Ελλάδα

Greece is a country with a hallowed past and an at-times turbulent present. Appreciation of the achievements of its classical past has tended to overshadow its development as a free nation since the War of Independence from the Ottomans in 1821. Many people are imbued with a romantic ideal of the Greece of Pericles and the Parthenon are somewhat ignorant that Greece today is a vibrant modern European country. It is equally a land where the languages of recent migrant communities from the Balkans, North Africa and Asia – not to mention the English and German of EU migrants and retirees – contribute to Greece’s status as Europe’s recent multicultural societies.

 

Greece offers a myriad of experiences, landscapes and activities. It is the pulsing life of Mykonos and the ancient beauty of Delos; the grandeur of Delphi and the earthiness of Ioannina and the lush wildflowers of spring. It is the blinding light of the sun, the clear and blue waters, the tang of home-made tzatziki, the gossip in the kafeneia (coffee shops). It is the Parthenon – solitary and pristine – lording it over the hazy sprawl of Athens.

 

As recently as 1983, when it acceded to the EU, Greece was essentially a conservative, agrarian society famous for olive oil, coups, beaches and islands. Its transformation since its induction – has been no less than dramatic. It could once take up to two years to obtain a landline for a home – now Greeks boast more mobile phones than fixed-line phones. Internet hotspots pop up like mushrooms, while car ownership, once the privilege of the affluent few, is now a consumer commodity enjoyed by the majority. While sleeping on beaches was once de rigueur for travellers in the carefree ’70s, tourism is now most definitely pitched to the middle to upper-end markets and sleeping rough is no more the fashion.

 

This has created mixed blessings for visitors: better facilities inevitably come at higher prices; faster and safer sea travel has replaced more romantic slow boat voyages to rocky isles; wholesome, home-cooked food may be hard to find amid the surfeit of tacos, sushi or stir-fried lamb; homey, boxlike rooms tended to with a smile have been usurped by airy, air-conned self-catering apartments and small hostels.

 

So Greece is no longer a cheap country. Prices have rocketed since the adoption of the euro in 2002. Some dramatic price rises, particularly for accommodation and restaurant meals, have been evident in recent years. A rock-bottom daily budget for a solo traveler would be €70. This would mean hitching, staying in youth hostels or camping, and only occasionally eating in restaurants or taking ferries. Allow at least €120 per day if you want your own room and plan to eat out, travel about and see the sights. If you want comfortable rooms and restaurants all the way, you will need a minimum close to €350 per day.

 

Yet, Greece continues to enjoy a steady influx of foreign visitors and that is easy to explain. The Greek people still have the welcome mat out. It is they who, after all, make Greece. Without the indomitable bonhomie of the Greeks themselves, Greece would be a different place altogether. Their zest for life, their curiosity and their unquestioning hospitality to the visitors in their midst is what makes a visitor’s experience in the country inevitably unforgettable. The Greeks may complain too much, curse their luck at times, distrust their politicians and believe ‘oiling’ the wheels of bureaucracy a fact of life, but they maintain their joie de vivre, their spontaneity, their optimism.

So, the job at hand is simple: decide which particular Greece you want to experience; then go find out.

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