Wavering loyalty

Square in BratislavaPolls suggest that most Slovaks do not want to contribute to the eurozone bailout fund

The eurozone crisis and need to bail out Greece has been fuelling resentment in other European countries including Slovakia, a nation that was originally very much in favour of joining the European Union.

The man at Volkswagen gave the official company line on euro membership – why the euro was good for Slovakia, why it encouraged investment.

But Vladimir Machalik could not resist chipping in with his own personal feelings.

“Volkswagen is the biggest exporting company in the country, and for us it’s really important to have the euro. The elimination of exchange volatility allows us to make long term plans, without this up and down of the Slovak crown.”

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During the Communist times, it was really hard to travel… now I can travel round Europe”

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Vladimir Machalik
Volkswagen spokesman

And then Mr Machalik smiled the smile of a man who was born under a Soviet-dominated system.

“During the Communist times, it was really hard to travel… now I can travel round Europe. I don’t have to exchange money all the time. It’s freedom.”

There was a time when this kind of euro-enthusiasm was universal in Slovakia.

This country is used to being poor, to being considered a second-class economy even within the Eastern bloc.

Then Slovakia was invited to join the euro in 2009, ahead of its richer rival the Czech Republic, ahead of its neighbour Hungary, and ahead of larger countries like Poland.

Volkswagen worker polishing carVolkswagen is Slovakia’s biggest exporting firm and being a part of the eurozone helps its growth

“We felt proud,” said Maria, a pensioner living in the centre of the Slovak capital, Bratislava. “At last we had a good currency.”

But Maria is not happy about what euro-membership now entails.

All eurozone members will be asked to contribute to the European Financial Stability Facility, to help countries that risk bankruptcy – countries like Greece, or perhaps Spain or Portugal.

Yet Slovakia is still listed as the second-poorest country in the eurozone.

Maria said she did not see why she and other Slovaks should effectively be handing over money to people who have wealthier lives than she can dream of.

“People in Slovakia have been through a very hard time since 1989.

“A lot of industries disappeared, because capitalism did not need them. Our unemployment rate was high, and well-educated people could not find work.

“And after all this we went through, we are told to give money to Greece because they are in a bad situation. We are not in a good situation either.”

Maria is not alone.

Polls suggest that the majority of Slovaks do not want their country to contribute to the bailout fund.

And they have support in Parliament from the MP Jozef Kollor, a leading light in the Freedom and Solidarity Party.

“We also have an austerity programme, in Slovakia,” he said.

“We are cutting public sector wages, we are increasing some consumer taxes… and to then lend money to peripheral economies like Greece? The majority of people will never agree to that.”

Cafe in central BratislavaMany Slovaks initially viewed the euro as a “saviour”, said one economic commentator

Jozef Kollor is unhappy too about the latest proposals from the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel and French President, Nicolas Sarkozy.

They have suggested eurozone countries should agree to more coordination of their budgets, and of fiscal policy generally.

“It’s a step towards being the United States of Europe,” he warned.

Mr Kollar’s views may go down well with the Slovak public, but they are certainly not the view of the government, in which his party serves as a coalition partner.

Indeed, both the largest party in the ruling coalition, and the main opposition party have indicated they will support contributions to the bail-out fund.

“There is no alternative,” said Slovakia’s foreign minister Mikulas Dzurinda. “We joined a club, so now we are speaking about protection of our common currency, about the future of the club.”

But Mr Dzurinda is angry at Greece and other countries that have allowed their deficits to balloon out of all control.

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Mikulas Dzurinda

We want to be loyal to members of the club we joined”

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Mikulas Dzurinda
Slovakia foreign minister

He blames European officials who allowed it to happen without punishing Greece for breaching eurozone rules. Yet he insisted this was not the time to let such backsliding nations go to the wall.

“We want to be loyal to members of the club we joined.”

Despite all these troubles, Slovaks seem to have no real regrets about joining the European Union, or indeed the euro.

They will complain bitterly about the restrictions and requirements it now entails, but then glow with pride the next minute, and talk delightedly about how they now use the same currency, the same notes and coins as a country like Germany.

