Sunday, November 28, 2021

Driving in Athens - A Story

Special edition Greece cover of our book of travels

An excerpt from Today I Ate Cow Stomach:

Let me just say right now that driving in Athens (and as you all know if you've been reading along, I have never driven in Athens, but being in the front passenger seat is still pretty darn close) is an experience like no other. It has its similarities to Rome, but like a comparison between the two countries, Athens driving seems a little rougher around the edges, a bit more frenetic, maybe even a bit more dangerous. But not really. Somehow it all works itself out, everyone seems to take care of each other, and no one gets too worked up about things. Unless you don't anticipate a green light, then all hell breaks loose.
There are no pretenses in Greek driving. If you need to get somewhere, you go. If someone needs to get across three lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic, well, they must have a pretty good reason, so you let them squeeze through.

There are very few overhead signs letting you know what the major routes are, and street sign placement is not an organized science. Many (very small) signs are stuck on the side of a building at a street corner. No building on that corner? Wait until the next one, maybe you'll get lucky. And when you do find one, it may not include English lettering along with the Greek. And if it does, it may not be spelled the same as on your map. It's like code-breaking at fifty kilometres an hour in a confined space with no coffee break, and your chief code-breaker is bemoaning the fact that they have no idea where you are, where you have been, or where you're going. Or he's shouting, "Turn here!" without mentioning which direction here is.

On the freeway heading into the city, Laura tried to pass an army truck that had a full load of army guys in the open back. Some joker in the fast lane doing one fifty came flying out of nowhere to give Laura a blast of his horn. Our car leaped back into our lane right behind the army truck, and all the army guys had big grins on their faces, and they all seemed to be looking at me. My return glare told them that if I had half as many weapons of mass destruction strapped to my body as they did, we'd already be where we were trying to get to.

This is not driving in Athens, this is fun, easy-going driving just outside of Patras, our first comfortable and enjoyable moments of being in Greece. Look at that sky.

Once actually in the city of Athens, it was now incumbent upon us to return our rental car to the Europcar office ASAP so we could get to our apartment rental on time. A nearby gas station attendant showed us on our map how to get there. We stood in the middle of his lot still staring at the map for a few minutes, turning it around more than once. He came back and said, "Okay, forget map. You go this way, turn right and then go until..." He then went back to work, kneeling down and filling a large gas can and was almost run over by some kid in a fancy car. He gave us a look of relief, and we figured it best to leave him be so that he could focus on staying alive. A few blocks later, I got out and asked a newsstand guy where Syngrou Avenue was. He pointed, and not a vague, towards-the-moon kind of point but a very direct point. "One block," he said. Brilliant.

Everyone in every one of those apartments has a car or two that all seem to be out and about on the streets of Athens.

Once on Sygrou, the car, of its own accord I'm certain, proceeded to fly right by the Europcar office, turned at the next block, and stopped when confronted with a dead end. I ran back to the Europcar office where office guy told me I could park the car anywhere on the street. I eyed the street suspiciously as there was no room out front but that was a minor detail for the moment. Back in the car, we pulled out on to Syngrou only to find that a u-turn is not allowed. We obeyed the law for about a kilometre (we are Canadians, after all), then relented and pulled a u-ey. Emboldened, we went the wrong way down a one-way street, circled the block once more for good measure, then parked on top of a crosswalk right beside the Europcar office.

Finally, we were in Athens.

Our hostess was waiting patiently at the front door of the apartment building. I apologized profusely for being late, but she waved that all away with a smile. She brought us up to the apartment to show us around. It was fantastic. Bright, clean, full kitchen, balcony, bathtub. When I saw the washing machine, I pretended a bug flew in my eye.

    - end

Living room of our apartment

The apartment was right on the corner of Eftichidou and Spirou Mirkouri, with Ciao Italia right beside us, which served up great pizza.
A version of this story can also be found in Today I Ate Cow Stomach

Today I Ate Cow Stomach, the stories of our travels through Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt, available here. It's chock full of hundreds of full colour photographs and original artworks.

Driving in Athens available here, or from me if you act quickly! This is the mostly picture-free black and white text edition of our travels, from Italy to Thailand, nine months of family travel. If you're not a fan of photos getting in the way of your reading, this is the edition for you.

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