No cause for celebration

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras hailed it as a ‘day of liberation ‘ and the ‘end of a modern day Odyssey’: after about nine years of unbearable austerity, Greece has exited the bailout program.

“Greece has managed to stand on her feet again,” the prime minister’s office announced last week, describing receipt of a final €15bn bailout loan as “The last act in the drama. Now a new page of progress, justice and growth can be turned.”

However, celebrations are premature: not only in my opinion, but according to several experts, the bailout was a disaster for Greece, since the loans were designed to help Northern European banks, not the Greek government, nor the Greek people.

 

Photo from Benaki Museum Archives

 

If their purpose was to support the Greek economy, the emergency loans must be considered a failure. Greece is now the fourth poorest country in the EU behind Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania. In an economy that has contracted by 26%, a fifth of the working population – two-fifths of young people – have been left unemployed, while about 500,000 people have fled, mostly to EU member states in Europe’s wealthier north.

Although Greece might be now able, after many years, to borrow again at market rates, and Tsipras is at pains to play down outside supervision, we will still be subject to a regime of enhanced surveillance. Further pension cuts are in store.

Also, a return to borrowing has been made much more difficult because of market turbulence caused by financial problems in both Italy and Turkey. In the midst of his triumphant pronouncements, Tsipras has nevertheless warned of “fresh battles ahead” as the country prepares its first budget measures following the end of its international bailout.

The country faces decades of austerity since, contrary to widely held beliefs, less than €10 billion or a fraction of less than 5% of the overall programme went to the Greek fiscal budget. In contrast, the vast majority of the money went to existing creditors in the form of debt repayments and interest payments. Athens will be repaying a €322bn debt mountain for next 42 years.

Scary? If you talk to Greeks who’ve had to sell their house, whose kids have left for a better life abroad, whose businesses have gone bankrupt, who have zero faith in their leaders, I can assure you not many of them will be opening the champagne just yet.

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

Dining out

We frequent our local fish shack all winter, too, when the interior is cosy and your clothes end up smelling of fried fish, and sometimes salt spray hits the windows. But now they’ve put their tables out, by the rocks.


Its name is Xypolitos, meaning ‘barefoot’.

Fishbones and wine. When darkness falls, they switch on the lights.

 

A blue evening. Around fifteen minutes away from where we live. Worth the drive?

Some news

Summertime living makes things seem less grim, especially if one can get away for a day or two. For Greeks, though, life continues to be a struggle, with ever-rising taxation, constantly changing rules and laws, and a failing infrastructure. A quick glance at the papers reveals the following:

– The dramatic worsening of the Italian economic crisis has put a damper on the government’s hopes to stage a smooth exit from the bailout program in August. The political earthquake in Italy has caused shivers in the whole of Europe, given that its economy is the third largest in Europe, and nearly ten times larger than that of Greece.

 

Consolation

 

– In Lesvos, refugee arrivals from Turkey have not abated, resulting in the hotspot of Moria being inundated by 7.300 people (for 3.000 places). There have been clashes between migrants from Arab countries and Kurdish residents over religious differences, and hundreds of people have dispersed over the island, sleeping rough in parks and woods. Fearing for their safety, they are refusing to return to state-run camps. Plans have been made for the creation of more reception facilities, but the local authorities have reacted forcefully against these. It is true the islanders have borne more than their fair share of this burden, but nevertheless  immediate solutions must be found.

 

More consolation

 

-Meanwhile, the leader of the opposition Kyriakos Mitsotakis presented his business model for the country. His message was: No to more taxes and social contributions, yes to investments and new jobs, but also to healthy entrepreneurship. Amen to that? Well, I’m not getting my hopes up, we’ve heard this before. Many times, by all sides.

To end on a better note, there is something we can be proud of:
In its annual report, the European Environmental Agency has said that 95.9 per cent of all coastal bathing waters in Greece are of excellent quality. Off to the beach, then, to drown our sorrows in the crystal clear waters.

