There was only one aunt I could phone without alarming her at that hour of the morning – but she wasn’t listed in the phone directory. Neither was her married son who lived upstairs.
As I had spent a year in Greece in 1988 I knew where all my relatives lived, and felt it wasn’t necessary to bring any phone numbers with me on this second visit in 1994.
I had planned on arriving at my aunt’s house and knocking on the door. Surprise, I’m here!
Of course, the element of surprise was based on my somewhat miscalculated plan that I’d arrive in town during daylight hours.
I’m not quite sure how I worked that out when I bought my bus ticket for a 5pm departure from Sofia, Bulgaria.
I was exhausted from five weeks of backpacking and just wanted to arrive in the loving arms of my Greek aunts who would feed me home-cooked meals and provide me with a clean, comfortable bed.
I had refused the other travel option of a 7am train departure on the grounds that the afternoon schedule would give me enough time to get to the depot and find the right bus.
Stop, revive, survive
Due to summer daylight savings, the sun was still up when we arrived at the Bulgarian-Greek border a few hours later.
We arrived in Thessaloniki around 11pm, which was still relatively early by Greek standards.
I contemplated hopping off the bus as I had a cousin living there. This was risky, as my cousin was a nurse and worked shifts, so with no telephone directory to be found, I decided to get back on the bus.
The city of Larisa was another 150km down the highway. I could still make it there at a respectable time.
Half an hour out of town, the bus driver pulled into a roadside diner for an hour’s meal break. Stop, revive, survive, and all that.
I’ll be there in five minutes
It was 2am when the bus dropped me off in front of the deserted train station in Larisa. A solitary taxi driver appeared and waited patiently while I searched through the phone directory at a nearby kiosk.
My aunt and her son were not listed in the phone book.
With so many relatives here, I didn’t consider the possibility of a hotel room, despite the late hour. That would have offended them all.
I tried to remember my cousin’s married name, as she also lived upstairs at my aunt’s house. My search was hampered by the Greek alphabet, which didn’t always follow the same letter order as English.
“Hello! It's Hari... from Australia. I’m at the train station... No, it’s okay there’s a taxi here. I’ll be there in five minutes.”
My cousin’s husband and her unlisted brother from next door were fortunately up watching the World Cup soccer on TV. (I later learnt that my aunt and uncle had left a few days earlier for their holiday house by the beach).
As I arrived at the house, I found my three pyjama-clad relatives standing bewildered on the pavement.