Dispatch, Greece: Business as usual


Travel Weekly contributing editor Felicity Long has been traveling throughout Greece with Celestyal Cruises since July 9. Her report continues. Read her first and second dispatches.

While the 11th-hour deal hammered out between the EU and Greece this week made the international news and spurred heated demonstrations and strikes in Athens, it caused barely a ripple on the neighboring islands -- at least from a visitor's perspective.

Tourists still arrive in about the same numbers as before the crisis began, according to the various guides who helped us explore some of the country's most popular destinations and lesser-known spots.

There were remarkably few people gawking at the stunning Temple of Poseidon in Sounion and the Anastasia church in Syros, for example, but these are destinations not typically on the map for a lot of U.S. tourists anyway. In Oia and Fira in Santorini, on the other hand, the tiny streets were thronged with masses of tourists.

As to paying for things, I used an ATM for 100 euros in Fira without incident -- although the machine spit out two unwieldy 50 euro notes -- and most of the shops near the cable car accepted credit cards.

On the island of Kos, our guide Koullias said the island, which only has about 33,000 inhabitants, draws about a million visitors a year via the airport, but another 200,000 or so arrive by cruise ship or by boat or ferry from Turkey.

He estimated that tourism to Kos so far this year is down about 3 or 4% since last year but said that 2014 was such an exceptional boom year for tourism that it is difficult to accurately gauge what is and isn't an impact of the economic crisis.

Unlike the other locals we met, Koullias said he and his friends and family would have favored an exit from the eurozone if accomplished in stages "with a plan" beginning in 2008 when the country's economy began its free fall.

Now, he said ruefully, such an exit, including a return to the drachma, would be disastrous. His mood was pessimistic but resigned as he predicted difficult days ahead for the Greek people.

He also anticipates that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will be summarily ousted once the austerity deal is finalized, a sentiment we heard echoed by just about everyone we met so far.

All that said, it was hard to imagine that anything was amiss as we sipped the local cinnamon drink in picturesque Zia, where the sun shone brightly, hot pink bougainvillea spilled out of turquoise pots and tiny shops displayed local olive oils, honey and handmade soaps.

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