Back from my first ever holiday in Greece and I would go back tomorrow. My wife and I were worried that thanks to austerity the streets would be full of beggars and the restaurants would only accept cash in dollars. Far from it. Out on the islands at least, the people remain employed and pleased to see any kind of payment. We were in Paxos, a jewel in the clear warm Ionian Sea, near Corfu.
When you talk to the native Greeks, you find that there is great sadness beneath the surface of smiles. They're sad at what has happened to their country. They despair of the economy ever recovering. And they have been stung by huge increases in their cost of living.
It has to be said the islands are cushioned from the worst consequences of the Greek debt crisis because their economy is based on tourism and the tourists continue to visit. No wonder, with such lovely countryside, beaches, villages and sea. On the mainland, we gathered, things are much worse with high unemployment and low earnings.
Not that the islands seem exactly prosperous. Many houses and businesses seem delapidated and give the impression of barely getting by. Then again, this is the Mediterranean and anyone who has visited Southern Italy, Spain, Portugal and even the south of France knows that the laid back lifestyle tends against high ambition and keeping up with the latest trends.
A case in point is our arrival on Paxos at around 6pm. A weathered old gentleman who met us and showed us an equally weathered old hire car. Driving licence? Credit card? Signatures in six different boxes? No- 'We'll do the paperwork in the morning.'
I had to feel sorry for the Greeks. Their government over borrowed and over spent but the ordinary people who were not to blame are being punished. Greece is being helped only to the extent that the lenders, who should have known better, will get their money back, while there is no help to actually rebuild the Greek economy. It's very much the victorious allies' approach to Germany after the First World War and we all know where punishing that country led.
When you're looking out to blue sky and clear sea, it's easy to put all of that out of your mind. The best thing you can do is support the Greek economy by visiting one of the greatest holiday destinations in the world.