 

A beach in Thasos, Greece


 

Catch a boat to an island

From most places in Europe, at least, Greece is a very accessible destination. A couple of hours on a plane (around four for the furthest countries) and you’re in Athens. Starting this month, there are even direct flights to some islands, such as Corfu and Crete.

 

June is an ideal month to visit: cool enough to wander about ancient sites, warm enough to swim. Still green, but with summer blossoms such as oleander and bougainvillea in full bloom. School’s not out yet, so it’s still pretty quiet and prices are lower than in the high season.

There are plenty of things to see and do in Athens itself, and there are many beautiful mainland sites worth a visit, such as the Meteora or Mycenae. However, one of the most fun things to do is catch a boat to an island.

 

Get a room by the beach.

 

Watch the sunset. Wispy clouds and lavender mountains.

 

Sit by an ancient olive tree.

 

Eat outdoors.

 

These pictures are from Thasos, a large, wooded island in the North Aegean. But with a couple of hundred inhabited islands to choose from, there’s something for every taste.

 

Gulls follow the boat.

 

 

Have I tempted you?

An orange sky

Any Greeks still doubtful about climate change are becoming more convinced as yet another cloud of dust from the Sahara hits Greek skies.
Athens, known for the pure blue of its Attic sky, is covered in a yellow haze, and people are going around coughing or hiding their mouths behind handkerchiefs.

 

Source:Google

 

Things have been even worse in Crete, because its proximity to Africa means the dust is denser, turning the atmosphere bright orange.

 

Source:Google

 

We have always had this phenomenon when certain climatic conditions prevailed, but it would occur only occasionally. In the last few years it is becoming more common and happens several times per year. According to scientists, it will probably continue increasing with time, as climate warming becomes more intense.

The dust cloud is not toxic, but it is extremely unpleasant and can cause breathing problems in people suffering from lung conditions such as asthma.

This is what the sky should look like at this time of year!

Almond blossom

‘Estia’ means hearth

In Ancient Greek religion, Estia or Hestia (/ˈhɛstiə/; Greek: Ἑστία, “hearth” or “fireside”) is a virgin goddess of the hearth, architecture, and the right ordering of domesticity, the family, the home, and the state.

It was a difficult start to my road trip to the seaside town of Galaxidi. The rain poured down, washing out the view on all sides. A few bare branches were the only things visible as I tried to keep the car from aqua-planing on the turns. A two hour trip took a while longer but, as we emerged on the top of the mountains above Itea the sky cleared and a few rays of brilliant sunshine pierced the clouds.

 

 

The view towards Galaxidi

 

The charm of Galaxidi was restored, and so was my mood, over a cup of mountain tea taken at the hotel with some of the other visitors. We were all here for the annual cutting of the traditional vasilopitta at the Estia Agios Nikolaos, (https://www.estia-agios-nikolaos.org), a community where adults with special needs live, work and share their free time together with those caring for them. In this, Estia Agios Nikolaos is quite unique, and not only in Greece. It is also one of the few such communities worldwide which is not affiliated to one particular religious faith, and this inclusiveness is the main point of attraction for people all over the world who come to live and work here, making Estia a vibrant and exciting place.

 

Our b&b, the Hotel Nostos

Everyone had dinner together at a wonderful seaside taverna. I sat next to Clara (German, speaking fluent Greek) and Maxime (French, having just signed up for his second year, rapidly improving Greek), two vivacious and inspiring young people, who talked about their work with enthusiasm. Also present were numerous locals, such as the pharmacist who donates all meds for the community, and a lady who provides fish from her fish farm once a week. And, making a star appearance, was Estia’s first baby, Mia, born to a couple who work as carers – a source of endless fascination and delight for all.

Next morning, after a delicious breakfast of home-made delicacies and a walk in the port, we drove to Estia, where everyone was gathered in the assembly hall.

