Protest banners, handbags and tourists in Athens

Still a lot of queries to Taste for Travel on safety in Greece and how this affects tourism. My youngest daughter, Fran, is there and says she feels quite safe and is enjoying her vacation. These pictures she took  show the centre of Athens, Syntagma Square, where the riots and unrest of the past few weeks took place.

People are walking around as usual, although tourists wandering through the square among the protest banners makes a strange sight. And the Africans have their handbag “stalls” set up on the ground, regardless! There are hundreds, if not thousands of Africans with pavement stalls selling copies of bags, wallets and belts anywhere they can find a spot. When police arrive, they scoop them up and set up shop somewhere else. Most of them are unauthorized arrivals in Greece and have been a massive immigration headache.

Fran went to an ATM and found it roped off due to damage caused in the riots, and saw anti-government graffiti defacing the gracious neo-classical buildings.

The Athens News Agency reports that tourist arrivals to Greece this northern summer are up 9.3 per cent on 2010. Foreign tourist arrivals at Greek airports in the month of June alone reached 1,782,673 marking a 15.8 per cent rise against the same month last year. The destinations posting the largest increases in the first half of the year were the islands of Rhodes and Kos, with 33.25 per cent and 31.07 per cent respectively. Substantial increases were also posted in Thessaloniki 11.57 per cent, Heraklion, Crete 15.06 per cent and Hania, Crete 7.82 per cent. Arrivals in Athens were down slightly.

Last week striking taxi drivers blocked rush-hour traffic in protest at government market reforms, as the Prime Minister George Papandreou promised the unpopular changes would go through and he would take a tougher line against violence. Fran and her friend couldn’t get home after going out for dinner, because there were no taxis, and two people stopped and gave them a ride.

Of the centre of Athens, my daughter says: “I haven’t seen any trouble from demonstrators, apparently they only come out at night, there are, however, police on every corner of Syntagma and towards Ermou Street there is one riot squad and bus there at all times. I still feel safe walking around Syntagma.”

Papandreou vowed to take a tough stance against violent demonstrations, following days of anti-austerity riots outside parliament that left 300 people injured. One Greek journalist covering the riot, Manolis Kypraios, lost hearing in both ears after a stun grenade exploded close to him.

“Many acts of violence are incited by politically extreme groups … Everyone must understand that attacks against parliament or its members, or ordinary citizens are hampering democracy,” Papandreou said in a televised address. “An organized democracy cannot tolerate such violent phenomena.”

Update, July 18: Have just read on Twitter that dock workers in Pireaus are preventing  tourist buses boarding ferries for the islands.  Officials at Athens International Airport advise travellers to use shuttle trains after hundreds of taxi drivers blocked most lanes on the main highway. This is part of the rolling transport stoppages, as I’ve warned earlier. Incredibly annoying for tourists who have paid hard-earned money to go there for annual summer holidays, to find the strikes play havoc with their plans. Does Greece want the tourist income that’s so badly needed, or not?

2nd Update and text message from Fran: She and her friend, in a cab circling the airport and trying to catch a flight, have just made to the terminal. The cabbies are finally clearing the blockade.

If you are holidaying in Greece and have comments to add, write to us at: or you’ll find us on Twitter @TravelTaster

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