Destiny Part Five; Chasing Shadows

We had a rough arrival in Athens!  The honeymoon was over, I thought as we were starting to wear on each others nerves or maybe we were just tired, either way we arrived by plane late afternoon and made our way via bus to the city center.  After about a 45 minute bus ride we had finally made it to Syntagma Square. Stepping off the bus I felt as though we had been magically transported to a different world! Athens was the complete opposite of  the serene island of Santorini; horns blared, scooters whizzed by, people rushed through the streets, and all the signs were in Greek, I felt so disoriented. 

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 “Ok which way to the hotel?” I asked.

“I dunno”, Tony said, “you got the map”.  I studied the map and could clearly see where our hotel was but as we walked up and down the street a few times I realized it was hard to tell which direction we were walking. Not to mention the street names were unrecognizable as they are basically just a long string of Cyrillic letters.

“What should we do?” I asked. Tony hailed a cab and we headed to our hotel in Omonia Square, about a ten minute cab ride from Syntagma. The driver dropped us off at a small hotel a few blocks from the square. Later we found out that Omonia is not a popular tourist spot, actually visitors are advised not to stay in this neighborhood. Once inside the hotel manager was friendly enough and notified us of the typical amenities; breakfast, safe options and what to do in the area, before we went to the room to unpack and change.

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Once checked into our room I asked Tony again what should we do today? In a somewhat edgy tone he said, “I don’t’ know, just figure it out. I’m not just gonna tell you what to do Chrissy, Do I have to do everything?”

“You… do everything?” I shot back, ” I have pretty much read all the guidebooks and found all the restaurants and bars up until now.”  Not wanting to argue, I asked; Are you mad at me or what is your problem?

“No of course not-I just feel like you expect something from me, I’m not used to it. Can you just figure out what we should do today?” he said using a slightly softer tone.

I went over by the window and studied the map, pretending to not be bothered by his hurtful comment. “Ok, the Plaka is the main strip of bars, restaurants and shops and is just a ten minute walk away so we should do that”, I said.

Walking in silence on the walk to the Plaka, I couldn’t help but think about Tony’s accusation- that “I” needed someone to tell me what to do, how dare him! My ex-boyfriend would never have been so mean…what is his problem?

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Suddenly I realized, maybe I am used to someone telling me what to do, I haven’t really been alone or single in at least 10 years! I had been in 2 serious relationships, one right after the other since I was 18 years old. Quickly scanning through the past 5 years of my ten-year relationship with Mark I saw how dependent on him mentally and emotionally I was. Of course it happened gradually, I always considered myself an independent person but somehow I began to rely on his input, his perspective until mine somehow got lost…maybe even disappeared. This bothered me. Who am I by myself? I wasn’t quite sure.
A disturbing thought dawned on me, am I doing the same thing now?  Following Tony around, expecting him to provide direction, be who he wanted me to be. I had a sinking feeling of disappointment in my stomach…in myself. Even this trip-was just me going along with Tony’s vision and plan. Anger welled up inside me- what the hell am I doing? Am I just going to blindly follow someone around my whole life-an interchangeable figure or can I figure out what the hell I want to do for myself? Isn’t that what I have been doing the past few months that I have been single-trying to replace him because I cannot think for myself or don’t want to be alone.
Tony interrupted this disturbing train of thought, “ What do you want to do?” I don’t know I answered honestly. Maybe, I was being a little hard on myself but still; this is not who I wanted to be. I suggested that we eat some place in the Plaka where I could read through the guidebook and put a plan together for the next week.

