Thursday, December 23, 2010

Day 317: All the Pretty People in Greece

We arrived in Athens right on time, the morning of Day 317, a day that would be full of things I'd never done before: drink a frappe, eat a proper Greek meal, run into family members at the airport, and swim in the Mediterranean Sea.

I was very anxious to get off the plane when we landed. Eager to stretch my legs and very eager to feel warm air on my skin for the first time in 11 hours after sitting over the wing and feeling a subzero draft the entire way. I was also in a hurry to get away from my seat mate, who I stupidly gave my business card to after he asked me for my number and I didn't know what else to do. He wasn't a mean person; he was just strange, and a little too inquisitive.

I met Katy outside and I assumed we were making our way toward the customs counter and to baggage claim. We were, but by way of a man who worked for Katy's grandma (Yaya), who was sent to the airport to help us get to where were needed to go.

This would become the first installment in a vacation-long series entitled, "Steph is an Idiot, so Thank Goodness her Friends Take Care of Business in Greece."

Episode One:

A friend of Katy's grandparents actually met us at the airport, collected our passports and moved us through Greek customs quickly and with ease; he helped us retrieve our luggage (well, he helped me get mine; Katy's was checked on to Chios), and then he checked us in for our next flight. Other than shaking his hand and saying hello when Katy introduced us, I said very little, and did even less, during the next half hour with him. I literally checked out and went dumb, forcing Katy to use whatever Greek she knew to communicate to him what we needed.

When our friend, (and complete life saver, as far as I was concerned) was done helping us, Katy and I went to the bathroom to freshen up a bit. She changed her clothes, into a dress and sandals. She looked so cute, and I regretted not also having a change of clothes so that I could do the same.

I looked at myself in the mirror; I looked like someone who just had just been on a plane for 11 hours. "Does this look awful?," I asked, referring to my outfit. "I feel gross."

"Not at all," she said, "You look great. I love what you have on."

I had no other options for clothes, so I had no choice but to accept her compliment even if I had to fish for it.

But then she followed with, "Like I said before, you wouldn't be here if you weren't pretty."

I laughed, and shook my head.

Katy has said to me before, quite matter-of-factly, that she’s not friends with people who aren’t attractive. At first, I was both humored and flattered by this bold, yet seemingly superficial statement.

"Certainly at least one of your friends isn't pretty," I challenged.

"Nope," she said, pausing to think about it. "They're all hot." I tried to keep pushing her on it, but when I stopped to think of my own friends, I couldn't deny that they're all hot too. But I suspect that's probably because that's the way I see them. And that's how Katy sees her friends too. Not an ugly one in the bunch.

I did my best to get myself looking like the hot person Katy thinks I am in the bathroom of the Athens airport, but there was only so much I could do without an ample amount of beauty rest. We then went in search of frappes, Katy's favorite frothy coffee drink in Greece.

After ordering our drinks (which were caffeinated, creamy, and delicious, just how I like my coffee), we took a seat at the coffee shop and killed time before meeting up with Katy's sister Jana, who was coming in from New York. We somehow managed, despite very little sleep and not a whole lot of brain power between us, to strike up a super deep conversation about life and love that left me even more exhausted than I was before.

We finished our frappes and went in search of another restroom before heading to our gate to wait for our next flight, literally running into Jana on the way. We sat with her while she also had a drink at the coffee shop; we talked about our flights and about my blog. Jana and I bonded immediately over high levels of self-awareness and sarcasm. I liked her right away, just like Katy told me I would. I think she liked me too.

Katy, Jana and I were all on the same short "puddle jumper" flight to Chios, and as Jana jokingly suggested on our way to the gate, there was a good chance that we'd probably run into more of their family members boarding the plane. Trips to Chios are family affairs.

And sure enough, after a hold up at security (all me--no doubt the pale skin and light hair made me a traveler that was worth extra questioning), we began running into members of Katy and Jana's family all over the place. I had to laugh, as we went to take a seat and Jana caught eyes with a woman who was her second or third cousin.

I was amused by this encounter, and even took a picture so that I'd remember it before I was introduced to the group. Little did I know that this was merely a kickoff to a week full of introductions to Katy and Jana's family members. Greek families are big, and they all travel together, and many of them, as I'll explain in later posts, have the same name, making my ability to remember them virtually impossible.

The trip from Athens to the island of Chios was under an hour. The Chios airport is small, and there isn't really a "terminal." So once on the ground, the pilots simply parked the plane next to the runway, and we walked down a makeshift stairwell and over to the airport’s baggage claim area.

As we approached, all I could see in front of me and around me were grandparents kissing their grandchildren, husbands kissing wives, daughters and sons kissing their parents; everyone appeared so boisterous and emotional, kissing cheeks and enveloping their loved ones in a loving embraces.

The whole scene sounds sweet, doesn't it?

