I had been looking forward to this trip for the longest time, I would be going to Athens and soaking up the history, food and culture of one of the birthplaces of modern civilisation. Many of the thoughts, ideas and innovations we are used to nowadays are thought to have been established in Greece. Who would not be excited to go to such a place? Sounds amazing right?
But as we all saw via the many, many news outlets, Greece had essentially run out of money. The European lenders, mainly Germany were asking for their money back. Various articles and publications showed throngs of Grecians queueing up outside cash machines. Each one trying to get their life savings out of their accounts before the national bank seized it up. The reports said that nationals were only going to be allowed to withdraw €60 per day, which then dropped to €50. However, tourists would still be allowed to take out as much money as they wanted.
As my trip to Athens was getting closer and closer, the situation seemed to get worse for Greece. Different reports of locals speaking about how the austerity measures and increased pressure from EU [read: Angela Merkel] was affecting and disrupting their ordinary lives. As with most things, it is always seen on the national and international scales. Two politicians battling it out behind closed doors, desperately trying to reach an agreement to which everybody can agree. The lives of the people affected are rarely shown, just caricatures of the “money hungry” Merkel and the supposed people’s champion Alexis Tsipras.
While the media is known for always blowing things way out of proportion, I must admit that I was a little worried about taking money with me on the trip. I knew that I would need to anyway, as you cannot solely rely on places accepting credit cards, especially not in the markets. And as it appeared that the Greek government was taking the comfort of foreign nationals above the needs of their own people. However, as tourism is such a large part of Greece’s economy, making the it easier for tourists would help the economy in the long run. It was just the visuals that were not the best.
Stencilled graffiti outside Thissio station
Thankfully after the now infamous “Oxi” vote by Greece, they were given more money by the EU which would allow them to stay afloat for a little while longer. And this went a long way to putting my mind at ease, as I did not look forward to hour long queues for money. I am not THAT British. Arriving in the city, myself and my friend found it as we expected it to be, easy going people trying to make some money. There was no air of desperation, and I did not fear that someone may try to accost me or any other travellers who may have lots of Euros on them. Once again the media had stayed doing the absolute most.
That was until 2 days later on Thursday 20th August, and I learned that the PM Tsipras had decided to quit in order to trigger a snap election to appoint someone new. As I was in the country at this time, there was a slight trepidation as to how the locals might react as their government was in a state of turmoil. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, for something to happen, anything. And nothing ever did. Perhaps this was due to the fact that I was in Athens and visited touristy places, but had I not heard the news report, I would not have realised that anything had actually changed.
It was especially eye opening for me as I am not usually in the place where the international news is currently focused on, but it was a privilege being on the inside. The only reaction I even heard was some old man laughing about the state of the Greek government and how it was a “Greek tragedy”. Nothing more happened. People still wanted me to eat in their restaurant, buy their local goods and spend like a tourist. If I had not been in the country at the time, I would have hesitated slightly to venture towards Greece. But it was business as usual, and that was just the way I liked it.
While it is certainly easy to get swept up in the media storm of reporting how bad a country/city appears to be at any given time, it usually isn’t as bad as they make it out to be. So don’t change that ticket, pack your bags and just go!
Have any of you traveled to a country that was deemed too chaotic by the news and just went anyway? Where did you go and how was it?