During this week’s Hiatus I recalled this story I originally shared over on my Everyday Mommy blog. I hope you enjoy!
When I was twenty-one I spent the summer backpacking around Europe. My parents helped me buy a Eurail Pass and I set out to see the world. I had previously spent the year as an exchange student in Austria, so my parents were not strangers to me being long distances away, however sitting here in a parents shoes, and knowing just how close to real trouble I had skated, my heart cries in fear of my almost certain future.
I think fondly of the brave girl I once was and remain grateful and thankful that my edges of disaster never played out like the crime dramas my Sweetie and I now enjoy. That Law and Order episode where the young hitchhiker was found in a ditch could easily have been my story except the crazy guy and his sister who gave me a ride just wanted help with their gas money. If I didn’t want to help pay, there were other “options” but I was never forced into anything.
At another point in my trip, I hooked up with several other travelers I had met on the train in Italy and decided to join them on the ferry to Greece. In Athens the five of us, two Americans, one Australian, one Norwegian and one Dutch, were wandering through the tourist market enjoying the haggling and the sites when we happened into a pottery vendor’s stall and struck up a conversation with the owner. We were easily marked as tourists but because we were such an international bunch speaking several languages I was convinced we were “different” from the usual tourists he had met so it didn’t seem at all odd when he invited us to have dinner at his brothers restaurant. “So you can see a “real” Greek restaurant. not the crappy plate throwing tourist spots.” We were given the address and told he would meet us there.
We arrived at the restaurant, after paying a lot more then we wanted for a cab that squeezed an extra person in so we wouldn’t have to take two, a little concerned that dinner might end up costing us way more then we were able to spend. Entering through the heavy drape that partitioned the bar from the dining area we marveled at the red velvet upholstery and ornate paneling in the room. In the five minutes it took for our contact from the market to join us we had already hatched a plan to have an appetizer and leave. This place was so out of our $2 a day youth hostel budget, I had already envisioned subsisting on bread and water for the rest of my trip.
We expressed our concern immediately and told the guy from the market that we wouldn’t be able to stay for dinner. He said he was disappointed but because we had come so far, he would buy us a drink. Only one of us had ever tried Ouzo before so it seemed like a fun invitation. When the waiter left us the bottle at the table and our pottery guy also order calamari it became harder to leave. The conversation was interesting, the white liquid initially assaulting became warm and pleasant. We were laughing and everyone was having a great time.
The other American, a guy from California who had traveled all summer with a backpack smaller then the one my three year old takes to preschool, was the first to express concern. “We really need to be leaving…”
To which our host replied, “What is your hurry? I’m buying.”
We checked in, “Are you sure? All this Ouzo?”
“Of course!! It’s my brother’s place, this is our gift to you.” More Calamari and some other food arrive.
“We can’t pay for this.”
“You don’t have to…”
And in seconds, what previously felt like a warm and cozy party morphed into a dark and sickening swirl. Where exactly were we? How much of this Ouzo had we had? Was there something else in the stuff? “I don’t feel so good.” the girl from Holland said.
Our host tries to belay our fears. “No, no, you misunderstand. I just want to talk with you.” He then singles out the Australian Girl and says, pointing to another booth across the room, “Can I just talk to you over there for a minute?”
Not really sure what else we should do, we watch as they speak in hushed tones. Minutes later she returns and he asks to speak to the Norwegian guy.
Bottom line, our “benefactor” was making in clear that we were going to have to pay for this hospitality in some way or another. If one of us, any of us was willing to have sex with him there would be no charge. If not, we had better just empty our wallets and leave.
I honestly can’t remember the flurried details of those last ouzo hazed minutes when we called a cab, pretended we were going to take him up on his offer and raced out of the place while tossing a few drachma (this was way before the Euro!) on the table to lessen the chance of being arrested for not buying our meal. We were in a foreign country, did not speak the language and were fairly certain the police would not take our side.
We were not harmed but it could easily have gone another way. The five of us were traumatized and our plans to spend several more days together cut short. No one said that night was the reason, but suddenly we all had “must see” tourist destinations in different directions. The California guy and I would take the ferry back to Italy together but once there he would go north and I would head to Rome. The company was pleasant but not nearly the fun of our ride towards Greece. Our innocence was lost and we didn’t want to remind each other.
I am much wiser and certainly more worldly because of that trip but it wasn’t just danger that shaped me. I also have many tales of utter delight and serendipity that added to my character that summer. Looking back, I can point to several specific moments during that trip where I chose the traits of the woman I am now, and without that trip I know I would not be me.
I know some day my daughter will take her version of this trip. The bravery I learned on mine, will serve me well then.