Monday, November 19, 2018

The Travel Bug: Finding My Roots, Part 4

Everything was gone: my credit cards, my driver’s license, the €260,00 I’d taken out of the atm the day before. How am I going to buy my bus ticket? What will I do for food? How am I going to make it another six days without any money? My heart was pounding and I felt I might be sick. Do I get on the plane? Do I go back to the AirBNB? What do I do?

The bus driver was of no help. According to him, this wasn't uncommon in Greece. Pickpockets targeted public transportation all the time: it was easy to get away with without being caught because everyone was moving about. My heart sank. My mind was racing. My instinct told me to call my mother but it was only 3:00am in America. And flight to the next city left in forty minutes. I checked my bags about a million times, hoping to see my wallet poking out from a pocket or something. I had no luck: it was gone.

The next five hours blurred together. I found an attendant who helped calm me down and print my boarding pass, then directed me to the airport's police station. Only one officer spoke English. He helped me to cancel my credit cards, call my next host to let him know of the situation, and explained that my family could use Western Union to send me money. I tried to remain calm, but I wanted to cry. I was in a foreign country, with nothing but my luggage and a passport. It was a nightmare.

The officer instructed me to get on my flight, text my host when I arrived using WhatsApp, and he would come pick me up at the airport in Chania. The original plan was for me to take the bus to the stop nearest his house, but I no longer had money for a bus ticket. And then to my horror, I got to the airport and didn't have a steady enough WiFi signal to message him. An attendant at the airport told me the WiFi was down. Of course. So I wandered around the airport for nearly three hours until I found a corner where I could connect for more than two minutes. Yiannis - my next Couchsurfing host - came an hour and a half later and I hugged him like he was a parent coming to rescue his kid. I had never been so thankful to see a complete stranger in my life. 
Looking back at how things unfolded, I could not have been more fortunate. Yiannis made sure I had food to eat. He made sure I had spending money. He took me out for pizza and beer on the way home from the airport, where I learned he actually owned and ran a brewery right there on Crete. Fittingly, it was called Cretan Brewery, and the pizza place we'd stopped had his Charma lager on draft. It was phenomenal, and I was beyond relieved to know I had such a caring host. We figured out a "plan of action" over dinner, then headed to his house and out to the Venetian Harbor for a late tour. It could have been a miserable first night on Crete, but it was absolutely incredible.
The rest of my time spent on Chania was both the most amazing few days of my life and the most frustrating. My mother tried to send me money through Western Union, which can normally be done online or in-store with a credit or debit card. But because the economic situation in Greece was so terrible, she had to use cash it took an extra few days to arrive. My bank also said they could send an emergency replacement debit card to Yiannis' house from a mint in Germany, and that would take an additional three days to come. I had an unconfirmed ferry trip planned from Chania to Santorini, then back to Athens, which was nullified when I cancelled my credit cards. So I had a flight from Athens back to Detroit pre-paid, but no way to get from Chania to Athens. I was literally stranded on an island. Fortunately, as soon as I posted something on Facebook about it, several people reached out to me asking if they could help (you all are amazing!) and one of my friends from highschool offered to buy my flight from Chania to Athens. Pat Wagner, you literally saved my trip and I cannot thank you enough. You know a true friend when they don't think twice about booking you a flight to help you out of a tough situation. I had never felt more relieved in my life.

On a positive note, my time in Chania was very well spent. Yiannis sent me on a Jeep Expedition through the White Mountains with an employee from his brewery: they wanted to add the brewery to the tour (which included a winery, trip through the olive groves, lunch, and a view of a shepherd's hut at the top of the mountains). He had a sensitive stomach, so sent me to see what I thought. It was the most incredible day. Everything from the wine tasting to the traditional Cretan-style lunch at a small restaurant in the mountains to driving up near 90-degree angles made for an unforgettable experience. All thanks to my wallet being stolen.
Manousakis Winery
The most amazing lunch ever
 I'm in love with this view. Breathtaking.
Because I stayed a few days longer than originally planned, I got to meet Elena - the next Couchsurfer coming to stay with Yiannis. She was from Moscow and we got along like old friends as soon as we met. We explored the city together (she takes beautiful photos!), talked and drank homemade wine together, and even cooked dinner for Yiannis one night. In return, he took us on a tour of Cretan Brewery and we got to try all three of his brews (there are far more now) and see the beautiful brewery. The morning finally came for me to pick up the emergency debit card from the UPS store, pick up my mother's money at the Western Union store, and head to the airport. Chania had been such an adventure, and I would go back in an instant.
 Yiannis also took us to a family restaurant for an absolute feast: several kinds of seafood, Boureki (recipe to come!), fish soup, fries, fresh bread, and plenty of wine. We actually had it on Thanksgiving day, and it was the greatest feast I've ever had.
Money in hand, I took a bus back to the Chania airport after a sad good-bye to Elena and Yiannis. With the whole "stolen wallet" situation, I felt like I'd grown closer to them than I would have had I been able to be on my own the entire time. So maybe it was a blessing in disguise...maybe having my wallet stolen was actually a good thing that helped me to get the most out of my trip. Of course I was bummed that I didn't actually find my Greek relatives (Yiannis told me that since their last name didn't end in "-akis or -aki, we weren't actually from Chania. Rather, it was just where the boat left for America). But it was incredible to witness the culture and meet all of the wonderful hosts I had.

