In 2005 I took my daughter, who was 13 at the time, for her first trip to Greece. Upon arrival, we went straight to our hotel, the Athens Hilton, which was extremely elegant and very nice. We took tours of the ancient sites and went out at night to the Plaka and we visited some relatives. From Athens we flew to Kerkyra (Corfu) to meet up with relatives from the States and, again, had some nice accommodations, not the Hilton, but manageable. After three days on the island we rented cars, hopped on the ferry and sailed to Igoumenitsa, Epirus. That’s when Icarus fell into the ocean and the disaster began.
No, this is not a story about our trip and things that went wrong. In fact, the trip was great. This is a story about holes in Greece and reality.
While driving the rental cars from Igoumenitsa, through the mountains of Epirus (the National Highway was not yet completed), and heading toward Florina, we needed gas so we pulled over in the first gas station we saw. It looked modern, well lit, and cars were coming in and out. We got out and my daughter tells me she has to visit the restroom. I tell her to go inside and ask for the “toilete” not the “bathroom” because they’ll look at you and say under their breath, why does she need to take a bath?
She trots off and I start laughing. I know what’s coming up and I think most of you do too.
A few minutes later my daughter is running out from the back and comes straight up to me, panting, flushed, and out of breath. “What’s the matter?” I ask, with a little snicker. “Dad… it’s a hole! They have a hole for a toilet! And it stinks!” I shake my head and say, “It’s just a Greek hole. Welcome home, kid.”
On that day, my American born daughter was initiated into the world of Greek plumbing. She was amazed, no, dumbfounded is a better word, that in the year 2005, they were still using holes. The Greeks say it’s more sanitary. I guess that may be true since we have all been in some public restrooms in the States that I would have had shut down by the Environmental Protection Agency and men with Hazmat uniforms come in to clean and fumigate. But, throughout my trips to Greece, as I am sure many of you out there in Greekland can attest, the plumbing in Greece has been a little….well, Spartan-like.
My first introduction to Greek holes was in 1962 when I was about 4 years old and we went to Greece for 6 months. We stayed in the village and my earliest memory as a kid was squatting over a hole in the back yard with a cow staring at me (I apologize for the graphic imagery!). The cow was probably thinking, stupid kid. My Grandfather, who had been living in the States since the 20s, came with us. He cut a hole in a wicker chair but only he was allowed to use it. The kids stuck with the hole.
In 1979 I visited my aunt and uncle in a small town in the district of Florina. At that house, when I needed to take a bath, they had to turn the heating element on to warm up the water and I waited… and waited… and waited. Finally, when the water was lukewarm, I took a bath. But actually I just sat in the empty bathtub holding the hand-held spigot a/k/a “telephono.” I would wet the area I wanted to clean, turn off the water, soap up, then turn on the water to rinse. Meanwhile I was trying to do this before the hot water was used up and, before the bathroom floor got too flooded because of a leak somewhere. Last time I was there, not too long ago, it was the same. I guess plumbers go broke in Greece.
And did I forget to mention that the toilet did not have the “S” trap that does not permit the wonderful aroma to permeate back up? I guess they just stuck the toilet right over the old hole! Unfortunately there are no Hiltons in Florina.
On another trip, I visited a friend outside of Athens. I asked if I could take a shower and my friend gave me a towel and pointed to the bathroom. The bathroom was large, about 10’ x 10’ with a toilet and a sink. I went in, locked the door and looked around. No bathtub or shower stall. Was this a joke? I noticed two water handles on the wall. Hmmmm. I looked around again and saw a drain in the middle of the room. Slowly I looked up and there, beaming like the North Star, was the overhead shower head coming down from the ceiling of the bathroom. That’s when I realized the entire bathroom was the shower stall. Everything got wet. Sink, toilet, mirror! At least they saved on the shower curtain.
But that was better than when I visited another friend who had a house at the beach. When we took our showers, we simply went outside, turned the hose on, lathered up, and hosed ourselves down… of course, we still had our bathing suits on. A few years back, going up to a mountain village to celebrate August 15, I walked into the public restroom. There was a wall was a half-terracotta pipe on the ground between the wall and the floor with water shooting down. Ah, Ellada.
Back to the trip in 2005, after my daughter and I were done our visits to the relatives, it was back to the Athens Hilton and luxury before we flew back home. I took a shower… the floor flooded. Oh well!
You know bathroom humor is funny, but Greek bathroom humor is funnier.
This article is sponsored by Atlantis of Philadelphia. From contemporary to classic, their talents have captivated generations of Greek music lovers. Whether it's a wedding, dance or festival, your special affair deserve the best, Atlantis of Philadelphia. For more info please visit atlantisofpa.com or call 856-418-0404.