When I purchased my ticket for the double decker bus tour, I was wondering if I’d even use the second day. What was I gonna do -the very same circuit all over again? But as it all turned out, the second day, while following the very same route, was the exact opposite of the day before.
To start off, yesterday’s sun was mostly gone. Today was gray, and overcast, with moments of rain. Rain is never enough of a reason to turn off this Vancouver girl though. So I rushed through my work, to try to get out of the hotel by noon.
Just as I was closing down the laptop, the news showed a scene from downtown Athens between farmers and police. The farmers have been striking all over Greece for the last two weeks, with roadblocks on highways and important roads. They are against the newest changes by the Government, forced upon them by the EU. Bailout lenders are demanding that Greece scraps their tax breaks for farmers.
Today, I knew there was a planned demonstration by the farmers, where they were planning to drive their tractors into the city and camp out over the weekend. I had thought it might be an interesting sight, especially from the top of the bus. But now I was seeing them throwing tomatoes and rocks, breaking windows, setting things on fire, and bashing at the police with clubs. The police, at one point, were outnumbered, and needed to flee up a street. They responded with tear gas.
About this time, I was thinking, “Maybe the buses won’t be running today and I can get them to let me ride on Monday instead.” So I called their info line.
“Hello, are your buses running today?”
“Yes, the buses are running every day.” came the response.
“But I see police and farmers fighting with tear gas and stuff on tv. Are they still going through Syntagma?”
“Look … “ The emphasis on this word and the following pause might have sounded rude, if I wasn’t already used to the way Greeks speak when explaining. They speak very specifically, with pauses and words like “look” and “example” placed for effect. I am getting pretty good at mimicking the speech pattern. She went on, ” … the demonstration …” *another pause* ” … is not until 5 pm … “ *pause* “tonight.” *pause* “The buses are running.” *pause* “There is no reason to stop.”
I wasn’t exactly sure she was correct, but figured if the buses were still running, I might be able to get some good photos from up above everything. So off I went to catch the noon bus.
Unlike yesterday, the bus was packed with people. There were at least 15 up top with me. It makes sense since it’s Friday – Europeans in for the weekend. Two stops up the road, a British family stood up and made their way down the stairs. I heard a big bang, as if someone had slid and crashed down the stairs, then a little girl cried out, “Mummy! Mummy! Are you okay?”
I could only hear mumbling, then some cries of pain, followed by some angry words. I think the bus driver was trying to get them to leave the bus. Three German men took turns looking down the stairs, and I saw them making hand signals as if showing a limb broken and sticking straight out at a right angle. People started leaving the bus, but I stayed. There wasn’t anything where we were, at Hadrian’s Arch that I don’t see every single day. One of the German’s spoke English to me.
“Her leg is broken, sticking straight out.” as he made the same hand signal as before.
While we waited for an ambulance, I saw a woman, wearing big clunky high heels, and a long haired brown wig that was messy and matted in the back. Her make-up was bright blue 70’s smears across her eyelids and two circles of rouge on her cheeks. I took a photo of her, but then she caught me looking at her, and turned her back on me. When I looked at the image I’d caught, I realized she was actually a trans person. I saw her turn around and walk towards the bus, but then stop, and think for a moment, before turning and walking away. I instantly felt horrible. I don’t think she knew that I’d taken a photo but perhaps my attention to her, however surreptitious, may have been enough to make her uncomfortable. I deleted the image.
A half hour later, the family was ensconced in the ambulance – I took another photo that I also deleted – and we were off again. Next stop Syntagma Square.
There is definitely a demonstration going on, but nothing like what I’d seen on tv. Maybe this was the wrong place?
Here, in Omonia, there were men demonstrating and blocking the road.
Young army boys getting off the bus. Since 2009, Greece has had mandatory military service (conscription) of 9 months for men between the ages of 19 and 45. Citizens discharged from active service are normally placed in the Reserve and are subject to periodic recall of 1–10 days at irregular intervals.
Looking down Ermou Street towards Monastiraki Square and the shopping district. The right side of the road here is the Monastiraki neighbourhood, which is quite touristy, but still nice. The left side is Psirri, where lots of cool bars, restaurants, and shops are located. During the day, the small alleys are filled with shops, but after dark they close their metal doors and the bars and restaurants open theirs. You can walk down the same street during the day and then again at night and believe you are on completely different streets.
