A Greek vacation in the time of turmoil

Greeks display cheerful, positive demeanor during this time of economic crisis.

Greek referendum signs in front of the parliament building in Athens.
Greek referendum signs in front of the parliament building in Athens.

Despite the chaos in Greece right now, my family and I took the bold step of travelling there at this time. All over the news, we were hearing about the historic Greek Referendum. The situation had almost become a fad with the Snapchat stories titled “Greece votes” and the trending hashtag #greefrendum. It was also evident from the tourist point of view. On the coastline of Santorini (an island in the Aegean Sea) hundreds of tables overlooking the Aegean Sea were deserted while restaurant owners wait outside hunting for customers. The main reason that it was so much quieter was because the economy discourages people from traveling to Greece because of the fear of a national shutdown while on vacation. With tourism being a main source of revenue for Greece, this hurts the economy even more.

Even on the islands, where everyone normally has a “no-worries” attitude, people were concerned. The manager of one of the many hotels in Santorini, Sophocles Arramitis, was just one of the many working Greek citizens affected by the referendum. “I have a Ph.D in sound engineering from Birmingham University in England but I couldn’t find a job there being an immigrant and the job market is so bad in Greece,” he says. “I have a good education but I have to work at the hotel instead. The owners hired me to take care of it because they own so many properties around here they travel between them. I would love to go to America to continue my studies but I have had to decrease the quality of my life so I can earn money to live and I would have to save a lot to try to go to America and study. Honestly I don’t care about the vote, whether it’s a yes or a no either way I think I will still be working at the hotel.”

Sign at a metro station: "Using public transport for Athens is free of charge until further notice."
Sign at a metro station: “Using public transport for Athens is free of charge until further notice.”

A working mother, Elena, explained how the economy affects her personally, “My vote is no, I need the money now, I have 3 daughters to put through college and yet I am still only allowed to withdraw 65 Euros from the bank each day because the government thinks that the banks will empty out.”

Another citizen on the island of Mykonos was saying how he would go to Athens to vote but he could not leave his job because they were so scarce. “If I did vote my vote would be no, we have been in the EU for so long and it has not helped create jobs we might as well do something to try to make a change,” he says.

Though everywhere in Greece was being effected, it is no surprise that Athens was the most impacted. “Oxi” (which means “no” in Greek) signs lay littered in the streets and graffiti concerning the vote was everywhere, especially near the parliament. Long lines filled with worried people stretch outside the doors of banks, and the most shocking was that metros and buses required no tickets and were ridden for free because there is so limited access for cash in the city!

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While on a tour of Athens the tour guide mentioned that the city of Athens has been expanding greatly all the way to the bases of the nearby mountains but now because of the severe lack of funds the construction projects have all stopped. “By the bases of the mountains there are half constructed buildings and houses now because of how abruptly the expanding had to stop, we didn’t even have enough money left to finish what we started,” she says.

All of this chaos may be going on in the political world of Greece, but it is still just as spectacular. Santorini was a tourist-filled, commercial location, but was still kept spotless. Rather than a boardwalk along the beach, there was a paved pedestrian street with outdoor restaurant tables only 20 feet from the water on the left side, and the tables accompanying kitchen on the right side. The black sand beaches were unique and the perfect temperature for just relaxing on one of the hundreds of sunbeds available.

Mykonos may have only been one short ferry ride away, but was nearly the opposite of Santorini. The feeling of Santorini was very relaxed and calm whereas the beaches of Mykonos constantly have loud dub step music playing and along the beach there were clubs and bars rather than family restaurants. Though they seem boisterous during the day, according to locals, the beaches really start coming alive at 2 or 3 in the morning when the famous beach parties begin. Both of these islands were beautiful in their own way and though I only spent a short time there, they made a lasting impression on me.

To get adjusted from the slow paced life of the islands to the fast paced life of Athens takes some time but eventually I got to appreciate the beauty in both places. From the Acropolis to simply walking through the street, the culture of ancient and modern Greece is alive everywhere. A few metro rides away from the main center of the city there is a small restaurant that I had dinner at one night. Across the street was a beautiful church with children playing and families socializing, making it even more evident that 98 percent of the population of Greece practices Greek Orthodox Christianity and even thousands of years later in Greek history, the church is still the center of the community. Not only are the places amazing, the locals are as well. Several times, while having dinner, the server brought us a dessert after the meal that we didn’t order and simply said “it’s on the house.” Never in America have I encountered that kind of hospitality before.

Greece is the kind of place where even if you are a tourist, you feel at home after a couple of days because of the way the community makes you feel. The sights, food, people, and culture of Greece make it a unique place to visit; but what amazed me the most was the cheerful and positive demeanor exhibited by Greek citizens even during this time of economic crisis. This made Greece an even more unforgettable place which I hope to travel to many more times in the future.

(Avani Venkatesh is a rising 9th grader. She plays softball and volleyball, and is an aspiring writer.) 

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