New Q&A – The Airbnb Host

The one thing still working in crisis-stricken Greece is tourism. Thus many Greeks, looking for ways to supplement their income, have started setting up their houses and flats as Airbnb accommodation. Whether in Athens, in the countryside or on the islands, this is good news for travelers, since they get to experience a side of Greek life not visible in a hotel. Strolling in an unknown neighborhood, buying a bottle of milk in the corner shop, having coffee or an ice cream in a local café. And this at a very reasonable price and, if one choses well, accompanied by a warm welcome. 

Meet Ioannis Vasileiou, proud owner of an apartment in one of the cooler neighborhoods of Athens. 

 

Tell us a little about yourself

I was born in Athens but after a while my family moved to my father’s birthplace, Eleousa, a village a few km outside the city of Ioannina in North West Greece, very close to the borders with Albania. In 1999 after finishing high school I went to Mytilini (the capital of Lesvos Island) to study Social Anthropology & History at the University of the Aegean. After I took my degree I spent one year in the army (there is no choice in Greece, you either go to the army or you leave the country until you reach your 40s or you must have a physical or mental health issue in order to avoid it) and then went back to Ioannina. I spent around 10 more years in Ioannina in various jobs (that were never related to my degree) ranging from the chicken industry to bookstores. For the last 3 years I’ve lived in Athens. Throughout my life (well, after the age of 9) what I mostly loved was to discover new music and collect it in every possible way (tapes, vinyls, CDs, CDrs, MP3s)—I never stopped buying music even after MP3. MP3s only helped me to discover even more music.
Since last summer I own an apartment in the center of Athens that I offer for rent to travellers through Airbnb.

What were the major difficulties you’ve faced in the last five years?

I thought a lot before answering this question. I could easily write several pages to answer. If I had to answer with just one word, this word would be Depression. Not just my depression but the whole country’s depression. How would you feel if suddenly you were not able to do all the things you loved and enjoyed doing and especially if this was not caused by your choices but other people’s choices? I loved to wake up every day and go to my work and meet my colleagues, I loved to go to a record store and browse for hours until I bought something, I loved to go out with my friends for a drink, I loved to plan my holidays. After a few years of the crisis I was not able to feel the same. I started to hate my work, because my boss was not paying me on time, and when he was paying it was always less than it should be. I could not make jokes with my colleagues, they were all uncertain about their future, and the future of their kids. I remember one specific colleague saying everyday, ‘What will I do? I have two kids to take care of.’ I could no longer go to record stores and buy music, instead of that I had started selling (piece by piece) my collection in order to pay my bills and my rent. I had friends I wanted to call to have a coffee with them, but sometimes I wouldn’t because I knew they had no money in their pocket, not even for a coffee. Holidays?

 

Did anyone in particular inspire you or help you?

I get inspiration from everyone and everything that can “touch” me. It can be a behaviour, a book, a song, an artist, a friend, a teacher, a family member etc. But if I need to answer in particular no one has inspired me and helped me as much as my parents did. Thanks to them I learned to be frugal. Thanks to them I always had money in my pocket (even in the most difficult times) not just for my coffee but for my friend’s coffee too. Thanks to them I now own a flat that offers me a monthly income good enough so that I will not have to work for a boss or a company that treats its employees like slaves.

What are your hopes/plans for the future?

My only hope is that I will continue to be able to maintain my personality. That I will be able to resist to anything I find not fair. I don’t have plans for the future. Greece is still a place where uncertainty is the only thing you can be certain of.

What are your hopes for Greece? What changes do you hope to see happen?

Greece since the very first moment that it became a nation is a country where corruption rules. I don’t mean that Greeks are corrupted. The only people who are corrupted in Greece are those who are in to politics and critical positions. Corruption is not something in our DNA, all the corrupted Greeks became corrupted by forces outside of the country. If anyone wants to discuss this further with me it will be my pleasure. This is what I hope and wish will change to the better. Some tiny changes have already started to happen but this is a very long road…

 

Have you considered leaving? If so, where would you like to go, and why?

Thankfully I never seriously considered leaving Greece. Even though I could and even had a job offer from abroad (my brother is living abroad, he did not leave Greece because of the crisis, but because of the crisis he is not thinking to return. When I visited him in the early years of crisis, his boss offered to take me in his company too.)
The fact that I do not have a family of my own yet, saved me from this thought. All the friends I have that started a family and are now outside of Greece are not considering coming back and I can understand why.

If you have already decided to leave what would make you stay?

“There’s nothing like the Sun,” would be my answer to this question.

Are you actively doing anything to help with the situation? Is there something you would like to do?

