The picturesque home of western thought, the Greek islands have a well-documented and impressive history. Names like Socrates, Aesop and Pythagoras are all common in the classroom but there are many things about Greece that you may not know. Millions of people visit every year in search of the mythical architecture and sheer cliffs of legend, as well as discovering the white beaches for a bit of extra summer sun.

But what else is there to these sunny isles that you didn’t learn at school?

Geography

One common misconception is that Greece is one land mass or just a few islands when in fact it is made up of more than 2,000, including the popular destinations of Crete, Rhodes and Corfu.  Many of those islands are part of the Pindus mountain range that stretches underneath the Aegean sea. In fact, Greece is one of the most mountainous countries in Europe.

Climate

Out of the 356 days every year Greece gets 250 full of warmth and Mediterranean sunshine. This makes Greece the perfect destination whether it’s for a summer break or winter escape. It is also interesting to note, however, that the Greek islands span three climatic types, including alpine, temperate and, of course, Mediterranean.

History

Greek history is perhaps the most studied in the world so it follows that much of it is commonly known.

However, did you know that toasting before a drink was first appropriated by the ancient Greeks, with the host taking a sip of wine and ceremonially ensuring his guests that the alcohol was not poisoned.

A great place to honor this ancient tradition is the The Queen of Mykonos, where you can toast in the night before heading out into the nightlife of Chora.

Commerce

The architectural beauty and significance of Athens is taught in just about every school in the western world, but what many don’t mention is the wonderful markets that still exist.

One of the most popular is Monastiraki in the old town of Greece’s capital city. This flea market, located in Avissynias Square, sells everything from cheap trinkets to expensive local paintings.

There are also quite a few vintage shops in the area that offer a glimpse into the past fashions and more recent history of this historic city.

Architecture

The Parthenon and Acropolis are covered so densely that even they can become somehow monotonous.  What we seldom hear about are the everyday structures on all of the islands.

Throughout Greece you will find the domed roofs painted in all shades of blue, a trend rooted in the ancient idea that it keeps evil away.

In many Greek cities the windowsills, doors and almost everything apart from the white walls are the colour of the sea, a mosaic of buildings mirroring the national flag.

The stepped houses of Santorini are a fine example of this; cyan and salt white terracing down towards the sea.

At the water’s edge the sand is black in Santorini’s city of Perissa, where you will also find the inexpensive Hotel Katerina and John.

Here the cost of night’s stay is usually less than €10 and John will even pick you up from the ferry port or airport if you book a private room for more than 3 days.

The hotel also lets you order scooters although it may be a better bet to rent a car if you fancy discovering the other islands with no time or distance limitations.

Ornithology

Having a hire car, for example, will allow you to head over to Lake Kerkini and see the Great Flamingos, Dalmation Pelicans and, if you’re lucky, the Spotted Eagles.

There are actually more than 100,000 birds that choose to migrate to Greece for winter, arriving mainly from colder climates in Asia and Northern Europe. Amazingly, there are also more than 116 species of mammals in Greece, including the bottlenose and rough toothed dolphin species.

Food

The main thing those dolphins are interested in is where the best place to get fish is, and it’s safe to say that many of us have the same kind of priorities when visiting the Mediterranean.

Not far from Athens is the port town of Piraeus and the answer to this multi-specie question. The seafood here has been celebrated since the 5th century BC, which is unsurprising since most of the country’s catch comes through the port.

The secret to Piraeus is to ignore the main Mikrolimano tourist center and head further into town.  In the Hatzikyriakeio district you will find the Ilias restaurant and some amazing dishes that are a bit cheaper than the places closer to the port. Here they serve up fresh crayfish, crisped in the pan with breadcrumbs to what must be pretty close to perfection.

Sociology

Around 40 percent of the humans in Greece live in the capital city of Athens. This means that there are lots of things to do and lots of people to do it with (almost 4 million) in one of the world’s oldest cities.

A good place to start is the rooftop bar at A for Athens where you can look over at the Acropolis with a drink in hand.

If you prefer modern things then check out Technopolis, a refurbished processing plant that is an industrial museum by day and an outdoor DJ arena by night.

A more serene scene can be found at the National Gardens in central Athens, which is home to a duck pond, botanical museum and 38 acres of greenery.   American literary giant Henry Miller said of the park “It remains in my memory like no other park I have known.”  Every book Miller wrote was at some point banned so if this place can capture his imagination…

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