“Hi, I would like to bring you a rather large group of Americans, make you a bunch of money, and make my little kiddies magnificently happy, full, and intoxicated. What can you do for me?” Say that sentence and you will be spun into a whirlwind of smiles, handshakes, and delicious sustenance hot off the stove. I approached my choice restaurant in the center of Athens with this exact idea in mind. I was welcomed with the open arms that have made Greek hospitality such a staple. Despite this man having never met me previously, he did everything but introduce me to his distant relatives that moved to America and now own and operate a diner in Bloomfield, New Jersey. Before I could even utter an audible word, I was “forced” to flop down in a seat, while they “forcefully” served me hot lamb, pita, stewed tomatoes, fried peppers and potatoes with tzatchiki sauce. Nevermind the two gyros that were currently happily, nestled deep within my stomache, I proceeded to gorge. I might has well have been a prince who had come and asked for his daughters hand in marriage. Later that night we returned to a carnival procession and were welcomed with a large meal, loads of house wine, and a Greek traveling pan flute band (really a man playing traditional Greek folk ditties), all of which cost everyone 13 Euro.
Two days later, I am conveying this to you while cruising back to Italy, chilling in the front of the boat watching the rolling mountains ripping up through the waters of the Greek coastline, only to return to the Greek life tomorrow. Athens is unique because it is so different from all the other Western cities of Europe, mainly because despite being the on the crux of the boom of Western Civilization, Greece is in no way a Westernized city. The mix of Mediterranean, Arabian, and Western Europe architecture leaves Athens with allure that you receive the first time you see a building that appears to be dilapidated, but is really just sun-charred sandstone that has been baking for hundreds, and in some cases thousands of years. These past two days have been a refreshing reminder to me as to why I did not mind that I have do perform real “work” during the Athens leg of this trip. I say work loosely because I find it a stretch to call getting to take a group each week to the Acropolis, Temple of Zeus, Greek Olympic Stadium actual hard work. I mean it is so hard getting to see people in the same shoes I was in two years ago seeing for the first time, before their own eyes, these jaw-dropping architectural masterpieces that we spent so much time during our younger years hating because we associated them with school.
Two days later, I am full on that diesel 13 Euro meal, about 8 gyros that cost 1.80 Euro at the street stands, and plenty of happiness. In my several times to Athens, I do not think once an Athenian has rubbed me the wrong way. They might be the biggest supporters of Americans I have ventured to find in Europe. Most seem to love speaking English, and teaching Americans Greek, and they always seem to be grinning. Athens truly is a special city. It is far removed from the powerhouse when it was the cradle of Western Civilization, but it has in no way lost its charm, and its people have in no way lost their spirit of being alive. In November I went to a soccer game in Athens. Never was I so accepted for supporting a team I knew virtually nothing about. I have never had a Florentine thank me for coming to support Fiorentina. I must have been thanked by five to ten Athenians for coming to cheer on their team and throw obscenities at the referees for making a bad call. Here’s to you Athenians, one of the cooler groups of people in Europe. I have no problem hanging and partying with you the next couple weeks.