Arriving or departing from Athens on May 4 or 5, 2010?

Need to travel inside or outside of the city … have patience, it’s strike season in Athens.  Really.  And don’t think its just about the current economic crisis, or about the people’s general dissatisfaction with the current government, or about the fires, the police, the cost of living, etc etc etc.   It’s a Greek thing:  in fact, it is so Greek that the very first Greek word I ever learned upon arriving in this country 24 years ago was: APERGIA … STRIKE!

Back then, I can’t say I was aware of what the particular issue was that caused that particular strike, all I knew was that I had arrived in Kalamata, purchased a ticket for the next train that was departing in 2 hours and was trying to travel from there via Athens and onward to Thessaloniki.  After purchasing my ticket I went for a walk, had something to eat and returned to find the ticket agent sitting in front of the station smoking a cigarette. He said something in Greek to me and shrugged. Not understanding, we finally began a back and forth as I motioned to him to figure out what he was trying to tell me by searching in my little pocket Greek dictionary.  Unable to read the fine print of the tiny book, he finally spelled it out in large, neat block letters:

ΑΠΕΡΓΙΑ

Since the concept of a strike was new to me (I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and somehow managed to go all the way through school without our district’s teacher’s striking, much to the dismay of me and my peers), I didn’t give much thought to how long it might last, but instead I looked got out my Let’s Go Greece, trying to figure out where I would spend the night. Kalamata had recently been devastated by an earthquake, so lodging options were limited.  Fortunately for me there was a group of Greek students trying to make their way to points north, and after some back and forth with the ticket agent, two young Greek women dragged me outside and, like a spy movie, shoved me into a taxi, jumping on either side. Another young man piled into the back seat with us, and a second road up front with the driver.  And off we went, the students and driver grilling me about where I’d come from, where I was going and filling me in on the reasons behind the strike. Anyway, the long and short of it is that my trip turned into a real cultural experience: it was my first primer on Greek politics, I made some new friends, and in the end, my bus trip north to Thessaloniki introduced me to perhaps the greatest tyropita I have eaten to this day …  All because of a strike.

So if it happens while you are traveling in Greece, don’t let it get you down, just go with it and let it be one of those unexpected travel adventures.

As an aside:

Although the Greeks complain about the strikes, and certainly tourists, especially North Americans, do too, rest assured that Greece is not the only place in the world plagued by strikes.  You can get up to the minute strike information for travelers on the Easy Travel Report page: http://www.easytravelreport.com