Greece: Day 1
My first Day in Athens is combined with a travel day. I woke up at 1:30AM on Saturday the 29th to get ready for my flight at 6AM out of LAX. First I washed all of my linens because I like to come home to everything clean. I got ready, and took Lyft to the airport at 3:30AM. I arrived to the airport at 4AM and checked in my luggage. I went through security and did my usual dance with TSA to clear Chris’s ashes.
I sat around and waited for the first leg of the flight to JFK. Everything was thankfully on time and away I went. At JFK, I had lunch at Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s restaurant, it was great!! Then boarded the next flight to Athens.
So funny story, on both flights I sat next to some attractive fellas and both now have my phone number (no, I did not ask for theirs, they can call if they want). As Forrest Gump would say, that’s all I have to say about that.
I arrived to Greece not so well rested ( see previous paragraph), cleared customs rather quickly and was on my way to the hotel. I am joining another tour group here and I arrived to the hotel with about 6 other people that are part of the group. We all arrived early so some were trying to figure out what to do or if they should eat because it was only 11AM and our rooms weren’t ready. I grabbed a map, figured out how to get to the Parthenon and off I went! There were some ladies that originally said they wanted to walk to the city center and we were all walking together at one point but then after two blocks they changed their mind so I was on my own.
It has been raining all day in Athens and that makes me love the city even more. I walked and walked and walked, suddenly I saw it in the distance, the Parthenon. I became giddy and rushed myself a bit. I walked around a lot, exploring and enjoying the sights. After all this exploration I came up in a little cafe and I had some warm comfort food on this rainy Sunday: Moussaka! It was DELICIOUS! Also, noticed that there is a lot of graffiti in Athens which I actually enjoy!
After lunch I found a metro station and made my way back to my hotel. The metro was easy to use and only cost 1.40 €. At the hotel I took a nap for a couple of hours, organized myself, and then went down to the lobby to have our first group tour meeting.
First we had some chips and champagne in the main conference room. We went around introducing ourselves and lo and behold, lots of Americans with a few Aussies and two young girls from Asia (I’ll get country specifics later, I’m sure). Once introductions were done, we went to the top floor of the restaurant where we had an AMAZING meal! It began with a Greek salad. Our main course consisted of delicious grilled pork. Dessert was a lovely chocolate mousse with a tarte sauce and vanilla ice cream. All of this with free flowing wine and a view of the Acropolis.
What an awesome first day!!!
Last Saturday, I had several people over at my new home to celebrate Chris. People came from far and wide to attend. I made all of Chris's favorite foods: Pulled pork chili, caramelized onion, pancetta, and gruyere tarte, tritip with baby potatoes, and his favorite oatmeal cookies. Everyone had a great time, and it was wonderful to catch up with everyone.
This is the last gathering I think I will organize for Chris. I'm the spirit of moving forward, I am continuing my travels to spread his ashes. I am so grateful for everyone that came on Saturday night; I am truly touched.
One Year Later
Yesterday was one year since Chris went to heaven. I have had a chance to reflect in the past year and see so much change and movement. Chris wanted me to move forward and live a full, happy life. He said I would be honoring him by doing so. I am so grateful to have had such a selfless, courageous husband.
On Tuesday, I drove up to Sacramento. I had a great date night and slept. Wednesday morning I woke up and met with my old friend Karla. We walked to the police memorial at the state capitol and I discretely spread some ashes in the center area.
Karla and I walked to a nice little local place for breakfast where they had challah French toast, Chris’s favorite. I ordered the French toast and it was delicious!
After breakfast, we said our goodbyes and I drove to the CHP Academy. I went to the main administration building and went to where all the class plaques are located. I took several pictures of Chris’s class plaque. I also went to the store and bought myself a CHP blouse. As I walked outside, I took Chris’s ashes in my hand and slowly let them go in a beautiful green area as I walked around. I took my time since I knew it would likely be the last time I would be there.
I sat in my car and cried. I wished I had someone there to lend a shoulder. I began my six hour drive home and replayed the details of that day a year ago. At every hour that passed I remembered exactly what I was doing a year ago.
I’m grateful for the people that reached out to me yesterday. And more so for being with me through every step of this journey. Thank you.
