When I changed the title of this blog from “Greece & Grief” to “My Big Fat Greek Grief” I laughed at the play on words and then couldn’t help but cry, because I could hear my mom’s pride, telling me “you’re so clever Krista.” I’m literally typing this and crying on the plane haha.
Maybe it’s the middle seat of a redeye or the half glass of unfinished New Zealand Chardonnay, the night owl in me, the 90’s throwback movie I just watched, but I feel committed to getting this blog out of my head and onto paper, or I guess computer paper. It’s been lingering since I was in Peru last year around this time. Greece has always reminded me of my mom. No, she isn’t Greek. No, she never got to go to Greece. The only time my mom visited Europe is when she and my sister visited me in Spain when I was studying abroad (and damn was that a wonderful time).
My mom grew up on the same street as a Greek family with her Greek friend Mimi. She would tell me stories of her childhood in Lynn, Massachusetts (although she would tell everyone else we met she was from Swampscott, apparently it’s nicer? But I always wondered how growing up in a swamp could be nicer ha). She spoke so fondly of her Greek best friend Mimi and her Greek family, that I hinted she wished she was Greek (okay so maybe there were times where she flat out told me she wished she was Greek too haha).
When the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding came out, my mom absolutely loved it. It was one of her favorites. She loved a feel-good rom-com. The family in the movie reminded her of her friend’s and she would laugh at the similarities and her memories. My mom had an affinity for gyros (which I didn’t understand until I first went Greece after graduating high school, only because I was too picky to try them beforehand).
14 years later, when the sequel to My Big Fat Greek Wedding was coming out, my mom was very sick with ovarian cancer. So sick that I feared she wouldn’t live to see her beloved sequel (although let’s be real, sequels usually aren’t typically worth the excitement of the originals). I thought of the man whose dying wish was to see the next Star Wars movie and how he was able to watch it early before he passed away. I morbidly joked to myself that this was something I should arrange for my mom. Although she never dared to admit that she was going to die, even in the gruesome end so it would have been hard to make any sort of plans like that. Or maybe that’s an excuse I tell myself for not even trying to do anything to make it happen, but seeing this movie would not have been her “dying wish” anyway.
Like I feared, my mom wasn’t able to see the movie before she died. In my trip around the world, the only time I watched new movies was on plane rides (and the occasional nice bus). So there I was in Peru (the country we actually enjoyed busing because the buses were so nice & had the best selection of new movies – Cruz del Sur – not my first time writing about them and no we are not sponsored). I came face to face with the My Big Fat Greek Wedding sequel. It took me a few bus rides to have the courage to watch it because I anticipated it would be emotional for me.
As I watched it, I knew immediately my mom would’ve loved it. I hadn’t seen the original in ages, but the characters came back to me and felt like family. The jokes made me laugh and then cry, as I knew my mom would’ve found them hilarious. The mother-daughter dynamic in the movie that I now lacked also tugged on my heartstrings. But I was glad that I watched it – you know that great feeling you have after you watch a great movie? I had that. Although I also missed my mom more than ever.
A few years before my mom’s death, my mom told me she found her old friend Mimi on Facebook (likely Mimi found her, I don’t quite remember). Oh, the joys of Facebook ha. They reconnected through Facebook chats and old photos that had once collected dust, now on the web to be seen worldwide.
Flash forward to the summer of 2017 (midway through our world trip), when Matt and I were in Europe and found cheap flights from London to the Greek island of Zakynthos. On our flight, My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Mimi popped into my head. I had never met Mimi, but I remember my mom telling me she had family in Greece and that Mimi had told her when she visited she could stay with her family. I debated if I should reach out via Facebook, and reasoned that if my mom was still alive, she most certainly would have reached out on my behalf (and probably even joined me if she was healthy).
Mimi’s response was so warm and friendly that I had no regrets in reaching out. To my surprise, she had recently been in Greece but was back in the U.S. so unfortunately our paths wouldn’t cross. We messaged back and forth since Matt and I were spending the day at a coffee shop in Patras while waiting for our Couchsurfing host Costas to pick us up (Costas and his family were amazing by the way, there’s something about Greek hospitality!).
We were trying to figure out our travel plans through Greece and how to eventually make it to Munich for Oktoberfest by way of Croatia. Mimi offered suggestions of where to travel through Greece – her family had an unfinished home near Kalamata that she was offering us to stay in, but it was a little out of the way and hard to get to without a car. She told us to look up the town of Nafplio, which we had never heard of and were surprised to learn it was once the capital of Greece. The images online looked enticing.
Mimi told me she had a friend who owned a hotel and could get us a good price on the room, but we quickly learned the good price (60 euros a night) was still well outside of our backpacker budget (we were typically paying about 20-30 euros a night for Airbnbs or hostels when we weren’t Couchsurfing for free). When she asked what our budget was, she generously insisted on booking us a room as long as we were interested and could get there. Nafplio was relatively on the way, in the direction we were planning to head (two not-too-long bus rides away and less than two hours from Athens, where we would head after). The photos we saw online looked incredible, so I accepted her generous offer, giddy with excitement.
Nafplio was even more exquisite in person than what we saw in photos. The town was so charming and picturesque my heart wanted to explode on every street. When we got to the hotel, which was perfectly located in the old town, we were greeted by the woman at the front desk. She was a friend of Mimi’s and Mimi had instructed us to say hello for her, which was a little awkward when the woman asked how Mimi was doing since I had never actually met her, but I went with what I knew.
As backpackers on a budget, it was so nice to walk into our own clean, modern hotel room. What was even more luxurious was the balcony with a view – we really hit the jackpot! We had a corner room on the top floor with windows on both sides and a large balcony where you could see down the narrow cobblestone streets and up to the castle on the hill. Leaning over the balcony on either side offered a glimpse of the sea. I felt that my mom would’ve loved it. I almost felt guilty that I was the one experiencing it when it should have been her.
But I also felt like a part of her was there too. I never wanted to leave and Matt and I debated splurging to book an additional night on our own, but we knew one more night there would equate to the cost of two or three elsewhere, and we needed to keep heading north to reach Germany in time for Oktoberfest (where we had already really splurged, spending $250 USD to sleep on an old woman’s couch outside of Munich via Airbnb – Oktoberfest prices are crazy).
We had the most wonderful time in Nafplio. As Mimi recommended, we hiked up to Palamidi Castle one morning and soaked up the views from above Nafplio. We swam in the sea. Tanned on the beach. Ate gyros and gyros and gyros. Strolled down the cobblestone streets. Drank at the beach bar. Watched the sun sink behind the mountains over the sea. Ate several meals worth of food both mornings at the amazing hotel breakfast buffet.
If you are traveling in Greece, I highly recommend spending at least a couple days in Nafplio and staying at Victoria Hotel (get $20 off your stay at any hotel on Booking.com when you book with this link).
On our last evening in Nafplio, I couldn’t resist staying out of the cute boutiques any longer. Matt and I ended up in one where everything was 10 euros (very backpacker budget friendly) and they had staple items in an array of colors. At this point in the year, I was growing pretty sick of everything in my 70 liter backpack and was in need of a new dress (especially one that would pop in our photos and diversify our Instagram feed haha). It’s hard to beat a 10 euro dress, I knew it was a bargain my mom would’ve approved of. It felt fitting that I would buy a dress in Greece (heck, my mom would’ve bought me several).
My grief and my mom lead me to the most beautiful and charming little town of Nafplio, and for this I am grateful. Greece will always hold a special place in my heart.