Ya sas (pronounced Yasooss, it means G’day),
Is the photo above an iconic Greek Island look or what? I took it in a back alley of the main town of Naxos, in the Old Market area. Enticing alleyways that lead to a labyrinth of traditional Greek homes and shops. Speaking of Labyrinth, the following photo is for the Rugged Mountain Men who work in National Parks. We need this sort of entrepreneurism in our parks. I’d certainly be heading to Pine Valley more often:
I’ve had several swims, including one in the sea at Agios Prokopios beach. We’ve drunk far too many 1/2 litre carafes of wine by the pool and are feeling extremely relaxed.
Ah, but today (Wednesday 1st June) was a highlight. We decided to visit the small mountain town of Apiranthos. Normally we’d check in for some sort of day tour but, thanks to advice from Matt & Lou, we took the local bus. It not only saved us about $100 we had a wow of a time observing Greek public transport and the culture that surrounds it. Oh, and we enjoyed the village as well.
Following is a description of some of the things we observed, interspersed with the occasional interpretative photo. But first, you need to understand that we stumbled onto the set and cast for the sequel to ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’. Subtitled, ‘A Trip Back Home’.
We were introduced to most of the cast. There was Nick, Nick, Nick, Nicko, Nick, Nicola, Nicholas, Nick and Nicki. There was still plenty of room on the bus for a few tourists as well (these are coaches, not suburban buses) and they came.
The bus driver always has an offsider whom we suspect to be his dad. The duties of the offsider are to hop off the bus at every stop and to loudly inform potential travelers the destination. Then take their ticket and rip it in half.
Here is a photo of today’s driver:
And yes, that is a cigarette in his mouth. If you have good eyesight you will notice a sign above his head that says ‘Defense de Fumer. Ne pas Parler au Chauffeur’. Those of you who can speak French may interpret it to read ‘No smoking on the bus. Don’t talk to the driver’. However, you would be wrong. What it actually says is ‘No smoking on the bus unless you are the driver (chauffeur)’. Obvious isn’t it?
Some of you may also be under the mistaken belief that a bus is wider than a Mini Minor – not so. We know this to be true as we saw our bus barrel down streets so narrow a Mini would not fit, but the bus did. We acknowledge that there may be magic involved.
We also saw streets where you would swear there would not even be room for a pram let alone a pram and a bus. But yes, we saw our bus share the road with a mother and child in a pram where logically speaking a Mini by itself should not have been able to squeeze through.
Now, there is a formula to be followed when passengers board. It involves the driver’s helper doing his bit, then as the newcomers board they are welcomed by all and sundry and various conversations at full pitch will break out. It’s much more like a family get together than strangers heading vaguely in the same direction.
Either all the passengers getting on are related to those already on the bus or this is some sort of movable dating service.
At one stop there was a man waiting to get on with about 4 bags of groceries. He appeared to be a bit simple and had several conversations with the driver before being prepared to board the bus. In a gesture that showed great kindness and courtesy the driver hopped off and helped him on board with his groceries, no fuss.
Then as he made his way down the aisle he was assisted by other passengers. I noticed also that at one stage he stood to leave the bus at one of the stops and other passengers quickly assured him that it was not his stop and let him know when we came to the right one.
Getting off the bus has a similar feel. As we would approach a small town or stop the driver would call out the name of the place. Loud conversations would then ensue as passengers checked with each other as to whether anyone was getting off. An answer would then be called out to the driver.
Sitting directly opposite us was an old man with a handful of rosary beads that he continually ran through his fingers as we travelled. Perhaps he knew something about the driver we didn’t!
This is a very Catholic country and there are ‘churches’ of all sizes dotted all over the place – some as small as a letter box, others very large. It’s almost as if you can have your own, just pick a size.
The one above we saw on a hillside on the journey. By this stage, the driver’s offsider had decided to adopt us (they love Aussies over here) and he sat in the seat behind us uttering incomprehensible Greek to us describing what we were seeing. We were looking at the intricate terraces on the very steep mountain and he leant forward and said what I thought was ‘zzteps’. Which, when you think about it, is another description for terraces.
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘we call them terraces.’ I said this with a warm glowing feeling that I was making an extra effort to help him learn some English. Later we looked at the map and discovered he was telling us the name of the mountain was Zeus! Well, I now know how to say Zeus in Greek and he knows how to say it in English – terraces.
By the way, they love Aussies because most of their relatives live over there. Conversation goes like this: ‘Where you from?’ ‘Australia’ ‘Ah, Australia. I have a cousin/nephew/niece/brother/sister/daughter/son.. living there. They live in Melbourne (where else). They have a small corner supermarket. (or) They have a fish and chip shop.’
To say the journey was different to a bus trip in the land of Oz is an understatement. The ‘highway’ which only just fitted 2 cars side by side had numerous places for the bus to stop – predominantly in the middle. The bus would stop, traffic in either direction would wait patiently until passengers had either hopped on or off and then the traffic flow would recommence.
In one small town I counted 9 cars (including a police car) pulled over to the side waiting for the bus and I also saw the nose of another bus appear around the corner up ahead. He stopped and reversed. When we drove around the corner, there he was waiting for us to pass. Here’s an example.
In Apiranthos we watched the local delivery man on his quad bike complete with luggage box deliver loaves of bread to the cafe at which we were eating. We know he wasn’t the baker but the delivery man because we’d just seen him delivering toilet rolls to another address.
The trip home was just as fascinating. The driver’s helper decided he’d done enough and hopped off at one of the small towns and a young woman came on board and replaced him. She sat up front with the driver on a sort of collapsible ‘dinky’ seat. The fact that no-one could get on or off with her there was irrelevant. She just acted as the pseudo driver’s helper, hopping on and off with passengers. Or, if their discussion was intense, she’d just let them squeeze past. (She hadn’t read the ‘Ne pas Parler au Chauffeur’ bit).
It soon became apparent she was his niece, Nicki, and they had a stack of family news to catch up on – mainly imparted by him. On this narrow, windy and steep road he hardly took a breath. At one stage we came around a blind corner to be confronted by another bus. How they missed each other I don’t know.
A quick response from the driver and then back into the conversation with barely a break. He even resumed the sentence from where he’d left off.
On Greek buses you can’t buy the tickets. You must get them from the Bus Office or small roadside stalls. In between buses they sell tobacco and refreshments. Twice on our trip ignorant tourists (not us!) hopped on with no tickets.
Lots of gesturing and loud Greek words would follow and then the driver waited patiently while they hopped off, went to the shop, purchased their tickets and then hopped back on again and off we went. All very good humoured and very unlike the land of Oz.
I was feeling weary and hot after so many words, so I’ve just been off and had another swim and carafe of wine. Here’s proof of the swim:
Tomorrow morning we head off for 5 days on Santorini and meeting up with John & Dennyse Overton. Really looking forward to it. Will be traveling Business Class again on the ferry and REALLY hoping to meet up with my fat Greek friend. Can’t wait to waltz into the lounge past him….