It was 11:00pm when the clouds parted and I saw Athens, Greece for the first time glistening through my window. “I Have a Dream” from the Mamma Mia soundtrack, was playing softly in my ear, and my boyfriend, Brad, anxiously fidgeted next to me, as our plane had found a happy medium between ten foot dips and a shaky rattle that would make even a deep-sea fisherman’s stomach uneasy.
When we touched down (in one piece), we had planned on taking the metro; however, it was no longer working at the airport. We changed plans and hopped on a bus to Omonia Square. My “directions” to the hotel consisted of: it’s around this area. But I was confident that my Spanish skills, which at that time were conversational at best, would get the job done.
Much to my surprise, Hellenes only know Greek. So there we were: two young twenty-somethings, with a map that we couldn’t read, in downtown Athens. And it was midnight. And it started to rain.
Most savvy travelers would probably suggest not walking up to strangers in the middle of the night and requesting assistance. The word ‘target’ certainly comes to mind. But we were desperate. Finally, in my many attempts of tapping the hotel’s “general area location” on a soaked map, a man snapped his fingers at me and pointed us straight ahead in what can only be described as “Coke Alley”. And how I wish that Coke stood for Coca Cola; but alas, the snapping man had steered us towards a group of people doing lines of cocaine on the street underneath rows of awnings.
In my polite, southern way, I pretended that I was not witnessing a group of people breaking the law, and weaved silently through them, careful not to disturb anyone’s midnight snack. It was at this moment that a drunken man grabbed at Brad’s backpack. Nothing was valuable on the outside, so the man took the only thing he could see and grab quickly from the water bottle holder: Brad’s shoe. Again, smarts would say: let him have the shoe. So I’ll blame it on sleep deprivation, but Brad whipped around, put the man in a headlock, and grabbed his shoe. Impressive, perhaps, but the drunken man also sat down and proceeded to immediately go to sleep.
1:00am was fast approaching, and now we had a map that was no longer legible and, in my eyes, a near death experience on the books. There was a young man at the end of the street who looked like a college student. He also looked American, which meant only one important thing: he spoke English. In our limited good fortune, he was from New York, and when we told him we were from Alabama, he said, “No way! Oh man, Forrest Gump!”
After a few exchanges of “shrimp gumbo” in our poor attempt at Bubba’s accent, he told us how to get to our hotel. We thanked him and turned down a vacant street that would lead us to our final destination. As we were walking down the street, there was a car parked about 15 yards ahead of me. All of the sudden, a police car pulled out of a street perpendicular to ours, parked the car, and a policeman got out with a flashlight and gun pointed at the parked car.
Good news: our hotel was 50 yards away.
With our “continental” breakfast of stale bread, warm milk, and boiled eggs to greet us in the morning, I can only say that our arrival to Greece certainly embraced the old time saying: it can only go up from here.