In preparing for another major trip overseas this summer, I thought back to November 2012, when I was in Athens, Greece. This was a marathon trip, paying homage to where it all started by running on the Olympic course from the Plains of Marathon to the Olympic Stadium in the heart of Athens.
Athens was named after the Greek goddess Athena. Legend has it that two gods vied for the honor of the city’s name. Poseidon offered the sea and Athena the olive tree. The people of this newly created city went with Athena, so in a fit of pique Poseidon withheld fresh water, and to this day an aqueduct brings water into Athens. By the way, “marathon” is Greek for the phenol plant.
But not only did I learn a lot about Greece on this trip, I also met some interesting people. One was an older man who was sitting in the Plaka shopping district. His face was so classically Greek. He showed so much character, I had to have his picture, with his permission (and one Euro) of course.
If you travel much overseas, you learn to spot the unique from the touristy. The Plaka district is very touristy. But by the railroad station, on a little table on the sidewalk, was a woman with a pair of needle-nose pliers. For six Euros, she would bend silver wire into letters, your name in Greek!, then fashion her handiwork into a bracelet or necklace. I found her on our first shopping trip into Athens and instantly recognized this was no ordinary souvenir. So I hurriedly thought of a list of family, and bought five. Being the savvy traveler, I negotiated a price of five Euros each.
On the bus ride back to the hotel, I showed my find to others on our tour. (Not all were runners; many were family or friends.) All agreed this was something special.
After the marathon, some of us stayed an extra week to tour Greece. Before we finally departed, we made one more trip to the Plaka. By now several others in our group wanted to meet this talented woman with the magic pliers. Fortunately I was able to find her again, in the same spot, outside the train station. On this day she had an assistant who spoke better English, but she bent the wire. I ordered 12 more. About four others in our group also had souvenirs made, about 50 in all. And for two solid hours she stood on the sidewalk, bending wire into letters, the letters becoming necklaces or bracelets. Even a shower didn’t deter her. It actually took her a bit more time than the group had, but our guide sympathetically held the bus so she could finish.
At that time, the Greek economy was in full crisis mode. Our guide figured we were a week’s worth of work for her in that morning. One lady in our group whispered to me that she had gotten a price of four Euros for her dozen, but I didn’t have the heart. To me, they were worth a lot more than the five Euros I paid.
When she finally finished, we took some pictures, then she kissed me on both cheeks. I took that to mean that yes, I had made this a successful week for her.
The irony? I don’t like bracelets (and necklaces are too girly), so I didn’t think to get one for myself.