Yesterday, Sunday 5th July, at about the same time the Greek voters were going to the polls about their referendum, we were driving along the Peloponnesian coast on the way to Kalamata airport. The three of us had just spent the most glorious fortnight in Stoupa, our first visit to Greece for some ten years.
Occasionally we had caught glimpses of the BBC World News and what was being reported on the internet. Apparently we were holidaying in a country racked in crisis, with no money in its banks, no food on its shelves, and its people desperate and enraged.
Really? What on earth was it that none of us – or any of the other contented tourists – were failing to see? Were we all so wrapped in our selfish enjoyment that we couldn’t recognise the chaos around us?
The previous evening, as our farewell meal, we had sat in our favourite of the several excellent tavernas we had tried, at a table overlooking the beach. The sea was that kind of ever-shifting, shimmering blue that only the Greek seas seem to possess, the sun was slowly descending in a red blaze in front of us, and to the side the towering Taygetos mountains embraced us. It was heart-stoppingly beautiful, in the identical way it must have stopped the hearts of many thousands of other people over many thousands of years. The astonishing thing about Greece’s physical beauty is its resilience, the way it never seems to diminish or disappoint, however familiar.
That night we had been served by younger family members of the taverna, the reason being that the older ones were taking part in the annual charity race they had themselves initiated in 2010. The finishing line was on the beach front, amidst fireworks, music, applause and noisy celebration. This year, hundreds of people of all ages from the local villages had taken part, running the 10 km course along the coast. Many immediately jumped into the sea to cool off, joining all the delighted kids still larking in the shallow waters. If ever there was a sign of a community at peace and at play, this was surely it.
How were we supposed to square this with the doom and gloom that the media – certainly the British media – were determined to foist on us all? Nothing in our holiday had given the slightest hint of crisis. Maybe the big cities of Athens and Thessaloniki would provide a different experience, but in regions such as the Mani it was impossible to see how the nation’s current financial situation had made much impact at all. Food was local, home-grown and plentiful, shops were well-supplied, and – for tourists – cash-machines had no limit. For city-types like ourselves, dependent on supermarkets and the like, it was a pleasure to be reminded that the best produce can be grown in one’s own garden or the family fields. Where else in the world does each individual taverna make its own unique olive oil?
Above all – for the tourist at least – there is the assurance that the Greeks are the Masters of Hospitality. Whether this is natural, or cultural, or whether it is the result of many years of a sort of unconscious professional development in the cause of tourism, I really don’t know. But the reality is that nothing is too much trouble, very little causes offence, all requests are tolerated, all imbecilities are forgiven, nobody is hassled, everybody is given space, kindness seems obligatory, and the tourist is always treated with courtesy and respect (even when undeserved). It must be just about the easiest place to enjoy a holiday anywhere.
Given all that, it would be a true Greek tragedy if it were tourists who inflicted further harm on the Greek people by listening to the mostly self-serving crisis propaganda being put about by the media and politicians. There is no reason to abandon Greece: it is a wonderful country, extraordinarily varied, easily manageable and always welcoming.
The drive from Stoupa to Kalamata airport wound effortlessly through the foothills of the mountains, with the sea almost constantly in view. We arrived in good time, enjoyed a final baklava and coffee, and the plane left promptly on time. The easiest, most unstressed holiday we had ever had.
Paul McKeever – GIC Client