By Panagiotis Dalatariof
On November 26, 2023, Dimitris Papadopoulos Papadatos said goodbye to his beloved dog, Maci, at Athens International Airport ‘Eleftherios Venizelos,’ as he prepared to board a plane that would take him to the other side of the world.
In that moment, he realised how much he would miss her. He knew he would miss her beforehand, but in that moment, the harsh reality of the two of them separating hit him hard.
Today, about a month into his life in Australia, Dimitris describes his experiences in New South Wales to The Greek Herald. He talks about his first days in a country where Christmas is celebrated quite differently than it is in Greece.
No streetlights, or turkeys, or people crowding the chaotic streets of Athens, or partygoers in bars – these things were no longer part of his life in Byron Bay.
Dimitris captured his initial days in the land that allowed him to live his life in the way that he desires: by surfing, exploring nature, and experiencing his daily life where he loses himself in an ‘unreal world,’ as he describes it.
“I never believed I would find myself in such a beautiful place in my life,” Dimitris told The Greek Herald.
“I grew up with my grandfather, who spent half of his life in Africa, and told me stories about his safaris there. So, from a young age, I was inspired by watching documentaries and learning everything I could about animals, nature, and everything that surrounds them. I come from Greece, a country that is largely surrounded by the sea, but not by an ocean.
“I embarked on this journey to Australia, initially to see this wonderful country, to spend my summer surfing, and to meet my friends. I live in Athens, a beautiful but chaotic city where nothing stops, 24 hours a day. There’s endless traffic on the streets, horns and shouting from the pressure of everyday life, and I don’t have that opportunity to live in nature.
“After a 30-hour journey with three layovers, I landed in the Gold Coast, in Queensland, Australia, where my friends came to pick me up. I woke up the next day around 5 am due to the jet lag, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Everything was so beautiful, peaceful, with sounds I had never heard before, like birds talking to each other. Later, I went to the Brunswick Heads area, just outside Byron Bay – this is where I listen to the sounds of the ocean every morning.
“It’s the trip of a lifetime, I felt it from the very first moment. Memories that cannot be bought and will remain sweet with me forever. Infinite nature, trees I had never seen before, endless beaches, lizards, birds, and koalas. I wake up almost every morning listening to sounds of the Kookaburra birds. I sit and watch water dragons hunting other insects and whatever else moves – I see these wonderful lizards that, when you first see them, you wonder, ‘What is this? Does it bite?’ To an Australian, it might sound funny – as it does to me now – but if you don’t know and suddenly see it in front of you, you take a step back right away.
“A few days ago, I lived the ultimate dream: I was surfing with a friend from Athens on a large beach called Broken Head Beach, where suddenly a pod of five dolphins came within 20 meters of me. I saw fins coming closer, and I honestly froze until I realised they were dolphins. Even then, encountering something so beautiful in open waters in the ocean was somewhat terrifying. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life. These wonderful creatures dove under the waves and leaped; they were surfing with us. It was surreal.
“In Greece, we have sharks, but spotting one is very difficult, even for a fisherman. But here… I get out of the water, and I watch my feet. Yes, I know it may sound funny to some, but I learned to swim with sparrows and barbels. Nature and things to see! Endless… You need to have the desire to travel.
“Here, where I live in the Byron Bay area, everything is calm, and people are grounded. They’re polite, they say good morning, and they don’t live in chaos. No traffic lights on the streets, and traffic is very minimal. You don’t hear noise, and wherever you sit, you hear the leaves rustling in the trees and birds chirping.
“I’m sure, in a city like Sydney, the rhythms and many other things would be different, but here it is like paradise. I don’t feel Christmas particularly because I’m not in London, where everything is decorated from October. The melancholy of winter and Christmas that one might feel here does not exist. It’s summer. Wherever you look, there are surfboards, children playing on the beach, groups of friends sitting and talking with smiles on their faces. The roads are wide and open, where people run and ride bicycles.
“I thought that being away from home, my family, Maci, and my friends, I would feel uncomfortable, lonely, and that I would quickly forget Greece. And yes, to some extent I do, but here, I have felt so much love from the people around me, and I get to meet new people every day. In Byron Bay, the food is incredible! It has Japanese, Thai, Korean… whatever you want. Primarily, though, it has Greek in the centre of Byron Bay. What could be better? The restaurant is called ‘Kouzina,’ and I visit it three times a week with lots of joy because it has amazing food, Greek music, and we get to dance.
“Why would I miss my home? And even if I did, here I eat dolmades, moussaka, and fava. I feel like I’m at home, like I’m on a summer vacation on an island, and my grandmother is cooking for me – it’s truly wonderful.
“Now I understand why there is such a large Greek community in Australia. I feel lucky to be in this country, to see things with my own eyes that I wouldn’t believe unless I saw them for myself, and I am incredibly grateful. I wish anyone who hesitates for any reason to come here, to just get on the plane and visit Australia. It is unreal. Thank you, thank you!”