Journey to Greece, Day One: Lady Liberty, 9/11 Memorial and great Italian food

Greece, refugees

Remember my post about crazy busy. Yeah, well, there’s a reason I know all about that….school, work projects, family and hey! Let’s toss in a trip to Greece!

Not just a trip to Greece, but a trip to serve in refugee camps IN Greece. I’ve been wanting to serve in a refugee camp (or more than one) for some months now and about 6 weeks ago, decided now was the time. I also wanted Greg to join me this time. Being so busy with everything else, I have not had much time to think about the trip. In fact, I bought tickets barely two weeks ago.

We still managed to gather 150 pounds of donations – thanks, friends!  We brought with us 200 darling little wooden cars, donated by The Happy Factory and hundreds of pairs of socks, underwear and about 4 dozen pairs of leggings. I have awesome friends. We took one additional 50 pound bag of donations, threw some clothes into 2 rolling carry-ons, added 2 backpacks with a camera, Kindles, a laptop and a couple of toothbrushes and by 8:30 pm Friday night, we were on our way.

I’d like to tell you that I left nothing undone at home before we left, but alas, ‘twould be a lie. My room is a wreck and I still have two papers to finish and a final to take as the semester winds to a close next week but, thanks to wi-fi, I can do that from Greece.

In any case, one of the trade-offs for buying last minute tickets for cheap prices is we got to fly two red-eye flights in a row. The first leg, Salt Lake City to JFK, on Friday night and the second leg, Newark to Athens on Saturday. And no napping in New York! I had only been a couple of times and Greg had never been, so we knew we’d be doing the tourist thing during our long, long layover.

immigration Ellis Island
Immigration statue in Battery Park
The globe that stood by the Twin Towers and which was damaged during the 9/11 attacks.

We landed about 6:15 am Eastern time, or 4:15 am to us. Short night. After paying to stow our luggage at JFK, we took the subway into downtown Manhattan and went to Battery Park to get tickets to go to Liberty and Ellis Islands. It was a Saturday, granted, but the middle of April hardly seems peak tourist season. The lines to buy tickets for the ferries and then get one them were painfully long – and not only long, but awkwardly close. “ Why are all these people touching me?!” I’m an American, OK, and I have personal space boundaries that were getting crossed all day long. And I’m an extrovert!

It was probably 12:30 by the time we got on the ferry to make the short journey to Liberty Island and I already had blisters on my feet – 3 on the left, 1 on the right. Even with nice new Nikes. Sigh. I just cannot find tennis shoes that are comfortable and don’t cause blisters. I’ve been limping ever since….

Seeing Lady Liberty

Lady Liberty with spring blossoms

Greg and I went to the top deck, where it was fairly chilly and windy but felt good. As the ferry turned to go around Liberty Island and the great Lady Liberty came into view, I was struck with the magnitude of her message of welcome. I found myself with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat at the greatness – and graciousness – she represents. It is not lost on me that as I visited her, with her “lamp beside the golden door,” I am on my way to visit those who are tired, poor, homeless, and literally tempest-tossed as they fled places they could not “breathe free” in even the most basic of ways.

We did the audio tour around the small island and I learned that at the “grand opening” of this statue of of a woman representing one of our most cherished values – liberty – women, were in fact, not welcome. Not even allowed on the island. Some suffragettes rented a boat and circled the island while the men celebrated a great lady – without women. The irony…..

Ellis Island

From Liberty Island, we ferried to Ellis Island and toured the great hall where so many immigrants began their new life in America. Did you know that only about 2% were not allowed to enter the US and for most of those, it was a delay to treat illness, not an outright refusal. Ninety-eight percent got in on the first try. I also learned that anti-immigrant sentiment is nothing new. “They’ll take your jobs!” “They don’t want to assimilate!” “They will destroy the American way of life!” Sound familiar? They were said 100 years ago and the immigrants were not from Mexico or Syria, they were from Ireland and Italy.

After leaving Ellis Island and returning to Battery Park, we walked (well, Greg walked, I hobbled) to the World Trade Center 9/11 memorial site. I had been there twice before – in the summer of 2005, when it was still a debris-filled site and then again in 2012, shortly after the memorial had opened. The first time, I remember feeling so overwhelmed by the feeling of deep reverence that was there – peaceful and profound, like attending a sacred and holy site. I felt it again in 2012, but interestingly, I did not this time. I told Greg that maybe those who had died there have now moved on. It was an interesting difference.

We then went in search of dinner. Due to our apparently inability to follow the GPS directions on my phone, we ended up walking in circles for what felt like forever, until a New York City resident took pity on us, saying “I can always tell when tourists are lost” – probably because I was sitting on some steps mumbling over the phone……She pointed us in the right direction and we settled on a little authentic Italian place. We started with bruschetta. (I forgot to take a picture of it. That right there is reason enough to know I will never be a food blogger. I would rather eat food than photograph it. And stage it? Ain’t nobody got time for that!….) Our bruschetta was followed by tortellina in a cream sauce with prosciutto and peas, and spaghetti with julienned beets. (I did photograph that.) And chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce, which I once again forgot to take a picture of.

We then got on a very crowded subway to head back to JFK, then double back to the Newark Airport. If they had luggage storage at Newark, we would have gone there first thing in the morning, but I heard they did not, hence the back and forth. Remind me to tell you sometime of the manifesting I did to get from JFK to Newark on time. Kinda miraculous.

And that, my friends, is Day One.

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