Am I? I don’t know. One of the things that the depression I mentioned above did to all Greeks was to make them inactive. Can you imagine that there were (some still are) people working in jobs without getting paid at all for a whole year? Do you know what the majority of them did about it? Nothing! Because they were all afraid that they would lose their job and they would not be able to find a new one. Do you remember my colleague with the 2 kids? We were also friends, I was trying to convince him and my other colleagues to demand our money when our boss started not paying us properly. His answer was always the same “I have 2 kids…”. A few months later our boss started to ask us to put our signature for monthly payments that we had never taken. I refused to sign and I was fired. After one year and a half I managed to get paid in full the 3 month’s salary that he owed me. My colleague continued to work on the same job for a few more years until he was fired too. Our terrible boss owes him now the salaries for almost a year. I saw my colleague a few months ago in his new job, he has no hope at all that he will ever get these payments. He was such a good employee, anyone would give him a job, but the uncertainty and the fear he had could not let him understand it and take a risk for his own good. If I am doing something actively it is that I try to respect not just my rights but everyone’s rights. If I see something that looks to me unfair, I will point at it instead of looking the other way.

 

How do you see Greece in 5, 10 years?

I really can not look that much forward. Greece has the finest tourist product to offer, but tourism as much as it can help a country to recover from a financial crisis, can also bring disaster. So I think that in 10 years we will know the answer. I only hope that we will not become the poor local servants of the wealthy foreigners.

How do you cope with obstacles and frustrations in your everyday life ?

I think that we Greeks and maybe Mediterraneans in general know how to cope with all the obstacles and difficulties. We can have patience with them, but we can also put them aside for a while and have a nice time. To give you an example, I used to go out in bars like most of the people… when I could not afford it anymore I did not stay in depression in my house, I went out with friends having a nice time on a pedestrian street or a square, with a beer in our hand bought from the mini market.

What are the positive sides of living in Greece? Have you had any good experiences lately?

One good result of the financial crisis, was that all the independent and underground culture was raised to a new era. A lot of people stopped consuming whatever the TV was advertising and started to support DIY actions. Some of the best live music I have ever heard was free of charge or pay what you feel/can, the best theatrical performance I ever saw in my life was not in a theater but in a squat with the actors leaving a hat after the performance for the people to support them if they were able.

The view from the terrace

To finish off, since we are on such an interesting subject, can you tell us something about the Airbnb phenomenon?

Like everything else, it has its positive and negative sides. It’s a new proposition for travelers that has an impact both on society and on the economy. In many tourist destinations the locals are complaining because it has created a shortage of available rentals—for example, in the city of Chania in Crete, students found it really hard to find accommodation at the start of the school year. On the other hand, the Airbnb sector has helped to prevent a catastrophic downslide of property prices. Of course this has not stopped foreign investors from acquiring real estate in order to exploit it in this way.

In my own case—and in those of many others—it has been a life-saver, because it has allowed us to make a decent living without being at the mercy of unscrupulous employers. 

And here I have a piece of advice for prospective travelers: to opt for places such as mine, homes with character and a warm welcome. Investors offer a standardized product, not much different from being in a hotel. In some ways worse, since these properties are totally impersonal, and many are now applying the concept of self check-in, where you never even get to meet your host.

Whereas nothing gives me more pleasure than to welcome my guests, and advise them about local shops, open air cinemas and even their next destination. 

Choosing such a host is easy if you look at their profiles online.

Here would be a good spot to insert the link to Ioannis’ appartement, in case anyone is planning to travel to Greece and is looking for a place to stay, a warm welcome and some decent music.

https://www.airbnb.gr/rooms/19177785

New Q&A – the craftswoman

For a while now, I’ve been following the Instagram feed of Pelagie de Paris, because I love her photographs and her quirky sense of humor. Also her joie de vivre and her general take on life. Pelagie, contrary to appearances, is not from Paris at all, but from the delightful city of Thessaloniki, in the north of Greece, whose more obscure and quaint corners she loves to photograph. She also sews, draws, blogs (about sewing) and likes to treasure hunt in antique shops. But see for yourselves.

 

 

​​Tell us a little about yourself

​I was born in Thessaloniki, but grew up in a village 30 km away, up until I was 19. Then I moved to the city to study chemical engineering, and later on I got an MBA degree as well.​ ​I worked as ​an engineer for two years, and then utilized my MBA to work in the banking sector for 9 years. I quit my job 3 years ago, to follow my dream to be a self-employed creative entrepreneur.
I always liked doing stuff with my hands. I dealt with various kinds of crafts and arts through the years (mostly during university exams, when I should be studying instead, as expected) making jewelry, bags, belts, paintings, learning photography and foreign languages etc, until one day, almost out of the blue, I decided to get a sewing machine and take up sewing. That was seven years ago. I didn’t have a clue about sewing, nor did I have anyone close to teach me, so I inevitably turned to good old internet (YouTube, I love ya!) I got hooked, as you could imagine, and started making my clothes and my whole wardrobe. I still sew most of my clothes and wear lots of me-made skirts and dresses; sewing gives you the freedom to make and wear almost whatever you imagine!
Somewhere in between, I started blogging about sewing in Greek, which I had found to be a whole new (niche) market, since nobody (at least in my knowledge) until then had a sewing blog written in Greek. I wanted to give back to the (Greek) internet some of the knowledge I acquired from foreign sites! (Greek speakers can read her blog here.)
I also like writing, and lately lettering (brush lettering and modern calligraphy as well). I think the one thing that characterizes me is that a have an insatiable thirst for knowledge and learning. My motto is “Semper Curiosus” (that’s two words I put together on my own, I’m not even sure that’s correct Latin, so don’t shoot please). You can easily imagine I spend lots of hours online, learning and getting inspired (hallo, Instagram and Pinterest)!
I ‘ve been living with my beau for almost ten years now, and would very much like to have a dog someday.

