Who is flying the flag for Greece?

The Greek economy is causing troubles well beyond the streets of Athens. Many cities and towns are deserted. Which makes it a perfect time for tourists!

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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Greece economy and tourism

The dogs look up at me expectantly. No, scrap that. They look up at me hopefully. They’ve got a few morsels of food in front of them that they’re devouring and guarding at the same time, the way dogs are wont to do.

Cats roam the corners nearby, climbing over the garbage bins and watching with one eye through their natural pretense of nonchalance.

The animals are hungry. They know they’re hungry. But they don’t know why.

The Greek economy and tourism

The citizens of Greece, however, they know why. For four years their country has been under financial siege. Unemployment has surged, tourism numbers have dropped and the economy has taken a battering domestically and internationally.

Tourists come to Greece to see the ruins of the ancient world. Now it’s the modern world that is in ruins. One evening at a taverna in Athens, the waiter, Tony, sits down with us for a cigarette and a chat.

“This month, July, is about fifty per cent down on business,” he tells us. “August, I think, maybe about thirty per cent down.”

Tony works two jobs, he says. He gets only three or four hours sleep a night. But he’s not complaining.

It’s more a sense of melancholic resignation I get from him, rather than bitterness or anger. It’s not that he necessarily thinks he and his people are to blame for the situation, just that nobody else is.

The Greek economy and tourism

The restaurants, the bars, the cafes – they’re all quieter than you’d expect for the middle of summer. It’s not just the tourist trade, it’s locals as well, according to Tony.

“I used to go out more. Now, not on weekends. I stay home. Maybe I go out only on Monday or Wednesday after work.”

At least he has work, though. He’s lucky in that sense. Greece’s unemployment rate is currently at about 22 per cent – even higher amongst the young. And higher in the regional areas outside of Athens.

The Greek economy and tourism

In the small town of Mykines, about two hours south of the capital, I have no problem finding accommodation. There are more hotels than tourists in a reminder of how things once were before the bad times hit. I choose one, based on a recommendation, and find I’m the only person there.

That evening I walk through reception and hear the owner, Agamemnon, arguing on the phone.

I politely pretend not to notice the raised voice but that’s difficult as it echoes around the empty and dimly-lit room. He comes over to join me a few minutes later.

“Sorry, I have a call about finances,” he starts to explain, unprompted.

“Everyone is angry but what can I do? How can I pay them when I have nothing to pay them with?”

The Greek economy and tourism

The name ‘Agamemnon’ means a man with a good memory. In this case, the memories are of how good things used to be.

Agamemnon is a young man but still old enough to know how his country has changed. He spent time working in England and Australia but came back to Greece to run the family business when it was still a proper business.

“We had people like you, just turning up, and they would sleep on the terrace, with sleeping bags, because we had no room,” he says.

I look over at the darkened terrace with its unset tables. A skinny marmalade cat is prowling but I’m not sure what it’s hoping to find.

It’s hard to imagine guests sleeping out there, considering I haven’t seen any others in the whole town so far.

The Greek economy and tourism

Agamemnon tells me he’s glad I’m here. Not for his own business, but because I’m getting to see some of the best archaeological sites in the world.

“The ancient Greeks, they invent mathematics, engineering, alphabet,” he proudly tells me.

“And democracy,” I add, trying to impress him.

“Pfft,” he replies. “We may have invented it but we have forgotten it now. They used to vote for a law and if enough people like it, it happens. Now we vote for people who lie and do nothing the people want.”

The Greek economy and tourism

You don’t have to scratch too far below the surface to find some resentment. But it’s never directed outwards.

In fact, there’s genuine friendliness and hospitality in Greece that might be unexpected, considering the situation.

There’s also hope that things are getting better. There hasn’t been any major unrest of the streets for a while (even though there are still buses of police on several streets of the capital), the new government of Antonis Samaras seems to have stability and a mandate to try to get the country back on track, and the European community appears unlikely to give up on Greece quite yet.

The Greek economy and tourism

From a tourist’s perspective, the country is open for business and it’s ready to look after any visitors. There’s plenty of availability and prices are low.

