Central Europe (2015)

We had a wonderful trip around Mediterranean Europe in 2010, and particularly liked the Greek Islands. We also regretted the fact that we had totally ignored the Peloponnese at that time - it would have taken all the time we had for Greece, and we chose to go to the islands instead.

So, five years later, we set out to re-visit Greece, but only to places we hadn't already seen. We would do a loop through the Peloponnese, then go out to the Cyclades and finally up to the northern Aegean islands, particularly Lesvos.

Well, it didn't work out that way. We decided to come and go through Turkey, giving us scope to visit a friend in Hungary on our way to Greece. We bought our return tickets to Istanbul, then continued to follow what was happening in Europe, as both the Greek financial crisis and the refugee crisis deepened. It became more and more obvious that Greece could be a difficult place to travel unless we could be sure of accessing money (the banks were out of cash for some time) and we were also unsure about visiting Lesvos, as refugee numbers grew into the tens, then hundreds of thousands.

In the end we decided to do a much wider loop through central Europe, passing rather too fast through Bulgaria and Romania in order to make a pre-set date with Elizabeth in Hungary, then we would spend time island-hopping down the Dalmatian coast before getting to Greece through Montenegro and Albania. We would only go to Greece if the monetary situation settled down, and once in Greece we would decide what islands we could get to, depending on what ferries were running and what was happening with the refugees. All very indecisive, but it worked out reasonably well. Europe re-financed Greece, so we did get to go there, but we didn't go to Lesvos, based on experiences on Samos and Chios - rather, we spent additional time in Turkey.

In our normal fashion we broke up our flight, visiting Tioman Island (Malaysia) on the way to Europe and Singapore on the way home.

The trip is written up in several quite short parts:

From a sightseeing point of view this was another great holiday. We had eleven weeks in total, saw fantastic places, and walked all over the place. However, the abiding memory is that of seeing all the Syrian refugees, firstly in Hungary, then in the norther Aegean. This was world history being played out with thousands of people living their own personal tragedies in full public view. If you were there you had no doubt that these were people fleeing from an intolerable situation, just doing whatever they had to do, to get themselves and their families out of the war zone.

The bulk of the refugees fell into two groups - young families with little children, and young single men, late teens to mid-twenties. There were few older people, although we did see some, and a few disabled people being pushed in wheelchairs. This demographic grouping isn't surprising - people with children want them to be safe, so they will get them out to somewhere that they can re-establish a stable household. The youg men are very vulnerable in Syria, liable to be conscripted into fighting for whoever holds power in their district. They are free of household responsibilities, and able to look after themselves on the road, so their families send them off to Europe. Most of the people we saw were middle-class; they had to have money to get as far as Europe. However, they had only what they could carry, and the vast majority carried only what they could fit into a plastic shopping bag. Although there were huge groups of refugees there was almost no agitation - people behaved extraordinarily well, given the circumastances. The children were subdued, having already learned that this wasn't an adventure and that you just had to do what you were told and put up with whatever happened. The Greek people were also well behaved in the face of these thousands of people pouring into the islands; the worst they did was ignore them, but we witnessed no aggravation at all.

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