Athens From our hotel we headed down Athinas Street, past Central Market over to the Plaka. The walk was quite an experience, most of the walls were covered in graffiti-this might be concerning to some but the grafitti and street art is my favorite part of Athens.  A photographer’s dream in fact! I could walk around for hours and days photographing graffiti, and it was so much more creative than that in Chicago. Athinas Street heads straight into Monistiraki  Square where we could then cut over to the Plaka to get something to eat. But once in Monistiraki, I didn’t want to leave, the energy is captivating. Sitting under the watchful eye of the Acropolis, Monistraki Square is the center of activity with people-watchers, dancers, street performers, trendy shops, and the ever popular flea market on Sundays. I wanted to sit there every night. Not to mention you can get a Frappe for 1.50 euro and a Souvflaki or Veggie Pita sandwich topped with French fries for only 2.00 Euro.  This turned out to be our favorite lunch-every day in fact, Tony would get the souvflaki pita and I got the veggie and sit in the square.

But that night Tony insisted we get some food and dragged me off reluctantly, to head to the Plaka.

Monastiraki Market

Ouzo, Ouzo, Ouzo!

Rows of Greek Taverna’s along the Plaka made it difficult to make a final choice of an eatery, each one looked better than the next, each one the host outside insisted had the best food, eventually we found a quiet little place near the end of the strip. After a delicious meal of Mousaka ( a rich casserole of baked eggplant, zucchini and potato topped with béchamel sauce) and a Greek Salad I started to feel better. Tony got Pastitsio; a baked dish made from ground meat layered with pasta and usually topped with white sauce too. We hadn’t eaten all day! The waiter must have noticed that we were not talking as I poured through the guidebook and Tony looked at his camera, he tried to cheer us up by slamming down two shots of liquor onto the table and yelling Ouzo! We all started laughing and I reluctantly swallowed the whole thing, he cheered and we all laughed!

After dinner I carefully planned out what Tony and I would do the next day, which was New Year’s Eve. We would start early in the morning with a visit to Central Market to take photos, and then in the afternoon visit the Acropolis, then at night celebrate New Year’s Eve in Syntagma Square with fireworks and drinks.

After dinner the tension between us died down, we wandered around the Plaka, taking photos and looking at paintings for sale and evil eye bracelets, it turned out to be a fun evening.

Part 6; An Athens New Year!

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Top Five Most Memorable Moments In Rovinj

 Venice, with its old-world charm and lively St. Mark’s Square, was always my favorite place in the world until I visited Rovinj, Croatia. The winding narrow passages, the quaint shops, the delicious seafood and wine, all reminiscent of Venice but without the extravagant prices and throngs of tourists. After my visit, I discovered that the Republic of Venice once governed Rovinj, hence the similarities.

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Croatia…a paradise where every city visited is better than the last! During a recent visit to Croatia, we traveled Northbound from Dubrovnik along the Adriatic sea, hitting a different port every few days. It was after a two week  journey  involving almost every type of transportation;  boat, train, car, scooter and bus, that we arrived in Rovinj, a small seaside city that sits on the Istrian Peninsula, along the Adriatic.  Some of the most amazing experiences of our entire trip we found in Rovinj.

Here are my top five favorite moments in Rovinj!

1. Sunset Cruise on the Adriatic Sea.

After a long day of driving we finally made it to Rovinj. We had just texted Boris our temporary “landlord’ to meet us at the apartment we rented. But on the way we had to stop and pullover by the harbor. The intense orange and crimson  sunset took over the evening sky; it’s warm glow hung low over the crisp blue sea. I wanted to take photos of every amazing moment. There is something magical about the sunset in Rovinj, something so amazing that compels you to want to witness every single minute of it.   Sunset cruises are available every night to check it out from every vantage point.

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2. Shopping for Art!

I love shopping for paintings and artwork. There is no shortage of shops or street vendors carrying a variety of paintings ranging from mass-produced to more expensive unique paintings produced by local artists. Sunsets, boats, or buildings;  whatever you are looking for it is easy to lose hours perusing the stacks of paintings searching for that right one ( or two or three).

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3. Sipping cocktails at a seaside lounge!

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and Champagne at this sophisticated cliffside lounge…

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4. Shopping at the local markets for everything from honey to…

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to fresh produce…

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        to truffles…

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to towels! ( Don’t ask me how I fit a full set of beach towels from Croatia in my luggage)

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5. Romance & Love; There is a saying that the most dangerous thing that will happen to you in Croatia is falling in love!

