By Joanna Franco
I was freshly single after a long, long-distance relationship. It was time to close out the chapter of a great love story in my book of life and travels. What would come next was a blank page entitled “Greece,” where the contents were a mystery to me, a newly single gal. What I didn’t expect was that I’d be going on a date with someone Damon and I started calling “Greek God,” as a joke.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited about the possibilities that being single grants you. Not even the chances of running into someone and falling in love, I was honestly mostly looking forward to that morning that comes after a long time of being heart broken where it all just stops hurting. That morning where you’re single, you’re refreshed, you’re in bed alone, and you wouldn’t want it any other way. That’s what took me on this adventure to Greece, everything else was an added bonus.
Regardless of what brought me, I had concrete reasons to come back after my short week in Athens.
The week goes on and I fall in love with Athens. The more I walked into trendy cafés and sipped perfectly made coffees that always had a little cookie on the side for me to enjoy, the more joy I felt. The vibe was a mix of Rio de Janeiro with Rome, how could I not be smitten? People were polite, knowledgable, and smiley when I gave Greek my absolute best effort and still failed. I went on a Tinder date the first night and came out of it with a really good friend. The weather was agreeing with my hair, and it was exactly the trip I needed to recharge, and most importantly, remember the version of myself I love being – the effervescent woman who curiously goes after new stories and experiences, not the nagging girlfriend who’s irritated she didn’t get a text back.
As a relationship veteran, I’m already aware that the minute the nagging girl surfaces, it’s time to move on. If you don’t like being the person you’re being, who will love you? I was getting back to the person I loved being, and thanks to Greece, the process was seamless.
After the first three days of recharging after Kenya – and just getting my stomach back to a humane state, we decided we would film videos in Athens. First we had to find something to film about. We did a Damon and Jo original and packed our bags for the day, slung our camera around our arms, and headed out to see what was happening in the city. Even if nothing was happening, somehow we make things happen and a video comes out of it for you to laugh along with us. And that’s exactly how we found ourselves flirting with a “Greek god.”
We got yelled at for dancing at the Parthenon, and then decided we had had enough of slipping on ancient limestone and hearing the security guards viciously blow into his damn whistle. It was time for vegan food. On the way from the Parthenon to where we ended up eating, we passed this café with a view to the ancient forum. Sure, the view was great, but the view in front of me was even better: the definition of tall, dark, and handsome. The server walking around with menus caught both of us off guard by his good looks, and his charm. To my defense, there was a three second stare situation that happened, I was obviously shook, giddy, but never stopped my motion. My legs kept going even if my eyes were glued. As we walked away, I flirtatiously smiled – more for the story and hilariousness of flirting since it had been so long for me. Just as we were turning the corner, he yelled, “come back later for a drink!”
I pretended to sift through the menus fully aware that I didn’t give a damn; I’d much rather sip on a tall, dark, and handsome… Let the thirst games being. We sat for a drink, and laughed for the entire duration of our afternoon aperitif which you can watch here.
His European demeanor left one huge curiosity on the table: European, or Euro-gay? Then, because we both kind of felt the vibe switch when there was more eye contact in my direction, European was confirmed. To triple check, Damon got up to “use the bathroom,” and the cutie named Marko approached me, eager about seeing me again that night. I swear, you can’t make things like this up, it was a movie scene. Thick and adorable accent, the shy and giddy energy on both sides, it was too perfect.
We exchanged instagrams, and I pulled the classic ‘leave the number on the receipt’ in hopes he’d reach out to make plans on my last night in Athens. Fully aware that I had to catch my 8am flight the next day to Rome.
I was on top of a massive mountain in the middle of the city when I got the rose emoji text. It was perfect, not too much, not too little, and considering the language differences, probably the best way the conversation could have started. He told me he’d be in my neighborhood to meet with me around 8pm – way earlier than what he had mentioned in the restaurant (if you watched the video you know what I’m talking about). We both knew I was leaving on an early flight, so the night couldn’t get too crazy. Or could it?
Next thing you know, I rummaging through my limiting suitcase that I had already gotten tired of opening, searching for something decent that wasn’t ripped, stained, or ugly to wear on this date. I grabbed my one always-reliable-black shirt, put on janky heels I saved for this situation exactly, and clicked out of the hostel with Damon by my side. While he probably would’ve loved going on the date with me, he got more excited about his evening, which included Netflix, comfy hostel bed, and chocolate milk for one. Usually, I’m the excited one to stay in and chill alone, but tonight the tables had turned. After all, I was freshly single, I needed to remind myself how much of a bad b!tch I was before all my relationship gloom. Going on this date was basically just me doing my homework to get my old fun self back. Not that you need to date people to “find yourself,” but I’ve always thought that I learn more about myself by interacting with other people than anything else. It’s all research.
