Monday, May 24, 2010
I know this because I’ve just returned from an eleven day backpacking adventure with my little sister (Ok, you may be thinking that I’ve never had a little sister before, but I’m claiming her because she is my boyfriend’s littlest sister and I think I can do that).
Tricia is studying in Athens right now, home of the Acropolis and many ancient ruins. From her desk at school, she can look up to see a stunning view of the Acropolis, perched high up in the sky and overlooking all of Athens. I chose to visit her at the start of her Spring Break so we could maximize travel time together. I flew into Athens the day after one of the largest demonstrations to take place in the heat of the economic crisis. A church was burned and 3 people died. Luckily Tricia claimed to have felt safe the entire time she has been in Athens and after arriving, I felt no different. We spent a couple nights in Athens, exploring the city, the Acropolis and hanging out with her school friends. We tried Greek food at a cute restaurant below the Acropolis and some of the girls even cooked a traditional Greek dinner for me including Greek Salad and Moussaka.
Tricia’s apartment reminded me of apartments in Argentina. Everything is similar from the entryway to the elevators to the door handles. The key is different looking and turns many more times before unlocking than keys that we are used to. The hot water tank is very small and the water must be heated up before anyone takes a shower. The shower is interesting because you basically have to give yourself a shower with the showerhead—there is no where to attach it above your head. The kitchen was nicer in that it had a stovetop, a microwave and a decent size fridge. All in all it was a great set-up for her and could have been much worse. However, her classmates had a much nicer apartment across town. Very spacious with an updated kitchen and nice floors and wonderful bathrooms with real showers. The best part was their spacious balcony where they often read, used the internet or ate meals. Before we left Athens I had to try a gyro, and luckily Tricia lives right above a place where you can get some good ones. It was a cheap meal, 1.80 euro for a delicious gyro that rivals Doner Kebab in taste. They even put French fries in them!
Early Sunday morning we departed for Meteora, about 5 hours north of Athens. It was me, Tricia, her friend Rachel and Rachel’s friend Michela who was also visiting from the U.S. We were there to see one thing—the ancient monasteries of Greece. These monasteries are perched high in the sky and built literally on top of mountains. They are hundreds of years old which only add to the mystery of how they were able to construct such beautiful structures in such a precarious location.
Let me tell you something about four girls traveling together. When someone gets hungry, we need to find food ASAP. To fail to do this would mean unhappy times for all, because the hungry girl’s attitude was about to go down the drain. We all knew this, and all admitted that we get grumpy when we get hungry. Upon my return to the states my mother informed me she was reading a book that gave advice to men: When a woman says she is hungry, the best thing you can do is get her some food as soon as possible. Her blood sugar level dips and causes her to be miserable, literally. While men are blessed with having a more stable level and do not feel miserable. They are able to handle it when they get hungry, where women, not so much. Therefore, our travels were took place around our feeding schedules. We packed snacks and when those ran out and someone declared they were hungry, we stopped at a restaurant stat.
So first on the schedule upon arrival to Meteora was eating. Greek Salads, please. Tricia and I followed up the meal by stopping at a bakery, which started out as a quest for me to find change for my 50 euro bill (very hard to get change at most places) and turned into finding the most delicious baklava I have ever tasted. It was ooey—gooey goodness. Then we took a long nap. I love being on vacation and taking naps. Now, some people might think we are wasting perfectly good time in Greece on sleeping. I see it as re-charging my batteries so I am fresh for all the amazing experiences I am about to have. After our nap we went out for another meal and went to bed early so we could get up early to start our day of touring several monesteries. We took a cab high up into the mountains and started our touring. We even had the chance to see a couple of monks. The beauty of these building so high up and the view you had from the top is hard to describe. Rachel thought it was a good idea to run out onto one of the mountains and get as close as possible to the edge, which nearly gave me a heart attack. We could see rock climbers on various mountains and the countryside stretched on for miles. It was a change of pace from being in Athens, and definitely different from what I was about to experience for the rest my travels in Greece.
