Efharisto Hellas!

I spent last week in Thessaloniki, Greece, visiting a Thessalonian whom I had dated when we were at Ohio State.

What a city! What a country! I had a great time. I didn’t want to come back.

Some random observations:

The food in restaurants was fresh, good, and cheap. In six days, I had one bad dish, and I tried all kinds of things. (Of course, local guidance helped here.) The tomatoes and beets in particular were like nothing I had ever tasted in the United States.

Greece has less anger in the air than the United States has. I never felt afraid on the streets. I would pass groups of teenagers on the street in the early hours of the morning, and never worry that they would mug me.

On the other hand, the Greek public sector lived down to its reputation. Olympic Airlines booked me onto a flight that didn’t exist. A taxi strike seriously inconvenienced Anna one night. And I was fortunate that a one-day strike at the Athens airport happened the day before I left rather than the day of.

English is prevalent in Greece—almost all signs are in both Greek and English, and English-language programming is common on television (I flipped past “Rocky” one night). Most businesses have at least one person on hand who can speak at least passable English. (Historical note: One hundred years ago, the signs in Thessaloniki were also in two languages: Turkish and French.)

In Greece, the museums realize that of course you would not be so stupid as to put your hands on a 1500-year-old piece of art, so they need not post “do not touch” signs everywhere. I found this attitude refreshing. I wish American museums had the same confidence in their patrons, though I suppose not having the signs in place makes it harder to sue someone later if they misbehave.

Greek drivers are insane. Highly skilled. Impressively daring. But insane. And they don’t wear seatbelts.

The most shocking thing I saw in Greece was a car pulled over by the police on the Leoforos Nikis (the seafront avenue in Thessaloniki). After a week of watching Greek drivers in action, I can’t imagine what you would have to do to actually be pulled over.

In Greece, a Dodge Neon would be a mid-sized car. You can’t buy a car in the United States as small as the average-sized car in Greece. It was exciting to see so many cars that I have never seen in the United States, but the place of honor goes to the two Ladas which I saw on the Aristotle University campus. (My ensuing hopes to see a Trabant, though, were cruelly dashed.)

Folks in Dallas will be glad to hear that Frito-Lay moves a lot of product in Greece. I saw two flavors of Pringles that I have never seen in the United States: Paprika and Texas Barbecue Sauce. Also, if my tastebuds did not mislead me, Nacho Doritos are marketed as Tex-Mex Doritos in Greece. (I will ask Callie Markantonis to do further gustatory research on this vital question when she visits Greece later this year.)

In Greek, “ni” sounds like “no” but means “yes”, while “ochi” sounds like “okay” but means “no”.

I saw the Greek flag in Thessaloniki more often than I see the American flag in Houston.

In Greece, there is a brand of cigarettes called “Assos”. I can only imagine how they smell.

Finally, I can strongly recommend the Hotel Le Palace in downtown Thessaloniki. The location is excellent, the rooms are comfortable, and the staff are friendly. (Also, I note for my Canadian readers that the top floor of the hotel is Thessaloniki’s Canadian consulate.)

All in all…wow. I hope to go back someday.

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