Where to find free Wi-Fi in Greece

ATHENS, GREECE -- This ancient city is a metropolis of contradictions and surprises. For us "extreme telecommuters," one of them is this: Starbucks in Greece charges you $660 for a month of Wi-Fi access. But right next door is a better coffee joint where a month of Wi-Fi costs you zero. Hmmmm. Which to choose….

On my second major foray into the "extreme telecommuting," nomadic lifestyle (the first was Central America), I find myself living in -- and working from -- Greece. I've been here in Athens nearly a week, and I've learned three valuable rules: 1) never stop looking for a better connection; 2) never give up on your U.S. carrier; and 3) never leave your Kindle behind. I'll deal with each of these in a three-part series.

1) Never stop looking for a better connection.

Internet cafes and their ilk in Greece cost a pretty penny in the best of times. But with the current weakness in the dollar, American travelers looking to connect get hammered.

To compare apples to apples, as it were, consider wireless access at Starbucks. In the United States, using the old T-Mobile network, a 24-hour "day pass" for in-Starbucks access costs $10 in the United States, and $22 in Greece.

It gets worse: If you're going to be actually (but temporarily) living in Greece, as I am, and want some kind of discount for buying access a month at a time, forget it. 24 hours is the largest chuck of access you can buy at a Greek Starbucks. So for a 30-day month, you'll pay $660 for Wi-Fi access per month! In the U.S., the month-to-month fee is $40 per month (and if you make a one-year commitment it's $30 per month).

Greek Starbucks also charge you $9.50 for two hours of access (roughly the same price as 24 hours in the U.S.).

Starbucks rates are more or less comparable to just about every cyber café I've look at in Athens, and free connections seemed nonexistant. When you're telecommuting, and need to be connected pretty much all day, as I do, going the cyber café or Starbucks route can be a financial body blow.

However, since I've been in Athens, I've been dropping into cyber cafes and coffee joints every chance I've gotten to inquire about prices and connection speeds.

Here's the funny part. I entered my first Greek Starbucks to learn about their pricing. Next door to that Starbucks was another coffee joint called FloCafe, so I checked that out as well. And guess what? Free, unlimited (albeit, ad-supported) Wi-Fi!

It gets better: The coffee is better than Starbucks, they serve food and alcohol, too, and have plenty of seating (I'm guessing the one I'm in now seats about 150 people). Better still, it appears to be a pretty big chain -- there are something like 36 FloCafes in the Greater Athens area, and another 21 in the rest of Greece. They're open from 7am to 2am! The late hours are ideal for "extreme telecommuters" from the U.S. -- 2am in Athens is 4pm in Silicon Valley and 7pm in New York, so it's nice to be able to be online during U.S. business hours.

Although the Wi-Fi is storewide (provided by AltecTelecoms), only one small section of the café offers electrical outlets. Fortunately, Greeks appear to be far more interested in talking and smoking than connecting and surfing. It's mid-afternoon, and I'm counting some 45 or so customers here. I'm the only American, so 100% of the Americans are using the Wi-Fi connection. And only one Greek guy is. So there's no competition for the outlets, as there often is in U.S. Starbucks and other such places.

There may be other places in Greece to connect free -- I'll keep looking -- but if you're ever in this country, find the nearest FloCafe. And when you're traveling anywhere, never stop looking for a better -- or cheaper -- connection.

Tomorrow: "Never give up on your U.S. carrier."

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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