Thessaloniki street at night

 

What were the major difficulties you’ve faced in the last five years?

​Well, the one thing that most frustrates me and makes my life rather difficult and my mood a little heavy is this sense of uncertainty and instability that has set upon us here in Greece for these last few years. All the other difficulties come from within (me), and I’m doing my best to get over them: things like ​low tolerance to rudeness and to not caring about others around you. I’m working on them, by trying to be a kind and just human being. It’s an ongoing battle, I tell you!

Did anyone in particular inspire you or help you?

​Nope. I’m one of those people that never had an idol or someone to look up to. I do believe though that I am learning something from every single person I interact with​, whether it’s a positive interaction or a negative one.
Lately however, come to think of it, I realised that I get inspired by people that are very target-oriented and, more importantly, self-motivated. Being a major procrastinator myself, I need this kind of people to be around, to inspire me and push me forward. Of course, they also have to be kind and not in the least amoralistic, otherwise they don’t fit the bill. Sadly, such people are hard to find, as one imagines. But they exist; I’ve found a couple of them throughout the years!

 

 

What are your hopes/plans for the future?

I’m afraid to say I don’t make plans. At all.​ ​Only very short-term ones (aspiring things like “I’ll go to the supermarket tomorrow”). I would very much like to be one of those doers and goal-getters, who set up a goal and make detailed plans and courses of action to accomplish it. But I’m not. I mostly go with the flow, and am known to adapt fairly well to different situations.
As far as hopes are concerned, I’ve had quite a revelation ​a couple of years ago, having heard somewhere that one must kill hope in order to progress and stand on their own. That was a real hit-me-in-the-face moment, ’cause I grew up with the notion that hope was somewhat of a sacred and necessary asset to “own”. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with hope, sometimes it’s the last resort in desperate situations, a real life saver. I lean towards the belief that hope kind of makes us passive and maybe pathetic in a way. I believe that taking action is the way to go (even though as I mentioned I’m not much of a doer). And also, standing on one’s own two feet. The inquiring reader might rightfully doubt that, and ask how will one find the strength to stand on their own feet through rough times, if not resorting to hope. And maybe he would be right. I don’t have the absolute answer to that. Maybe hope is in reality nothing more than our own strength deep within. Maybe. (I state a lot of “maybe’s”, I know, and that’s because I find certainty rather stupid).
Ironically, my name in Greek means just that: Hope (-enter high-raised-brow-and-grinning-emoji-).
Having said all that, in my very short future (come early December) I have my online shop (www.pelagie.gr) opening, that will stock various, personally and carefully curated crafty and artsy things, like haberdashery and stationery, things that I feel really passionate and enthusiastic about (shameless self promotion, #sorrynotsorry).

 

 

What are your hopes for Greece? What changes do you hope to see happen?

​Oh, man, again with the hopes thing! Jk.
If you asked me that same question 5 years ago, I’d have answered that I’d wish something good would eventually come out of all this crisis bitch, both on an individual and on a social level. Unfortunately, I don’t see any of that happening any time soon. Maybe it’s too early to know, or I’m too in the middle of all of this to see clearly. Maybe in the future. Just maybe.

Have you considered leaving? If so, where would you like to go, and why?

​Yes, of course! Lots of times during the past seven or eight years! Who hasn’t?
I still do, as a matter of fact. And, of course, Paris would be the perfect place for me to live in, bien sûr. However, any French city, big or small (Provence, I’m calling out to you, can you hear me?) would do just fine, please and thank you. I think I wouldn’t have much trouble adjusting, say, to the weather and way of living (which seem to be the two biggest struggles for Greeks moving abroad) -I’m not much of a summer person anyway (shocker, I know).

 

 

If you have already decided to leave what would make you stay?

​Two things would hold me back: my family, of course, and​ ​then the fact that I wouldn’t be able to speak my mother language. I feel that our language is our software; words are feelings and intentions and memories and essential parts of who we are, so losing them, a big part of us gets lost too, and is never replaced (if you’re older than eight).

Are you actively doing anything to help with the situation? Is there something you would like to do?

​I am a strong and utter believer in the power of the individual as a bearer of bigger change. One of my favorite quotes lately is “I wanna change the world: I’ll change myself”.
Everybody wants change, but nobody wants to change oneself, I wish that everybody could realise that.

 

Pelagie in Paris

 

How do you see Greece in 5, 10 years?

​Hahahahah, that’s a good one. Sorry, I am not in the least able to make any predictions, and, frankly, I don’t want to.​ ​I have no clue whatsoever. ​​Totally clueless. Come what may. ​

​What are the positive sides of living in Greece? Have you had any good experiences lately?

