I am leaving Athens tomorrow, after a week spent reminding myself of all the good things that this city has to offer. For me primarily, it is an abundance of good friends and family whom I do not see regularly enough. However this week, it has also been the weather. When I was packing, I asked my mum what the weather was like.

“Well,” she said, “It’s ok. About 22 degrees during the day, but bring a coat because it gets cold at night.”

“What do you mean by cold?” I asked. This is not the silly question it appears to be. People who live in warm countries have a completely warped sense of temperature, and I know from personal experience how easy it is to become spoilt in Greece.

“12 – 15 degrees!” She said in the tone of voice us Londoners usually reserve for below zero temperatures.

“Ok, thanks Mum.” I said, and left my coat at home.

As it happens, 22 degrees is the measurement in the shade, and I spent Saturday afternoon sitting outside at a café in the sunshine wearing a T-shirt and sunglasses. 22 felt a lot like 30. I felt like a different woman when it was time to go home to change before dinner. This week away from the English winter has been really amazing, although I gather the weather has been wonderful in London too, which makes me feel a bit cheated to be honest. I mean, I put up with the cold, rain, snow, sleet, wind and all manner of grey in London all year round – I am owed the good days. It doesn’t make a difference if I am in Hawaii at the time, when there is nice weather in London and I am not there, I still feel put out.

I mentioned earlier about getting spoilt. It is so easy to get used to constant good weather. I moved here (Athens) one January and lived here for 6 months until June. I walked to work every day. I never got rained on. Not once. 5 days a week, there and back for 6 months. I think that’s pretty amazing. I’m not saying it didn’t rain, of course it did. But it didn’t happen to rain while I was walking to or from work. Sometimes you’ll be talking to a friend here and you’ll say something like:

“Shall we meet for a coffee?”

“Not today,” they’ll reply, “It’s raining.”

It used to make me laugh, but people really don’t go out if it’s raining here. Unless it’s going to work, people leave jobs and errands for when it isn’t raining. This is because they know that later or at worst tomorrow, it won’t be. I hadn’t been here 3 weeks when I started doing the same. I had stuff to do? It’s raining, I’ll go later or tomorrow. 3 weeks!! That’s all it took. Imagine if you tried to live like that in London. There’s the obvious problem: you could starve to death waiting for a window of opportunity to go to the supermarket. You would never see your friends, or go to the movies in case it was raining when you got out. Life would grind to a halt.

Watching the weather in London sometimes sounds like the weatherman is hedging his bets.

“Tomorrow will be dry and wet, with sun and wind and an outside chance of snow. Highs of 25, lows of -1”

Thanks a lot mate, that’s three different coats, an umbrella, sunglasses and crampons. Could you narrow it down? The truth is, they can’t. It might do all five. English people are masters of dressing for all eventualities. The one thing they do get wrong though is that the first sign of sun makes them get their flip flops out. Seriously Londoners, don’t risk it. Even if it is the warmest day on record, and they’ve promised you nothing but sun, if the monsoon type shower doesn’t get you, the numb toes due to the cranked up air-conditioning everywhere will. Even in the two weeks we call summer where temperatures soar to 30 degrees and everyone is naked all the time, I still need to take a jacket with me to the shops so that I don’t lose any extremities indoors. In Greece, come the first signs of spring, the winter wardrobe is in mothballs and everyone is wearing capri pants and flip flops until late October. This confidence in the fact that you won’t really experience anything scarier than a stiff breeze is liberating and very easy to get used to.

While I was in Greece, it did snow once. If you think London is ill-prepared for snow you haven’t really seen the half of it. We knew the snow was coming. It had been in the news for days. It’s going to snow on Friday. And I was thinking, ok, how much snow can there be? I mean it is Greece, maybe it will be a little snow flurry and we’ll all go outside and play around in it for about 10 minutes and then have a hot chocolate and reminisce for the next ten years about that time it snowed. Not so. They had warned us of heavy snow and it snowed heavily and settled for 48 hours straight. The television was full of newscasters warning people to stay indoors.
“Don’t risk going outdoors for anything other than emergencies. It is very cold.  And slippery.  Stay indoors!”

On the Friday afternoon, I decided to go to the supermarket after work. People were running through the aisles emptying shelves into trolleys willy-nilly as if the end was nigh. I understand milk, and bread and stuff. But Lettuces? Tupperware? Cling film? It was panic buying pure and simple. I must admit, I did have a giggle.

I walked home from the supermarket just as the first snowflakes started to fall. The following day, I bundled up well and set out to walk to my cousin D’s house to watch Arsenal play. D lived about 30 minutes away on foot. I put my iPod on and set off. I don’t drive in Greece, the left-hand drive thing completely messes with my mind, so I just don’t do it. I don’t mind walking, and we are not talking great distances here. It was probably 30 minutes because I am slow, not because it was far. Actually, because I walked everywhere here, I became a bit of a celebrity. You see, Greeks don’t walk anywhere. They walk for exercise sometimes, but certainly not to get anywhere. They even take the car to go the kiosk and there’s one on practically every street corner.  Even the bus stops are 20 meters apart so as to minimise walking.  As a result, wherever I went, I would be introduced as the girl who arrived on foot.
“No way? From where? That’s amazing!” I was treated like some sort of courageous and slightly extreme athlete and believe me, nothing could be more hilariously devoid of truth. Anyway, back to the snow. By this time, the snow was falling quite heavily and there wasn’t much traffic around. I was walking along the main road and cars were actually slowing down and people were pointing at me. I could hear kids in the car saying:

“Look, someone’s walking! In the snow! It’s a woman! She must be crazy poor thing…”

Anyway, I carried on. I had already missed kick off and I wanted to catch most of the game. As I turned onto D’s road, I lost my footing and did a cartoon-worthy slip with my hands flailing and landing flat on my back. I lay there for a while trying to establish if everything was still attached/in one piece. It was. I got up and winced at the wet patch on my backside. Apart from my butt and my pride, nothing was bruised. I should have known it was a sign of things to come, as by the time I got to D’s, Arsenal were down 2-0 and we never recovered. Bloody Manchester United. As the snow continued to fall, the roads got less and less busy and Athens got more and more beautiful in all of its white silence. We realised that people really had taken the official advice to heart and were staying indoors. We went out and made the most of the quiet streets and any hills the city had to offer. It was a lovely two days where no one worked, and everything was quiet. The following week was slightly harder for the pedestrians among us (that would be me then) as all the snow had been shovelled onto the pavements and I couldn’t use them at all which meant having to walk in the road to get wherever I was going. This made me very popular with motorists let me tell you.

Ah the fond memories of Greece. I love coming here and I love seeing friends and family who I really miss when I am home, but that’s the thing. London is home. Athens is the place that welcomed me whole-heartedly but always left me feeling a bit like a fish out of water. So back home to London tomorrow. In about a week I will be speaking nostalgically of this weekend sat out in the sunshine and talking about how if I lived in Greece I could be on a different island every weekend.

 

 

 

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