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Here in Greece, I see what we were just weeks from...

GREECE had a few visitors from Ireland this week, as Shamrock Rovers took their Europa League adventure to the famous old port city of Thessalonika.

From what they've seen over the last 36 hours, not many will be back, as Thessalonika - and Athens and all the other cities - are far removed from the picture-postcard scenes of idyllic islands, pretty beaches and white-washed churches of the tourist industry.

There's a stench in the air, no matter where you go.



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Bins have not been collected here in weeks as part of the demonstrations against the austerity measures being introduced by the hard-pressed government to save the nation from the appalling vista of running out of cash.

Imagine if the scene here was repeated in Ireland, if on Grafton Street they had the sight of mounds of rubbish, some six-feet high, just dumped along the street every 10 yards.

Spending the past few days in Greece has been a sobering experience indeed.

Many of the bars and cafes closed as part of the national strike which brought the nation to a standstill.

It brought millions onto the streets in protest at what's happened already and what's to come with more severe austerity measures on the way.

A crucial vote in parliament in Athens today is to be a key turning point in the nation's modern history.

Here in Thessalonika, Greece's second city and a bustling, vibrant port town, the only thing to do yesterday was march, or stay at home, with almost all businesses closed, during the day at least.

The only businesses that were permanently open seemed to be kebab shops and pharmacies, so you can make yourself fat on a delicious pitta gyros and then buy some slimming pills in the chemist's next door.

Taxis and most buses were off the roads, the same roads which were clogged with litter and the leftovers from a day's marching, though there was none of the violence which flared in Athens.

It was a sign of what Greece has become, and of what Ireland could have become. A whole city shut down, tens of thousands on the streets.

Everyone knew their place -- riot police stood armed and fully kitted out around street corners, while teenage students and grey-haired veterans of protests in past decades swapped tips about how to deal with tear gas, like pre-soaking scarves with some form of lemon juice.

Even the protestor heartily waving a flag of the old Greek communist party -- so old it had a picture of Stalin on it -- didn't look anachronistic or out of place.

Greece is angry, tired, broke and has no real appetite for fixing things.

The figures which are bandied about the airwaves are staggering: 200,000 job losses in the public sector needed immediately, talk of pay cuts for civil servants of 50pc. Greece won't just lose some (much-needed) SNAs, they will lose entire schools.

There have been moves to help those in need -- the government here has told homeowners in distress that they will not lose their houses if they are in trouble with mortgages, but those same homeowners are being crippled by a new property tax -- a huge part of the problem here is that for decades, huge chunks of the population here paid no tax.





Ireland took its punishment rather meekly, we did what we were told, and we are being told what good children we are.

The Greeks are still sulking at the back of the class, ready for what's next, ready to face a trip to the principal's office.

"Nobody in Athens will be watching any football tonight, the city will be in flames," says a local journalist when talk turns to the football and Shamrock Rovers' game against PAOK here in Greece tonight.

Dublin suffered but didn't burn, a lesson for both nations.

hnews@herald.ie