_ “You’re missing out!” my cousin reported down the phone line. “There’s a metre of snow outside.”
Yeah, right, I thought. We’d been having great weather and outside my window I spotted a cloudless blue sky.
There wasn’t a hint of snow apart from the distant white-capped mountains.
_My brothers and I were travelling around the Peloponnese in southern Greece for two weeks, soaking up the last of the sun’s rays as the autumn of 1988 ended and winter rolled in.
I’d called my relatives in Larisa to advise them of our expected return home in time for Christmas.
“It’s true,” my cousin insisted, “There’s snow everywhere.”
“Can I speak to someone more sensible, like my dad?” I insisted.
I relayed our travels through Ancient Olympia, Sparta and Mycenae, but was abruptly interrupted.
“Haven’t you been watching the news?” dad said. “All of central Greece is snowed in.”
I switched on the TV in our hotel room and watched in disbelief at the images of mainland Greece blanketed by a thick white layer.
“Sixty villages have been cut off by this week’s snow falls,” said the news report.
The cold snap caught everyone unprepared, resulting in partial closures of the national highway between Athens and Thessaloniki.
“Err, how are we going to get back to Larisa with the highway closed?” my brothers asked.
We don't know if the roads are open
We opted to travel westwards from Corinth to Patras the next morning and take an inland bus for the return trip north.
“Our first bus only just left this morning,” the clerk responded when we enquired about the road conditions and the next scheduled departure. “It hasn’t arrived at its destination yet, so we don’t know if the roads are passable.”
In the era before mobile phones, there was no way he could contact the bus driver.
Still, the weather remained pleasantly warm in southern Greece as we waited anxiously for our seven-hour road trip home.
The bus rolled out of the depot early the next morning, with no update on the snow conditions.
The bright sunshine stayed with us as we crossed the Gulf of Patras to mainland Greece and began our inland ascent towards Mt Parnassus.
At Itea, near the ancient site of Delphi, we passed an oncoming bus which had just crossed the mountain road, several inches of ice and snow slowly dripping off its roof.
We heard in astonishment how the driver and passengers spent 18 hours stranded just outside Larisa, having left Thessaloniki two days earlier and not able to return. (The 150km trip between the two cities takes two hours in clear road conditions).
We were by now deeply concerned, with fellow passengers forecasting scenes of chaos and doom on the winding, narrow mountain roads ahead. Our driver’s erratic steering skills added to the impending sense of disaster.
Coldest winter ever
The remainder of our trip continued uninterrupted as the sun shone brightly on the freshly-cleared road, a white landscape stretching out before us all the way to our final destination, where we set foot on two-day old snow.
“All the roads in town were closed for days,” said dad as he greeted us at the depot.
The excitement, however, of seeing snow overtook us when we arrived at my aunt’s house and we raced back outside to frolic in the white sludge; we were warmed by the prospect of a white Christmas.
“Come back inside!” my aunt hollered, “It’s freezing out there.”
I slept contentedly that first chilly night, oblivious to the burst water pipe which sent cascades of freezing water through my aunt’s bathroom; my aunt and uncle spent the night bailing out the water, successfully preventing the rest of the house from flooding.
The cold weather ensured we had snow – or rather, ice – for another month, with temperatures plummeting to minus 20 degrees Celcius. It was their coldest winter for years.
_ I’ve since trudged through snow in the Himalayas and slept in a tent in sub-zero temperatures; and although I’ve had a few white Christmases (including my first one at the age of 12 months), I’d much rather spend the festive season on the beach these days.
I quite like the idea of Santa in board shorts and thongs (flip flops), tossing another shrimp on the barbie (barbecue). It’s very Australian. And warm.
Who's joining me for a summer Christmas?
New Zealand 2008
New Zealand 2006
United Kingdom 2004
Athens Olympics 2004
Beijing to Athens 1994
I acknowledge the traditional Custodians of the land on which I work and live, the Gubbi Gubbi / Kabi Kabi and Joondoburri people, and recognise their continuing connection to land, the waters and sky. I pay my respect to them and their cultures; and to Elders past, present and emerging.
© 2023 HARI KOTROTSIOS