The extended family of Greek-Australian footballer, Apostolos Giannou, who last year became the first foreign sign-on for Indian Super League club the Kerala Blasters; paid the athlete a visit last month in incredible India.

Born in Naousa; Giannou immigrated to Australia at an early age and quickly rose through the ranks of professional football.

Playing for the Oakleigh Cannons and South Melbourne FC as a teen, soon enough he was picked up by a succession of Greek Super League clubs.

After a two-year stint with China’s Guangzhou City FC, Giannou returned down under for a spell with Sydney based side Macarthur FC.

In 2006 he represented Australia in the men’s under-17 national team scoring two goals across eight appearances.

He went on to represent Greece on multiple occasions, before returning to the Socceroos between 2016 and 2019; his total career appearances between the two national teams totaling 41 games.

Giannou’s mum Athina, cousin Demetra Pollali and his nephew pose in front of a huge poster of the Greek Australian ace. Photo: Supplied

But on 8 July 2022 the 33-year-old signed a contract with the Kerala Blasters based in the city of Kochi on the Indian sub-continent’s south western coast.

Pam Pollalis, Giannou’s aunt told Neos Kosmos that since his move the family had casually floated the idea amongst themselves that they should pay him a visit.

What began as idle chatter soon became a reality, when in February 2023, Pam along with her daughter Demetra, her two children, son James and Giannou’s parents Takis and Athina made the trip of a lifetime.

“The truth is as the time to set off approached, our anticipation was joined by a little trepidation… With my four-year-old and 18-month-old grandchildren with us we wondered whether India was the ideal choice for a family holiday,” Pam told Neos Kosmos.

But undeterred, the clan arrived at their destination without a hitch, and to their great relief didn’t find communication an issue; as English is one of the nation’s lingua franca and an official language along with Hindi-Urdu.

The whole family visiting the India Gate war memorial. Photo: Supplied

It was a country which left them with a lasting, positive impression, one of the trip’s highlights being Giannou’s new hometown, Kochi City.

“The whole experience was a mélange of alternating colours and aromas,” Pam recounted to Neos Kosmos.

“Kochi, it’s a city in the southwest home to about 2.1 million people; it’s built on canals connected to one another by a series of bridges.”

“It’s verdantly green, which isn’t a surprise when you think about all the rivers and canals, it’s home to one of the country’s largest lakes too,” she explained.

As one of the region’s largest port-cities with a history dating back more than a millennium, for much of the last 500 years it served as a key trading post for various colonial powers, from Portugal to China and of course, the British Empire.

Takis and Athina Giannou with their pride and joy Apostolos. Photo: Supplied

Pams says that while the city was beautiful, its people, their warmth, kindness and hospitality were even more so.

In particular the hospitality of some local friends left the group awestruck, “their guests… they treat them like gods!” Pam recalls.

As for the food, Pam admits that while it was initially more than a little piquant, “we soon got used to it.”

The extended family spent a large part of their time in Kochi in the same hotel as Giannou and the entirety of the Kerala Blasters football team.

“We had the opportunity to see them every day.”

Though that was usually when they shared meals, the team leaving the hotel by bus daily to practice until their return around dinner time.

Almost every other weekend, Pam says, the team would play a match out of town, in cities as far as four hours away by plane.

The family together at the Taj Mahal. Photo: Supplied

“The distances involved are huge, they’d usually be gone the whole weekend.”

So, in that time the family decided to visit the nation’s capital; New Delhi.

“After about four hours we landed at the airport, it was massive! While we did have to queue for some time we got out relatively quickly; our hotel was very close so it wasn’t a worry.”

She describes New Delhi as a melting pot of tourists and business people from across the globe.

Not missing the opportunity, the family soon set off to take in some of the capital’s attractions.

“Personally, the National Gandhi Museum left me with the best impression. It was filled with materials, photographs, personal effects and writings from his incredible life.”

“But to me the most beautiful part was his bronze effigy outside the building.”

Pam’s grandchildren playing. Photo: Supplied

On the same day as their visit to the museum, all seven family members visited the India Gate.

Completed in 1931, it serves as a national war memorial, dedicated to the 84,000 soldiers of the British Indian Army who died in the First World War and Third Afghan War.

“That was the first time I truly saw just how crowded the country can be, all the toing and froing, it gave me an appreciation for how big and populous it really is.”

“It was the first time our driver left us alone in a place full of tourists and people! One of the most memorable moments had to be that my 18-month-old granddaughter had at least 150 photos taken of her because of her red hair,” she said.

But the capstone of their Indian adventure was of course when “after four hours driving” the family laid their eyes upon one of the new seven wonders of the world; the Taj Mahal.

Commissioned in the 17th century by the fifth Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, as the tomb of his wife Mumtaz Mahal; its construction lasted over 20 years employing approximately 20,000 workers.

“On our way back from the monument we realised a couple of monkeys had started following us! It was an amazing experience and of course, the children loved it.”

Pam says family’s trip to India has left them with one of a kind memories, “of the colours of nature, of children playing in the street; of food and sunsets and sipping coconuts on a river cruise. ”

“Here’s my conclusion, if you love to travel, you’ve got to see India.”