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Last month, we addressed the current economic crisis in Greece and advised potential travelers to think twice before going there. However, TPG Contributor Nicholas du Pont ignored that advice and went anyway. After two weeks’ worth of time on the ground, he came to the conclusion that now is in fact as good a time as any to go to Greece — and here’s why. (All photos by the author, unless otherwise specified.)
Normally, the name “Greece” conjures up images of the Parthenon, mythical Gods, idyllic islands and souvlaki, but recently, it’s more likely to evoke images of street protests over the country’s economic crisis and lines outside banks that look like Soviet-era queues for bread. In fact, though, the present situation Greece is nothing like this. I’ve been traveling to Athens multiple times a year for the past ten years, and I don’t see much difference between the country now and a decade ago. The few changes I do see, though, are positive.
In the cumulative two weeks I’ve already spent there this year — most of it since June — I’ve haven’t seen a single bank line longer than ten people. I’ve noticed that traffic in Athens has improved over the past few years, and it’s better even now, during peak tourist season. It’s easier to get tables in popular restaurants, lines at museums are shorter and the already endlessly hospitable locals are even more pleasant. Official statistics show that tourism has not declined at all this year, but the perceived decline means that those of us who choose to visit (and spend our tourist dollars) are now being even more genuinely welcomed.
Banks: Myths vs. Fact
One reason people have been avoiding Greece or changing their travel plans is because of financial uncertainty. If you listen to the media, you hear that ATMs are out of cash, lines at the banks are hours’ long and you can only take out €60 ($66) a day.
In fact, lines at the banks are made up largely of pensioners and elderly people who don’t use online banking and line up at the bank every week, anyway. This is nothing new.
Secondly, the €60-a-day limit is only for Greek bank accounts. I took €250 (about $275) out of one ATM, then a few hours later took out €180 ($197) from another; clearly, ATMs aren’t running out of cash if I’m having no problem withdrawing wads of cash from two different ATMs in different parts of the city. None of my travel companions on any of my three trips this year have had problems accessing funds, either. And I’m happy to report that credit cards still work and are widely accepted.
Again, if you pay any heed to the US media’s reports on Greece, you probably think that the current situation on the ground is similar to that in the turbulent Eastern Ukraine. Again, this is not at all the case. On a number of occasions, I strolled through Syntagma Square and saw a few people with banners milling about, and certainly a stepped-up police presence, but I also saw two police officers chatting away on their phones and another filing her nails, and the “protesters” were operating at about the same speed. So, no worries there.
The Athenian neighborhoods where tourists are apt to spend most of their time — Plaka, Mosatiraki and Kolonaki — are all perfectly safe. For instance, I walked two miles home from Plaka to the Hilton Athens at 2am and didn’t feel at all unsafe, at any time. (However, I certainly don’t imagine that this would be the same exact experience for a woman — in any city — so I would still encourage women to travel in pairs or groups, and to take transportation at night.)
As far as the islands go, I’ve seen no change at all in regard to safety; Greek islands have always been relatively safe, and continue to be. I’ve spoken with friends who’ve been to Mykonos, Paros, Naxos and Skopelos within the last six weeks and none have reported any problems at all whatsoever. As in Athens, life there goes on.
The Time is Nigh
Honestly, I can’t think of a better opportunity to go spend time and money in Greece — the nation’s economy relies on the support of tourism now more than ever. If the media has gotten anything right about this whole debacle, it’s that the Greek people are suffering. Individuals are now paying for decades of financial mismanagement by the government, and everyone is feeling the squeeze. Cab drivers, restaurant and business owners, the bartender at the local taverna and the guy selling souvlaki on the beach — they’re all struggling with the latest and repeated rounds of austerity measures.
I’ve noticed that there are more businesses shuttered than one would usually see, perhaps more graffiti and more people begging — albeit not in a pushy or aggressive way — in the streets of Athens and beyond. Personally, though, these things only increase my desire to visit Greece and offer my support to the country’s hard-working, hospitable people.
So consider packing your bags and your wallets and heading to Greece, where you can provide much-needed economic support while simultaneously enjoying everything Greece has to offer: ancient history, delicious food, gorgeous hospitality and stunning scenery.
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