What I remember from Greece was the hospitality. Walking into a bar in the early evening I found myself at a concert of a few local musicians. The air hummed with the ancient language and people gathered to drink Raki with mesas and red wine with peanuts. As the bar began to crowd the musicians tuned their guitars and across the audience the beginning notes from the two bouzoukis and drums soared out and were caught through our senses as we patiently waited for the concert to start.
I was still in Chania, in Crete. I felt like a piece in a new culture. Around me people danced and shouted the word ‘Opa’ with their hands raised and their feet making small quick steps as they twirled in slow circles. A tall man with greying hair and a black leather jacket leaned towards me and spoke with brimming eyes and a wide smile.
“Do you speak English?” I asked.
“Ah, my English is terrible.”
He insisted on giving me my own bottle of Raki, a very strong traditional alcohol made from the skins of grapes, and then he introduced me to his wife and her friends. We spent the rest of the evening at the concert together taking in the special music and toasting ‘Yasas’ as we clinked our glasses and drank back the strong beverage. When the concert was over and we shook hands with Psarogiorgis we made our way to the next bar to continue celebrating the first Sunday of the festival I began to realize I was part of. In full costume the Greeks at the new bar danced more wildly and we stayed for just one more drink.
Suzanna and Nicarius, the couple I met at the first bar, took me back to their beautiful home just outside of the Old Town and invited me to stay with them for as long as I was in Crete. I spent a week with their family learning how to cook vegan Greek food, meeting their friends from the island, and celebrating the beginning of Lent with a dinner party meant to clean out all of the meat people store in their fridges to start Clean Monday.
I was pampered in Chania. I also learned the simplicity of the Greek culture and enjoyed their approach to living a life of leisure and fun. It was here that I also separated from my friend Matthieu whom I had been travelling with. He would return to Athens and then cycle back to France through the Balkans. I began planning my trip to the East. I spent my last few days in Crete exploring the towns of Rethymno and Heraklion while dreams in my head danced as I began to consider a next destination. A few days later I found myself on the overnight ferry for Athens, where I would catch a flight leaving for Israel the following day.
I had been to Athens before but I appreciated the city much more the second time. I was couch surfing with Ahmed, who is originally from Palestine, and his current guests Myrtille and Marcus. We spent my one day in the city at the Acropolis museum, strolling the streets in search of graffiti, enjoying authentic deserts at a local bakery, and buying dolmas and olives at the market for supper.
As I was preparing to leave Greece I made a promise to myself that I would be back. I wanted to return in the spring or summer when the weather would be warm enough for me to swim all day in the sea, sun tan in the sand, camp outdoors with a hammock, and go for nature walks in the mountains. Alongside of my desire to reconnect again with Greek culture and the people of the country, I was also incredibly excited to land in the middle east. I believed, and now know, that Israel would be the start to another chapter in my adventure and in my budding life. I felt as if all of the stars were aligned and were guiding my passage to this land from across the sea.