If all this sounds just a little contradictory, then we should not be surprised, according to Juraj Karpis, from Bratislava’s Institute of Economic and Social Studies.

Juraj Karpis argued that his fellow countrymen’s attitude to the euro was never rational in the first place.

“We had our own currency crisis in 98,” he said. “So people viewed the euro as a saviour… it was a religion. The people who were against the euro were viewed as traitors.”

Mr Karpis smiled at the thought of this past foolishness, as he sees it.

“Now people see all the problems of the euro, they see that European politicians are not saints. This euro religion is getting huge cracks.”

The World Tonight is broadcast weekdays on BBC Radio 4 at 22:00 BST.


Solo on the road…

So, what gives?

The idea for these ladies seems to be to ‘get out and travel when you want’! While 27-year-old actor Ira Dubey’s waiting to jet set off on a November-December Greece getaway with her pals, actor and single girl Shahana Goswami recently went to live la vida loca in Spain! “The place is known for its good-looking men, tantalising food and breathtaking landscape…I loved my getaway,” she says.

Sumitra Senapaty, who presents the concept of single girl travelling with her club WOW (Women On Wanderlust), says more women are finding it increasingly convenient to travel this way. Since the inception of her travel club, she’s brought together at least 10,000 women. “The requests to see more places just keep growing,” she declares.

Globe-trotting safari

If the destinations are hot, the itineraries are hotter and planners like Senapaty make sure the ladies have a blast minus their families and better halves. Advertising professional Rishika Kumar, 30, wanted to bask by the piazzas in Italy. “I was a history student too, so I wanted to visit and last December, I did so alone. Maybe I’ll do Greece this year,” she muses.

The list of to-dos is a versatile one, so planners like Shah actually build cooking and wine-tasting sessions into women travel trips. Consultant Komal Lath reveals how her recent travel agenda was “insane”. She says, “My school friend and I planned a girl trip because we find backpacking fun and needed time to explore on our own. We took off to France, Monaco and Italy and just enjoyed things on our time. I’d like to go do this again.”

Top 5 women-friendly destinations

– Vancouver

Istanbul

– Hanoi

Singapore

– Austin

[email protected] timesgroup.com


Crete travel guide

Why go?

“Megalónisos”, the “Great Island”, is the Greek moniker for Crete and indeed it is almost a country in itself. Noted as the cradle of Minoan civilisation during the second millennium BC, Crete has since then – in the words of the British writer Saki – “produced more history than it can consume locally”.

Today it also produces a surplus of edible goods owing to the longest growing season in Greece. And one of the longest beach-lounging seasons as well; north-coast beaches tend to be long and sandy if a bit exposed, while others are apt to be shorter but more secluded.

When to go?

The seasons in southerly Crete stretches to late October. For discounted room rates, better taverna service and moderate weather, mid-May to late June, and all of September, are the best times; during July and August everything is fully functioning, and the sea thoroughly warmed up, but you’ll contend with crowds and either intense heat or the meltémi, the infamous northerly wind which buffets beaches all afternoon. The best winter options is Réthymno on Crete.

Getting there

By air from overseas

Crete has three airports: from west to east, Haniá, Iráklio (Heraklion) and Sitía. EasyJet (www.easyjet.com) flies to Heraklion (Iraklio) from Gatwick, Bristol and Manchester and to Chania (Hania) while Jet2 (www.jet2.com) offers services to Heralkion (Iraklio) from Blackpool and Leeds Bradford.Aegean Airlines, Thomas Cook, Thomson, Monarch and FlytoAir also fly to Crete from several Uk airports.

By air from within Greece

Athens is linked to all eight islands except Hydra and Pátmos by up to 11 flights daily on either Olympic (www.olympicair.com, tel 801 8010101) or Aegean (www.aegeanair.com, tel 801 1120000), though frequencies will reduce if their proposed merger is approved by the EU in early 2011.

The pair also currently provide flights from Thessaloníki to Iráklio, Rhodes to Sitía (eastern Crete) or Iráklio, while Sky Express (www.skyexpress.gr) offer links from Iráklio to several other Greek islands, but their baggage rules are stricter and space for carry-on luggage nonexistent.

