiter looks us up and down.
“Are you vaccinated?”
“You have the vaccine certificate?” (It’s better if you imagine it in a heavy Greek accent.)
“Of course. Why?”
“I need to see vaccine certificate.”
Barf. Are we really doing this?
He whips out his mobile and scans Morena’s vaxx passport. Then mine. His phone beeps menacingly.
“I’m afraid, sir, you must sit outside.”
Long story short: we sat outside, and the octopus wasn’t even that good.
Land of Many Vaccine Passports
Of course, empowering every waiter in your country to ask about people’s personal medical history is, shall we say, moronic in the extreme.
But that appears to be exactly what they’ve done in Greece.
Indoor seating at restaurants, as well as the interiors of museums and such, are only for the vaccinated. By which I mean the Covid-19 Vaccinated. If you’ve got smallpox or something, you’re fine. But god forbid you should be unvaccinated against the ‘rona.
Or, in my case, actually vaccinated but with a useless Spanish certificate.
See, I had the ‘rona about a year ago, and let me tell you, it was pretty underwhelming as far as deadly diseases go. I recovered – if you can even call it that – in about a day. And when they started rolling out the vaccines this year, it was decided that people who’d already had Covid were only going to get one dose.
Fine with me. But I was wondering at the time if “only” one dose was going to cause me problems down the line. I even wrote an article about it: Getting Vaxxed in Catalonia.
Anyway, I’d assumed that Spain got together with other EU countries to decide on this one-dose thing, and that my vaccine passport, with THE ACTUAL EU FLAG printed at the top of it, was a valid document in, I don’t know, countries of the EU.
How wrong I was!
The next morning, we find a clinic that does rapid tests. They swab my tonsils and give me a new paper that says I’m covid-free. Now I can participate in culture again. Yippee!
I could go on and on about how worrying it is that a lot of people are willing to embrace nearly any authoritarian policy because they’re scared of a virus.
But that’s neither here nor there.
Because soon, I’m on another plane to Crete.
Masterminding in the Greek Islands
This trip to Crete was the reason for the whole Greek adventure: Olly and Jan over at Creator Smarts organize a yearly gathering of smart creative types, and I was invited to join.
They’d done this in Tenerife a few years ago, and I’d gone. Fun times.
This time it’d been delayed because of all the travel restrictions, but finally, we all made it… all the best and brightest minds in online language learning.
Some people included in this video – or present at the mastermind but not included in the video – Seonaid at Perfect English Grammar, Kris at Actual Fluency, Dr Gareth Popkins at How to Get Fluent, Michele Frolla at Intrepid Guide, Phillip and Isabel at Amigos Ingleses, Lucy and Will from English with Lucy, German lessons with Dein Sprachcoach, Olly Richards from I Will Teach You a Language, Julia from Lingster Academy and Pierre from holamigo.fr, Michael from British Accent Method…
The event in Crete was pretty intense: we all presented some problems in our language businesses, and got advice from the group, formed action plans, and ate so much it was a bit ridiculous.
Also, there was a boat ride around Chania. And a pool.
So what was my business problem that I needed help with?
It just turns out that firing my boss and creating a job that I can do at home actually ends up with me – a serious introvert – spending most of my time alone, isolated from other human beings.
Add in the fact that I don’t have coworkers, and that the online language space is small enough that it’s hard to meet people who have any idea what it is I do for a living, and it becomes necessary to go out of my way to find meetings of my peers – even if those meetings are on the opposite side of Europe.
Oh well… that’s life.
All in all, it was a great event, and I’d encourage you to check out the Creator Smarts podcast if you’re into that kind of thing. One way or another, find your community. It’s worth it.
Anyway, a few days later I was back in Athens.
In the meantime, Morena had been on Mykonos, which was (according to her version of the story, at least) very expensive and touristy. We met up again for a couple more days before flying back to Barcelona – direct flights from Spain to the Greek Islands being somewhat rare.
Cue the Billy Joel classic “Uptown Girl” here…
This time we found, almost by accident, the luxurious side of Athens.
I take back anything I said earlier about how the city was underwhelming: the fancier part (generally, around the Hellenic Parliament) was very nice. We’d just been in the wrong area before.
Previously we’d seen whole neighborhoods that had apparently been taken over by anarcho-punks. Lots of graffiti. Dilapidated blocks of flats. Posters inviting the viewer to burn the rich (or something, I’m not amazing at Greek).
The luxury side of Athens, on the other hand, had all the expensive stuff you’d expect from a European capital. Artisanal croissants, expensive wine bars, plates of 18€ goat stew. Paradise!
Our final night in Athens we wanted Chinese food. Or really anything but more gyros. Greek food is great, but after about 2 weeks of constant contact, we were ready to try something else.
So after a couple of cocktails on a rooftop overlooking the Parthenon, we went out looking for some noodles.
One place nearby (recommended by Google) seemed decent. Hong Kong cuisine, or some such.
We went inside. The waitress approached.
“Are you vaccinated?” she asked.
“Yes, of course.”
“Vaccine certificate, please!” (Don’t you even dare imagine a Chinese accent – that’d be totally racist. You monster.)
By this time I’m prepared. I’ve got my useless EU-flag certificate, and a stack of rapid tests saying I’ve been healthy and virus-free on Greek territory for weeks.
She scans my documents. Bleep, blorp.
“But it says right there that I’m covid-free.”
“Invalid certificate. Does not scan.”
“Should we find a better restaurant?”
“Does not scan!”
Long story short: we found a better restaurant.
So that’s Greece! All in all, I’d recommend it. If you’re a history buff (or a fan of heavy foods) it’s great. Just be prepared for some fun with QR codes.
Still covid-freely yours,
P.S. I guess I should clarify: most of the time, the weather was good, and we were eating outside. And most places where we ate inside weren’t being total buttholes about the certificates. It was just a couple of times that it was an issue. Also, my favorite restaurant, out of all we tried, is called Ατίταμος, and it’s here.
P.P.S. Just a question for those who (inevitably) will respond poorly to my remarks about the stupidity of vaccine fascism: When you were growing up, did you always dream of being a brainless shill for big Pharma? Or did you decide to become one later in life? Please answer in the comments. Thanks!