Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Guest Post: Boat Trip by Anneke Kamerling

This is the second in a guest blog series written by Anneke Kamerling about her expat life in Greece. If you want to find out more about Anneke and her collection of anecdotes, take a look at Typical Greek.

Photo: Alex Ling
"Do you know that McDonalds has opened a restaurant in Athens?" my Greek colleague Irini asks me one hot August day in 1992. "Well", I say, "we should celebrate!"

No sooner said than done. The next weekend we leave on Friday with the boat 'Sappho' towards Athens. It is a whole night sailing and the next morning we drive off the ferry in Piraeus, in my from the Netherlands brought car. Irini and I drive straight to the centre of Athens. I feel right back home. Athens is my city. Here I have spent several winters, like many islanders do and by now I know the city by heart.

I park the car at Orestis' place, a friend of mine, who has a shop in Monastiraki and together with him we enjoy breakfast on a terrace in the neighbourhood. We explore the Plakka on foot and of course, we also pay a visit to the Acropolis. In the evening we join the queue, which reaches beyond the doorstep, for a Big Mac at Syntagma Square. How is it possible? I hear you thinking. And that with all that delicious Greek food everywhere? Well, that answer I won't share, but the fact is that it tastes just fine to us.

The boycott which is currently being held on all Dutch products leaves a bitter taste though. This relates to the issue of Macedonia. The Greeks don't recognize the newly proclaimed Republic of Macedonia. Everywhere there are posters with: 'Macedonia is Greek, always was and always will be!' The Greeks fear that the former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia will claim the Greek Macedonia area (and all of Greece) and they want Macedonia to change its name, constitution and flag in order to prove the contrary. The Greeks also proclaim a trade embargo against the former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia and boycott products from several other European countries, including the Netherlands.

How deep this resentment goes, I notice when I arrive at my car on Sunday morning and see how it is scratched with the text: 'Macedonia is Greek!' Two tires have been punctured as well. We are faced with a problem. I only have one spare tire. Fortunately, Orestis has a solution. We call a garage nearby. It's good with connections! This is how things work around here. The car is towed away and although it is a Sunday, two new tires are rapidly put on, so that we can drive again. We're going to visit some friends of Irini in Peristeri and have lunch with them before we are to board in Piraeus again.

We have all the time in the world, but nevertheless we call at the office of the ferry company in the port area already at 19.00. We get a surprise! Tonight there's no boat. "But we have the tickets", I say. The boat has been cancelled due to technical problems. Now what? We call the friends of Irini and they have a solution. We take a taxi to the airport and they agree to put my car the next night on the boat. The key is under the mat, the ticket in the glove box. This very evening we fly back to Chios. The car will come later.

Much later, I learn. When I enter the port of Chios on a borrowed scooter at 05.00 hours on Tuesday, I just see the 'Sappho' leaving the port rather than arriving, my car still on board. Other people arrive with stuffed bags in their hands, shouting and screaming that the boat has left too early. A few tourists look around, confused. The representative of the ferry company takes in the chaos and raises his arms again and again in a typical Greek gesture that says "so it is, no different, I also cannot help it". And so my car is on an unplanned boat trip to Kavala.

On Thursday we are reunited. I sneak myself onboard the ferry, grasp the key from under the mat and drive off quickly. In my own car with new tires and political slogan across the whole side.

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