I am a little delayed in my telling of The Honeymoon Saga: Part 3, but there’s nothing like post-Christmas week to complete a blog, especially one that involves hot chocolate!
If you haven’t caught up – or are rusty since these were posted months ago – please see Part 1: How to Spend a Bonus Day in Greece, which offers the premise of these blogs.
And Part 2: Get Thee to the Nunnery! which is where we left off.
For the last installment (finally!), please continue.
What I haven’t mentioned yet was that on the “last” day of our honeymoon, before I knew we’d get a bonus day in Greece, I got a tattoo.
No, no, not that Greek tattoo. A new Greek tattoo.
Unlike my previous tattoo(s), I knew I wanted this one as soon as I saw it, and I’d been waiting for a couple of years for the right opportunity. The symbol I wanted came from a bookmark given to me by the oft-mentioned Poor Clares. It was theologically meaningful, and I also found it pretty:
On day ONE of our honeymoon, when we’d first arrived into Thessaloniki, I’d asked Rob if we could visit Thomas the Tattoo Artist. I wanted to tell him I’d found my (half-)Greek husband (!) and to see if he would create this second tattoo, but it turns out I needed more than 8 hours’ notice for him to fit me into his schedule. I thought I would just need to wait for our next trip to Greece to have it done.
But while we were in Athens, I felt inspired. There was a Nico Tattoo shop only a few blocks from our hotel, the same company Thomas works for, so we stopped by to see if there was an opening.
They said they could fit me in at 4:30pm with someone named “Bobby Black,” and I won’t lie – when I looked through his portfolio, I was hesitant. His album was full of surrealist sketch art (think: a woman lounging a bikini, with the head of a giraffe), which didn’t exactly jive with the flowery religious symbol I wanted. But because he was an architect by training, Rob felt confident in his skills, and I felt confident in Rob’s judgment of his skills.
In an effort to put my mind at ease pre-appointment, Rob researched the best hot chocolate in Athens, and he took me to a shop that was only five minutes from the tattoo parlor. For some people, liquid courage takes the form of alcohol, but for me, it is liquidized chocolate.
The shop, aptly named “Sokolata,” was the place where my dreams are made. We were handed a four-page menu featuring over 20 different types of hot chocolate. The cocoa beans were cultivated and sourced from a dozen countries – including Ecuador, Madagascar, Brazil, Peru – and the menu was organized by color (white, milk, or dark) and then by ascending percentage of cocoa (from 30% to 90%), complete with summary notes on each drink’s flavor, overtones, intensity, and bitterness. The woman who waited on us, whom I believe was the owner, listened patiently as I asked a plethora of questions and gave her the basics of my life history so she could help me decide on the right hot chocolate. Rob had less trouble deciding: as soon as she described “Azélia” as a milk chocolate base flavored with hazelnut, he was sold. After careful consideration, she nudged me toward a 66% cocoa option called “Caraïbe,” a bittersweet dark chocolate with a “thick, balanced taste,” from the Caribbean Islands.
We waited with much anticipation. Our drinks took a while to prepare since, unbeknownst to us, the owner was slowly heating up blocks of chocolate in a tiny pot called a briki in only a finger’s depth of milk. If you’ve ever made hot cocoa by adding a packet of powder to boiling water, this is the opposite of that. These hot chocolates – served in flowery china glasses – were thick as honey and smooth as butter. They bubbled slightly and came with a directive to “sip slowly” since we were literally drinking a melted chocolate bar. Rob and I dissolved into goo upon first sip, for it was honestly the best hot chocolates of our lives.
It was a jarring reality when we had to un-goo ourselves at 4:15pm, step back outside into the cold night air, and – for me – have ink needled into my arm for three hours*. I had asked Rob if we could return for another hot chocolate on our way home, but that was before we knew how long I would be in the chair. By the time we finished, it was late, and we needed to find a “real” dinner and pack for our flight.
*for the record, Bobby Black did an excellent job.
Thus, on Saturday morning when we realized our flight was cancelled and we would have a bonus day in Athens, Rob’s first thought was visiting St. Ephraim’s monastery, and my first thought was visiting Sokolata.
Equally noble goals.
We got Rob to the monastery before the doors closed, and we got Kostas’s car back to “Modi’s Rental” by 2:00pm. We didn’t want to chance an explosion, or pay for any more of his gasoline, so we deposited the car, regrouped at our hotel, and came up with a hot chocolate plan.
“We could take a taxi?” Rob suggested.
“How far is it to walk?” I asked.
Rob pulled up the route on Google Maps, like the resourceful husband he is.
“Can we walk there and taxi back?” I asked.
We both know that under normal circumstances, I would’ve walked both ways, but I wanted to back in time for our airlines-sponsored dinner at the hotel, and I thought it would be better to take a taxi after dark.
“That’ll put us there around 4:30, give us a couple of hours downtown, and then come back for dinner? Sure, why not.”
We repacked our backpacks with water and sundries, and set out to follow Google Maps.
The route, as it turned out, positioned us along a major highway, and as we climbed an embankment that looked increasingly less suitable for pedestrians, we decided to cross to the other side where at least there appeared to be sidewalks. We descended the hill, crossed 8 lanes of traffic, and ended up on a strange set of side streets. It wasn’t the exact route, but we were headed in the correct general direction.