When I got back to Athens, I had just enough money from the Western Union transaction to last another three days before heading home. I didn't stay with Christophe again, as I wanted to meet more people and spend time in a different area. But we did meet up for dinner one night so I could get my Starbucks mugs from him (I'd left them at his apartment knowing I was coming back to Athens) and we talked about everything I'd seen since leaving Athens. It felt like I was having dinner with a close friend, and I was so thankful to him for paying that evening. The emergency replacement debit card hadn't worked: I had nearly $350 in international phone charges when I got home trying to figure out why it wouldn't work in any restaurants or stores, and was mortified when they told me it had been printed incorrectly. It hadn't come with a pin number. There was no three-digit code on the back. My bank felt terrible, and while it was MasterCard's fault (not theirs), they still offered to cover the fees and sent me a gift card for my troubles. So by the time I ran to the bus stop the next morning (in an absolute downpour, of course), paid for my bus ticket to the airport, and bought a small sandwich at the airport for lunch, I had $12 left. I hadn't been able to buy any of the souvenirs I'd been planning to for my family and friends, but I made it back to America. After a container of hummus and pita chips and a beer at the Toronto airport (I had a six-hour layover before flying back to Detroit), I had a grand total of $1.50 left. 
Once I made it back to Detroit, my friend Leslie picked me up at the airport and drove me home (she lived just one floor above me in my apartment complex). I was thrilled to find my replacement credit and debit cards waiting in my mailbox, and excited about finally sleeping in my own bed again. I had to be at work the next morning, and was a zombie the entire day. But I had made so many memories in just two short weeks. 

As Anthony Bourdain said, "“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you - it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you… Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” 

My trip certainly wasn't always pretty. It definitely wasn't always comfortable. It sent me to the edge of my comfort zone and made me appreciate all of the little things I take for granted. It opened my eyes to the cultures of my family and changed me for the better: I truly believe it left a mark on my memory, my consciousness, and of course on my heart. I will always have the memories of this trip to take with me, and I know I left a mark behind as well. 

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Travel Bug: Finding My Roots, Part 3

Exactly one year ago today, I was exploring Athens on my very first night in Greece. It was the first time I had ever stayed with anyone from the Couchsurfing website, and to say I was nervous is an understatement. When my flight landed in Athens, I took a bus to Syntagma Square (the main Square in Athens) to meet my host. I had Skyped with him prior to our visit, and recognized him as soon as I saw him at the bus stop. Christophe was friendly, outgoing, and French. And yes, we spent the majority of my time in Athens speaking French. It was phenomenal.

The first night, we went on a sort of 'walking tour' of Athens. Christophe showed me some of his favorite views of the city, which were absolutely breathtaking. We found a Starbucks (of course) and I found not only my Athens "You Are Here" mug, but one for the upcoming stops in my journey as well: Thessaloniki, Crete, Greece, and Chania. When you're travelling around using only one carry-on, you fill it with mugs, right?

