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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 15 August 2015
12 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 15 AUGUST 2015 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Where’s the A tourist who just got back from holidaying in Greece wonders... MIA TAYLOR While sailing from one Greek island to another in pursuit of authentic Greek life, a traveller can easily locate the stunning architecture, pristine beaches and charming cliff-top communities that attract countless tourists every year. Yet finding examples of the massive economic crisis plaguing one of the world's most popular vacation destinations is a somewhat more elusive task. I discovered as much during my recent 10-day romp around Greece. From Mykonos, where the winding streets are still crammed with cashflush fashionistas eager to shop and squeeze into the many nightclubs, to quiet, picturesque Syros, where tourism is not the primary source of income, and Santorini, the glamorous and still bustling mecca for the international jet set, life hardly appears to be coming to any sort of standstill in Greece. At least not on the islands, far removed from the political turmoil in Athens. For months, Greece's financial crisis has been the stuff of international headlines, with protests, bank closures and a potential Grexit all part of the ongoing spectacle as the nation struggles to address its enormous debt and develop some sort of bailout agreement with the European Commission (EC), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB). Viewing the drama from afar has left many people with an uncertain opinion of the country. Tell someone you're visiting Greece these days and the responses range from "Stay safe!" to "Bring lots of cash with you". Some even question your sanity when you admit your plans. But the reality on the ground in this popular tourist destination is a far cry from the turmoil projected in news reports. At least at first glance. There are no lines outside banks or in front of ATMs in Athens, or anywhere in the country for that matter. Most stores, restaurants and other businesses are operating normally. And the Greek people, while expressing exhaustion and frustration with the economic uncertainty of life, are doing their best to help each other get by until better days arrive. "If you're just sitting at home watching the news overseas, you think the whole country is falling apart, but that's not the case at all," says Nicholas Filippidis, director of product development in North America for Celestyal Cruises, a company that specialises in providing an authentic Greek experience by offering voyages to off-the-beaten-path destinations throughout the country. Far from falling apart, or coming to a standstill, the country and its people are perhaps working overtime to maintain some semblance of normalcy, while also preserving Greece's largest industry: tourism. TOURISM IS GREECE'S LARGEST INDUSTRY There are indeed cracks in this façade, but they show up in ways that tourists on vacation, busily shuttling between the Parthenon and the islands, are not likely to notice. The evidence can be seen in the all-too-quiet shipyards where workers, no longer being paid, have stopped showing up. Or in the struggle of average Greeks to make ends meet amid strict banking limitations. Some locals will tell you that those who are able to, particularly the younger generations, have left the country in search of opportunity elsewhere, such as Germany, the US and Canada. But even amid such upheaval and frustrations, the outward demeanour of most Greeks continues to be optimistic, upbeat and hard at work catering to tourists still flocking to the country. On Mykonos, the streets, cafes, restaurants and nightclubs are all jammed with twenty- and thirtysomethings happily preening before their selfie sticks. The Armani and Bulgari shops are doing business all day and night. And at sunset, there's not a seat to be had anywhere in the island's picturesque, waterfront Little Venice neighbourhood. As evening descends, the music of nightclubs takes over the party island and the festivities continue until early morning. Far removed from Athens, tourism continues as usual. Antonis Pothitos, a licensed tour guide on Mykonos, says many people are now visiting as a show of support for the country, while others, not at all put off by the economic issues, have maintained previously scheduled vacation plans. But there are some impacts even here. Many of Pothitos' countrymen, unable to find employment in whatever career they trained for, are now competing for work in Greece's most reliable business - tourism. "Everybody wants to do the same job I'm doing, but they're not qualified and have no licence," he says with obvious frustration, urging tourists to make sure that, when hiring a guide, they possess a valid licence. The Mikrolimano area in Piraeus was bursting with life. The yachts rested at the marina as usual and the bars were packed with people.
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