10 Greek Islands To Visit During Shoulder Season

If you haven’t booked your summer vacation yet, don’t fret. While most people go away in June, July and August, a trip to the Greek Islands is actually a great destination in September and October. Visitors will still enjoy the beautiful, balmy weather and warm, azure waters while also getting away from the crowds and experiencing the destination in a more budget-friendly manner.

I got the chance to visit these beautiful islands last September. After hearing about how crowded the popular ones like Santorini, Ios and Mykonos were, I was surprised to experience the exact opposite. Not that it was completely empty, but you can visit popular sites without feeling like a sardine in a can. Additionally, while my friends who had gone in July had spent about $1,800 for a round trip flight from New York to Athens, I spent only $875 going in mid-September. Not only are flights cheaper, but accommodation and ferry tickets often are, as well. Many cruises also offer special discounts in September as they reposition their cruise season. Additionally, there are many worthwhile events to attend, and you can go without having to fight other travelers for ferry reservations.


Aside for the Halkidiki peninsula and the islands of Samothrαki and Thαssos, most of the Greek Islands are perfect to visit during shoulder season and will still cater to tourists. While each island has something special to offer, 10 that I highly recommend are Ios, Mykonos, Santorini, Paros, Naxos, Crete, Delos, Corfu, Rhodes and Skiathos.Santorini

Santorini is a pristine island, often visited by those who want a romantic getaway. Visiting the beautiful beaches, like Kamari Beach and Red Beach, is worthwhile, as well as seeing historical sites like Ancient Thira, an archaeological site from the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine eras and Ancient Akrotiri, a former Minoan outpost from the 16th century that was destroyed by a volcanic eruption. Additionally, you can attend the International Music Festival of Santorini in the first few weeks of September. This year’s event will be from September 2 to 16. Furthermore, 2012 will also offer the Santorini Bienniale, an art and culture event, which runs from now until the end of September.


Crete is an island with a lot to see and do. Some of the great beaches include Elafonissi, Falasarna and Preveli. If you don’t mind putting in a bit of effort, Balos Lagoon in the Kissamos area is difficult to get to, but well worth it for the crystal warm water, white sand and rugged beauty. If you like animals, Aquaworld Aquarium is a popular site, which can be visited until October 31. They have a large variety of marine species, and only take in animals that are in need of care. For a scenic experience visit Samaria Gorge National Park, often said to be one of the most beautiful national parks in Europe. In early September, you can attend the Labyrinth Musical Workshop with classes and events to learn about local and world music. Furthermore, in mid-October you can celebrate their annual Chestnut Festival, a fun day honoring the arrival of fall and chestnut-inspired foods.


While known as a wild party island, Ios calms down considerably by September. That’s not to say there isn’t nightlife – you’ll still be able to party and have fun – but it won’t be as crazy as when the backpackers arrive in the summer. For many, this is a blessing, as it offers a chance to explore the beauty of the island in a more peaceful manner. When I went, I stayed at Far Out, which has a hotel, bungalow and camping option literally right across from Mylopotas Beach. Ios is often touted as having the “Top 10 Beaches in Europe” when surveys are done, so exploring this and Maganari Beach is a must. Until mid-October, you’ll be able to enjoy water sports like windsurfing, waterskiing, wakeboarding, kneeboarding, kayaking, surfing, banana boats and tube rides. Other worthwhile activities include boutique shopping and admiring the whitewashed buildings in Chora, visiting the Venetian castle of Paleocastro and seeing Homer’s Tomb, the resting place of one of the greatest Greek poets in history.


This cosmopolitan destination is one of the most popular of all the Greek Islands, and for good reason. Because it tends to get overcrowded in the summer, visiting during shoulder season is a good idea. Visit the destination’s iconic windmills, stroll through the charming streets and get a cocktail in Little Venice, take in panoramic views from Armenistis Lighthouse, visit the Byzantine Church of Paraportiani and get educated at the Folklore Museum. And of course, a visit to one of the many beaches, like Panormos, a quiet beach with a mountain backdrop, Platis Gialos, a beach featuring calm water and a plethora of eateries and Elia, a clothing optional beach, is a great way to waste away the days in a beautiful setting. For a fun event, the Mykonos International Gay Film Festival will take place from September 10 to 16, 2012.


