Sun-kissed Greece does not feel on the brink
My head is a spinning confusion of Greek images.
Infected by covering the most recent Greek elections earlier this summer, we decided at short notice to dash down here for a week in the sun. Gosh! When it comes to Greek sun, they sure do have it: hot, hot, hot… day after day.
And that, of course, is the great Greek story in a nutshell – sun, sand, rocks, sea, wondrous and remarkably inexpensive food, fabulous people, the greatest expanse of antiquities on earth, and BUST!
But Greece, despite these spinning images, is still Greece. The road from Athens to Piraeus is littered with block after block of shuttered and deserted commercial premises.
Our island bolthole disguised a number of homes and shops for sale and others shuttered.
Yet in the harbour – or as far into it as their vast bulk allows – every evening a different gaggle of gigantic motor yachts appears, proudly billowing the Greek blue and white flag at their stern, sporting opulent owners in their mid-ships.
Some of these vessels indeed may have been rented to equally opulent Americans, Russians, or Germans, but in the main when we see a Greek yacht, it tends to be definitively Greek.
Are we seeing sea-going packages of non-tax payment? We slightly suspected that we are.
Yesterday the FT reported that dozens of “high-end” Greeks, including the former head of a Greek state bank, had taken large sums of money out of the country and that many had recently acquired “high-end” homes in London.
But there is still wealth about inside Greece. There is also terrible suffering – 22 per cent unemployment, perhaps 50 per cent unemployment amongst 18-24 year-olds. And yet, and yet, the country still functions.
The island ferries still run to time. The bank cash machines disgorge whatever you ask of them. Shops and restaurants accept credit cards. In short, there’s a country waiting at the very least to be holidayed in.
For no very good reason, the fall-off in tourism is perhaps 15 to 20 per cent. No-one knows for sure.
Greeks tend to flee Athens in boiling August, but that does not explain the hotels and some of the sites seemingly very much less than full of tourists.
We spent yesterday morning at 8.00am on the Acropolis as the sole visitors. By 8.30am there were a few more, but by 9.00 am it was time to leave – the cruise ship deluge had begun.
These are tourists who eat sleep and drink on board. It’s the landlubber tourist who is missing. The fabulously simple, yet vast and inspiring Acropolis museum was similarly lightly populated.
Yet Greece does not feel like a country that is going to fold. Indeed I’m reliably informed by an excellent source that the assorted looming deadlines on the euro front will be met and satisfied.
That has to be countered by the unhappy taxi driver who told us he thought the danger of fascism still stalked the land and that the political classes were still in trouble.
I guess it depends who you talk to. But next year I’m looking to book for September in the hope that it may prove a little cooler. I’m not in any doubt that our island bolthole with still be there somehow, along with the rest of Greece – and I suppose, not being a betting man, I’d bet my bottom euro that it will still be IN the euro!
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