​I fear I can’t answer this question ​accurately, because I do not have anything to compare living in Greece with anywhere else in the world. I really wish I had.
Also, as I mentioned above, I’m not much of a summer person or a party person at that (calling out to fellow introverts). The sea all around us and the clear blue skies seem to be good assets, though.
A recent good experience does not pop to mind right now. That’s strange and kind of sad, right? But neither does a bad one. So, we’re even, hehe.
Finally, I believe that good experiences can happen anywhere, Greece or not.

How do you cope with obstacles and frustrations in your everyday life?

​I try to be calm and cool. I do not “try” per se to “see the bright side​” and such new age stuff-actually, that kind of comes to me naturally and, thankfully, on its own; I do try though to not take it out on others, and try as best as I can to avoid nagging and whining. I really, REALLY hate that. Hate-hate-hate that.
I wish to some day come to the point of reacting like the old farmer in that zen story (just google “old farmer zen story” and hit the first result that comes up): Maybe, just maybe.

 

Yes, I sew my own clothes. Yes, I can hem your pants/take in your skirt/make your curtains. But. I. DON’T. WANT. TO. Thank you.

New Q&A – the writer

I love crime fiction – so when I came upon Eftichia Giannaki‘s books, I felt I’d stumbled onto a treasure trove. They’re very atmospheric, with three-dimensional characters, and a hero who is just troubled enough while being likeable.

Eftichia is a rising star on the Athens literary scene. Her first book, On the Back Seat, a crime novel featuring an interesting cast of characters, is a page-turner set in the Athens of today, a city beset by the crisis. It won the PUBLIC  prize for Best Greek Novel of 2017, and the second book in the proposed trilogy, Halcyon Days, has just been published. She has also written a previous book, Hardcore, under a pseudonym, which has been made into a film. Two of her plays have been staged in the Greek theatre.

 

 

Tell us a little about yourself

I was born and live in Athens, where I write crime novels and theatre scripts. My first two books, On the Back Seat and Halcyon Days, are both published by IKAROS publishers and are part of the Athens Trilogy featuring Superintendent Haris Kokkinos. One can understand a lot about me and my relationship to the city and its inhabitants by reading my books, which are all set in Athens.

What were the major difficulties you’ve faced in the last five years?

The most serious difficulties are connected to matters of plot, seeing as I pose my readers the problems and questions that concern me in the first place. The social commentary I attempt and the deeper psychological analysis of my heroes unveil the difficulties and problems I have faced over the last few years.

Did anyone in particular inspire you or help you?

I’m inspired and helped by the people who live around me.

What are your hopes/plans for the future?

My hope is to have good health so that I can continue to make plans.

What are your hopes for Greece? What changes do you hope to see happen?

My wish is for the country to acquire a plan so that it can aspire to better days.

 

 

Have you considered leaving? If so, where would you like to go, and why?

I considered it seriously three years ago, because many people close to me are now living abroad. But when I decided to dedicate myself to my great passion, which is writing, I stopped thinking about it.

If you have already decided to leave what would make you stay?

If I decided to leave, I don’t think I’d change my mind. Usually I think things through before deciding.

Are you actively doing anything to help with the situation? Is there something you would like to do?

I think of writing as my positive contribution to the situation. There’s always more to be done, but it has to be achieved first, before being discussed.

How do you see Greece in 5, 10 years?

I can’t see that far.

 

 

How do you cope with obstacles and frustrations in your everyday life ?

With optimism. I see obstacles as a challenge, otherwise probably I would not be writing crime fiction

What are the positive sides of living in Greece? Have you had any good experiences lately?

The people, the people, and, again, the people. As are people in every country. In every difficulty it’s always solidarity which touches me and thankfully there is a lot of that surrounding us.

Read more about Eftichia on her site, here (in Greek).

(The translation of the book titles is my own.)

New Q&A – The journalist

Lina Giannarou writes great articles on all kinds of interesting subjects. I’ve always been a fan, so I was delighted when I contacted her through Instagram and she immediately, and very kindly, agreed to do the Q&A.

Tell us a little about yourself

I was born in Athens, I grew up in Athens and I’ve never moved from here, except to go on holiday. For a while I toyed with the idea to go to England for post-graduate studies, but I managed to find a job just in time and thus an excuse not to leave my comfort zone. That was in 1977, and the job was at the METRO magazine. Having studied sociology I’d never considered a career in journalism, but journalism considered me, in the shape of some good people who – apart from the prospect of having to live in some Northern European campus with TOTAL STRANGERS – saved me from the necessity of having to decide what to do with my life! Because finally that was it. Since 2000 I’ve been working for the daily KATHIMERINI, doing free-lance reportage, mostly human interest stories. Besides that, I try to fit my personal life into the gaps, like everyone else.

 

What were the major difficulties you’ve faced in the last five years?

