New Greek Friend:
A lesson in “home is where the heart is”
by Doug Eads
When life gets busy, it’s so easy to become self-involved and to miss the special moments: a stellar crimson sunset, a child’s tender voice, a kiss badly needed by a loved one. Many of you reading my regular Senior Citizen submissions know that my wife Carol and I are quite passionate about travel and the special moments that traveling can offer. So today I want to share with you one of those moments; I want you to meet our new friend George Kokkotos of Athens, Greece. George was our guide, tour arranger, mentor, and friend during the time we spent in the very special city of Athens.
George and family
It wasn’t long before George told us his life story. “I left my native Greece in 1969 due to a real economic slow down, and I wanted more for my family. It was a tough decision – Think about it Doug, wouldn’t it be tough to leave your country, friends and family?” he said with passion and conviction. “I first went to Australia for work, and in 1970 I met my Greek wife. We then decided to move to the USA in 1973. I had relatives there to help me find work. You can imagine how much we missed Greece, but imagine also the excitement we felt facing new adventures.”
“My relatives in the USA helped me a lot during the first years. I finally acquired a restaurant in New York City, but then in 1983 my wife and I decided it was time to return to Greece. Greeks are very close to their families and having them so far away was difficult for us, and also therefore the reason for our return. If you have seen the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding you will understand what I mean,” he said with a wry smile. His story was both emotional and revealing. George is a man of purpose and passion with great love for his family and memories of his homeland that were obviously gnawing at him.
“Returning to Greece did not solve our economic wishes at the time, so after returning ‘home,’ I decided that I must return to the States. Since it was so difficult to return the whole family, it was decided I would go there to work for six months every year and spend the rest of the year in Greece with my family. This went on until 1991, when I finally decided I had to live in Greece permanently, nearer to my family and my heart and homeland.”
Carol and I were moved by George’s poignant story of a family in search of family, love, long-time friends and a homeland. His story demonstrated the conflicted feelings that so many economic refugees experience; these had been good time and hard times for the Kokkotos family.
With obvious pride in his limousine and tour/taxi services, George said, "I am back in Greece now, but it had taken me 10 years of work and savings to make enough money to start my business. It has not been easy, but now I am busy all year around and thirty per cent of my customers are return visitors. I also get many referrals!”
“My son Dennis is working with me driving the seven-seat limo that I now have. Sometimes my older son Billy works with me part-time, especially during his university vacations. I have three sons in total Billy, Dennis, and Nick. Nick is 19 years old.” He paused and then with a teasing grin said, “None of them are married yet … do you remember the movie I mentioned?”
We discussed his travel business and George commented: “My goal is to remain who I am … just be George Kokkotos. I am proud of that, and of my business. I want to be sure that my clients will go home after one of our tours happy and satisfied. I don’t want to have more taxis just to serve more people. I feel that too high a volume of business will be detrimental to the quality of the service my company provides. I am very proud of our level of service and want to keep it working that way.”
Carol and I discovered George and his personalized tour service on the Internet. We knew we would have some extra days in Athens after our summer cruise last year, and so we searched for tour companies that were not huge and impersonal. We also knew that because we only had a couple of extra days, we wanted a personal perspective on the city. And because this was also our first visit to the cradle of the civilized world, we needed someone who could help us organize our time and our activities.
We came across various web reviews and web pages that made reference to George – the power of the new electronic world of travel – and so we sent him an email. Not knowing how much we could see realistically and comfortably in two days, we left the arrangements up to George. A bit of a risk, I suppose, but we were not disappointed. By return email he assured us we would be pleased, and so we were. He also offered us advice before our trip. George knew that if we stayed at a hotel in the old town area (the Plaka district), we could easily navigate on foot many of the ancient sites, markets, and shops. On our arrival, we discovered that he had also prepared a detailed plan for us which helped us find out-of-the-way sites that tourists often miss. And he gave us his exceptional personal service at a very affordable rate.
When our ship entered port, George was there waiting for us. The next few hours were a perfectly orchestrated and comfortable personal tour of pleasing sights and sounds through our fresh eyes as well as those of an Athenian – George. He showed us the remote ancient Byzantine Monasteries of Kessariani and Daphni, and provided his own quiet commentary. The couple of hours we spent with him at the Acropolis were worth a whole day. He showed us the new Olympic Park and one classical wonder after another, always adding his own personal details and stories. And while we were discovering this ancient city, we were also getting to know a local, grassroots business and a warm and engaging family man who made us feel as if we were family too.
Since the success of the Olympics in that ancient city, Athens has remained in a very upbeat mood. We felt a renewed sense of pride among the people of Athens, and George Kokkotos embodied that pride.
If you visit this magnificent city, please give our regards to our new friend George Kokkotos. And we hope you experience the same spirited mood of oom-pa we did.
If You Go:
George’s Taxi/Tour Services (www.athensguide.com/taxi.html)
George Kokkotos Best Guide in Greece (www.magicaljourneys.com/Travel/travel-travel-george.html)
George the Famous Taxi Driver of Greece (www.greecetravel.com/taxi/()
Email George at: email@example.com
TIP: When making arrangement with a guide or driver
as we did, know your price, and if this same company is taking you to
the airport, I advise that you leave the final payment of perhaps 30 per
cent until you are
George's pride and joy