When I told other travelers in Poland and Hungary that I was going to Greece next, they whistled and said good luck. My Mom texted and asked if I was sure I wanted to go, did I think it was dangerous? After messaging a couple of friends who were in Greece, I decided to continue with my trip.
Today, amid news of an agreement being made in Brussels, I encountered a political rally on the steps of the Athen’s Parliament building. Syntagma square was full of people of all ages, waving flags and banners, and calling for the Greek government to reject the deal with the EU, leave the EU, and revert to its old currency, the drachma. I spoke with many young and old people, all agreeing that it was best for the country. Speakers around the square blared a speech in Greek. My older brother, Alex, witnessed a similar rally in Athens in 2012, when he was studying abroad. His ended in tear gas being thrown. This one, luckily, did not.
All public transport was free in Athens today and will be tomorrow because of the situation, and people were qued up at ATMs all day. The banks are still closed. I’ve been talking to people on the street and friends and there seems to be a lot of confusion, mostly because of the lack of a trustworthy news source. The receptionist at my hotel even told me she hopes America will step in if need be.
As a tourist, I remained in a happy little bubble, enjoying Greece and it’s charms. I saw the news on the TV while taking advantage of the empty hotels and restaurants. It makes me sad, because I have come to love Greece in the six days I have been here. Reverting back to the drachma seems to be the way to go to me, but I still don’t know if it is the correct path.
For more about my trip, read on.
The Maid of Honor made her way from man to man, wiping each of their brows. She skipped the bride, because she was being cooled by the waving fans of her mother and sister. Both the bride and groom’s families were present at the alter of the Greek Orthodox ceremony in Patras, Greece.
I had arrived to Patras that morning to visit my friend Elena, a friend from my Salzburg exchange, after “sleeping” in the Athen’s airport Mcdonalds. An experience in itself. The previous four days had been spent on the island Crete, a suggestion from my friend Lefti. A great suggestion as I didn’t want to leave.Crete is quite a big island, and I would have had plenty more to do.
My base was Chania, a beautiful Greek town cradling an old Venetian harbor. My first day was given to exploring the town with European charm and Central American construction.
That evening I met up with another friend made in Salzburg, Tonia, and her friends for drinks and
chatting. The third day I made my way down the 18 km Samaria Gorge, then spent the afternoon floating in the ocean.
For my final day on Crete I hiked to Balos Beach, another wonder. Never have I
been asked out that many times in four days, Greek boys y’all are dimes.
But back to Patras. Greek hospitality was immediately evident as soon as Elena and her mother picked me up at the train station at 9:00 a.m. We were taken to Elena’s aunt’s apartment in the city center. Most Greeks live in flats in concrete apartment blocks because land is precious. With one bedroom, a bathroom, kitchen and adjoining living room, it was small by US standards, but warmly decorated and all the space one needs. Elena made me a traditional breakfast of hard boiled eggs, Greek coffee, and crusty bread with honey made by her grandfather.
We then hopped on a bus to Elena’s mother’s childhood village and the beach there. We spent a memorable afternoon floating in the ocean, hiking sand dunes, and even stumbled upon a naked beach.
While we floated in the water, Elena told me about the crisis her country found itself in and the difficulty her people were facing ,especially young people. She is studying to become a teacher, just like her parents. In one year she will complete her studies and if she doesn’t find a job she will go to Germany or Austria because she speaks German. Something that would make her sad, as she dearly loves Greece and once one leaves it is hard to come back.
She also worries about becoming a foreigner in her own country. Greece has been conquered many times throughout history because of its strategic place between Europe and Asia. If the country reverts to its old currency things will become cheaper, inviting foreign investment. Investment that would be good for the economy, but not if the investors don’t respect the Greek way of life. A way of life already being challenged by its lose of young people to other countries, and English. Elena’s mother gets mad when Elena texts her in Latin letters. More and more young people forgo learning to spell in Greek letters and rely on using the Latin letters to type in Greek.