Paros is the second-largest island in the Cyclades, and features unique beaches, each of which has a different vibe. For example, Santa Maria has a Caribbean Island feel, while Kolymbithres Beach is unspoiled with unique rock formations, colorful water and no music or fancy lounge chairs to take away from the untouched feel. Other fun activities include visiting the first century Panayia Ekatondapiliani Cathedral, the old-world village of Lefkes and the Marathi Marble Quarries, which features a high-quality marble only found in Paros.


Naxos is the largest island of the Cyclades, with opportunities for relaxation, adventure, culture and history. If you want to experience true paradise, head to Plaka Beach. This isolated beach features fine white sand, turquoise waters, barely any wind and even a clothing-optional section. For those seeking adventure, head to Agios Prokopios Beach where you can partake in water sports or sign up for a snorkeling or diving trip to see marine life and shipwrecks. For a bit of history, check out the iconic Portara, a marble gate from sixth century B.C., on the islet of Palatia in Naxos Harbor. It is the sole remainder of a temple dedicated to Apollo. And, for great photo opportunities, the Castro, or old walled city, is elevated above the harbor, awarding excellent views. Check out evening concerts at the Venetian Museum from September 1-30.


According to mythology, Delos was the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, and there are many opportunities to explore this part of history. Visit the three temples of Apollo, the sacred lake where Apollo was born and The Alter of Dionysos. You’ll also get the chance to visit Cleopatra’s House, named after the two headless Cleopatra statues found inside. A theatre from the second to third century B.C., the Archeological Museum of Delos and the Avenue of Lions, a street from seventh century B.C., lined with ancient lion statues, are also worthwhile sites to check out.


Located in the Ionian islands, Corfu has a history of being controlled by foreign powers like the British and the Venetians. Its rich history combined with its natural beauty make this a destination for all types of travelers. Moreover, the rainy season doesn’t come until November, so those looking to go in September and October will still be able to enjoy the sunny weather. During a visit to Corfu, make sure to explore the various villages on the island. There is Nymphes, full of waterfalls and legends of bathing nymphs and Roda, a mix of traditional fishing village and modern tourism. Moreover, Lakones features 18th and 19th century homes and churches while Kynopiastes has old mansions from the 17th and 19th centuries, a 17th-century monastery, a marble church and a museum dedicated to the olive tree. For something historical and peaceful, the British Cemetery offers a tranquil garden, hundreds of British graves and over 200 years of history. And, of course, the many beaches can keep you occupied for hours. Wine lovers will be able to take part in the annual Arillas Wine Festival, happening from September 7-8.


One of the largest Greek Islands, visitors to Rhodes will experience beaches, a medieval town, archeological sites and a rich history that goes back to Neolithic times. This island often has more than 300 days of sunshine per year, making it a great destination even during shoulder season. Travelers love visiting Rhodes for the mix of sandy and rock beaches, all with different atmospheres. While Lindos is a sandy and trendy beach, Gennadi is a popular surf spot. Additionally, Faliraki is a mix of sand and rock and is the island’s only legal nude beach, although tanning in the nude is tolerated in some areas of Tsambika. For some adventure with stunning views, climb to the top of Mount Attavyros. The climb takes about two to three hours and will take you up 3,986 feet in elevation. Moreover, some historical sites of the island include the Acropolis of Lindos, the medieval fortress and city sites of Ancient Rhodes, the Church of Panagia and the Palace of Grand Master of Knights. Some events to check out include Timiou Stavrou, a Greek dancing festival taking place from September 13 to 14, and the religious festival of Aghios Loukas on October 17.


Part of the Sporades Islands, Skiathos is a mix of cosmopolitan luxury and medieval history. While the main strip is more loud and boisterous, the other areas feature great hikes and quiet retreats. For some medieval history, visit Kastro, which was the largest medieval town from the 12th century until 1830. It was built upon a cliff sticking out into the ocean at the north end of the island, and although today the site is mostly ruins, it still offers expansive views of Skiathos and its surroundings. For a bit of relaxation, head to the beach. A beautiful sandy beach that allows nudity is Banana, which is actually composed of three beaches – Little Banana, Nameless Banana and Big Banana. Moreover, Koukounaries is the most popular and thought to be the “best in the Aegean,” Kanapitsa is good for water sports and Asselinos is quiet and romantic. My personal favorite beach on the island, however, is Lalaria. It is only accessible by boat, and features gray marble pebbles, unworldly rock formations and crystal clear water you can see through even in the deep areas. From September 19 to 22, visitors can attend International Festival Burtzi Skiathos, a Mediterranean folklore festival.

[Images above via Big Stock and Jessie on a Journey; Gallery images via Big Stock]

Eerie Travel Coincidences Or Fate?

