Living in Greece

A practical guide to moving, living, working & traveling in Greece, plus musing and misadventures from an American in Athens

Commuters in Greece still sweating it out

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A 2002 plan to keep 500,000 commuters cool on the Athens-Piraeus Electric Railway (ISAP) is still not ready seven years later, with only 18 of 43 trains to be air conditioned by June. Temperatures in ISAP carriages rise significantly in summer with exposure to direct sunlight for most of the journey.

It is also likely that trains will be more crowded than usual, with figures showing commuters using the railway 120 million times in 2006, which is an increase of 3 million when compared to 2005.

Sweating 2004

When my brother came to stay with me during the Athens Olympics 2004, I felt it was my job to warn him about various ills of the city in case he had illusions of fresh air, green places, professional taxi drivers leaving him in the right location at the actual price, friendly shop owners, buses/trolleys/trains running on time and air conditioned comfort.

Overnight, Athens was transformed into an unrecognizable city of smiling English-speaking hospitality, brightly colored bilingual signs, renovated squares and cafes, schedules running on time, and air conditioned buses and trains. He thought I was a liar! OK, the taxi drivers and shop owners were 99.99 percent the same and Greeks yelled anti-American obscenities at us, but still.

Of course I believed that trains and trolleys hadn’t even the possibility for air conditioning because never did a cool breeze blow in all of my years here, thus causing us to open windows. It became clear to me that the Greece cared more about media than its own inhabitants. In fact, I’m almost sure that most of the infrastructure installed during the Olympics would have never happened if the world wasn’t watching.

On our way to the Closing Ceremonies, my brother finally got a taste of real life. With the roads shut down to buses and taxis thanks to a crazy protester attacking the Brazilian frontrunner during the marathon, nearly everyone was forced to use the electric railway.

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We were stacked like sweating sardines, my feet not touching the ground and my brother having a flashback to his ride on the Tokyo metro where stewards are hired specifically to stuff people into the train. But the biggest difference between Japan and Greece was air conditioning.

Related posts

Roasting season is upon us
Pros and cons of Athens in August
Floges and togas – Greece afire

* Article last updated March 23, 2009

6 Comments »

  EllasDevil wrote @ April 13th, 2007 at 15:41

A lot of buses are air conditioned. They even have signs on the windows saying “PLEASE DO NOT OPEN – THIS BUS IS AIR CONDITIONED” but of course you always get some tourist who cos they are boiling hot from standing outside and don’t feel immediate relief… open them!

I remember back in the ‘bad old days’ when I used to have to take the bus everywhere… I would often tell people off for opening the window and letting in 45 degree heat from outside!!!

As for the Kifissia – Piraeus train, the news you report is a joke. As you state, it’s an overland train (it’s only in central Athens that the stations are undeground) so people are in for another fun fun summer!

  Kat wrote @ April 13th, 2007 at 18:48

As I say in my article, I know the buses and some trolleys have AC, but I was led to believe that they didn’t because the driver never turned them on…not on the major lines I rode for several years, anyway. Maybe I was unlucky. On the buses that did have them turned on, the driver turned it off despite our protests, saying he was too cold and therefore didn’t care if we suffered.

Also, sometimes people (those sick, elderly or sensitive) open windows while the AC on because they WANT warm air to come inside as they’re cold. People also don’t read signs.

The concept of AC is that it’s freezing cold inside a space, especially one of a bus that is small and thereby easily cooled. I find that tourists open windows because they are under the impression the AC can’t possibly be on because it’s still warm inside despite the fact it is (aka, the AC is turned too low, broken or otherwise weak). If you’re ever in Manhattan, huge stores have efficient AC that passerbys in 45C heat and 100% humidity can feel cool just walking by an open door.

  Mike Robson wrote @ August 19th, 2007 at 14:41

Kat –
I am a Brit living in the USA and contemplating moving to Greece (I work for a Greek company in their NY office). I have thoroughly enjoyed your site for the past 8 hours!!! – haha Started at midnight and just about to have breakfast!

Anyway just wanted to thank you for both the education and the entertainment and thought I would offer, for what it’s worth, a piece I wrote on Greek Taxis a few years ago . . .

A little known fact of Greek life is the perception of everyday conversations by non Greek speaking people. To the untrained ear, most social discourse sounds at best like an exchange of orders and at worst like a blazing row. For example, when sending an email, it is virtually impossible to use lower case characters since the default is automatically to upper case, SO YOU CAN SHOUT AT THE TOP OF YOUR F’KIN VOICE!. This said, however, once one finds the more dulcet, “little” letters it is as a lull in the storm . . .

Most are aware that Greece is the cradle of civilization, many of the world’s great thinkers solved the mysteries of mankind here whilst the rest of us were living in caves and there are many areas that have been developed here for thousands of years, greatly surpassing the efforts of” newer” nations who have far to go in their evolution of certain concepts.

