2011-08-28

Tips on tipping in Greece

I have written about restaurant tipping before but it was buried under another post, so I decided to make it a separate, more complete post with all the information concerning tipping in Greece (in restaurants, taxis, and anywhere else I may think of). I have also adjusted the indicative amounts a bit higher, to compensate for my cheapskate nature:) If you believe I have left something out let me know and I shall respond within the day.

Tipping in restaurants in Greece
1. Most often you just leave the tip on the table, unless your bill is brought in a leather or paper pocket, in which case you may leave the tip inside the pocket. In some countries (e.g. Germany) leaving money on the table is considered rude but in Greece this is standard practice except for a select few, very high-end establishments, which will again just provide a leather pocket for your convenience. On the contrary, trying to put the money into the waiter's hand will probably be considered rude and patronizing (unless you are leaving a huge tip and you don't want others to see...)
2.Waiters' salary is typically (but not always) included in the restaurant's bill, by law, so people don't normally tip big like in the U.S. For the same reason, there are no set rules on what one is expected to tip. Follow the guidelines below and don't sweat it much.
3. For smaller bills (in cafeterias) you usually just round up (leaving at least something like 30 cents). E.g. If your bill is Euros 6.70 you leave 7.00; if it is 5.50 you leave 30 to 50 cents (for a total of 5.80 to 6.00 Euros). 
4. If the total is more than 10 Euros you may leave something close to 2%-8% of the bill. i..e. for a total bill of 50 Euros something ranging from 1 to 4 euros, so essentially you round up to the higher integer and add a  few Euros on top. These are approximations and will/should depend on the level of service you receive.
5. In all cases, the waiter should bring you back the exact change from whatever you gave and you will leave the money on the table yourselves, afterwards. If you pay by credit card you may not be asked to write the tip on the credit card paper so you should again leave what you want on the table.
6. The bad news: Americans are known for being large tippers (since they carry the habit from back home) and may often be expected to tip more than Greeks. I don't know what tip is "expected" of people from other western countries but I bet it is somewhere between Greeks' and Americans' tips.
7. The good news: Since Americans (and perhaps most Western visitors) are expected to tip bigger than Greeks or Eastern Europeans, they usually receive better service and the occasional fleeting smile :) In this blog, I try to present restaurants that have a good level of service or -at least- a very good level of food to compensate for potentially average service.

Tipping in taxis in Greece
Overall, tipping is not expected by taxi-drivers but it is not denied either (Quite often, taxi-drivers are not the owners of the vehicle themselves so they may just be employees but you have no way of checking that out). My father-in-law is one of the few persons I know who occasionally "tips" taxi-drivers, that is, he just rounds up the amount to the higher integer.
Make sure you don't "tip" the taxi-driver unwillingly! During the day (05:00am-11:59pm) and within town limits you should be charged by Tariff 1 (lower tariff). A small "1" should appear in the running meter next to the running amount of the charge. There are some extra, mandatory charges, which are not considered tipping: charge for heavy baggage (>10kgs/piece), for calls/appointments and when departing from airports, ports, bus stations, rail stations or towards airports.

Tipping bus-tour companions or guides
Again, this should depend on each company's own rules. It's been a long time since I've been in a bus-tour inside Greece but from what I remember people always, voluntarily, collected a certain sum, gathering change from participants, and gave it to the tour guide or companion at the end of the day if they were happy with the services received.

Tipping in theaters
In the rare occasion you are going to watch a theatrical play: In most old-style theatres, ushers usually expect a couple of Euros as tip. A most distasteful habit I think, but the theater managers are the ones to blame for this. In most new / modern theaters such tipping is not expected or accepted as ushers are normally paid by management. What constitutes an old-style theatre? Hmmm... Perhaps one with oddly numbered seats, where you need ushers, who in return expect a tip?
Tipping in plays of the Greek Festival (i.e. Epidaurus Theatre and Herodes Atticus Theatre) is not permitted.