I had just finished reading Circe, the NYT bestselling novel depicting the life of – you guessed it – Circe, and Rob made the dire mistake of asking what the book was about.
Although I am far less interested in Greek mythology than one would expect, I really took to this book and apparently memorized every detail of the 400-page narrative. I took great care to incorporate all of them, apologizing more than once that my “summary” was taking so long. But because I had recently been subject to frequent updates of Rob’s sci-fi trilogy that involved the three-body problem in orbital mechanics and “Trisolarian” aliens, and because we had an hour to kill, I shared an entire book summary as we made our way to the center of the city.
As we were trying to figure out our bearings and how to get to the hot chocolate shop from where the side streets had deposited us, Rob directed us toward the Holy Metropolitan Church of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, aka the central cathedral of Athens, remembering that it was only a couple of blocks from Sokolata. Just as we came upon the church, the bells started chiming. It was 5pm, on a Saturday night, indicating the start of Vespers.
“Oooooh honey, can we go in? Just five minutes. Please?” Rob asked.
I knew Rob wanted to see if his favorite chanter in the world was there, since he had told me when we first arrived to Athens that this is where he believed the chanter served as a deacon.
“When I want to explain something to my chanters during class – to demonstrate how something ought to sound – I make them watch YouTube videos of this guy. He’s the best!” he had told me.
We went inside.
During our time in Greece, we had visited at least a dozen churches, but this was only the second time in which a service was happening. When we walked in, there were a few tourists in the back, one or two people in the pews, the priest already at work, and a chanter.
“Do you see him?” I asked.
Rob shook his head and we moved into the last pew, standing to the left side. A few minutes later, a man came in and whooshed past us, coming down the left side of the church, heading straight for the front.
“Deacon Dimitrios Fokianos!” Rob whispered.
“What?” I asked, having no clue what he just said.
“That’s him!” Rob gestured excitedly.
I missed him, caught simply in the wake of breeze he’d left behind, so I had no idea what he looked like. Instead of going behind the altar to serve, however, as a deacon should, he emerged from the right of the altar and stood next to the first chanter who was mid-chant.
It’s remarkable that Rob didn’t have a full-on Elf moment right there.
He acted fantastically calm despite a buzz of energy radiating from his skin. He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and discreetly began to record the service. I thought he would just record a snippet, given his general piety in sacred spaces, but I’m pretty sure he recorded the entirety of Vespers.
“I know I said five minutes…” he said after some time, “thank you for staying. Ready to go?” he asked, fully prepared for me to say, Yes, let’s ditch the Lord and all of your dreams and so I can have hot chocolate.
“No, let’s stay,” I said.
He raised an eyebrow.
“The hot chocolate will still be there when we’re done.”
So, we stayed. Even more unexpectedly than Dcn. Dimitrios chanting Vespers that night instead of serving as a deacon (we supposed it was a consequence of him arriving late), Dcn. Dimitrios also chanted one of Rob’s favorite hymns, the “Dogmatic Theotokion of Third Mode,” which one might hear maybe once every eight weeks. I thought Rob had turned to goo while drinking his liquified Nutella hot chocolate, but no – this was Rob’s true goo moment.
It was dark when the service was over and we exited the cathedral, only a five minute walk from Sokolata. The owner wasn’t there that night, and the hot chocolate – while delicious – was not quite as dreamy as that first one we’d had only 24 hours before. But the look on Rob’s face after our harrowing adventures, getting to visit St. Ephraim’s monastery and unexpectedly listening to his favorite chanter, when we should have been crossing the Atlantic, was worth more than all of the world’s best hot chocolates.
We did, of course, purchase two bags of Azélia and Caraïbe chocolates, and were given detailed instructions on the amount of milk and the weight (in grams, of course) we would need to add to our briki at home, so that we could recreate the magic whenever we wanted.
Since it has taken me months to complete this series, we have now finished the bags of chocolate. We did our best to follow the instructions (how many grams for each? how much milk?) and our versions were not quite the same as that first experience. But Greece has a way of adding the miraculous to the mundane.
10 thoughts on “On a Quest for Hot Chocolate”
Amazing story (as usual), that had me at the edge of my seat with a strong craving for hot chocolate.
How wonderful (and miraculous) for Rob to hear his favorite chanter!
Looking forward to seeing the tattoo in person in a few months!
Yes!!! We need to arrange a time for a couples retreat when you are in dallas. We can’t wait to see you!
Great story, Jenny! Thank you for sharing y’all’s adventures! Merry Christmas!
Merry Christmas to you! I’m glad you enjoyed the last installment. Wishing you a great start to 2023!
Glad you were able to have such a great experience. Makes our hot chocolate at home pretty bland.
So lively! So interesting! So beautiful! Thank you, Jenny. The interior of the Church was also so very lovely! (Aunt Betty) Elyse
Thank you, Aunt Elyse! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. The Orthodox churches are always so beautiful. Happy 2023!
Beautiful! I love this story! Made me feel like I was there and even brought some tears to my eyes…(in a good way)
We actually went to the Monestary of St Ephraim this summer as well and it was a wonderful experience. Glad you are enjoying life! And
Thank you for sharing your story! 💗
Oh that’s amazing! I’m so glad you got to experience the monastery – I hope your travels to get there were less crazy than ours! Thank you so much for reading the blog and being a part of the adventure 😊 Wishing you a very blessed 2023!