With Dr Felicity Nicholson
Greece is no longer the back of beyond, and the health issues you will face here are little different from those of most Western countries. There are no inoculations needed for entry, although it’s always wise to be up to date on your tetanus, which these days comes combined with diphtheria and polio. EU citizens are entitled to a certain level of free medical care (apply for an EHIC card before travelling), although proper health insurance is always advisable. Also be aware that ‘free’ health care in Greece doesn’t cover all you might expect, especially in these days of austerity. There are charges, generally small, for prescriptions, tests and, increasingly, even just check-ups. If you need hospitalisation note that nursing care tends to be minimal (Greek families provide this for hospital patients, along with food).
Prescription medicines are widely available, but you would be advised to bring along enough for your trip, along with your prescription itself. Codeine is considered a narcotic in Greece and should be covered by a prescription. However, try not to take codeine-based medicines with you unless there is no other option. Carry a letter from your doctor too.
Pharmacists used to be the first port of call for the ill in Greece. They are well trained and able to prescribe an extensive amount of medication. This is still mostly the case and pharmacies are the best place to deal with most medical issues. In some touristy areas, however, they are getting more cagey, doubtless fearful of being sued, and are more likely to refer you to a doctor.
Most areas are served by a health centre, which is generally staffed around the clock and open for drop-in enquiries in the morning from 08.00. It’s first come first served, so get there as early as possible. These places used to check you out for free, as did hospital casualty wards, but due to the economic situation there are, increasingly, small costs even for this. If you think you have been charged inappropriately then hang on to receipts.
Travel clinics and health information
A full list of current travel clinic websites worldwide is available on www.istm.org. For other journey preparation information, consult www.travelhealthpro.org.uk (UK) or http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/ (US). Information about various medications may be found on www.netdoctor.co.uk/travel. All advice found online should be used in conjunction with expert advice received prior to or during travel.
Compared with many European countries, Greece is relatively safe to travel in, and the Peloponnese, because of its rural nature, is especially so.
Although you would be unwise to leave your house or car unlocked, as you could do 20 years ago, crime is still relatively rare.
Political unrest is increasingly an issue, but this is generally confined to Athens. The Peloponnese has seen only minor protests. If you encounter anything of this sort your best advice is simply to remove yourself from the area.
Woman travellers, especially on their own, might find some male attention unwelcome, although this is much rarer than it once was. Nowadays it is generally confined to some staring, and Greek women will generally be quick to help you if you need to enlist their support.
If you have mobility problems then the Peloponnese is a difficult prospect, and most of its best attractions will only be appreciated with some considerable assistance. Things are getting better, however, thanks in part to the impetus of the Olympics, and Paralympics, in 2004. More recent hotels and restaurants, especially those that have benefited from government money, have started to provide some facilities. You are best advised to contact places directly and ask exactly what kind of access they provide.
Greeks love kids, sometimes to an over-indulgent degree. It is still a place where old ladies and men will give sweets to children they meet in the street. This can seem odd for those of us brought up in more suspicious places, but is also a pleasant change. Almost all restaurants and places to stay will go out of their way to accommodate the needs of your children. This can sometimes be a bit makeshift; if highchairs are not available, normal chairs might be stacked until they are the requisite height, but it is always done with goodwill.
Playgrounds can be found in all Greek towns and many villages. Some of these are modern and well maintained, but many leave a bit to be desired. A good tip is that Greek kids, and their families, tend to gather in the main square, or near the church, of any community to socialise and play. The main time for this is towards dusk, especially in the hot summer months. Greek children tend to be as welcoming as their parents to foreigners, and will generally be delighted to practise their English.
Forest fires are a normal part of the Greek summer, and you should be aware of the dangers of starting one. In the countryside, dispose of cigarettes and glass carefully. The need to evacuate an area due to fires is fairly rare, but you should keep in mind that it is a possibility (a few villages in the Peloponnese suffered this fate in 2015, but the fires did little damage in the end).
Minor earthquakes are not uncommon, and the locals hardly bat an eyelid at them. Larger ones are rarer and all Greek buildings are built to withstand them. If you do find yourself in a big one then go outside into an open area, if you can do so quickly and safely. If not, get under the sturdiest piece of furniture available.