Greece: Margo’s First Impressions

Sooner or later, we’ll do a standard narrative of our ride across Central Greece. Meanwhile, allow me to follow Chris in making a few observations.

In Italy, overhearing native speakers was a bit like listening to opera singers warming up. The words in Italian seemed to flow, but here the language sounds sharp and edgy to my ears. At first I worried that it was an argument and that a fight was about to break out; it never was! I think it just has more that it’s share of consonant sounds that need to be jammed in.

I’ve got a phrase book that is meant to help move either way: English to Greek, or Greek to English, but it’s clearly slanted to the latter. It’s hard work, but I can say a few numbers and greetings.

This one is easy: lemonade.

This one is easy: lemonade.

The alphabet is fun to learn, and I am pleased as punch to be able to read a few simple signs. I’ve had a had a bit of a head start with Russian Cyrillic, and most of the letters are the same. Chris can decipher a little, too, since physicists have used lots of Greek letters to christen many of their particles.

Some packets also have English

Some packets also have English

Can you find the "pizza margarita"?

Can you find the “pizza margarita”?

English is widely spoken, much more so than in Italy. We hugely appreciate their efforts, and have been told they all study English in school from about nine years old. Non-native speakers always bring patterns from their first language to their English, and the kind of English we hear and see gives us insights into what Greek might be like to learn for us.

A sign outside a restaurant in Parga said: “all the grilled in charcoal” in reference to its menu.

After we passed a goat herd being moved along a road, a lady connected with the farm ahead got out of her car to warn us: “There will be dogs. (Pointing ahead.) They will not cut you. (Hand gesture shows biting.) They just woof woof. Be you not afraid!” Her message was perfectly clear, and very much appreciated.

We rode past a military airfield with some large hangars, and saw signs warning that photography was “forbitten”. (No photos of this sign!) I know that t and d are an articulately pair in English, different only because d is voiced and t and is not. Where is this error transferred from?

And because English place names are transliterations, a town or island name can often be spelled more than one way in English. This makes figuring out ferries a challenge, as with reading maps ….if you can find them.

We know that Greek has had a written form for 34 centuries, so the tidbit we’ve just gleaned here in Delphi should not have been a surprise: the oldest written notation for both choral and instrumental melody has been found inscribed on wall blocks of the Athenian treasury. These hymns to Apollo were inscribed in 128 BC using a combination of characters and punctuation from the Ionic alphabet.

Hymn to Apollo; Ionic alphabet with punctuation to notate melody

Hymn to Apollo; Ionic alphabet with punctuation to notate melody

We got a map of the country on arrival in Igoumenitsa, but the hunt for a more detailed map of the region we’re in has been a long one. Chris recalls his father saying that 30 years ago the Brits had better maps of Greece than the Greeks did, since the powers that be restricted maps here, feeling they could become tools in the hands of potential invaders. This sounds paranoid, but not at the level that must have prevailed in neigbouring Albania, where in 2009 we saw a landscape dotted with bunkers.

We’ve stopped at gas station after gas station, where someone rifles through a meagre collection of shopworn maps to no avail. At a bookshop in Amphilochia, we finally found the one we needed. Out of date and more schematic than precise, but better than nothing.

We feel safer on the roads here that we did at times in Italy. Greek drivers occasionally toot their horns politely from good distance behind us. In Italy, quite a few would roar up beside us and blast their horns at close range, which was bloody dangerous and NOT appreciated.


It’s a good thing they serve a tall glass of cool water with each cup. It’s served sweetened and it isn’t filtered, so you drink as much as you can until you reach the sediment at the bottom. Choosing exactly when to stop drinking must be a fine art we are still developing.


One response to “Greece: Margo’s First Impressions

  1. Wonderfully evocative post of chewy coffee and particle physics words (i’m leaning heavily on statisticsography ;-). The quiz was mean ’cause I was looking for a word begining with pi (pizza pi tee hee) with two z’s (are the words pizza and pita related?). Greeklish orthography: Pitsez? But the margarita part was easier!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.