It definitely was, except for the fact that these emotional scenes were playing out in the most crowded baggage claim area while everyone waited for their bags to arrive. There simply wasn't enough square footage for everyone to show so much PDA. I felt like the walls were closing in on me. I was hot, I was tired, and I was starving; honestly the only thing that kept me from blowing a gasket in the airport were deep breaths and the constant mantra I was saying over and over in my head: "I’m in Greece! I’m in Greece! I’m in Greece!"

Despite the baggage claim insanity, Jana was able to point out a picture on the wall and she said, "That's where we're going. That's Emporios." The photo she showed me was absolutely gorgeous. I started caring less about being tired and hot and hungry. I was so excited.

The second episode of "Steph is an Idiot, so Thank Goodness her Friends Take Care of Business in Greece," came in the form of Yanni, who picked us up in an old school Mercedes. Katy and Jana have known Yanni for a long time because he has worked for their Yaya as a cook and a driver for years. He retrieved our luggage, packed it in the car, and we were on our way.

Yanni spoke very little English; and since Jana and Katy speak only a little Greek, the car ride was pretty quiet. Had it not been for the narrow roadways and the hilly terrain, I probably would've fallen asleep. Instead, I soaked up my surroundings, breathing in the Greece air, feeling eternally grateful that this journey had led me here, to this place.

Chios is a kidney-shaped island off the east coast of Greece. It's 30 miles long, and around 20 miles wide, and from what I could tell on the way to Katy’s grandparents’ house in Emporios, on the southern end of the island, was not what I was expecting from Greek island. Not because I had any huge expectations, but only because the only thing that I knew about Greece was what I’d read in history books (the Acropolis); in stock pictures of Mykonos (white stucco buildings with blue shutters) and watching the film Mamma Mia (gorgeous people everywhere bursting into song and dance every chance they get.)

No, like most things I've encountered in my life, this year especially, Chios didn't look like I thought it would, but it was every bit as lovely and quaint as I could've imagined, and I loved it.

As we made our way past a pottery shop in the next town over from Yaya's, Katy looked at the store and then she looked at me and Jana and declared, "I'm really gonna load up on some pottery this year." Her comments pulled me away from the daydream I was having about living in Europe and marrying a Greek shipping heir. The intensity with which she spoke about pottery was laughable, but I could tell that she meant what she was saying. Katy attacks everything she does, work, Greece, pottery, with gusto.

Jana and Katy's physical demeanor changed as drew closer to their grandparents' house and I knew we had almost arrived when they began pointing out all of the neighbors' houses, saying things like, "Remember the girl from the airport? That's where her parents live."

When we pulled down the narrow street to the house, Yanni had to drive carefully to avoid other cars and people in the street. Just add it to the list of chaotic scenes from the day. Visitors to Emporios apparently use the street to park their cars and go to the beach, which is could now see right in front of me.

The scene was a bit overwhelming, but once we pulled into the driveway to the house, and closed the gate behind us, all of the chaos of the airport and the car ride and the street traffic instantly went away. It was if I yelled, "Serenity Now!" and someone just handed it to me on command. Yaya's house was to the right of the driveway, and her beautifully landscaped yard and greenhouse were to my left. In front of us a sweet black lab puppy trotted across the driveway.

Is this my life? Greece? Beaches? Puppies? Truly unbelievable.

We jumped out of the car and were greeted at the door by a strikingly attractive older woman with silver hair slicked straight back from her face. She wore little makeup, but her skin looked tanned. I knew this woman was Yaya even before Katy called out to her and enveloped her in a warm embrace.

Jana followed with a big hug of her own.

I sort of stood there like a weirdo watching their reunion, desperately wanting to join in with my own hug for Yaya; I wasn’t sure if getting hugged by random American stranger you agreed to let stay at your house with your granddaughter was appropriate, though, so I refrained.

There was some apprehension ahead of my meeting with Yaya and whether or not I'd be able to understand her, since she's Greek. I told Katy ahead of time that the only Greek words that I know are, “Alpha, Omicron, and Pi,” and any of the other letters that adorn the t-shirts I collected in college. Katy assured me that Yaya spoke perfect English (she lived in New York for many years), Greek and probably several other languages too, and that I would have no problem understanding her.

She was right.

Yaya told us about the dog that we saw, explaining that Katy and Jana's cousins, Michael and Nico, were responsible for bringing their new pet Lola to Greece for the summer. The dog was really cute, but Yaya didn't seem to be very impressed.

She welcomed us into the house, and when I looked around and fell in love. The whole placed just felt lived in, like a lot of memories had been made there and stylistically speaking, probably hadn’t changed a whole lot. The decor was dated, but not in a, “I’m a Grandmother and I don't know any better" kind of a way. No, this style more spoke of, "This is a 1970s-style Greek beach house and this is the way we like it, so there.” Katy says a lot of the furniture in the house was in her grandparents house in New York, and all of the decorative items are ones collected from their lifetime of travel.

