Athens was a city that took me by surprise. The image I had conjured up in my head was that of any classic traveler. I was expecting something a little bit more rustic, I guess you could say. Immediately, Athens just looked like Toronto with an Acropolis plopped in the middle. But what I realized over time was that my vision of Athens wasn’t far from the truth. You just needed to dig a little deeper. Pardon the pun. The coolest thing about it was that there was an entire ancient city underground, constantly being uncovered by Archeologists. A lot of it is discovered as they build the new metro systems. Whenever something is uncovered, it is put behind glass for the world to see. Where else are you able to take the metro to work and pass by an ancient ruin? It was those hidden gems that were often more intriguing to me than the ones you paid to enter.
Really though, it was the people that struck me the most. No surprise there. The Greeks are very hospitable, very kind and overwhelmingly generous people. Or maybe I was just lucky enough to experience relationships with the right ones. This time, I met some amazing humans who I was able to spend a little bit more time getting to know on a personal level. Each of them shocked me in their own way and although I’m tempted to go through the itinerary of my days, I think it can be explained solely through the people I met since most of my experiences revolved around my time with them.
My first stop was an island called Patras. Consider it the Windsor of Canada, if you will. It’s a city centred around the arrivals of ships into the harbour. I was greeted on the shuttle bus to the city centre by a wacky blonde guy from Russia who I was grateful to have as an initial guide but also sort of anxious to get rid of. He directed me to a hotel he knew of that was inexpensive and central (since I arrived with no clue of where I would be staying). This guy was traveling on literally no money at all and had I been able to understand his English at least a little bit, I would have loved to talk to him about his adventures. The problem wasn’t his ability to speak English but the way he mumbled everything in a low mutter, super duper fast and with a heavy accent. Yeah, I just nodded and smiled the whole way with that one. But whoever you are (because you repeated your name numerous times but I never really heard), thank you for your guidance!
I went out that night with the intentions of heading home early to actually get a good nights rest in a room to myself. As social as one can be, that’s definitely a necessity sometimes. After a traditional Greek dinner that was truly to die for, I wandered into a very unique looking coffee shop that caught my eye. It was more like a library with a touch of grandmas house and had an incredible design. Walking in made you feel instantly cozy due to the fireplace on the left hand side, old wooden tables and floor to ceiling bookshelves stacked full. Paintings hung on the walls and a small cat lay lounging by the tea station with every day kitchen wear decorating its surface. It was a blessing at that moment. There in that run down town was a hidden treasure that made you feel so safe.
A grey haired, gentle lady approached me as I walked in. She spoke broken English but was very careful when forming her words, making sure to speak to me as correctly as possible. It should have been the other way around really but Greek has proven itself to be harder to master than Italian. I was flattered that she made such an effort! She made me a cup of hot lemon tea with extra honey and a side of butter cookies which couldn’t have been more God sent. After I explored the shop and snapped a few photos, we got to talking. She seemed a little bit lonely sitting by her desk and it was dead quiet in there. I wondered what she did with her time.
Her name is Electra. What a fantastic name that is! She is an architect and designed this building all on her own. It figures, since it seemed very custom crafted. Her and her husband as well as her two children and cat of the library Charlie, all live in this home that doubles as a library coffee shop. She told me with a happy laugh that this was the place where all the readers in Patras gathered. Her husband is a Civil Engineer and each of her children took after one of them with their careers. Her daughter an Architect and her son a Civil Engineer. All of them are painters and I found out that the beautiful paintings on the walls were done by the family themselves. She seemed very interested in my photography, and we chatted about that for a while too as best as we could. You could tell that she was a very intelligent woman and she obviously had a very creative mind. I think she enjoyed the company because when I decided to leave, she scribbled her email down on a business card and told me they opened at 10am the next day. I’m honestly tempted to head back to Patras just to visit this wonderful lady again.
