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GREECE – GENERAL INFORMATION

   
                      Fig.1 – Greece Flag

GEOGRAPHY

The peninsula that constitutes mainland Greece is surrounded by more than 1400 islands, of which 169 are inhabited. The islands are divided into 6 groups: the Cyclades, the Ionians, the Dodecanese, the islands of the Northeastern Aegean, the Sporades and the Saronic Gulf islands. The two largest islands, Crete and Evia, do not belong to any group. Roughly four-fifths of Greece is mountainous, with most land lying over 4920ft above sea level. Epiros and Macedonia, in northern Greece, still have extensive forests, but goat grazing, felling and forest fires have seriously denuded the rest of the country. Greece is endowed with a spectacular richness of flora – over 6,000 species, some of which occur nowhere else, including more than 100 varieties of orchid. In spring, the Peloponnese and the mountains of Crete explode with the country’s best show of wildflowers, including crocuses, anemones, irises, poppies, lilies, rock roses and cyclamens. Herbs, too, grow wild all over the Greek countryside – follow your nose and you’ll find yourself standing knee-deep in wild oregano, basil and thyme. Greece lies at the southern extremity of the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe. To the north, it has borders with Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria, and to the east it borders Turkey.

HISTORY

Credit: Central Intelligence Agency

The birthplace of ancient civilisation has had to deal with some very modern problems recently. Georgios Papandreou has faced an unprecedented financial crisis since becoming Prime Minister in October 2009, leading the Panhellenic socialist movement party (PASOK) to victory, and for many Greeks the heady days of hosting the Olympic Games in 2004 must seem like another age. While in recent times Greece may have been reliant on its neighbours for assistance, for much of its history it has been very much in the ascendency. The Mycenaeans were the first Greek speaking tribes to arrive in Greece between 1900 and 1600 BC. At once time Greek Civilisation stretched from Egypt to the Hindu Kush of Pakistan and Greek minorities can still be found in many of the locations over which it used to preside. The routes of Greece’s conflict with Turkey go back to the Byzantine and Ottoman eras. However, Greece’s support of Turkey’s recent attempts to join the EU may signal a new period of relations between the two countries.

THE PEOPLE

The majority of people in Greece are of Greek heritage with small populations of Turks, Bulgarians and other Europeans.

SOCIAL CONVENTIONS

Greeks are very aware of their strong historical and cultural heritage. Traditions and customs differ throughout Greece, but overall a strong sense of unity prevails. The Greek Orthodox Church has a strong traditional influence on the Greek way of life, especially in more rural areas. The throwing back of the head is a negative gesture. Dress is generally casual. Smoking is prohibited on public transport and in public buildings.

LANGUAGES

Greek is the official language but limited English is generally spoken.

GOVERNMENT

Republic.

TIME ZONE

Local time is GMT +2 hours.
ELECTRICITY

The standard in Greece is 230V AC (50Hz). Appliances from North America require a transformer and British ones an adaptor.

CLIMATE

Conditions are perfect between Easter and mid-June – beaches and ancient sites are relatively uncrowded; public transport operates on close to full schedules.  Conditions are once more ideal from the end of August until mid-October, as the season winds down. During winter most of the small cities goes into hibernation from the middle of October till the beginning of April. This is slowly changing, however; on the most touristy islands, a few restaurants, hotels and bars remain open year-round.

Clothes to Wear:

Lightweight clothes during summer months, including protection from the midday sun. Light sweaters are needed for evenings. Waterproofs are advised for autumn. Winter months can be quite cold, especially in the northern mainland, so normal winter wear will be required.

LOGISTICAL

Entry & Exit Requirements:

Greece is a party to the Schengen agreement.  As such, U.S. citizens may enter Greece for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa.  The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay.  For entry requirements, travelers should contact the Embassy of Greece at 2221 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 Tel: (202) 939-5800, or Greek consulates in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Tampa, New York, and San Francisco, and Greek embassies and consulates around the world.

U.S. citizens traveling in Greece are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate at the Department of State’s travel registration page in order to obtain updated information on local travel and security.  U.S. citizens without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.  Registration is important; it allows the State Department to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency.

Embassy Locations:

S. Embassy in Greece
91 Vasilissis Sophias Boulevard
Tel: (30) (210) 721-2951
Emer. a/hours tel: (30) (210) 729-4444/4301
Fax: (30) (210) 724-5313

http://athens.usembassy.gov/

Embassy of Canada to Greece

4, Ioannou Ghennadiou Street,
115 21 Athens, Greece

Tel.: 30-210-7273400
Fax: 30-210-7273480

www.athens.gc.ca/

 Health:

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or via the CDC website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/topics/infectious_ diseases/en/. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.

 Banks & Currency:

Euro (EUR; symbol €) = 100 cents. Notes are in denominations of €500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. Coins are in denominations of €2, 1 and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 cents.

Foreign currency can be exchanged at all banks, savings banks and bureau de change. Exchange rates can fluctuate from one bank to another.

American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard, Visa and other major credit cards are widely accepted (although less so in petrol stations).

All major currencies are widely accepted and can be exchanged easily at banks. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travelers are advised to take traveler’s checks in US Dollars.

There are no restrictions on the import or export of local or foreign currency. However, amounts exceeding €10,000 or equivalent must be declared if travelling from or to a country outside the European Union.