The country has open borders and serves as shelter to many refugees, refugees the government can’t afford to take care of. This is just one example of the many debts Greece has taken on, the government accepted a loan from the EU to support this influx of people, then the very corrupt government spent it bettering its members and left bread crumbs for the people. People who have been diligently paying their taxes.
When I visited, July 12, 2015, Greece had just defaulted on a major loan and was deep in crisis. People were waiting to find out if they would continue to be on the euro and in the EU or if they would go back to drachmas, their old currency. The streets were humming with talk of the crisis, Elena translated for me. Everyone I talked with seemed to be optimistic though, a Greek tendency, according to Elena.
After the beach, we made our way back to Patras for lunch (at 5:30 pm!) of beef patties, potatoes, and Greek salad made from tomatoes grown by Elena’s father, who has always grown all of their produce.
We prepared for the wedding then. Elena borrowed a dress from her older sister, saying as she zipped it up that if her sister saw, she would be dead in the morning. I guess little sisters are the same everywhere, stealing their older sister’s clothes. I’m sure Elaine, my sister, has been having a party in my closet.
The wedding took place at 7:30 p.m., after it had cooled down. Everyone waited outside for the bride to arrive then followed her, the groom, and their families Inside. I enjoyed the ceremony immensely, even though I couldn’t understand a word. The ceremony seemed to be a call and answer session, with the priest saying something, then a group of men singing something back. The audience stood instead of sat and were never still, always shifting, talking, and moving. A sharp contrast to American seated and silent wedding ceremonies.
Other than the connected halo/ring crowns placed on the bride and groom’s heads and the rice throwing at the end, the wedding was nothing like My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
After the ceremony, Elena and I skipped out on the reception and headed to the city center for a tour of the harbor, another beautiful Greek Orthodox Church, and to meet her friend, Rafaella, who did her Erasmus in Krakow, Poland. The three of us made our way to one of the many outdoor cafés to split a meat plate and bottle of wine for dinner at 11:00 p.m. This is a typical Greek night out. Instead of going to bars and clubs, Greek students prefer a busy sreet side cafe, talking, and shared food and drinks.
At 12:30 a.m. we went to an ice cream parlor on Patras main square. A square still crowded with people of every age, and it was a Sunday night. The hot weather demands that people live by its changes, waking early to beat the heat, retiring indoors or to the ocean in the scorching afternoon, then venturing out again at 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. when it has cooled down. The use of air conditioning is seldom, as it is expensive and wasteful.
As a tourist and owner of a foreign bank account, the currency restriction of 60.00 euro per day did not affect me, but it did Elena. We walked by the ATM at 1:00 a.m., only to find a line of about 15 people waiting to take out money.
Elena broke a tooth on a wedding favor. She said she will wait for the currency restriction to lift to fix it. A restriction that people are saying could last 10-18 more months. The next morning we woke up at 8:30 for a quick breakfast, then what Elena called, “fast walking” for 40 minutes to the bus station. The whole time we walked she kept making sure I had all my things, and giving me directions for the bus in Athens. It felt good to be mothered, and by one if the sweetest girls I know.
Thanks for a great visit honey bunch, hope to see you in America soon!
A three hour bus ride brought me to Athens, where I checked out the parliament building, Acropolis museum, and the actual Acropolis. Pretty awesome! Then it was back to the airport for a 1:40 a.m. red eye flight to Lisbon, Portugal.
Greece was just great. I will definitely be coming back. Fingers crossed that my family sails around the Greek islands sometime soon and I can come back to visit friends. Chins up Grecians, your country’s natural beauty and people’s tender dispositions are a treasure.
Next stop Portugal!
July 8, 2015 Chania, Greece
July 9, 2015 Lafonisi Crete, Greece
July 10, 2015 Samaria Gorge and Ag Rioli, Crete, Greece
July 11, 2015 Balos Beach, Crete, Greece
July 12, 2015 Patras, Greece
July 13, 2015 Athens, Greece