Thessaloniki, Greece: It fascinates to be in Greece’s second largest city and cycling through the country at a time when Greece permeates news headlines and has caused global equity markets to sink again (Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index closed down over 4% just today). The latest reason for this gyration is the Greek government’s announcement yesterday that it will produce bigger budget deficits this year and next than it previously committed to. (Surprise!) Here we go again.
In cycling into the heart of Thessaloniki I experienced supreme gridlock. Maybe this is why the economy doesn’t move?
Here’s what I look like stuck in the gridlock. This picture was taken by a motorcyclist who was stuck next to me. Nothing was moving. We had a nice chat. I also had time to chat with a bus driver on my right.
Eventually I made it to Aristotelus Square in the heart of Thessaloniki by dismounting and walking on the sidewalk. What struck me as I made my way through the city is how normal everything seems. This does not seem like a place on the brink of financial disaster, but then again, I have no idea what a place on the brink is supposed to look like. There was chaos certainly in the way things operate — but the chaos is what makes Greece Greek. Cafes were busy; people moving, doing stuff. Police are on the street and sanitation workers are picking up the trash. Some people were working hard and some people were hardly working — it’s difficult to tell who’s supposed to be doing what — but it all seemed pretty normal to me. Society functions.
As I went to a small place for lunch, run by two Greek guys in their thirties, I asked the guy who grilled my chicken souvlaki what’s going on. He was very succinct: “We’re broke. The politicians took our money. Our taxes have gone up 100% in the past five years. We have no money left.” And there’s the rub: whether Greece defaults or not, the hard working guy cooking souvlaki, and many others like him, are screwed. This is not a good generation to be middle class and Greek.
After lunch I sought a bike shop for some minor tune-ups, as I may not see another bike shop until I arrive in Istanbul. I arrived at 2:45pm at a particular shop recommended by my favorite souvlaki cook. Three staff were standing around, talking. They said they could help me tomorrow, but they could not help me today. They’re closing in 45 minutes. I explained tomorrow does not work for me. “10am tomorrow” was the reply.
And that modest interaction provides another insight why Greece is in such a mess. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I asked the guys at the chicken restaurant how this will end. They answered honestly: “Who knows?”
Gridlock and Greek-induced market meltdowns notwithstanding, I continue to plod my way due east across Greece toward Turkey.
Day 73: Giannitsa — Thessaloniki, Greece
Distance: 53.93 kilometers
Ascent: 182 meters
Terrain: Flat. Visually uninteresting with suburban and industrial sprawl
Countdown to Istanbul:
Remaining Days: 9
Remaining distance: ~ 680 kilometers
TransEuropa 2011 Trip Summary:
Distance: 5,169.51 kilometers
Ascent: 37,489 meters
Countries: 15: Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Greece
Incidents: 6: flat tires on Days 45, 53 and 56; police reprimand on Day 2; two dog chases on Day 71