Saturday, September 22, 2012

Athens, Part 1: Kimon, Dora, and a Greek Barbecue

Immediately upon arrival to Athens, our hosts Kimon and Dora whisked us off to a Greek barbecue with a group of their close friends. Kimon and Dora are some of the nicest, most hospitable and generous people that I've ever met, and for the 3 days we were in Athens, they were our CouchSurfing hosts. CouchSurfing, as previously discussed, has been incredibly good to us: each time we've surfed with someone, they've not only given us a place to sleep but have also helped us navigate the city and given us information that's not found anywhere in the guide books. Kimon and Dora took it a step further than that... Well, more like a marathon further.

So, Greek barbecue. One of the things we've craved while traveling has been "real" cultural experiences -- seeing how actual Turkish people drink coffee or how real Greeks spend low-key weekends. The stuff that's not in the tourist brochures and probably wouldn't make a good photo. So when Kimon, who picked us up at the port with a sign reading "Sister Mary Melissa", invited us to go hang out with their friends and eat home-cooked food, we were absolutely delighted. We tried to seem relaxed and cool about accepting the invitation ("Sure, yeah, that sounds great, we love food..."), we all exchanged secretly excited looks as we headed off towards the dinner party. Real Greeks! Doing Real Greek things! In Greece! We were winning at life.

The evening was wonderful. The food alone was ridiculously good and fresh*, the conversations easy and interesting and full of different perspectives on food, the economic crisis, and differences between our countries. We danced to old school rock and roll and then to traditional Greek music. The best part, though, was walking into a group of 12 people at a dinner party and them not missing a beat. It was absolutely perfect, but then it got better.

Kimon and Dora drove us to where we were staying, which turned out to be our own fully furnished apartment. When I say fully furnished, I don't mean that it had a bed and two chairs. I mean that our hosts had gone out and stocked the entire place with things they thought we'd like. Kimon reads my blog (Hi Kimon!), so he knew us pretty well before we arrived: he bought coffee so Bridget could wake up in the morning, fresh fruit and yogurt for breakfasts, cheese for our constant cravings, and, most impressively, Trappist beers for relaxing after a long day.

TRAPPIST BEERS FROM BELGIUM. I don't know if y'all remember this, but last July when my family and I went to Paris, my college friend Phil met up with me and gave me a Trappist beer he'd gotten in Belgium. I carried it back to Benin with me, and it completely made my month. Kimon and Dora somehow remembered that and tracked some down just to welcome us to Athens. I can't even think of the proper adjective to describe that, so I'm going to go with crazysweetawesomegenerousadorableletsbefriendsforever-esque.

I just realized that I'm writing probably a ridiculous amount about these wonderful people, and that very soon you all will tune out and skip to the post about the Parthenon. I'll make this quick. The rest of our time with our hosts was just as amazing as the first day, and every minute and meal we spent with them was as interesting and fantastic as that first day. They took is to their favorite off-the-track restaurants and a gorgeous bar overlooking the city on our last night.

Over plates and plates of fresh fish, calamari, shrimp and crab**, they asked us genuinely thoughtful questions about our lives in Benin, what we thought about it and how it had changed us. As we're finding recently, it's rare to find someone who wants to hear more than 30 seconds' worth of Our Thoughts On Africa, so getting to talk about it with people who not only were interested, but even asked follow-up questions.

I'll stop there for now, but to Kimon and Dora, who I know are still reading: thank you. We loved Athens, and I think we mostly loved it because of you. Your hospitality and genuine interest in our lives, your thoughtfulness and your enthusiasm made Athens probably our favorite stop on our trip so far, and we consider ourselves so lucky to have gotten to know you. Keep in touch, and next time, we'll see you in America!***


*A shorter version of the menu: kebobs and homemade grilled sausages, rack of lamb in the grill, Greek salad with fresh feta and local olives, white wine, grilled pita, French fries, and homemade tsiziki yogurt sauce.

**When eating with Greek people, always, always let them order for you. Best decision of the trip.

***Dora, I already have restaurants in mind. And Kimon, small batch local beers. Get ready.

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