And so the adventure begins. It doesn’t feel as hard as last time. Four months is awhile but it’s not forever. And we have more experience under our belts this year. We had a going-away party at a pizza shop in our little town. Many of our friends came to send us off. I love moments like those.
A lot has changed since last year. First, Jackson isn’t with us. It feels a bit strange not having him here but he’s out in California living the life so none of us can really feel bad for him. He was helpful in a lot of situations while traveling but I think we’ve actually found quite a few things to be easier without him (no offense Jackson if you’re reading this). We all miss him of course but we share calls and pictures daily and it’s kinda fun to be having two huge adventures on either side of the world. I think we’ve both discovered what it feels like to live vicariously through someone.
Second, we actually have a general idea what we are doing this time! Having been to Athens it makes it much easier to arrive without feeling that terrifying emotion of having no clue where you are or what to do.
Third, the situation overall has taken a shift. Politically, and personally. On this blog, I’m going to try and avoid getting into politics because it will be far simpler that way. There may be times when I have to touch on it but I’ll try to keep them brief. Personally, it has changed because our reasons for coming back are different. We are here to lead teams of missionaries in working with some of the refugees in Athens. That’s going to be a new experience for us but we’ll take what adventures are thrown our way. We will be entirely in charge of taking them around the city, answering their questions, and showing them how and where to serve refugees in Athens.
Our house is spotless from top to bottom and we are not going to be there to enjoy it. It feels almost like a normal day. People walking in and out saying goodbye, dropping stuff off or picking stuff up while we run around packing and cleaning. We can’t leave until my dad is finished teaching but our goal is to leave by 3:00.
By 3 everything was in the car and in my opinion we were ready to go. Two or three of our friends stuck around to see us off but as usual, mom decided to do the most random chores. She’s much better at seeing where things are still left undone than we are. It was five before we actually left. See ya later, Franklin. We’ll miss you.
We made a stop in Alabaster, Alabama first where our Grandma, our Aunt, and our two cousins live (all on my dad’s side). We spent some time with them talking about last years adventures when they came to Israel with us and whatever this year has in store while dad loaded up on caffeine so we can drive through the night.
Eight hours of uncomfortable sleep later and we were in Holiday, Florida, checking into a brightly painted, deteriorating motel decorated with the weirdest tiki statues I’ve ever seen. Not gonna lie, it was a bit sketchy and the bathroom in our room was defective on a lot of levels, but if nothing goes wrong when you’re traveling you’ll have very few stories to tell.
We’re exhausted already and I don’t think we’ll have trouble sleeping tonight.
The reason we stopped in Holiday, Florida was to visit our great-grandparents who are both in their nineties. We don’t get to see them much because they are snowbirds. That means they live in Michigan for half of the year and Florida the other half. Our Oma and Aunt Caroline are here too so today was a bit of a mini family reunion. They showed us their favorite spot to go to the beach and our painful sunburns remain as evidence of the time we spent there. We played cards and had pizza late into the night before saying another round of goodbyes.
Packed up, and checked out of the tiki motel. Finally on the way to Miami. Now begins the stressful segment of traveling. It’s a five-hour drive from Holiday to Miami. Many people ask me what we do on road trips when we’re in the car. Probably what you would expect, sleeping, listening to music, talking, laughing, staring out the windows, and somehow creating a mess that spreads through the whole car (it’s usually Autumn’s fault, just sayin’).
We drove through a town with a large Greek population which is ironic because hey that’s where we’re headed. Conveniently, it began to rain just as we arrived at the car storage place. After parking, our little red van in a small, fenced-in lot dad called an Uber driver. He arrived within two minutes and began packing our bags into his trunk. It was a tight squeeze. The girls were in the back smothered in luggage and the front seat was full of our things too. We wouldn’t have survived last year in Greece though if we couldn’t handle tight squeezes now and then.
There is nothing exciting to relate about airport security. It’s a lot of waiting, pulling things apart to put them back together again, and dragging things around the airport. When we finally found our terminal we realized we’d gotten the times mixed up and we weren’t flying out until 10 P.M. It was 7 at that point. The wait wasn’t too bad though and a little after ten we were on the plane ready to go.
Another question I often get is how does it work to fly with two passports? We wondered that too for a long time. All the best reports said you fly out on your own nationality and if you’re flying to Europe you should land on your EU passport. So that’s what we did. Flew out on American passports and arrived in London and Greece on our U.K. passports.
It’s hard to sleep in airplanes even if it’s an overnight ten-hour flight. It’s especially hard when the flight attendants have British accents and come around offering you tea and other refreshments. I was too excited to sleep most of the time and only got a few hours rest.
