See Volos Twice

Author: Faris Nejad

Volos specializes in the Tsipouro. Is it a cocktail? Is it a , spirit? Is it a wine? After the first couple of them you won't even care, says Faris who has chosen Volos as his home town. He should know - he's an expert in the subject. So he warns: Prepare to see double after you've had a few. For all these years you thought Greece was about sitting by the pool with a glass of Pina Colada: well, now take another look! In Volos, you will be introduced to the real Greece at the Tispouradlko, swigging down Tsipouro. And don't you worry about the pronunciation, after a few of these tiny bottles we all sound the same. The waiter will work it out and before you know it, there comes another little bottle accompanied by an increasingly unfamiliar snack that you did not order but tastes wonderful. These snacks are often displayed raw in a glass fridge and come with every drink, the more you order the better they get. Or at least that's how it feels at the time. You simply can't come to Volos and not visit one of the numerous Tsipouradikos spread around the town specially around the harbor. They are the centre of social life in Volos and all roads end at one or another Tsipouradiko. The simple and very basic furnishing and decoration in these no fuss cafe -looking places are so welcoming and the locals feel completely relaxed and very much at home in them.

In the summer you usually end up in a small uncomfortable (during the first two drinks only) chair by the side walk or a narrow alley with passers by maneuvering to get by. If you are lucky you find a table on the busy harbor next to the water. When it is cold (yes, it does get cold here) you end up in a smoke-filled room with everyone shouting, laughing and having lots of fun. The decor? It usually consists of a large painting of a fishing boat or a light house straight from a preschool drawing class. Or you might find a few old black and white pictures of the days gone by. Alcohol and nostalgia go very well together. Perfect partners, really.

You are not seeing double yet, but just in case you forget who you are or who you are with, hanging on the wall near the ceiling there is usually a giant mirror at an angle which allows a bird's eye view of all the tables around you. Looking into the mirror you can even count the number of bottles each table has ordered without attracting much attention. No, the mirror is not lying, there are usually, 10, 12, maybe 20 bottles on a table for two. Empty Tsipouro bottles are never collected from the table until you ask and pay for the bill. Not- finding any room on the tables the busy waiters usually hand the small plates of the snacks to the happy client who will then have the task of finding a room for the plate. But is he going to manage? Tsipouro drinking is truly a spectators sport in Volos. Keep your eyes on that mirror.

Colorless Tsipouro is in fact the local version of Ouzo, distilled from grape skins or from Macedonian grapes, flavored with aniseed. It is served in small bottles not taller than half a pencil and drunk straight, on the rocks or with a bit of water. Adding water causes it to turn a milky white color, a reaction caused by the aniseed oil dispersing itself in minute droplets. Knowing what is a good Tispouro is a great point of conversation and locals take great pride in their topical knowledge. Of course there are Tispouro tasting classes every day, every hour at every Tsipouradkio in town. And since 'Tsipouros R Us' has not been invented yet, each Tsipouradiko has its own 'house' Tsipouro which is carefully poured in these small bottles. A Voliotis (A person from Volos) takes great pride in taking you to their favorite one; you get the chance to chose next time. This provides a great excuse for the next time that is not to say there is a shortage of excuses around to down the drink. In Volos you go to the Tsipouradiko if you pass your test, you go to one if you meet someone, you go to one if you finalize a good business transaction, you go to one if you are excited, if you are bored, if you find a job, if you lose a job (probably drinking more on the last occasion). You meet people from all walks of life sitting at the tables from white bearded priests to policemen, doctors, laborers and fishermen. The Tsipouradikas around the courthouse are packed with solicitors and judges, often accompanied by the plaintiffs and the defendants all at the same table! The argument this time is about who pays for the bill. Each drink with the chaser costs about 2.50 Euros (£1.70) and your bill is determined by the number of bottles on your table at the end. If you don't like the aniseed taste you can order beer, wine or a simple but delicious main meal for about 8 Euros (£5.60) including the drink. Try any of the Tsibourakios on the harbor or in the narrow alleys behind. Next time you choose, see you in the mirror. Twice. Steen Ya Sas.