And, of course, the things that have always attracted tourists are still accessible -the marvels of the ancient world, the modern culture and the beautiful islands.

You could do worse than visit Greece now while it’s off the radar of many other people. You won’t go hungry.

THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN ATHENS

There’s a good range of accommodation in Athens and I would recommend finding something near Syntagma Square for convenience.

BACKPACKER

For a backpacker option, I would recommend the modern and comfortable Bedbox Hostel.

BUDGET

If you’re looking for value, I would suggest the Athens Mirabello, which also has a great location.

BOUTIQUE

There are some cool design hotels in the city and one of the nicest is The Artist Athens.

LUXURY

And for 5-star luxury, I would suggest the modern Electra Metropolis with a great view of the Acropolis.

20 thoughts on “Who is flying the flag for Greece?”

  1. Good post -I was actually wondering how the tourism was in Greece now! I mean it’s not like all the sights and the landscape and the beaches have vanished, right? So you can only encourage people to go there, really -I’d love to!! The last time I was in Greece was when I was, uhm, 3 years old -my first memories are from there, you could say, and I wanted to return ever since! Your posts and the pics you’re currently posting on FB make it a very tempting location, too… So more of that, please, and yassou, yassou:)!

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  2. I love this quote:

    “They used to vote for a law and if enough people like it, it happens. Now we vote for people who lie and do nothing the people want.”

    This sounds like America right now. It’s all about the game, winning and office, and beating the other side. I am so tired of politics because my pessimism says that no politicians really care about our country. That’s not true I am sure but it sure feels that way.

    With that said, I watched a special on the financial crisis on Wall Street a few weeks ago. Greeks were destroyed by the derivatives market. It cost them dearly and led them to where they are now. They aren’t the only ones. They didn’t understand. Even many on Wall Street didn’t understand. But cheap money when you are struggling when you don’t understand the risks is a bad idea. I hope the government in Greece turns things around.

    Glad the people are still warm and friendly.

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    • The Greeks seem to have quite a varied opinion of what went wrong. Some blame the government, some blame the euro, some blame the banks, others just think it was inevitable. Regardless of the cause, though, there’s no denying that it’s a tough time for people at the moment.

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  3. I liked the same quote as Jeremy, simply because it is very true. I hope the Greek people find themselves out of this mess and back to the good old days

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  4. Thought provoking post Michael 🙂 The best folks can do to support Greece is to visit and spend money. And it’s certainly a place with no shortage of attractions.

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    • You could spend a long time (and a fair bit of money) here quite happily. When people remember how much there is to see and do in Greece, it will do wonders for the tourism industry and the economy.

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  5. The Greek problem is about them not being able to control themselves when introduced into the European candystore and us not willing to stand up to them.
    I mean, everybody knew in their hearts that the Greece wasn’t ready for Euro-entrance but we didn’t dare stop it. And Greek politicians when presented the opportunity by western banks to get dirtcheap money didn’t say no.
    And now there is no easy way out of the crisis. But it won’t stop me from visiting. I’ll be on Crete in the second half of august.

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    • It’s definitely a complicated situation. I think it’s probably too simplistic just to blame it on the Greeks or on the EU for letting them in. It certainly seems like the necessary regulatory oversights weren’t in place though!
      Enjoy Crete 🙂

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    • But then there’s the cyclical effect that more tourists can help mean more money for the economy. The trick for the Greeks is to find the right balance and to promote tourism in a way that is sustainable and benefits the whole country.

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  6. I went to Greece a few years ago. It was a lot of fun and yet it seemed so far different from the productive life in the rest of Europe. Stuff closed randomly and stories from our ship captain about calling to get fuel and being told that noone feels like working today.

    Anyway I did enjoy the islands and will definitely try to get back.

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    • The culture is certainly different and sometimes it seems a bit strange to outsiders. Most of the Greeks I spoke with were quite proud of that way of working, though. Which maybe just shows some of the issues the EU needs to work through…

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  7. I’m enjoying reading your posts on Greece and the insights it gives me into how the economic crisis is affecting the people. At the end of the day, the economic crisis isn’t about numbers- it’s about people trying to feed their family and make a living.

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