Sunday, 9 March 2014

Traveller's Tales 1

Traveller’s Tales 1.

Roads and Pavements

Road Rules in Athens

In Athens, alongside the glossy and the renovated, I could see car wrecks and broken pavements, and roaming through the streets was an assortment of cats and dogs, tourists and students, together with colourful and often illegal street vendors. As we walked down the mall we couldn’t help but ponder the ways this city differed from Melbourne.

Although both cities have approximately the same population, with many immigrants, Melbourne is amazingly orderly. Here life appeared to be chaotic. We walked past African street sellers with goods spread out on blankets, past gypsies begging outside churches. On the pavements we had to squeeze past parked motorbikes, and to get across the road we had to squash between the cars that cram all the streets. It struck us that in Athens all of the twenty-first-century problems of population increase and influx of immigrants (legal and illegal) are immediately visible, whereas in Australian these aspects, though also problematic, are less evident.

And in Lemnos, a typical picture. A car parked under a no-parking sign!

Greeks, being free spirits, do not like rules, on the roads or on the pavements. They have it worked out that you don’t have to just walk on the right (as in most of Europe), or the left (as we do in Australia and England) they speed into any gap there is. I have to say I was filled with wonder when I saw the skilled manner by which ‘the swerve’ is put into practice, by both pedestrians and taxi drivers! Though exciting, I found this unscrupulous rule-breaking often a little too exciting for my English-Australian sensibilities. However one Greek-Australian, recently returned to Athens, told a reporter that he loved the challenge of driving in Athens. He said he felt more at home in this chaos than in rule-driven Melbourne. The fact that Greece has an above average number of deaths on the road, amounting to the demise of a whole village each year, does not seem to make any difference to Greek behaviour. They are either too proud of their macho life-style to let the possibility of dying stop them, or like this Greek-Australian more at home in what I see as chaos.

Lemian Roads

During our years of coming here not all changes have been troublesome. We’ve noticed some welcome changes – some possibly the result of the pressures that Greece is currently facing. In the early years of our residence dog-fights between the Turkish and Greek air forces were regularly played out above the house. Even two or three years ago large numbers of soldiers were stationed on the island and we regularly encountered slow old army trucks on the roads. Now there are hardly any soldiers to be seen and it’s rare to find those army trucks holding up the traffic. It’s not hard to reason that this change might be connected to the disastrous Greek economy, which has led to a reduction in government spending on the military.

In Lemnos pavements aren’t the preserve of walkers; in fact, a new pavement is a siren call to all and sundry to fill it up with many kinds of land flotsam and jetsam. Once I told Takis that I was going to the council to complain. I told him, ‘There might be a lot of national pride in Greece, but not much civic pride! I’m tired of having to walk on the roads and keep a continuous look out for an aftokineto (car) bowling around the corner at high speed, or having to jump out of the way when a Lemnian kalikantzari roars past on his motorcycle.’

This was one of my biggest annoyances on the island, as was the general disregard of road rules. This, however, was something I couldn’t do anything to about. It seemed to go beyond drivers of vehicles and include all the islanders, for even old ladies with walking sticks and young women with prams seemed happy to share the road with cars. I found that I resented doing this, and having to jump out of the way of vehicles, even if there was a pavement. This was because it would be filled with flowerpots, chairs, rubbish bins, large signs, trees, parked cars, motorbikes, and more.

Lemian Roads, a few straight, many narrow, and some winding through fields

Though our particular road is straight, and wider than many and so many use it as ‘city bypass’. Thus the noise of cars and motorbikes bouncing up or down the cobbles can be horrific. We have had to deal with this by putting in double glazed windows. And, as is sensible in summer, we’d try to close shutters and windows during the day and open them at night. However, often at night, when we open up the house we find that, after a short while we have to rouse ourselves to shut the bedroom windows to keep out the noise of those motorbikes and cars rushing up our cobbled street.

Digging up Roads (Comments on a postcard sent to the grandchildren.)
Hallo from the island of Lemnos.

