This is the 100th post in this free online guide / travelogue / journal of living in Athens and I think the anniversary merits some type of a celebration. Instead of sharing a cyber-cake I've decided to share with you a very uplifting and welcome collection of stories ("9 Types of Travelers You’d be Blessed to Meet") from the "Matador Network", as well as some stories and incidents from my own travel experiences that it made me recall. If you ever doubted that traveling can be much more than sight-seeing read on below.
The first 3 short incidents come from my time in Paris, France, back in 1993, as an Erasmus student (that's an EU study abroad program). They do not involve other "travelers" in the narrow sense of the word but I think they're related to the spirit of traveling with an open mind and heart and being perceptive to the signals around you. This was my first ever trip where I had nobody waiting for me at the destination, no set place to stay, a load of suitcases to carry around and a (true) feeling that my French had gotten rusty.
The airport designers
First of all, the airport (Orly) seemed so well designed, with every little detail taken care of, that I instantly thought it impossible for anyone to get lost even if they had wanted to (airport maps, town maps, well-placed signs, free phones connecting you to in-town hotels if you had no booking - a real novelty to me back in those days!). Just like most travelers, I've never had the chance to meet the people who designed the airport but I remember relishing the feeling of them thinking so much of their future clients and trying to make things easy for them.
The delicate professional in the Metro
...An hour or so later, having boarded the train to downtown Paris and after a failed, rather annoying attempt of communication with some young, "snooty" local men, my mind was venturing into cliché-land and to the 3 strenuous months lying ahead of me. Then, as a fellow student and I were trying to exit the Metro station, walking up and down stairs with our huge suitcases in hand and almost out of breath, a young, professionally-dressed and delicate-looking woman, pauses and opens this huge metalic door for us and asks us to go through first, since we carry baggage. A miniscule, "unimportant" scene but I still remember it with gratitude 18 years later. It changed, once and for all, my perception of French people and my expectations of them and I've felt lucky for that ever since.
The flatmate who thought of others
...A couple of months later I'm settled into a nice apartment and my flat-mate (painter Yorgos Voulgaridis) and I are going to attend the Orthodox Easter mass on Saturday night. "T.", an English guy who was quite nice but seemed to be having some serious issues, has managed to somehow crawl into a little corner in our flat (four of us in total!) and spend some weeks there. We invite him to come along to mass and, waveringly, he follows. As we are sitting outside the church right before midnight, all Greeks and Russians are holding lit candles and are either listening to the mass or talking to each other. Yorgos notices that "T" is the only one without a candle and somehow, within seconds, finds a lit candle and passes it on to "T". A subtle and thoughtful way to make him feel part of the picture! And the best thing about it? I don't think Yorgos even thought that one out. He simply just did it, as a natural act. I think I could even get jealous of this natural tendency for openess and kindness and that's certainly the type of people you'd want to meet in your travels.
Last, a short story from traveling in Greece: My wife and I are doing a road-trip in northern Greece. We have spent the first night in Thessaloniki (Greece's second city, 500kms north of Athens) and are ready to hit the road and start the main part of our trip on Sunday morning after a nice hotel breakfast. As we load the car with our luggage we realize we have a flat tire. I call road assistance and the guy who comes along not only provides the temporary fix for the problem but also give us directions to the only car service place open on Sunday, for a more permanent solution. Realizing we are not from town, he drives along for some 5 miles or more, asking us to follow him all the way. Fifteen minutes later he has taken us to a remote junkyard [we couldn't have ever found it on our own] where, together with other unlucky Sunday drivers we wait for our turn to have the tire fixed. Hens, dogs, cats and pigeons are roaming around the old cars and machinery while the guy's wife seems to be cooking in their house-cabin in the back! We both decide it's a great way to start a road trip!
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