Thursday, February 25, 2016

Help Greece by holidaying there!

When we first floated the idea of visiting Europe in early 2015, our first desired destination was Greece. We’ve been to Europe twice but have not travel to the Balkans yet. We looked forward to seeing the beautiful white and blue domed houses depicted in travel photo. When we put Greece as the first country to touch down as part of our Europe tour, anxieties trickled in about the situation in Greece. We were bombarded with news about the financial crisis and the refugees. When news came about the ATM withdrawal limit, we questioned our sanity in going there. Athens seemed chaotic on news but when we googled about the situation, it didn’t seems so bad. Travelers raved that the chaotic news depicted was overrated and it was still safe. It was true! Been there in September 2015 and loved it!
 Oia on Santorini
We did not encounter anything out of the ordinary. Travelers still throng the Acropolis and we have to jostle with the busloads of tourists for the best position to take selfies in Oia, Santorini. Of course, locals living there would be affected by the situation but as travelers, we can do our part for Greece’s economy by not avoiding Greece. To some extent, the tourism industry is affected. We believed it should have been more crowded at the tourist attractions we visited. We were gleeful not to have to elbow anyone to take photo in some places. However, on hindsight, we realized the hardships the locals must be experiencing. Restaurant owners, guesthouses, gift shops, taxi drivers, all tourism related businesses were affected by the drop in visitors. It’s a sobering fact. Think of their families who are depending on tourists as livelihood. We couchsurfed in Athens (Oops! We should have supported local guesthouse) and got to talk to our hosts about how they were coping. We also chatted with our tour guide when we signed on for a free walking tour. The amazing part through all these craziness in Greece is the unbreakable spirit of the Greek. They still carry on with their daily lives and showed us their best hospitality. The scenery is still as breathtaking and you’ll miss out a lot by bypassing this great destination.
 Changing of guards at Syntagma Square, Athens

 Parthenon, Athens
 Lefkes, Paros
Here’s what you can do to be prepared:

1) Read up on the news before traveling there. When you’re there, keep abreast of any new development. Check the internet for news whenever you’re connected. Or do it the lazy way, ask the staffs of your guesthouse, the shopkeepers or even the locals. 

2) Find out the contact and address of your embassy. You’ll be surprised when you might need their assistance. We did! However, it was not due to being stuck in a protest or because we can’t withdraw money from the ATM. Athens was safe, really! It was due to the spirit of Greek hospitality that caused the Singapore Embassy to offer their assistance to us! That’s another story.

3) Have enough cash. It’s actually not a problem for foreigners to withdraw cash from ATM but since regulations can change anytime due to the political turmoil, we made sure to have enough anyway. Credit cards are still accepted but don’t expect to use them in small souvenir shops or cafes as they do not have such service in the first place!

4) Get travel insurance. We usually get one when we travel, hoping that the airline will bump us to the next flight and we can indulge during our holiday on the airline’s and insurance’s compensation. Alas, it has not happen yet.

So with these, just enjoy your Greek holiday. The worst you might encounter in Greece is the shock of finding out you can’t flush toilet paper!

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