Greece is the DIAMOND of the world. It has it all: beaches, archaeology sites, mountains for winter sports and untapped oil in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas. The land has seen conquest through the ages. Today, it is in the middle of an economic war. We left for Greece on Delta airline at JFK airport on May 22nd; about three days after the Paris flight to Egypt vanished in the Mediterranean. We showed our will and bank accounts to our child and went on a Mediterranean Adventure.
Security at Delta, JFK airport was excellent. Nothing escaped their eyes. When we arrived in Venizelos airport, Athens, security was even tougher. Women and men administrators were tough, checking everyone’s papers constantly. I congratulate the staff of Venizelos Airport for making us feel safe and welcome in Greece. We stayed two days in Athens. It is like New York City, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural with English as the dominant language of business and tourism. We paid hotels two hundred euros a night to stay in the Acropolis area.
We traveled to Tripoli by bus, paying 17 euros a person. We rented a room in Mainalos Hotel, overlooking Areos Square for 17 days. The hospitality was unique. The staff made us feel “this was our home”. From Tripoli, I explored the Peloponnese by taxis, Dolphin Hellas Classical excursion and Kapogiannis Tours.
The immigration of undocumented persons has increased crime. They cannot be arrested for committed crimes by police. They are undocumented and are released. At 1 p.m., the first week in June, a gypsy girl tried to snatch my shoulder bag. She would have been disappointed. All I had were papers.
The average Greek in the private sector works from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Athens, according to my sources. Their pensions or social security as we know it, are being cut down. Greek workers are being replaced by members of European Union countries. This is wiping out the educated, middle class. I noticed few tips were given for all services.
The slogan of the Greek Tourism office is this is the “Year to explore the Peloponnese.” Everyone knows English, making travel enjoyable. The Travel agencies in a provincial city such as Tripoli, all speak English. Traveling with native Greeks for budget prices can be done.
Anna Michalopoulou, President of the Parish Council of the Metamorphosis Church (Transfiguration of Christ) of Tripoli and their group made me feel welcome in a two day trip to Tinos for 100 euros ($115) , through Maria of Kapogiannis tours. Akrivi Michalopoulos, 2016 valedictorian of her Philology class at the Patra University, knew fluent English. Our cousins, Pitsa Gerou Macarouni, Christo and Kosta Macarounis took us around Tripoli and Athens’ Plaka. They showed us how Greeks take strolls, have coffee frappes and enjoy their lives on a budget.
Our godson, Dr. Alexios Vardouniotis, ENT surgeon, helped us with our land business and watched over our safety. His spouse, Kanela, is a Ph.D. student with two sons, Clint and George. Our taxi cab friends, Demetri Chogas and Paul Iliopoulos, described their tough profession. Business is down since last year.
Major headlines on Greek television the week of June 10th was that Feta will no longer be produced in Greece. The European Union wants feta to be imported from South Africa and China. I will only buy domestic Feta in New York City now. This is happening in all industries through strict European Union regulation.
Greece’s borders have been sealed to immigrants. This exclusion is isolating the nation from the rest of the European Union.
The major issue discussed by educators was the appointment of Mr. Niko Filis as Minister of Education. The Minister has a High School degree, according to educators we interviewed. He does not have a university or teaching background. An education reform is pending to remove Morning Prayer from the schools. Separation of Church and state does not exist in 2016 Greece. Theology, religion and Ancient Greek will have major changes in the curriculum. Greek Independence Day Celebrations were modified in some cities in 2016.
The first week of June 2016, 1,000 immigrants were resettled in empty building on the edge of Tripoli city. These are families with children who will attend local schools. The Greek educator faces a challenge: learn the language of the students. Bilingual education will spread across the nation.
Retired Tripoli Professor Spiros Vardouniotis, who has two university degrees from Chicago and taught at the Tripoli Pedagogical Academy, believes “the immigrants must be integrated into society as Greeks. Socialize not Alienate.
They can keep their religion and culture, but become like Americans with an allegiance to the Greek nation. Immigrants, who are hardworking and add to the quality of life of the community, should be granted citizenship after a certain amount of years. They must work, be self-supporting and pay taxes.”
Prof. Spiro and his wife, Evangelia, opened their home to us with Greek hospitality. They were both involved in the production of the comedy “Den Eimai Ego” (This is no Me) by the Theatrical Company of Elementary Educators of Arcadia. It was presented at the Apostolopoulio Culture Center of the City of Tripoli. Sold out crowds attended during the first two weeks of June.
Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin visited Greece from May 28th to 30th. He inspired hope to a nation in depression. We stayed glued to Greek television for two days, watching the devout Russian Orthodox leader visit the Byzantine Museum in Athens. The museum has an icon created by Andrei Rublev, the student of 14th century iconographer Theofanes the Greek. His visit was one of the major events in Greek Current Affairs. The Kremlin’s swiftest response to the downing of its attack aircraft by the Turkish air force on Nov. 24th has come in the form of economic sanctions.1 Greece is linked to Russia by strong historical ties of friendship based on shared spiritual and cultural values.2 An additional important factor contributing to the development of the relations between the two countries is the historical presence in the Russian federation of Russian citizens of Greek origin, who reside mainly in the southern Russian periphery on the Black sea coast.3
I watched carefully the official state speech between both leaders. Greece President Tsipras said “Greece will be the bridge between forming better relations between Russia and the European Union.” President Putin’s face was like a stone. His reply was “We are here to help Greece economically. One million Russian tourists will visit. The Bolshoi Ballet will tour Greece.” For further information, visit internet sites.
When we left Greece on June 11th, posters were advertising Bolshoi Ballet performances for 15 to 20 euros per person. We were in Moscow in late September 2015. To attend a Bolshoi Ballet performance, the admission price was $350. We did not go. I am sorry I will miss the Bolshoi’s performance in Greece for about $20. In addition, the average Russian does not live as well as the average Greek of the European Union. The Greek nation’s public relations image has been unfairly trashed globally. President Vladimir Putin’s determination, strength, and no-nonsense approach in helping Greece economically, inspired the Greek people strength to endure an uncertain future.
January 2016 is a reciprocal “Year of Greece” and “Year of Russia” celebrating one thousand years of Russian presence on Mount Athos.4 This is the “year of Greece” for global tourism. I walked into Astoria bank, Bayside on Friday , June 16th and discovered, Bibi Deokaran, Assistant Vice President/Assistant Branch Manager of the Banking Division of Astoria Bank, had returned from Greece the end of May. Her enthusiasm gives hope that Greece will live on, because of the Phil-Hellenes (admirers of Greeks and everything Greek).
“As you know ever since growing up, I always wanted to visit Greece from reading about the history and beauty of this country,” said Bibi. “I was so happy as my husband made this dream possible for our 20th wedding anniversary on May 11th. Greece turned out to be all we expected and more. This is truly a beautiful and blessed country. From the culture, history, hotel experience and mostly the people and food is what made this our best trip ever. We usually travel twice per year but this topped all by far.
In Athens we stayed at the Royal Olympic hotel. We visited the Acropolis, Temple of Zeus, The Parthenon and etc. We had dinner at the Dionysos Restaurant across from the Acropolis that give a night view of the Acropolis all lit up. This was a sight that blew our minds, over a beautiful dinner and home made Greek wine. In Mykonos we stayed at the Myconian Ambassador Hotel. They upgraded our accommodation and we had the best team of staff. They were very courteous, caring and provided the best service to make our Anniversary stay with them beyond memorable. From complimentary champagne to anniversary lunch on the first day by their breathtaking poolside was truly amazing. The staff helped us in renting a white Fiat while in Mykonos, advise and directed us on the best beaches, restaurant, shopping areas and night life. We then took the sea jet after our 5 night stay in Mykonos to Santorini. It was another great experience for not only it felt like being in a yacht but it stopped at Naxos and gives us another breathtaking view of another beautiful island that Anthony Bourdain who is a celebrity chef in the US was filming a documentary for his television show “Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown”.
Santorini was another great experience, from the volcanic ruins, beautiful scenery and amazing people who are willing to go an extra mile to make our stay another memorable experience. We were blown away by the beauty of the Astro Palace Hotel. They upgraded us to a beautiful, amazing black and white suite with a balcony and a view. Hot tub and complimentary fruit platter with the most delicious bottle of wine were offered. We also rented a blue fiat there and toured the entire island, visiting the best beaches, restaurant and historical landmarks. We love the famous red beach along with the black beach on the other side of the island. I was serenaded on the red beach by the most polite and respectful Greek gentleman. The restaurants, food and the entire staff was always polite and either greeted us with a complimentary, welcome soup as the 1500 BC restaurant where we met the owner and one of his staff member, who happens to be Eleni the niece of one of my Bank Clients. Eleni then made our stay further exciting by mapping out where we should go for the best view of the sunset in Santorini, best restaurant, beaches and sightseeing. We had the best view of the sunset and dinner that night in Oia, another fresh meal and experience to die for. I thank Eleni for that. I left Greece with the warmest feeling and that the people there are so kind, helpful and polite. I think a piece of our hearts remain in Greece. Dave and I would definitely visit again with our beautiful daughter Ashley and our son Adam.
Greece has survived four hundred years of slavery to the Ottoman Turks. They came out of bondage semi-illiterate and behind their Western neighbors. Their stubbornness in refusing to lose their language, Greek Orthodox religion and civilization is extraordinary. They are persevering in 2016. The Greek nation should receive the 2016 Nobel Peace prize for caring for war displaced immigrants, under the chains of excessive taxation on a middle class that no longer exists. We must make “Travel to Greece” our slogan, the birthplace of Western Civilization. We must not let this magical land lose its Greek character.