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Glimpses of Greece:
Street Harmony

When I arrived in Greece two years ago, the airport train shuttle took me to Stathmos Larissis, and it was there I experienced Greek roads for the first time.  I had to cross a major road, with baggage in hand, and no traffic lights, and I had a moment of panic.  The cars zoomed by me on the wrong side of the road!


That crisis averted, I then had to catch a taxi for a 40 kilometre stretch along a country highway, and the driver was like a cowboy from the Wild West.  Forget about putting the seat belt on – it didn’t exist!  He seemingly tried to do the distance in record time, as he was speeding along at 150kph continuously, rocking his taxi to bits.  And he would accelerate to overtake other cars.  Welcome to Greece, Bill!


But I averted that crisis too and landed safely in the port city of Volos.  Never having travelled overseas before, it took me some weeks to adjust to the right-hand-side drive, and still today I make sure I look both ways when I cross any road, as a pedestrian.  I have never driven a car, but even as a pedestrian you have to know what the cars are doing.


And then I had an epiphany.  Having had a month or two to adjust to the madness, I was sitting in a café in Volos, looking at a busy street intersection, when it clicked.  This wasn’t madness – it was beauty.  I stared at that intersection for 30 minutes in blinding awe.  The cars, the people, the motorbikes, the stray dogs even – they weaved in and out of each other with great dexterity and harmony.  It was an epiphanic moment for me because I knew at that moment that I would be able to live in Greece more permanently.


Now, two years later, it is second nature to me.  And very pleasurable.  Unquestionably, the movement of traffic in Greece is intelligent, inventive, efficient and harmonious.  Mothers wheel prams on the roads because the footpaths are broken; motorbikes zoom along on footpaths next to pedestrians; people cross busy roads with great ease; cars double-park but quickly move if a bus driver honks his horn.


There is no comparison with Australia, where the traffic is completely ordered.  But Greeks simply don’t have the space – dense living dictates they have to utilise every inch to get by.  It’s fascinating walking through the streets of Athens, observing this precise complexity of movement.


Of course, the road fatality rate in Greece is double that of Australia’s, but this is mainly due to speeding on country roads – very few accidents seem to happen on the city streets themselves.


When people from outside Australia watch a game of Australian Rules Football for the first time, they always comment that it’s chaotic, that it doesn’t seem to have any rules.  Of course, those who know this football code know the great skill and beauty that exist within it.  I believe it’s the same for Greek traffic.

© Bill Mousoulis 2010
This article first appeared in Neos Kosmos, 2010.