What We Won't Miss About Greece...
After four and eight long years respectively, The Guys @ DCGreeks.com went to Greece for three weeks for the AHEPA Supreme Convention, a whirlwind Greek Island cruise on the Aegean Sea, and a few days to visit virtually all our family that we still have over there. While we won’t bore you with too many details about the AHEPA Convention, we’d like to take a stab at offering a series on what we’ll miss and in some cases won’t miss about Greece.
September 8, 2008
It suddenly became expensive to visit and spend any real time in Greece. Having not visited since the Olympics and the extinction of the drachma respectively, things in Greece seemed to cost a lot more than what they did back in the day, even when compared to the inflation we’ve experienced in this country over the same time period. This not only struck us from the perspective of Americans visiting Greece for three weeks, but from the perspective of the young adults we met who lived and worked in Greece on a full time basis.
Our perspective is understandably tainted from the good old days of traveling in Greece. Our most memorable vacations were in 1994, 1996, and 2000. One of us was there in 2004 during the Olympics, when a combination of the Olympic pricing and the weakness of the Dollar against the Euro made things seem bad, but not as bad as we found them this summer. Traveling in Greece when Dollars versus Drachmas meant something allowed for memories of 80 cent souvlaki sandwiches, and 40 cents for a drink (albeit watered down) at a bar on almost any island. Decent hotel rooms would run the equivalent of $30 a night, and a taxi ride half way across Athens was a no-brainer.
Fast forward to the summer of 2008 when the Dollar was laying $1.60 against the Euro and prices being charged by hotels, bars, and clubs were higher than ever. For a first time traveler with Greece under the Euro, psychologically it seemed like the prices were high in some instances like one would expect for the given setting. One always assumes higher prices at a hotel bar for example, but the conversion from Euros to Dollars simply added insult to injury. A cocktail at the hotel bar at the Intercontinental in Athens ran 12 Euro. It wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary to pay $12 for a cocktail in a similar hotel stateside, but it’s not until later when you realize that you just paid $19.20 for a simple gin and tonic.
While the price of things was bad enough, the phenomenon of a la carting everything that would normally seem all-inclusive was something we weren’t prepared for particularly on vacation, where one tends to spend a little more for packages and to avoid the nickel-and-diming expected when one island hops the Aegean on ferries and negotiates for rooms on the spot in port. While this is the way we normally experience Greece, we were coaxed into purchasing an all inclusive hotel and cruise package through our participation in the AHEPA Supreme Convention which gave hundreds of Greek-Americans who probably wouldn’t have gone to Greece this summer an excuse to go. The aforementioned Intercontinental as well as the Ledra Marriott, and a handful of other hotels in downtown Athens were packed with Greek-Americans for a solid week, paying an average of over $230 a night per person, regardless of whether they were in a single or double occupancy room. Sure this price included a breakfast buffet, but some of the other perks that even a Motel 6 would throw in free back home, were extra. Wireless internet access, an expected necessity that Americans are used to finding at a minimum in the hotel lobby if not in their rooms, cost 20 Euro a day simply for an in-room license, which didn’t extend to any meeting rooms or even the lobby. Our five day cruise through the Aegean on a Greek Cruise line (which will remain nameless) required the separate purchase of a “drink package” to get even so much as unlimited soda. The best thing about cruises typically is the 24 hour access to food and drink, so it came as a shock that not only did this cruise only offer three feeding times but made you pay 72 Euro for the privilege of one-at-time watered down rail drinks, which didn’t include any drink that required the addition of more than one kind of alcohol, a mixer, and a piece of fruit. (One of our friends ordered an Irish Coffee late one evening and was presented with a cup of whiskey laced coffee with whipped cream on top and a bill for 5 Euro. Not realizing this was not included in the drink package she kindly asked the waiter to take it back and then proceeded to have a conversation with the waiter on the ridiculousness of this policy. Circumventing the policy while still having something close to an Irish Coffee involved the separate ordering of a shot of whiskey and a cup of instant coffee, in that order, to avoid the coffee from getting cold by the time the waiter brought out the whisky.)
Overpricing luxuries for the detriment of tourists was something we understandably lived with while on vacation. Paying extra for internet was Overpricing luxuries for the detriment of tourists was something we understandably lived with while on vacation. Paying extra for internet was simply the cost of doing business for being able to actually go to Greece for three weeks while life (our jobs) went on without us physically being back home. Spending 80 Euro each for a three hour tour of Ephesus while on the cruise was merely a convenience fee for not speaking Turkish, the value of a Turkish Lira, and from getting bamboozled by a Turkish cabdriver and ending up stranded in Turkey without a passport. (The rest of our island tours were self-guided, six-to-a-cab, misadventures which were fine because we were in Greece and could get away with it.) But for young adults, living and working in Greece, particularly Athens, but even in the villages, paying extraordinary prices to have a little bit of fun was unbelievable to us. Young Athenians, while not on vacation, are still paying the same prices as the tourists, to get into the same clubs, and while they don’t have to worry about the exchange rate, on the average the American tourist is likely getting paid more back home for the same work in Athens. Even in our father’s tiny village in the Eastern Peloponnese which is not a beach town and otherwise doesn’t merit a price increase to drink at a local cafeteria, our cousins were paying 6 Euro for a slightly smaller version of the 12 Euro Cocktail in Athens, without the fancy view of the Acropolis from 11 stories up. Given a Greek’s tendency to go out more than a similarly situated American back home, particularly during the work-week, we couldn’t see how any Greek young adult living anywhere in Greece could afford rent, food, or really anything else.
Other Columns in this series:
8/13/08 -- What We'll Miss About Greece -- Outdoor Cinema