After the trip to Meteora, we went back to Athens for one night before leaving bright and early for Greek Islands. Now, this is what you think about when you think of Greece. Athens is just another big, dirty European city. I mean, it’s amazing, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not what you have seen in the movies or in pictures of people’s honeymoons when they tell you they went to Greece. No, you do not see Athens, Meteora, or Marathon. You see the beautiful blue water and the white houses with blue doors. This, my friend, can only be found in the Greek islands. I was lucky enough to be able to travel to not one, not two, but THREE beautiful Greek islands during my stay. The four of us girls packed up our backpacks and headed to the ferry to endure 8 long hours on a beautiful boat to get to Santorini, the most beautiful and magical place I have ever been.
Can I please pause for a moment to tell you BEAUTIFUL is a word that does not even do Greece justice. Think for a second about the most beautiful thing you have ever seen. Now, multiply that by 2,000 and you might be a tiny bit close to how beautiful the Mediterranean Sea looks while standing on Santorini and looking out on it. Then think about the panoramic view you may have if you turned your head to the side and saw a dock stretching out into the Aegean Sea, a Cliffside full of rocks and white houses with blue doors, all complimented by the deepest blue sea you have ever seen and a quiet, serene atmosphere with the perfect temperature for sundresses, flip flops and sunglasses.
When we arrived in Santorini, we got off the ferry and looked around. What we saw was a group of locals holding signs with the name and picture of the hotel or hostel they would like you to stay at. We were already scheduled to stay at John and Katrina’s hostel, so we searched for John. We found a cute round old man with a sign that had the hostel’s name and picture on it, and got in his van with him. He was smiling the whole time as he drove us up the massive cliff and onto the main part of the island. We stayed near Parissa beach, the black beach, in a cute white hostel with blue doors. The next day we rented ATV’s and drove around the whole island. We got from one side to the other in 40 minutes. Our final destination was Oia, the most beautiful part of the island. When we got there I had a moment. Probably the most memorable moment I have ever had in traveling. We walked up to a little road and looked over a short white wall to the view of the Mediterranean. I was completely overwhelmed with the beauty (see paragraph above about beauty) and I literally started weeping. Now, Tricia and her friends thought this was the funniest thing to ever happen and began taking photos, but I was still lost in the moment. To even try to describe the beauty to you is impossible, and the pictures don’t begin to do it justice.
Our afternoon included eating the best Greek Salads I have ever had, with the best view in all of Oia, and followed by going down a massive set of stairs to the dock and around to some cliffs where we jumped into the sea, laid on the rocks and relaxed for hours. We met several couples who were there on their honeymoon and even saw some people taking wedding photos. It seems to be a very popular place for honeymooners, and we saw some beautiful villas overlooking the sea that would be the perfect place to stay on your honeymoon. Later we rode donkeys back up the massive stairs (not such a great experience) and had dinner overlooking the sunset, followed by many, many photo shoots in front of the house that The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was filmed at. Yes, we tried to break in.
The nightlife in Santorini was fun from what we saw of it. Our hostel was pretty close to The Beach Bar, which yes, is right on the beach. Tricia had met some people there the last time she had been to Santorini and she saw some familiar faces. The bartender seemed to love us as he brought us free shots just about every other song. We loved the DJ and his music and the girls spent hours dancing. We spent both nights in Santorini at this bar (well, some of us did!) and met some really cool people. My favorite part of this was taking a break from dancing to run out onto the pebble beach and frolic under the stars. Although there were crowds of people just seconds away, I could hear the silence under the stars on the dark beach.
I didn’t think anything could top Santorini but our experience on the next island, Paros, was completely different and equally as memorable. We tried making plans in advance about what we would do in Paros but found that making plans while backpacking a European country is pointless; the plans will change anyway. We got off the ferry and went with Yergas, a Grecian man who owned a campsite on the island. He drove us to his campsite and we got settled. Little did we know we were about to be eaten alive by little baby spiders who would invade every aspect of our lives over the next few days, and the bites would follow Michela and I back to the United States and leave our friends and co-workers thinking, why does that girl have nasty bug bites all over her entire body? Well, my friends, it is because we chose to camp in Paros.