A different ant-government demonstration a few miles from the Syntagma demonstration. This is just a half a block from where the Agriculture Ministry building where I have found out the altercation I saw between police and farmers took place this morning. All the violence is over now. There is loud Greek music and voices shouting from the loudspeakers, with loud chants and responses from the crowd.
Back at Syntagma Square, people are starting to congregate. There are so many food stalls today, and people selling flags and other knick-knacks. More loud Greek music and voices yelling at the crowds. I wish I could understand what they are saying, but I get the jist. It feels more like a festival to me, but with political overtones.
I decide it’s time for a late lunch, so I make my way back into Psirri to a place I read about online. On the way I chance upon an art store where I buy Harold a birthday card. This alleyway sits beside a coffee shop that caters to artists. Poems and Crimes Art Bar is a bookstore/cafe/restaurant/bar. You can read any book of their collection (unfortunately, it’s all Greek to me). They serve small bites, coffee, wine, and cocktails. I read that it is a good place to meet Greek writers and poets.
I arrive at my lunch spot. Six Dogs is a secret garden, hidden down a side alley in Psirri. They serve snacks, coffee, wine, and cocktails. I ordered a veggie pizza and tried to order one of their fantastic sounding cocktails. The server said he needed to check on something and when he came back a few moments later, I was disappointed to hear that the bar wasn’t open – meaning there is no bartender on shift yet, because I could see all the alcohol sitting right out there on the bar. I settled for a glass of wine instead.
Looking around, I could see I was really out of place. Everybody was my daughter’s age. They all drank coffee – I drank wine. They were all in groups, chatting away to each other (one couple close by me didn’t stop making out the entire time I was there) while I was on my own. They all spoke Greek – and I couldn’t even listen in to their conversations. Even so, it was a very cool little place and I’d love to come back at night to see it all lit up and try one of the cocktails.
The surrounding alleys had some great graffiti.
Then it was time to purchase a gift for Harold’s birthday. Ermou street is a pedestrian mall with lots of International clothing stores. I had been looking all week, but finally settled on a couple of nice patterned button down shirts. Beats having to do laundry!
This stray dog is so obese and so spoiled that he completely ignores the piece of pizza left for him.
Almost 5pm, when the demonstration was supposed to officially get going at Syntagma, so I made my way back there. While I waited for the light, an older lady came up to me and started pointing at the square, yelling at me in Greek. I wanted to tell her I didn’t understand but she also seemed to be yelling at all the passersby. She seemed angry that the demonstration was going on.
Police buses blocking the streets so tractors can’t get to the square.
My Mother likes to tell me how, when I was a small child, she could show me an imaginary line in the yard, and tell me not to go over it, and I’d sit there right at the line, just putting my toes over it and then snatching my foot back. My brother was gone as soon as she took her eyes off him for a moment. We both haven’t changed all that much. I stood behind this line for a while before deciding to inch past it to the other side.
Police watching from up above us all.
The crowd is thickening but it seems quite laid back.
This is the lady who was yelling down below. Now she is yelling at the news announcer, trying to get off a broadcast. He tries to shush her and then wrinkles his nose in a sneer at her, waving her away. But she won’t be quietened. He rolls his eyes and waves his camera man to stop and they move. Happy that she has stopped them, she walks off.
They set up again 5 feet away and start filming.
I watch her walk away, and up to the police line. Now she’s yelling at the police. I don’t understand a word she is speaking, but I think she’s telling them to get down these stairs and stop all this from going on. I can’t help but like this lady and her chutzpah.
Eventually though, I grow bored. Nothing is really happening here. There is a lot of angry political rhetoric spoken over the PA, but I don’t understand any of it. People yell back, and the music is loud, but there is really nothing to do. I make my way out past the police bus line.
I settle in, just a hundred feet from the blockade and have a nice glass of cabernet.
Harold is off work now and we need to meet up for dinner. There is no way an Uber or Taxi is going to get through to me, so we decide to meet half way, in the Plaka. On my way back through Syntagma, it starts to rain, and I am thinking that should make the police happy – maybe less people will come out. But when I get back I see many more people than before. The crowd has at least doubled in size. The chanting and shouting is coming from multiple areas, echoing off the buildings.
All the fancy hotels that line the square have lowered their metal louvered gates to protect their big glass windows. Management and security stands outside this hotel, watching the crowd.
On the other side of the square, just a block in, a ton more police stand, waiting to be called upon. I want to stay, to see if something will happen, but my saner side wins. It’s dinner time and my husband is waiting for me.