Transfers: From Haniá airport, about six daily buses ply to and from town but a taxi (€20) is a more likely option; from Iráklio, a public bus goes into town until 11pm, otherwise a taxi (€15); Sitía has only taxi links (€8).

Ferries call at Kíssamos (from the Peloponnese; www.lane.gr), Haniá (from Athens; www.anek.gr), Iráklio (from Athens, Santorini and Rhodes; www.anek.gr and www.minoan.gr) and Sitía (from Rhodes on Anek). At Iráklion (the only Cretan port of call for cruises, thanks to nearby Knossos) and Sitía, the town is a moderate walk inland; the port for Haniá is Soúda, about six miles east (regular buses or €10 taxi into town). No Cretan port has any significant amenities or information available.

By sea within Greece

The most useful companies, all with online booking facility, serve the following routes:

Blue Star (www.bluestarferries.gr) offers fast services between Piraeus and Iráklio and Haniá. Anek (www.anek.gr) runs regular services from Piraeus regularly to Crete (Iráklio, Haniá and Sitía), while Hellenic Seaways (www.hellenicseaway.gr) links Santoríni with Iráklio induring the Summer season.

Getting around

Public transport: Buses (www.bus-service-crete-ktel.com) along the north coast between the main towns are frequent, but scarcer heading through the hills and to the south coast.

Taxis: These are plentiful, taking up to four passengers each, with the cost thus shared reduced to nearly that of a bus ticket.

Walking: Crete makes an excellent spring/autumn hike destination, with recognised trekking routes concentrated in Haniá’s Lefká Óri (White Mountains); Loraine Wilson’s The High Mountains of Crete (Cicerone, £14) is the definitive guide.

Much of it describes long-distance trail E4, which traverses the island from end to end at altitudes ranging from coastal to high-mountain – allow at least a month for the whole route.

Car hire: In Crete, this can be expensive, especially on spec at airport arrivals. Of the consolidator sites, www.auto-europe.co.uk and www.comparecarrentals.co.uk are among the best for advance booking.

Know before you go

Essential contacts:

UK Embassy, Ploutárhou 1, 106 75 Athens: tel 210 7272 600, http://ukingreece.fco.gov.uk/en/
The Greek National Tourist Office (www.visitgreece.gr) has UK offices at 4 Conduit Street, London W1S 2DJ (tel 020 7495 9300)
Ambulance 166
Urban fire brigade 199
Forest fires 199
Police 100

Basics

Currency: euro
Telephone code: 0030
Time difference: + 2
Flight times: from 3 hours (London to Corfu) to 4 hours (Scotland to Rhodes).

Local etiquette and tips

Mikró ýpno (siesta, 3–5pm) is legally mandated quiet time.

Dress code is casual, but shorts on men except near the beach is infra dig.

Local driving habits leave much to be desired – beware especially of people emerging from side-roads without stopping, trundling down the middle of the road and reckless overtaking.

Eating out, get an assortment of mezédes (appetizers) to share, rather than expensive mains for each diner. Bulk (hýma) wine (by the quarter-, half- or full kilo) is cheaper than bottled and usually drinkable. If in doubt, start with just a quarter and order a soda, which makes even the harshest wine quaffable.

Bar bills can bite: whilst cover charges are rare, beers cost €4.50–5, cocktails €7–8. The only budget tipple may be island rakí or mainland tsípouro in a small carafe.


Anarchists or statists in Greece?

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Choosing the right travel insurance policy

With summer kicking off in Europe the strong Australian dollar, there has never been a better time for Australians to travel overseas.

With that in mind, it seems Australian travellers seem to spend a lot of time seeking the best deals for their overseas flight accommodation but often ignore travel insurance which can be seen as unnecessary, not to mention expensive. With travel now taking us further afield, travel insurance needs to encompass more than just lost luggage. All travellers should ensure they have the most appropriate insurance for their needs, before they leave the country.

To assist in this endeavour, the travelinsurancequotes.com.au website provides a free and simple cost comparison tool that allows consumers to compare the price of various popular Travel Insurance products on offer. All travellers are encouraged to consider the following points when deciding on their insurance needs:

1. A TRIP TO THE HOSPITAL

According to the Australian Government’s Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), 1,200 Australians are hospitalised overseas every year*. Overseas hospital bills can be crippling.

