Social media, holiday advice and the Kalyves traffic problem

by Giannis Xamonakis –

What would we do without social media? Would we forget the birthdays of our loved ones? The birthdays of people we have never met? Would we be completely cut off from the rest of the world? Would we have to read newspapers to find out what’s happening around us? But most importantly, would we ever get in touch with long lost friends and acquaintances? And for the latter, bless you Mr Zuckerberg and all your friends.

And so it was that only last month I got back in touch with an old colleague from 25 years ago, when we both worked in east London in the UK. After the routine catching up through several messages spaced over a couple of weeks, the talk got round to holidays.

As it happened, they were coming to Crete, to Kalyves in Apokoronas, for their summer holiday this year. So there is a good chance we will meet over some food and drink and have a long overdue catch-up.

They have visited Crete before, she said, the southern part of the island, many, many years ago and they have fond memories of the place. I know they are the sort of people who read their guide before they travel, so I was rather surprised to get the next message. “Do you have any tips for us?” she asked in between exchanges of brief snippets of information. Tips? Such as: don’t forget the sun cream and the insect repellent?

No, more like what is going on over there, she said. Now, from what I can remember about this couple, both Mary and Allan are not the sort of people  who believe everything they read in the papers. But when there is a foreign office warning, that’s another matter….

A small cloud of worry seemed to hang over their sun-kissed beach holiday in Apokoronas in the summer. The frenzy of alarmist reports week after week about Grexit, as deadlines for interest payments come and go, has eventually started to worry people in Europe more than it worries people in this country who have heard it all many times before.

Still the FO advice to British tourists to take cash with them if travelling to Greece does make some sense. UK banks charge an awful lot for cash withdrawals and transactions in a foreign currency and the exchange rate they give is not that good. And Greeks mostly use cash for transactions, large or small; most tavernas, bars, food shops and petrol stations cannot accept plastic and a contactless card transaction is still something from the realms of science fiction.

So yes, take some cash with you, but not because Greece is about to stop using the euro – which in my personal opinion will not happen at this stage of the long and tragic saga of the Greek economic crisis – but because you will pay less of your hard-earned money to the banks in the form of charges.

And with that piece of advice over, I volunteered the next one, before I had time to consider the consequences.

Three weeks holiday? They must still be teachers, I thought, forgetting that three weeks of eating, drinking and lying on the beach can seem very attractive after a year of demanding work. So thinking that it might ease the tedium, I suggested they rent a car to do some sight seeing and exploration. “There is so much to see in Apokoronas and,” I added, “renting a car is much easier and cheaper than it was when you were last in Crete.” Enter. Message posted.

It was about an hour later, while driving to Kalyves, that I realised the full implication of my advice. Still early in the tourist season, there are already many terrified drivers on the country roads snaking around Apokoronas, trying to find their way to a destination recommended by ‘Rough Guide’. Then when I got to Kalyves, the road was completely blocked: the long overdue road surfacing had finally reached the village main road, something that had been on the long ‘to do’ list of the local government for at least four years.

Not being able to park right outside the kafeneion in the square, where they enjoy a late morning refreshment and a chat, many of the locals, still in their cars, were hanging around hesitantly, behind the roadworks signs, wondering what to do and creating a bit of a traffic blockage. Until somebody helpfully suggested they parked their cars further down the road and walk. They obediently drove off, but I suspect many of them, rather than walk the short distance to the village square, chose to have their refreshment at an alternative venue.

When I eventually parked in the vast almost empty space by the sea, used as a car park only by a few bathers who braved the mid-May chill, I walked to the village square down a main street devoid of parked cars, a sight not seen before in all the years I have lived here.

The street was full of shop and taverna owners who were out in front of their establishments complaining about the timing of the urgently needed roadworks. “They’ve had years to do it and they chose the start of the tourist season,” they all complained, adding that in this country, if it happens at all, road surfacing does not happen at night or at weekends and¬ –  something that I have not yet been able to check – “it costs more than in the rest of Europe.” Every single person I spoke to, however, agreed that the next big problem that needs to be solved – and soon – is the traffic situation in the village during the summer.

You see Kalyves, a sleepy village of 1600 people during the winter, has already got a traffic problem, even before several hundred additional rented cars are added to the equation. And that Kalyves has a traffic problem is something that is generally acknowledged by all who live, work or drive through the village, but nothing has yet been done to solve it. Any action by the council to alleviate the problem, judging from the reaction of the business people who spoke to me that day, will enjoy widespread support. And the council will definitely get support from all road users and people like me who, without thinking, add to the parking and traffic problems by suggesting that their friends might like to hire a car.

And I will personally feel far less guilty if by the time my friends arrive in their hired car in  August, the council, together with the residents, the traders and the road users in Kalyves agree to a long-lasting solution to the traffic problem. Have I forgotten that, as some of the angry shopkeepers almost proudly pointed out to me, “This is Greece and things don’t change”? No, I haven’t, but that’s not a good enough reason not to try.

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