We stopped at a little restaurant for dinner with incredible food: Fava beans, pita and hummus, and fries for both of us, Greek salad for me, Moussaka for Christophe, and white wine. There were even two musicians playing traditional Greek music. It was an incredible first night in Greece. 
Over the next few days, we explored as much of Athens as we could. Christophe was the most wonderful guide: he knew the best places to visit that weren't packed with tourists, the best restaurants, the best routes to see lesser-known cultural spots, and all of the places to avoid. He showed me, "l'Acropolis" and a small Greek Orthodox church (one of many in Athens), as well as the Temple of Zues and a beautiful walk-through garden. I was surprised to see there were Palmiers - palm trees - there, imported from the United States! We walked through a farmer's market, climbed up to the different historical sights (my legs and feet were killing me!), and stopped for lunch at a little cafe. Athens was absolutely beautiful.
 Syntagma Square
 My favorite Cafe, Piatsa Syntagma
Spanikopita: my favorite food in Greece!
The only downside to Athens was the political unrest: on November 17 every year, students at the Athens Polytechnic University march on the American Embassy in remembrance of the uprising that occurred in November 1973. It had been a massive demonstration of popular rejection of the Greek military junta, and every year since it is a day of unrest in the city. Christophe had dropped me off at a museum (he had to work) and I felt the tear gas sting my eyes. I thought I was having an allergic reaction to the oranges we'd just bought! I found my way back to Piatsa, where the waitstaff explained what was happening and told me to stay put. I was mildly terrified, but glad to have a safe spot to wait it out. At one point, the cafe filled with policemen taking a break from managing protesters, and I couldn't help but think, What have you gotten yourself into? It was an evening to remember.

After one more day of exploring Athens with Christophe, I took a 5-hour train ride to northern Greece, to my next location: Thessaloniki. It was of interest to me because as a Lutheran, I'd read Paul's letter to the Thessalonians (one of the books of the bible) several times growing up, and as a port city right on the Aegean it had to be beautiful and full of history. It was right. I met my next hos (from AirBNB) Marilena at Aristotelous Square, and the adventure in Thessaloniki began.
I was so thankful to Marilena and her sister Dimitria for hosting me, and was even more thankful that they let me use their washing machine for some of my clothes. We went out the first evening with some of their friends (who lived on the floor beneath them) and I even met another AirBNB-er staying with them.

The second day was incredible. I started the day off with Spanikopita (naturall), visited the Byzantine Cultural museum, climbed the 'White Tower", explored the 'Old City', and met the girls out later for drinks and dinner. Lena came with us, an intern from Berlin who was also staying with Marilena and Dimitria. We all got along so well, and it felt like we were becoming fast friends. They made my stay in Thessaloniki so enjoyable. Despite only being there two days, I had a wonderful time. Thessaloniki agreed with me.
 Alexander the Great
 So thankful for these lovely ladies!
It wasn't until the final leg of my time in Thessaloniki that everything changed. I took a bus to the airport to fly to my next city, Chania (on the island of Crete in southern Greece). When it arrived and we climbed off, a woman shouted that someone's wallet had been stolen and we should 'check our pockets'. I almost didn’t even check. Part of me wanted to believe I was just being paranoid about the possibility of someone having targeted me, but part of me needed to be sure. On closer look, the zipper wasn’t completely shut. I yanked it open and shuffled my things around: notebook, apple, ticket, charger, phone, passport. It wasn’t there. I feverishly began checking the other pockets, thinking maybe I’d shoved it in somewhere other than the main pocket after buying my coffee from café that morning. But it was nowhere to be found. I felt my breathing get short and heart rate soar.

My wallet was gone.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Travel Bug: Finding My Roots, Part 2

Once I decided to go to Greece, it was full speed ahead. It was such an exciting decision and nothing was going to change my mind. I booked my flight, started planning the different cities I'd visit, and connected with hosts on AirBNB and Couchsurfing. Everything was happening quickly! My decision to go came near the end of September, and the trip was planned for early November. I could not wait.

One of the first people I told about my trip was my friend Cleo, in Germany. I visited her in Hannover during the summer I spent in Dublin, and she was incredibly supportive of travel. When I told her I was going to Greece, she even shared some tips with me to make planning easier. During one conversation (after I had all of my Couchsurfing and AirBNB hosts sorted), she stressed the point that I should Skype/write/email with them prior to my stay. We spoke in depth about her experience with the website, the amazing individuals she’d met, and the interesting hosts she'd had. Speaking with them prior to going was a no-brainer. And then Cleo started talking about our past plans to one day visit each other and how she wished she could see me again. And since I’d be in Europe anyway…

I must have snapped. It was a “throw caution to the wind” decision, and before I knew it, Cleo and I were talking about how I could fly into Germany to visit her first. From there, I could take a plane to Greece to continue my travels. It seemed insane. It seemed like an absolute dream. And then she said the magic words that lit a fire somewhere within me: 

“If you’re travelling to Greece to learn your culture, why don’t you do the same in Germany?”

