Hi from Rick: Seeing True Grit in Greece
|The wildfire stopped at the very edge of Olympia's historic ruins and museum.|
I'm in Greece today. Anne and I are enjoying a couple of get-away weeks — as tour members on one of our Best of Athens and the Heart of Greece tours. Any trip to Greece is an eye-opening experience. But I've never taken one through a fire zone before.
When fires swept across the western Peloponnese a month ago, I was still back in Seattle. As soon as we saw what was happening in Greece, my key staff people and I huddled at my desk to figure out how we as a tour company should react to the horrible fires. After a flurry of calls to our guides and local hotels, we diverted September's first pair of tours away from that part of the Peloponnese...and hoped/assumed things would get under control for later departures.
That "later departure" is the tour I'm on now. For lunch just the other day, our group sat on a chalet-like balcony deep in the mountains of the Peloponnese, with a vast view of what should have been a green forest. All was brown, parched and burnt off. The family serving us clearly appreciated us putting up with the smell of wet ashes to enjoy their cooking and hospitality.
Driving through the charred wasteland, our lunch at the family-run hotel (which we were told was saved only by its swimming pool), and wandering under hills of blackened trees as we explored the ruins of Olympia, have been poignant parts of our tour. I can feel the depth of the local heartache only indirectly...by the wide-eyed look of concern and sadness of our bus driver, George.
The Greeks are positive about their recovery. They recall that the island of Poros had a big fire five years ago. While pine trees take many years to grow back, today the olive trees of Poros are green and making olives again.
The bottom line for travelers: Greece's fires are old news, and locals — so reliant on tourism — need the business. Other than a few bleak drives through burnt landscape, there is no real impact from the fires on anything a tourist might want to see or do. In fact, the only major tourist attraction directly impacted was the site of the ancient Olympic Games. While the trees around its fine museum are blackened, the museum itself was saved.
This visit to Greece has reminded me that travel isn't just a getaway — it's getting in touch with the world as it is. This trip has been as enjoyable as any, but with added layers of meaning that I'll never forget.
To hear more about my travels and discoveries this year, check out my ongoing blog in this month's Travel News. You'll also find fresh articles about many of my favorite destinations, from Rothenburg to Amsterdam and beyond. You can even give your travel I.Q a test with our latest photo quiz.
Thanks for traveling along with us.