Australian travellers should make sure that their travel insurance covers their medical expenses in the specific countries they are visiting as medical costs can differ dramatically from one region of the world to another. In Southeast Asia for instance, daily hospitalisation costs can often exceed $800* and if you need to be medically evacuated from the United States, you could be looking at over $75,000. Some cases have been closer to $300,000*.

Aussies should also be wary of stomach nasties that plague so many travelers every year. A newspaper in the UK reported that almost one in four British travelers experienced food poisoning when holidaying in Spain, with Greece, Turkey and Egypt also rating high**. A case of ‘Bali Belly’ can be particularly nasty, especially when you consider DFAT has handled medical evacuations from Indonesia costing in excess of $60,000*.

2. SAFETY ON THE ROADS

Road safety is a major issue for travelling Aussies, especially for those not used to driving on the other side of the road! The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) recently released figures that showed British tourists are more likely to be killed in Thailand than any other destination.

Thai law states safety helmets must be worn when driving motorcycles, but according to the FCO this is widely ignored, and contributes to the high number of deaths each year. On average 38 people a day die in motorcycle accidents in Thailand***. If the worst does happen, insurance will save your family having to cover the costs to bring your remains home. However, some vehicles are not roadworthy, unregistered and cannot legally be driven on a public road. This could invalidate your travel insurance policy.

3. ADVENTURE TRAVEL

A bungee jump or sky dive may be high on our things to do in a lifetime list, but most generic policies won’t cover you for injury if they occur when taking part in such activities. Make sure you check what’s covered in your insurance policy so you can unleash your inner daredevil, safe in the knowledge the experience won’t cost you an arm and a leg.

4. PROTECTING YOUR VALUABLES

Travellers should always be aware of their personal belongings, especially, in countries where pick-pocketing is common. Brazil is highlighted on the DFAT website as a hotspot for mobile phone cloning; imagine how difficult it is to replace your handset while on holiday.

Also certain policies limit cover for expensive items such as cameras, laptops and/or jewellery which may have a per-item limit. Make sure you clarify this with your insurer.

It is vital for travellers to understand that if they don’t have insurance, they will be personally liable for all unforeseen costs. Don’t risk yours or your family’s finances for the sake of a once off premium. While some traditional insurance companies could be deemed expensive, by taking a few minutes to compare all policies available using comparison tools such as travelinsurancequotes.com.au, you could halve the cost of buying cover.

The message from DAFT is clear – “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel”. Don’t subscribe to the ‘it’ll never happen to me’ myth.

For further details: Travelinsurancequotes.com.au or 1300 782 066


Can the EU be saved?

States of disunion

REUTERS/Yiorgos Karahalis

Until recently, the tiny German town of Guben was best known—to those who knew it at all—for two things. With only the narrow Neisse river separating it from the Polish town of Gubin, it is one of few place where Germans and Poles live so close together. That, and Guben is also where the controversial anatomist Gunther von Hagens, famous for his museum displays of skinless human cadavers seated at poker tables, set up a factory six years ago to treat and preserve corpses.

Now Guben’s mayor, Klaus-Dieter Hübner, has set off alarm bells in Europe by calling for border controls to be put in place to stop Polish “criminals” from looting German businesses. Since 2007, when Poland joined the Schengen zone, a border-free travel area consisting of 25 European countries, Germans and Poles have freely criss-crossed into each other’s countries to shop, dine and work. With his call for security checks at the border, Hübner has challenged one of the pillars of modern Europe: the free movement of people and goods between nations.

Taken on its own, the border squabble in Guben is a seemingly minor concern, but it comes as the twin forces of economic stagnation and surging nationalism threaten to tear Europe apart. Even as European leaders struggle to halt the spread of the debt crisis—a task that they increasingly appear unable to handle—a wider backlash against European integration poses an existential crisis for the continent. Europe is failing, both economically and politically, leading to the question: can it be saved, or is Europe destined for the embalming slab in Guben?

