Thursday, May 31, 2007

Island Hopping and Backpacking in Greece

Island Hopping and Backpacking in Greece - How has the organised tourist industry affected backpacking and island hopping in Greece

During the 1960s and 1970s the highest percentage of mainstream tourism of Greece for independent travellers was young people, backpacking under their own steam, hopping from island to island and finding cheap rooms to rent when they arrived at each island. This was easily done because at every port there would be many Greek people waiting for the boats and holding up their sign advertising 'Rooms to Let'.

Many of these young people came from the United States of America and West European countries such as Germany, Holland, Italy and France. This was the time when all you needed to travel was the basic amount of clothes and a sleeping bag. If you couldn't find accommodation you could sleep on the beach. Ironically, those same beaches today are some of the most popular for organised holidays. Beaches such as those found on Mikonos, Paros, Naxos, Ios and Crete.

There were no controls over standards of rooms and often ten young people would be squashed into a tiny, basic and not very clean room. the Greeks didn't have to get a license in order to rent a room out in their house and sometimes any overflow would be accommodated by turfing a family member from their bed and installing the paying tourist. I remember, back in those days, staying in the Old Town of Rhodes in such a 'Rooms to Let' premises. The owner had about thirty cats and in one room five people were crammed in. At the same time, Matala, in Crete, had become a world renowned hippy paradise, where young people would forgo the cheap rented rooms and camp out, sleeping in nearby caves.

Not only was any potential accommodation unlicensed but the ships taking people from one island to the next were equally unorganised and uncontrolled. The Greek passenger boats and the Greek ferries were often dangerously overcrowded and little regard was given to the health and safety of the passengers.

This was a time when Greece was recovering from its post-war economic depression. Times were hard all over Greece and this sudden interest in their country by these young people was a golden opportunity not to be missed.
thankfully now, for both the Greeks and the tourists, these days are long gone. Today, backpacking and island hopping are still popular but not just for the young and unconventional. Those that were young back in the 1960s and 70s are still coming and still hopping, but the conditions of travel and the accommodation they will stay in is now on a par with other modern, developed, European countries.

Package holidays now exist that include Greek island hopping with all accommodation at each stop of point pre-organised. The internet too has had a profound effect. Holiday makers who are not entranced with organised package deals can pre-book their rooms on each island with the security of knowing that they will be well looked after in clean, modern and licensed accommodation.
You can, however, still find people advertising their rooms at the ports and harbours, but now their rooms will be licensed and inspected.

Legislation has also been introduced governing the amount of passengers on ships. Tickets can not longer be purchased on board but must now be bought at kiosks at the ports. The ships are clean, well run, fast and super modern. For example, back in the 'bad old days' going by Ferry from Piraeus to Crete used to take twelve hours. Today, with the super fast boats the journey takes only six hours. New forms of sea transport have also been introduced like hydrofoils and katamarans which makes island hopping faster and more enjoyable.

Many Greek islands now have an airport. Some of these are tiny receiving one flight a day from Athens but many of the larger islands have several daily flights and charters departing and arriving from all over Europe. 
Obviously all these modern developments comes at a cost. Greece is still cheap when you compare to other popular European holiday destinations like Spain, Italy and Portugal. However, it is no longer possible to expect to find a room for less than 40 euros per night in high season. With the introduction of the Euro in 2003, Greek people suddenly found their own cost of living rise and this too must impact on the visitor - so as a result, forget a cup of coffee for two drachmas, a Greek salad for ten, an ouzo for two and a room for the night for around 100. This was ridiculously cheap then you consider that 1 euro today is equivalent to 330 drachmas.

In conclusion, although Greece is no longer the pauper of Europe, having successfully pulled itself into being a modern, developed and sophisticated member of the EU with its people now receiving a comparably good standard of living, it has not lost its 'filoxenia'. The baby has not been thrown out with the bath water! Wherever you go, you will still find exactly the same friendly, hospitable people, colourful and energetic, wanting to make your holiday in their country one that you will always remember and one that you will want to repeat.

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