Greece, this summer

31 May

I have been in Athens for a few days now with 21 of my students.  We have climbed up to the Parthenon and walked through the magnificent Acropolis museum.  We have eaten gyros at Thanasis and Savvas — the two competing shops located across a narrow street from each other in the Plaka.  We have bought oregano and olives and apricots at the Athens Central Market.

There are some signs of the economic crisis and the tension of the upcoming elections.  I notice more graffiti than last year, marring even the walls of the old churches, and the plate glass windows of the post office on Syntagma Square that were shattered during one of the demonstrations are now covered over with sheets of corrugated metal.

My friends who live here, of course, are much more aware of the crisis, having to figure out what to do in the face of drastically reduced pensions, rising food and utility prices — and a noticeable drop in tourism.

One woman who lives in Athens told me that even her sister, who lives abroad, was hesitant to return to Greece for her customary vacation.  She was worried that she and her children would be endangered by pepper spray and molotov cocktails, and that the ATMs would be empty of Euros.

None of this is true, of course.  We are staying in the center of Athens.  Yesterday, when we visited the Tomb of the Unkown Soldier, we walked through a congregation of a few hundred cyclists who had gathered at the square.  They had ridden from Faliro in an organized protest, ending up in front of the Parliament buidling.  We chatted for a while and then we — and they — moved on.

We also stopped at ATMs and successfully withdrew Euros, and even traveled around the city on trains and buses, unhindered by the impromptu strikes for which the city is well known.  The only problem we encountered was when we tried to book ferry boat tickets before leaving the United States.  The Ministry of Tourism had not managed to approve the schedules or fares, so companies could not release them to the public.  This was a small inconvenience; we simply visited a travel agent in Athens who helped us out.

Many of my friends here depend directly or indirectly on tourist dollars to make ends meet. They are feeling the effects not only of the crisis, but of the international news coverage as well.  They wish to tell people that despite the images they might have seen, Greece is still safe, beautiful and welcoming — and yes, it still has money in its banks.

So if you had been thinking of coming to Greece but had changed your mind, I hope you will reconsider. You will have a wonderful time and, in a small way, you will help shopkeepers, hotel managers, waiters, museum guides, and many others, earn a living for yet another day.

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5 Responses to “Greece, this summer”

  1. Brian May 31, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

    I am SOOOOOOOO jealous! I love Athens. And it’s good to hear that you are not seeing any adverse effects there of the news reports of what is/might be happening.

  2. parischien June 1, 2012 at 3:39 am #

    I’ll be there in a couple of weeks. Thanks for the post.

    • KuZina June 1, 2012 at 4:18 am #

      So far we have had nothing but a wonderful time. One little island museum had reduced hours because of the budget crisis, but every major museum and site has been open, all the banks and ATMs have been operating, in fact, as visitors, we wouldn’t even be aware that there is a crisis going on without reading the news and, of course, talking with people. I have been talking to my students about the crisis because I want them to understand, but I also don’t want tourists to be afraid and to stay away. Have a wonderful trip!

      • Kathe June 2, 2012 at 12:16 am #

        It is good to hear that things are going well for the student trip in Greece. It would be a shame to miss the opportunity to experience life in Greece. What a wonderful place and people.

  3. Kathe June 2, 2012 at 12:17 am #

    I really enjoy your blog and look forward to more stories of your travels.

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