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2011-08-21

Impressions from the Numismatic Museum of Athens

I had often heard of the Numismatic Museum in Athens (dedicated to the study of coins and money) but I had never felt the urge to walk inside it till now. I like money as much as the next person but the thought of a museum about coins brought one word to my mind: Boring! So, what finally got me to enter the Museum was not the collection itself (even though that turned out to be interesting as well) but the Museum’s garden and cafeteria, together with a guided tour of the building that houses the Numismatic Museum, kindly arranged by the Museum’s staff as a means of drawing more visitors.

A secret corner
My first approach to the Museum (within breathing distance…) was via a very tasty milkshake I enjoyed at the beautiful garden found at the side and back of the building! I’ve been here 2-3 times, this year, and can attest to the cafeteria’s overall good quality. Surrounded by an abandoned old building, offices, blocks of flats, the back of the museum building and lush greenery, the back yard is your archetypical “hidden corner”. An ideal place to take a pause while walking in Athens, hidden from the hustle of the city even though you can still hear the noise as it’s located right at the city center. On special occasions, live concerts are held here in the evening.


The garden and cafeteria of the Numismatic Museum

Iliou Melathron (i.e. the Palace of Troy)
The ground floor of the building housing the numismatic museum is kind of inconspicuous from the outside, and as people walk hurriedly up and down Panepistimiou St. they tend not to notice it, except for its… unusually themed iron gates (more on that below). 

Swastikas in the iron gates of the museum?

The Numismatic Museum of Athens has only been housed here for the last 13 years or so. The building was originally constructed in 1878-80 and used as the residence of German speculator/merchant-turned-archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann, associated with the discovery of the ancient cities of Troy and Mycynae. Schliemann commissioned the building of the residence to Ernst Ziller, noted German-Greek architect whose works can be found all over 19th century Greece and stand out to this day. The building, named Iliou Melathron (Palace of Troy) was an exquisite one for its age, employing many state of the art techniques such as the presence of a ventilation system, the innovative use of window-shades, the installation of gas heating and the use of passive fire protection measures. 
From an artistic point it shines even more and is a reason in itself to visit the museum. Wooden door frames were painted to look as if they were made of marble, ceilings and walls feature paintings by Slovenian painter Jurij Subic, floors are adorned with mosaics created by Italian artisans, in themes borrowed by ancient Greek ornaments and symbols while furniture crafted by Ziller himself holds, even today, part of Schliemann’s coin collection (1st room to the right of entrance).


Ceiling painting, over the dining room of the Schliemann residence - Iliou Melathron. A servant was charged with reciting passages from Homer's works during dinner time while Schliemann lived here!


NOT a portrait of Freddie Mercury! Coin collector and donor Nikolaos Zosimas, by  Greek painter Nikiforos Lytras.

Floor mosaic with right and left facing swastikas
Parenthesis: 
Our guide-host deliberately avoided calling this decorative symbol by its tainted name. In ancient Greece it was called gammadion, tetra-gammadion or tetra-skelion. This is a symbol found in many ancient civilizations, representing the sun, eternity, well-being, a lucky charm, a comet or other things, depending on each civilization and the interpretation given by modern day scholars. It still has a religious meaning for Hindus and Buddhists. Schliemann's archaeological discoveries might have helped popularize it in Germany only to have it usurped by the Nazis.
End of parenthesis.

The ground floor, which now houses the museum’s offices, used to be the servants quarters and auxiliary rooms, while the 1st floor was dedicated to social gatherings and the 2nd floor housed the family’s private quarters. The roof-terrace, which is still closed to the public, and the garden featured a number of copies of ancient Greek statues.


Statue of Artemis(?) at the garden of the Numismatic Museum, Athens
In 1926 the mansion was sold to the Greek State which abused it by housing the Greek Supreme Court (and lower courts) in its premises from 1929 till 1983. If you ever find yourselves inside a Greek court you’ll probably understand what I mean… The extensive restoration programme that followed was finished in 2003. 

The Numismatic Museum has been in operation since 1834, that is almost since the founding of the modern Greek State, but was only transferred into this building in 1998 (the permanent collection at the 1st floor) and 2003 (temporary exhibitions, library and offices at the rest of the building). 

Among the shiny coins and informative signs and displays you will most certainly find some exhibits of interest to you, even if you are no coin or medal specialist or collector. 
Hoards of ancient coins are displayed in the Numismatic Museum


A beer stein (to the right) adorned with encased coins


A piggy bank in the Numismatic Museum! Who would have guessed...? :)
Coins, medals and other exhibits from ancient to modern times, from Greece to Japan, to the Byzantine Empire and the EU are on display here!