The first time Chris and I went up to Sacramento, we enjoyed dinner at The Rind, and then dessert at Ginger Elizabeth, per the recommendation of my college buddy Scott who lived in Sacramento at the time. The Rind is a wine and cheese bar that both Chris and I wished we had in LA. We thoroughly enjoyed the food, wine, and cheese. Ginger Elizabeth is a chocolate place that fulfilled our sweet craving after indulging at The Rind.
Today I drove to Sacramento. One year ago tonight, Chris and I were talking on the phone and discussing plans for the rest of the year and planning our week ahead. We said, “I love you” to each other and wished each other a good night. That was the last time I spoke with my husband.
Today I thought it appropriate to have dinner at The Rind and grab some chocolates at Ginger Elizabeth. I arrived to my hotel downtown and walked to The Rind. I ordered a meat and cheese platter and a glass of wine. I also orders the Mac and cheese which was Chris’s favorite! I ate slowly and reminisced about the first time we went to The Rind. We sat at a table and ordered several glasses of wine and very much enjoyed the wide selection of cheese they had available. We were in heaven! It was a wonderful night. I brought Chris’s ashes with me to The Rind. It was our own little date night once again, just like the first time. While I enjoyed dinner, I noticed that there were a few Cal Fire firemen outside, stranded because their truck died. When I asked for the check, I asked the server to package a dessert so I could take it to the firemen. He brought me chocolate mousse and I promptly left The Rind and walked to the firemen. I told them that my late husband was also a first responder and that I appreciated what they do for the state. I started crying and one of the firemen put his arm around me and said he was very sorry for losing Chris. Another fireman came over and I told them that I lost my husband a year ago. I told them I am going to the Academy tomorrow. They asked me about Chris and I told them he was a Lieutenant with the CHP. I said my goodbyes and walked to Ginger Elizabeth. I bought some chocolates and also got frozen hot chocolate for myself. I walked back past the firemen and I offered them some chocolates; told them they were Chris's favorites. I left and walked to the rose garden in front of the state capitol. I left a little bit of Chris there as I walked through the Rose garden and smelled the beautiful roses.
I am am looking forward to visiting the academy tomorrow. First I will enjoy breakfast with my long time friend, Karla, then head to the Academy. I plan to take pictures of Chris’s name on his class plaque. Hopefully I’ll be able to walk around the grounds one last time. I think this will be the last time I visit the Academy. I am moving forward and doing what Chris asked me to do... to move on and live my life to the fullest!
Day 14: I’m home
I have been up since 3am Pacific Time. I purposely did not sleep on my flight so that when I arrived home I could go straight to sleep. As the plane took off, I shed a tear, knowing I was leaving a little piece of Chris behind.
I arrived to the airport a few hours early so I had a nice lunch first then walked around the duty free shops a bit. My flight left an hour late from Warsaw at 6pm, arrived to LA at 9pm today. We landed quite far and had to take a bus to the Customs area. It took a while and I finally left the airport at 10:40 on the Hertz shuttle bus. I arranged for my mom to meet me at the condo Chris and I first lived in when we were married. I thought it would be easier than having them go to the airport in a Friday night. The Hertz lot is only a block away from the condo so it was easy. My parents drove me to CVS so I could finally get proper meds for this cold I’ve had for 10 days now. I’m home and I am so grateful. Thanks, everyone, for following along! I’m so happy to be home!
Day 13: A Fond Farewell
Today was a bit difficult to start. I didn’t sleep well because I kept thinking about Chris and how I was finally in Poland. I wanted to make sure I honored him properly in the country of his father’s side.
The day began with a city tour. First we went to a beautiful park where there was a statue of Chopin in the middle. There was beautiful greenery everywhere and flowers blooming. I thought this would be a great place to spread Chris’s ashes so I found a bench removed from the group and I let go of some ashes. I felt very at peace, and felt this was the right place to release Chris.
We moved on to the site of the Warsaw ghetto. The original buildings had been destroyed and only monuments remain where the ghetto once stood. I found a bench, again removed from the group, and I spread Chris’s ashes. I felt this honored both his mother’s side and father since he is half Jewish from his mom’s side.
