05 July 2015

The Greek Paradox

Back in May, I was in Greece for a few days, for a conference. It was overall a great time, and something that I didn't expect I would enjoy. See, before I flew in, there was talk in the news that Greece only had weeks before it would declare bankruptcy. Money would run out. I didn't really know what that meant, so perhaps I was getting worried more than the usual. See, I even planned escape routes. What if there would be massive protests while I was there, what would I do? I wasn't in Athens, I was in Thessaloniki. So I thought, heck, if I needed to get out, I could if needed even take a bus from Thessaloniki to Sofia and cross the border into Bulgaria. Yes, there were escape plans that I had in mind. Though to be honest, I was surprised with what I saw.

See, there were places where things were not pretty. I took the bus from the airport, and we passed through parts of the city that wasn't really maintained. Things looked depressing. Things looked like they saw better days. I have been to Greece before, but only to Athens, and I remember it quite differently, with pretty places and nice parts. Thessaloniki looked a little dusty, at least the part that you see when coming from the airport.

And then I slowly spent the rest of my days in the city. I saw other things. I saw how friendly the people are. I saw how people still had their lives going, even though things might seem a little low. The airport looked gloomy, and I especially know this because I spent more than the usual time in the airport, as I looked all over the place for a ATM before taking the bus to the city. There were plenty of counters that were closed, and there was only one working cafe downstairs. It looked like an airport for a small town, not for a metro area of 1.1 million people.

However, there were also lively nights. One Friday night, after the conference, a friend and I went out for a beer. The waterfront area was crowded! I walked from the restaurant we were in, from the White Tower all the way to Ladadika where I was staying, and pretty much every building facing the waterfront was a restaurant, and all the tables were occupied. People were out partying. And here I thought their country was going bankrupt. It was such a weird sensation, a weird sight, seeing the happy people, enjoying their alcohol, and yet Yanis Varoufakis is having a hard time convincing the IMF that they can repay their debts.

Oh well, time will tell. We'll see what happens in the future. In the meantime, I would say that I am glad I went, I definitely enjoyed my stay. Pictures will come in due course.

EDIT: As I have written this piece back in May, things have definitely changed in the few months that passed since then. It is quite a coincidence that this post goes live during the Greek referendum where Greek citizens are choosing whether to accept the austerity measures its creditors are putting on the country, or not. I think it is obvious enough that my experience with the country would be drastically different if I were there right now, as opposed to two months ago. It is my sincere hope that the Greek people survive this crisis.

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