I woke up early and took advantage of the Meteora scenery for the sunrise. The only other sunrise I've been awake for was the one in Santorini after being up all night. I woke up around 5:30 and dragged my ass back to my rock. I was alone there for about 20 minutes before a couple showed up. Sunrise took awhile because I was surrounded by mountains and the light was slow to creep through to the rocks.
I sat there and put my hands firmly on the rock. This would likely be the last time I would ever be here and I felt like I wanted to connect. (I'm getting flowery, I know.) This trip has been a whirlwind and I have to continuously remind myself to slow down and enjoy each moment. Pay attention to the small details, savor it. Be, if you will.
(Cheryl Crow is on right now. "All I want to do is have some fun." Perfect.)
I went back to the hotel, packed up my life and got into the car. As I was backing up to leave, the man who runs the hotel waved at me. I turned off the engine. "You have to pay!"
Whoops. I'd made all of my reservations online. Some I paid for in advance, some I hadn't. I did not remember that I had not paid for this room. Had he not seen me leaving, I would have stiffed him for two nights. I felt so badly, but he seemed understanding.
The plan for the day! I was making my way to Thessaloniki, but on the way, I would make a stop in Katerini for lunch with some relatives!
So, my dad's mother was half Greek. And I was going to visit her first cousin, Elias, and his son, Ignatios, in Katerini. I don't know exactly what that makes me. (But I'm sure after my dad reads this, he'll tell me exactly how man removals I am, etc.)
It was a two hour drive from Meteora to Katerini. The roads took me back to the coast where I pulled off at a beach for a last splash in the sea.
I also noticed a giant cloud off to my left with a mountain behind it. It's the closest look I received of Mount Olympia. Too bad I didn't get to see more than a small peaking through the clouds, but hey, everything else thus far exceeded my expectations, so, no big deal.
I showed up about an hour early. Katerini is much more of a residential town than any other place I'd visited. I parked my car and walked to a nearby establishment. It was a local bar/taverna of sorts. The only customers in there were old men, some talking, most smoking and many playing solitaire. It was a perfect place to sit.
I walked back to meet my cousin(s). My grandmother's cousin is 91 and still lives on his own. With help, mind you. But that's where we all met. We sat and visited for a spell before heading out to a local farmer's market and then off to lunch. Elias stayed at his house. Ignatios, his wife, and his wife's niece went to an Italian restaurant in the town center. It was delightful! After my long journey alone or just with passing strangers, it was good to connect with people.
Mind you, this is the first time I've ever met any of them, but they followed suit with everyone I've met in Greece: so nice. We ate and talked about family, the economy, school and anything else in between. They are a fine, good-hearted couple doing everything in their power to help their community during this time of crisis. I learned a lot.
The idea of family is a strong one. It brings people together who might not know each other or have anything in common or might not even like each other. But if you're lucky, you find common ground and your bond is that much stronger because of blood. Blood is thick.
I remember something I read by Kurt Vonnegut about family. I believe that the general gist was, just because you're family, doesn't mean you should force a relationship. I completely agree with this. Yes, blood is think, but don't force it. (Not sure if that metaphor held up.) But if you're lucky, you'll find that common ground and make a connection with people. The older I get, the more I'm learning that connections are important. And I'm happy to have found out that I've found a connection with, while distant family, still family.
Then I drove into Thessaloniki. I needed to return my rental car at the airport. Did so. I had hoped that I could take some kind of public transit to my hotel in the town center, alas, such thing either 1) doesn't exist or b) would have taken way too long for me to figure it. I treated myself to the second cab ride on my trip. Checked into my hotel and headed out to find food and explore the neighborhood of Ladadika.
What a fun part of town! It's near the port and has dozens a bars and restaurants within a few block radius. I found a place to go to town on some meat and fried cheese, like I do. Definitely something I was going to miss back home. This was my second to last night of the trip and I tried to stay out to soak up the city and make the most of my remaining time.
I continued to be surprised how different each city/location throughout Greece had been. They all have different cultures, different aspects, different things to do. People keep asking me what my favorite part of the trip was. I don't know. It's like comparing apples and pizza. I can honestly say that I would re-visit each and every location I'd been to though.