The Situation in Greece
|While CNN focuses on Syntagma Square, the Plaka remains as calm as ever.|
Are you concerned about how events in Greece may affect your travel plans? You'll want to read this. It's a condensation of a couple of very thoughtful, level-headed blog entries that a friend of ours, Matt Barrett, has written. If anyone can be called an expert on Greece, it's Matt.
What the Heck is Happening in Greece!!!!????
Greece has big problems. They owe more than they can pay. The IMF and European loans can only help Greece get through this period of change, and hopefully stall for time so that the Greeks will begin to work together to solve the problems, which is nothing short of a complete transformation of a corrupt government, including the civil service. Everyone needs to do his part.
The answer is not to ruin the one part of Greek society that is doing its job and is somewhat successful; the tourism industry. Strikes, demonstrations, slowdowns and other disruptive tools can be a nuisance and cause us to change our plans. But that does not have to be a bad thing. It may not be worth throwing out the baby with the bathwater and canceling a holiday.
In the meantime, if you are a tourist looking for reassurance keep in mind that it is not difficult to avoid a demonstration. They are held in big squares like Syntagma, usually right in front of the Parliament, and they only last for a couple hours. If you are in Greece during a general strike remember that many people just treat it as a holiday and cafes and restaurants, parks, green areas and pedestrian streets will be full of people, and the usually busy streets of Athens will be far less dangerous than they are when choked with cars, taxis, buses and motorcycles. (Go hang out on Adrianou Street in Monastiraki next to the ancient Agora, drink coffee, eat, and spend the day looking at the Acropolis).
Though we Americans like to think that we are the center of attention wherever we go and worry about our safety, nobody is targeting Americans, tourists or foreigners, and unless you go looking for trouble you are unlikely to find it.
As my friend Vassilis Comitis of Fantasy Travel explains:
The protest marches are within a contained zone. Generally they march up Stadiou, do the round up Othonos or Xenophondos, pass by Parliament then head down towards Panepistimiou then disperse. Occasionally they'll move into Filellinon and sometimes in Amalias as they did today. So anyone that wishes to vent their anxiety tends to do so, in the way they see fit. They always smash the same bus stops, the same banks etc etc. Luckily we tuck our guests away into the Plaka area, so on most occasions unless they go to Syntagma, they are not even aware of a protest march.
None of the archaeological sites or museums are within this zone. So a demonstration is something you can choose to take part in or watch or avoid entirely, not something that is going to swallow you up.
For people afraid they might miss their flight home because of a general strike when they were on the island they can take solace in the fact that in the case of a general strike (which is rare) the airport is closed and ferries don't run so everything is moved back a day. That means you get an extra day on the island. Regardless if you are working with the agency they are in touch with you about any changes in your itinerary due to strikes.
The situation in Greece reminds me of a story in one of Kazantzakis books about a traveler in Crete who was looking for a place to stay in a village and was told about a couple that usually take strangers into their home. He knocked on the door and was welcomed in by the husband who told him that they had to speak softly because the wife was in the next room. The guest sat at the kitchen table and the husband brought him bread and wine and they talked through the night about life and death and other subjects, often toasting observations and epiphanies by touching their fingers that were holding their wine glasses instead of clinking them in order to not disturb the wife in the next room. The next day he left early so as not to wake the couple and on the way out of town was met by another villager who asked where he had spent the night. When the visitor told him where he had stayed the villager sighed and told him that his host's wife had died the day before. So while this man's life was in ruins, he still took in a guest and never let on about the pain he must have been feeling inside.
I sort of feel that way about Greece. Yes the country is going through a tough time and what is happening is weighing heavily on everyone's mind. But what is going on in the bedroom, in this case a 4 block area around the Greek parliament, and what the future will be for the Greek people, does not have to affect the hospitality sector of Greece. If you are worried about your safety to the point that it consumes you then what can I say? Don't come. But chances are that you will realize you let your fears get the better of you (I am an expert on this subject) and you will realize that while CNN made it look like all hell was breaking loose in Syntagma Square, on the islands it was business as usual and on the islands the business is hospitality, or what we call tourism. If you are so concerned about your safety but don't want to cancel your trip then skip or limit your time in Athens or stay on the outskirts, on the coast or in Kifissia where you can use the tram or the metro to get into town and see the sites. There are plenty of ways to do this and if you need assistance you can e-mail me until I put together a page of choices so I don't have to spend the entire day writing the same thing to everyone.
The news looks scary but once you are on an island, being scared will be the last thing on your mind.