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open mind, empty stomach

travel, food, and fun

I chose my birthday to serve as the transition point between Asia and Europe. Three of my four grandparents were born in Greece and I wanted to enjoy my most special of days in the fatherland. I had been to Greece once before, but it was in December and I only went to Athens for 10 days. I hit up several museums and the acropolis, so this time I wouldn’t have to do the tourist trail. Also on that trip, I met some relatives. I also met some relatives or relatives that I’m not technically related to. My “cousin” George and I really hit it off and kept in touch.
When I arrived at the airport this time, George was there to pick me up. After freshening up at his place, we were off to the Danish ambassador’s house for dinner. That’s how George rolls. The place consisted of 4 floors in a very nice highrise with an amazing view of the city and the acropolis. My first full day in Athens included a phenomenal lunch of roast chicken with lemon and potatoes, real Greek salad, and a very nice white all prepared by George’s grandmother. His family has a 3 story building and she lives on the ground floor. She does all of the laundry, cleaning, and cooking for George and his brother. They are extremely fortunate to have that kind of a living situation and I feel bad for their future wives. After lunch, we hit up a beach that played techno music. It was pretty cool and a little taste of what to expect on beaches in Greece. That night, George’s friend Maja the model took us out to the hottest bars in town. It was surreal listening to Serbian pop as we flew down the streets in her new Audi after coming from se Asia. My birthday began with shots at midnight of that evening. The bulk of my birthday was spent planning the logistics of my trip to the islands. George took me to a very cool bar on the beach to watch my birthday sunset before returning to his place for dinner. His family had prepared a great birthday meal highlighted by an unbelievable pastitsio. They even got me a birthday cake and sang happy birthday in Greek, English and Swedish (George has dual citizenship and lives there for part of the year). It was such a nice birthday and it really felt as if I was at home with family. I also learned that they produce their own wine and olive oil and their family hasn’t purchased olive oil for generations.
I took the ferry to Santorini the next day, but returned to Athens twice more (once was not unintentional). I fell asleep on the 45 minute ferry ride from Santorini to Ios and ended up back in Athens. I called George and he came to the port to pick me up. We had a good laugh and another great night. We went to the Gas District, which was full of people and lots of cool bars and clubs. At 4am, he took me to see “the doctor.” The doctor is his friend’s dad that owns one of the most popular gyros/souvlaki places in Athens. He is half Vietnamese and half Greek, but is not very in touch with his Asian side. He was a really cool guy and his gyros were the perfect medicine after a night of drinking.
A few days later, I returned to Athens from Mykonos at 10pm for a flight to Corfu early the next morning. Again, George picked me up at the port and we had a great time. Last year his parents bought a house 2 hours north of the city and moved there. The house is high on a hill near where the naval battle of Salamis occurred and has an amazing view of a national forest, harbor, and the city. The view wasn’t the only amazing thing, mom and yaya (grandma) had been busy in the kitchen again. We had stuffed tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants with Greek yogurt, honey, feta, and cucumbers. It was a perfect meal in a beautiful setting with wonderful people. We enjoyed the view for a while before heading to a bar on nearby Marathon Beach. It was full of people at 230 am on a Wednesday and was a very chill place to be after the islands.
Athens is one of the places that everyone says to spend a couple days in and leave. For me, it is one of the places I find hardest to leave. The overwhelming hospitality, generosity, warmth, and love of my quasi-family makes Athens one of my favorite places in the world.

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