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What the Heck is Happening in Greece!!!!????

Part 2: Is Greece Safe?

Riot gearI can't tell you how many e-mails I got yesterday with this subject or how many e-mails with other subjects asked me the same question.

What happened yesterday when 3 people died in a bank that had been torched by 'anarchists' was a tragedy of historical proportions. Greek demonstrations may digress into violent confrontations between the hooded youth who attach themselves to any demonstration no matter what the cause because it gives them the opportunity to do what they enjoy which is taunting and battling the riot police, but they rarely result in any deaths. Yesterday was different and though it seems to take the struggle between the Greek people and their government up to another level, it may cause people to reflect on where the violence is leading. The Greeks will always demonstrate and they are right to. Why should the burden be places on the working class for crimes committed by Greece's politicians and elite? If the government want the people in the street to accept austerity and be frugal for the next 3 years (at least) then the government should offer something in return such as the lifting of parliamentary immunity which allows those who committed crimes against the state to get off scott-free. The problem is that because corruption is so deeply rooted in Greek government there is probably nobody untouched by it. If you look at Greece's deficit it is something like 350 billion euros. Then you look at Greece and you realize that all that money must be somewhere because they did not use it to for infrastructure in Greece. When you consider the fact that the Olympic games cost 8.954 billion euros and included the Attiki Road highway, Athens' new Eleftherios Venizelos international airport, the tram, and the suburban railway not to mention all the stadiums that are now rusting because there is no money left to renovate them for other purposes you have to wonder what happened to the other 340 billion euros.


The point being, if you were Greek you might be out on the streets too.


But the question "Is Greece Safe" needs to be answered and actually the question should be "Is Greece Safe for Tourists?"


As my friend Vassilis Comitis of Fantasy Travel explains:

"The protest marches are within a containerized zone, generally they march up Stadiou , do the round up Othonos or Xenophondos , pass by Parliament then head down towards Panepistimiou then disperse. Occasionally they'll move into Filellinon and sometimes in Amalias as they did today. So anyone that wishes to vent their anxiety tends to do so, in the way they see fit. They always smash the same bus stops , the same banks etc etc. Luckily we tuck our guests away into the Plaka area, from the Hotel Attalos to Central , Royal Olympic , so on most occasions unless they go to Syntagma , they are not even aware of a protest march."

None of the archaeological sites or museums are within this zone. So as I have written previously a demonstration is something you can choose to take part in or watch or avoid entirely, not something that is going to swallow you up.

What about the strikes Vassilis?


Strikes are seldom more than 24 hours, usually its 24hours and less. All the guests that prefer to follow our recommendations as we construct their itinerary will have a minimum of 3 nights at each island. Consequently if a boat or plane is disallowed to take off or sail off on a given date, there is enough cushion to accommodate them an extra night at the point of departure, a day less at the destination without loosing the experience altogether.


For people afraid they might miss their flight home because of a general strike when they were on the island they can take solace in the fact that in the case of a general strike which are rare, the airport is closed and ferries don't run so everything is moved back a day. That means you get an extra day on the island. Regardless if you are working with the agency they are in touch with you about any changes in your itinerary due to strikes.


What is happening in Athens, and I repeat, in Athens, not in Mykonos or Santorini, or Sifnos, or the Peloponessos or Thessaloniki... well maybe in Thessaloniki, is a squabble between the Greek people and their government and though we Americans like to think that we are the center of attention wherever we go and worry about our safety, nobody is targeting Americans, tourists or foreigners, and unless you go looking for trouble you are unlikely to find it.


The situation in Greece reminds me of a story in one of Kazantzakis books about a traveler in Crete who was looking for a place to stay in a village and was told about a couple that usually take strangers into their home. He knocked on the door and was welcomed in by the husband who told him that they had to speak softly because the wife was in the next room. The guest sat at the kitchen table and the husband brought him bread and wine and they talked through the night about life and death and other subjects, often toasting observations and epiphanies by touching their fingers that were holding their wine glasses instead of clinking them in order to not disturb the wife in the next room. The next day he left early so as not to wake the couple and on the way out of town was met by another villager who asked where he had spent the night. When the visitor told him where he had stayed the villager sighed and told him that his host's wife had died the day before. So while this man's life was in ruins, he still took in a guest and never let on about the pain he must have been feeling inside.

Greek island beachI sort of feel that way about Greece. Yes the country is going through a tough time and what is happening is weighing heavily on everyone's mind. But what is going on in the bedroom, in this case a 4 block area around the Greek parliament, and what the future will be for the Greek people, does not have to affect the hospitality sector of  Greece. If you are worried about your safety to the point that it consumes you then what can I say? Don't come. But chances are that you will realize you let your fears get the better of you (I am an expert on this subject) and you will realize that while CNN made it look like all hell was breaking loose in Syntagma Square, on the islands it was business as usual and on the islands the business is hospitality, or what we call tourism. If you are so concerned about your safety but don't want to cancel your trip then skip or limit your time in Athens or stay on the outskirts, on the coast or in Kifissia where you can use the tram or the metro to get into town and see the sites. There are plenty of ways to do this and if you need assistance you can e-mail me until I put together a page of choices so I don't have to spend the entire day writing the same thing to everyone.


The news looks scary but once you are on an island, being scared will be the last thing on your mind.

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Hotel Attalos, Athens, Greece

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