A display of medals given at the 19th century "Zappas' Olympics" and the 1906 Intercalated Olympics, hosted in Athens' Panathinaiko Stadium.

Address: 12 Panepistimiou St. (a.k.a. Eleftheriou Venizelou St.), Athens [Syntagma Metro Station]
Opening Hours: Museum: Tue-Sun 08:00-20:00. Mon:13:30-20:00. Cafeteria: Mon-Sat: 09:00-23:00, Sun: 09:00-15:00.
Ticket Prices: 3€. Reduced admission of 2€ for >65 and non-EU students. Free for EU students and <19.
Closed on: Jan. 1, Mar.25, Orthodox Easter Sunday, May 1, Dec. 25-26,
Photography: You are allowed to take non-flash pictures, even though the stares of guards will follow you closely...
Accessibility: An elevator provides access to handicapped visitors and there's an accessible WC on the 2nd floor.
Entrance Ticket for the Numismatic Museum, Athens

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2011-08-12

Practical Advice for walking in Athens

Yes, we all know how to walk, but walking in Athens can be much more pleasant if you follow these few pieces of practical advice. Whether you take a walking tour or simply venture out on your own (perhaps to sites and walks described in this blog) mind the following and you’ll be much better off:

1) Carry a bottle of water. Plastic water bottles can be found in every kiosk, supermarket and mini-market but you’ll be better off carrying some water with you in advance, especially if you go to a park or archaeological site or if it’s a Sunday with most stores closed. Many shops, including kiosks, close for many days in August and with temperatures hovering around 40°C (100°F) the risk of dehydration is just around the corner. To be eco-friendly you may carry a heat-resistant, reusable bottle you can fill yourselves.

2) Apply sun-screen before leaving your hotel. You don’t need a nasty sun-burn to spoil your vacation.

3) Wear a hat or cap. And don’t be ashamed of carrying a sun umbrella if you think the heat will wear you down. Even Greek women occasionally carry them these days. OK, I haven’t seen any guys sporting them yet.

4) Both for safety reasons and for making your walk more comfortable get a hidden waist wallet (a.k.a. waist pouch) that can go undetected under your shirt or a waist-pack, preferably a secure, slash-proof one for use in congested places or one with a bottle holder so your hands can be free to e.g. carry a camera. Make sure that the pockets stay at the front where you can see them. Alternative solutions like cross-body travel bags or "healthy back bags" may be even more comfortable but not quite as safe. If you are already in Athens and don't have one, shop in stores selling such gear near the mid-section of Panepistimiou St. (a.k.a. Eleftheriou Venizelou St.) at Athens center, inside the arcades.

5) Mind the pavement cracks and holes. These and various obstacles (like illegally parked cars and motorbikes) will force you to zig-zag quite often, especially if you venture out of the city center and its large sidewalks. With pavements like these it’s no accident it took 10 years for Ulysses to get back home… (just had to throw this in!)

6) Zebra tracks: Don’t assume drivers will stop before them. On the contrary, zebra tracks are both over-used (by street designers) and ignored (by drivers). Do as the traffic lights suggest and even so always look out for approaching traffic. Drivers often pass through the yellow / orange light. Greeks have a love-hate relationship with the traffic code, and your view will depend on which part of the world you’re coming from. If you come from Cairo or Beirut I think you’ll really appreciate our driving; if you come from Berlin or… Denver… Oh, dear!

7) Have a map with you, digital or paper one (but don't go out flashing your iPhone in a seedy neighborhood...). A map can be truly liberating, as it will allow you to venture out to neighborhoods that you might otherwise tend to avoid out of fear of “getting lost” (which is not a bad thing at all to do, in a foreign city).

8) Carry a couple of transport tickets, or a daily one (price 4Euros). Reason: same as above. With most buses starting, ending or passing through somewhere in the city center you can easily get yourselves back to familiar territory by riding a bus and thus you should feel more free to explore.

