The plan was to rendezvous in Athens, Greece, with our son, Michael, who was then living in Belgrade, Serbia, and travel together to Santorini for a family vacation. As the saying goes, the best laid plans… My version is one (worried mother’s) story and my husband who stayed behind to wait for Michael in Athens while Brian, Abi, and I went ahead to Santorini has another version, and Michael himself has yet another tale. They are all true.
This is Michael’s story, written by him as my guest writer this week.
Sirens of the Lambs
It started sweetly enough like a siren song, when I’d been told by this blog’s author that I would fly to Athens in order to meet up with the family. It sounded good.
In a roundabout way, it ended more or less as planned.
I just hadn’t planned on the way round.
On a sunny Saturday afternoon in April, 2013, I made my way with incredibly limited funds on a bus to Belgrade, Serbia’s Nikola Tesla Airport, where I was told my scheduled flight wouldn’t depart until the following day. While Nikola Tesla defined technology for his era, the airport that bears his name is far from “current”, so I had to take the agonizingly slow bus back into town and log onto the internet to inform the author that I would not be arriving in Athens that day.
On Sunday, I went back to the airport, my funds now three airport trips lower.
As a general rule, I usually avoid male police officers, but due to the cosmic alignment, I had no choice at airport customs that day. He was young, fresh, and not bored by years of airport tedium. Additionally, not another soul had queued up behind me.
He questioned me in Serbian; I replied in a confused fashion in English, feigning ignorance in spite of my Serbian fluency. My charade didn’t work because the date stamps in my passport didn’t add up to a legal duration (since the standard visa-stamp covers only a 90-day stay and I was overdue to leave Serbia).
I was told I might go to Greece, just not today.
Instead, I would take a merry ride through the Serbian legal system.
Taken from customs to the police station in the airport, I was sent along to the Ministry of Justice, where I was placed in jail to await my judgment.
There, I remembered just days before I had thought that by this time I’d be enjoying succulent lamb and Mythos beer in Greece with my family but I was being summoned before a Ministry of Justice judge instead. At least it sounded important.
The judge was relieved that a court interpreter wasn’t necessary, so she told the clerk most of what I said, which the clerk dutifully wrote, even if those words never actually passed my lips. When it came time to pay, the judge told me a number, I went lower, she found a nice in between, plus the court tax, and I was off again, making my way around Belgrade to a. find a currency exchange, b. pay my fines at a post office, c. return to the Ministry with proof of payment, and finally, d. to get a document from the police responsible for vagabond foreigners. Needless to say, the sun hung low when I finally cracked open my laptop to inform the author that I wouldn’t be in Greece that day either.
At least the police had been nice enough to drive me from the airport to jail, so with my fines deducted from the scant cash remaining on my person, I was just able to pay for one more bus ride the next morning. As the bus inched down the highway, my fury began rising like bile in a spinning bed after a hard night of Ouzo.
But, it was going to get worse before it got better. The barely competent-to-dress-themselves folks at the check-in counter had no clue when the flight for Athens would depart.
Three days straight, numerous problems, and here I was, living my own personal Groundhog Day at Nikola Tesla Airport.
My eyes burned holes into the clock as I stared at it, hoping my gaze could slow time. They finally let us go just a hair late, which, upon my arrival in Athens gave me 10 minutes to sprint through the entire airport, swimming upstream past luggage-laden grannies to find my father and our flight to Santorini, where we would finally rendezvous with the rest of the family, and, where I should have been several bizarre days earlier.