To Hellas And Back Gave Lana A Chance To Put It All Into Words

Lana left her life working for MTV in Sydney to follow her dream and love to Greece. Living the Greek life inspired Lana to write her best selling novel To Hellas And Back.

1. Where are you from originally?

I’m originally from a parallel universe known as Sydney, Australia. I moved to the U.K in my twenties, then to Athens in my thirties, then back to London, then back to Greece. In total, I lived five years in Greece and five years in Great Britain.

2. Where do you live now?

I’m now back in Australia, hiding beneath my bed.

3. What first attracted you to Greece? Did you try anywhere else on the way? Did you move for work or for lifestyle?

I moved to Greece because my partner was offered a once-in-a-lifetime job opportunity in radio. I was an MTV producer at the time, and happily relinquished pop stars for sun, sea and sand. Instead I came closer to a nervous breakdown!

As a traveler, I’d visited Greece before, but had never lived there. ‘Living’ and ‘visiting’ are two entirely different concepts.

Athens, Acropolis © by Arian Zwegers

4. What kind of property did you live in? What’s your ideal place to live within a new country?

In Greece, I lived in a really nice suburb of Athens called Voula and then moved to an area known as Lagonisi about an hour’s drive from central Athens. The latter had a Greek island feel to it and the home itself was stunning – the most palatial place I’ve ever resided. It was a huge, tiled affair with the Aegean lapping at our doorstep, the stuff of dreams. I believe it was the ideal place when it came to living the expat dream, but sometimes glorious backdrops don’t guarantee glorious outcomes.

5. Are you speaking a new language? If so, how did you learn?

Oh my God. I want to preface this with I tried. I really, really tried to learn Greek. I took an inordinate amount of lessons and attempted chatting with locals, but they often responded with looks that suggested I’d just been lobotomised! It seemed my brain outright refused to wrap itself around the increased syllable output. So the closest I got to speaking Greek was vaguely managing words like, ‘hello’, ‘toilet’ and ‘pencil’.

6. What do you do for a living? Where do you physically work from? Do you work with clients/customers back in your home country or your new one?

I now call myself an author courtesy of Greece. Being that I was unable to legally work in Hellas, I began writing what went on to become ‘To Hellas and Back’ – my bestselling memoir about unraveling in Greece, pulling myself together, then spontaneously combusting. It nicely demonstrates the different ways in which my partner and I adjusted to a life less ordinary (he, very well, me, um … not so much).

I’ve been told that the book is funny, raw, bittersweet and sad, but more than that, real. You know how travel tales generally depict life abroad as idyllic affairs, full of Tuscan home renovations, cooking extravaganzas and unexpected revelations that lead to enlightenment? Well, my story comes closer to ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ face-plowing into a steaming mound of moussaka! I guess my epic fail makes for good reading.

7. Do you work online? If so, what is the internet connectivity like? What software do you commonly use on day to day basis? What would be your top tip for online working from your new country?

When I was in Greece, we had a dial-up connection powered by donkey. It did the trick though.

8. Did you bring any pets with you? Or leave any behind? How did this work out?

I adopted a couple of stray cats in Athens. They simply rocked up one day and kept hanging around. One of them appeared to have emerged from the depths of Hades and I christened him ‘Cleany’. He was a gigantic mottled beast with only one and a half ears. I still yearn for him and his nemeses at times.

9. Is your life better than it was before? If so, how?

My life in Australia is better than it was in Greece simply because Australia is my home country. That doesn’t mean I dislike Greece. It’s just that I prefer to be closer to my family and in a position to watch my nephews and nieces grow up. I can now also articulate beyond mumbling ‘hello’, ‘toilet’ and ‘pencil’, although many would argue otherwise.

10. What were the best things about living in Greece?

The number one thing about living in Greece was witnessing human kindness. When thwarted by language barriers, one often see into people’s hearts more clearly and overall, I consider the Greeks to be extraordinarily giving – provided they know you. Of course, there’s also the delicious food, the Greek islands and living a slower lifestyle. Greece may have a heavier heart nowadays, but it remains a stunning country.

11. What were the most challenging things about moving to and living in your new country?

Trying to wrap my head around cultural nuances, illogicality and corruption. Of course the language barrier was hard, but more than anything – and I think this applies to most expats – the biggest hardship was being separated from friends, family and my former identity.

12. Are you here for good? If so, why? If no, why not?

I plan to spend the rest of my days in Australia. You never know what’s around the corner, but I feel I’ve been there and bought the T-shirt. I’ve sampled the world and know what best suits my soul.

13. Any parting words to people thinking of moving to Greece?

Connect with as many expats as you can before you leave for your destination country. They may be your lifeline. I know that sounds dramatic, if not insular, and of course you’re not going to stick only with ‘your kind’, but these people may be your link to sanity when things don’t make sense. I’d also, of course, recommend reading ‘To Hellas and Back’ and doing the opposite of everything I did!

About the author

Lana Penrose is the author of ‘To Hellas and Back’ and ‘Kickstart My Heart’ first released by Penguin/Viking. She is a former record company promotions manager, music journalist and MTV producer. She worked briefly with Simon Cowell and has been known for her affiliations with the pop elite.

Lana has appeared on national breakfast television and she and her books have featured in Vogue, Cleo, Madison, Famous, Woman’s Day, That’s Life and numerous newspapers and radio shows. She appeared on stage as part of the Darren Hayes Big Night In tour (ex-Savage Garden) throughout the UK, Ireland, Sydney and Thailand. She was also a guest speaker on four panels at the prestigious Byron Bay Writers’ Festival.

To read more about Lana please visit her website

Leave a Reply