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July 8, 2015updated 29 Jan 2016 6:36pm

Victoria Aitken's Greece diary: protests, poverty and a paradise island

By Spear's

The singer, having avoided the inconvenient traffic caused by Athens’ demonstrations, writes from her Mediterranean villa about her concern for Greece’s future

In London while waiting for my flight to Athens, I look around for an ATM dispensing euros, having seen on the news that Greek machines are running out of cash, only to see there’s a massive line waiting to take out cash even in London. I laughed. I haven’t even reached Athens yet.

When I land in Athens, there’s another line outside the ATMs, though they’re only offering ’60 a day per person.

In the taxi line, the drivers are all refusing to go to the centre of Athens. Getting in, I say I’m staying in a beach resort outside Athens and he gives a sigh of relief. Thank god! There are two demonstrations in the centre so the whole areas is blocked off; the two demonstrations are almost touching each other. It’s chaos.

The taxi driver tells me that people aren’t that worried, that the rich and middle class have prepared for the worst and taken all their money out, mainly to Cyprus, so they were prepared for the outcome of the vote.

But according to my taxi driver, the main short-term problem is tourism: his friend who works at the Intercontinental said that only yesterday they had 70 cancellations – and that most of those were Germans.

He tells me about underground creditors charging a fee for more cash and that people are shopping to the max, in case the country runs out of food. However, a food shortage isn’t the biggest fear but that anything that’s imported will run out, such as petrol.

However, he confides in me he doesn’t understand what the vote is about or what the implications are of either Yes or No. The 72-worded question didn’t even mention the euro. And nobody really understand what any of the implications are; you really need an economics degree to understand.

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The taxi driver rips me off: the meter is double is what it’s meant to be – I am sure he fiddled the meter as he needs the cash… I try and argue and he tells me, ‘It’s what’s on the meter!’

I complain at the hotel about what a rip-off my taxi was. The general manager commiserates and the owner invites me to a pizza dinner, where he tells me that Greece is a poor country and it needs the EU, and it’s really the poor that are suffering, the pensioners and the sick.

Victoria Aitken

He tells me Greece has no NHS like in the UK and that medicines are running out as the government are also keeping the hospitals on a tight budget, but that there is a lot of altruism appearing: one doctor was giving out free medicine from his clinic for the whole week, and the subway seemed to be free and Stelios from easyJet has provided free meals.

I walk across the seafront, and most of the bars and restaurants are empty; it isn’t a tourist spot really. I only hear Greek around me.

People are walking their dogs, children are playing in the playground. The man selling corn on the cob hasn’t sold a cob all night.
I switch on the news and all the reports’ quotes seem to be from Plaka; as a friend of mine on Facebook pointed out, ‘Isn’t that like all quotes coming from South Ken?’

The hotel’s handyman gives me a super-cheap ride to the airport for the second leg of my journey to Paros, he wants the cash.

I panic and text my friend arriving in Paros after me. What if we run out of food while we’re here? I scan various blogs about how hotels are worried about running out of food for tourists and offer to stock up for the week. I walk over to the local grocery store and it’s overflowing with every fruit and vegetable imaginable.

My friend has rented a beautiful house in Paros. Our charming landlady fills me in on how the island is faring. She tells me the main economy of Paros (pictured below) is tourism and that the tourists are still coming and all the flights and ferries are fully booked.

The islanders are happy, she says. They don’t feel any ripples of what is happening in Athens. The bank machines are full, and they get refilled twice a day, so there’s no shortage of cash here.


The locals aren’t worried, she continues: everyone grows their own vegetables and fruit, they have their own chickens and fish, and most islanders can be totally self-sufficient if needs be. But people are still preparing and taking out the maximum amount of cash per day, but they don’t really need the ’60.

However, she says that applications for credit cards are still open and that you can get one in five days, so applications have skyrocketed and people are using credit cards as they haven’t been banned.

My friend arrives and updates us on his trip via Athens; he went straight to check out the two demonstrations. He told me the ‘No’ demonstration was alive with vibrant, passionate singing of old Greek songs and chanting. Some people were even crying and it was 35,000-strong and sponsored by the government, whereas the ‘Yes’ crowd looked like intellectual economists, with pressed shirts and glasses, only 5,000-strong and disconnected from the people.

The newspapers this morning are writing about a really a big shock when the ‘No’ vote came in… but was it really? The Nos were fed up with being forced into being like Germany and following their rules, when they are Greece, they never wanted to be like Germany anyway – the two countries are so different, and forcing them only has made them suffer.

Some think it’s all a huge plot anyway – and a lot of people want to kill the PM. There are lots of loud death threats. Some think it’s a plot against Greece, that it was all in Wikileaks in 2012 – the Germans wanted the Greeks out anyway. They had already sold them fridges and cars, built their motorways – used and abused the poor Greeks.

I asked the waiter of the restaurant if there was a bar where the locals were going to watch the results of the vote. He told me definitely not: ‘This is not a football match, we are not together, we are very sad and people are staying indoors. It isn’t really something to celebrate.’

I always thought the results would be a ‘No’ and that the Greeks would celebrate by spending the last of their euros on champagne.

Victoria Aitken’s website

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