Do you believe in coincidences or do you think that everything happens for a reason? Nine years ago, my wife and I met an old man with a grizzly white beard in the lovely mountain village of Apiranthos on the island of Naxos, who offered to pose for a photo with my wife and a young Italian woman we were traveling with. He was so photogenic that I couldn’t resist the offer, but the old pervert also took advantage of the moment, by trying to reach around and grope the women’s breasts.

In June, we returned to the same village, by chance rather than by design, and when we arrived, we didn’t immediately place the groping incident to Apiranthos. We split up so I could take some photos of the village and, at one point, passed an old man with a long, gray beard who looked somewhat familiar. I took his photo and thought nothing more of it, until I showed my wife the photo later on, and she immediately recognized him.

“That’s the same pervert who groped me nine years ago!” she exclaimed.I searched for the old photos and could only find one shot, but sure enough, not only was it the same guy, but he was also wearing the same shirt and same hat. I don’t know, perhaps the guy has only one shirt and hat, and maybe he had barely moved from the spot we first saw him nine years before, but it seemed like a bizarre coincidence.

That is, until I typed the word Apiranthos into Google images and noticed that a Canadian guy had photographed the same guy in 2011, and someone else photographed him and submitted it in a photo contest earlier this year. I kept looking and found another, and another, and another. In each photograph, the guy is wearing the same shirt and hat.

This past winter, I experienced another déjà vu incident in another remote mountain hamlet, San Sebastian del Oeste, in the Mexican state of Jalisco. I photographed the same man, sitting in the same square two years in a row. But that incident didn’t surprise me as much, because in San Sebastian, pretty much everyone sits in the town’s lone square all day long, and only a year had elapsed between encounters.

Less than two weeks after the Apiranthos incident, we had an even stranger travel coincidence in London. Prior to our trip, I booked a room at a chain hotel called The Premier Inn near the Earl’s Court tube stop based upon some positive reviews I read online. I wasn’t searching for a specific neighborhood, I just wanted a place that was somewhat affordable and in a central neighborhood near a tube stop.

As soon as we walked into the hotel, we had a strange sense of déjà vu that we couldn’t understand because on our last visit to London, ten years ago, we stayed at a place called the Comfort Inn. Still, I couldn’t shake the sense that we’d been there before so I asked the young woman at the check in desk if the place had once been a Comfort Inn.

“It certainly was,” she said. “It became Premier Inn about five years ago.”

Ten years ago, we were in London on our honeymoon and had been assigned the Comfort Inn by chance, through priceline.com and then we returned, again by complete chance, for our anniversary, ten years later. Given the fact that there are nearly 2,000 hotels and B & B’s in London reviewed on Trip Advisor, the coincidence is pretty remarkable. There’s no way we could have known ten years ago that we’d return to the same place, by chance, with two children in tow a decade later.

I’m the kind of person who is always conjuring memories of travel moments triggered by seemingly unconnected events. I can be driving down the street in Falls Church, Virginia, and suddenly think of a person I met in Cluj, Romania, or a meal I enjoyed in Uzbekistan.

I don’t know what triggers these memories, but I do know that while at home, time tends to slip past me as days run together in a forgettable blur. But while I’m traveling, I tend to remember the people I meet, the places I stay and the things that I experience more acutely – especially when my wife is groped by a heavily bearded senior citizen.

In case you’re wondering, the Greek gentleman didn’t remember me, or ask where my wife was, but then again he gets his photo taken more often than Brad Pitt does.

Hospitality: What We Can Learn From The Greeks

Twenty minutes into an uphill walk on a sizzling hot day on the Greek island of Syros, we gave up and decided to take a taxi. My wife and I were pushing a 2-year-old in a stroller, and cajoling our 4-year-old to brave the heat, much to his chagrin, but realized that our destination, the Catholic neighborhood of Ano Syros, perched high above the city, was too far away.

But taxis don’t randomly patrol the streets of Ermoupoli and I doubted there was a public bus that could get us there anytime soon. I saw a matronly woman in her 30s sitting on a second floor balcony and asked her if she knew where we could get a taxi. She seemed not to understand me, and disappeared momentarily, before emerging a few moments later on the street.

“Tell me,” she said, using a phrase you hear all the time in Greece.

“I think we need a taxi up to Ano Syros,” I said.