The most immediate threat to Europe is the infectious debt crisis, which some argue will inevitably lead to the collapse of the euro currency zone.

After decades of unsparing social programs, not to mention bank bailouts and stimulus measures, many European nations are saddled with massive debt loads and deep deficits. Of those known unflatteringly as the PIIGS—Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain—the Greeks are in the worst shape by far, with debt levels forecast to rise to 1.6 times the size of the economy in 2011. As investors lost faith in Greece’s ability to repay its debts last year, interest rates skyrocketed, driving up the country’s borrowing costs and pushing it closer to default. One bailout followed, then another in July of this year, bringing the total rescue bill to $360 billion. Rather than assure skittish investors the crisis was in hand, the focus immediately shifted to the debt problems facing bigger nations like Spain and even Italy, the world’s seventh-largest economy.

The European Central Bank is fighting back by aggressively buying up the debt of struggling countries in a bid to suppress rising interest rates. At best that’s a stopgap measure, though. Nor is a bailout for Italy on the table. The total cost to rescue Italy and Spain has been pegged at $1.4 trillion. And so governments have been forced to take a slash-and-burn approach to their budgets. At an emergency cabinet meeting in Italy on Aug. 12, the government agreed to a US$65-billion plan to eradicate the country’s deficit by 2013. “Our hearts are bleeding,” said Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Yet austerity alone will only force European economies into a vicious cycle of spending cuts, tax increases, recessions and riots, says Cardiff University economist Patrick Minford. The only long-term solution to revive growth, he says, is for the most indebted nations in Europe, including Spain and Italy, to give up the euro currency. “It will be messy and it will be painful, but they don’t have a choice,” he says. “Otherwise these countries will remain basket cases into which money has to be shovelled.”

Often when countries are faced with hopeless insolvency, they devalue their currencies to make their exports more attractive. Since the PIIGS are tethered to the euro, that option isn’t available. Minford argues that most of the countries in Southern Europe are likely to default whether they stick with the euro or not, so they’re better off controlling their own currencies. After all, one of the advantages of adopting the euro in the first place was the promise of low interest rates that came with being part of a large monetary union. Now that investors are demanding a risk premium, in the form of higher interest rates, before they’ll even touch Greek, Spanish and Italian debt, the euro has lost much of its appeal. “If you’re paying high interest rates inside the euro, you might as well leave and re-establish your economy with a properly valued currency,” says Minford.

No one is exactly sure how such a process would unfold. There are no written rules to address how a country would exit the eurozone. In the meantime, the crisis has put the expansion of the eurozone, beyond the current 17 member nations, in doubt. Several Eastern European countries that were once eager prospects for adopting the euro, like the Czech Republic, Poland and Latvia, have signalled they may have more to lose than to gain by giving up their national currencies.

It’s often said the EU is like a bicycle: it must move forward or else it will topple over. As the crisis over the euro spreads, the bicycle has all but come to a crashing halt and is tilting dangerously to the side.

As bad as the continent’s debt woes are, Europhiles are even more concerned about the cracks appearing in the most fundamental element of modern Europe: unrestricted movement. While the call by Guben’s mayor for border controls has fallen on deaf ears in Berlin, in other parts of Europe barriers are already going up. Denmark re-established checks at its land border with Germany and at its bridges and seaports in July with the stated goal of stopping illegal immigrants and criminals who have breached the outer edges of Europe’s border-free zone. Under the Schengen agreement, signed in 1985 and of which Denmark is a signatory, members can only impose controls at inner borders on a temporary basis “in the event of a serious threat to public order or national security.” No such threat exists, yet customs officials have been pulling over random cars. Justifying the new restrictions, Danish Finance Minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen alleged: “We have seen too many examples of violence, break-ins and brutal criminality committed by perpetrators who have crossed the borders.”

The changes are mostly symbolic. Passports still won’t be required, and not all incoming cars are stopped. But this hasn’t softened their emotional impact. Even those who bristle at the European Union’s sclerotic bureaucracy will often concede it’s nice to be able to so easily move from country to country within the union. Now, Denmark’s new controls reverse a long-running European move toward open frontiers.

