Gordon G Hall
Writer and Neo-Philhellene

Articles about Greece
Greek Pavements

Negotiating a Greek pavement is not for the unwary. Those of us who hail from Northern Europe come from lands where pavements are quiet, orderly places where the pedestrian can stroll, gently, and unmolested. Not so in Greece!

It is all too easy to be lulled by English experience into thinking that pavements are safe places to walk. Do not be so complacent! Here the pavement is an extension both of the road and the bordering shops, but perhaps most of all the Greek character! Negotiate the crossing of any street corner and you will find yourself squeezing between crazily parked cars, but of course that is just the start! Cars and motorbikes are jammed into every conceivable stopping place leaving only the rubbish skips open to the roadway. The cars are bumper to bumper making their extraction almost impossible, as is borne out by the scratches that every Greek car has on all its four corners. Double parking is commonplace, leaving the inner cars most effectively trapped, although the more considerate of double-parkers leave mobile numbers on their windscreens.

Motorbikes have a more relaxed attitude – why even pretend that they are supposed to be confined to the road when there is a handy piece of pavement that can be utilised? Indeed this does not just apply to parking. Pavements and pedestrianized areas are ‘open house’ for the motorbikes that zoom along them just as happily as they negotiate wrong-way riding along one-way streets. . But on no account should you react to their presence, however fast they may be approaching you! Only the other day two motorbikes passed me in quick succession. Foolishly I attempted to dodge the first thereby very nearly causing an International Incident. But I learn fast for it was borne upon me before the swift arrival of the second that I should not stop, turn, or do anything other than keep walking. It is best to let the bikes do the dodging thing. They are Greek. They are good at it! That second one swerved competently passed me.

These pavements are not the smooth flat surfaces of home, where a slightly raised paving slab would undoubtedly be the subject of a large damages claim against the Local Council. Not only is there an unevenness due the creative Greek pave-layers having followed the contours of the land, but whole paving slabs are missing leaving gaping holes that are determined to engulf English feet. Trees have been uprooted leaving only root-holes to trap the careless. Sometimes pavements just run out – there you are walking along in a happy, but cautious, manner – and you find yourself thrust into the highway as the pavement gives way to a projecting house.

Cafés spill out across the pavement leaving a narrow thoroughfare between tables, whilst shop owners sit outside their establishments at small tables taking coffee with their friends. Then there is the access to the low-level shop, this is achieved by the construction of steps from the pavement leading down to the ‘Lower Ground Floor’, but there are no railings around these iniquitous wells that, particularly at night, lurk gleefully for the uninitiated. Of course every couple of hundred metres, the pavement narrows drastically as plonked dead in the middle of it is – a Periptero. People ease themselves passed and continue on their way to be harassed by the pavement people - beggars and street traders.

The pavement is a place of sharing. Yes, pedestrians are tolerated, but parked cars, cafés, beggars, fast motorbikes and kiosks all have their own claims to the use of this overcrowded pathway. There is allegory here. Northern Europe with its clear, organised but ‘cold bottomed’ pavements; Greece with its chaotic, ‘on the edged’, but essentially hospitable ones. For me there is no contest!


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