My flight from Cairo to Athens was set to leave at 4:20AM.
What kind of stupid person books such a ridiculous flight at such an ungodly hour?
It was cheap.
'Cheap' is usually the motive behind most of my dumb ideas.
It seemed like a brilliant idea at the time, but it soon proved otherwise. I often think I’m still young and I can stay awake all night, like a rockstar.
I cannot. As I've mentioned before, I need to sleep.
I have these absurd notions that I’ll just find a comfy seat at the airport and ‘write’ until I need to board. It actually ends up being more along the lines of dragging myself to a comfy seat and ‘sleep.’
I had been up most of the day prior and had opted to accompany Jen and Marcus to the airport with their airport transfer. Their transportation left at 11PM and mine was scheduled for 1AM. Seemed quite silly to lounge around at the hotel for an additional two hours, doing absolutely nothing, when I could be doing absolutely nothing at the airport.
Seems logical, right?
Guess it depends how you look at it.
As soon as I passed through the main entrance of the terminal, I found a suitable bench and although I fully intended to just close my eyes momentarily, I crashed. When I awoke, I was in. real state of confusion, like I was operating in dazed autopilot mode, with no real end in sight.
My flight arrived in Athens at approximately 6:30am. By the time I cleared customs and found my pack, it was just after 7AM. I had to check my bag in for the first time in over three months. Unfortunately, it has grown too bulky and burdensome now... and it's much too heavy to be considered as acceptable carry-on anymore.
Next time... smaller pack. Less stuff.
I desperately need to rid myself of a LOT of nonsense items that I've been hauling around. Plus, I fear Greece is not going to be easy on my backpack... or my wallet.
As the bank account is diminishing with each passing day, I seriously contemplated just throwing in the towel and taking a taxi from the airport into the city. They were lined up outside, waiting for us eager tourists to come and snatch them right up! There they were... right in front of me... beckoning for me to take the easy route. Thankfully I fought the urge to waste more money and set about trying to figure out the train system.
With the assistance of a tiny bit of memory, airport signs, screen shots, a fuzzy phone GPS and an old school paper map, I managed to plunk myself right into the centre of Athens with little to no hassle at all. From there, I successfully navigated the web of the streets of Plaka until I found my hotel.
There were tense moments, I will admit.
I make traveling sound easy when I'm writing... right?
Actually... do I? Come to think of it, I don't think I do?
Anyway... there were some swear words... and a boatload of disorientation... and a couple quiet tantrums. There were a few times I almost gave up, but I didn't. I made it to my destination in one piece. It may take me longer than usual at times, and I'm often quite proficient at finding the most difficult option available... but I usually always manage to pull through.
My arrival into Athens was long before any allowable or acceptable hotel check-in time, but the man at the front desk was very kind and empathetic to my circumstance. He agreed to store my carry-on monstrosity and let me use their private bathroom to freshen up. With the luggage burden off my back, I hit the early morning streets to explore.
My first day back in Greece!
It has been 23 years... Preposterous! No way am I that old...??
It was a chilly morning and I was not prepared for this weather at all. My thin leggings, light sweater and decorative scarf did nothing to cut the cold and ease the breeze. Gone were my days of shorts and tank tops. Although I was in Greece, the time had finally come to dump my bathing suit in favour of a winter jacket. Lucky for me, I managed to find a stylish one that not only fit, but was on sale. Now the joke is that I’ve been eating so many carbs that the coat hardly fits at all anymore.
DO NOT come to Greece if you think you might want to go on a low carb diet.
I was in Athens in 1999/2000 and I really don't remember loving it. I remember it as big, dirty and smoggy. Whenever I hear of anyone coming to Greece, I always encourage them to skip Athens altogether. "Get out as quickly as possible," I say.
Well... I officially stand corrected.
I love Plaka.
