Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Pireaus and all things typically Greek

Greece as we all know is beautiful. It’s actually one of my favourite countries to holiday, mainly in the Greek Islands – an oasis of beauty, culture and relaxation. The difference though from Athens and “the Islands” is worlds apart. So I am talking about “the Islands” when I said favourite to holiday ;-)

A hazy foto of us in Pireaus train station. The station was quite nice, it reminds me of Antwerp train station and some of the older train stations in the Netherlands.

In this post I will be writing about all things typically Greek and some observations I found interesting and familiar. I’m also going to plug in a brief summary of Pireaus, the biggest harbour of Greece.

Our train ride from Athens to Pireaus took about half an hour. One thing that stands out with Athens is its great public transport. S told me the infrastructure was laid out to meet the Olympic deadline 4 years ago. It is indeed the soundest investment the government invested but she said many Greeks were against it. Change for the Greeks is a long tiring uphill climb. They are still traditional, fixed, hardheaded bunch which is quite proverbial as many Filipinos are too.

At any rate, the underground Metro I have been using for the last few days was simply wonderful... clean, modern, spacious, high-tech, and very efficient. The whole setup brings me back memories of the Metro in Barcelona, maybe because they have similar directional signage and light paint on the walls. Syntagma Metro is the most notable of all stops and because of the grand staircase in the huge open air lobby, I can’t help but think of Brussels train station. I always have this deja vu moment of places I have been to previously when traveling.

This man insists to be part of the photo shoot! Ha-ha! I did not mind as he was quite cool about it. Check out his pose and his eyes.

I also asked S about the ramshackle yet pretty-nostalgic ancient structures that is seen all over the city. Why the Greek government left these precious gems, these buildings that could have been worth a fortune alone to rot?

Well, I was duly enlightened that these buildings are actually owned by foreigners, and in most cases by a Turk family. Greece and Turkey have a long history of hostility with each other which I am quite familiar with. In Greek law it seems that it’s almost impossible for the Turkish owners to claim rights over the building. Since they could not claim it, and the Greek government also does not have the rights, these beautiful works of architecture are left falling to pieces. Phil once said that if there is an earthquake in Athens, these ancient structures will be the first to go down flat, destroyed forever. Such a shame; the EU should over rule any law whatsoever to help save these structures.

So moving on, and still inside the train to Pireaus, an old lady sitting across us, who is a bit on the cunky side caught my attention because she was dressed in all black and kept making the sign of the cross. Every time the train passes by a church, she quickly makes the sign of the cross.

Pireaus looking like downtown Manila.

S whispered to me that the old lady is in mourning for the rest of her life? Fact she said is when a traditional Greek woman loses her husband, she will wear black for the rest of her life. This is her way of paying tribute to her dead husband, while, when a traditional Greek man loses his wife, he will wear a black band on his arm for a few weeks. Hmm, I think it’s too chauvinistic in Greek society to punish women for the rest of their lives wearing the black sentence whereas men are set free after a few weeks!

This practice is also similar in the Philippines where the traditional religious families wear black (sometimes white) for 40 days. To wear colorful or red colors on a wake would be abomination.

Another interesting point, since we are talking about tradition, is the naming of the eldest son to the father of the father of the child. So if the fathers name is Giannis and he has 3 children that gave birth to a son as the eldest, then they all have to be named Giannis, after him, or else a family cold war ensues.

One of the harbours where the yachts are anchored.

Sigh. The Greek macho culture is so close to home. Funny, macho it is, yet its the mother who is highly honoured in the family, sometimes everything revolves around her and she could even be the boss at home! I’ve also heard about the common parasite-ing phenomenon of the children which when translated into ultimate Philippine scenario is sentimental at best. Many children depend on mom and dad for handouts even when they are old and strong enough to get out of the house and fend for themselves. Ladies and gentlemen, it is true that thirty year olds still stay at home with mom and dad in Greece. I have live on my own since at the age of 22, and I don’t think I will be able to respect a man who is a parasite.

And who would have thought that in today’s age, bearing a female child is a burden? In Greek traditional way of living, traditional conditions still apply when bearing a female child. This is the ridiculous dowry in the form of an apartment or a house given to the child when she marries. The home also serves as a security-protection deposit from the parents that if all else fails, the daughter will always have a safe place to stay. Now, this explains why there are so many unfinished buildings in Greece. The Greeks have this tendency to build houses up to 3 floors and more. S said that whenever I see those unfinished houses with the poles sticking out of the roof, the family has a daughter, and is saving the money for future construction of her apartment on top.

Whew... quite heavy Greek tradition in there! Haha

Another foto session in the harbour boulevard. I tied my hair as it has gone amok because of the rain.

So, we’ve finally arrived in Pireaus and my first impression when we got out of the Pireaus train station was downtown Manila. The pedestrian flyover outside the station brings back memories of the late 80’s and early 90’s in Cebu. The whole sphere is just so Philippines. Even the noise and the smell. Unbelievable.

We took a cab to the harbour where the yachts are anchored. Pireaus is home to many ships and is the most important and busiest trading port in the east Mediterranean Sea. There were cafes along the promenade but we wanted to walk further down however the rain caught on us so we trailed back and took shelter in one of the cafes. I ordered a dry Martini while S was thirsting for a beer. Greek beer she wanted but she was served with a Dutch beer, Heineken, and with a Dutch beer glass, Amstel. Double Dutch jeopardy, lol.

More fotos of Pireaus here: Pireaus - Athens, Greece

Later in the evening we went to the southern suburbs of Glyfada. S said its where the rich and the famous live.

Unfortunately getting a cab from Pireaus to Glyfada is a nightmare. Hailing for our elusive ride, already for half an hour is no joke especially when its showering outside. My hair was all over my face and has totally gone amok. I frickin spent a lot of time blow drying this hair in the morning, and now... arghh! More importantly, no cab would want to take us down south? Sounds familiar to me, huh. I could hear the Greek cab drivers saying the same thing in Tagalog.

View from the cafe in the harbour of Pireaus.

Here is what is very interesting. Taxis are very, very cheap in Greece. A thirty minute drive in Holland would rake up to €70-90 while in Athens you pay around €20ish. It was explained to me that in Athens the cab driver can take more than 1 passenger. The rule of the game is simple. Both passengers’ destination should be the same or along the route of the other. It happened twice that the cab driver took another passenger while S and I were at the back of the car.

Another thing I learned in this trip is that the Filipino community in Athens has integrated well into the society because Greek and Filipino culture is quite similar. They are cousins you see, ha-ha.

In Glyfada we went to the home of S friend who is Greek-Egyptian. For dinner she brought us to a nearby traditional mom and pop type taverna. It was the best Greek dinner I ever had as I got introduced to real authentic Greek cuisine served by the locals. Not in a touristy spot, and yes, you can really taste the difference.

The total cost was a surprise as I would have thought it would come out more but then I had to remind myself I was not in Athens where prices are inflated because of tourists like me. I wrangled to pay for the dinner but this unbending Greek-Egyptian lady could not be moved. She declared she was the host and picked up the tab while I had to shut up.

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