Greek summer 2022: Back after a while? Things I noticed as a local

Where is fuel as expensive as €3 per litre? What’s all the fuss about frappe straws? Has the war in Ukraine had an impact on tourism? Zoe Thomaidou brings you a mixed bag of info (some practical, some just for fun or reflection) on the Greek summer 2022 experience.

My last summertime memories in Greece date back to 2019, just before the ‘C’ word hit.

I was one of the lucky ones who got a taste of Greek summer before the pandemic turned this experience, along with any other good ones, into a mash of wishes I would feed on in Australia during Melbourne’s lockdowns.

Some things have changed since; others remained the same. And COVID has gone “on holidays” till further notice.

Since end of April, as part of launching the 2022 summer tourist season, Greece dropped all remaining restrictions, with travellers entering without testing or quarantine.

Vaccination status certificates are not requested anywhere anymore, while face masks are only required in limited settings like public transport and hospitals.

Government ministers said they will assess the situation again in September, depending on infection numbers, which are already on the rise, ranging from 10,000 to 20,000 new daily cases roughly.

Keep reading for a mixed bag of info (some practical, some just for fun or reflection) I would give a friend coming back to Greece after a while.

Anyone thinking selfies are a thing of the past? I did, but changed my mind when I felt the urge to capture the moment of staying under the sun at the beach without thinking to myself “I must be right underneath that ozone layer hole… “Some things did stay the same. It’s still safer to be a sun-loving Greek than a sun-loving Australian.

Price hikes, petrol and the money talk

First things first, the elephant in the room is measurable and counted in euros.

While thankfully far from the extreme scenario of its neighbouring Turkey, where inflation rose to nearly 80% in June, Greece’s cost of living is by no means great.

The Consumer Price Index reached 12% for the same month, a two-decades record high. How does this affect you if you’re just visiting for a short period?

In many more ways than you’d think.

Any service which has a direct link with the cost of fuel, including sea transport, has witnessed price hikes. Here, ferry approaching the port in Chios. Photo: Natasa Moura.

Major price hikes in fuel, electricity and gas are a Greek household’s biggest headache nowadays. But they also trickle down to almost every type of product or service, including price increases in:

  • air (by 48.5%), ferry (by 20.4%,) and taxi fares (minimum charge increased to €4)
  • hotel charges (up 27.7% from last year)
  • food products
€8.20, the price of two gyros (€3.50 each) and a can of soft drink (€1.20). Photo: Zoe Thomaidou

If you’re driving during your stay in Greece, you will also feel the impact of vehicle fuel skyrocketing prices directly.

Fun fact: In June, Greek state TV broadcaster ERT made international headlines over a segment showing viewers how to pierce a car’s fuel tank to siphon gasoline. The video with the repairman giving a step-by-step explanation of how people steal gasoline due to soaring fuel prices “raises eyebrows”, writes The Guardian.

As of the start of July, the average price in the Attica region was down to €2.30 from €2.50 where it averaged in previous days.

The highest prices are recorded on islands, reaching up to €3 per litre.

Prices at a petrol station in Milos in early July. Greek islands are now recording vehicle fuel prices of up to €3 per litre for simple unleaded. Photo: Vassia Mpatrakouli

Talking about money, cash is (still) king in Greece

All Greek businesses are required by law to have a POS machine and you won’t have an issue using your credit/debit card.

Some locals however still prefer paying in cash. One of the reasons?

The timeless tax avoidance tactic every Greek knows even if they don’t use it: The possibility – never legal – to get a “discounted” price for a service or a product through a mutual agreement with the seller to print a receipt reflecting a smaller amount than what is actually paid.

Some people in Greece prefer to pay in cash. Yiorgos Kontarinis/Eurokinissi

I was reminded it’s still a common tactic since my first purchase this summer at a local shop. I asked for a product price and got the reply “With or without GST?”

The “discount” essentially means ditching the GST for both parties, while with a card payment it’s not possible to “fake” the actual amount paid.