9) Last but not least! Avoid the infamous sandals-and-socks combination which is guaranteed to have you frowned upon by Greeks, from the youngest to the oldest and from the homeless to the nouveau-rich J

Follow the above and Athens should be open for you to explore and zig-zag through as long as your feet can handle it.


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2011-08-05

More pigs... This time at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens

People who haven't caught the pig collection virus may think that this is a bit too much. First I write about pigs at the Acropolis Museum and now it’s pigs at the National Archaeological Museum? I could present this as another child-friendly post, bridging games and archaeology, but the truth is that the National Archaeological Museum is too big to go pig hunting in its halls! Make no mistake, us pig collectors may be a bit shy sharing our addiction with others (sympathetic ears are hard to find) but no matter how hard we try it always finds a way to creep in, even in the most unusual of circumstances. As there’s a big number of pig collectors in this world (more than you would guess…) and some of them will certainly come to Greece for vacation at some point this is not entirely self-centered. So, enjoy my discoveries of ancient, wild, pigs depicted in artifacts found in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens and get a small glimpse of the ancient treasures found there.

Ground Floor, Room 4 (third section)
The Tiryns Wall Paintings: The Akrotiri wall-paintings from the island of Santorini (found on the upper floor) may be more famous, but in the central hall (Room 4) of the ground floor, you will find two wall-paintings (at your right hand side) depicting a wild boar hunt, as the boar is being attacked by hunting dogs. The dogs look a bit pig-faced too if you ask me, but this may just be me.

Ground Floor, Room No. 5 (far end)
Further on at the ground floor (left hand side) you will find a Bronze Age (3rd century BC) piggy-bank shaped vase from Poliochni in the island of Lemnos (No.22 in its window).


Ground Floor, Room No. 10 (far end)
You will see a votive relief(*) depicting Heracles (aka Hercules) capturing and carrying the Erymanthian boar (one of the “twelve labours of Hercules” in ancient Greek mythology)


(*) [You will see the term votive offering many times in the museum: it means an object deposited in a sacred place to gain favor of supernatural forces]



Ground Floor, Room No. 28 (far left corner)
In this room, people gather around the bronze statue of a young man who is probably Paris holding the Golden Apple of Eris (Discord) but in the far left corner, behind the young man you will notice the remnant of a 4th century BC marble boar head, found in an ancient temple at Tegea, Arcadia, depicting the hunt for the Calydonian boar. I think I must have been the only one to ever take a picture of it! J And if the young man is indeed Paris with the golden apple then you have a pig and an apple in the same room… (If you’re too serious about ancient art you’ll have to forgive me…)



Ground Floor, Room No. 32
This same Calydonian boar is depicted in a very well preserved sarcophagus, from the 2nd century AD, together with the whole scene of its hunting. The marble sarcophagus was found near the city of Patra in western Greece. BTW, if you are into gory and morbid subjects the –much smaller– Archeological Museum of Patra has a whole section on ancient death rituals with sarcophagi, tombs and the like…


Ground Floor, Room No. 36 (Metallurgy / Karapanos collection)
Part of a collection donated by 19th-20th century Greek politician Konstantinos Karapanos is an amazing “pair of lead jumping weights in the shape of a boar” (Kar. 855a, 855b), found in the ancient temple of Dodona, near the NW city of Ioannina.


Upper Floor, Room No. 55 (or 54) (ceramics collection)
There’s a really interesting 5th century BC small vase (lekythos) here, among myriads of others: A depiction of a tale from Odyssey: “Odysseus’ (a.k.a. Ulysses’) companions turned into swine” by the witch Circe (a.k.a. Kirke). The vase is in black – red colours, “from Boeotia” and painted “in the manner of the Bowdoin Painter” 480-470BC. (9685).






Of course, pigs (should I say boars?) are not the only animals or objects of interest to be depicted in ancient artifacts found in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, but for the rest you’ll have to go searching on your own. If you think I’m not taking ancient art seriously, that would only show you don’t know much about pigs :) [Update: ...and as I just found out, ancient Greek pigs are the subject of study of a University of Buffalo professor. Read on: Hog Wild in Athens B.C.E.! Role of Pigs in Social and Religious Life Provides Insights into Ancient Greece] As always, your comments are more than welcome!



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