Monday, May 31, 2010

Athens and a strike!

We're visiting Greece during an interesting time. They've been hit especially hard as a result of the global financial crisis. The government is essentially bankrupt and almost defaulted on its debt a couple of weeks ago. It got rescued by a loan from the international community (i.e., Germany) and as a condition of the loan the government had to impose a series of "austerity" measures to limit its expenditures. This has resulted in protests by people whose wages or services were cut.

Not that it's the Great Depression or anything even close, but we couchsurfed with a local named Panos in Athens so we got to hear first-hand about some of the cuts. He works for a local university and his salary was recently cut 7% and his father's government pension was also cut (including withholding a lump-sum payment he was owed). Panos is not out rioting in the streets (and his dad was actually on holiday when we visited), but Panos did have some interesting things to say about Greece and the crisis. I won't bore our readers with the details (feel free to ask me about it sometime) but the essence is he thinks the government wastes a lot of money and wishes they'd cut military spending (per capita they spend more than eight times what Germany spends on military spending, he pointed out). In that respect, it was a lot like a conversation I might have in the USA.

Panos was a great tour guide. He took us all around the city, including a nice night out with some of his friends. The Greeks are notorious for their late nights, and on Saturday night with Panos we stayed out until 4AM drinking Ouzo at a tiny street-side cafe. Earlier in the evening, we sat outside an outdoor concert by the band Thievery Corporation, then a Jazz Festival for more outdoor music, all the while surrounded by throngs of happy, partying Greeks. Let's just say if you measured the crisis in terms of coffees consumed or street-side cafe visits, Greece wouldn't be registering a crisis at all.

Although Panos claims it has nothing to do with the crisis (and says it was always this way), we continue to notice massive amounts of graffiti. It's everywhere, and it's definitely the worst we've seen on our trip. I guess every county has its one issue. Australia had flies, India had garbage, Egypt had street touts and Greece has graffiti.
From Athens
We had a whirlwind tour with Panos in Athens, including Sunday spent at a beach in Sounia, south of Athens. We met many of Panos friends, all cosmopolitan young people speaking very good English, including one guy, I kid not, named Adonis. Like I said, if this is a country in crisis, bring it on!

We left Athens this morning for Patra, northwest of Athens in order to catch a ferry to Venice, Italy, our next destination. We were supposed to catch a ferry at midnight, but there was a ferry workers strike so our boat is delayed six hours and won't leave until 6AM. Since we were already planning on hanging around until midnight we figured instead of getting a hotel room we'd just hang out in the train station or something, although now we're starting to maybe regret that decision. Patra is a little run-down and we're not sure what we're going to do for the next four hours before we can check into our boat. We're currently writing this blog post at a little cafe basically waiting until they kick us out.

If all goes well with the ferry, we'll arrive in Venice on Wednesday morning (it's a 31 hour ferry - yes I said 31 hours) where we'll probably spend one or two nights before heading off to Zurich, Switzerland to visit our friend Aaron. Crazy that we'll be back in the USA in a little over a week!

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