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July 17th 2011 print

James Allan

It’s all Greek to me

We just missed the Greek riots by a day or two, which was a shame because if you can’t riot to be able to retire at 50, on 95% of your final salary, and have German taxpayers pick up the tab for the last 4 decades of your life, then you really don’t understand social justice, do you?

My family and I are just back from a holiday in Greece. Good friends in our neighbourhood invited three couples over to the small island of Kythira. The parents of the wife emigrated from there to Brisbane, as did a remarkable number of other Kythirians.

So off we went, for a just under a fortnight in my case. Now after an interminable series of flights I found myself in Athens. And here’s the thing about Athens. The Parthenon and the Acropolis are magnificent. It’s a 20 minute walk up the hill, more if you want to meander first through the Plaka, and you’re there. Then you just walk around and around marvelling at what you see, much as Mark Twain recounts in that part of his 1869 Innocents Abroad book covering the ship’s docking in Athens and his night time endeavour to get up to see it.

What else can one say about Athens? Well, did I mention that the Parthenon is magnificent? I did. Well, there were the riots of course. We just missed them by a day or two, which was a shame because if you can’t riot to be able to retire at 50, on 95% of your final salary, and have German taxpayers pick up the tab for the last 4 decades of your life, then you really don’t understand social justice, do you? I mean if that’s not social justice I don’t know what is.

The fact the rioters are killing tourism, the only export industry Greece does well, maybe the only industry at all, well that’s just a necessary cost of the fight for social justice. Just ask any Green voter; he’ll set you straight on that.

Sure, rioters might be breaking marble and taking it away. They may be disfiguring the main tourist part of Athens, but did I mention the Parthenon?

Surprisingly, perhaps, we managed to drag ourselves away from Athens and set off for the island of Kythira, an island of 3,000 or so inhabitants in winter but many multiples of that in the summer. And it was terrific. Great food. Exceedingly friendly people, though having a Greek speaking friend (one related to many of the islanders) was a big advantage. Stunning beaches. Tomatoes and watermelon that had this strange quality, I think it’s called ‘taste’.

I recommend this island highly, assuming of course that you can drag yourself away from Athens and its many delights, such as the Parthenon and, well, er, um, the odd invigorating riot.

After a week in Kythira my family and I left and took the ferry to Crete for the last three nights. This too was tremendous. It has plenty of World War II history, because the Germans invaded here and pushed the Allies (lots of Aussies included) off to Egypt. It has the Samarian Gorge walk, a stunning walk that took us about 6 or 7 hours not counting the bus up there and the boat and bus back.

Then there was Knossos. These Minoan ruins in the middle of Crete were well worth the downsides that go with a middle of the day, boiling hot tour of them of the sort we took. They are old enough to make the Parthenon look young. (Did I mention you should go to see the Parthenon if ever in Athens and looking for something to do?)

My last plug is for Chania, the Venetian built, and most beautiful city, in Crete. If you go, stay somewhere in the old town close to the harbour. The various Greeks we spoke to in the tourism game were pulling their hair out at the strikes, riots and protests that were seeing reservations cancelled by the day.

Add all that to psychotic drivers, switch-back cliff roads that are guaranteed to have the adrenalin pumping for days, rental car companies that take no credit card imprints and want cash, and a lifestyle where you don’t even think about going to dinner till 11pm, and you have a very enjoyable end result.

But then you also come away convinced there will be a default and that the Greek government has absolutely zero chance of paying back all of the 170% of GDP or so of debts it has already accumulated, leave aside it is still running a primary deficit (meaing one not even counting the payment of interest on its existing debts). You’d be more astute lending money to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac I reckon. Or a heroin addict.

As for the euro, there sure seems to be a tough road ahead for that currency, at least if Greece is to remain within its ambit. And Portugal, I suppose. And Italy. Oh, and Spain maybe. And Ireland of course.

Anyway, we took the night ferry back to Athens and, not having time for another trip up to the Parthenon, went straight to the airport and left.