 Cleo was right: this was exactly what I was doing in Greece, so I could absolutely do the same in Germany. After all, my siblings and I had connected with individuals on Facebook who were located in Germany and shared our last name (not a common name, either). I knew who they were: I’d even talked to them a few times and connected with their daughter and nephew. So why not? I sent my relatives in Germany a message while I was still chatting with Cleo. Part of me didn’t expect them to respond, part of me was nervous the moment I even mentioned visiting them, and part of me was oddly relieved when they did respond. I discussed the dates I was thinking of coming, and they were more than open to meeting me. In fact, they offered to let me stay with them if need be. And that was it. The plan was set: I'd go to visit Cleo and my family in Germany, then fly down to Athens and spend a week exploring Greece.
After another month of planning, the day finally came to leave for my trip. A coworker drove me to the airport, surprised that I had one carry-on for two weeks in Europe. After a nightmare of delays in Chicago and Munich, everything happened so quickly. I was in the Hannover airport. Cleo picked me up, and we were off to her little apartment in Braunschweig. 

It felt like a dream to be back in Germany with Cleo. We spent the entire first evening catching up, cozy in her apartment going through photos and showing each other "who's who" from our stories. We stayed up until nearly 3:00am. In the morning, she woke me up with a cup of coffee and had put together a lovely brunch for us in her kitchen. Then we packed up snacks and headed out to her studio. Cleo was studying architecture and had a project to work on, so we spent the afternoon building models and carving shapes out of foam. I was quite proud of myself for making an owl!
That evening, we met some of her friends out on the town for good drinks, snacks, and hookah. We didn't stay out too late as she had class the next morning, but I was exhausted and didn't mind turning in early. 

I woke up the next morning and relaxed over a cup of coffee while deciding what to do with my morning. I went exploring in Braunschweig, and found an Edeka and an Aldi after stopping for more coffee at a little cafe. I had told Cleo I'd have lunch ready when she got home from class, so I bought ingredients to make Greek salads (I may have been mildly excited for the next leg of my journey). It was entertaining to look at the different brands, snacks, teas, etc. at the grocery stores, and I wished I could have brought home a few of their giant advent calendars. They had one full of stuffed bears, several full of chocolate, and even one shaped like a semi-truck full of cans of Coca-Cola!

Cleo was soon home for lunch and we made plans to go to Prenzlauer Park that afternoon. The rest of the day flew by: roaming the park, touching base with my family (who I'd be visiting the next day!), and enjoying the cool, fall weather. 
That evening, we went to one of her friend's (Janni's) apartments for dinner, where we had a blast making vegetable curry. What started as an innocent “friends cooking dinner” quickly turned into a hilarious disaster. After cutting avocado and carrots, Janni handed us packages of chilis and onions to chop. Cleo’s eyes started watering as she sliced the peppers and though it claimed to be waterproof, my mascara was quickly running down my cheeks. The three of us could barely stand to be in the kitchen with the thick essence of onion and chili in the air. Janni even opened a window and let a blast of cold air in to try and diffuse its potency, but it didn’t seem to help. When he tried to close it, it seemed the window was jammed so Cleo stood up to help as well. By that point, we all started laughing, and whether it was just the time of the night or the slight effect of the beer, we couldn’t stop. If anyone had entered the kitchen, they would have certainly had quite the sight to see: three people with tears streaming down their faces, laughing so hard they could barely breathe, Cleo standing on a chair trying to shut the window, Janni with one hand also pushing down on the window, the other stirring the curry, and me with black mascara running down my cheeks, laughing and continuing to chop the vegetables. It was ridiculous chaos. We headed out on the town afterwards, where more friends joined. It was a night to remember.
The next morning, I hugged Cleo good-bye at the bus station and headed off to meet my family. It had been so good to see her, and I was so thankful for the time I got to spend with her during my trip. I knew we'd see each other again, so while it was hard to say good-bye, we were both optimistic it wouldn't be long until we were back together. 

The trip from Braunschweig to my family went much less smoothly than planned. To make a very long story short, I got off the bus at the wrong stop, missed my train, and was over an hour late arriving to the Bahnhof in their town. It was incredible to finally meet them in person. 

