Forget the Pesky Financial Crisis
I recently returned from a two month-long trip to Europe, during which my travel buddy and I visited nine countries and more than 15 cities. Whenever anyone asks me where we visited, their faces take on a vast array of different expressions while I regale them with the list. Everyone looks surprised when I say Liverpool, intrigued when I say Ibiza, like they’re getting tired of listening to the list when I say Venice, and shocked when I mention we spent two weeks traveling all over Greece because my travel buddy has a lot of family there. “Oh,” they say, “how was that?!”
It’s no secret that Greece is undergoing a serious economic crisis. However, from watching and reading the news every day before I left, and then from having spent two weeks there, I can confidently state that although the vast majority of the news coverage of the crisis makes the situation seem like it’s made the country an unsafe destination for tourists, that is not the case. In fact, if I didn’t know what was going on before I left, I wouldn’t have known from being there.
Don’t get me wrong—there’s a serious financial crisis in Greece right now, that much is absolutely true. Greece’s unemployment rate reached 25.58 percent this past April, with its all-time high having been 27.91 percent in September 2013. However, at no point did either my friend or I feel even remotely unsafe in any of the cities we visited in Greece.
Ignore the news
Much of the news coverage I saw about the crisis made it seem like many parts of Greece would be full of protesting citizens, and that there would be long lines for the ATMs, since the ATMs were only allowing people to withdraw up to 50 euro a day. However, I only saw two protests during the whole two weeks I was there, and we did see plenty of ATM lines, some so long that they were stretching down the block. As with any other less-than-ideal circumstance in life, though, people just adapted, and so did we. We made sure to get more euros out of the ATM before we went to Greece, since we knew we might not be able to use an ATM for a while. It wasn’t a big deal.
That’s what everyone else was doing, after all. Our second morning in Greece, which we spent in the port city of Thessaloniki, my friend and I walked to a café nearby to where we were staying to get bougatsa, a pastry generally consumed in the morning and most popular in Thessaloniki. My friend pointed out to me how there were several couples and families hanging out in the café, eating bougatsa and drinking coffee, like anyone would do on any morning anywhere.
“That’s the Greek way,” she said to me, “no matter the situation, they’re still going to meet up with their friends and get a coffee.”
“Getting coffee,” I discovered, is a main staple of Greek culture. During the two weeks we were in Greece, we frequently ended up going to the beach and getting “frappes”—a whipped iced coffee drink – three separate times in one day, often a different beach each time.
At one point, I wondered out loud to my friend if people in Greece really go to the beach and drink iced coffee several times a day, every day, or if her family was just doing that because they had visitors. One of her family members overheard and understood me, and her answer was translated to me as “No, we’re not doing it just because you’re here. If I have work in the morning, I go to the beach in the evening. If I have work in the evening, I go to the beach in the morning. If I have work in the afternoon, I go to the beach in the morning and the evening.”
Not only was Greece not just “not unsafe,” it was one of my favorite places we visited on our trip. Any country whose culture revolves around going to the beach as often as possible is automatically going to be one of my favorites. Not to mention that the beaches here were like nothing I had ever seen before – the clear, light blue and virtually wave-less sea that covers Greece makes the country’s beaches look like computer desktop screensavers.
Another aspect of Greece that struck me was that a lot of things that would cost an arm and a leg almost any other place I’d been were either free or very cheap. For example, every beach I saw in Greece is dotted with beach chairs with attached umbrellas. Unlike in Barcelona, which we visited three weeks earlier, where the chairs on the beach cost 30 euros to sit at, the beach chairs in Greece are free—all you have to do is order a drink, which usually isn’t more than 2 euros.
The upshot is, don’t let the news scare you. Greece is a beautiful country, with beaches unlike anywhere else, and is a very cheap travel destination for tourists if you’re traveling on a budget.