7 days after the wedding, I'm sitting here just as excited as when we first landed in Thessaloniki. This experience was one of the highest highs so far and I'm still in awe of the series of events that brought us to the un-touristed lands of Macedonia.
The story began in Paris, 6 months ago…
It was November, and I was filming for class at Parisian high point of Sacre Coeur. I took a break and just happened to be positioned lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a man as he relieved his stance to one knee..
The romantic in me melted as I observed the couple's body language. Amidst tears and smiles, he slipped the ring on her finger and they embraced each other for their new life to begin.
I tapped the shutter of my iPhone and waited until I saw them shifting to leave. I paused, unsure if I should approach them with the photo of my onlooking perspective... They were strangers... but I felt a surge of excitement as I had witnessed one of the most joyous moments of their lives. I HAD to share the photo.
I approached them with an outward phone - They were very warm-hearted and so my intention for a quick congratulations turned into a brief conversation and I emailed the pic straight away on site.
Let us know if you ever come to Greece.
5 months went by and the encounter with the Greek engagées, Manolis and Maria, was always one of my favorite stories to share.
I coincidently booked a ticket to Athens for the end of May with two of my best friends from Wisconsin and remembered what Manolis said in about letting him know if I ever came to Greece...
From there, our email exchange led to a spontaneous invitation to their wedding, a Grecian fiesta to take place on the 10th of May in Serres, Macedonia, an inland ville on the northern edge of Greece's border with Bulgaria.
I shared the story with my friend and travel enthusiast Marlene, who supported its incredible odds and insisted that I attend the mysterious wedding... Together, we embarked, unsure of what to expect of the experience to ensue...
Starting in Rome.
We took the last flight out of Rome Fuimicino and arrived in Thessaloniki at one in the morning. The only non-Greeks on the plane, a great sign.
We had breakfast at the hotel while we waited to be picked up by some guy named Akis... Looking back, it's so funny to remember the initial hours of cordial interaction with Akis, a sweet stranger who was to be our guide and ride through the hills to Serres... As you'll see, he quickly became our numero uno.
Akis toured us around Thessaloniki for the afternoon and introduced us to Babis and all things Greek: the seaside, famous frappes, and men's fashion: aviators, polos, puffer vests, styled jeans, and trainers. But, there was nothing like Greek Tapas:
We arrived in Serres on Thursday evening where we were greeted by Manolis, groom-to-be. That evening, Maria joined and we got re-acquainted over tea. It was funny to be "re-united" and "introduced" all in the same instance. All I remembered of them was based on that initial iPhone shot...but it was if we had been friends forever.
While they were wrapping up wedding plans, Marlene and I spent the sunny days roaming around the streets of Serres... climbing hills and being scared of fluffy pups.
The night before the wedding, Maria's parents hosted a huge dinner and party at their home. We ate and ate and learned traditional dances until the early hours. Realizing how booming the band was, I mentioned how the neighbors must be jealous of all the fun we were having... "They're all HERE!" Of course they were!
...Thanks for the dance lessons and sorry to all whose feet I stepped on...
The day of the wedding, Marlene and I took to the winding roads under the hot sun before getting ready to see Maria.
Later, we joined friends and family members at the Psarra home to prepare the bride. We were given almonds covered in sweet white coating, "What are these??" "Candies you eat on weddings".. "Oh! Great!" we unraveled the ribbon and popped the sweet nuts in our mouths...we felt eyes on us and quickly learned that they were NOT to be eaten yet...uh.... we blushed and tried to reverse the karma by refilling our little parcels with new candies from a jar and got a load of laughs in return.
If only you could have seen the photographers.... they put a GoPro in a CANDLE. A GoPro in a CANDLE!!!!!! Still cracking up over how devoted this photo duo was. Maria and Manolis will have a play-by-play of the entire 12 hours.. I wonder if he will have to de-rush all the footage.
Rice was still falling out of our hair on the plane home the next day...
The days before I moved to Paris, everyone labeled it as my "adventure of a lifetime." And now, as I wrap up my ninth month of life in Europe, I've realized that “the adventure of a lifetime” isn't a single experience or even conglomeration of a few months outside of a traditional routine. "An adventure of a lifetime" is the lifetime itself and I couldn't be happier to share my lifetime of adventures more than with the people that I already do and the people that I eventually will.
Experiences like this can be imagined, but rarely lived. Now it's only 11 days before we head to Athens and Mykonos again to see the beautiful family and I can't wait for what else is in store. The sincerity and joyfulness spread by this whole family was contagious and to be able to take part in such authentic Greek culture has reminded me of the importance of kindness and human interaction. We as individuals, and as pairs, have such a capability to enrich the lives of others - what is everyday to one is exotic to the other - and what we share with others is just as much a part of us as it becomes of them.
Wherever in the world and however many years down the winding road, I extend a big Greek wedding invitation to the entire Psarra-Tsolakis family. Thank you for welcoming the two Americans and showing us how to generously celebrate life and happiness.
To Manolis, Maria and all of the friends we have made, I throw my arms out with a big smile and Na Sisete!!!
The photo that started it all.