This historical district was none of these descriptions. It was not dirty, nor was it remotely smoggy. In fact, I read somewhere that the air is different here in Plaka... a fragrant gift from the Gods. I was more & more enchanted with every step I took. It was like I had been transported to a magical place and it was not even a few minutes before it secured its place amongst my favourites.
So full of life, Plaka has come to be known as the 'Neighbourhood of the Gods.' It's got all the good vibes and its atmosphere is simply captivating.
AND so many cats!
I'd forgotten how many damn cats there are in Greece.
Everywhere you look... a cat. Or two. Or three.
The maze of cobblestone streets are full of charming cafés, fun tavernas and colourful shops. I wandered around, both dazzled and dizzy, until I found a little café that lured me in with the promise of delicious Greek cuisine. It was still rather early, but I didn't care. I was officially back in Greece and it was time to indulge in some of my old favourites.
I knew exactly what I wanted.
Tzatziki. Pita. Frappé.
For any of you that don’t know what a frappé is… it's instant coffee, cold water, milk & sugar... all mixed together. Shaken, like a martini. It sounds absolutely atrocious, but believe me ~ frothy heaven in a cup. It was one of my gateways into the world of coffee adoration. We used to make them frequently when I lived in Crete. They were delicious, worked to beat the heat and keep us caffeinated and awake.
Who’da thunk that instant coffee and water would create something so delightful?
Some of my Greek came back to me. I don't know a lot, but 'thank you' was one of the expressions of gratitude that stuck.
I wandered in and out of the tiny souvenir shops and dragged my exhausted ass up & down each alley until I was so overcome with exhaustion that I could barely move. When the clock finally struck 2pm and it was an acceptable time to check into my hotel, I high tailed it back to the room as fast as my legs could carry me... and promptly passed out.
When I eventually woke up, I meandered through the picturesque neighbourhoods Plaka, taking in everything magical that had previously been restricted by my exhaustion.
I chose not to visit the Acropolis this time around. Yes, I had done it previously in 1999... and although it was a long time ago and a visit I could hardly remember... quite frankly, I was done with ruins.
Seriously. After Egypt... I’ve been ruined of temples and tombs for a bit.
Not for always... just temporarily.
I just need a break!
I needed bursts of attractive colour and Greek charm and captivation.
I needed Plaka.
It truly was spellbinding. All of it. Including my hotel.
My hotel is charming.
It is definitely a boutique hotel and had I not found an incredible deal on Booking.com, it never would have been on my radar. Regardless of the savings, it was still slightly out of my price range, but I decided to extend and stay one more night. Paying the extra 10 euro seemed less hassle than dragging my belongings half way across Athens.
The following day, I made my way down to Glyfada Marina, in the port area of Athens. This was the area where the Sea Turtle Rescue Centre is located. I really have no idea how I figured out how to get here.
Sapna, one of the volunteers I had become friends with in Sawa Sawa, had recommended an ESim data download and I decided to check it out. It seemed a much better option than continually putting in new Sim cards. But... just as luck should have it, for the life of me, I could not figure it out. I have been back and forth with the company, who keep sending me the same automated message and it's beginning to frustrate me more than it rightfully should while I'm supposed to be enjoying Greece. I kept hoping something would click and it would eventually work… but alas, it did not.
Gripping my reliable paper map of Athens, I figured out which underground metro would get me as close to the marina as possible. From there, I jumped in a taxi that delivered me right to the front step. I had temporarily contemplated taking the bus, but that form of transport was just a little bit too much to handle for my already confused state of mind... and who knew where I would end up?
Well... I made it!
The Archelon Sea Turtle Rescue Centre.
In 1999 and 2000, I spent these two summers volunteering for Archelon, a non-profit Sea Turtle Protection Society. It was an incredible experience and one I look back at often, with much fondness. I didn't actually seek it out... nor did I even know of its existance. My friend Sarah convinced me to join her there for part of the summer. The minimum participation period was one month... and although this seemed a little too lengthy for my liking, I reluctantly agreed. After a couple days of scrubbing metal markers, fixing potholes and doing other assorted seemingly meaningless and laborious tasks, I was confident I would be breaking my four week obligation... and leaving.
