|HELLO FROM ATHENS!!!
Wow- what a beautiful city. Welcome to the 1st world. That was all i could really say to myself upon stepping off the plane in Athens. Athens ain't what it use to be. The pictures i Had in my mind of Athens were from my mother's trip here some 20 odd years ago - it might as well be a different country all together compared to what it looked like her her photos. The Olympics and membership to the EU have changed the face of Greece like you wouldn't believe. The body and spirit haven't seemed to have changed much from what i can tell and from what others who live here have told me, but it for sure had its version of plastic surgery. And Athenians are very, very hiply dressed. In fact, I would say that I think Athens might be home to the largest number of incredibly hot men I know of. I'm not kidding. Its too bad most of the smoke- yuk!
I arrived at 6am cursing Olympic airlines for a flight at that stupid of a time, but then i held my breathe as i saw the sun rising over a hundred islands speckled about in the Mediterranean below the plane. It was breathtaking.
I arrived to my hostel around Victoria Square- which is a neighborhood filled with immigrants from Bulgaria, former Yugoslavia, Albania...etc - As I hadn't slept at all on Friday night, I really should have spent sat. resting, but I just couldn't help myself. It's been so long since I have wanted to visit here that I just had to get out and walk around. I ventured through my neighborhood and found a fantastic farmers market. I thought i was in heaven. A cornucopia of colors and smells. Strawberries are in season so I gorged out on those. Mmmmmmm The smell of oranges, grapes, melons of every kind, tomatoes, corn, fish, bread, olives, jams, you name it surrounded me. All fresh and begging to be eaten. I hadn't seen that much fresh produce in 8 months. It was like walking into a bank vault filled to the brim with gold.
I walked around other neighborhoods for the rest of the day. Goodness, I can't begin to tell you how much i wish my grandmother was with me. In many ways she is, but its not the same as being able to hear her voice. We had made plans to come here in September of 2003, but then she had a stroke in March of that year and we had to cancel our plans. I deeply wish she were with me now. I hear her accent in other's voices and it makes me miss her quite dearly.
I ended my first night by treating myself to a nice dinner. So off I went to the neighborhood of Psiri. Psiris is sort of like a large SoHo or Brooklyn Heights/Park Slope kind of thing, but wayyy better- very hip, very European. I found a nice little café and at a mediocre Musaka. It wouldn't hold a candle to my mothers. Then around 10pm a 2-piece band came on and well...the hours passed rather quickly as did the wine. Lol!
I spent the next day walking around the Acropolis and then seeing the other sights. To be honest, I don't remember all the names/places. Beautiful monuments/buildings/ruins. Stunning in fact!
Then I met a distant cousin of mine who is a policeman here. His name is Costa Alexiakis. He is related to me from my grandfather. I will eventually be visiting the rest of his family who live in the Peloponnese region of Greece. We had a lot of fun- he took me out to get drinks in the bars/clubs by the sea about 30 min. away from downtown Athens. Its where the Athenians go to unwind. And unwind they do - it was around 1am when I started to get tired and wanted to go home...mind you that was when Athenians started to show up. I always did suck at living the big city party life. Oh well.
I have also visited with some of my grandmother's relatives. In fact, I stayed for a few days with her 1st cousin. She told me she thought I looked like my grandmother- which is a HUGE compliment!!! I was very flattered. She made dinner for me every night and I felt like crying cause it was like being around my own grandmother. Horta, chicken, feta, fresh bread, fresh juice, melon for desert. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm She kept on caressing my face and saying things in greek that i couldn't understand, but felt warmed by them nonetheless. And she was always touching my stomach, which i believe was indicating that i needed to eat something. I took the wrong bus one night and had to call them to say that i would not be home for dinner, but that i was currently on the correct bus and would be there within the hour. When I finally got off the bus at the stop next to their apt. she was WAITING there for me. I'm not kidding. She was waiting for me. She reached for me hand and we walked home as though we had been close cousins for years. It was really touching for me.
Its been funny talking with my greek relatives about my trip. They all look at me like I am CRAZY!!!!! Why anyone would want to travel alone, a girl at that, and alone in Indonesia and Africa seems like the craziest thing to them. In fact, they look at me like maybe I am not well. Its funny! In Greek culture, much like Italian culture, people just don't do things alone. Ever! Ever! Its just not considered. I tried to explain that in the states, Australia, and england it was very normal in fact to do such a thing...they still looked at me like i was on crack.
I spent a few other nights out in Athens and had a wonderful time. I met up with a friend of an old boss of mine from nyc and went to see the davinci code at an ourdoor cinema on top of some roof. We had perfect, unobstructed views of the lit up Acropolis...needless to say watching a movie like that added to the beauty of it. I also ventured out to hear some rebitika - thats the greek's version of the blues. It was great.
AND i got the chance to meet an ex girlfriend of a very dear friend of mine. On many levels that was really neat for me. And so i continue to be amazed at all of the phenomenal and intriguing women i have been privileged to meet along this journey.
Lastly, but certainly not least I met up with a distant cousin of mine, also named Costas Alexakis (ha!) Costas lives in the states, but was here on business for the American Hellenic Institute. I very very much enjoyed meeting with him and talking with him. He is a very charming, intelligent person indeed. He very kindly invited me to join them for a dinner and then for a fundraiser at some swanky ball. Talk about a bandit of characters that i met. All very interesting people and not at all the kind of people i would ever met outside of that. One of the people I met was Miss Virginia, whom to my surprise i got along with REALLY well. She was a very neat young woman. She is going to Africa next month so i happily yapped her ear off about how amazing it is and how much she will love it.
I will say something I didn't expect to say - i miss Africa. Honestly, i do. I miss the kinds of other travelers I met there, I miss the landscapes, the pace, and the...just all of it. Which is interesting to me because I found that place to be rather depressing at times and felt that after 4 months there I really was ready to be done traveling through it. I guess as the saying goes- it gets into your skin. I think i am also going through a bit of a 1st world shock AND doing it in a place where a good portion of Europe is starting their summer vacation is a bit tough...so that is kind of odd to be around considering how i have spent the last 7 months. I knew that would happen at some point though, so I prepared myself for it. I remember feeling the same thing when I returned to the the states after being away for an extended amount of time. In fact, I considered it to be a part of the trip...
I did however spend a wonderful day with a guy named Curtis - complete breathe of fresh air. In another place and time I would have fallen madly in love with him and run off into the sunset.