I started as a salesman in a local products store in Naxos, kind of guiding customers through the different local tastes of spirits and sweets. Soon I realized the power of communication so not only did I get focused on studying English to get the Proficiency certificate but I also sought to improve my pronunciation by discussing just about anything with the customers! Gradually, I realized they were interested in getting inside info about Naxos through a local.
Meanwhile, many groups of tourists would visit our store along with their guides. I always admired their guides’ impressive ways of talking and explaining things, the positive influence they had on their guests, but above all the ability to show sides of the island that only locals knew about. It took me 3 seasons to realize that my next step should be to study and become a tourist guide.
If you could only take a foreign visitor to one place in the Greek Islands, where would you go?
Choosing one island out of the 6000 Greek islands is particularly difficult but if I had to take a foreign visitor to one that would be Delos. Only 30′ off Mykonos, Delos is an uninhabited island today that hosts an amazing archaeological site, one of the largest in the world – a World Heritage monument under the protection of UNESCO and the center of the Cyclades, the group of islands “dancing in a cycle” around Delos.
Certainly talking about myself is rather difficult especially when describing my style as a guide! In my opinion, I am rather friendly, informal, humorous, and very enthusiastic, but at the same moment, focused and “to the point”. Avoiding many dates and strange sounding names, I prefer facts, but I also like to state my personal opinion rather than remaining purely descriptive.
When at a site, I love bringing the past into the present, “giving life” to the ruins, and always giving valid information. I am not interested in “selling” services or goods by promoting and recommending (shops, hotels etc.), but if I am asked to do so, I follow a “tourist trap avoiding mentality” and my aim is to show travelers the non-touristic side of a place.
What is the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is the satisfaction I get from the feedback of my guests and the feeling that I have managed to draw a smile to the faces of the visitors of my country.
What’s the most bizarre experience or odd request from a client you’ve had on a guided tour?
It was 3 years ago when I guided a group of Americans at Mykonos. I was booked through a travel agency for the whole day. After a plentiful tour around Mykonos town, we got to Delos by private yacht. Two hours later we were sailing to Rinia (another uninhabited island across from Delos – famous for its breathtaking sandy coves). We anchored offshore and our guests felt free to swim naked in the crystal clear water. There was nothing bad about that but it felt quite bizarre when I was asked to join them!
Just like in every job there are a few things that I don’t like in mine as well. Lack of control from the side of tourist police here in Greece has resulted in a terrible fact that visitors sometimes are “guided” by people who are not actually guides! Those visitors are sometimes treated like sheep led to specific places to consume, without the freedom of making their own choices and they are given false information concerning the country and its people as well as about important topics like the crisis, politics, religion and such. So, it is difficult to hold my temper when I guide my group in the same place with a fake “colleague”.
When you’re not busy guiding tours – what’s your favourite thing to do?
When I am not guiding (mostly between December and March) I enjoy travelling abroad (USA, Canada, Spain, France, Italy Russia and Turkey so far), but mostly around Greece exploring its quiet countryside and discovering new routes, wonderful places of natural beauty, picturesque villages, and old traditional coffee shops. Mingling with the locals and getting stories from the past, traditions, and customs feels like keeping my balance and enriching my own stories. And certainly my wide collection of ethnic music from my travels adds to that.
You have a lot of experience with great food and wine from your region – What is the most awesome local specialty food or drink that all visitors must try?
Local tastes are a great way of keeping memories of a place you have visited!
When in Mykonos do not hesitate to try our local creamy cheese called kopanisti. Made of goat and cow milk, kopanisti is very spicy in the taste (believe me – blue cheese is nothing compared to this) therefore you may find it mixed (for smoothness) with greek yoghurt and/or combined with tomatoes.
“Mostra” is a Mykonian appetizer consisting of a small barley rusk with kopanisti creamy cheese, some grated tomato or cherry tomatoes above and olive oil and oregano on top. Try it with a glass of dry white wine from the vineyards of Mykonos.
A guide is a shortcut. He will save you time and effort. He will know all the facts to be found in the best guide book, plus countless others no book can contain. He will have answers for you just when you ask them, without taking the time to leaf through 500 pages to look something up. He will know the best route, plus a few shortcuts the book doesn’t mention. He’ll be updated, and will know all about changes in opening hours, timetables, and so on. He will know about the strikes and other events that may upset your schedule. He can help in case of something unexpected, such as illness, flight cancellation, strike, etc.
He can advise you on how to avoid being ripped off. He can offer tips on where and what to eat, what to enjoy and what to avoid. He can tailor a tour to your needs and tastes. He can adapt, delivering a playful tour to a family with children and a fact-filled one to a group of history buffs. Above all, your guide, if local, will be a window to the culture and mentality of the country you visit. He’s your instant fact finder to ask about anything that sparks your curiosity. He’ll tell you about the customs, habits and morals of his people, and explain all the curious things that make his country different from yours.
That said, the guides of Greece are a distinct bunch, among the best educated in Europe. By law, they have to study 2.5 years in a University-level school to get a license to guide. Then they have to pass very strict exams during which they are tested on their knowledge of the entire Greek history, prehistory, archaeology, sites, geography and more. They also have to prove their proficiency in both Greek and at least one other language, the one they will be licensed to guide in. All in all, one could say they’re walking and talking encyclopaedias of things all Greek.
Only a guide would be able to tell you about the ancient spells that were used by women of Delos in the 2nd century BC in order to keep their husbands away from the “temptations” offered by ladies of the night, and also explain all about the phallic symbols found everywhere in the ancient city!
In your view, what makes a good tour guide?
For me it’s 4 important factors: knowledge – good language skills (especially, clever links between different subjects) – adaptability/flexibility to respond to the specificities and the level of the different guests – an interesting personality to give you a piece of “infotainment” and a personal touch to the different subjects.
And finally, have you got any tips for people who are interested in booking a guide like yourself, but aren’t too sure what to look for?
Look for a local licensed tourist guide (who has the nationality of the country you are visiting and lives there year round if possible!), with an average experience between 5 and 25 years… and check his reviews!