Music and songs. The man playing the trumpet is the Estia gardener.

The festivities started with a couple of songs  (this video might look as if it’s facing sideways, but it will right itself once you click it. The mysteries of technology…)

Then the cutting and sharing of the vasilopitta.

 

 

We visited the ceramics shop, where colorful creations were on offer.

 

The wonderful vegetable garden,

 

complete with scarecrow,

 

and free-range chickens.

 

And finally one of the four residences, which in total cater for 45 people, of whom 22 have special needs (at the moment there is space for two more.) In ‘Estia Agios Nikolaos’ all the members live in small family structures, which comprise 6-9 special needs guests, 2 to 3 professional caregivers and 2 to 3 volunteers.

 

 

The entrance with its cats and box of fresh home-grown veggies.

 

A cozy living area

 

Complete with music corner

 

Fireplace

 

A large dining table for communal meals

 

A lovely kitchen

 

And a well-stocked larder.

 

We went on to visit another building which is used for various activities, fronted by a shady terrace for barbecues and ad hoc concerts. This doubles as the Kafeneion (café), a gathering place for Sunday coffee with the locals and evening parties.

 

A brand new kitchen, designed by an architect friend and donated by IKEA (the floor had been freshly washed), will be used for the new bakery and pastry workshop.

 

And there is a loom for weaving

 

Maren, who is German, is responsible for one of the houses and took us on tour, while explaining that the residents really look forward to their activities each morning after breakfast: either working in the garden or in the pottery and jewelry workshops.

The afternoons are devoted to music, exercising, walking, and in the summertime, swimming in the sea nearby. Besides the staff, there are professionals (most of them on a volunteering basis) providing specific therapeutical activities such as art therapy, physiotherapy, gymnastics and music therapy.

During the weekends, individuals can choose the activities they would like to participate in. There are various artistic and spiritual pursuits on offer, in connection to the local communities, such as outings to musical events, theater and cinema, church attendance and participation in local celebrations. Every Sunday late afternoon, the entire community gathers in the Kafeneion for cake, music and games, often hosting visitors from the local community.

Each new resident is taken in for a month’s trial, to see how well he or she will fit in. Most adapt well, some don’t. After the extensive mutual screening there is a mandatory period of at least one month when the potential resident returns to his/ her home so that each side, resident, family and the Estia team can calmly make up its mind. Sometimes parents find they miss their child too much, and prefer to keep them at home.

Residents join in on outings and trips whenever possible and have even been abroad, which I found impressive, due to the logistic problems needing to be solved.

The cornerstone principle of ‘Estia Agios Nikolaos’ is that “each person is unique and can be helped to develop his or her unique capabilities in a nurturing environment via creative work, artistic stimuli and direct interaction with nature.” Efforts are made to treat each person as an individual – the girl who made a friend in town goes for sleepovers to her house and is allowed to invite her in turn, those who don’t like to sleep after lunch are not made to have a siesta, and so on. Such an anthropocentric approach is quite revolutionary in what remains, in essence, an institution.

 

The view from the entrance

Giovanna Kampouri, the president of the foundation which supervises the organizers, explained the community’s vision:

For our residents with special needs, Estia Agios Nikolaos is often their only family and home. Many of them do not have a family that can care for them, and very sadly, most will face the trauma of losing their parents. It is our mission to be able to provide them with a lifelong, stable and loving home. The biggest challenge will come when the first residents will age (in the case of those with Down Syndrome, with dementia). We are now starting to study what it will take to build our 5th home, with special facilities for this group. We need to solve many issues for this, in addition to money, and particularly Greek legal requirements and infrastructure.

On a day to day basis, in the middle of the crisis, Estia has not only survived but managed to thrive, thanks to the love and generosity of an ever widening circle of supporters in Greece and abroad. I believe that this is thanks to its message of inclusiveness, which is filling a growing need in all our societies (to balance the opposite trend of nationalism and xenophobia) We are thankful for this, as we need to continue and to expand our possibility to provide life-long care for our residents. Due to the crisis, the ability of many of our residents to compensate for the patchy payments by EOPYY(social security) been reduced, and we have been able to fully cover this and to even offer full ‘scholarships’ to new residents from every part of Greece.”

