Monday, October 01, 2007

Greece: Day 1

Well, what do you know – I’m in Greece; Thessaloniki to be more exact. This is all thanks to a phone call from my daughter in June about cheap flights to Greece (thanks Bid) and my subsequent quick check on the web. Munich - Thessaloniki return for €40 …including taxes, etc!! And that’s what I would have paid had I booked straight away!

In my doziness I waited a day to book and ended up paying €80, but still, wow!!

So, as always seems to have to be the case, after a terribly busy week and weekend I was still stood there at home at 11 last night with nothing packed. I finally threw some stuff into my case and went to bed at 12.

I had discovered that the flight was at 06.05, so I set the alarm for 03.00.

Woke with a shock, having dreamt that it was already mid-morning, to find it was 02.26. So I waited for the alarm, got up when it rang, stumbled into the shower, slurped down a coffee T-M had made, phoned a taxi to the main station, caught the train to the airport, checked in, hung around, boarded, nodded off in the plane and arrived in Thessaloniki.

I decided to catch the bus into the centre for vague reasons of it being more ethnic and I suspect probably deep down cos I knew it was only €0.50 for the ticket. This was arguably mistake number 1. Monday morning traffic in Thessaloniki is not to be trifled with, in fact it is not even to be rhubarb-pie-and-custarded with and many hours seemed to pass as we jerked to and fro while the bus driver, with squealing brakes and copious honking of the horn, tried to squeeze past the commuters who were all busy trying to squeeze past each other also with squealing brakes and respective copious honking of their horns.

The tourists who had taken this misguided option were beginning to lose hope of ever arriving anywhere when the bus finally pulled up in front of the sparkling main railway station of Thessaloniki.

My plan had been to get here and then take a taxi to the flat where I was staying (thanks to Debbo) in Ano Poli – which I supposed just meant “Upper City”. I saw where the taxi rank was and even where people were supposed to queue but I got there to find a loud argument going on between the few people waiting at the front of the queue and the 100s of other people just running all over the place and nabbing taxis willy-nilly as they drove in.

I diplomatically joined the queue and it looked as if this was going to be mistake number 2 as the taxi drivers who were not getting nabbed before would drive up and shout over to ask where I wanted to go and each time I started my prepared story, “stin Ano Poli, Odos XX, apenanti apo ti taverna YY…” (to Ano Poli, XX Street, opposite the Taverna YY) they would wrinkle their faces and take someone else. Deborah had warned that they might not be keen on driving to Ano Poli and it seemed she was right.

Finally, though, a taxi driver actually allowed me to get into his cab, only looking slightly askew when he heard Ano Poli, and we set off. The usual stuff, squeal squeal, honk honk, one-handed driving while carrying on a heated conversation on the mobile phone, mopeds winding in and out, pedestrians appearing suddenly in front of the windscreen and disappearing somewhere behind; I know from past experience that the best thing is to become passive and resigned and allow Thanatos to dance his dizzy dance of death before your eyes.

There was a sign prominently displayed in front of the passenger seat which said: PLEASE RUT YOUR SEATBELT.

I tried to conjure up images of how that could be done to take my mind off the driving. Actually it worked quite well.

We turned up a side street which was quite steep, then another even steeper and stopped at traffic lights. Across this street there was a street which appeared impossibly steep.

I asked, prepei na pame ekei apano? Do we have to go up there!!?

Meta tha einai dyskolo, re! It’s only after that it gets difficult!

So we drove over and the taxi’s motor started to labour… and then came a street which looked to me as if it was simply perpendicular…

Apo ’tho einai diskolo! Now it gets difficult.

The north face of the Eiger in a taxi cab…he stopped at a bend in the road and pointed up at the taverna I had mentioned, opposite which must be Debbo’s flat. I got out and climbed the rest of the street to the gate.

No wonder the drivers wince when you say Ano Poli.

Got the keys, came in, had a coffee, decided to have a quick lie down, slept for three hours!

Evening 1

I felt I had to venture out – to get a few impressions and victuals – so after the main heat of the day had subsided, I set off feeling a little like Theseus navigating the Labyrinth…carefully unravelling a mental ball of thread behind me. Out of the flat and past the Taverna which had a sign on it saying “open every day” but was shut and looked more than shut - somehow Greek shops and restaurants don’t just look ‘shut’, they look more as if they have been shut, locked, sealed and abandoned for 20 years – clambered like a mountain goat down the first very steep street, changed to mountain climber mode as I negotiated the second less giddily steep street and came out on Odos Kassandrou which is one of what I am calling the “parallels”.

Thessaloniki is kind of laid out along four wide boulevards which run parallel to the coast. It’s as if some great urban planner in the sky just dragged a mighty rake across the side of the hill and said, “there you go, paidia, drive like loonies along those!”

For indeed these thoroughfares are used as race tracks to stage various classes of racing, all simultaneously; formula one bus races, stock-car racing, motor-cross, motorbike races, moped races and in fact even foot races for pedestrians desperately trying to reach the far side of the road before the lights change and they are mercilessly flattened in a cloud of dust and exhaust fumes.

So, carefully hanging my mental Thesean thread over certain landmarks, such as a bit of graffiti or a sign outside a shop, I carried on downhill. Down a street with the usual higgledy-piggledy blocks of flats and beautiful trees with head high branches, down another street with kids playing and mothers trying to get them to come in.

I reached the next parallel, Agiou Dimitriou, the street named after the patron saint of Thessaloniki.

Cafés, little snack bars, boutiques, pastry shops but nowhere to get my victuals. Finally I found a place which looked to me at first like a cinema but turned out to be a supermarket!

And now back to base; would my thread still be intact? Passed the church of Saint Dimitrios, all lit up and looking impressive, so far so good… found my periptero on the corner, passed the tiny school of martial arts with space inside for just one mat on which a fierce Kung-Fu battle was going on while the instructor stood outside leaning against the door smoking a cigarette, found the pub sign ‘Texas’, passed the kids still playing outside who were complaining, then paixame akoma, then paixame akoma! (we haven’t played yet!) to their chivvying mothers, found my bit of graffiti, ‘gamo tous dodeka theous’ and turned up from steep, to steeper, to steepest and the last killer steps up to the flat.

Came in, had a shower, got changed, waited a bit till 9.00 so that it was late enough and went down to check out a local restaurant.

My diary:

…just had dinner at the Tsinari and am now onto my second beer. The waitress has just told me that I “very very good speak the Greek”. The fact that she told me in English makes the compliment a bit back-handed though!

It’s amazing here. I am sitting on the corner where I got dropped off this morning and what was as dead as a herring is now wriggling with life. People having dinner, chatting loudly, gesticulating energetically, cars growling around this narrow corner, mopeds, motorbikes, two on a bike, three on a bike, some with helmets on, some without …one guy, a real mangas – with NO helmet, just razzed past on his scooter, his shoulder scrunched up to his jaw to hold his mobile phone to his ear.

And Greek being spoken everywhere – and the smells, the unmistakable smells…


1 comment:

PaulHellander said...

How do you rut a seatbelt? Loved it! Good story Phil. Bright back memories.. I traveled the same route in Myo own car when visiting Debs of Wolverhampton.