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Rovinj; a mix of old world charm and European sophistication, has replaced Venice as my favorite place in the world!

 

Destiny Part Four: Blind or Blind-sided?

” The moment we want to believe something we suddenly see all the arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it.” George Bernard Shaw

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 Destiny Part Three; Blind or Blind-sided

May 2014

Months had passed since I’d last seen Tony, when he contacted me on the Sunday before Memorial day with a lunch invitation. Happy to hear from him, I dropped what I was doing and headed over to his apartment in uptown. Within the hour we were headed to our favorite Greek restaurant in the suburbs. During lunch we caught up on what had been going on in each others lives. It sounded like he was doing well, shooting concert photography for an online site with the new camera he bought. On the drive back to the city the usual topic came up; getting back together. It had been three years since we broke up. We have had this discussion many times but failed to come to an agreement on how to fix what went wrong between us. We were still friends though; actually he was one of my closest friends. The conversation always went the same; I’d say let’s  go on a few dates and see if we can get along and his response was always let’s just book a trip and travel like we used to!

But this time his tone was a bit more serious; “Things were so amazing between us, all the places we went, the things we did, you have to admit we had such good times. It has never been the same alone or with anyone else. We are so good together, both photographers, both Italian, same interests…”

Hey remember that time in Vietnam, that we spend an entire night taking pictures of that bridge on the lake and we forgot to even eat? Most of the restaurants were closed by the time we remembered!

“Hoan Kim Lake!” I said excitedly, “that was so much fun. remember, I wanted you to return my food because it was cold and the waitress yelled at you in Vietnamese! Sorry but that was funny!”

“Oh yeah.. good times” he added sarcastically.

“Well…yeah the best of times and the worst, like when you went crazy in Venice and I had to follow you around St. Marks on New Year’s?  I’m sure you didn’t forget that one.”

Cutting me off he said; “Can we stop talking about the past? How many times do I have to apologize? I keep trying here “.

No argument, no excuses, this time was different; “I love you, maybe I just wasn’t ready to try in the past but I am now, and you are the only person I want to be with. I think of you a lot and it is hard to find what we had with anyone else.”

Expecting my typical skepticism; “You are really going to regret this one day, taking what we had for granted, it is not that easy to find you’ll see.” A warning I did not take seriously at the time.

“Ok, Tony, you’re right we are good together, maybe we should try again.”

“Perfect Asia is it – we haven’t been to China yet or…”

I had to stop him. Tell him. I had just booked a trip to India with my friend that I could not cancel-It was in two months. “I can’t go to China until next year at least, I am going to India in two months”.

Silence filled the car for the rest of the ride back. He always hated when I went on trips without him.

Once back at his place, he invited me in to look at some photos he took when he was in India. I couldn’t help but notice the art that filled the walls of his one-bedroom apartment,  every single piece representing that amazing trip we bought it on.  The 6 foot-long painting of the Buddha from Thailand’s Chatachuck market that hung above his bed, the classical Greek vase from Athens that he spent hours negotiating price with the shopkeeper, the collection of venetian masks from a  famous mask maker in Venice,  and the painting one-talented elephant named Sula, made for us in Chiang Mai. Memories quickly came flooding back… both good and bad. It was fear that prevented me from getting back with him.  So many times I fell for this tactic; he would pour on the charm, pay a lot of attention to me, suggest an exotic destination and I was hooked. Except that once we booked the trip, like clockwork within about a month the relationship would fall apart and we’d have five difficult months to force ourselves to get along until we left.

After a little while, the conversation began to unravel. Hoped for plans failed to fall so easily into place with news of my India trip, we started to argue about everything; dating, past arguments, not hanging out anymore. I decided it might be best to go, while we were still on somewhat good terms. It was important that we end this on a good note if we were ever going to try to work this out.

