On September 27th we left Paris and were making our way to the Holy Land of Israel. However, the three of us being the culture craving girls we are strategically bought a ticket that had a 9 hour layover in Athens, Greece. Just enough time to make our way to the Acropolis and eat an authentic greek salad!
Our plane ride to Athens was only a few hours long. During this time I spread out on the row I had to myself, turned my ipod on worship and began reflecting on my amazing weekend in Paris. I probably looked so silly smiling, occasionally humming, moving my hands in praise and journaling at the same time, but I couldn’t help it I was in bliss. Do you ever get that feeling, sometimes for only a moment that you are truly alive and living out your passions? Thats what I felt. I remember journaling praises to God, future dreams/desires I had, and prayers for Israel, more the ones, and for God to pave the way in Athens.
When we got off the plane and finished our normal routine of spritzing ourselves with our favorite perfumes at the Duty Free store, we made our way to the exit of the airport to find a Taxi. We went to the information desk and asked about Taxis to the city center and she did almost everything but laugh at us for wanting to leave the airport. She said it wasn’t a good idea because all of Athens is on strike. The only form of transportation available were Taxis and she warned us the roads would be filled with traffic and that we could potentially miss our connecting flight. Then she pointed over to a sign that had a huge hotdog on it and said, “You can enjoy our awesome airport restaurants over there while you wait”. My first thought was no thank you to the food but I never told Suz and Carly this but my second thought was, “we better not chance it and stay here”. So we walked away and before I could open my mouth and sound like a wimp , Car and Suz started talking about how silly she was to think we would miss our 2 o’ clock in the morning flight, we had 9 hours! So I decided I didn’t want to be the scardey cat in a group filled with adventurers and agreed with them. After we went and found a taxi to take us into the city which we shared with a local woman to the center.
The whole time in the taxi ride Suz and I were on edge. We weren’t giving any personal information out to the taxi driver or the local ahtens woman, and every time they started conversing in Greek our ears would perk up to try and see if we could pick up on any code words (even though we don’t speak the language!) that would tip us off that they were taking us somewhere rather than the destination we chose. We were being so cautious because leading up to coming to Athens all we had heard were warnings to be safe. All I was thinking about was how initially Athens was on our itinerary to volunteer with an organization rescuing women from prostitution. So at first our discernment level was on high.
After about 30 minutes we made it to the city center by the Acropolis. We laughed at “all the traffic on the roads” and the local athens lady gave us directions for where we wanted to go. She was very nice and warned us to keep an eye on our stuff. We thanked her and continued on our journey of exploring the city in the short time we had before the sun set.
First we tried to go to the Acropolis. It was closed so we just admired it from the outside and took pictures. We found an area where Suz and I made our sarongs into Toga’s, put olives in our hair and pretended to be ancient Greek people. Suz and Carly had a gladiator battle. We were having so much fun playing around and being silly.
Then, Suzanne found a really cool lookout where you had to climb up some rocks and when you got to the top it looked out over the city and the Acropolis on a hilltop. Carly’s bag was really heavy and Suz was afraid she would fall over with it climbing up the hill so she suggested Carly leave it at the bottom so she did. Suz and I put our bags down next to a rock then began to take pictures of the scenery. We were there when the sun was setting and it was so gorgeous. You could see all the city lights and it was breathtaking. After about 15 minutes of taking in the scenery we decided to leave. Numerous people had been coming up to Carly and Suzanne telling them to watch their bags (especially Carly because hers was 50 ft away from her) and this older guy started to get really creepy because he kept telling us to watch our bags in a creepy monotone voice plus it started to get really dark and we were hungry, so we left. Carly made it down the hill to her bag before anyone else could warn her (it was getting irritating) and Suzanne grabbed hers, and I was looking for mine. It was really dark and I was trying to remember where I put it, I walked around a little scanning the rocks for my backpack. After about 2 minutes of looking the thought of it being stolen crossed my mind, but then I shoved it out remembering I had put my bag right next to Suzanne’s (I remember they were touching). I asked Suz where her bag had been and she pointed to a rock. Mine wasn’t there. So then I started thinking well maybe I didn’t put it there when Suz said, “Yours was right next to mine.” Then my heart started to race. I started looking a little more frantically, going places I hadn’t even walked, asking people around, even the creepy guy who said, “I told you to watch your bag.” It wasn’t anywhere. All the thoughts of everything that were in my bag started racing through my head but the only things I could think of at the moment were my passport, and my plane ticket for my connecting flight that was now about 6 hours away. After 10 minutes of searching the rocks we pronounced my bag M.I.A. and climbed down.
There were two university aged guys that I had asked to help me look for my bag that were searching in trashcans below because they said that sometimes the thieves would just take the cash in the bag and dump everything else in a trashcan. But we couldn’t find it. Then they offered to take us to the police station. So as we are walking there they started making small talk and trying to cheer me up, but I really didn’t want to talk. I was to busy trying to remain calm, I’m was on the edge of tears, a little in shock but trying to keep it under control because I didn’t want to make it a huge ordeal or a pity party for Emily. I kind of slinked back from the group with Carly and started thinking out loud to her saying at least I really didn’t have anything to important in there. Yeah I had my passport, my ipod, my id, credit cards,and other little things but I only had 21 cents cash, and my camera was on me. I looked at her and said thank God I had my camera, I don’t think I could replace this. Then Carly said, “Yeah but what about your memory cards.” And I remembered all my memory cards were in my bag. I stopped walking, gasped, and then finally started to cry. I had 8 memory cards in there, all with about 1,000 pictures on them. All of my pictures from Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, Rome, Naples, Florence, the Arezzo vineyard and Cinque Terre gone. To me this was the biggest loss of all and pretty much my worst fear of the trip. I still cannot talk about it without tearing up.