Seeing some of my friends emigrate, others lose their jobs or being obliged to tolerate unacceptable working conditions because “there’s a queue of candidates out there.” I also found exhausting, as well as terrifying, the social clash which had obviously been brewing but which exploded with the 2015 summer referendum, and which rages to this day. We’re all pretending things are as before, which they glaringly aren’t, and this cannot be very beneficial to good health.

Did anyone in particular inspire you or help you?

My family has proved resistant to difficulties (we do less well when things are good) and I’m generally very lucky with the people who surround me. I will say, however, that the cinema has often been a great savior.

What are your hopes/plans for the future?

I’d like life’s surprises to be good ones; perhaps to work a little less, to succeed in writing the stories that lurk in my head, and not to see my country destroyed.

 

What are your hopes for Greece? What changes do you hope to see happen?

I’d like to see the prevailing mood of suspicion about everything abate. Greater transparency in the public sector, exploitation of resources with more wisdom and inspiration. Cooperation between services for better service to the public. Better schools, less exhausted doctors. Not to have to use the emergency lane.

Have you considered leaving? If so, where would you like to go, and why?

For many years the prospect of emigration was my ultimate nightmare. Lately the thought raises my pulse rate a little less. This is thanks to our government, the feedback from friends who are living in normal countries and the people with whom this step, if it should be taken, would be taken. As to where, I’ve no idea – now you’ve got me stressed again!

If you had already decided to leave, what would make you stay?

A simple “Don’t go.”

Are you actively doing anything to help with the situation? Is there something you would like to do?

I do the minimum to help, but the minimum would be enough if everyone did it. Through my work, I try to promote good practices, to showcase positive examples, to expose the things that are wrong in our society – all of which is obviously not a huge achievement. I try not to complain too much in public, and thus to avoid adding to the general atmosphere of despondency. To be polite, conscientious and to recycle. I would also like to be more involved with the refugee crisis, besides through reportage.

Portrait by Nikos Kourtis

How do you see Greece in 5, 10 years?

I don’t believe a lot will have changed by then. If bankruptcy has been avoided, some basic reforms will have been made which will perhaps improve the workings of the state and help entrepreneurship.

How do you cope with obstacles and frustrations in your everyday life ?

By wailing “WHY ME??” Yes, I’m a big drama queen, I lack sang-froid, I easily let my nerves get the better of me, as my desk mates will attest.

What are the positive sides of living in Greece? Have you had any good experiences lately?

Yes, I bought some great vine leaves the other day, they were organic and totally fantastic. Soon I will make my first visit to an outdoor cinema this season and in about a month I will get on a boat and go to an island. Little, everyday, emotional things.

 

The result of Lina’s shopping spree: yummy stuffed vine leaves

You can read some of Lina’s articles in English here and here.

 

New Q&A – The food blogger

Eleni Vonissakou’s blog, The Foodie Corner, is full of delicious recipes and mouth-watering photographs (she’s a girl of many talents!). In both English and Greek. Plus our dogs are friends and we organize play-dates. So,  how could I resist introducing her to all of you. Do go on her blog and be tempted!  http://www.thefoodiecorner.gr/en/

Tell us a little about yourself

Hmm, where to start. Well, my mum is English and my dad is Greek, I grew up in Athens, studied in northern England and now live just outside Athens near the sea. I studied social work but caught the tourism bug early on, so that’s the industry I worked in for the first part of my professional life. I have now made a complete change and managed to turn my love of food and cooking into a job. I am a full time food blogger, creating recipes, cooking, taking photos and publishing everything on my blog. And then eating it all. I live with my partner and our golden retriever Westley, who takes up most of my limited free time! I love reading about dog training and other canine science articles, and always have a crime novel at my bedside (the only way to switch my brain off).

 

 

What were the major difficulties you’ve faced in the last five years?

The most challenging experience was going from a very structured, office working environment in a huge organisation, and living in the city, to starting my own business, working from home and living in a small seaside town. That all happened at once, and it was a bit of a shock to the system!

Did anyone in particular inspire you or help you?

I had a lot of support from my partner, and still do. In Greece when you start a business there is no financial help from banks etc (it is super difficult to get funding or loans, especially nowadays and especially for something as weird as food blogging) so I had both practical help and of course moral support from him. In fact it was his idea for me to start blogging professionally. Until then it was just a hobby and I had never dreamed it could be more than that. My mum has also been there every step of the way, and she’s the first phone call when a recipe is not working out!

What are your hopes/plans for the future?

I hope to continue with successful collaborations with large brands from the food industry, but I also hope to build the other aspects of my business, like for example the food photography side of things which I really love. I recently organised a food photography workshop on Crete, and this is something I would definitely enjoy doing again since it combines my current work with my background in tourism and event planning.

 

 

What are your hopes for Greece? What changes do you hope to see happen?

Oh goodness, there is so much I would like to see change here. First of all, the all-round unfairness. Too many people get away with things they shouldn’t. And too many others put up with things they shouldn’t have to. I would love to see procedures work like they are supposed to, in all sectors. And most of all, I would like to see an attitude change in the people of this country. To put it plainly (and sorry for the bleakness) I am hoping for less selfishness in the generations to come. It’s not looking good though.