Then something changed.
~ I started to have fun.
~ It became interesting and challenging and educational.
~ I made friends.
~ I laughted a LOT.
~ I got assigned my own beach sector - G,H,I - G.I.Joe...
~ I think I was maybe a little bit good at it?
~ I loved it.
I ended up extending my time in Crete from 4 weeks to 21 weeks... and then returned the following summer for an additional 16.
Our days were filled with early morning beach surveys, where we would set out to see if there had been any turtle activity during the evening. We would do evening slide shows at the local hotels in order to increase awareness for the tourists visiting the island. We had kiosk shifts and other assorted jobs that needed to be done. . We worked hard and rarely got a full day off. I really did love it and have often seriously contemplated going back. I don't know how I could manage living in a tent all summer, but it's fun to fantasize!
The Rescue Centre had grown significantly since I’d last been there. I remember I spent my very last day in Greece here. Aliki got me to scrub out some of the turtle pools.
The Rescue Centre focuses mainly on rehabilitating sea turtles with head injuries. The main turtle nesting around Greece is the Caretta Caretta, the Loggerhead Sea Turtle. They only had 16 turtles at present... which is a record for them. Sea turtles tend to get entangled in fishing gear and such incidents may often result in injuries or drowning. They may also fall victim to collisions with speed boats, especially near nesting beaches. Injured or sick turtles are transferred to the Sea Turtle Rescue Centre. About 50 sea turtles are treated annually and when fully recovered, are released back to the sea.
*Side note... ask me all about it and I will give you the full lowdown... anytime!
Aliki and Thanos were our project leaders from way back when... and after 23 years of almost no contact with either of them, I had arranged to meet up with them while I was visiting Athens. My excitement was overboard.
Aliki met me at the Rescue Centre and she was just the same as I remembered her! After showing me around the place, she took me out for lunch to one of her favourite seafood restaurants.
It was a little beach bistro called Aperando Galazio, on the Athenian Riviera. An authentic Greek dining experience, right beside the sea, in the brisk sunshine. I could not have asked for better. Our feast consisted of tzatziki, Greek salad, grilled squid, calamari and steamed mussels.
It was a LOT.
Even the waitress cut us off from ordering any more food! We put a good dent in it all...
That evening, the three of us met up for dinner and the feast was on again. I was still so full from lunch, but when the saganaki with honey, the rice pilaf and the beetroot salad dip with pita arrived, it was too tough to turn it all down, and I dove it once again.
The dinner was incredible, but the company was top notch. It was so much fun catching up, reminiscing about the good ole days and gossiping about what everyone did then and what everyone is doing now! Aliki spent 12 years in Philadelphia obtaining her PHD and Thanos works doing sustainability consulting (I think) with large scale businesses. He's just written a book too, which is impressive! It's only in Greek though... so until I learn more than how to say 'thank you,' I'm out of luck in the reading-it department...
We even managed to connect with Tom and Merel, also former turtlers, on FaceTime, which was just seriously beyond measure. I had been pretty close with the two of them on Crete and also hadn't seen them since I left Greece. I almost cried. It was surreal.
It's so crazy how life allows you to fall out of touch with those in your life that meant so much to you... or that were in your life at such a significant time. It's also crazy how life occasionally offers you little pockets of reconciliation... and the connection is like you've never missed a moment.It all seems to just come right back together again.
I ate too much... granted... but...
Almost makes me want to come back and do another year of volunteering. Maybe...
I did mention my upcoming itinerary to Aliki... and inquired as to what she thought I should do with my time. I had a few days before I was supposed to be in Zakynthos.
Should I take the bus?
Should I fly straight to Zakynthos?
Where should I go?
There was a bit of back and forth, and then she convinced me…
I was off to rent a car…
Peloponnesus... Here I come!