Our Perspective

My Week in Greece

by: Carl Santos-Ocampo
published on: 08/05/2015

Much Anticipated

Long before the trip to Greece on July 11-19, 2015 with Joanna and Migo ever happened, this vacation had been carefully planned out for almost two years. The thought of traveling to this faraway place began when Migo, one of my best friends, told our group that his parents will be assigned to Athens. Once we got all the clearance from our employers and Migo set aside time from the pro golf tour, we had all booked our tickets.

A Trip Well Planned

The slogan of Raymond James, "Life Well Planned" continued to resonate with me despite being so far away from the office that week. Joanna, being the meticulous planner that she is, came up with a whole spreadsheet detailing our daily activities. The schedule she proposed seemed quite overwhelming at first. I mean, most people on vacation would prefer to lounge around and not have anything do with a schedule. On the flipside, Migo and I felt a sense of assurance that Joanna would be our "Trip Advisor" throughout the journey and all would be taken care of. Much of the sites and cities listed on the itinerary: "Plaka, Acropolis, Santorini, Fira, Akrotini" read like gibberish before visiting but after experiencing it all during that week, these places now hold much historical significance and serve as treasured personal memories beyond I could have ever imagined.

Greek Cuisine

I arrived in Athens on a Saturday evening with a warm reception from Migo and Joanna. Even though we had not seen each other for several months, we easily picked up right where we left off as good friends do. The very next day, I experienced my first authentic Greek meal with Migo's family. The delights included: Greek salad, pita bread, tzatziki (dip combining yogurt, cucumber, and garlic), grilled feta cheese, sausages, kebabs, souvlaki (anything grilled on a skewer), loukoumades (similar to doughnuts – fried balls drenched in honey and sprinkled with cinnamon). This delicious lunch with the family was the beginning of a steady diet of Greek food throughout the trip. We were hooked immediately! Not once did we attempt to find anything other than the local cuisine.

Tourist Mode in Athens

Falling in love with the food was just the beginning. We went on full tourist mode and visited a number of hot spots in Athens beginning with the Monastiraki flea market where we loaded up on souvenirs for friends and family. Here, we quickly saw what Greek hospitality was all about. Very caring and genuine people. Strangers calling you by phrases like, "hello my friend" (If you can imagine it said with a Greek accent). All very approachable people willing to provide you help or service with a smile.

The following day's activity included the must see destinations in Athens. A 6 hour walking tour around the heart of the city. We began at Syntagma Station then to the Greek Parliament House, and through the city visiting landmarks such as the Temple of Zeus, and finally ending at the Acropolis of Athens where at the top of it, the Parthenon. Our tour guide named Costas who was knowledgeable, energetic, and most of all, passionate about his country provided an excellent tour explaining the historical facts and Greek mythology. When we all was said and done, we left as though we were young scholars infused with a great appreciation for the Greek civilization past and present.

Beloved Santorini

Then there was the awe inspiring majestic paradise of Santorini - a jaw dropping scenery of the Aegean sea from any angle and natural beauty unlike any other. It's a haven for the romantics as well as the free spirited souls who chase the idea "wanderlust". Throughout the trip, we met travelers from all over the world: Costa Rica, Brazil, different parts of the United States, Australia, Canada and Asia. All of whom were there for the same reason we were: to soak in the splendor and vibrant character the island exudes.

Apart from the ATV quadbike adventures through Megalochori, the lighthouse, the ancient ruins of Akrotiri, Kamari beach, Profitis Ilias Monastary, Fira, and Oia, one distinct activity stood out: Santorini Sailing. This sunset excursion on a 62 foot sailboat catamaran called the "Dreamcatcher" truly whisked us away into dreamland that afternoon. Migo and I joked around and voiced our tagline, "the good life" as we lay on the net of the boat, soft sound of waves crashing underneath, sun glistening on our already tanned skin, and a view of the Santorini white and blue architecture a couple hundred feet above the sea level. In addition to the 3 swimming points along the coast and the tasty food that was served for dinner, the entire experience was literally too good to be true!

Weak Euro

As a tourist, it was the perfect time to travel to Europe, especially to Greece where businesses and citizens have been desperately in need of cash. In mid 2008, the Euro hit an all time high of 1 Euro = to 1.57 USD. Contrast that to the present where 1 Euro = 1.1 USD with the Euro being a much weaker currency, hence, the higher purchasing power of international travelers. Never could I have imagined Europe to be this affordable. We constantly dined in restaurants where the cost of the meal was around 5 euro per person, essentially well, 5 U.S. dollars. The success of the tourism industry in Greece is a shining light quite necessary in its rather dim and struggling economy.

Financial Crisis

We have all seen Greece being the center of attention in the international press in recent weeks. All eyes focused around how the country will proceed after defaulting on its debt. Being in Greece during these rocky financial times, I had the privilege of asking its citizens about how they viewed the situation. To my surprise, all were rather nonchalant about the entire deal. Costas, our tour guide said, "we are used to the financial crisis, it has been like this for years, but we manage." You may think from the international press that Greece would be in shambles by now, citizens depressed, on edge, and on the verge on revolution. But what I noticed is rather different: the citizens of this country sure do it "The Greek Way" – carefree, peaceful, and accepting of their fate.

Besides, the common citizen is used to the cash based society they live in. Virtually none are invested in the stock market that has seen over an 80% loss of its value since it began its decline in 2008. As another impending bailout looms on the horizon, taxes will go up, pensions will be cut, but to the Greeks, they understand and accept that life goes on. Minimal uprising and a genuine appreciation for life despite its challenges are qualities of the Greeks that ought to be emulated in other first world societies where the slightest deficiencies cause immediate outrage and panic. Besides, what's a mere blip in the economy over the past few years in a modern civilization that has otherwise spanned thousands of years and has lasted the test of time? The Greeks are proud of their culture and heritage and that will never change.

Friendship Forever

This time around, Joanna, Migo, and I had the privilege of traveling to such an exotic destination of Athens and Santorini over the past week. We will look back at this trip 10, 20, 30 years from now and no doubt we will still be in awe of Greece and how we all got to travel together at that one point in time. But the truth of the matter is, when you spend time with your best buds, it really doesn't matter what you do or where you go. Happiness was real because we got to share it with one another and for that, I will always be grateful for our true friendship.

Takeaway

After the trip, I would realize that having a well thought out plan was not only more effective - it ultimately allowed us to have a more enjoyable experience as we were able to hit all our destinations and never worry about the little things because we had it all covered. At the office, we are constantly seeking to add value in the planning process. In golf, I am always thinking of strategy, club selection and how to play the shot. Joanna has proven to us on this trip that the way to go is to have a LIFE WELL Planned.


“You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.”– Albert Einstein

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