We landed at Heathrow at 6:35am and dragged ass off the plane. Unfortunately, I’d saved about $700.00 on our plane tickets (through Orbitz) by agreeing to a 10-hour layover. Due to the insane security issues of the day, we couldn’t leave, so we had to spend the whole time in the airport. We were dog-tired and I was further exhausted by whatever illness had decided this would be a funny time to attack. So, we spent the next ten hours shambling like zombies around the duty-free mall that is Heathrow airport.

Even weak and sick, I managed to marvel at Heathrow’s insanely multi-cultural environment. Talk about a melting pot of humanity! Absoloootely fascinating. Sean and I played a game where we sat on a bench and tried to identify the languages of the people passing by. I am guessing we must have heard well over 50 in just one hour.

I started to get the “I’m in a foreign country” vibe and I was liking how that felt. My stomach gurgled its assent.

Finally, it was time to catch our flight to Athens on Olympic Airlines #270, leaving at 4:35pm. Much more legroom! And, I have to say, the manliest flight attendants I’ve ever seen. Seriously. Even walking the aisles serving tea was done with a swagger and a gruff-voiced, “Te, parakalo? Te?” I already loved Greece.

As a sidenote, in preparation for Greece, Sean and I had learned 20 essential words/phrases, so I knew “parakalo” meant “please”. We also knew: “I’m sorry!”, “We’re lost!”, “Good morning!”, “Good afternoon!”, “Good evening!”, “I do not speak Greek!”, “I am American!”, “Excuse me!”, “Hello!”, “Goodbye!”, “You’re welcome!”, “How are you?!”, “My name is …!”, “One beer, please!”, “Where is the bathroom?!”, “Yes!”, “No!”, “Good heavens, there is a monkey in your sock, may I have one as well?!”

I put exclamation points on all of those phrases because it seemed impossible for me to accent the correct syllables, so everything I said came out sounding hyper-excited. Ef-har-EEE-sto!! I hoped people would think I was crazy rather than rude.

I did not eat on the plane because my stomach was still engaged in an uprising and I had decided to cut off its supplies in hopes of starving it to surrender. So, as we landed in Athens at 10:10pm, I was shocked that it still had some kick. Sean tried to maintain his happy, but I could see he was a bit worried. I joked about a “moment of truth for our Fantasy Travel plans” in an attempt to deflect talk from my stomach problems and he stopped and stared at me.

“Wait one second. Hold on. Are you stressing?!” He asked.

“No! I’m vacationing! Not stressing! Vacationing!”

“You are TOO stressing! You didn’t have anything bad to eat and you don’t have a touch of the flu! You have been stressing about Fantasy Travel this whole time and you’ve made yourself sick!” He insisted.

“Oh, get over yourself, Anxious Lad.” I grumbled. “In family Ware, I’m the chilled out one. You are the stresshead. I had a touch of the flu or something! Let’s get on with this.”

We proceeded on towards baggage claim with Sean chuckling and me muttering under my breath about stress and the type-A men in our house and calm women and pilgrims (not sure why, but I’m sure it had relevance at the time).

When we got to baggage claim, I looked around for a Fantasy Travel sign.

Nothing.

“*gurgle*,” my stomach said, in a bit of a snide tone.

I tried not to hyperventilate and mentally pitched some hard-core dark Voodoo towards the fat guy in Gabbs, Nevada who was, no doubt, playing a video game right this second on his new X-box 360 that he’d purchased with MY vacation money.

I tried to think of how to break it to Sean. This vacation meant so much to us. It meant a time to reset after all the tragedy of the last two years. It meant finding a place for Sean to finally relax and get comfortable with himself again after his brain injury. It meant time for us to sit back and cherish the idea that we hadn’t been separated by death or brain damage. It meant so much and … well, I’d made a bad call. This was all my fault. I’d found Fantasy Travel. This was all my fault.

“Steph,” Sean said, not looking my way, “if you are expecting Fantasy Travel to be in the baggage claim, stop. They can’t come through. Customs, remember? They have to meet us outside the gate.”

I went ahead and openly paced until our bags arrived, since the gig was up anyway. I virtually burst from the doors outside Customs, looking around wildly for our sign.

She stood in a shaft of golden sunlight. Her hair was dark and long, her skin burnished. Her brown eyes twinkled as she smiled at us and beckoned slowly with the hand not holding the “Fantasy Travel: The WARES” sign. Angels sang. Goats bleated softly in the hills. The masses wept with joy. I approached our savior and sunk to my knees, head bowed.

Not really. But, I was mighty happy to see the Fantasy Travel sign with “WARES” written in large letters underneath.

*gurgle,” said my stomach. And that, I am happy to say, was the last thing my stomach said the entire trip.

“Mrs. Dulce?” I asked, approaching the girl.

She laughed and haltingly explained that she did not speak English well, but that she was Mrs. Dulce’s assistant. And then, seriously, I hugged her. I don’t go around hugging strangers, but I was that relieved.

Next time I’m cynical, I’m going to try to remember that moment. It was a good lesson. Don’t blindly trust, but, if you’ve done the legwork and your research says it all checks out, don’t be a paranoid American, just chill out. You’ll make yourself sick. Mentally, I flipped the fat guy from Gabbs, Nevada the bird. He was sitting in his unfurnished apartment looking dejected and eating unbuttered toast. Good.

Mrs. Dulce’s assistant led us outside where a burly guy was waiting next to a beautiful Mercedes cab. We piled in while he loaded our luggage in back. The whole way into Athens, we chatted excitedly. Jr. Dulce (I’m sorry, I’ve completely spaced her name) gave us a packet and explained that all of our vouchers were inside. I looked and lo! There, all neat and orderly, were vouchers and tickets for every single part of our trip. I LOVE FANTASY TRAVEL!!

Hrm.

Well, I do.

Jr. Dulce asked us all about America. She said she was coming in the winter to a conference in New York. She had a week and asked it if would be possible to do her conference then visit Vermont and Colorado, possibly stopping off in Chicago, if that wouldn’t be too much. We all had a good time trying to break the language barrier in order to explain the size of the States.

Then, she told us all about Athens and was so utterly enthusiastic regarding her love of her city, I couldn’t wait to explore every corner.

Finally, we arrived at our hotel – The Athens Cypria. It was a beautiful place, with a garden cafe at the front opening on a gorgeous tile lobby. Jr. Dulce saw us in, gave us both huge hugs and a double-cheek-smooch, wished us a wonderful trip, hugged us again and left. We handed the equally nice hotel desk clerk our Fantasty Travel voucher and were hustled up to our room.

Our room was huge, modern and very clean. We took showers and set our alarm for 5:30am, since our cab would be at the hotel at 6:30am to take us to our rendevous with the ferry to Sifnos at 7am. Then, we raided the mini bar for a couple of snacks, as I was suddenly famished from 30 hours of sickness and self-imposed starvation.

“How’s your stomach?” Sean asked.

“You know? It’s weird, but it’s just fine. I feel great, in fact. Must have been a 24 hour bug.” I said.

He just chuckled and shook his head.

We were asleep by 1:30am.

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