And of course, the work is never done. There are plans for acquiring more animals, such as bees and a donkey, building a wood-fired oven, planting olive trees.

I left feeling invigorated and inspired – some truly remarkable work is being done here. If you want to know more, and meet the principals of this story, watch the wonderful video made by Marianna Economou.

 

Old Athens

Today Athens is a large, bustling city with a population – suburbs included – of over three million. It has its own particular Greek flavor, of course, but it also has many common characteristics with other European capitals: a lot of traffic, pollution, the usual ubiquitous shops, restaurants, cafés, museums, opera houses, theatres, squares and parks.

Athens, however, is a relatively new city, which evolved, in the 19th century, from a regional town of the Ottoman Empire to the capital of the new Kingdom of Greece. After the liberation from the Turks, it was a ruined and semi-abandoned town. But King Otto, the young Bavarian prince sent over by the Allies, declared it a capital, and in 1834 its reconstruction began, under architects Stamatis Kleanthis, Edouard Shaunert and Leo von Klenze, the king’s counsel.

It was then that the neo-classical buildings which even now give the city distinction were erected, starting with the Royal Palace, which was paid for by King Otto’s father, the king of Bavaria, as a personal loan to his son. In 1934, after extensive renovation following two fires (the royal family had meanwhile moved to a new palace), the building became the House of Parliament.

 

 

The University of Athens was designed by the Danish architect Hans Christian Hansen and built with financial support from the king, the king of Serbia and various prominent Greeks.

 

The Athens Cathedral was also initially designed by Hansen, but finished by Greek architect Dimitris Zezos, who added Byzantine aspects. The church was partly built using material from abandoned Byzantine churches.

 

There were many other public buildings built at that time, as well as private residences.

Fast forward to circa 1917, after the first war, when the following photos were taken by our French Allies.

Cattle at the temple of Hephaestus.

 


Cooking with a view of the Acropolis.

 

A neighborhood near the center.

 

A shopping street with a mosque in the background.

 

 

Buying grapes. Some men still wore traditional clothing.

 

Children playing in the streets of Plaka, beneath the Acropolis.

 

Coffee in the garden of Zappeion. In the early twentieth century, Athens was still a provincial town of circa 180.000 people.

 

Constitution Square: The large white building on the right was built in 1842 and since 1874 houses the Grande Bretagne Hotel, where history has been written many times over and  which is still  today one of the  great luxury hotels in the world. In 1888 it was one of the first buildings in Athens to have electricity installed.

 

One of the main commercial thoroughfares, Stadiou Avenue, in 1935.

 

During WWII, Athens came under German occupation.

 

German tanks in Athen.

The city suffered great destruction and famine, exacerbated by the civil war which exploded following liberation from the Germans, and which raged until 1949 (my parents always told us this was much worse than the German occupation).

 

A British soldier in Athens during the civil war.

 

Children singing carols in the early 1950s. Ill-fitting coats, heads shaven against lice, but at least these two have shoes on.

 

The ice-cream man. Many years later, a man on a bike pushing an icebox still came into the park where we played when I was a child. I vividly remember our excitement, and the smell of the ice as the heavy lid was lifted, and we bent over the box to make our choice: vanilla or chocolate, on a stick or in a cup. It was a real treat.

This is far from pretending to be a comprehensive overview of the long and complicated history of Athens. I just happened upon these old pictures and thought they gave off a charming aroma of time passing.

Syntagma  (Constitution Square) then…

And now…

All images are from Google. Since most are old, it was difficult to attribute credit.

A black day, a black tide

As if Greece was not plagued by enough problems, it is now the site of an unprecedented ecological disaster, following the sinking of an oil tanker near the port of Piraeus.