Have you considered leaving? If so, where would you like to go, and why?

I consider it every single day. When I am out walking in the street with my dog and I have to battle the rubbish out of his jaws (golden retrievers will eat anything and everything), when I am driving and have to keep calm with all the inconsiderate and dangerous drivers around me, when my accountant tells me just how much tax I have to pay now, on invoices for which I myself will receive payment in 4 months if I am lucky. The easiest choice would be to move to the UK, since I have family there and have lived there in the past. I would also consider Germany or Holland, even though I don’t really know what life is like in those countries. To be honest, I just want somewhere with nice clean parks where Westley can roam happily and safely! But it’s not an easy decision to up and leave.

If you have already decided to leave what would make you stay?

I think if I got to the point where I’ve said “I’m going”, nothing would make me stay. Unless for some reason I couldn’t take Westley. That would be different.

 

 

Are you actively doing anything to help with the situation? Is there something you would like to do?

The things that bother me are very deeply rooted in the mentality of this country, and that makes one feel very helpless. I can’t even imagine what I could do to help change things. As for the general state of the country, the fact that I haven’t moved my business out of it, and I don’t cheat on my taxes (which is sooo tempting) must count for something. In terms of supporting those more unfortunate than myself, I am a founding member of a team of food bloggers who have raised considerable amounts of money for charity through events. We cook yummy food and people pay a nominal fee to come and enjoy it with us. We haven’t been active for a while since our everyday lives have got in the way, but I really want to do another event soon. I might get onto that actually, thanks for the reminder!

How do you see Greece in 5, 10 years?

Truthfully? Exactly the same as it is now. With less young scientists and professionals, since they will have all moved away.

How do you cope with obstacles and frustrations in your everyday life?

Mostly I rant in group internet chats with my friends! I live too far to just pop over to any of them for a coffee, which is what I would like to be able to do. If my partner is home early enough from work we go to our local café by the sea and talk about stuff. Otherwise, I try to take Westley to his favourite park (one of the very few decent ones in Athens), where he can run free and I can feel happy with his happiness. Oh and ice cream.

 

 

What are the positive sides of living in Greece? Have you had any good experiences lately?

This is a difficult question and depends on the day you ask it. As you will have surmised from all the above, things are looking bleak these days. I will try and find a bright side. A recent amazing experience was my food photography workshop. We held it at Milia, (www.milia.gr) a retreat hidden away in the mountains of Chania on Crete. Stone buildings lovingly restored by the two owners, solar electricity with limited availability (no charging phones in the rooms!), good local food with home grown veggies and herbs, fantastic people. And our group was a mix of talented people from Europe, the US and Canada. I was proud to show off the amazing landscapes and beautiful beaches, the gorgeous meals, and the hospitality of the local team. We also put together some fabulous goodie bags, with good quality products made here by young entrepreneurs with great taste. It felt good to see how much we have to offer. Then I had to come back to reality.

New-style Q&A – the multi-talented travel agent

After a break of a few months – I was not feeling inspired – I am resuming the interviews, but in a more free-form manner. I might include people living abroad, and perhaps modify the questions a little.

What better way to start than with the irrepressible Andonis Radistis, a free spirit and lover of adventure, who describes his life with such enthusiasm. In his own words, then:

 

Tell us a “little” about yourself (Andonis put the quotes around ‘little’)

Born and raised on the Greek island of Skopelos was both a blessing and a ‘curse’ for me. A blessing because there is nothing more beautiful and pure than growing up in one of the prettiest islands that Greece and the world has to offer. Having a carefree childhood without the pitfalls a child and then a teenager could be faced with when growing up in a city. Adjusting to each season on an island; from summer, (full of visitors, sun and the sea), to autumn and the winter, (dead quiet), makes you a stronger person.

A curse because there is something about the salty air on a Greek island. The never ending horizons and the many tales of adventures on raging seas. All this made me want to seek new worlds, people and challenges from an early age. I made a promise to myself to begin my journey and start quenching my thirst for the world as soon as I finished school.

Andonis's birthplace, Skopelos
Andonis’s birthplace, Skopelos

My adventures began with a road trip to the UK and a person I hugely admired. Ended up staying there for 5 years, studying and working to make ends meet. The US was next and the beginning of yet another exciting chapter in my life. This was my year out for work experience, as part of my degree. What an eye opener that was. I remember feeling like I stepped on a different planet, when I walked out of Logan Airport in Boston. Upon completing that year, and heading back to the UK, I remember making yet another promise to myself. I needed to return back there and live the American dream for longer.

The universe conspires to assist you when you really want to achieve something. 2 years later, I was on another plane and heading back to the US. A two year contract and a working visa, sent me to the American south. On a tiny dot of an island in the middle the Gulf of Mexico this time. This was an equally mind-blowing experience, both in terms of work as well as personally. I met some amazing people down there and will have fond memories that will last throughout my lifetime.