She said she’d call one for us and then went back into her apartment. I thought we’d never see her again but a minute or two later, she came back out onto the street, crossed to the other side and popped a phone card into a pay phone. We had no mobile phone and assumed that she had either a landline or a mobile in her home and hadn’t even entertained the possibility that she could afford neither.”Car number nine will be here for you in 10 minutes,” she told us after crossing back to the shady side of the street to meet us.

Her name was Uranus, and she refused to accept any money for the phone call. She told us that she had studied to be a hairdresser but was never able to find a job.

“The crisis,” she explained. “There is no work here.”

She had no job and no phone but like most Greeks, she hadn’t lost the tradition of hospitality. After spending a few hours exploring Ano Syros (right), we were again at a loss to find a taxi with no mobile phone. But on a whim, I asked a man who was getting into his car if he was heading our way, and sure enough, he was happy to drive us back to our hotel, or anywhere else we wanted to go for that matter.

Over the course of a six-week trip through Kos, Patmos, Samos, Syros, Santorini and Crete, we’ve experienced remarkable hospitality in Greece, despite the economic crisis or perhaps because of it. Like any where else, we’ve had a couple of run-ins here or there with unscrupulous or unfriendly people, but for every negative encounter, there have been dozens of positive ones.

On the island of Kos, we found ourselves stranded in the humdrum town of Kefalos, thanks to an extremely limited bus schedule, and I walked into a pharmacy and asked a woman named Sevy, a Greek-American who had moved back to Kos, how to get to a nearby beach. There was no way, she said, but she insisted on having one of her colleagues drive us there in her car. It was a good 20-minute ride and they refused to take any money.

Hotel managers almost everywhere have redefined the concept of customer service. In Santorini, the owners of Rena’s Suites gave our children a whole host of toys and some waffles with ice cream upon arrival, and a bottle of wine on departure.

Lila at Lila’s Guesthouse in Syros insisted on washing all our clothes, free of charge, and picking us up at the port, also free, despite our 2:30 a.m. arrival time. And Yianni at the Afroditi Hotel in Rethymno, Crete, picked us up, dropped us off, gave us a bottle of wine, a plate of fruit and some little gifts upon departure even though we stayed with him just one night at the ridiculously low rate of 40€.

Hotel staffs have a vested interest in keeping travelers happy but we met kind people everywhere we went. In Crete, a group of locals welcomed me like a long lost friend during the EURO 2012 tournament. On the island of Syros, I accidentally barged into someone’s kitchen in a remote village and was invited in for a meal and entertained with some live music. Monks in Patmos made me coffee, served me cookies and invited me to worship with them. And on Election Day in Naxos, the mayor of a small village offered to personally show me around and insisted on buying me drinks.

Aside from the Middle East, where hospitality is almost like a religion, and neighboring Macedonia, where guests are also treated like gold, I can’t recall such a warm welcome anywhere in the world. Greece has a lot of problems, and there are many things that Greeks can learn from Americans (for example, having some gas in the tank of a rental car when you pick it up would be nice!). But I think that anyone who works in the hospitality industry should be required to come to Greece to see how it’s done right.

How One Greek Village Voted

Greek voters went to the polls on Sunday and I spent a chunk of the day getting to know people at a polling station in a small village on the island of Naxos. By evening’s end, I’d witnessed a sea change in the village’s political preferences, a bar fight and the counting of 355 ballots for parties ranging from Communist to neo-Nazi.

Checking out polling stations and talking to voters isn’t generally high on the list of priorities for travelers in the Greek islands but with the fate of the Euro at stake and the world watching, I wanted to watch the ballots being counted somewhere on the island of Naxos, where I’m currently staying.

Over the last month, I’ve asked dozens of Greeks in Kos, Patmos, Samos, Syros and Naxos, as well as Greeks from the mainland who were vacationing on the islands, who they were voting for. Before answering, most took the time to denounce politics and politicians in general, and nearly all of them expressed a fatalistic view that it didn’t really matter who won or lost the election.After the May 6 election that produced a stalemate, with no government coalition formed, skepticism has been at an all-time high. A woman we met in Syros started crying when my wife asked her about the election.

“My country,” she said. “Everything’s gone totally wrong.”

Quite a few others told me they were going to vote for Syriza, a coalition of radical left wing parties led by the charismatic 37-year-old leader Alexis Tsipras. The coalition has promised to renegotiate Greece’s bailout deal with its European partners.

“Everyone hears that Europe and the financial markets are scared of Syriza, and that makes people interested in voting for them,” said Anna Avgouli, a newspaper editor in Kos, summing up the views of many I spoke to.

