Day 13 - Thessaloniki

Aristotelous Square, Thessaloniki

Aristotelous Square, Thessaloniki

My last full day.

I woke up later than usual, opened the windows to my hotel room and it was raining. No need to get a jump start on the day. I managed to make it downstairs at my hotel in time for breakfast. Greek yogurt with honey, bread and jam, coffee. I had a lot of writing to catch up on, so I brought my computer to the lobby and had more coffee and wrote for a couple of hours. I love that I'm keeping this blog alive, but it's a labor of love. There are so many details to get down and I know I'm failing at getting all of the tiny, interesting ones, but those are the ones that will stick with me outside of pen and paper.

As I sat there sipping my cappuccino, I received a phone call from Elena, my grandmother's sister's daughter. I was going to meet up with her and her husband Dimitris for dinner. Another set of relatives I'd never met before, but who were nevertheless thrilled I was in town and excited to meet me. We decided on a place and time to meet, down by the harbor in the same neighborhood I'd gone out to the night before, so at least I felt like I knew my way around, even a little.

The rain let up and I went out. I walked back through Ladadika towards the harbor. I walked past the location I would meet Elena at later. Full disclosure: it was a Starbucks. #Merica I had no real plan in mind for the day. I enjoyed window shopping (lots of fabric and craft stores - not sure why) and peopel watching.

White Tower, Thessaloniki

White Tower, Thessaloniki

View from the top of the White Tower

View from the top of the White Tower

Scary tiny doorways inside White Tower

Scary tiny doorways inside White Tower

Fried cheese wrapped in filo? Yes, please, forever.

Fried cheese wrapped in filo? Yes, please, forever.

I headed toward the White Tower, which used to be a prison and stood with water surrounding it. I walked to the top and took in the view. Pangs of hunger hit me hard. Should I go to the museum? Nay. I went to go get food instead, of course. This was my last full day! My last full chance to fill up on saganaki! I walked back toward Ladadika and strolled by the restaurants. I settled on one and ordered, you guessed it, fried cheese. This time, it was fried cheese wrapped in filo dough. I have no idea how the Greeks pulled that one off, but it was delicious. As were the olives, my last. I was also served bread (obviously) and a tomato paste. I don't know what I was supposed to use the tomato paste for, but I put it on my bread and all over my cheese, so fresh and delicious. Naturally, a beer accompanied.

What to do after that? I went back to my hotel and took a nap. Being awake is hard work.

I woke up and got ready for dinner. It was unfortunately raining again, but not too hard. I didn't bring an umbrella (I hardly even bring an umbrella in my own country), but I just put the hood of my sweatshirt over my head and was fine.

Starbucks. 7:30. Elena and Dimitris showed up. I'd only seen pictures of them on Facebook, but thank goodness for that. Technology, I'm telling you, it's amazing. They welcomed me with open arms and hugs. Everyone keeps telling me how much I look like my grandmother, which is a compliment. She was beautiful. Elena even told me my laugh reminds her of my grandmother, which I didn't see coming, but that works too.

We went to a restaurant right on the waterfront that they used to frequent frequently. Shared a salad and a bottle of wine and I had my last lamb of the trip - a perfect meal to end on. We talked about family and filled each other in on what we do in our day to day lives. Elena was on a trip to Greece when she was 32 and never returned back to the states. Instead, she married Dimitris. Such a romantic story. I told her I'm 32 also and she said, "Dimitris, who can we introduce her to after dinner?" It was then decided that a man living in London would be just perfect for me. I see a bit of a geographical technicality there, but hey, I'm game.

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Ladadika, Thessaloniki

Ladadika, Thessaloniki

We walked around and went to the port where there are warehouses that exhibitions take place. Nothing was open, but it was calm, quiet and the lights of the city next to the water were beautiful.

They drove me back to my hotel. "Remember you always have family here," she told me. We talked about my next trip back because one day was not enough. I'm happy again to have people somewhere who are family and caring and want to connect.

Did I go upstairs and go to sleep? No, of course not. This was my last night in Europe for who knows how long. I found a nearby bar, met a Greek boy named Nicolas and enjoyed the evening.

When I got back to my hotel and set four separate alarms on my phone. One cannot miss their flight back home... can they? That's not insinuating I missed my flight, but I was definitely settling into this nomadic, foreign life. I'd be sad to leave it in the morning and return to my life back home.

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Lamb, of course over a bed of chips. My last supper.

Lamb, of course over a bed of chips. My last supper.

Day 12 - Katerini, Thessaloniki

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.

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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.

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These rocks  know  me.

These rocks know me.

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(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.

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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!

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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.

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The only view of Mount Olympia I got. 

The only view of Mount Olympia I got. 

My grandmother's cousin, Elias, and Brown Sara.

My grandmother's cousin, Elias, and Brown Sara.

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.

He's buying me a freshly squeezed bottle of pear juice

He's buying me a freshly squeezed bottle of pear juice

Prosciutto pizza

Prosciutto pizza

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.

Ladadika, Thessaloniki

Ladadika, Thessaloniki

Meatball, souvlaki, saganaki, demi-sweet wine, bread

Meatball, souvlaki, saganaki, demi-sweet wine, bread

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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.