Heathrow airport is huge, confusing, and absolutely packed with travelers from all corners of the globe. We came in two hours late and security took a huge chunk of our time, not to mention getting lost more than once. We were supposed to have a nine-hour layover, plenty of time to go to London and hit a few major sights. That time turned into about five hours and we needed to come back a good hour or two before our flight leaves. With approximately three hours to spare we collapsed in a central part of the airport.
Travel is not always glamorous and fun. In fact, most of the time it’s stressful and complicated. We were running on way too little sleep and things had not gone as we expected. Basically, there were two options: risk going to London for a tiny bit of time and coming back just in time for our flight, or staying at the airport to play it safe and waiting for five hours. Neither were great but I’ve wanted to come to England my whole life and I’ll take what I can get.
Mom saved the day by offering to stay at the airport with the luggage so we could move more quickly in the city. At first, we were very reluctant to even consider this option. We try to operate as a family leaving people behind is almost never an option. In the end, mom was so cheerful and willing to make that sacrifice for us and we were so pressed for time that we agreed. Autumn wanted to stay behind with her. I think she was over-exhausted.
Then began the fastest, tour of London known to man (that could be an exaggeration but I doubt it). A man in a purple coat came to “collect us”. He walked quickly through a maze of shortcuts in the airport and dropped us at the Heathrow Express. The Heathrow Express is a train that cuts 35 minutes out of the ride to London but of course, it’s extra expensive. I was tempted to turn around but Dad didn’t hesitate and we were soon passing quaint British houses on the way to London. I was bouncing in my seat with excitement.
The Express dropped us at Paddington Station. We plunged into the Underground and assessed our ticket options while scanning maps for the best places to go in an hour and a half. First stop Baker Street. I grew up on classic literature especially by British authors and I can remember spending many nights with my light on late exploring London’s crime scenes with Sherlock Holmes and Watson. A statue of the world’s most popular detective was the first thing to greet me when we came up from the tubes. It didn’t take long to find house 221b. It was swarming with eager tourists. The sign above the shop read, “The Sherlock Holmes Museum” and a man dressed as a constable from Holmes’ time stood under the letters 221b over the door. We had no time to wait in line for a cheesy tour of the detectives fictional home. Snapping a few pictures was enough for me and we turned around and raced back into the Underground.
Up next, King’s Cross Station. It was close to Baker Street and if you’re visiting Holmes why not stop in at the Hogwart’s Express? We asked a couple of cheerful policemen where Platform 9 3/4 is. They smiled and shook their heads at us before giving us directions. I bet they get that question so often. Platform 9 3/4 was crawling with Harry Potter fans. I barely had time to take a blurry picture before we were running back to the Underground.
There was time for one last stop and we had to choose between Tower Bridge and Big Ben. All of us opted for Big Ben. Fifteen minutes later I was running up the stairs towards the streets of London. The famous clock tower appears out of nowhere directly in front of you and takes your breath away. Hello Ben, nice to finally meet you.
Westminster is right there too. This really is a dream come true. Someday I’ll have to come back and behave like a decent tourist by going inside them. Five minutes and a few pictures were all we had time for before we had to race back to the airport. Farewell London, until next time.
We made it just in time, collected our bags and two family members and headed to our terminal. Next stop, Athens, Greece.
We landed in Athens at about 2:30 in the morning. It’s strange, the airport feels so familiar. Nothing is new or scary. Once we were through passport control and baggage claim we were greeted by a man holding a sign with my dad’s name on it. The host of our Airbnb had arranged for him to pick us up and take us to our little apartment in Kritis Street. The car ride was supposed to be forty minutes but I think we made it in twenty because our driver nearly ran over someone. All the Greeks drive fast.
Harris was waiting at the door to welcome us. He led us upstairs and showed us what had changed since last time. We were the first people to stay in this apartment and we became good friends with our hosts. They are some of the kindest, most hospitable people I’ve ever met. There is now a map on the wall with pins from all the visitors who’ve stayed here from around the world. A black pin is stuck on Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.A.
We slept until two in the afternoon. I don’t think I’ve ever slept that late before. For the remainder of the day, we rested and settled in again. In the evening we walked down to the restaurant on the corner and ordered gyros. I don’t know what they do to those here but they’re so good. Afterward, we revisited our favorite local bakery and got some mini ice cream bars and chocolate surprises to celebrate our return to our second home.
Days 6 and 7
We’ve been trying to rest but we’re dealing with terrible jet lag. It’s going to take awhile to get used to certain things too. Mostly, we’re just happy to be back. And looking forward to new adventures.