Saturday, 30 June 2012

Between a bar and a bank on the way to the beach

The long white sandy beach stretches for miles east of the Old Town of Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

I woke this morning to the sound of bird song, the peel of church bells, and a bright blue sky outside my window.

Bistro 22 on Tsouderon Street ... our rooms are above the bar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Staying in Pepi Studios on Tsouderon Street, I have found I am between a bar and a bank.

Bistro 22 is both a café and a bar, and in the morning becomes the breakfast room for guests in Pepi. The entrance to the hotel is squeezed between the bar and an ATM for the National Bank of Greece, which is housed in an impressive neoclassical villa.

Despite the fears of many tourists that the ATMs would run dry in the middle of the Greek financial crisis, the ATM next door is busy, and is proving to be more effective than access to my Ulster Bank accounts back in Ireland.

The National Bank of Greece ... housed in an impressive neoclassical building next door to Pepi Studios on Tsouderon Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Not that I would wish a Greek financial crisis on any bank customers in Ireland, but it makes you wonder whether customer confidence is misplaced.

Why, just a block or two away there is even a shop called NAMA. It’s in the pleasant square surrounding Rethymnon’s Cathedral. The square has been repaved in the last two or three years and public works continue to enhance the town.

Nama ... with a lot for sale (Patrick Comerford, 2012)

However, there are signs everywhere of the crunch. Shops, supermarkets and hotels that were part of the book until a few years ago have closed. Wandering the back streets of Rethymnon near the cathedral, in a small narrow street away from the tourists, a young and humbled father sat begging with his two small children.

The local periptero or kiosk is an institution in Greece, serving as the local corner shop. But the local periptero on Tsouderon street is one of many in the streets of Rethymnon that have closed and pulled down the shutters.

With blue skies, temperatures in the high 20s, and just a little breeze, we headed down to the long expanse of white breach that stretches for miles to the east of the old town.

It is obvious tourist numbers are down in Crete this year, but many of the tourists in Rethymnon are Greek. Staycations seem to be one positive expression of Greek patriotism this summer.

A yacht in the clear blue waters in Rethymnon this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)