One such area is Traffic Jams. There are very few places on the face of the globe that can offer more frustrating vehicular transport then the roads between Athens and Pireaus which are a virtual melange of pot holes, construction sites, heat, dust, opportunistic drivers and road rage. Somebody untrained in the navigation of this road would be more than foolhardy to attempt to actually drive it themselves as it is certain that the end result would be to be splattered against the rear of a truck or at the very least to have three scooter riders embedded in the passenger door.

To compensate for this, Greek Taxis are numerous, reasonably priced and a source of some of the best entertainment one can wish for. My travels today took me to the little know town of Kastri, from the time it takes to get there one would assume that it is situated somewhere in Bulgaria wheras in fact it is a northern suburb of Athens.

The adventure of returning from this place to the bosom of Pireaus is one of the most entertaining couple of hours I have spent in a long time. My business completed, my host informed me that it was very easy to hail a taxi outside his office.

Clearly, this is not an activity he undertakes regularly since after some forty minutes beside an extremely busy highway, the only things i had “hailed” was about half a kilo of dust to stick to the pint and three quarters of sweat that had run out of me on to the pavement. Then, lady luck smiled upon me with the entrance over the horizon of Nikos and his much loved (and certainly much used) Seat taxi.

Nikos appeared to offer an unusual variant on the taxi theme, the “local” service. When he stopped next to the grease puddle that i was transforming rapidly into, there were already two elderly ladies in the back seat of the car. Having determined my eventual destination I got into the front seat. It was at this point that I realized that Nikos considered one leg to be a sufficient proportion of a passenger to be actually in the vehicle and that it was time to move away at as high a velocity as could be achieved.

Fortunately, I was swift in my reactions and managed to get my bum through the door several milliseconds before we passed the first parked car. Nikos is a cheery man, he spoke little English but this was far greater than my Greek which is limited to phrases like “malaka” and “yasu nafti”.

He explained that the ladies were going to points on our route which was fine with me since being close to fainting (both from the heat and the dramatic embarkation) I was prepared to be agreeable to pretty much anything. One of the ladies left us fairly early, to be replaced by a mother and child en route to Athens to go shopping. Nikos is not a person you would readily give a TV remote to, he kept one finger on the radio tuning button at all times flipping between stations every few seconds. A large wear mark on the dial stood in evidence of many years of this practice.

We happened upon a news station; during a twenty or thirty second report I recognized one word. “Australis” which I presumed to be Australia. I regretted my lack of linguistic ability since Nikos roared with laughter at the end of the piece and endeavoured to explain the joke.

Apparently, a man in Australia (I was right!) had been driving his wife and mother in law somewhere when he had run out of petrol. He went to a station to get a can but found that he had no money on him. The owner was reticent to give him any gas without security so it was agreed that the wife and the mother in law would remain whilst the man refilled his car, went to the bank and returned with payment.

Apparently the man seized his opportunity and never returned!! Nikos opined that he may well try that himself and whilst he did not know the word “harridan” he made it abundantly clear that his life contained at least two! The lady with the child left us and shortly afterwards the other lady and we replaced them with a very attractive young woman and a man who,from his odour, probably worked in the goat industry.

We were now a little over an hour into our journey and the discussion had turned to my background in the maritime industry. Nikos was not a fan of shipowners, his opinion was that they make vast fortunes and then spend them in foreign lands, I wondered where he got that impression . . . The goatherd was the next to leave us and we found another gentleman to fill the vacant seat. I am not certain he really wanted to go anywhere but was clearly keen to sit next to the young lady in the back seat who he engaged in flirtatious conversation (flirting sounds the same in any language) She was not receptive and left us shortly afterwards.

When she was gone, the man and Nikos exchanged a few words which I took to mean either “She must be a lesbian”, “She had big ears anyway” or “Nice tits”. All too soon, the voyage was completed and I was back in the more familiar streets of Piraeus. I bade Nikos farewell as he set off to find more lost souls to fill his taxi.

  Kat wrote @ August 19th, 2007 at 17:59

Hi Mike! Thanks for stopping in for an extended visit. I take it as a great compliment that I held your interest overnight, but I hope you caught up on your sleep.

I liked your story and thanks for sharing it. If you have it published somewhere else on the Internet, it’s very possible I’ve read it before because it sounded familiar. Or maybe all taxi stories are the same, it’s hard to know the difference ;)

The way it ended reminded me of a post I wrote called “Conversations from a day in my life as a non-blonde lesbian…”

I appreciate you making a comment — so many people don’t and I never have a chance to “meet” them.

  Mike Robson wrote @ August 20th, 2007 at 12:33

Well spotted Kat! It was first published on a site I used to write for (sadly now defunct though still there) called maritimewired.com

regards

  Kat wrote @ August 21st, 2007 at 07:17

M – That’s always been a quality my boyfriends hate — remembering everything in detail. ;)

I also wanted to add that if you decide to move here, it will likely be easier for you since you are an EU citizen and have an existing connection to a Greek company.

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