With a win in the bag and 4 days off, I immediately started scouring the Internet for an affordable travel destination. After shuffling through the numerous countries and cities in my head, I eventually decided on Athens.
I’ve always wanted to travel to Greece - it’s been on the list for quite some time. Plus, it didn’t hurt that close friend Lindsey Wilson was playing for Panathinaikos with former UW teammate, Giuliana Mendiola. Not to mention former UW volleyball star, Sanja Tomasevic, was also playing volleyball for the same club! Needless to say, my decision came quite easy.
The following morning I was up bright and early and on my way to Frankfurt Airport. Thank goodness for GPS, or I probably would of ended up lost in some remote German village…seriously. After 3 hours of my Twingo struggling to keep up with drivers on the Autobahn, I arrived in Frankfurt and was off to Athens!
Catching up on a few Z’s, I could barely contain my excitement as we descended into Greece. With only my bag on my back, I headed out of the arrivals terminal and managed to spot Sanja zooming around in her Smart Car. Waving her down, I jumped in and we shared a huge hug. It’d been 2+ years since we’d seen each other last. I don’t think there was a moment of silence as we updated one another on our respective travel and lives. Picking up right we were left off, I knew I was going to have a fabulous weekend.
Thirty minutes later, we parked the Smart and hollered up to Lindsey’s balcony. Once buzzing us in, the 2 of us shared a big hug. It was great to see her! Catching up quickly, the 3 of us were off to the gym for Linds' Panathinaikos team practice. While Linds, Giuli and teammates got their sweat on; Sanja and I continued to catch up on the sidelines. We couldn’t believe it…what are the chances of 3 former Huskies and a Seattleite being in Athens at the same place and time? Crazy!
Upon conclusion of practice, I chatted with Lindsay’s coach who convinced me to workout with the team while I was in town. The thought of sharing the court with Lindsey and Giuli was all it took and I told him I’d be in gear tomorrow. After the girls showered and dressed, we were off to Sanja’s to order in and plan out the next few days.
The following morning Lindsey was off to early practice, while I decided to see the sights. We planned on meeting back at her place later that afternoon. With guidebook in hand, I was on a mission to find the Acropolis, Parthenon and Ancient Agora among other things. I like to think I’m self-sufficient and after familiarizing myself with Central Athens, I decided my best bet was to start at the Acropolis and work from there. Four Euros lighter from a quick cab ride, I was at the foot of an overwhelming monument. There are some things that are hard to describe in life and I think the Acropolis is one of them. How was something so massive, intricate and beautiful built on top of a flat-topped rock before the invention of modern machinery? It’s amazing, one that should be appreciated. Wandering around with camera in hand, I couldn’t help but overhear all the American tourists complaining about the hike up to the monument…
After taking time to appreciate what I was looking at, I continued on to Ancient Agora and surrounding sights. I truly enjoyed myself and learned a thing or two about Greek history. Inevitably, my feet started to ache and I decided my 4-hour adventure needed to come to a close. It was time to head towards Lindsey’s apartment. Instead of taking a cab, I decided to hoof it back. As silly as it might sound, I believe that part of experiencing a country/city is not only taking in the sights, but also mingling with people in their everyday norm.
Double-checking my guidebook, I made a quick detour to check out the Greek Parliament buildings and City Centrum. Buttoning up my jacket as the weather started to turn, I stopped mid-stride when coming across not one, but 4 enormous Canadian flags flapping alongside the Greek flags in the wind. Completing a full 360° of my surroundings, I tried to figure out why the heck the red and white was being prominently displayed in front of the Greek Parliament buildings….Not being able to come up with a good explanation aside from my visit ☺, I exchanged hello’s (γειά σου, which despite what it looks like is pronounced yia-sas) with a nearby police officer, asking him if he spoke English. Pointing to the Canadian flags and telling him I was Canadian, I asked why the flags were on display. He smiled and stated that our President (correction Mr. Greek, Prime Minister) was visiting Athens to ‘light’ the Olympic flame and take it back to Canada for the Winter Olympics. Thanking him, I smiled and admired the maple leaf while it waved back in the wind.
Satisfied with the amount of photos I had taken, I walked through the Centrum and window shopped while buying a pastry from a nearby street vendor. Deciding I had conquered the ruins and downtown Athens, I now would start the trek back towards Lindsey’s apartment. This proved to be difficult. The saying “it’s all Greek to me” never rang truer. With most languages you can hear similarity in words or notice that they look familiar in their written form. With Greek, this is not the case. Nothing sounds or looks the same in Greek. The language though harmonious to the ear, is so confusing and complex that every time someone spoke to me, I turned red and could only stutter. Even worse was figuring out which direction to go when the street signs looked like Εθνικής Κατηγορίας or Ανδρών θα. Huh?! After wandering around for a good 20 minutes, I finally swallowed my pride and hailed a cab. Pointing to a map and using various hand motions, I was able to communicate with the driver and point out where I wanted to go. After numerous attempts at having a conversation, we gave up and exchanged smiles, laughing the remainder of the ride.
