I am so blessed to have some amazing friends. These are friends that have shaped my life and despite time or distance are an integral part of who I am, and the void of these friends would be felt very dramatically. One of those people is my childhood best friend, growing up in Philadelphia. We had been inseparable all through elementary school, middle school, and made it to high school. Her family is Greek, and through the years I had been adopted in the Greek culture. In the middle of high school my family moved out of the area and her family moved back to Greece. In the pre technology era, we used to write letters to each other and were able to stay in touch for a while, but between moves on both sides, we somehow lost touch. A couple of decades go by, and I was unable to find her and I always missed her in my life. 20 years later, I get a message on Facebook from my friend and that weekend we talk for 5 years catching up on lost time like it was yesterday. And the next thing I know I’ve booked a trip to Greece to see her and this amazing country.
The time finally comes to embark on my journey – with a couple connections – Chicago, London, Athens and then a bus to a town called Volos were my friend lived. The whole process was suppose to take about 16 hours door to door, a voyage worthy of a 20 year reunion. The fun started on the first leg of the trip. The flight into Chicago was delayed, so I breathlessly raced through the airport to catch the flight to London, only to find out at the gate that the London flight has been indefinitely delayed. At midnight, after waiting for several hours, when I boarded the flight to London, I knew that I had already missed the connection to Athens. Once in London, I got myself rebooked on the next flight to Athens 8 hours later. With the time that I had, the airline offered me a hotel room, but since this my first time in London, I opted instead to take the Tube into London and sightsee for a couple of hours. This is an amazing story that will require it’s own post.
I was totally exhausted when I boarded the flight from London to Athens around midnight. It has been over 24 hours since I started my journey with almost no sleep. I thought I would get a few hours of rest on this flight, but instead ended up speaking the person next to me. It turned out that he was a Greek Olympiad, in London to train ahead of the Olympics. This was June 2012, the year the Olympics where held in London. It was so fascinating talking to him and learning about his sport, sailing, and how he trained, that I barely got any sleep on this flight. He was nice enough to introduced me to his coach and told me he was going to Volos as well and he would help me get there. The independent person I am, I didn’t think I needed help from a stranger – but I was totally wrong. The coach was a really nice person, so I thought it would great company for the journey.
We landed in Athens around 2am, 12 hours later than the originally plan. The nice gentleman going to Volos informed me that the bus depot where we take the bus to Volos was 45 minutes away. We would have to wait at the airport till 5am for the local buses to start up so we could get to the bus depot. When it was finally time to catch the local bus, it took some communicating in Greek between the coach and the bus driver to determine if we were getting on the right bus. With the coach’s help, we were able to determine the correct stop to get off at. After that there was a walk into the distance to an unmarked building that was the bus depot. There is no way I could have found it myself. The coach told me to wait in the waiting area, while he got my ticket to Volos. In my curiosity I look into the “ticketing” area. It was an interesting scene – as the bus is released for standby passengers, a mob pushes their way to the ticket master and the first person to hand the money gets the ticket. There was a lot of haggling in Greek on price and departure times. If it wasn’t for him, I might still be sitting at the bus depot in Athens trying to figure out how to buy a bus ticket. The bus we got tickets for was 2 hours later. After all this, finally got on the bus for the 4 hour ride to Volos and the final leg of this part of the trip.
End to end it was a 40 hour journey with very little sleep. But getting to Volos and seeing my best friend after 20 years was worth every second of these unplanned adventures. While trips (or life in general) don’t always turn out the way you planned them, this trip has taught me a lot and created some very cherished memories – I was lucky to get a trip of London, meet an Olympiad, and learned that the only way to travel is to depend on the kindness of strangers (and in turn provide that to strangers visiting your city). This last lesson has really served me on all my subsequent trips. Its been incredible meeting the amazing people on all my trips, who have helped me and given me the true “local” experience (to read more about this please see French Hospitality). But the most important lesson is that for true friendship 20 years or 40 hours or even a lifetime are immaterial because once we met, we picked up right were we left off, catching up on decades like it was yesterday.