I chose a bar in an alley, not because I’m a dumb a$$, but because most cool bars in Athens are in alleys. Plus, I shared my location with Damon so he knew where I was even if something went down. Awwww, and there he was, just like I remembered him (from like four hours before), sans blue sweater, in his evening wear. We walked into the cozy bar, and it felt nice to have someone take the lead in ordering. Two glasses of wine only cost us four euros total – DID I MENTION I LOVED THIS CITY? The conversation was rich though. We spoke about our shared past in being immigrants who grew up in different countries, but identified with both cultures. Him from Albania coming to Greece as a kid, me from Brazil going to the USA as a kid. We laughed, we sipped, and on the last drop of the cheap wine, he asked me if I wanted to go see the nightlife area, Gazi. I’m telling you, you could take a dusty and boring walking tour, or you can meet a local cutie and have a way more exciting experience – with wise judgement of character kids!
Mind you, I’m 25.
It’s not my proudest moment, but if I had ridden on the back of a motorbike with Damon (who had never driven a motorbike before) in Thailand, where traffic was on the opposite side of the road, why couldn’t I get on the back of a motorbike with a Greek man who uses his bike as his main mode of transportation everyday? These are the thoughts that sprinkle my mind as I straddle the back of his bike around 9pm on a chilly night in Athens.
“It’s cold, grab on tight to me to keep me warm,” he yells as we zip off into the night on cobblestone streets.
My smile was ear to ear, this was pure adventure. And it would be just mine and his. And now, yours.
We pulled up to the nightlife zone, Gazi, where there was a mix of locals, hostel pub crawls, lovers, and people on their first dates like us. Ours didn’t feel like a first date, the awkwardness was gone. Probably because of how awkward filming a full video with and of him was earlier that day. We had reached our awkward quota for the day, and could talk like old friends. It felt like I lived there and it was a casual date, minus my garbage Greek. Maybe it’s a European thing in general, I feel right on European soil, and Greeks felt like Brazilians with their warmth.
Then the typical date things happen, he puts his arm around me, we laugh, flirt, etc. As the music was rising inside, my voice started thinning, and my stomach started growling. I filled him in on a fun fact about me: I go out only if I’m promised food at the end of the night. He had asked if I had eaten Souvlaki before, when I responded no, he told me his job for the night was to give me the experience of a Souvlaki with a good view. Man, he was good.
We walked across the plaza filled with people and I found myself where the real nightlife was happening – a Souvlaki shop where no English was on the walls, or in the air. I smiled at the counter like a kid in a candy store. This good looking man ordering for lil ol’ me?! Normally I’d hate that sh*t, cause I’m an independent woman and can order for myself, but everything is cuter with an accent.
The man paid, grabbed the bag of Greek fast food, and hopped on his bike signaling me to get on so we could go to the view he had mentioned. Next thing you knew, it’s 11pm and we’re zooming up to the hills of Athens. Not a soul in sight on the way there, just trees, ancient structures with dreamy golden lighting, and us, two strangers turned dates. When the engine finally stopped, I looked around to see about ten other motorbikes parked before a huge rock formation. It was pitch black, only the light of the city from below to guide us. He grabbed my hand as we walked up the stairs to get to the top of Athens.
I froze from the beauty of what was before me.
And of course because at this point it was cold as hell. Regardless of the lack of sensations in my toes, I was feeling the moment. Something inside me buzzed with excitement. Of all the possibilities of the night that I had imagined, I couldn’t have imagined myself there, in a sliver of time so beautiful. And I knew it would end. I would have to get up in about five hours to get to the airport. I would leave Greece, and move on to new memories, with new strangers who become friends, dates, and lovers, and that’s the cycle of travel. That’s what makes my insides buzz. The possibility of it all.
We stayed in silence most of the time up there. Overhearing conversations I couldn’t understand, watching the lights sparkle down below, and thinking about how many lives had passed through the city’s walls. Then we both started laughing at how beautiful it was, like two crazy strangers. We hopped back on the bike after an hour or so, and he dropped me off right at the door of my hostel. In the deserted streets of Exarcheia at 1am, he gave me a hug, a sweet little kiss, and told me I needed to come back to Greece so he could make me fall in love with him.
Was it a crock of Sh*t? Maybe. Did it make one hell of a story? You better believe it.
The next day I got on my 8am flight and smiled just thinking about all the other memories out there I have yet to make.
Originally published on Shut Up and Go.