I met so many wonderful people in a very short period of time. Jürgen and Elvira picked me up from the train station and greeted me with hugs and "Thank God!"s after my mishap with the train. Maybe I was overthinking things, but I couldn't help but notice certain similarities between Jürgen and members of my family, both in appearance and in mannerisms. There was no doubt we were family! We talked about everything on the drive: my family in Michigan, their family in Germany, the relatives they'd connected with on Facebook, and how my trip was going so far. We stopped at Edeka on the drive to their house to get ingredients for dinner (they were making Blumenkohlgratin - a cheesy cauliflower dish) and were soon pulling into the driveway. I felt like I was dreaming.
Their house was beautiful, nestled on a hill surrounded by other beautiful houses and tons of trees. Once inside, I was welcomed into the kitchen where Elvira prepared coffee and Kekse (delicious little cookies) for us to snack on while we continued talking. Jürgen's father Christian - who lived next door - came over with a family history book, and we were soon poring over the lineage to see if we could find the connecting point. Another distant cousin, joined who was part German, part Hungarian came to visit as well, and I was surprised to learn that he hadn't seen these relatives in months. (Apparently they were excited to see an one of 'the Americans'!) Christian knew that there was a member of the family who had left Germany (and landed in Minnesota, where much of my family lives) to pursue better opportunities, but weren't sure who or when. I was interested to learn that there are more of us in the United States now than in Germany, but was so thankful for the chance to go and visit them. Sitting at a table with 'family' that hasn't been connected in over 100 years is indescribably. But there we were, talking like it had just been yesterday.

I met their kids (my cousins?) and we made awkward introductions. Then we spent the next hour or so discussing politics (they were fascinated with Trump), discussing cultural differences, and even trying my uncle's homemade beer. Rote Erde was a light beer he made right in town it was absolutely delicious (if you ever go to Germany, be sure to try it!). Elvira called her kids into the kitchen and dinner was served. We spent quite some time enjoying the Blumenkohlgratin, further discussing our family history and the city where ‘our family’ began. They were convinced that they would be able to find the proper records somewhere in town and said they would also reach out to my aunt (with the Ancestry account) for any lost information. The time simply flew by. I learned about their experience with American culture (they’d once visited New York and attended a Broadway performance), I heard all about one cousin's apprenticeship in the dairy industry, another's adventures in England with her soccer team, and yet another's time abroad. They asked me about my aunts and uncles, and all sorts of questions about my niece and nephew (whose pictures had been posted on Facebook by my siblings). It felt so exciting and oddly normal to be there with all of them, as if it were just another typical family gathering with my relatives back in the U.S.. No one could have ever guessed that it was the first time we’d ever met. I almost forgot myself!
My train had originally been scheduled to leave at 7:00pm, but Jürgen and Elvira asked if I’d like to  stay a bit longer since our time had already been cut short. After all, we were having such a nice time enjoying great beer, great food, and excellent conversation. They also thought it might be better for them to drive me back to Cleo rather than trust my not-so-phenomenal train station skills. So I stayed until 9:00pm before we decided we should leave, as it was nearly a two hours’ drive to Hannover. Cleo told me she was now visiting her parents there, and since we’d be going to the Hannover airport the next day I should just meet her at their house. My family and I finished our dinner, cleaned up the kitchen, and took a few photographs to remember the evening. Then I reluctantly said my ‘goodbye’s and Jürgen and I were back in the car, heading off to Hannover.

We talked a bit on the way, listening to classic American rock music (Jürgen’s favorite). I tried to stay awake to no avail. I was so tired: it had been a very long, very eventful day and the hum of the motor lulled me to sleep. Jürgen woke me up when we arrived at Cleo’s parents’ house and walked with me to the door to meet her. Then he gave me a hug, wished me viel Glück on my upcoming adventure in Greece, and assured me I would see them again.

There wasn't a doubt in my mind that I would.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Travel Bug: Finding My Roots, Part 1

Imagine being 5,000 miles from home and being stranded. No cash, no credit cards - just you, your passport, and a bag full of clothes. Now imagine you're there and no one can help you. You only have 45 minutes until the only plane ticket you do have (to an island) becomes useless. And you're in a room full of police officers who barely speak English.

Yep, it happened.