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It was brooding in my mind though. The idea of returning to Greece was getting overwhelming. During this time, I realised that no matter how good a time I was having I couldn’t be away from my beloved country. I even had a newborn nephew that I did not get to meet until he was 2 years old!

Once back in Greece, I enjoyed the rest of the summer before I headed straight into my Military Service, which got me into the Greek Navy for a year. A little older than most, I quite enjoyed the carefree year I had there. Try explaining US adventures to 18-19 yr olds: the great times I had in Key West and how it felt to be living in one of the most sought-after holiday resorts in the world. Clubbing, the night scenes of Miami and seeing the sun rise in a convertible while driving on the ‘7 Mile Bridge’. Needless to say, I was the ‘let’s have coffee and fascinate us with your experiences’ kind of guy. I really enjoyed that role for the year!

Straight after Navy duty, I headed to Athens to pursue my career in the Hotel Industry. Worked for a Multinational chain for about a year before I was asked to be one of the Executives in the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. Being part of the Torch Relay Team. I couldn’t say ‘no’ to this – it was my kind of challenge.

A few weeks later, I found myself organising exciting stuff for the Olympic Games. Locating and inspecting hotels all over Greece, in all the places the Olympic Flame had to stay the night. My team started the Games with the huge tour of the Torch Relay. We were on the road for almost 45 days. I will always remember the feeling of actually running with the flame myself and the goosebumps I got throughout the whole 500 meters I ran. The cheer from the crowds on the sides of the streets. The Opening Ceremony inside the Olympic Stadium, and how the flame was brought in and the ceremony started. Writing about it brings back those sacred moments I was privileged to have experienced.

The glory days passed much quicker than I thought. It was the 30th of September and the last day. Packing up the Athens 2004 Headquarters was an experience in itself. I felt a different person. All my colleagues felt the same. We had shared some amazing moments that would never be forgotten.

I didn’t let anyone discourage me those days with the stress of finding another job! I sent out a few CVs, attended a promising interview; 3 days later and by the end of the 1st week of October, I found working for a sweet boutique hotel in the north suburbs in Athens. I hadn’t even had time to fully rest.

 

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Fast forward to about 1 year later and another new beginning! Yes I know, I hadn’t grown tired of changes and challenges yet, (and not for many years more). I wanted to create my own business on my beloved island of Skopelos and live my own dream. Once back, I made my plans as carefully as I could, and 2 years later, we were opening the family business. Skopelos Country Villas was a dream come true. Comprising two self-catering Country Villas with private pools, idyllic location and breathtaking views, it meant holidays in Skopelos would create beautiful memories for many harsh winters ahead. We first operated in the summer of 2007 and hopefully we will still operate for many more years to come.

During that time I also worked in another hotel locally, and almost 4 full years went by where I practically did not set foot outside the island. Subconsciously, I was already making plans for another adventure by that time. I felt that I had finished the hard part of building the family business and since that part was over, I was left without something adventurous to do.

But, as they say, be careful of what you wish for! Life has an interesting way of granting you your wishes sometimes. A few months later I was on a plane heading somewhere I had never really thought of going, let alone live there.

My plane landed in the Middle East, (Jeddah in Saudi Arabia to be exact). I was literally embarking on a luxurious motor yacht for an experience that changed my life, (in a ‘fall flat on your face’ kind of way). I had a posh title and was in charge of Hotel Operations & Provisions – everything looked promising. This place is ideal for those seeking to redefine their life values. Mine were re-evaluated in many ways and made me appreciate life even more. My experience there lasted for almost 2 years. Travelling with a multitude of personalities on board to cosmopolitan and high end places in the Med, was something to remember. Going back at the end of each travelling season to the harsh reality of the Middle East was certainly overwhelming to say the least.

Working aboard floating palaces, the endurance and self perseverance that one has to discover and unleash somehow, are vital. The fact that the work was at sea, where totally different elements of survival play a key role in everyday life, was another matter.

Then, after another stint in Athens and one more in the U.K., I ended up in Skopelos once again – back to safe grounds and familiar waters.

What were the major difficulties you’ve faced in the last five years?

As most people who live in this beautiful country, I’ve been hugely disappointed with its gigantic bureaucracy that has no end. The incredibly heavy taxation that was imposed overnight on small businesses and individuals which continues to increase without any viable strategy. The decimating of entrepreneurship and how unsupportive the government is of young people who want to start a business of any kind. Seeing my parents’ pensions cut down drastically without any logic whatsoever. Feeling massively frustrated every time I try to use any public service to do anything bureaucratic.

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Did anyone in particular inspire you or help you?

I was extremely lucky to have met some pretty amazing people from quite an early stage in my life. These people I met either came into my life for a reason, a lifetime or both. They are the people I call my ‘stepping stones’.
Apart from my family (my parents and my three sisters), who needless to say supported and helped me every step of the way, these people came into my life and ‘pushed’ me forward in ways I hadn’t at the time thought of. They inspired me to think outside the box. They encourage me to take the next step forward. A few have passed on to the next realm, and are carrying on the inspiration, (like Sara and Terry), others I’m lucky to still have around, (like Eileen). They have shaped my past and will continue to shape my future, (like Madge and Toula).