“We  can still get back together-I just can’t book anything until after India”, I said half-heartedly.  But I could see my offer was met with disappointment. “That is a long time away”, he said, with his head down, “I was hoping we could plan a trip for this fall”. I sat next to him and kissed him on the cheek and awkwardly hugged him. A strong sense of uneasiness filled the pit of my stomach, as I got up and turned down the dimly lit hallway towards the door.  I looked back at him for a moment; there he sat in his back leather couch, flipping through photos on his camera, I wished he would have stopped me from leaving, jumped up and said don’t go, but he did not look up. I wanted to tell him I loved him too and that we would work this out. But I didn’t.

We will have another chance to work this out, we always do; I shut the door quietly behind me and left.

Unfortunately, there was not that one last chance. This was the last time I ever saw Tony.

Next…Athens; Chasing Shadows. 

 

Destiny Part Three; The Greek Islands; Blue Skies and Wind Swept Beaches

Arriving in Santorini is a magical experience, well worth my two day excursion; The village of Fira consists of an outcropping of white-washed houses, neatly stacked on top the dramatic seaside cliffs that overlook the midnight blue waters of the Aegean. 

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Destiny Part Three; The Greek Islands; Blue Skies and Wind Swept Beaches

It was 6:45am when I finally arrived in Santorini, a full day later than expected. Although I was tired, the warmer weather was refreshing and I was excited to finally start my vacation! Upon landing I immediately texted Tony, but he did not answer. I had the address of the hotel in the village of Fira, so I wasn’t too worried and jumped in a cab. My cab driver was a nice older gentleman who spoke only broken English. The car flew down winding roads through dark empty streets and climbed to the top of the city along a narrow winding road,  when finally we pulled over. He turned toward me and nodded towards a little set of stairs that climbed further up into the village. There- he pointed.  “Umm, …I should just walk… up there? I said staring out the window-It was dark out, it thought. “No road”, he added. Within a second he jumped out of the car and offered to help me to the hotel. How nice, he even carried my bags. He mumbled something about it’s not busy at this time of the year, so it is not as crowded as usual.

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We were both out of breath when we reached the top of the three flights of steps leading to the hotel. He rang the door bell and after some noticeable commotion, an older man appeared, the hotel manager, I assumed, obviously half-asleep, after exchanging a few words in Greek, the cab driver patted me on the back and ran down the stairs. Bye thank you for all your help…The hotel agent shoved a key in my hand and pointed to a set of doors about a half-flight up, he mumbled something about going back to sleep, before shutting the door in my face.

I’m here,  I announced once inside, but Tony was sound asleep in bed. As I climbed into bed, he briefly asked about my trip, before falling back asleep. All my worries melted away now that we were together -I had made it to Greece.

Next… Blind or Blind-sided?

Destiny Part Two; Holidays and Trip Delays!

The problem with running away from home is that…. the problems follow.

Destiny Part Two: Holidays and Trip Delays!

Finally it was Christmas Eve and after a short but busy day at work I was finally ready to leave for Greece. My brother John drove me to the airport, during the drive he he got one last last chance to warn me about the recent protests in Athens. Over the last few weeks he had become obsessed with the riots, and spent a considerable amount of time on putting together a complete timeline of the events. I reminded him that Chicago is the murder capital of the United States, so I think I can survive a few protesters.

Ignoring my comment, he started, “you know why the riots and protests started right?”

Yes, John…I know.

“Well just a few weeks ago on December 6th, a student Alexandros Grigoropoulos was killed by two cops. His death started an immediate rash of demonstrations that rapidly erupted into rioting and violence.  Have you been watching it on the news? Students walked out of classes, buildings in central Athens were burned down, and Molotov cocktails were launched.”
Wow! That’s a nice little Christmas story but you already… Cutting me off he excitedly went on; “and less than two weeks ago the violence escalated when about 4,000 angry students threw firebombs at the riot police. The next day when the students attacked the police again, the riot police fired back tear gas in response.