The Agia Zoni II sank on September 10 while anchored in calm seas and carrying 2,200 tons of fuel oil and 370 tons of marine gas oil. The ship’s cargo spilled into waters where dolphins, turtles, seals and a variety of fish and sea birds feed and live. Oil slicks have extended from the island of Salamina, near where the tanker went down, to the entire length of the Athens coast.

 

Image from naharnet.com

 

The Greek government is being accused (as usual) of a slow and inadequate response to the crisis, which it (obviously) is denying.

Meanwhile, the World Wildlife Fund has filed a lawsuit over extensive pollution to the coastline around Athens. The environmental group’s Greek branch filed the lawsuit in the port city of Piraeus against “anyone found responsible,” a common practice when a party that could be held legally accountable has not been identified formally. Mayors of affected coastal areas are also threatening to take legal action.

Environmental and wildlife organizations have been posting instructions on social media on how members of the public should handle any stricken wildlife they come across, as well as phone numbers to call for help. As for the members of said public, they have been denied one of the great benefits – or saving graces – of living in Athens, that is, access to sandy beaches with clear water. The end of this season is shot, and who knows what the long-term consequences will be? This will also affect another Athenian pleasure, eating locally caught fish in little tavernas by the sea.

This disaster comes at the end of a summer beset, as usual, by wildfires which consumed another chunk of precious forest around Greece and the islands. There again, the authorities were criticized for being more disorganized than ever. At the moment they are engaged in heaping blame on each other – the opposition has asked for the resignation of Ministers concerned, etc – while spouting various inanities, such as, ‘In a month the beaches will be cleaner than before.’ Nobody is amused or convinced by this. Greece’s greatest assets are its natural beauties, and it is very sad to watch these being destroyed.

Below is a video taken by a drone, which shows the impact on usually pristine beaches

 

It is still unclear why the ship sank. Its owners insist it was seaworthy and that its documents were in order.

Medical tourism

There were storks strolling on the runway as my plane taxied to the terminal in the airport of Kavala, a town in Northern Greece to which I flew in order to catch the ferry to the lovely island of Thasos.

Seagulls accompanied the boat on the 35-minute crossing, and a gaggle of kids on a school outing ran around screeching, while I had my coffee sitting in the sunshine.

 

Arriving in Thasos

 

I came here to visit my doctor, Athina Mavromati (she was one of my Q&A subjects, read about her here) who, with her husband, decided to quit the rat race and move to this lovely spot. They took their sailing boat and their dog, and have never looked back. Athina’s family come from this island, so it was an obvious choice.

 

 

This is the picturesque old port.  Under a huge, ancient plane tree, a fisherman was mending his nets.

 

 

The island is large and green, with pine, olive and plane trees coming all the way down to the crystal clear sea. The beaches are of fine, white sand.

 

 

It was a good time of the year to come, since the season has only just started, so it was not too busy – and also not too hot yet, although the weather was beautiful. However, there were plenty of tourists already, most of them Russian.

This tiny island looked like something in a Japanese painting

 

There is one street with ‘tourist-trap’ shops selling local produce such as honey, olives and oil, sponges; as well as clothes, straw hats, and hideous articrafts made of sea-shells. The rest of the town is quiet and full of cafés and little restaurants – there’s even a shop selling frozen Greek yogurt!

Greek salad and stuffed vine leaves at a shady spot in town

There are many places to visit along the road going all around the island – lovely monasteries, and ancients ruins scattered everywhere, since Thasos was famous for its white marble and olive oil and thrived both in Ancient Greek and Roman times. There are also lovely little mountain villages and hiking trails in the forest. All this was explained to me by Athina and Yannis, who very kindly took me out to eat in a little taverna by the sea, where we had the most amazing fish, accompanied by various local delicacies. Unfortunately, I did not have much time, so I only managed to swim in the sea. But I will definitely be back!