Finally back at Lindsey’s apartment, I showed her my pictures and described my day. After a quick bite we caught another cab with Lindsey’s teammates and headed to Glyfada, an upscale district where Sanja’s vball team plays home games. Sanja was a powerhouse and Pao was beating the opposing team so bad, she sat the 3rd set. The game wasn’t close, but nevertheless it was great to see Sanja pound the ball again.
Following the game Lindsey, Sanja, Lindsey’s teammate Jasmina, a men’s Pao player and I went for a traditional Greek dinner. I’ve always been a fan of Greek food, but this meal was on another level. It was fabulous! The atmosphere was great as was the company. As the meal drew to a close, our waiter was clearing the table and knocked over a glass of red wine, spilling it all over me. I knew it was an accident and am not one to make a scene, but I was definitely annoyed. Since I was traveling light – more than half my clothes were useless for the rest of the trip! Red face and embarrassed he could barely make eye contact. I took a deep breath, smiled and told him it was no problem. After I did what I could to salvage my wardrobe, the waiter returned and surprised us with a complementary desert platter and shots of Ouzo for everyone. I suddenly became a table favorite! Full from a fabulous meal and surrounded by great people and conversation – I couldn’t imagine Greece getting much better than this!
The next morning Linds and I were up early for practice. A bit nervous to play with girls I didn’t know, I decided to do what I normally do - smile and play hard. I made fast friends and ended up playing great. Apparently Lindsey’s coach was impressed and made sure I wrote down the correct spelling of my name on a piece of paper. He said he would help me get into Greece next season and really liked the type of player I was. I thanked him and said I’d see him tomorrow. After showering and changing, Linds borrowed Sanja’s Smart Car to take me on a city tour. It was neat driving down the narrow alleys and seeing parts of the city most tourists don’t experience. We eventually made our way to Panathinaikon Stadium and parked for a quick photo op. The site was amazing and is the only major stadium in the world built entirely of white marble. Built in 329 B.C., it was used in the 1896 Olympics as well as the 2004 games. Awesome! Finally, we were off to Lykavittas Hill – which in my opinion is the best site in Athens. The view is indescribable. You can see the whole city, all the way to the Aegean Sea. Linds and I sat at the top and took in the view for a good 20 minutes without saying a word.
Checking off the last 2 must see’s on my list, it was back to the apartment to get ready for a gathering at a Marousi men’s player’s apartment. Always Debbie Homemaker, Lindsey whipped up a pot of chili and cornbread for the occasion. After testing it out more than a few times, we were on our way. Arriving at Jared’s, I couldn’t believe the size of his apartment – it was enormous! Men’s basketball is huge in Greece and the players are paid accordingly. That was obvious as I took in Jared’s humble abode. NBA players have actually spurned the NBA to play in Greece, most notably Josh Childress, Juan Dixon and Linas Kleiza.
The night was a huge success and I found it hard to believe what a small world I live in. Here was Lindsey Wilson from Seattle who played at Iowa State, dealing cards to Jared Homan who also played at Iowa State. Both former stars at the University of Washington, Sanja and Giuli were discussing which song should be played next on the speakers. And finally, I myself was catching up with Levon Kendall who also hails from Vancouver, BC and grew up just 20 minutes from my home. It blows my mind sometimes who you meet while abroad.
After dinner and wine, we ended up playing a variety of fun games from poker to charades and others that kept people laughing. In addition to the Seattle/Iowa/Vancouver connection, there were various models in town from NYC and numerous men’s players that stopped by through the night. It was a great evening, one that ended up with me freestyle rapping – only because Athena convinced me to do it!
Waking up to a loud alarm, Linds and I were up early the next day to lift weights. Satisfied after the workout, we had lunch at great crepe place and recounted the events from the previous night. That afternoon I again practiced with the team and continued to impress. It was great being able to get a run in with a friend and old teammate. With the competitive juices flowing, I found myself paired with Giuli – our sole goal? Beat Lindsey every single time…☺
Upon completion of practice, we drove up to Lykavittos Hill to once again admire the view. It’s completely different at night. When the Acropolis is lit up, the city comes alive – it’s beautiful. With that, Lindsey, Giuli and I headed to the Exarhia district for my last supper. We found a cute place surrounded by graffiti covered walls, where we enjoyed another fabulous meal. Noticing the people next to us speaking English, Lindsey asked them if they were American. Sure enough they were – and all from Seattle! Two were WSU grads, but I didn’t hold it against them. ☺ I’m amazed how the world works sometimes. After a quick chat, it was back to Sanja’s for a final goodbye. The rest of the evening was spent recounting our adventures and figuring out a way for us all finding our way back to Greece next season…