Kavala- Let’s have a coffee

Crowded Bar in Kavala

Kavala, Greece, December 2011

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When we cross the border to Greece I am excited. It has been nearly five years since I have travelled the birth country of Zeus, Odysseus, Socrates and Homer the last time. We take the first exit on the freeway to find a gas station where we can buy a map. The first gas station is closed, so we follow the empty street to the second one. We have no luck again. The rural road leads us through two small villages. Still we cannot find any open store, not a person is walking on the streets. Even the dogs that normally come running after us barking and growling do not care for us. They turn their heads and then decide that we are not worth the effort.

We go on. Everything we can see are cotton fields and train rails parallel to the street. Every now and then we pass another small village and see the first few persons outside their houses. I smile and say “Kalimera!” – Good morning. The answer is a friendly nod. It is a sad picture and has nothing to do with the lively Greek streets full of busy cafés and laughing families and friends that I remember from my last visit. Finally we arrive to a small town and find an open tavern where we eat some delicious mouzaka. They play Greek music in the background, on the neighbor table an old couple starts arguing or expressing their love in a really loud way, we cannot distinguish. In the corner some friends celebrate a birthday while two children play “you are it” through the kitchen. I smile – this is the Greece I know.

People enjoy some drinks a cigarette and a good talk

By the next day we enter Thessaloniki. There is a lot of traffic and the city is full of people. The cafés and bars in the streets are full of laughing people who enjoy some Tsipouro together. We meet our host Gael and our co-couchsurfers Pascale and Philipp and go out for some cheap food in a little tavern. “The crisis took us many costumers”, Popi, the owner of the tavern, complains. “Before the crisis people came here all the time, now they do not have enough money left.” When we go home in the middle of the night, we still see the streets packed with partying people, far more than we have ever seen in any other big city on the way here. So what was Popi complaining about? 160 km east in Kavala we find out. There are about 30 bars and plenty of restaurants in the town but there are only 70,000 people living there and the tourism is not as big as in southern Greece. In no other country we have seen such a big variety of places to go out. Now that there is less money and more work to do, people have less time and money to spend with friends and families going out for dinner and drinks. But still there are some people in all the bars we see.

Johny, our host’s boyfriend, takes a zip from his glass of whiskey and explains: “We Greeks like to go out. We live in the night and have problems getting up in the morning.

Whiskey and coffee are the most popular drinks in Greece – not Ouzo

Dinner is usually not eaten before 9 pm and takes some hours. So we do not want to work in the mornings, because we like to go out until late. And we do not want to work in the night, because we want to see our friends for a coffee. And in the afternoon we just need a long brake.” Johny smiles, finishes his whiskey and asks the waitress for another one. “The Greek word for work is Doulia with an emphasis on the A. Changing the emphasis to the I the meaning changes, “but just a little bit” to slavery. So if you understand this, you understand the Greek. We want to work as little as possible to have plenty of free time to go out with our friends. The life is on the street, in the cafés and bars.” … when they are open. Most shops close between 2 and 5.30 pm to rest. On Mondays and Wednesdays they even stay closed in the afternoon. Some cafés and bars started to adopt this schedule. I am not sure if it is clever to close a café while everybody else is off. But as a German it is not easy to talk about working motivation, because the German chancellor Merkel, who wants them to work harder, longer and for less money, is not a too popular person in Greece. When people ask where we come from the reaction on my answer is either a not too exited “huh” with a sigh or an eye-rolling combined with the word “Merkel”. Luckily Roberto comes from exotic Mexico and the reaction on his answer makes people forget about my origin. It is either “Tequila” or “Where is your sombrero?”. We are back in the game.

One of the cozy bars in Kavala

Anyway luckily we see most of the cafés open in the afternoon. It is necessary now to work hard to afford the luxury of going out. Johny and Athina, our host in Kavala, work very much; they even spend nearly all Christmas in the office. They also take a long afternoon brake but then continue to work until 9 pm. Most of the shops have the same schedule, they are closed when we want to buy things but open again, when we already changed into pyjamas enjoying a tea and a movie on the couch. Even on Sundays and Christmas holidays few kiosks, cantinas and fruit stands stay open

People want to work as little as possible and have the time and money to go out as much as possible. As Johny explains, being in a public place with friends is what Greek people enjoy most. It is a big part of the culture and also matters in times of crisis. The importance of the social life outside the house is the reason for the variety of taverns, bars and cafés. Now that there is less time and money to spend on a 3,50 € hot chocolate people in the cities go out less – but still far more than anywhere else we have been to on our way.

The way to Alexandroupolis leads us through the countryside and empty streets again. No laughing people, some bored dogs and many cotton fields surround us. But finally we realize the reason for the so different countryside: It is a holiday, as well as the day that we entered Greece and the day we went from Thessaloniki to Kavala. Luckily we find an open cantina where we eat some cheap Souvlaki. There are many other people chatting, smoking and drinking beer and coffee. We talk to the lady selling the Souvlaki. She tells us that she works here all the day and will meet her best friend in the night for a coffee or two.

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  1. Héctor says:

    “Work as little as possible and have the time and money to go out as much as possible…”, where have I heard such thing? In México, perhaps?

  2. Ja ja ja.. sinceramente no diria eso, en Grecia si es un problema serio. Inclusive te diria que en Mexico se trabaja muchisimo mas que en muchos paises, tan solo los 5 dias de ley mas los feriados de vacaciones por cada 12 meses de trabajo es uno de los mas bajos en todo el mundo. En Alemania son de cajon 24 dias de vacaciones mas los dias feriados. Otro ejemplo son los Domingos en donde encuentras lugares abiertos, sobre todo farmacias y hospitales a comparacion de incluso Alemania donde el fin de semana es casi imposible comprar una medicina, eso sin contar las inumerables tiendas de 24 hrs que hay en Mexico (incluyendo tacos) que ya quisieran muchos paises.

  3. Pingback: Kavala-Ein Käffchen trinken gehen | Tasting Travels

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