All of these amazing people laid down ‘stepping stones’ along my path and helped me either in my career, my personal life and sometimes both. Has anyone else noticed they are all female? 🙂

What are your hopes/plans for the future?

I would really love to see my new venture, The Travelling Cookie, take off, so I can stand back some years from now and be proud that I helped travellers visit our beautiful country. I am also hoping that I can offer some great trips to Greeks, to visit other, favourite parts of the globe, (like the US).
In addition, I would like our family business, (Skopelos Country Villas), to continue being successful and have guests exploring this small paradise!
I would also like to stand back and say how I have now conquered the world and travelled to roads less travelled around the globe! I guess part of the reason for starting The Travelling Cookie was so that I could also help myself as well as others travel more.
Additionally, I have a new project in the works, SITEnDESIGN , to express my love for web design. An avid supporter and contributor of the WordPress Content Management System I started learning and experimenting with this ultimate web design and development tool in order to rebuilt the family business website. I never looked back since, and have built a number of websites, both for personal use, (my website), as well as for business use.

 

Why leave this?
Why leave this?

Have you considered leaving? If so, where would you like to go, and why?

Leaving? My God, do I need to leave again? No thank you! I think I did my fair bit of leaving during the past 20 years of my life 🙂 After all this, I can safely say that no matter where I’ve been or may one day go again, (perhaps), I could never be far from Greece, the sweetest of all countries, (for me anyway), for more than half a year.
Despite all the difficulties, frustrations, disappointments, uncertainties! Despite everything that is going on or may still happen to us in the future, no one can steal this beautiful, eternal light. The light that makes us shine from within and gives us strength to continue.

Are you actively doing anything to help with the situation? Is there something you would like to do?

I would like to think that I am promoting Greece through The Travelling Cookie, my newly opened, Online Travel Agency. In collaboration with 3 big Travel Companies in the UK, (The Travel Network Group, Independent Travel Experts and Travel Trust Association), I am actively promoting Greece as The Destination, especially for UK and USA travellers looking for summer holidays.
Although The Travelling Cookie is still in its infancy stage, I have hopes that it will grow and be able to eventually stand tall and promote Greece in a wider market segment. Focusing on Personalised Services, (having such a huge hotel background will definitely help on this), I strive to provide excellent customer service throughout the trip planning process.

How do you see Greece in 5, 10 years?

I don’t think that there are many people that have this kind of foresight for Greece. Being an optimist of course, I would like to think that a huge change will take place in the political stage. I would love to see capable leaders take over. Leaders that will primarily care for Greece and its people – not just for banks and the imposing of new austerity measures.
Leaders that will be able to stand tall and defend the country, not surrender it to money-lending sharks who ruthlessly keep asking for more and more!

How do you cope with obstacles and frustrations in your everyday life ?

To survive in Greece nowadays you have to be resourceful, (although resourcefulness is a great trait to have anyway). I tend not too get too discouraged by bureaucratic obstacles that much, and when I do let frustration take over, I just leave my ideas aside and try again in a couple of months/years.

I also try to find ways around whatever it is I’m after – see if a similar, plan B can work for me. Then, there is a great saying too: ’Things happen or not, for a reason’’…so if I’m faced with too many frustrations/obstacles, maybe my plan is not meant to be. At least not for the time being!

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So, if you’re thinking of a Greek vacation, or if you want to explore Europe, the US or anywhere else, Andonis has the resources to make it happen for you!

A year of interviews – what next?

Well, time flies – I suddenly realized I’ve completed a year of Q&A posts.

For a quick reminder, we’ve had:

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November 2015: Ioulia Mavrelou – The hotelier

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADecember 2015: Sofia and Nikos Pattakos – The Internet startup

 

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January 2016: Niki Kerameos -The Politician

 

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February 2016: Athina Mavromati and Yannis Tornazakis – The doctors

 

 

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March 2016: Marilena Chrisochoidi – The Musician

 

 

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April 2016: Alexia Vasdeki – the project manager

 

 

 

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May 2016: Paminos Kirkinis – The Entrepreneur

 

 

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June 2016: Nikos Tsourouyannis – the chemical engineer

 

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July 2016: Chryssanthi Papadopoulou – the archaeologist

 

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August 2016: Lucy Kanatsoulis – the college admissions officer

 

 

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September 2016: Sofia Kioroglou – the poet

 

 

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October 2016: Petros Koryzis – the chef

 

 

*Click on each name to see the original interview.

Going forward, dear readers, I want your opinion. Do I stop here? Do I carry on? Perhaps it would be nice to change the questions a little, if there are different things people are interested in. Or perhaps it would be nice to also get the point of view of Greeks living and working abroad… Call to action: I’m really keen to know what everyone thinks. Even if it’s ‘Enough! Move on to something else.’