My experience in Germany and Greece was obviously not the first time I’d traveled (feel free to check out my other Travel Bug posts). It wasn’t the first time I’d flown internationally, or the first time I’d been in a country where they spoke a foreign language. (Fortunately I did speak a bit of German and got to spend most of my time in Athens speaking in French with my host, but otherwise I knew a grand total of only six words in Greek.) Needless to say, traveling was not a foreign concept to me; I just never expected that I could have such an overwhelming experience. I never thought something like this would happen to me. I thought of making this a two-part blog post: one for Germany and one for Greece. But it just wouldn't do it justice. It was literally the most life-changing trip I have ever taken and I couldn't possibly squeeze it into two posts. So...this is part one of four (my longest Travel Bug series yet). I promise it will be worth the read!

As many of you know, both of my grandfathers passed away in 2016. Papa (on my mom's side) passed in August, and Opa (on my dad's) in December. It was a very difficult period of time. I had never experienced the death of a loved one before, and frankly it was a very hard pill to swallow. So hard, in fact, that when Papa passed away I had a breakdown. Like...sitting on the floor in my bedroom shaking and sobbing. At the time, I felt too ridiculous to call my family. I felt too hysterical to call my friends. All I knew was that Papa was gone and I couldn't wrap my head around it. I pulled out my steamer trunk (containing photos and childhood trinkets) and started going through it. I needed to find something - anything - that would make me feel close to him.
Under a mound of cards was a smaller package my grandparents had given me after a trip they took years earlier. Papa and my step-grandmother had gone to Greece, where his side of the family was originally from, to explore Athens and its history. For years, our family joked about being the stereotypical “big, loud Greeks” as every family gathering included ridiculous amounts of food and conversations that grew continuously louder. No one spoke Greek, but we loved our baklava and Papa had once shown us trinkets brought to the United States by his grandparents when they immigrated. I had always loved learning about it: I was proud to be part Greek.

I opened the small package and pulled out a handmade pouch with the Acropolis stitched into it. A light blue “all-seeing-eye” bracelet was tucked inside. I stared at it, remembering the day they gave it to me. I got light blue, my sister got dark blue. I put the bracelet on and took the pouch into my living room, where my laptop was set up on a table. I took a seat.

Athens Acropolis

Google showed me thousands of results, and I started looking through pictures of the structure taken from all angles. The Acropolis wasn’t the actual columned building as I’d thought: it was the hill on which the building (the Parthenon) was constructed. Interesting. I read more. Apparently there was an Acropolis museum separate from the Parthenon. Inside were busts and trinkets found all over the Acropolis, which was rather frustrating to the people of Greece because it interfered with the integrity of the historical sites. Interesting. I continued reading. In many places in Greece there were different kinds of baklava, not just the pistachio/walnut variety that Papa had always liked. Depending on the geographical area, the dessert varied. Interesting.
Before I knew it, more than four hours had passed. I was glued to my laptop, suddenly determined to learn as much as I possibly could about Greece.

It wasn’t enough.

There were so many small details. There were so many things that I wondered if Papa had seen while he was there: the street markets in Athens, the diversity of the population, the olive groves, the bruised economy, the traditional cuisine, the crystal blue Aegean Sea. Had he walked to the places where Socrates had taught? Had he visited the small orthodox churches? I wanted to ask him. I almost picked up the phone to call him. Greece was so fascinating; I wanted to learn more. I needed to learn more. I wanted to know as much as I could about this amazing country, where my great-great-grandfather had once lived before boarding a boat and sailing to America. My mind was racing. What if I could even go so far as to find out where he had once lived?

I knew that one of my dad’s aunts had done extensive research on his side of the family, and as we were connected on social media I knew she would be open to helping me. It was nearly midnight, but I sent her a message regardless. I was exhilarated when she responded, almost instantly. She shared her login information for a family tree website, and instead of continuing her work on my dad’s side of the family, I started looking up information for mom’s. I knew the name of my great-grandfather and where Papa had lived when he was younger, and spent another few hours poring through the website to see if I could learn more. I didn’t even care that I had to work the next day: coffee could fix that. This was too important and too exciting to stop.
(The Calabria, departed from Koutsouras - source)
And finally, I found it: the photocopied, hand-written register of who had been on the boat all those years ago. My great-great grandfather's name was barely legible. The city of departure was somewhere on the island of Crete. I smiled, leaned back in my chair, and let out a breath of satisfaction. I found it.

Maybe it was being overwhelmed by everything I’d learned in the past few hours of research. Maybe it was the sense of satisfaction from finding the port where my great-great-grandfather’s boat had taken off nearly 200 years earlier. Or maybe it was the fact that it was 3:15 in the morning and I was mentally exhausted. But I was so certain of the decision. Nothing was going to change my mind.

I was going to Greece.

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