“Greek austerity my arse.” It was a casual comment on Facebook, made by someone who hadn’t visited Greece for a while and was thrilled to be back. She was staying in the affluent coastal suburbs and commented on a bar full of people and the nice cars on the road. I’ve just returned from Greece, staying in exactly the same area as she describes. Yes, I saw full tavernas and bars, I drank and ate in them too, and I lounged at an impeccably clean private beach (pictured above) and drove a smart-ish car.
But here’s the thing. Perhaps the woman on Facebook hadn’t yet noticed whole shopping arcades mournfully darkened with lists of For Rent and For Sale signs out the front. Or streets now unkempt because local councils have run out of money to clean them up. Or suburbs of eerily quiet streets which used to be bustling with Athenians out and about. The Greek capital used to be a city that never slept. You could get a meal at 3am and still bar hop at 5am and have a truck driver style breakfast at 6am. In some areas you can still enjoy this wonderful tradition.
The beautiful Greece remains: beaches, islands, azure water, gutsy food, shopping to die for, multi-million dollar homes and yachts, dazzling riches of an ancient history with the majestic Acropolis overlooking her financially-troubled domain.
And there’s imploding Greece: In the Athens centre, one day it’s heaving with protestors and tear gas, and the next day coaches are lining up in front of parliament for tourists to get out and snap pictures. Angry graffiti is prolific.
Drug addicts openly use needles in parks, beggars are prominent in the city centre and I saw the homeless sleeping behind a hospital in fashionable Kolonaki – the suburb of boutiques. People dumpster dive for food. Unemployment is 25.1 per cent. In the worst-affected 15-24 age group, unemployment is 54.2 per cent.
On an island famed for its wealth, I meet two young women who live in their home without electricity because they can’t afford to keep paying arbitrary new taxes dreamed up in the vain hope of digging Greece out of its financial quagmire. Tourists on other islands complain because they can’t pay by credit card. The cash economy of yesteryear has become the payment of choice again. Greeks no longer trust credit. And the EU no longer trusts Greece with credit.