Overnight at the Athens airport

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


While waiting to board my plane at the Corfu airport, I met two American girls.  One was a blonde Southern belle from Mississippi, who had studied abroad in Greece the past semester and had stayed in Corfu, after falling in love with a Greek man.  She had to return home to the States – her Visa had run out and her fall semester was beginning in August – and she was absolutely devastated to be leaving the man she described as the love of her life.  As she explained this to me, she had tears running down her face and I really felt for her, I did.  The other girl I met was also a college student, but from the East Coast, rather than the South.  She told me she’d been on vacation with her family but had gotten in a fight with her mom, which resulted in her demanding that her dad fly her home (first class) because she was sick of Greece, and the time difference was making it difficult for her to Skype with her boyfriend, and she just really wanted to get back to the city (NYC), okay?!   Resisting the urge to ask her if she was a) some kind of heiress or b) a really pale Kardashian, I nodded along as she explained the ins and outs of life on the Upper West Side, completely mesmerized by her stories, in a “we are such different humans but keep talking, because I have never met anyone as privileged as you, and because it’s all very fascinating to me, and also because I’m still trying to figure out if you’re famous” kind of way.

Once we landed in Athens and had gone through baggage claim, I realized that Olivia Palermo’s twin (the second of the two girls described in the preceding paragraph, of course) and I were on the same flight back to the states.  Since she was seated in first class and I in last, we wouldn’t be able to sit together, but we did decide to pair up for the night.  We stopped at a bathroom and changed into “pajamas” (the most comfortable/warmest/cleanest clothes we could find in our luggage) and got ready for “bed”.  At that point, sleeping in the airport seemed a little fun, I will admit.  I took out my contacts, we brushed our teeth and washed our faces, and it sort of felt like a really exotic birthday sleepover or Girl Scout lock-in.  The fun stopped there, however, as we discovered there were no unoccupied seats, benches, or non-freezing places to sleep in the entire Athens airport.

We found the coziest patch of tile we could, opened our suitcases and withdrew as many layers of clothes as possible, so that we could make one big giant pallet on the airport floor.  I had a brown travel pillow (pictured above), which helped, but that was about it.  We locked our suitcases and backpacks, and slept with our arms intertwined in the straps, lest we encounter bandits or thieves or those two German girls from my hostel in Italy.  We drifted off to sleep every now and then but mostly, it was a very uncomfortable and long (I mean l-o-n-g long) night.  Somehow, 8 am finally rolled around and I tell you what – I’ve never been so happy to board a plane in all my life.

After having flown from Corfu to Athens, I flew from Athens to NYC, NYC to Cincinnati, and Cincinnati to Oklahoma City.  The whole trip was over 24 hours in length.  When my parents picked me up at the airport, they said they couldn’t believe how a) brown, b) emaciated, and c) pitifully exhausted I looked. 

Such is the life in Europe, parents.  Such is the life.

And it’s true; throughout my living and traveling in Europe, I’ve been consistently penniless and hungry and, most of the time, pretty downright haggard.  And yeah, sometimes, walking through a grocery store and using your phone’s calculator to figure out what you can and cannot afford based on your budget of 8-and-a-half Euros is annoying.  And I’ll even admit that collecting German bottles and exchanging them for money isn’t as glamorous as it sounds.  But (and this is going to sound cheesy, I warn you) these are the stories that I’m going to tell my children.  And these are the memories that are going to allow me to appreciate a well-paying, full-time job.  And someday, when I have an overnight layover in an airport, and I spend it in a five-star hotel, as opposed to on a negative-five-star airport floor, that plush bed is going to feel all the more heavenly.  I mean, it has to, right?


Natasha said...

I am mesmerized by your travel stories. You write in a way that is gripping and vivid and entirely effortless all at the same time. You make me miss travel and living abroad acutely, every time I read your posts, and make me want to do everything I can to make sure that I get the opportunity to live abroad, and travel, and live out of a suitcase for days and weeks on end again. I miss it. Thanks for being awesome and inspiring and an absolute joy to read :)

Wendi Nunnery said...

I spent a summer in Greece while in college, and a few weeks last year in Kenya, and your airport experiences sound much like mine! Cold, and tired, and restless. But you're right...the stories are SO worth it!

Anonymous said...

You know, you'll appreciate your European time SO much more than that (very obnoxious sounding) girl. I was also penniless in Europe when I was in my early twenties and it was bliss. I loved every second because I was where I wanted to be, on my own, independent, strong and brave. And sometimes lonely, scared and weak. But it made me who I am today.

I have a two year old and I've already started telling him the stories.

K said...

'Olivia Palermo's twin'... love it. And the first 10 minutes are fun, until you can't find a bench/warmth/quiet/comfort.

I've definitely done the airport sleepover and I would sincerely love to know why they are always freezing. Standstead was especially frigid (it was March so that may have been a factor)

Lena B, Actually said...

Amazing... I wish I could tell my kids stories like this!
And who would think you'd have a mini-adventure like that on a layover in an airport! ;)

Jennifer said...

Girl, you do not look comfortable!

Alex said...

I loved this. It's so true! You're going to remember these experiences, and and they'll mean way more than anything. Also, that girl sounds fascinating in an "I love you but hate you" kind of way.

Jenni Austria Germany said...

@Natasha, Thank you! That is very kind.
@K, When I spent the night in Stanstead, it was August and also freezing! A horrible night.

Julie said...

I love that post! And of course all these adventures are precious memories.
I have tons myself and i can't stop smiling when i remember them :D

If you want more travel stories, I've discovered that blog :


That girl is traveling around the world. She rock!

Jenni Austria Germany said...

@Alex, you are correct -- except I also wanted to be "friends" with her because I was hoping she'd work her heiress magic into bumping me up to first class. Didn't happen.

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