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.
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.