My second encounter happened the day I arrived in Athens. I had immediately left the hostel in hopes of seeking out the history I was anxious to learn about. This whole trip has reminded me why I wanted to be an Archeologist when I was ten. I took a visit to the Panathenaic Stadium which hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. It dates back to the Panathenaic Games which were held in ancient times to honour Athena. She was a real badass I’ve learned. I like her.
I didn’t expect to see the Acropolis right away but I was within steps from the entrance so I decided to take a visit there next. My first stop on the hill was the Theatre of Dionysus. I asked a tourist if they were able to take my photo and this guy ended up taking several of me from different angles which was more than I could ask for. His name is Fawaz. He and his wife Hope were traveling together through Greece from Kuwait on sort of a late honeymoon dream trip. Fawaz asked me right away if I’d like to travel with them up through the rest of the Acropolis so we could take photos of each other. It was a perfect idea and we all clicked right away (plus he was an extensive photographer giving me many options). The Parthenon was amazing, of course. They were doing a lot of construction and restoration so one of the side views had a lot of scaffolding. It didn’t take away from the beauty though. What I liked about it was it showed the pride that Athens had for its history. The process they go to restore these artifacts is remarkable. I learned about it in the newly built Acropolis museum where you could actually see someone restoring a statue right in front of your eyes! The part I loved the most was actually The Erechtheion. I loved its detail and that it was dedicated to Athena. It was placed in front of the best view of Athens and the sunlight hit it in such a way that it struck me as extra memorable right away.
We arrived near the closing time so they quickly pushed us out of there fast. Thankfully after we had soaked it up as much as possible. When we walked down the marble steps, a huge line had formed and they were setting up a massive stage inside one of the ancient theatres called Odeon of Herodes Atticus. I asked somebody in line what it was for and they said they were holding an opera called Madama Butterfly. This was a story I actually knew, believe it or not, and I have wanted to see an opera for quite some time. I was so close to just blowing all my money and going to one in Venice but I made a weeks worth of accommodation a priority for some reason. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to check ticket prices so I stood in line with Fawaz and Hope. She had studied opera in school and had really wanted to see one too! As we were in line, a lady approached me with a noticeable eye problem. She told me that she wasn’t able to see the show from her seat and asked if I wanted her ticket for 12 Euros, less than half the price of the original. I was in the middle of the line of all places and gratefully accepted. Universe, how did you know? On that note, this man inspired my list of tattoo ideas…anyone who knows me knows that this is everything I believe in. Ain’t that the gospel truth!
The opera was stunning. They had a giant projection that changed with the scene’s mood and a glorious English translation that I would have died without. I think that the best part about it was the thought that kept popping up in my mind. The one telling me that I was sitting in a theatre built in 161 AD watching my very first opera in the Acropolis because of a magic lady with a puffy eye. How unreal is that? Also, go into opera’s emotionally prepared because there certainly isn’t a happy ending. But I definitely walked out happy for many other reasons. What a wild introduction.
It’s a shame I didn’t get a photo of these two lovely friends who I spent the evening with. I think I was so caught up in the nights magic that it slipped my mind for once. But imagine: they are beautiful and lovely and I’m sending them my shout outs because I know they’re reading!
I was lucky enough to have met a guy during my stay in Rome named Giorgos. He lives in Athens and I remember him telling me that he would give me the grand tour when I arrived in August. I contacted him during my stay in Patras and he generously agreed to house me for two days! It was so comforting to be in a real house with a kitchen and a big bed to myself. George, as I call him, has one of those souls. He’s just kind to the core. I was grateful every second of my stay because he was so attentive and respectful. He took me to places in Athens that I never would have discovered alone. We traveled to the Marina, I cooked dinner (another treat) and we later ate the best baklava soaked in Nutella at a small dessert shop. I have a serious baklava addiction. If you’re unaware of what this is, I recommend you google it and beware of what the future holds. He was even kind enough to take me to a book store and show me where I could find a book in English. Thank the heavens I can read again! We finished our first night with beers overlooking the lit up Parthenon and I was thankful for good people and great new friends.