The reaction from the rest of Europe has been quick and hostile. Germany’s minister for justice and the EU, Jörg-Uwe Hahn, urged Germans to vacation in Poland or Austria rather than Denmark. Danish tourism agencies, which usually profit from renting summer cottages to Germans, have reported cancellations and complaints.

Charles Kupchan, a professor of international affairs at Georgetown University, describes Denmark’s decision as part of a broader “re-nationalization of political life that is sweeping Europe.” It’s driven, he says, by continent-wide concerns about immigration, the debt crisis, and a lack of leadership from traditional EU powerhouses, particularly Germany. “The borders of EU member states are effectively coming back to life,” he says. “The developments of the last three to five years raise very troubling questions about the project of European integration. For the first time, it is reasonable to question whether Europe has reached its high-water mark and will either go no further, or will slide in reverse.”

The first signs of trouble for European integration didn’t start with the economic crisis. Kupchan points to failed referendums in France and the Netherlands in 2005, in which voters overwhelmingly rejected the European constitution. Yet the debt crisis has exposed the limits of European togetherness and put member nations on a collision course in ways not seen in decades. In Germany, resentment is growing at the prospect of more bailouts for spendthrift Mediterranean Europe. Earlier this year, the German newspaper Bild published a photo of a Greek banner that labelled German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy “Nazis,” complete with the yellow stars of the EU flag rearranged into a swastika. The headline blared: “We pay—still we are abused!” Meanwhile, a new survey in the Netherlands found the majority of Dutch (54 per cent) want Greece ejected from the EU rather than continue the bailouts. Fully 60 per cent of respondents said the Netherlands “should stop lending money to other eurozone countries now.”

The grinding recession in parts of Europe has even led to outright protectionism. With Spain’s unemployment rate at 21 per cent, more than twice the EU average, the government sought to protect its labour market by banning Romanians from looking for work there. (Romania joined the EU in 2007.) In mid-August, the EU Employment Commission approved the curb on Romanian workers until at least the end of 2012. While the ban doesn’t impact Romanians already living in Spain, the move opened the door to further restrictions and extensions.

The problem—at least for those who favour the “ever closer union” advocated in the 1957 European Economic Community Treaty—is that the process of European integration has always been an elitist project. Most citizens of European countries ignored it. But now the EU has become politicized, and in many circles unpopular. “What’s so troubling right now is that the trend lines are toward re-nationalization, and no major politician is doing anything about it,” says Kupchan. “Politicians are being led by the public, rather than vice versa. And the European street is growing increasingly anti-Europe.”

That sentiment is reflected in the polls. Europe’s far right has enjoyed an electoral resurgence in recent years. In France, polls suggest Marine Le Pen, the daughter of the far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, may make it into the second round of voting during next year’s presidential election. The Swedish Democrats took 20 seats last year, entering parliament for the first time (decked out in pastoral national costumes), while in April, True Finn leapt from obscurity to become Finland’s third-largest party. It’s all part of what Edmund Stoiber, a former Bavarian politician, has called a “renaissance of nationalism.”

Even in Greece the crisis has spawned a backlash from the hard right. Earlier this month, hundreds of rampaging fascists, clad in black and wielding clubs, took to the streets and attacked dark-skinned immigrants.

As rising right-wing populism continues to spread, it is likely to lead to even thicker borders. Italy says it is overwhelmed by refugees from North Africa and wants help from other members of the union. Countries such as Germany and France counter that asylum seekers arriving in Italy simply pass through on their way north. Earlier this year, Italy issued temporary residency permits to refugees from Tunisia so that they could travel within Europe, and move on somewhere else. France responded by reinstituting controls on its border with Italy, trapping the Tunisians there.

Piece by piece the European political and economic experiment is failing. Putting it back together will be a monumental if not impossible task, says Minford. Yet the cost of failure will be the final end of Europe as an economic power. “The sad thing about this crumbling of the European dream is that there will be a revival of economic nationalism,” he says. “You can’t separate the different bits of this whole experiment in union. If one part goes, the rest will be chipped away at until it’s a patchwork of countries that are increasingly less relevant to the global economy.”