War and tourism

Wondering if the war in Ukraine has affected tourism traffic in Greek islands? I thought it would, but according to some industry people I asked, I was mostly wrong.

Northern Aegean hidden gem Thassos, is a popular destination for many tourists from Balkan countries, particularly Romania. The war in neighbouring Ukraine has not made any difference in arrival numbers this year, says Filippi Lagoumtzi, a hotel manager on the island. “Northern Europe forms our second biggest clientele base. I would even say arrivals from there are increased this year, considering more direct flights from countries including Norway and Germany have been added to Kavala airport (closest city where the ferry to Thassos departs from). Photo: Supplied – By the sea luxury suites/Facebook

I spoke to a hotel owner in Thassos (North Aegean) and restaurant operators in Milos (Cyclades complex) and Ithaca (Ionian sea), to get as much of a representative sample as possible.

All three told me they noticed a slow start of the tourist season compared to previous years, but by June visitor traffic was back to normal.

Meanwhile Santorini, another Cyclades island, was already packed with visitors in mid-May (considered off-season for Greeks, but within the tourist season for foreigners). Photo: Christiana Kavvadia

The restaurant owner in Ithaca I spoke to is Melbourne-born Poppy Pagoulatos who moved to Greece 20 years ago.

She says the war in Ukraine has “not had a direct impact on tourism traffic.”

“But what’s been different is that product prices have been on the rise; everything is more expensive,” Ms Pagoulatos says.

Vassia Mpatrakouli, whose family took over the management of a restaurant in Milos this year, recounts that locals tell her visitor arrivals for 2022 so far are “of the pre-covid era levels”.

“It’s just that capacity was not reached since May as used to be the case. It is end of June this time around that the island starts looking full,” Ms Mpatrakouli says.

Melbourne-born Poppy Pagoulatos and husband Nektarios Vassilopoulos run a family restaurant in Ithaca. “We had quite a few Greeks visiting the island for the last couple of years. It wasn’t packed with people, we didn’t have many (coronavirus) cases. This year so far, tourism traffic is increased even compared to pre-Covid years. And it’s been great to see Australians of Ithacan heritage returning; they’ve played such an important role in the history of the island,” Ms Pagoulatos tells Neos Kosmos.

Did you know that…?

– Local authorities in Leipsoi, part of the Dodecanese, banned sunbeds as of this year, reportedly the first island in Greece to do so.

– In accordance with an EU-wide legislation, plastic straws are not available in Greece anymore. However, it’s not uncommon to hear people complaining about the paper straw distorting their frappe/freddo taste and experience, and social media is filled with sarcastic memes over glass/aluminium/bamboo straws. Word on the street is that fans of plastic straws living in areas close to the border with Bulgaria, make sure they pay a visit to the neighbouring country every now and then to refill their straw supply (and car fuel tank with cheaper petrol).

Plastic straws are – as far as the law is concerned – a thing of the past in Greece. But ironically, you might come across paper straws in plastic wraps. Photo: Zoe Thomaidou

The beauty and the beast

If you’ve been to Greece, you know it’s a beauty (In so many ways – both visible and subtle – that would be futile to try and capture in words and pictures).

If you’ve lived there, you know it’s also a beast. (That, in many ways too).

Most often than not, the beauty and the beast coexist. And during summertime, there is no better place than a Greek island to showcase this.

Like Santorini, where Instagram meets the spiritual in every sunset, but donkeys are still on offer to carry tourists up and down the 600 stairs connecting the old port with the town of Fira (a route also accessible with cable cars by the way).

Animal rights groups have accused Greek authorities for ‘covering up a cruel treatment’ of donkeys used for transporting tourists in Santorini. Photo: Christiana Kavadia.

Or like Mykonos, a paradise for legendary parties and windsurfers, and the land of the gluttonous.

Or like all those majestic Greek islands with their hospitable people and their hostile migrant camps.