As we travelled towards Greece in July, we met many boats heading away from Greece and toward Italy and Croatia. We were advised, by fellow sailors, not to go. We heard tales of corrupt port officials. We were told you couldn’t buy bread and milk. There was no diesel fuel, oh and by the way…bring your own cash as you can’t withdraw money. Oh yeah and as you have pockets stuffed with Euros you will be robbed by an increasing trend in violent crime..
At the same time the international press was suggesting people should think more than twice before heading to Greece due to civil un-rest. Athens was to be avoided.
None of this is or was true. There is a crisis, and it’s biting hard. Salaries are low and costs, in relation to salaries are high. 26% of the workforce are unemployed (most of whom do not receive benefits), wages are down 38%, pensions by 45% since pre crisis levels. Some 18% of the population cannot meet their food needs and 32% live below the poverty line. Youth unemployment is at tragic proportions – a recurring theme in Spain and Italy too…it ran as high as 60% in 2014 and is still above 55% at present – this is resulting in a lost generation who are struggling to see their future.
When you talk to the Greeks they are doing it tough. Unfortunately, they have been for some time and will be for a while to come. Although they will tell you all this with a great big smile, while waving the VAT off a bill if you pay cash 🙂
Add to this the tragic refugee situation which is heavily impacting the Greek islands of the East Aegean and tourists are turning away in droves at the time when they are most needed. Tourism only accounts for 15 % of Greece’s economy, but the press with their mis-leading and alarmist headlines have made a big dint in that much needed sector this year with numbers down by 40% on some islands. Sadly, almost all of the bailout funds received by Greece have gone to pay off the loans, leaving next to nothing to be invested in economic recovery and this is very apparent in Athens, which, while still a colorful and vibrant city is in dire need of investment. Greece’s debt mountain is now almost twice the country’s annual economic output – 180% of GDP and while they will now remain in the European Union, the future is far from certain.
But, as a visitor in Greece you can withdraw cash, use credit cards everywhere but the smallest shops. You can get all of the stuff you need and there is an abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables and seafood. In some specialist shops such as yacht chandlers supplies are low due to government imposed credit controls.
What, does that mean for us? I guess in short its been great. There are fewer tourists in Greece. The anchorages are quiet and only once we have not managed to get into a marina or town quay if we needed to. For a traveller at least, Greece is generally cheap, at least half the price of the Italy, maybe more.
So, despite what the press would have you believe it is the time to visit, especially by boat. In fact, as a visitor to the islands, you could easily not realise there is a crisis at all…and without exception we have found the Greeks outwardly friendly, helpful and very welcoming.