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  • Writer's picturePippa

Growing Bolder in Athens

At times Facebook Memories has you cringing and there are others, like today, when you see a meme ( from a few years back that’s still pertinent. Today’s memory is a reminder that I can stay in my comfort zone (and grow older) or I can welcome adventure (and grow bolder). I believe I’ve already opted for the second choice while recognizing that some people are restricted, for many different reasons, to remain in their comfort zone and I acknowledge readily that getting to the point where you welcome adventure can be tough. Often, as many experts on the subject suggest, it’s because as we age we are fearful of change and I’m no stranger to that feeling.

First, Konstantinos sat next to me on my flight to Athens. He couldn’t understand why I was living on an island in Canada when I could be living on an island in Greece. And I continue to wonder about that too. Then, a few days later I met up with Stephanie of the Habibi Center. Over coffee, I mentioned Konstantinos’ suggestion about living in Greece and she laughingly teased she would try to convince me to stay here too. We imagined me coming to Athens for a few months during the year to volunteer at the Habibi and the rest of the time living on a Greek island. We could carry out periodic teacher team-building activities on the island. On New Year’s Day I spent an hour on the phone with my friend in Thessaloniki and jokingly told her about buying a small piece of property on a Greek island...she didn’t think it was so absurd but cautioned me to buy somewhere near a big hospital and recommended Crete. I'm planning to go to Crete in April. Maybe I should be contacting a real estate agent because, really, there are no reasons not to except...


You know you want to make certain changes in your life and in your routines. You work out that nothing prevents you from going ahead with your plans. You mull it over for a time and then you’re in. Checklists get made, dates set, travel booked. If you’re like me once you’ve established something is going to happen you start counting down to the next big moment in your life that could be a major turning point or not. You’re so many months, so many weeks, days, hours...and that’s when the anxiety I associate with change sets in. It involves waking up suddenly in the middle of the night or not being able to fall asleep at all. A feeling of distraction and an inability to concentrate. My brain and body toss and turn to a litany of irrational thoughts: would it be so terrible if I stayed home this winter?; they’ll miss me in the dragon boat or I’ll be so out of shape I’ll be a useless paddler come next racing season; Greece is taking me much closer to a war zone; maybe this skin lesion is something the dermatologist needs to see tomorrow; what if the airlines lose my suitcase?; what if, if, if, if, if, if?

I set off on this adventure in late November and here’s some of what’s happened so far…

  • I’ve been sleeping well ever since I left Victoria and that includes both the week I spent sleeping on an army cot and the loud rumbling that occurs here at about 6am each day. I thought “Earthquake!” the first morning until I remembered that the red metro line runs right next to the building and possibly right next to this very flat considering I live on the lower ground floor.

  • There are lots of nightmarish tales circulating right now about lost bags and cancelled flights but apart from the first flight everything else happened as scheduled.

  • Speaking of suitcases and the contents thereof, my life at the moment revolves around everything I brought with me in one suitcase and two small carry-on pieces. Interestingly, I quite like having a finite number of items to manage. But, if I can manage with a limited number of wordly goods now, how important is all the “stuff” waiting for me back home? Stay posted.

  • I’ve finally learned how to navigate unknown streets and places using my phone GPS. I feel fairly dauntless as I set off to explore a neighbourhood and discover new-to-me places.

  • Go ahead though and spend that bit of extra money on a taxi to or from the airport or the station. Yes, you could take the bus or the train and spend much less but you’ve earned the right to be comfortable (and feel safe) in retirement.

  • It’s easier now to focus on studying Greek. I’ve set myself to learn two new words or phrases each day in addition to following the Mango language learning syllabus. Suddenly, I’m getting the stress right on the long words and recognizing whole words when I overhear conversations in Greek. I ask people in shops to tell me the names for the objects we’re talking about like the guy who sold me a hook for my calendar or the lady at the bakery who remembered which bread I'd bought on a previous visit.

  • There’s a weekly farmers’ market near my flat and, not only is the produce local, seasonal and delicious, it is also much less expensive than the supermarket. Lemons and pomegranates are in abundance at this time of year along with the sweetest navel oranges, those tiny zucchini I like to sauté and stuff into an omelette, the fixings for a Greek salad or horiatiki salata (village salad as they call it ) and so many types of olives you didn’t know there were that many. It’s a bit like being a kid in a candy shop especially when you taste the grape tomatoes from Crete.

  • Once upon a time I wouldn't veer off into an expanse of unknown park on my own. Good thing that has changed or I wouldn't have seen these poppy anemones in the undergrowth up on Filopappou Hill on New Year’s Day. Spring has arrived early in Athens.

And I had doubts about leaving?

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