Banking Hours: Mon-Thurs 8am-02:30pm, Fri 8am-2pm. Banks on the larger islands tend to stay open in the afternoon and some during the evening to offer currency exchange facilities during the tourist season.

Communication:

Country code: 30, followed by 210 for Athens, 2310 for Thessaloniki and 2810 for Heraklion (all area codes are prefixed with 2 and end with 0). Note that the area code is still used even when dialing from within that area, ie, when dialing an Athens number from Athens, the prefix 210 is still necessary.

Mobile phones: Roaming agreements exist with most international mobile phone companies. Coverage is excellent.

Internet cafes are available in the main cities, including Athens, Thessaloniki and the islands of Crete, Kos, Mykonos and Rhodes.

All letters, postcards, newspapers and periodicals will automatically be sent by airmail. Airmail to North America takes 6 days. Post office hours: Mon-Fri 07:30am-2pm, Sat 8am-2pm.

Cell Phone Usage:

Please contact your cell phone provider to determine whether your contract includes coverage in the country you are visiting. Depending on your contract you may have to add international services and/or country specific services.

ENTERTAINMENT

Food & Drink:

Restaurant and taverna food tends to be very simple, rarely involving sauces but with full use of local olive oil and charcoal grills. However, Athens and some of the more fashionable islands such as Santorini and Mykonos have seen the arrival of fusion cuisine and so-called modern taverna fare. Hours are normally 1200-1500 for lunch and 2000-2400 for dinner. Opening hours vary according to the region and local laws. Waiter service is usual.

National specialities:

  • Dolmades (stuffed vine leaves)
  • Moussaka (aubergine casserole with minced lamb, cinnamon, red wine and olive oil)
  • Kalamari (deep-fried rings of squid) or htapodia (octopus)
  • Souvlaki (spit-roasted meat, generally pork or chicken)
  • Horiatiki (Greek salad: feta cheese, tomato, cucumber and fresh olive oil).

National drinks:

  • Retsina (wine made with pine-needle resin)
  • Ouzo (an aniseed-based clear spirit to which water is added)
  • Raki (a sharp and fiery spirit made from distilled grapes)
  • Greek coffee (thick and strong, and sugared according to taste).

Nightlife:

Greece’s nightlife is centred in main towns and resorts with late-night bars, dance clubs and live concerts. Athens’ nightlife is among the best in Europe, with many local tavernas, particularly in the Plaka area, and ouzeris (typical Greek bars), plus a plethora of trendy bars and small clubs in the fashionable night-time districts of Psirri and Gazi playing international music. In summer, many of the big clubs move out of the centre to the beaches at Voula, Vouliagmeni and Varkiza. Nightclubs featuring live Greek bouzouki music are extremely popular. Through summer, the islands of Mykonos and Santorini are also noted for their exceptionally glamorous and up-market nightlife, while Corfu, Zakynthos (Zante), Rhodes and Ios attract youngsters in search of cheap alcohol and late-night discos. Greece has some casinos, such as the Mount Parnes Casino in Athens, the Casino Achillieon in Corfu and the Casino at the Grande Albergo delle Rose in Rhodes. Regular concerts and evening shows are held at the second-century AD Odeon of Herodes in Athens during the Hellenic Festival (Jun-Sep).

Shopping:

Special purchases include lace, jewellery, metalwork, pottery, knitwear, rugs, leather goods, local wines and spirits. Athens is the centre for luxury goods and local handicrafts. The Sunday morning flea market in Monastiraki, below the Acropolis, is crowded in high season. Regional specialities include silver from Ioannina; ceramics from Sifnos and Skopelos; embroidery and lace from Crete, the Ionian Islands, Rhodes and Skiros; alabaster from Crete; and flokati rugs from the Epirus region.

Shopping hours: These vary according to the season, location and type of shop, but a rough guide follows: Mon, Wed, and Sat 9am-02:30pm, Tues, Thurs and Fri 9am-02:30pm and 05:30pm-08:30pm. Most holiday resort shops stay open until late in the evening.

Note: (a) Visitors should be aware that many ‘antiques’ sold to tourists are fake; information on exporting antiques can be found at www.law-archaeology.gr (b) Non-EU citizens can get a refund on Greek VAT (which stands at 23%) on purchases worth more than €120; the process is fairly complex, but well worth it. Ask store owners and tourist information offices for details.

BAGGAGE

Baggage rules for international and domestic air travel have changed much in recent years, differ from carrier to carrier and these days even may cover your on-board bags. Checking luggage may cost a separate fee or may be free depending on your personal status with the carrier. We therefore encourage you to read your ticket’s small print and/or contact your carrier for exact rules.

TIPPING

In restaurants the service charge is included in the bill but it is the custom to leave a small amount; rounding up the bill is usually sufficient. Likewise for taxis – a small gratuity is appreciated.

LAUNDRY

Laundry service is available at most hotels in the main centers. Generally you should allow about 24-hours before the item is returned to you, however, some have an emergency service available at an extra charge.

PHOTOS & VIDEOS

In some countries you must refrain from photographing sites such as Military bases and industrial installations. Also be aware of cultural sensitivities when taking pictures of or near churches and other religious sites. It is always courteous to ask for permission before taking photographs of people.

USE OF DRONES 
The use of drones is being legislated by many countries. In some cases drones are already forbidden and their unauthorized use may carry severe penalties. If you plan to travel with a drone please contact the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit.

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