Greetings from The Moodie Report’s interim Greek bureau. Actually make that bureaux, as I have been island hopping from Rhodes to Halki (or Chalki, pictured above) to Symi and back to Rhodes over the past 10 days. And actually, also put a question mark after the ‘interim’ as this country is so warm, welcoming and… heck, simply wonderful that I may just weigh my corporate anchor and stay put.
Greece is a land of myths but the most recent ones are more lie than legend. Hundreds of thousands of tourists cancelled their visits here this Summer due to negative and often inaccurate stories in the European press about the impact of the Greek financial and political crisis.
Myth upon myth upon myth. The country is safe. The banks are open. You can use credit cards. The sun is still shining. The sea is as always sensational. The people are even warmer than the weather. Those who cancelled their trips missed out on all this and simply piled more economic pain on those least to blame, the ordinary working people of Greece.
The Aegean Islands, where I have been staying, are just part of Greece’s incredibly rich tapestry, one that has been woven over centuries. They and their charms are timeless. Over the past 10 days I have spoken to many ordinary Greek people (though each of them is extraordinary in his or her own way). Most feel powerless, mere pawns on the great European chessboard. All are worried for their country, all still love it. All believe that better days will come but do not know when.
So to hear, as I did last week, that a group of French tourists refused to pay to enter an archaeological site in Lindos because they they were allegedly already paying to bail out Greece made my blood boil. Such attitudes are linked to another myth. You know the one, perpetuated in German, English and French newspapers in particular. The one about Greek people wasting money and not working hard. Let me dispel that one too; people here are working harder than ever, for less reward than ever.
Tell that myth to my friend and colleague Colleen Morgan and her family. Daughter Loukia (Lucy) – the heroine of Colleen’s book ‘Throw me a Smile’, about Lucy’s childhood battle with cancer – landed a job with a tour company several weeks back but is only just now being paid due to the cash crisis. Colleen’s husband Mario gets up in the wee small hours six days a week and works well into the afternoons. Besides her role with The Moodie Report, Colleen also works as a rep for a holiday, handling excursion bookings and tourist complaints in equal measure over long, hard days. Her three boys work equally hard. Jobs are scarce here; the pay poor. But there’s no shortage of work ethic.
Tell that myth to the Moraris family who run the lovely Odyssia apartments and restaurant (http://www.symi-odyssia.gr/) in Symi, where I stayed last week. Located in Harani, an idyllic, tranquil spot just a few minutes’ walk from the bustle of Symi’s main port, Odyssia is simply sublime, sublimely simple. If you visit Symi (and everyone should visit Symi before they die) stay at Odyssia; you won’t find better. But while guests like me simply sit back and marvel at the quality and freshness of the food and sit entranced by a view that threaten to take one’s breath away, the Moraris family are working from early morning till well beyond midnight, every night, doing their best (which is very good indeed) in a season that has been blighted by the stay-away Europeans and the steep downturn in Russian visitors.
Katholiki (pictured below with me and Agora Trading’s Panagiotis Madamopoulos-Moraris) is just 18. About the same number as the many hours she works each day. From morning till the late, late hours, she does her utmost to ensure the success of her family business and the satisfaction of their customers. When Katholiki says “You’re welcome” (and she does all the time) you know she means it. Despite the economic chills. The welcome of Greece to its tourists is warmer than ever. And that’s no myth.
[Left to right: Katholiki Moraris, Momolis Moraris, Panagiotis Madamopoulos-Moraris, myself and Anna Moraris]
[Enough from my interim Rhodes bureau. It's time for another kind of Greek myth - a Mythos.]
["I wonder what's on the menu?" - Nanou beach, Symi]
["Goat Symis... wait a minute... that's Symi goat!!! I'm on the menu!!!"]
["Tell them the goat's off... off to the beach]
[Nanou beach, Symi]
[The world's most picturesque setting for a duty free shop? Hellenic Duty Free Shops, Symi.]
[Above and below: The exquisite beauty of Symi]
[Below: The charms, heritage and colours of Rhodes]
[Below: Finding heaven in Halki]