‘Station 42 Bar’: Reimagined old railway station in Greece a hit with Greek Australians

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By Kathy Karageorgiou.

Many Greek Australians, and not just, were in for a treat when they holidayed at the beautiful, Western Peloponnesian beachside village of Tholo, Illias (between the larger towns Zacharo and Kyparissia).

The old railway station building – including passenger waiting room and station master’s quarters – built in the 1890’s has been restored and turned into a bar and cafe: ‘Station 42.’

I spoke with the owner, Christos Maniatis, who is in his mid 50’s and who grew up in Tholo. He calls his bar (and cafe) ‘Station 42’ “from the Greek Train Company’s old coordinates and reference system for the train stations in the area. I wanted to stick with tradition and keep it all as a homage to the station’s early days.”

“I had a great summer season. There were so many Greek Australians as well, because many people from these parts migrated to Australia in the 50s and 60s, including several of my uncles, so their kids – my cousins – come here for the summer too. And that’s the case with many other families here,” he tells me.

In awe, Christos also mentions that quite a few German tourists who had been coming to the village for its serene environment and wide expansive, sandy beach, still come. Many are now in their 60’s and now are so excited at encountering ‘Station 42’.

“A German man Kristof had tears in his eyes, literally, as he related that back in the 1960’s and ’70’s as a ‘hippy,’ he and his friends would stay in the village – always meeting up at this very train station. He also told me that I wouldn’t believe who’d come to Tholo back then: Eric Burdon from the Animals, and also Leonard Cohen, back in the hippy days!” he says.

The station’s symbolic meaning touches many, including Greek Australians alike.

Christos explains that the station’s liveliness back then, incorporated the now Greek ‘Australians’, as “it was from this station that they began their migration; from the many surrounding villages as well – for the port of Pireaus, to catch the ship for Australia.”

“What inspired you to convert the old train station to a bar?” I ask Christos.

“My father – who passed away two years ago. He loved this building and was sad that it was going to ruin and gave me the idea. Unfortunately he didn’t live to see it in its current form, as it opened up this year. It took time with the bureaucracy and renovation, but it all worked out.”

Tell me about the renovation I prompt Christos, adding whether the building is made of solid stone?

“It’s a combination of sandstone and grey flagstone but much of it was covered up by cementing. A lot of work was involved in scaling back to get to the beautiful original walls. And of course I’ve kept the heavy wooden, original doors and windows, and a cupboard and desk I found. And the original Tholo sign under the layer of cement and paint!” he explains.

Many old railway stations in Greece are run down, but some are well kept by local efforts. In 1835 Greece, under then-Prime Minister Trikoupis, there began an extensive railway network in Greece to link people and products to other parts, including ports.

At the ‘Station 42’ bar you are right near the railway tracks, which have incidentally been disused since the early 2000’s. The Tholo train station was on the Patras-Pyrgos line built in 1890. It gradually began ceasing a full timetable though, due to the mass introduction of the car in the ’50s and because of the eventual advent of electric trains and subsequent lines.

Christos referred to the ingenuous idea currently operating in other parts of Greece, whereby old railway tracks are used for the outdoor activity – railbiking. Its concept involves cycling on the tracks on a dual seated bike, fitted with special railway track gripping devices! Christos may consider this, but is mainly intent on organising his indoor winter facilities.

“I’m thinking of a vintage rail museum with original photos of not only the station, but also the people who used it. I’ve asked my uncles in Australia to find some photos as well. It’ll be really cosy with a fireplace because Greece is also ideal for tourism in the other seasons apart from summer,” Christos says.

“Close by (5 kms) we have the ancient temple of Apollo and 13kms away is the archaeological site of Fygalia, the sanctuary of Athena and Zeus Sotiros (37km), while 39kms away we have the beautiful Neda waterfalls, not to mention Ancient Olympia (40 kms). Though here in Tholo, it’s just a great place to relax and be amongst nature at its best – trees and sea.

“We are also working on a food menu based on local products. In fact, in the old days the railway station served as an important point to get the local produce such as fruit, wheat and oil to other parts of Greece and abroad.”

I ask if Christos has any message for the Australians reading this article?

“I’d love to see you here, because apart from a good time with drinks and music in an exotic environment, you will experience a truly emotional journey into many of your parents migration histories – symbolic of most villages,” he says.

“Tholo may vary because it’s on the beach, but in the old days those growing up here didn’t swim anyway, unlike us and you when you come in summer. And in winter you can admire the wild
waves – and the cosiness of Station 42!”

Station 42 is a labour of love; encompassing nostalgia, modernity and respect in serving as a keepsake of our modern Greek (including Greek Australian) history and culture.

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