A couple days later, a large group of demonstrators gathered in peace outside the Parliament building and the police again used tear gas on the crowd. At the same time on the other side of town in a neighborhood called Exarchia, a smaller mob of about a 100 firebombed the police station near where the student was killed. Maybe the two events were staged as the police weren’t prepared for this second attack”, he said shaking his head.

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“Then…he went on dramatically, last week the Christmas tree in the main square was ripped down by an angry mob of 150 protestors and at least three reporters were injured by the police. Just yesterday, thousands of protestors marched through the city when…” Seeing the look of utter horror on my face he trailed off and then added,  “oh I’m sure you will be fine.”

“Are you totally insane?” I asked, staring at him. You were just dying to tell that that little story weren’t you?
He switched to a more friendly tone; “Sorry, anyway what time are you getting into Athens?” I promised myself that I wouldn’t let his story get to me, and focused on the trip. Once at O’Hare airport, I hugged him goodbye, hopped out of the car and added. “Oh, I will text you when I get to Athens and let you know if I survived the protests!”
Security and check-in was quite smooth but unfortunately the flight was delayed due to the weather. Not a complete surprise during winter in Chicago,  I checked in with the desk about the delay and they assured me I would get rerouted to Athens if I missed my second flight. However, not sure I would make the third flight to Santorini but I prayed for the best, there was a slim chance I could still make it. After a three hour delay, we finally boarded the Alitalia flight to Milan.  The Christmas Eve flight was uneventful and I wondered what how my family was celebrating at home.

Athens street Art

Eight hours later in Milan’s Malpensa airport , representatives from Alitalia split us up into groups to figure out who was delayed and to where. It was incredibly disorganized, but we were all eventually reissued tickets. While waiting, I called Aegean Airlines to see when the next flight was but they didn’t quite understand what I was asking. I decided to wait until I got to Greece to work through the flight details. It turned out to be a very long wait for the next flight to Athens. Once I got to Athens it didn’t even make sense to set out into an unfamiliar city that late at night; as it was about 11:45pm. I would have to spend Christmas in the airport alone.

After some duty-free shopping and a bite to eat, I decided to camp out on some benches I found in a remote area of the airport until my 6am flight to Santorini. Sitting at the airport alone and tired, the excitement of the past few weeks was replaced with a creeping feeling of depression.  The problem with running away from home or your life is…. the problems follow you. Changing the context of my life, my environment, didn’t..couldn’t change my feelings and thoughts.  I was definitely not over Mark yet, the break up was really bad to say the least, and it dragged on for months. Maybe even a year, before it fell apart completely. I was carrying around these bad feelings like over-stuffed luggage.  I felt like things we had closure but the feelings were still there.  Not sure how to lighten the load or if it was just a matter of time. I fell asleep on my make shift airport bed wondering if Tony or a trip to Greece would really change anything in the long run. 

Next… The Greek Islands; Blue Skies and Wind Swept Beaches

Destiny Part One: Escaping Athens

“Detached, distant, and depressed… holding my breath waiting for something to happen. I think my story is similar to many; you get divorced or out of a bad relationship and it takes some time to get the bad taste out of your mouth and get back on track with your life. I was so bored and unhappy! That’s it I am running away from home. Well, not really but did pack my Swiss army luggage, grabbed my camera and booked a ticket to Greece.”

Escaping Athens:
It was about 6 years ago over the Christmas season that my friends and family decided I was having a  breakdown of sorts. I can understand why, it was shortly after I broke up with my boyfriend of ten years that I announced to my co-workers, friends and family, that on Christmas Eve (which was in three weeks) I was going to Greece with my new boyfriend Antonio! I tried not to let their concerns wear away at my excitement. Who is Antonio and where did you meet him? Over Christmas-who goes on vacation on Christmas? Is he crazy? Are you crazy? As I assured them of my sanity and his, I realized it was crazy but also exciting and scary- at the same time.
“Antonio is an amazing travel photographer; he is totally normal and really nice!” I assured them. The reality was we were barely even dating, after a few dates he had impulsively invited me to tag along on his trip. I hesitated-I didn’t even know if I liked him. I had not even mentioned him to anyone except my best friend Tracy.

