Mark Wilson in Europe, Greece 5th-16th July 2011, 10 things you need to know to get through.
What was I expecting.....? I had just flown from the prosperous lands of Scandinavia to the rock bottom of Europe, from order to chaos from prudent financial management and austerity to complete lack of any financial management at all.
I landed in Greece what was once renowned as being one of the most advanced civilizations on the planet in ancient times, revered for fighting its prowess, technical innovation and the advancement of mankind having heard only a scattering rumours about the state of country beyond Athens sufficiently normal looking airport lounges, to be honest my mind had wandered off into the beauty of Scandinavia and its people.
Ancient Greece had once stood at the pinnacle of civilisation hit the fast forward button to 2011 and my how Modern Greece has fallen. The Greece of 2011 is still a place of beauty, iconic landscapes and history not to mention some epic summer weather, beautiful beaches and ladies to boot but it is also a backward, behind the times, bankrupt economy now renowned for dragging mankind down particularity if you are a member country of the EU or contributing funds to the IMF to bail out of the floundering Greek economy.
Financial reality, political woes and prehistoric sewage system aside Greece is still clinging to its once fabled reputation of the tourist mecca. While the peak season which used to see Greek beaches, bars and backpackers rammed with money spilling visitors May through October now peaks in a flurry around July and August, It is still a happening place and even on the shoulders of the high season there is enough going on if you can handle the odd toilet, transport and technical issue to entertain most breeds of tourists.
However no matter how surreal your holiday is you can’t really escape the glaring reality that despite a GDP per capita comparable to New Zealand and decades of uninterrupted growth through the 80's and 90's Greece on the surface doesn't appear to fit into the same first world status as countries such as Germany, New Zealand or even the now struggling Ireland. There are highways, ATM’s and the internet but there are also slums, rubbish, a tangle of wires, pipes phone lines weaving around the cities in a hazardous and hap hazard manner.
So to survive Modern Greece here a few things to keep in mind to ensure a safe and enjoyable stay.
10 things you need to know to survive Greece in 2011.
1) Cash is good and bad, they don’t take credit cards so you need cash but pick pockets in the cities are rife so it’s a liability at the same time. Maybe it’s a conspiracy where by the merchants don’t take credit cards so cash needs to be carried that way it can then be stolen by their buddies? Ask the Greeks how much they trust the banks and you will realise why they prefer a cash economy. Ask the government how they expect to collect tax and replay there massive debt when people operate in a virtual black market, I wonder if the Germans asked?
2) English is sparse compared to what you are used to in Europe. Especially in the older generation and on signs. Leave early and hope your TOM TOM or NAVMAN has the most up to date maps and speaks better Greek than you.
3) Prices are dependent on how much money the merchants think they can get from you. Which is dependent on the availability of any other nearby competition, how gullible you look, the season, how busy they are and what time of the day it is.
4) Don’t flush your toilet paper! Greece spent all its money on public servants holidays so they didn’t have any spare money to build a first world sewerage system. Being a kiwi I decided to go ahead and rip into flushing and there were a few times that I thought I was going to end up knee deep in my own misguidedly flushed filth.
5) Don’t plan on getting sleep on Ferries, even when they are quiet there seems to be some form of religious objection to a tired possibly hung-over tourist catching some much needed recovery sleep. Take sleep where you can get it as the party lifestyle on many of the Islands means you need to grab some shut eye by day or you won’t survive the trip.
6) Keep an eye on your ladies, the Greeks are smooth operators and like most of Europe there are plenty of lads both young and old who are willing to push the boundaries of personal space and appropriateness too far.
7) Greece is no longer cheap. There is value to be had but the days of a cheap holiday in Greece disappeared with the Drachma (Greece’s former currency). Gyro’s is the best value food and can be used as a barometer for the prices of locality. €1.50 is a cheap area €3.50 means you’re in for an expensive night especially if you’re having a few drinks.
8) €1 shots are pretty much dish washing liquid mixed with some cheap booze, but after a few warm up beverages you won’t know the difference until your Black Zambuka won’t light.
9) Strikes! There are strikes and pretty much everyone gets involved so don’t expect to get far some days. The big backpackers and international hotel chain shuttles are the best bet when things grind to a halt.
10) The islands are not all close together. A popular myth, so check your timetables and buy a map to ensure you leave yourself long enough in between activities to actually get to where you want to be. Ie/ unless you buy a very expensive flight its over a day transit between Ios/Santorini and Corfu by boat, bus, boat and shuttle.
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