I have to say the bug bites were worth it. Our campsite was steps away from a beautiful beautiful beach, with real sand as opposed to the pebble beaches we encountered in Santorini and Tricia told me she had encountered in Athens. We actually had to wade through water to get to the beach area, and found ourselves enclosed in our own private island with water on all sides. We waded out for a long, long time and the water only came up to our waist. It was the perfect temperature and we were able to nap for a while on that beach before heading back into town to get some supplies for cooking our dinner at the camp site. We bought souvlaki (meat on a stick) and vegetables and potatoes. We used a firepit that hadn’t been used in a year because we were basically the first group of tourists for the year. We were traveling at the best time (early May) because the crowds are from June-September. We started the fire with sticks, leaves and Ouzo, a popular local alcohol. Then the four of us girls made our own dinner. Yergas was so happy we decided to share with him, and he provided us with his homemade wine.
After Paros we were off to Mykanos, an island that is known for its beautiful beaches and nightlife. We decided to go for just one night because it is quite a bit more expensive than other islands and we figured we would go all out for partying one night and just stay up all night and really live it up, which we did. The weather wasn’t so great when we arrived in Mykanos, the only time my entire vacation that it wasn’t absolutely perfect. Once again, we had tried to make plans regarding a place to stay, and of course, we changed our mind again upon arrival. We got in the car from the dock with a talkative woman who brought us to her home where we rented a room from her for 15 euros a night, just a little more than the 8-11 euros we had spent thus far, and a lot less than we had expected to pay in Mykanos. She warned us to stear clear of her father and speak to her if we had problems, and we soon learned why. This old Grecian man was a little grumpy about the fact that the weather had gone downhill and all the tourists left town, and he wasn’t quiet about the fact that he could have rented the room for more money than we paid. He was also upset that his washer and dryer had broken, and he had to take our bath towels far away to pay someone else to wash them. We also got in trouble for accidently slamming our door (“ooo, Mama Mia, GIRLS!!!” he shouted) and for being too loud (aka not very loud at all) at 10pm when we were having a few drinks in our room before we left for the bars. I didn’t mind his attitude because it was actually quite entertaining and made for some good memories of renting a room from a Grecian family.
Tricia’s classmates and roommates met up with us in Mykanos after they spent their Spring Break in various places. They were all very excited to see each other after more than week of being apart and had many stories to exchange. We met the other girls at the place they were staying and headed out. I remember running through the narrow streets of Mykanos in my flip flops and being yelled in Greek by a woman who I think was warning me to be careful. We ran around the streets, stopping at various bars before we settled at the Scandanavian bar where we danced for hours, took more free shots than I can count and met a bar tender named Costas. (hello, sisterhood of the traveling pants boyfriend). At the end of the night the bartenders liked us so much they gave us all free tank tops as long as we promised to wear them around Athens (they knew the girls were studying there).
We wrapped up the night by getting snacks. Rachel and Michela got crepes and I got spinacopita. I have no idea how to spell that but it is spinach pie.
The next day we slept in late and walked around town until we had to catch our ferry back to Athens. We stumbled upon an Italian painter on the beach who was painting and amazing portrait. We sat and watched him paint for probably 45 minutes. He had come from Italy for the weekend to paint.
Back on the ferry we played cards and hung out the whole way back. I actually liked the ferry because of the incredible views of the Mediterranean. Tricia and I even saw dolphins jumping.
I enjoyed every minute of my time in Greece and knew it was coming to a close, because after we got off that ferry I had one night left in Athens before I would fly back to the states. My flight ended up being cancelled due to the volcano activity, but was re-routed immediately (darn, I didn’t get to stay in Greece) I ended up flying through France and then Utah before making it home Monday night.
Things that were weird when I returned: putting toilet paper in the toilet and paying with a credit card.
Things I will miss: having eggplant as such a big part of my diet, greek salad, TRICIA, traveling with four girls and getting along perfectly, “it’s no problem” and not knowing what day or time it is.
It bothers me a little that I don’t have the words to describe to you the true beauty of the Greek Islands. Even my pictures don’t compare to how beautiful it actually was. My hope for you is that you will have the chance to travel there and see for youself, and hope that you have a defining moment like the one I had in Oia, Santorini.
I may be a day late and a dollar short, but I’m finally starting a blog. You would think me being a Journalism major and going to school during the social media boom would have prompted me to start one years ago, but I never got around to it. Now that I’m all grown up and settled into life as an adult, I’m finally taking the plunge and beginning to write about my life. Follow me as I blog about my adventures in Portland and anywhere else I may end up.