The plan was to meet in Santorini; the most romantic island in the world for a week and then spend the second week and New Year’s Eve in Athens. It sounded too amazing to pass up. So I did it-I booked the ticket! It seemed so romantic- spending the holidays with a handsome Italian photographer!

A trip to the Emergency Room:

The weeks went by as the holidays approached. Although it was busy at work, it was so hard to focus! There was so much to do for the trip. I was counting down the days; In just two days on Christmas Eve, I was leaving. Sure there was a nagging thought that things could go horribly wrong- spending two entire weeks with a total stranger, but I managed to block out these negative thoughts and focus on travel plans. Anyway, I was fascinated by Antonio, he had been to over 30 countries and he had a lot of great deal of exciting stories about travels to exotic locations. His photos were amazing and just getting into photography made that especially appealing.

I had not actually seen him since we booked the trip but we texted daily to discuss logistics and details; how to get to into the city by bus, changing money, what to pack, what to do! It was so exciting. He was leaving one day earlier than me on the 23rd because to get the same flight, booked three weeks out was too expensive.  I tried not to worry about traveling alone to an island to meet him. But then during work on the 22nd,  I received a series of strange text messages that sent me reeling into a panicked state.

“I am in the emergency room”; “I am having a heart attack”. Followed by photos…one with his arm hooked up to an IV and the second a partial shot of him in a hospital bed.

I ran into my friend Nicole’s office. I’m going  to Greece alone! Tony’s in the hospital! I think he had a heart attack. It seemed so unbelievable as I said it out loud!

“Isn’t he like 37”,  Nicole asked in disbelief?

The random messages from him continued throughout the day without any real explanation of what was going on. I followed Nicole around all day projecting worst case scenarios. A nagging suspicion kept popping up –was he really was in the hospital or did he make all this up? It was all too much to deal with. After work I spend the evening on the phone with first my Mother and then Tracy. Panic finally drove me to confess the truth of how I actually met him; I don’t even know him that well! He emailed me from an online RSVP for a photography event. I have only gone out with him a few times; maybe he’s  a crazy artist. What if he isn’t even going and I am going to Greece by myself?

Finally late in the evening, Tony texted me to say he was on the “L” headed home. That’s it, no explanation, everything was fine. What about the heart attack I asked? Why didn’t you call me?

Still worried, I told him I’d drive him to the airport in the morning but he said he was fine. I imagined me sitting on a beach in Santorini alone and abandoned. But the next morning he texted me and reported he was getting on the plane and to text when I landed in Greece. Everything’s fine I announced to everyone, false alarm-he’s ok…  I ignored the concerned looks of my friends and family and told myself over and over -this would be an adventure…one way or another.

Next: My romantic night in Santorini turns into a lonely night in the Athens airport.

“Destiny; a Pre-Ordained Course of Events Holding Irresistible Power”

“What is it called when a chance encounter with a total stranger changes your life forever? What does it mean when you have a strong affinity with another? I am still trying to understand the underlying meaning of this story but for now I will assume it’s destiny.”

Meet Me in Santorini

Meet Me in Santorini

It is rare but occasionally a random occurrence turns into such a life altering event that you feel compelled to explain it or write about it.  Years ago I met a someone that changed my life, one of my best friends; Antonio. I don’t mean he was interesting or fun, although he was, I mean meeting Tony opened up a whole new life for me, altered my perception to such a degree that I have been changed forever.  I usually write travel tips and give advice on budget travel; I’m not comfortable writing memoirs but in telling this story I hope to better understand the events that happened, or at least remember them and hopefully remember him.

Next: Escaping Athens