But as the election grew nearer, I started to meet more and more Greeks who said they were voting for the New Democracy party led by Antonis Samaras. Most said that Tsipras was too young and worried that he would isolate Greece, ruin its economy and very possibly get it kicked out of the euro zone.


After driving about a half-hour outside of touristy Naxos town (Hora), I followed a sign leading us to an early 7th Century church, and then stumbled across a polling station in the small village of Ano Sangri. I went inside, introduced myself and Vasiliki “Vaso” Anastasopolou, a 30-something election volunteer, said that I could return at 7 p.m. to watch them count the votes.

Vaso told me that most of the village’s residents are potato and dairy farmers, and, while the rest of the country largely repudiated Pasok (the party that many blame for getting Greece into the mess it’s in), in the most recent election on May 6, they actually garnered the most votes in the village followed by Syriza.

“There are a lot of old people here,” she explained. “They always vote for the same party no matter what’s going on.”

Still, the fact that Syriza finished second in the village surprised many and she and the other election volunteers in the room predicted that Syriza might come in first in the village this time around.

I returned to the Ano Sangri well before the polls closed and had a drink in the village’s only taverna, around the corner from the school that serves as a polling station. A large group of senior citizens was gathered around a television showing a Greek news station that was providing election coverage.

An elderly man wearing an odd woolen suit on a hot day was screaming at another patron and threatening him with his cane. I asked the waiter what was going on.

“Oh nothing,” he said. “They are just, what do you call it…”

“Disagreeing about politics?” I ventured.

“Exactly,” he said.

I sat and watched for a few minutes and couldn’t take my eyes off of a cross-eyed man who looked like he was ready to belt someone.

“He likes Pasok, but the others don’t,” the waiter explained.

When I returned to the polling station amidst an escalating drunken feud at the taverna, I was the object of great curiosity, as everyone wanted to know why I was there and how I had chosen this particular village. I had no coherent answer to the question but no one seemed to care. I was introduced to the town mayor, Stelios Skordialos, a gray-haired man with piercing green eyes, who also held the key to the church I had been looking for that morning.

He cast the final vote in the village, at one minute to seven, and then the doors were locked. There were four volunteers plus representatives from three of the largest political parties to supervise the counting of the votes. The mayor and I sat in the back of the room, whispering.

“Nea Democratia,” he said, pointing to a bearded, wild-eyed man who appeared to have bird shit stains on the back of his shirt. “And him, koo-koo-eh,” he said, using the acronym for Greece’s largest communist party.

In my travels, I couldn’t help but notice how well organized the communists are in Greece. Their posters, featuring the party’s red and yellow hammer and sickle, are in almost every little village all over the Greek Islands, despite the fact that they usually poll at 10 percent or less.

As the mayor and I sat quietly the workers got busy taking the huge clear glass ballot box lid off and dumping all the ballots all over a big long table. The village had ballots from 17 of the 22 parties; a few of the smaller ones didn’t bother to send them ballots, I was told. But some of the fringe ones, like the Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, did have ballots and the volunteers told me they got 10 votes in the May 6 election.

“That’s 10 too many,” a volunteer named Takis said. “There are a few crazy people in the village – you’ll see; they’ll probably get even more votes tonight.”

All of the ballots were in sealed envelopes and the volunteers stacked them all neatly on a table and began to open them one by one, using the ballot box as a trash can for all the discarded envelopes.

A couple of minutes after the counting started, a man slipped into the room from a side door and was loudly rebuked by Vaso. A lawyer by trade and the room’s only fluent English speaker, she was clearly in command of this room full of men. As she began to call out the votes, I kept hearing “Syriza, Syriza, Syriza,” and it was clear that a big change in the village was afoot.

Vaso said that all the old people kept voting for Pasok, but clearly many of them had defected. After a few minutes, the count grew tedious and I studied the classroom we were in. There were two chalkboards, a set of old, dusty encyclopedias, an old looking computer, some children’s paintings and portraits of important figures in Greek history adorning the walls.

An hour into the count the results were tabulated; 355 people had turned out to vote and Syriza won in a landslide. The results for the parties that did best in the village are below.

Syriza- 125
Pasok- 70
New Democracy- 52
Golden Dawn- 22
Panos Kamenos- 28
Fotis Kovelis- 21
KKE (Communist)- 16

Syriza had carried the day, but there were also apparently 22 neo-Nazi sympathizers and 16 communists in the village.

