I visited some different places in Greece before and during the recent presidential elections. I was in the capital, Athens just before election day and I visited several different islands just days after the Greek elections. Before I left for my trip people asked if I was worried about visiting Athens, given the huge amount of negative media detailing riots and protests in the city, but I was determined not to be put off exploring.
If you’ve been following my blog or tweets regularly then you’ll know I was visiting these different places in Greece as part of a European cruise. That might prompt you to argue that cruise travel doesn’t allow you to see the true state of a place. For many people cruise travel conveys images of being herded round in a large group by a tour guide waving a brightly coloured umbrella. Well, that’s not how I travel on cruises at all. Quite the opposite. I hardly ever take a guided tour conducted by the ship. I much prefer to leave the people from the ship behind and travel independently, using public transport wherever possible. And that’s exactly what I did in Greece.
The media had been portraying Athens as a turbulent city, with more than a hint of violence bubbling just under the surface as the Greek economy falters and people become desperate.
This wasn’t what I experienced at all.
Just days before the Greek elections the city seemed calm and the locals were going about their business as usual. I passed through Syntagma Square where the Parliament building sits, and all was normal as election stages and big screens were being set up for the big event. I didn’t witness anything untoward at all as I travelled through both the centre of the city and the sprawling suburbs.
What was abundantly clear to me was the impact the failing economy is having upon the city. As I travelled by bus, and on foot, around the city I saw countless buildings in states of ruin or disrepair. It was clear to see that Athens, and Greece as a whole, simply cannot afford to maintain its buildings and public areas to a standard that might be expected of a European country.
It was almost another world on the Greek islands, however. I visited beautiful Santorini just days after leaving Athens and while exploring the island, its historic sites and enjoying the breathtaking views from Fira over the caldera, I found it hard to see any evidence that this is a nation suffering a severe economic crisis. The island was busy with tourists spending money and doing their own small bit to boost the Greek economy and, unlike Athens, the buildings and public areas were well maintained and not in dilapidated states.
The Greek elections are over now, however, it’s still uncertain what the future holds for Greece and it’s people. I certainly didn’t let the countries issues stop me from travelling there, and I would urge you to do the same. In my experience, Greece, and Athens itself, are pretty safe and very welcoming to tourists and travellers.