Interview with Greece Expert Gabi Ancarola
For years, Gabi Ancarola struck up a longstanding love affair with Greece, daydreaming about Greek gods & goddesses since she was a child in Argentina. As a travel writer, translator and founder of The Tiny Book, work took her to live in some of the most desirable destinations, such as New York and Milan, but she would always hold Greece in her heart. After globetrotting across the world, her dream came true when she moved to Crete, where she enjoys raising her nomadic family and diving straight into the Cretan culture. Through her curiosity and passion, she shares her discoveries of Greece in many of her guidebooks. We spoke with Gabi about her lasting impressions on Greece, the Cretan lifestyle, and how she harmoniously combines languages, family, and travel.
Q: Tell us how you came to live in Greece.
I was born in Buenos Aires and started traveling quite young with my family. Curiosity for different cultures made me choose languages as a career. As a consequence (or not) that decision put me on a plane quite often. One day, one of those planes was bound to Greece. The first visit to Greece was enough to say “I could definitely live here.” No other trip, no other destination was ever going to be the same. I longed for Greece when I was not there; I kept going back whenever I could, so much so that one day I understood that all this coming and going was pointless. I just had to stay. And so I did.
Q: Describe Greece to someone who has never visited before.
There are quite a few things that make Greece such a different place. The one that most surprises me is Light. Light in Greece is special, brighter; it seems to make everything look cleaner, purer. Another key element at the core of Greece is beauty. It is indeed a country of beauty, however, living here I understood something quite surprising, the beauty of the country does not reside in whitewashed houses and wild landscapes. It lives in its people. Family values and traditions can often be in the background in other parts of the world. Here, essence wins over appearance.
Q: What was your fascination with Greece before you moved there?
Of course, it's the beauty: a natural and simple kind of beauty. Unpretentious, the kind of beauty that makes the oldest, shabbiest chair in the world look beautiful simply because it is surrounded by a stunning natural landscape. Nature in Greece is untamed and yet friendly. That endless blue sea combining with rough mountains and blossomed fields. Streets covered in bougainvillea, a tiny chapel on top of the mountain, those unique sunsets on the Aegean.
Q: You are currently living in Crete, what makes the island so special?
There are two main factors that make me understand (and eventually love) a place: the first are the locals, and the second is food. I believe that through these we can comprehend and really get to know the essence of a place. Cretans combine these two elements producing one of the most fascinating cultures I’ve ever come to understand. Greeks, and specially Cretans, are the most generous, hospitable persons I’ve ever met.
And then, there's the cuisine: I have always been fascinated by the simple ingredients that combine to create superb dishes, this is key to Cretan cuisine. Food on Crete is also an excuse to come together, sharing quality time with friends and family. Something we have sadly lost in other places because of lack of time. You are never short of time on Crete, especially for food.
Q: What is your favorite route to take in Crete?
I love the entire island- unconditionally. There is no place on Crete that doesn’t make me enthusiastic. However, if I have to choose (even if I live in the northern part of the island and love it so much) going south towards a region called Sfakia is one of my favorite itineraries. There is something special about going through the impressive gorges and steep mountain roads, where goats might be waiting for you in the middle of the road right after you turn a bend. Then, you start descending little by little to reach the fantastic turquoise beaches of the Libyan sea.
Q: You must often get questions about being able to travel frequently. What's the best way to maintain a healthy relationship with traveling?
Honestly, it remains a mystery. My partner says he has changed a lot since we started traveling together. For instance, in the past, he would be seasick every time he got on a boat, and now he sails around the islands at least once a month without a problem. I suspect it has to do with passion and with communication. I never forced him to get on a boat, but he simply enjoyed sailing so much that he decided to give it another go. It must be the way you communicate that passion with the ones you love. But I’m guessing; I have no clue.
Q: In this day and age, more women are embracing the role of a traveling mom and taking up the challenge. Being a traveling mom yourself, what are some of the pros and cons that you've experienced as a parent who makes traveling a part of family life?
Pros? All of them! As any other mom, I am still dealing with doubts about whether or not I am doing the right thing; yet, every single day I get proof of how sociable, smart and open-minded kids get when exposed to different cultures and traditions. For me, it's an important part of their education that they grow up free of prejudice. And travel kills prejudice in all its forms. About cons, well, not everybody can share my views about homeschooling, and sometimes you get a weird look or opinion. But that’s fine too, this World is quite overcrowded to please everybody, right?
Q: You are a polyglot at heart, someone who has mastered many languages, what's the secret in learning languages and how has it aided you with your travels?
I’d rather say that it’s the other way round, it was the travels that aided with languages. I’ve spent many years living abroad, in places like New York and Milan (and Greece is not proving any different). Living in a different culture, having a real need and trying to solve it, makes you master a language more than any book. Learning the language simply happens because you are not focusing on achieving perfection, but on achieving communication. That kills all language barriers. On the other hand, I’ve taught languages myself; this has taught me that there’s no golden recipe. You might prefer reading; you might love grammar; you might rather travel… all are valid alternatives.
Q: You've worked a lot on writing travel guides, why did you decide to team up with Favoroute?
I have often thought about how travel books look great on a shelf at home but are less practical on the road. They add extra weight, and you won’t be using at least half of the information in them. Besides, for some travelers, they are very expensive.
What I love about Favoroute is that they are sharp, inexpensive and add no additional weight. I love that you can decide what kind of guide interests you more. Are you a foodie? Get the eating guide! Are you a nature lover? Go for the adventure guide! Traveling with the family? Choose guides with itineraries for kids! Plus, everything is thought of: you are on the road, you need a hotel, bam! You get the link to book from your phone. And you can use them offline too. I don’t see a single flaw in these guides, to be honest.
Q: Tell us something people often don't know about you.
I am very afraid of heights, especially in the mountains. Yes, I suffer from terrible vertigo and living on Crete is not a compatible condition. But who knows? Maybe this adds to the extreme adrenaline I feel when driving through the impressive gorges of the island.