I went down to the old town of Myrina today. It is not easy to shop in the main street (the Agora) at the moment as they have been digging up the old cobbles stones to put down new pipes. This work has been going on for a long time as every time the workers make a hole they find some very ancient pipes or stones. That means that they have to call for an archaeologist to come and check it out, and then usually the archaeologist  says that the stones and pipes are very old, perhaps Byzantine or Ottoman, and then everyone has to stop work while the archaeologists take pictures and make drawings. 



Having encouraged our grandchildren to visit us they did come. A very long and tiring journey for little ones!

Excitedly leaving Melbourne

                      On board, TV and lollies!

Arriving in Athens

Home again, with a beloved cat

A story from the book of our Greek Adventures

(Flying to Lemnos was also sometimes a very suprising experience for us.)

‘When leaving a country you find airport procedures are very similar, but differences abound when you arrive. Entering Australia I usually mutter to Takis, ‘Welcome to fortress Australia!’ There, officiousness prevails, with huge notices instructing you about everything you can or cannot bring into the country (including the feathers in your hat). There are guards watching you at every turn of the corridor, and stern-faced officials and dogs that make searches of your bags.
It’s different in Greece. This time, for instance, we found the customs booths completely unmanned. There was not an official in sight. We stood bewildered with the other passengers, until one businessman knocked on a nearby office door, behind which eight customs officials were drinking coffee. In dismay they jumped up and rushed to their desks, just in time to avoid the disaster of hundreds of foreigners marching straight into their country. ‘

Ferry Adventures 

Sometimes our visitors take a trip to a nearby town or island, by the large car ferry, or on a small tourist boat.

Another story from my book about our Greek adventures. 

(A ferry trip Takis and I took to Saloniki and Kavala. )

‘The boundaries of organised behaviour are continually breached on a Greek ferry. Children play chasey between chairs, most smoke in non-smoking areas, others ask you to move so that they might sit closer to their relatives. In fact life soon begins to take on the aspect of a Greek village, with small gossip groups, larger card playing groups forming all around you. That this would happen seemed expected by authorities who in no way try to organise and change things.
This group holiday mentality begins, en masse, and by tacit agreement with the authorities on board as the crowd gathers on the quayside. All gathered there in good time as there is always the possibility that the ferry will be in time, but by the time the ferry actually arrives the group is tired of waiting and milling anxiously. Thus, as soon as the ferry docks, before the cars or folk on board unload, the crowd surges forward. Parents are holding children and bags, not worrying that they are in the path of the outgoing cars, or incoming super-sized trucks, in spite of guards blowing whistles and trying to move them back. The whole lot, at some given moment, then push forward and begin to move up the ramp.
No one checks the tickets. It would be an  impossibility as the crowd converges on the small doorway leading the flight of stairs leading to the lounges above. Those who do this trip often (all the Greeks living in this part of the Aegean) know which are the best areas to make for, Never mind if you have a second class ticket and that is in the first class area. All rush to the favoured seats. Families send in the fastest member to claim whole spreads of seats. The idea is that they are for those parking cars and coming in later. This would not be so bad if someone did actually come in later!

What we found, was that though having bought first class tickets we were too late to get a seat and had to sit on upright chairs in a passageway between long lounge chairs where an aggressive young coupled claimed the whole bench, with bags spread out on either side of them. When Takis enquired of the glorious dyed blond Greek woman she answered that a crowd would be joining them later. She then slowly removed her shoes, slipped on something comfortable and arranged a few things for a pillow and lay down, sleeping nearly all the way to the next island. Finally when there seemed no chance that she would be challenged again she wandered off, fixed her hair down in the ladies, then wandered back to make a few phone calls. I have noticed something of the same behaviour from people from very poor overpopulated countries who obviously were worried that seats would not be honoured, and who felt they had to push to the front of the line at each stop. I presumed it was in case they were refused admission. Yet this is not the case in Greece. Here there seems to be a distain for rules, just because they are rules, even if those rules actually make life more pleasant!’

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