One of the wonderful things about studying Ancient Greek and Latin is to go to Greece or Rome and actually see the places you spent so much time being forced to read about. That was occurring to me right now for the first time as we drove through the Vale of Tempe; sacred to Apollo and celebrated by the poets for its enchanting beauty. And it really is beautiful. It was dawn and the sun was coming up in the east – the perfect lighting to view it from the road which runs along the eastern ridge of the valley. The railway runs along the other side and somewhere down below in the mysterious mist and darkness flows the Pinios River which created it all.

We were scooting along now down the National Road which goes from Thessaloniki to Athens and is as close to a motorway as you could wish. Having at that time still very little idea of the geography of Greece and the distances between one place and another I was kind of hoping that the driver would not forget that we needed to go to Ioannina and that we wouldn’t suddenly arrive in Athens. Just as I was thinking that the courier came down the gangway to us.

“The driver is going to drop you off in Larissa which he says isn’t far from Ioannina.”

“Oh right, great. Thanks.”

Soon after, it must have been around 7.00 a.m., the coach pulled into a bus lay-by. The courier waved down the gangway to us and motioned to the door with her head.

This was it.

We struggled out of our seats, shuffled to the front, got off, got out our cases; watched all the time by all the Greeks on board. They obviously couldn’t believe that we were getting off. But we were, and with a blast of the horn our home for the last few days (or eternity) pissed off merrily into the morning traffic.

The driver had pointed over to the right… “Ioannina,” he had said.

So we kind of looked, for want of something else to do, to see if we could see Ioannina.

We couldn’t see anything that looked even remotely like Ioannina. But then as we had absolutely no idea what Ioannina looked like anyway that was not really much of a surprise. I can’t believe now when I look back on this journey 30 years later that we had arrived here so totally unprepared. We had no idea whereabouts in Greece we were and no idea whereabouts Ioannina was. We had sort of assumed that the coach company would drop us off near enough to Ioannina for it to be obvious.

So now what? It was just after 7 o’clock on a mild September morning and we were in Larissa apparently. There were two of us and we had four heavy fully-stuffed suitcases, one huge carrier bag and a guitar between us. And no map. We were still standing looking south in the direction our coach had gone. On the one side to our right there was the main road, some buildings and a street that looked as though it went into town. On the other side to our left there was a fence and some trees and a street which looked as if it went nowhere at all.

A couple of Greeks passed us on their way to work.

A child passed on a bike.

We were still there. It was about half past seven. So…now what?
A grey car with a sign on the roof that said “TAXI” went past. That woke us from our stupified inactivity. We started to wave our arms about to flag him down but it was too late, he’d gone round the corner.

“Ah bugger…we’ll get the next one…”

We heard a squeal of tyres somewhere behind us, some voices raised in anger and then the high-pitched sound of a car reversing a little too quickly for the engine’s liking. It was the taxi we thought we had lost.

The driver jumped out, insisted on putting all the luggage in the boot himself, held the door open for Deborah who got in the back and held the front door open for me to get in the front. Then he got in and closed his door. He turned to me and I turned to him.

“Ah! Erm…Ioannina,” I said, realising what he wanted. He did what looked like a double take and then nodded and shot off across the main road and into a labyrinth of side streets.

I sat back in my seat, closed my eyes for a moment and then looked out of the window at the people on the pavements around us all getting ready for the coming day not knowing and probably not caring that here were two English travellers who thought they were nearing the end of their quest.

The taxi driver turned to me and a stream of vowels and consonants came out of his mouth. The sound seemed vaguely familiar. I looked at him with narrowed eyes and then turned to Deborah in the back.

“That’s Greek,” I revealed to her.

She gave me what was - now I come to think of it - a quite supercilious look which might have included just a hint of eye-rolling.

The taxi driver spoke again, “zwqxdhe rtsh dbehfjwwjj apsorutu jtzumgidmdl leophoreio dhfjgntjchs etcvdbfgr nqowxysbr…”

Ah, more Greek; but hang on, there was a word I recognised; leophoreio.

I brought all the force of my two years studying and learning Modern Greek to bear upon this word: leophoreio

Leophoreio”, I said to Deborah, “we’ve had that…”

“Bus”, she said.