Dimitra and I met on the bus ride to Athens from Patras. I’m really glad that the man who’s seat I stole decided to sit somewhere else because otherwise, we wouldn’t have found each other. She’s from Athens and was in Patras organizing an international debate competition. I was drawn in by her spirit and grace with the way she handled herself. She made me feel so calm and the two of us really connected. She is one of those people I feel like I have met before, maybe in a past life. We made plans to meet for an afternoon walk in Athens on Tuesday and I was so glad we could make it work! She took me to a home made ice-cream shop where she had been so many times before. Her and the owner knew each other well. She told me that her sister and father ran an art gallery in town and we made our way over there to visit. I adore art galleries and this one was special because it featured the work of visual arts students. The pieces were gorgeous and I would have purchased several of them to take home had I been able to fit them in my bag. Her sisters name is also Electra and I met her father as well who you could immediately tell she took after due to his thoughtful personality. I couldn’t have been happier that she took me there. We shared our movie interests on the way home and screamed about our love for the Before Sunset saga. Dimitra is just an all around beautiful person. She also has an infectious smile. Thank you for being you.
My time in Athens ended with a movie in an outdoor cinema named Cine Thisio, named one of the top ten most enjoyable theatres by CNN. The Parthenon is lit up in the distance and they serve homemade cherry soda that will rock your world. Yes, my time in Athens would never have been what it was had I not met the people I did. They all made it so special and different. Little did I know, it wasn’t over. There were still a few very special people I had yet to meet before my next destination.
I met Maria, Katerina and Alexander on the ferry from Athens to Mykonos. Maria’s bright blue eyes struck me the second she walked up the stairs. I desperately wanted to photograph them. I watched as they searched around for an empty seat and I prayed they would sit next to me. I needed some company after being around people constantly and getting used to the fact. They did end up sitting in the three chairs by mine and we got to chatting when I asked her to look after my bags while I grabbed a drink. She asked where I was from and I said Canada. Her and Katerina laughed out loud. I guess Canada has been popping up in Maria’s life quite often. Her and Katerina are contemporary dancers. They were traveling to an island 30 minutes from Mykonos for a few nights of performance. Before contemporary dance, Maria was a synchronized swimmer. She combines the art of contemporary dance together with synchronized swimming calling it Contemporary Synchro Art. Please, check out her website at http://www.cosynart.com. The idea for this was born when she visited her boyfriend who lives in Montreal. That’s where Canada plays its role. She is also a traveler herself and we shared the love for solo traveling because it helps to bring opportunities, change and growth. With our artistic minds and free spirits, we understood each other immediately. She was interested in seeing my work too and when she did, she asked if I wanted to come to see her show on Friday and take some photos. Thrilled, I told her I wouldn’t miss it. I’m really looking forward to seeing her in her element as she had seen me in mine.
When the girls had left for their stop, Alexander and I began to chat. As a young boy, he was always around horses. He grew up with them by his side and he understands them more than anything in this world, I could tell. His job now is a very interesting one. He stands at the gate of a horse race and is in charge of taking the most difficult horses and calming them down so they can enter their starting cages. Can you imagine what kind of a gift you would need to have to calm an animal like that down? Horses are so intuitive and I believe that the people who can connect with them need to be the same. In the summer, he works as a life guard but as for the rest of his life, he doesn’t know where he wants it to go yet. We were on the brink of a deep hearted discussion and continued to teeter along the edge. He had a lot to say and lacked the words to say it. He told me that his mind is always going, thoughts are always happening and he finds himself stopping to think more often than he believes is normal. I disagree. I hope that he keeps thinking and I hope that he finds the path that he’s meant to take. Actually, I really believe that he will.
I’m speaking to a woman now in Mykonos and she mentioned a book called Celestial Prophecy. It discusses the concept that everything happens for a reason. That people come into your life and things fall apart and paths change because each one is leading you to something important. I’ve been running into a lot of these moments lately and it has been thrilling to look back and realize what each of them has brought me.