Our group continued to the old part of town in the city center. This is mostly old buildings and some replicas of old building (since a lot of Warsaw was destroyed in the war). We were give free time here. It is very beautiful and full of churches and statues. I walked in to an old Catholic Church that was originally built in 1370. During the war it was destroyed and once again rebuilt in 1956. I went inside and sat in a pew and cried. I prayed and spoke to Chris in my head. I don’t know how long I sat there. I took inventory of the last year and realized that even though I got through it all, it was painful and difficult. I had a lot of people around me that helped me both physically and emotionally. I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t have an amazing tribe with me taking every step with me. I sat at that church and prayed for everyone that helped me and my hope is that everyone be blessed a hundred time over.
After church I walked to a hidden Polish restaurant. I ordered pork and potatoes and Polish wine. It was a wonderful meal and the whole time I was thinking about how grateful and humbled I feel to be here. Two gentlemen on bicycles went by and stopped in from of where I was sitting outside. The older gentleman was speaking English and told his tour guide how he wished he could take a little table home to his wife. He was speaking English so I asked him, doesn’t it fit in your suitcase? He laughed and asked me where I was from. I told him I’m from Los Angeles, and he told me he was from Virginia. He read the shirt I was wearing which says, “Life is too short for bad shoes and bad wine,” and asked if he could take my picture. I lifted my wine glass and said, Cheers!!
After lunch I went to a Chopin concert. Chopin is one of my FAVORITE composer. His Nocturnes speak to my soul in a way no other classical compositions have. I adore him!!! This was a private concert for only about 20 people. I nearly passed out of sheer happiness. The performer was quite a virtuoso. She has an amazing Resume of accomplishments, it was wonderful to be there! If you know me, you know I was classically trained for 15 years, so Chopin and I go way back!
After the concert we returned to the hotel for just a bit of rest. Then we went out for a final farewell dinner. It was wonderful to have authentic Polish food. We had kielbasa and I enjoyed the best pierogis I’ve ever had!! We enjoyed Polish wine and a wonderful dinner. We also had live music with a guitar and accordion. When we recognized the songs we would all sing along with the music. A great time was had by all! I am so grateful for the people I met on the trip. They all made the trip memorable! Tomorrow, I have a late checkout and a direct flight back home. I’m ready to return!
I want to mention some people from my tour group that have touched my heart. Natalie from Canada is the sweetest, most thoughtful person with a heart of gold and the confidence of a rock star! Her hugs and her heart shone through her beautiful eyes and hugs. Claudia and Troy from Florida have been an example of what I know Chris and I would have been. The way they love each other, and are also the best of friends is heartwarming to experience. Diane and Phil, also from Florida, were the first people I met. We sat down for breakfast together at Copenhagen. I felt so at ease with them and I just opened up and told them I was on this trip to spread Chris’s ashes. Diane was present when I released Chris in Russia. The zest both Phil and Diane share for life is inspiring. Cat and Kellie have been great fellow solo travelers who have demonstrated that wonderful Australian spark and kept me so cheery! They are adventurous and brilliant ladies that I hope to see again! Another traveler from Pennsylvania, Minerva, also lost her husband two years ago and also wears his ashes around her neck. It was lovely to share stories of how we met our spouses and how our love stories developed. I confided in her that I had spent a long time in church crying today. She shared with me her pain and how hard it was for her as well. Lastly, my roommate Judy. She took care of me with her actions. She inspires me to do more and be more. I know we will see each other again.
To all of these people, you are welcome to my home anytime. You have my heart. Until we meet again!
Day 12: Back in the EU
Today was mostly a driving day; however, there were some nice bits throughout the day.
We left The hotel in Minsk and drove to a memorial that honored Belarusian Jews that were sent to concentration camps. The memorial is quite poignant. You can feel the fear and despair as the sculpture shows the people lining up to go into a gas chamber. It was very moving.
We made a brief bathroom stop at a gas station and I noticed crab-flavored chips. They must be popular in Belarus because there were three different types!
