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NEW YORK — Newlyweds Valasia Limnioti and Konstantinos Patronis' long-planned "dream trip" to the U.S. ended in New York City, where their three-week honeymoon quickly turned into a nightmare: Their Greek-issued credit and debit cards were suddenly declined and they were left penniless.
"We were hungry, and I cried for two days," Limnioti said. "I felt homeless in New York."
The couple skipped a few meals before spending their last dollars on dinner at McDonald's. Strangers from two Greek Orthodox churches in the city's Queens borough came to the rescue, giving them survival cash until their flight home to Greece on Friday.
The couple's U.S. adventure started after their June 6 wedding in Volos, Greece, a port city several hours north of Athens.
Their coast-to-coast U.S. trip that took in Los Angeles and a Caribbean cruise "was the dream trip of our lives," Limnioti said.
They had saved for a whole year to pre-pay for flights and hotels, with enough cash left for both necessities and pleasures. Two Greek banks issued them cards before the trip — a Visa credit card and a debit card. In Greece, they generally pay in cash, which is preferred by businesses, but they were told to have cards for the U.S.
"Everything was all right — then 'boom!' in New York," Limnioti said.
Their midtown Manhattan hotel asked them to pay a $45 surcharge. That's when their cards bounced. They paid with their dwindling funds.
Within days, the couple ran out of cash and "we couldn't withdraw any money — zero," Limnioti said.
On Tuesday, in despair, they reached out to the New York-based Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, which contacted the churches in Queens' Astoria neighborhood.
The honeymooners were offered about $350 from the St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox church and another nearby one, St. Irene Chrysovalantou.
"I said to them, 'Don't worry, that's why we're here,'" said the Rev. Vasilios Louros of St. Demetrios. "This is the church of Christ and we always help people."
The money was withdrawn from the church's bank account, "and that was it," he said.
In addition, an undisclosed amount came from a New York-based Greek journalist who hails from Volos.
The couple insisted they'd pay back the money but were told it was a gift, said Limnioti, speaking on her cellphone Wednesday from the American Museum of Natural History.
She said relatives in Greece told them other Greeks abroad also were left penniless, including some patients in U.S. hospitals who cannot pay for medical care.
She said she's speaking out "because we Greeks are a proud people, and I want the world to know that we are not in this situation because we're lazy or did something wrong."
Their financial woes won't be over once they get home.
With banks closed, Greece faces a deep financial crisis. Greeks will vote Sunday in a referendum on whether to back more spending cuts, more tax increases and more negotiations with European creditors. A rejection of such draconian measures could trigger a Greek exit from the Eurozone.
Limnioti, 36, is unemployed after the small business for which she worked failed. Her 39-year-old husband still has his job as a helicopter engineer for the Greek military.
But in every sense, the couple's honeymoon is over, with a financial sword of Damocles looming over their country.
"There are only three things saving us now: our families, our friends and our God," Limnioti said.