Anastasia Gaitanou is an important member of our Athens & the Heart of Greece tour team. A native of Greece, she has led tours throughout her country — from Crete to Corfu to Thessaloniki. With her multiple interests and talents, she easily lives up to the expectations that a name like Anastasia must generate — and she's a rock star on our tours.
You have a beautiful name! Is there a Greek meaning to it?
Thank you! Its origin is Greek and derives from the word ανίσταμαι (anistame) which means to resurrect. That's part of what I do in my job: resurrect the past!
Tell us about your background.
I was born and raised in Thessaloniki, in northern Greece. My grandparents came to Greece after the last Greek-Turkish war in 1922. My maternal grandfather was from Constantinople, today's Istanbul, while my grandmother came from Alexandria in Egypt. On my father's side, my grandparents came from Smyrna, today's Izmir. So, as you understand, I am quite a mixture! I suppose that is why I enjoy traveling so much and getting to know other people, countries, and civilizations. I also love reading, about almost everything, and going to the movies, and dancing, cooking, hiking…
You have been a professional guide for many years, and you've led Rick Steves tours since 2010. Has anything surprised you about our tours?
I've been guiding in Greece for 18 years now. I have guided a lot of different kinds of trips and itineraries, also different nationalities. One of the great things about the Rick Steves groups is their size that makes them a lot more flexible. It really helps you get to places — like a meal in a small seafood taverna beside a village harbor, which you wouldn't be able to do with a group of 40 or so. But what I like the most is that the Rick Steves trips give me as a guide the opportunity to help my guests not just discover my country, but really experience it. Be a part of its life for two weeks, do what locals do, go to places to which locals go, eat local cuisine, and see places that others usually never visit. As Rick says, traveling changes people. And the people on his tours embrace that. They are travelers who do not want to just take pretty pictures, but people who understand, appreciate and are eager to know what other cultures have to offer. Honestly — guiding and teaching them is a delight!
Many of our tour members, once their tour is finished in Athens, continue on to visit islands such as Santorini, Mykonos, and Crete. Do you have a favorite?
All of them! Each has its own beauty and every group of islands is different than the other. But one that definitely stands out for me is Santorini. It is a volcanic landscape of unique beauty. The caldera view is breathtaking and the little white houses with the blue doors and windows between the low vineyards of the island complete the picturesque scenery. Hydra is also a very beautiful, picturesque island on which no cars are allowed. Watch the old movie, "Boy on a Dolphin," before you go and you will understand what I am talking about. But I think I should also mention two beautiful, green islands of the Aegean Sea, covered with pine trees, wonderful little towns, narrow winding roads, and open-hearted people: Skiathos and Skopelos — also known as "the Mamma Mia islands" since the movie was filmed there.
Is there one historical site that Americans probably know little about but should try to include on their next trip to Greece?
In northern Greece — not far from where I live — is the archaeological site of Vergina. It is a complex of four tombs, two of them never looted. One of them is the tomb of Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great and king of the Ancient Kingdom of Macedonia. It is the world's second richest unlooted tomb, after that of King Tutankhamen in Egypt. The tomb and its contents are exhibited in a sophisticated building, with dim lighting that emphasizes the fact that it is a monument connecting our world to the underworld. Of course, this also helps display the exhibits in a marvelous way, like the 17-pound Golden Larnax, the biggest gold-crafted wreath of the ancient world. It is a world class monument that no one should miss.
For the past couple of years about the only news that Americans have gotten about Greece has been about the country's economic woes. How has your life been impacted?
It is a pity that sometimes the news can be so intimidating. Of course there are financial problems in Greece, but it is a wonderful country to visit and there is so much to see that isn't on the TV news. Most importantly, there are open-hearted people throughout the land, who proudly keep the tradition of our famous Greek hospitality.
Here's what Anastasia won't tell you…but her tour members will:
"For me, Anastasia made the tour! What an amazing person! She was extremely knowledgeable, always positive and upbeat. Her outlook on life in general was so refreshing. She was a fantastic leader and guide! Can you clone her?"
— Gail in Portland, OR
"Anastasia was a terrific tour leader. She was enthusiastic and always had a surprise for us. She kept the tour magical. She obviously loves what she does."
— Michael in Brentwood, CA