Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Go to Greece! No worries for tourists, and you're actually helping

A frappe on the beach, in the shade, with a nice cool breeze. What crisis?
Last week I was in Greece as part of a press trip to Peloponnese wine country. When I told people I was going, a lot of folks cautioned me to be careful, and everyone was curious about what it's like there right now.

The short answer is: as great for tourism as always.

In vacation areas, including every beach we went by, all the restaurants were open and doing good business.

Rooftop restaurant with a view in Athens
Nobody in the world understands seafront restaurants as well as the Greeks: tables on the sand, under canopies for shade, kitchen across the street, plates of hot and cold appetizers, refreshing white wines and/or bottles of ouzo with an ice bucket.

Athens seemed to have more closed shops than the last time I was there three years ago. And people were waiting in line outside of every ATM.

But the majority of businesses are open. Grocery stores are well-stocked. Bars and restaurants seem to be doing OK. I'm told locals are spending less when they go out, but they are still going out.

We stayed near Syntagma Square, the site of most protests, but unfortunately there was no protest while I was there.

Just go. Take sunscreen, euros in cash and comfortable shirts
Without protesters Syntagma is a European square like any other; a few vendors, a little graffiti. A New Yorker with me kept remarking how Athens seemed exceptionally graffiti-covered to him, and maybe those were protests, but it's all in Greek so I really don't know.

I saw very few homeless people. I'm sure they're there but we stayed in a big tourist area and went to dinner in another, and there weren't any beggars, unlike San Francisco. In fact, perhaps because of the weak economy, there were a lot fewer Africans selling selfie sticks and fake Gucci bags then I've seen recently in Venice and Barcelona and probably ever other big EU tourist city.

A big question Americans always have about foreign countries is, "Is it safe?"

It's usually a silly question, as only 14 countries in the world have a higher rate of death by firearms then the U.S. I'm not a completely fearless traveler: No. 1 on that list is Honduras. I've been there, parts of the mainland were scary, I was afraid (great diving in Roatan, though). For that matter, I'm from Baltimore, and there are places in my hometown I'd be afraid to go.

Fried smelt. Bet you can't eat just one
Greece does not feel dangerous at all. I never heard of any travelers experiencing violence, nor did I hear about purse snatchings or other petty crime. The locals are dressed nicely, carrying handbags, wearing jewelry. Nobody freaks out when someone pulls out their wallet with several 100-euro notes showing.

Crime can happen anywhere, but it's probably more likely in your hometown than it is in Greece. I don't know exactly where this crime index site gets its stats, but it has Greece as about the equivalent of Canada. And nobody asks if you're worried about going to Canada (though if you can't keep your opinion of the Maple Leafs to yourself, maybe you should be.)

Regarding money, it is a very good idea to bring euros with you, as Greece's banking situation is still unsettled. I brought about 800 euros cash. I was relieved to see US-based credit cards are widely accepted. If you fly through a transfer city in the Eurozone like Paris or Frankfurt, you should be able to withdraw euros at that airport. However, there may be a daily limit, plus you never know if your plane will be late and you'll be sprinting to catch a connection, so I would advise you just to buy the Euros at home before leaving.

100-euro notes are big and colorful so I folded them so the wad would be less obvious sticking out of my wallet, but I carried them all in my wallet, no moneybelt. Don't get me wrong, I'm a believer in moneybelts in countries where they're warranted, but I don't think Greece is one.

Who knows what lies in the road ahead for Greece, but the country will always be beautiful

Tourism to Greece is down a bit because of worries about unrest and the economy. For travelers who do go there, this is a good thing: You should be able to get into the hotels and restaurants you want. The euro is weak right now, not just in Greece, so prices are significantly lower than two years ago. In sum, it's a great time to visit Greece.

Plus, as Greece is rife with small businesses, not chains -- part of the "inefficient" culture the Germans want to eradicate -- you'll find yourself putting your money into the hands of someone who really needs it. At a cafe, I bought a 5-euro jar of rose petal jam from the woman who made it. She smiled. Sometimes that's why we travel.

Read my short story about the potential impact of the crisis on Greek's wine industry at Le Pan.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.


  1. And how did you find Barcelona these days? It's getting a bit squishy in the center with how tourism has been shaping up although the Anglophone newspapers quoting our new mayor as 'stopping tourism' are grossly inaccurate.

  2. Barcelona's a great city. Nothing like walking the Ramblas at midnight.

  3. Good for you, helping were you can and needed.

  4. Here's someone who has watched Greece happen, please delete it if you want.

    Enjoy your stay

  5. This is nice to hear! I'm glad that tourists really shouldn't worry. Kinda makes me think I should plan a trip there next year. Hopefully (for me) the Euro will still be kinda weak, and by then hopefully the train wreck will have happened, or there'll be some kind of longer term resolution worked out. would you go about shipping home wine? I've never bought wine when not able to drive home, so how would that work? Can you ship yourself (not "importing" for sale) multiple cases?,-duty-rates basically'll depend on how and where you bring the wine back into the US.

  6. From The Wall Street Journal (July 26, 2015):

    "Greece Makes Fast Recovery in Tourism"