“BUS!! Leophoreio – bus, yes!”

Meanwhile the driver was saying something else. Leophoreio was in there again and then I noticed “Ioannina” too.

Leophoreio…Ioannina, leophoreio……Ioannina…, leophoreio – bus…Ioannina…

“He’s taking us to the bus for Ioannina!”

I turned to him and said in my best Greek, “great, brilliant, yes, good idea…” He looked at me, puzzled. I smiled at him, nodded and gave him a discreet thumbs up.

He drove us to a small square and dropped us in front of a café on the corner.

He gave us one last blast of Greek which contained the words leophoreio – by now an old friend, Ioannina and a new one I kind of recognised, eisitiria.

We nodded and waved and he sped off.

“Shit, what’s eisitiria?”

We looked around for a bus station or a bus stop or something that looked even remotely bussy. Nothing, just the guys in front of the café drinking coffee, watching us curiously and twiddling their worry beads.

“Well, we might as well have a coffee and maybe ask the woman in there where the bus station is.”

“Mmm…erm..what do we say?”

“Well, let’s see… to leophoreio is ‘the bus’ and then we have Ioannina and then pou is ‘where’ and pote is ‘when’ so we should be able to cobble something together.”

“Yeah, and ine is ‘is’…”

“So something like, pote ine to leophorieo se Ioannina kai pou…erm…something..”

“So that is, ‘when-is-the-bus-to-Ioannina-and-where…something’? That’ll do!”

I would like to write that it was I who went in to the café to ask the woman but I took the coward’s way out and sent Deborah in on the grounds that her pronunciation was better than mine…which it was. I offered to do the hand movements and sound effects in return.

We went in. Deborah enunciated beautifully the sentence, “pote ine to leophreio se Ioannina kai pou…?” And at that point I made some bus leaving noises and hand movements…sort of doors closing and the hiss of hydraulics and then I mimed a driver steering and made the sound of an engine going up through the gears.

Despite the embarrassing grammar and the unrecognisable mime and noises it seemed she had understood.

Sta Ioannina? Etho, stis ennea.”

I think we were taken so by surprise that she had understood anything and then actually replied that we just stood there looking at her blankly.


Well that was the same answer but louder. Ok, let’s see…etho is ‘here’…ok, so ‘here’… and ennea is ‘nine’…and stis ennea is ‘at nine o’clock’! Jesus, it worked.

“The bus to Ioannina leaves from here and goes at nine o’clock.”

We are language ACES!!

“Now, what about tickets?”

Encouraged by the success of my mimes, I tried to get this information too.

“Erm…leophoreio..” I said and then made a sort of tickety shape with my index fingers.

Eisitiria? Nai. Etho!

Eisitiria?” I said still making my tickety shapes in the stale air of the café.

Malista. Eisiteria,” and she held up a book of tickets which were fairly similar to the shape I had been miming.

Piece of piss this language stuff. Now all we have to do is get on the bus.

Chapter 7

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Philip Newton said...

We looked around for a bus station or a bus stop or something that looked even remotely bussy. Nothing, just the guys in front of the café drinking coffee, watching us curiously and twiddling their worry beads.

That reminds me of taking the KTEL bus from Thessaloniki to the foot of Mt. Olympus (Litokhoro, I believe).

Fun stuff.

None of this "central bus station" nonsense, where busses to all directions leave from the same place, nicely divided up by numbered berths with clear signs. Not even in the second-largest city of the place.

No, every little nomos has its own KTEL and they, in turn, each have their own little terminus. A bit like London and the railway stations, really, except that the KTEL stops are a lot smaller, and located in little side roads where tourists never venture.

I think the one to Litokhoro was just a garage that one bus could drive in at one and and out the other, and a little office that sold tickets, and that was it.

Being able to speak Greek was not a bonus but a necessity if you wanted to buy tickets.

Ah, fun stuff.

It did get me and my wife a good ride to Mt. Olympus and back, though!

(Interestingly enough, the main stop on the way there - I forget the name of the place, but judging by the map was probably Katerini - was such a typical "bus station" with numbered bays and signs....)

Neutron said...

The 2 or 3 bus stations in Ioannina were also not too badly organised...