Other Stuff to Know - 2
Greece — It's a Wonderful Country
There are two Greeces. First, there is the one you see portrayed in the worldwide media showing photos of violent protests and running endless articles about the country’s financial ruin. And second, there is the Greece as it actually is when you spend time in the country, as I have been doing for 40 years. Far too many people outside of Greece are only aware of the first one which is both misleading and unfortunate, especially as the protests have mainly occurred in the center of Athens and rarely in the rest of the country.
Yes, Greece has suffered for decades from self-serving, wasteful and corrupt politicians and government officials. In hindsight, joining the Euro zone enabled the Greek government to go on a binge of borrowings, primarily from the banks of its fellow Euro members (who should have known better), and to create a false sense of entitlement that its citizens should receive numerous social benefits and early pensions that were unaffordable. To get elected, successive parties in power offered their supporters new civil service jobs and condoned a total lack of accountability for both government departments and state-owned companies, most of which operate at a huge deficit.
This path proved to be completely unsustainable. It was inevitable that the Greek government, Greece’s citizens and the country’s debtors would all face a day of reckoning. Today, Greece has reached the point where it has no choice but to face reality and take the necessary measures to get its house in order. While this is going to be a sobering, painful process for everyone involved, the end result will hopefully restore Greece to being a viable, responsibly functioning country where the faith and trust of its citizens in their government is restored. How long this will take, especially given the inevitable resistance on the part of vested special interest groups, no one knows. But, as the saying goes, when you have to swallow a frog, the best way to do it is quickly.
Now, let me describe the other Greece – the one I have experienced every summer for 40 years on my annual holidays there, first for only two weeks and then gradually longer until now for over three months. My wife and I fly from our home city of Calgary, Canada to Athens and then fly on Olympic from Athens to the island of Skiathos in the Aegean Sea. As soon as I step off the plane and put my feet on the ground there, something special in the air seems to carry away all my cares and concerns, and I start to totally unwind and relax. It helps that we are always warmly greeted at the airport by Yiannis, a close Greek friend who lives on the island.
On Skiathos, we stay at our family’s villa, originally built on the island by my mother in 1972. It is located just outside of the village of Skiathos. The island’s permanent population is about 8,000 but during the summer tourist season it rises to a peak of some 35,000. To say that the island is unbelievably beautiful is an understatement. Over 60 beaches ring the island and it has a great deal of greenery and vegetation. On our land, we have lots of olive, pine and eucalyptus trees as well as some almond, apricot, fig, lemon, orange, plum and pear trees.
Even more impressive than its natural beauty are the people of Skiathos. They have a terrific sense of humor and are warm, friendly, generous and eager to be helpful. Everywhere you go on the island, the Greeks there do a great job of making you have a wonderful experience being in Skiathos. At the beaches, restaurants, shops, bakeries, pharmacies, the health clinic, the car rentals, water skiing, going sailing, you are welcomed and looked after in the best possible manner.
The weather on the island is consistently gorgeous with sunny, clear blue skies day after day. While the temperature can get quite hot from time to time, there is always a gentle breeze off the sea. Something about the air’s atmosphere in Skiathos gives the sky and sea a uniquely stunning blue color.
I start each day spending some quiet time sitting on our terrace marveling at the incomparably beautiful vista of the Aegean Sea. Just looking out at the sun rippling off the shimmering surface of the blue water is hugely calming for me. Then, I have my breakfast with Greek yogurt and apricot preserves (supplied to me by a Greek neighbor) and read the International New York Times on our terrace. Around noon, we go into the village to pick up the newspaper, supplies and freshly baked bread and cheese pies. Every afternoon, we spend time in the sun, often at one or another of the island’s gorgeous beaches. In the evening, we have dinner under the stars either at one of the island’s many excellent restaurants and tavernas or at our villa. We know we are tremendously fortunate to enjoy such marvelous summer holidays in Skiathos.
Despite all its current tribulations and serious challenges, Greece is blessed to be a country of great natural beauty and wonderful people. Yes, Greece is undergoing a period of painful readjustments but the end result will be beneficial for its citizens, regardless of whether it retains the Euro. While all this is going on, those visiting Greece as a tourist will continue to have an outstanding experience. Don’t wait to do so.
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