After the results were tabulated and Vaso called them in to the appropriate ministry, the volunteers cleaned up and I walked out with the mayor and Vaso, who was carrying the ballots in a big white sack (see photo gallery). I asked them why the village had gone for Syriza.

The mayor speculated that seniors were angry that their pensions had been slashed in the austerity measures but Vaso had a different theory.

“They want something different,” she said. “They want to leave the euro and go back to the drachma.”

I scrambled to figure out if Syriza’s win in the village was an outlier or something that had happened all over the country.

The school had no Internet connection, so I repaired to the taverna around the corner to watch TV with the Hatfields and McCoys, who were even more intoxicated by the time I returned.

I shook one man’s hand and he declined to release it, grabbing both of my hands and trying to engage me in an arm wrestling competition. After I broke free, I met Haris Orfanosc, an engineer who grew up in the village but had moved away to Athens. He was back for a visit and had voted in the school he attended as a child.

He explained that New Democracy was slightly ahead of Syriza in the exit polling. The winner would get a 50-seat bonus in parliament and would have to form a majority coalition with at least 150 of the 300 total seats in parliament.

Stelios insisted on buying me a beer and the conversation soon moved on to a much more pleasant topic: Greece’s upcoming EURO 2012 match with Germany. No one could deny that a win over Germany would be sweeter than any bailout deal or election victory.

Shortly after I arrived back in Naxos town, New Democracy’s slim victory over Syriza was confirmed and economists and investors all over the world are breathing a sigh of relief. But unlike the previous night, when Greeks took to the streets to celebrate a soccer win over Russia, the streets were quiet and no one was in the mood to celebrate.

Party Time In Greece As The National Side Stuns Russia In EURO 2012

There’s nothing like being in a soccer-mad country when the national side scores a big win in an important tournament like the World Cup, The European Championships or the African Cup of Nations. On Saturday night, Greece shocked Russia, 1-0, to send the Russians home and advance to the quarterfinal round of this year’s Euro 2012 soccer tournament, and I was in Naxos, a Greek island in the Cyclades group to take part in the celebration.

A win like this one would be significant under any circumstances, but given the economic hell that Greece has been through in recent years, the triumph was especially meaningful. One didn’t have to search far and wide to watch the match – you could walk the streets of Naxos town and hardly miss a play, as nearly every business had a TV set up for people to watch the winner moves on match.Bars had big projection screens, but small shops, bakeries, travel agencies and other business also had a variety of much less impressive looking TVs tuned in, some were just ancient little boxes set up on top of plastic chairs, but still attracted small crowds of onlookers.

The mood was festive, but tense in the first half, until Giorgos Karagounis came charging down the right flank and buried a low missile right past the Russian keeper just before the half to give Greece a 1-0 lead. The crowd in the outdoor café I was in exploded, men dropped their worry beads to applaud, people hugged each other, and some jumped on top of tables and danced.

But in the second half, everyone had to sweat it out as the minutes seemed to tick by in an agonizingly slow march, as men all over Greece, nervously fingered their worry beads and chain smoked, praying Greece could hold on.
Greece had seemingly legitimate goals wiped out by the officials in the first two games of this tournament, and when Karagounis was given a yellow card for supposedly diving in the penalty area in the 61st minute, all the men in my vicinity were convinced that the world was once again conspiring against their country, perhaps in payback for the damage Greece has done to world financial markets.

But the plucky, mostly monastically bearded Greek players hung on for dear life and as the final whistle blew, pandemonium ensued, as men sang, chanted and danced on tables. Bar owners gave out free shots of ouzo and the celebratory roars could be heard all over Naxos.

Soon, cars were making laps in the little town, honking their horns as people hung out the windows waving Greek flags and pumping their fists at revelers on the streets. Greece had won and the country finally had something to feel proud of, on the eve of an election the whole world will be watching.

Before this recent trip, I was last in Greece in the summer of 2004, and watched Greece win EURO 2004 from the small town of Nea Marmaris, just south of Thessaloniki in Halkidiki. That party lasted all night and was doubly satisfying for me, because I also won 150in an office pool at the U.S. Embassy in Skopje, where I worked at the time.

My Macedonian colleagues, who love visiting Greece but have decidedly unpleasant feelings towards the Greeks due to the political standoff between the two countries over its name, had laughed when I picked Greece out of a hat. They were convinced that I’d picked the worst team in the field, but I was the one laughing when they won it all.

Once again, no one believes that Greece can advance in this tournament except for the Greeks themselves. I have no idea if they’ll advance further, but for now, Greeks everywhere are feeling very good about themselves for a change.