After that stop we continued our journey to Warsaw. We stopped at a city called Brest (still in Belarus) just before the Polish border for lunch. It was a nice lunch and I have very much been enjoying the soups and authentic meals. After lunch we drive to the Belarusian border where we were able to line up and go through their customs rather quickly. We all boarded the bus again and went to the Polish border. This was another story. We ended up being there about 3.5 hours. We had to unload the bus of all our belongings, luggage and all. We went through customs and had to re board the bus again. I don’t know how our driver did it. He had to pull out all our suitcases and then reload them again. There has to be about 40 full size suitcases plus carryon luggage! Anyways, we continued our way to Warsaw. We arrived at our hotel just after 7pm. We had dinner for the group at 7:30pm. We said goodbye to our driver, Tomas, at the dinner as he was leaving our group to take mandatory time off after being with us for 12 straight days. He was a great part of our tour. He taught me how to properly pronounce my last name in Polish. :-) He reminded me a lot of Chris actually. He was quite tall, always smiling and a gentleman, very helpful with a calming energy.
PS: today’s blog may post be late as WiFi has been spotty in my room.
Day 11: I remember
I really missed home today. I cannot ignore the fact that today is 9/11. I think every American remembers the exact time and place they were when they found out about the terrorist attacks. When I finally arrived to the hotel in Minsk and got WiFi, I went online to read about 9/11 news. It somehow comforted me and made me feel better seeing people back home honoring the fallen. In Europe, it’s just another day.
This morning we left Moscow at 7:45 and headed to Minsk. We made a lunch stop at this lovely hotel in Smolensk that had a nice restaurant. The hotel had a nice covered area outside and beautiful greenery. I knew that this would be the only opportunity it’s I would have to spread Chris’s ashes, so I went behind a nice patio area and found some beautiful flowers and spread his ashes there.
The route to Minsk was mostly farmland. It was quite a contrast to Russia. Nice to see rolling hills for miles and miles though. We arrived to Minsk at 7pm and I went straight to my room to rest. I never really recovered from being sick last week and it seems I may have overdone it yesterday being out late. I am definitely feeling the effects today. We had a group dinner at 8pm and enjoyed the company of two couples. One from Florida, and one from Melbourne. After dinner, now at my room, I plan to rest and be up early again tomorrow. Tomorrow is the trip to our final stop, Warsaw.
Day 10: Moscow Adventure
Today was AWESOME! I am beyond exhausted but it was well worth it! We went on a city tour for a couple of hours. Visited several important sites and took lots of photos. We went to the Red Square and took day time photos. I also went in to the Gym (Pronounced, “goom”) mall and had a scoop of mango sorbet on a waffle cone. I also went to a candy shop and had some Russian chocolates. I meant to bring them back home but they’re gone.
Afterwards, we went to a street called Arbat and had the opportunity to walk around the pedestrian street and shop and enjoy lunch. I had beef with mashed potatoes and borscht. Afterwards I walked almost the whole length of Arbat Street. It was quite a trek. After lunch, we went to a church called Christ the savior. Pictures were not allowed inside, but I can say that it was probably one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen. I bought a little candle, I lit the candle and stood in front of Jesus on the Cross and prayed and cried. It was a truly gorgeous church, with several locals in there praying and also lighting candles. The Russian Orthodox Church is very similar to the Catholic Church which I think is why I felt so at home.
After Church we went inside the Kremlin. Kremlin means fort, and inside the fort are several churches and Putin’s office. We had to go through security and X-ray (for bags) to get in. Inside there was also a museum where I was able to see original carriages that carried queens and kings through a thousand year history. Everything was very ornate with lots of diamonds, pearls, and other precious gems. It was amazing that these were all originals and have been preserved this long.
After touring the kremlin, four of us decided to stay behind and continue to explore the area around the Red Square. Two ladies are educators from Australia, and the other is my roommate from Canada. The rest of our tour group went back to the hotel and rested. Granted, we were exhausted but you never know when you will come back to a foreign country so we chose to take advantage of our time. We went to more churches and took pictures. I chose a beautiful church where I was able to spread some of Chris’s ashes. We found a great restaurant that overlooked the Red Square called, Bosco. We had a wonderful meal!! After dinner we went to St Basil’s once again for more pictures and then we took the metro back to our hotel. I must look shady because I was asked to put my backpack through an X-ray machine by police at the metro. None of the other three ladies I was with were asked to do that. Regardless, it was an amazing day... I feel so grateful for everything I was able to fit in during my stay in Moscow.
Have passport, will travel.