I know this is impossible considering nearly everything I'd encountered so far was in complete opposition to every experience I'd ever had with my own grandmother (Greece, the beach, a cook, a driver, a greenhouse), but Yaya and her home reminded me so much of my own Grandma. Perhaps it was simply in her sweet and loving demeanor, and the way that she looked at her grandchildren like she thought they could do anything.

Yaya hugged and kissed her granddaughters, her excitement visible all over her face. I felt immensely grateful that she had opened up her home to me and allowed me to share this precious time she spends with her grandchildren.

"Are you hungry? We've been waiting for you. Let's eat!"

Again, a desire to hug Yaya immediately came over me. I grabbed my luggage instead and went back to the room that Katy and I would share.

Katy and I dropped our luggage in the room closest to the kitchen with two single beds and an attached bathroom. While getting ready for lunch, Katy's cousins Nico, Tatiana and Michael, the most beautiful Greek children I've ever seen, came by the room. They all hugged and joked and laughed, like any months that passed since the last time they saw each other was completely insignificant.

When Yaya announced it was time, we all headed to the dining room, that was already set for seven people. Yaya sat at the head of the table, and when it became clear there weren't assigned seats, so I took a seat to her right, Katy next to me, and then Jana, Michael, Tatiana, and Nico.

I really wanted Yaya to like me (I mean I’d just met her, and already almost hugged her twice), so when a woman came from the swinging kitchen door holding a serving platter loaded with green beans, I got nervous and wished I hadn't sat right beside Yaya. I mean, I've eaten nice meals before, I've been served at a table like this, but I had no idea what was coming next, so I wasn't sure if I was supposed to put beans on the side plate or directly on the big plate. I put the green beans directly on the big plate, which, of course, was wrong. I watched the plate go to everyone else, and they were using their side plates. I was mortified. And then I remembered it was green beans and that no one, especially Yaya, seemed to care.

Katy told me ahead of us leaving for Greece how completely wonderful the meals at her Yaya's house are. She did not oversell them in anyway. Granted, I could've eaten anything at that point, but the green beans and Chicken Milanese and white rice that followed were quite possibly some of the most delicious foods I'd ever tasted.

I've read that Mediterranean diets are good for our health, and I'd like to think that it's true. But I'm not sure the rich, delicious food that is served at Yaya's house and the mass quantities of which we consumed all week are really what those articles were talking about.

Squeezing myself into a bikini after being up for 36 hours and eating a multiple course lunch was not high on things I would normally want to do, but since we were in Greece and our only responsibilities for the rest of the day were to swim, read, sun and repeat. Minus feeling slightly disgusted with myself, I was in heaven.

While swimming in the backyard infinity pool (I know, I'm so jealous of me too), I took in the view, which was positively breathtaking. While standing in the pool I could see down to Mavros Volia (which Jana and Katy laughingly told me means, "black ball beach") and the Mediterranean Sea.

Later we were joined by Pappou, Katy and Jana's Grandpa, who came to take his daily swim with the help of his live-in nurse. He was unable to speak to me, or shake my hand, but I could tell he recognized me as someone he didn't know. And I'm not sure he was very excited about it. Tatiana and Katy hugged and kissed him and doted on him in a loving way, seemingly hopeful that he is still able to take his daily swims, but disappointed he can't communicate with them like he used to.

We spent the afternoon outside doing a while lot of nothing; the warm sun and cool water were just what the doctor ordered and I started to feel like my old self.

Later that evening, as the sun was starting to set, we took a walk in Yaya and Pappou's backyard, a beach made up completely of black rocks, thanks to a prehistoric volcanic eruption. Gorgeous to look at, not so easy to walk on. We took a dip in the chilly water, watched Lola, the puppy, chew on beer cans, and enjoyed the sun setting behind the beautiful house. As I watched the sun slip away, I was floored to see that I was looking at the same picture of Emporios that I'd seen at the airport--that picture was of Yaya and Pappou's house!

We showered, and joined Yaya at the table for dinner: steak, french fries, and one of the most simple and most delicious salads I've ever had that was simply lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and avocados and olive oil. Maybe it's Greece, maybe it's Yaya, maybe it's Yanni, but my stomach handles Greek steak a lot better than it does steak in the USA.

For dessert, I ate a fresh fig for the first time ever, and then popped an Ambien. I was a happy girl.

Greece is good for the pretty people.


  1. I'm so glad you listened to your parents & came on this trip. It is amazing to read about & I feel relaxed & refreshed just reading about it. aaah!

  2. I am so jealous of you too, and the color of the air, and the infinity pool, and a world of only pretty signs of the Greek financial crisis.