Lost in the Odyssey

So sing to me, I begged the Muse one Friday evening in May, or, hey, you know what? Just send me an intercity bus — I’ve gotta get out of here.

“Here” was the seaside town of Neapoli, at the southeastern end of the Peloponnesian peninsula of Greece, where nearly two weeks of island-hopping from the Turkish coast across the Aegean Sea had come to a sudden and maddening halt. From Cape Meleas — the last location Odysseus himself recognized before the North Wind drove him into the monster-ridden lands of myth — all I had to do was hop a bus or two to the port of Patra, and from there a ferry could take me, at long last, to Ithaca, the place Odysseus called home.

In Neapoli, however, there were no buses until morning, and I had no choice but to spend the night in this cheerful, if sleepy, seaside town. Even a day or two earlier, I wouldn’t have minded. In fact, for the previous 10 days I’d been delighted by the capricious whims of bus and ferry schedules. But I was due to fly home to New York from Athens in two days, and now this delay was unbearable.

As I numbed disappointment with ouzo at a waterfront restaurant, I noticed something unusual on the sidewalk before me: a penny-farthing, one of those 19th-century bicycles with an enormous front wheel and tiny rear one. The owner, it turned out, was Jim, a 20-something hairdresser from Athens who was sitting nearby with his girlfriend, Chara, a schoolteacher. They were a sweet couple, definite hipsters, and I smiled when they asked me, as had practically every Greek I met on my journey, how I’d wound up here.

“I’ve come from Troy,” I said, “and I’m trying to get to Ithaca. Like Odysseus: no map, no guidebook, no route, no Internet, no hotel reservations.”

Thus began a tale I’d been telling, and adding to, ever since I’d begun my Odyssey in Turkey outside the city of Canakkale, where ancient Troy was located and, beginning in the late 19th century, unearthed.

But Troy was not where I wanted to linger. It was, for both myself and Odysseus, a starting point. My plan was not to follow the hero’s exact route — it stretched, some say, as far as Gibraltar, and was mythical in any case — but to stumble in his footsteps and try to get a glimpse into his psyche as he tried and failed and tried again to reach Ithaca, a mere 350 miles away as the crow flies, off the west coast of Greece.

Or maybe that’s the wrong way to put it. For Odysseus has no psyche, not in the modern, literary sense. One of the founding works of Western literature may be a travel story about getting lost, but apart from the image of heartbroken Odysseus crying on the shores of Calypso’s island, Homer rarely portrays his hero’s disconnection and desperation.

How does that lostness feel, I wanted to know, especially in Greece, where the lonely spaces between rough and empty islands are balanced by an unmatched reputation for hospitality? So, with 11 days for the journey — Odysseus took 10 years, but my wife, Jean, is less patient than his Penelope — I left Troy to find out.

Immediately, I encountered uncertainty. Several Greek islands — Limnos, Lesbos, Chios — lie close to Turkey, but no one was sure when, or if, ferries were running. And that was even before Greece’s austerity measures prompted port blockages, transit strikes and sometimes violent demonstrations in Athens. (The ferries, however, have kept running.) The Canakkale tourism office suggested a three-hour bus south to Ayvalik, where I might find a ferry to Lesbos, and if that didn’t work, I could go farther south, to Izmir, alleged birthplace of Homer himself, and get the ferry to Chios. So, while Odysseus had sailed north with his 12 black ships to raid the lands of the Cicones, I went the other way.

Unlike Odysseus, I got lucky. In Ayvalik, a lovely Turkish town with a jumble of old streets at its center, ferries were leaving for Lesbos.

The two-hour ride was to be a typical one. Inside the ship, whose homey décor had not been updated in a couple of decades, about 100 families, couples and groups of friends mostly kept to themselves, snacking on sweets packed for the trip. This was a modest ferry; other, larger ones would have free Wi-Fi and show reruns of “Friends” dubbed into Greek. Outside was more exciting: the water flat and sparkling with golden-hour light, small sailboats and fishing skiffs cruising near shore, tiny islands silhouetted by the setting sun.

MATT GROSS, the former Frugal Traveler, writes the “Getting Lost” series for the Travel section. He is writing a book about independent travel, to be published by Da Capo Press.