So when we got to the police station, the police officer was very relaxed. The guy who was helping us was talking to him and it seemed as if he almost had to argue with him to help me. He gave me a form to fill out as a police report and sent me on my way telling me he would mail me my bag if anything turned up. When we left the police department the athens boys were laughing at the police officers, making jokes about them and basically calling them lazy and telling me not to expect anything to happen. I made a mental note to be thankful for the police officers in the U.S.
Our next step was finding a taxi to the airport where I was going to beg them to let me on my flight and into the country of Israel. Before we got into the taxi, Nikitas (one of the greek boys) gave us his phone number and told us that if we needed to stay somewhere tonight we could call him. We thanked both of them and left. When we were in the taxi Carly suggested we start praying. Carly and Suzanne prayed for me, for God to provide a way, and for the person who stole my bag. When it was my turn to pray I was really emotional. I started crying and just really put everything before God. I told him I trusted him, that before I got to Athens I asked him to pave the way and that I knew he would, I prayed for good to come out of this and I to prayed for whoever took my bag.
When we got to the airport I explained my situation to the guy at the front desk. He apologized on behalf of his country and so did all of his co-workers. They seemed really embarrassed that this happened to me in their country and were all very nice. It took about 4 hours to finally figure out what was going to happen. Basically, I wasn’t allowed to get on my flight without a passport (shocker), they would change my flight to the next day for free but not Suzanne and Carly’s flights. After they talked about it they decided that we were a team and they weren’t going to leave me behind and we split the fee three ways. (I was so, so, so, so grateful for them. How lucky I was to be traveling with two true friends who really were there for me. I don’t know what I would have done without them because I had no i.d., no cash, and no credit cards. They were such a blessing and I will forever thank them for staying with me.) After we changed the flights we had a decision to make. The day we came to Athens every sort of transportation was on strike except for taxis. However, the next day EVERYTHING would be on strike. There would be no form of public transportation whatsoever, only if you had your own car. Plus to top it off, every third wednesday of the month the passport section of the embassy closes, so of course, it just so happens it was going to be the third wednesday of the month the day I needed to get my passport, so it wasn’t even for sure I could get one to make my flight. We had to decide whether to stay in the airport and take the chance of the embassy maybe picking me up the day they were closed to get a new passport (slim chance) or getting a taxi to Nikitas’ house (who we really didn’t know that well and I still didn’t trust anyone after being violated) before the strike started and staying with him and running the risk of not getting back to the airport to make our flight. After praying about it and Suzanne telling us the saying about how someone is drowning and praying for God to save him, when a boat passes by and offers to help him and he replies, “No God is going to save me.” So we decided Nikitas was our boat.
When we got to his house we found out it truly was a blessing to stay with him and his other roommates, they were all extremely nice. The next day we walked to the embassy which ended up being only about 35 minutes away and I ended up getting my passport in two hours. I was very proud of my country that day. Everyone at Nikitas’ house told me I probably wouldn’t get my passport in time, even Michael in Israel thought I wouldn’t be arriving for the next couple of days. When I got back to the house and showed them my fresh emergency passport and told them how long it took they said, “Americans.” and shook their heads.
We also ended up getting to the airport on time (6 hours early actually because we really didn’t want to chance anything). On the way back from the embassy we asked the Hilton Hotel bus driver nicely if he would take us to the the airport and he said ok. Sometimes you just have to get a little creative.
So our flight left at 2 o’ clock in the morning and we arrived in Israel at 4:30 a.m. where we took a Taxi to Michaels amazing mansion of a house, and slept.
Our Athens adventure was totally unexpected. I still don’t quite understand why it happened to me. Carly’s bag was 50ft away from her with no one around, Suz’s was right next to mine and was a lot prettier than my tan beat up backpack, yet mine was stolen. Plus there was nothing in there that was of value to the thief besides my ipod. It was all stuff like my journal, my memories in photos, postcards I had collected to remember special places, little sentimental gifts I had gotten for people, my favorite sarong, all my pens, just things that had meaning to me. After praying about it I honestly feel like it was an attack on my dreams. The past weekend in Paris I had truly felt alive and so much happiness. I finally decided to start pursuing my dream of being a travel photographer, then all of my photos were taken from me. My journal of everything I had declared- gone. But I have faith God can use this for good. Maybe the taxi driver that had to sit though our emotional prayers decided to give his life to Christ, maybe the person who stole my bag read my journal and saw that my life was a living testimony of God’s glory, love and grace (I had just written about all my prayers being answered and giving praises to his name on the way over to athens, plus all my adventures). I had a bible on my ipod maybe whoever gets it will read it. I really don’t understand why this happened to me but I will continue to pray for good to come out of it. Before I even went on the trip a constant prayer from Suzanne and I was for the one. That if on this whole trip if only one person was encouraged, or inspired it would all be worth it. Our inspiration was Jesus who if you were the last person on Earth still would have died on the cross for you. So we would go around the world, even if it was for one person God had set out. Who knows my last prayer before getting off that plane in Athens was for God to pave the way, so maybe he did.
P.S. Please, please, please do not let any of this discourage you from traveling, or make you think negative of Athens. I had one bad experience among hundreds of amazing ones. So embrace the adventure! =]