It’s Wednesday and I have made it to Athens after a long journey that started from my home in Croatia at 2 o’clock in the morning to a whirlwind of excitement of fun and food! I’ve traveled here to meet my friend Liz, who is meeting her Greek relatives for the first time.
And Liz’s relatives are just what I’ve ever heard about the Greek people: over-the-top friendly, amazingly hospitable, passionate, warm and bubbling with a wonderful sense of humor!
How do I know this within the first day of meeting them?
A Warm Welcome and Greek Hospitality
Well, to begin with Liz’s cousin Dimitra and her husband Yiannis welcome us at the busy Athens airport with flowers and hugs like we are long lost friends.
Liz had arrived on a flight a little earlier than me, and already she seems like she’s known them forever. They talk, they embrace and Liz’s face is beaming as she has wanted to meet Dimitra for many, many years. And just like that, here she is, standing next to her. Before we head to their home we stop for some local Greek wine at their friend’s wine store where we are greeted with more hugs and more strangers that are suddenly our friends.
And we are learning our first Greek words from Dimitra, one of which is an expressive word which we will hear quite often throughout our trip, and one we will have fun hurling at anything or anyone that gets in our way on our week long journey throughout this incredible country. So watch out all you “malakas” out there!!
Home Sweet Home
Next we zip off to the summer home of Dimitra and Yiannis where a giant dish of Dimitra’s homemade moussaka, her delicious Greek meatballs, two different types salads fill the table along with fresh feta cheese, olives, tasiki and bread. What a feast!
The meatballs are the lightest meatballs I’ve ever eaten and some of the best, but don’t tell my Italian relatives. These are like puffy airy fried meatballs full of spices that I can’t name and vegetables I love. And they disappear quickly. Oh, and the moussaka! It’s amazing! The olives! the wine! I eat and eat but never feel uncomfortably stuffed.
Dimitra’s husband Yiannis, a retired ship’s captain, pours us ouzo which turns from clear to cloudy with a little bit of ice and water. (That’s how you can tell if it’s authentic, he tells us). He tells us stories of his many years as the captain on a giant cargo ship traveling all over the world, and Dimitra talks of her family that is related to Liz and how she met them at a port stop in New Orleans many years ago. We are fascinated.
The conversations, the mixture of food, ouzo and wine along with the fatigue from traveling puts us in a lovely stupor. So when Yiannis and Dimitra tell us it is time for us to take a nap at 5 o’clock, so we can go out later in typical Greek fashion, who were we to object?
Liz said she didn’t know how she was going to fall asleep with all the excitement and promptly fell asleep. I soon followed. Dimitra woke us up around 7 or 8, made us some strong Greek coffee, and we walked to the Raffina beachfront from her home.
As we begin our walk Yiannis tells us he will meet us at a beachfront cafe with the car so we can just drive home later. The beachfront is about 20 minutes away from their home. We begin our walk and notice a familiar car go by. A window rolls down, and it’s Yiannis checking on us. Are we okay? he says with his thick Greek accent. We travel another 4 minutes and he’s back again. Are we okay? He says again. We’re fine, we laugh. Another few minutes and there he is again. We realize he’s just being silly, and we all laugh some more.
A Moveable Feast
The evening air is refreshing and we arrive at a outdoor restaurant invigorated at 9:45 pm and ready for ….our next meal? Surely we weren’t going to eat again? Just a little snack, Dimitra says. Sardines, fish, calamari, salad and homemade French fries….and one of my favorites, tzatziki. It’s a cool dip with fresh Greek yogurt, cucumber and garlic and served with a delicious crusty bread. The table fills up again and we are having another Greek feast, and I haven’t even been in the country for 8 hours.
Soon it is 11 pm and people are still arriving at the restaurant to eat.
I thought Italians talked with their hands, which is one trait I’ve definitely inherited from my Italian ancestors. But these beautifully vibrant people talk with every part of their being. Their hands, their arms, their eyes, their eyebrows… they are full of positive energy, and Dimitra is the queen of this energy! It’s my first night here and already I’m in love with this country and it’s culture.
Onward to the Island of Paros
Early the next morning we leave with Dimitra and Liz’s cousin on a giant ferry to the island of Paros, one of the lesser known islands to American tourists like me.
The sea captains of these 100-meter ferries that go from island to island maneuver them like go-carts. It’s incredibly impressive to see two of these ships next to one another synchronize their maneuvers and arrive at the port within minutes of one another, tie off and drop off their passengers. Then boom, they are back out in the Aegean to pick up another batch of dumbstruck tourists. We gawk at the turquoise blue water as we arrive and are shuffled down below to pick up our luggage.
We stumble off the ferry to a bustling scene of the busy seaport on Paros.
Life is good.
But it gets even better.