Paired with Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and tropical songs about bungalows.
My phone was switched to military time, I had a reasonable flight, and I was awake hours before needed to ensure, this time, I would not miss my plane to Greece. With my iPhone loaded with a new playlist, podcasts, and a movie, I left my apartment early to set out for the adventure awaiting me. It’s been a dream ever since I watched Alexis Bledel have a summer romance in Santorini and saw documentaries of underwater archeologists deep sea diving off the Greek islands. This place was not simply another box to check off my European adventure; it wasn’t a random spot added to my list after arriving in Rome. Greece has been embedded in my hopes and dreams from future honeymoon plans to environmental science internships, to retirement for as long as I can remember. And here I was, boarding a plane to finally step foot in the world I’d only seen in Pinterest-board pictures and film.
Athens was downplayed by most everyone I talked to. People said it was a city like any other: it had monuments, shopping, was the central place of Greece, but not the most exotic or beautiful. With low expectations, the city pleasantly surprised me with delicious food and colorful backdrops. Athens lent me an amazing start to the weekend. I met a fellow traveler in my hostel from India and we talked about our lives, went to dinner and explained how we came to choose Greece.
The restaurant was a delectable find with 4 courses of massive portions for 10 euro, traditional Greek music and dancing, and a handsome old server named Stavros who got me on my feet to learn the dance and spun me around the room before setting a plate of tzatziki down at my table, which I promptly devoured.
During sunlight hours I walked through the Acropolis, saw the Parthenon, and of course ate a souvlaki with Greek coffee. I can’t read Greek lettering but after working at a Greek restaurant on Cape I could struggle through the menus knowing the names of certain things and matching the Greek letters to things close enough to English.
While waiting for my meal an African man, in town for a concert, came over to sell me a hand woven bracelet but while I explained I had no money, no cash (which wasn’t a lie), he looked at me and smiled, tied the bracelet around my wrist and said, “This means Hakuna Matata, peace and love, I don’t need your money, just your smile.” Then he sang to me and gave me a blessing before shaking my hand and walking off. Paul had a beautiful voice and I got new jewelry.
Friday morning I was back on the plane and off to Santorini, the real climax of the weekend. I knew it was “low season” because it was colder than the summer, but for an east coaster mid-sixties with no wind is like heaven. Santorini day 1 turned out to be the opposite experience of Athens; my expectations were quite high but the island was a ghost town with most shops closed and an infrequent bus schedule. Although beautiful, it was difficult to get anywhere and I was too tired and mildly stressed to truly appreciate where I was. So, I got back to my apartment, planning to get some work done, and then realized I left my computer charger at home. Frustrated, I resigned to bed earlier than ever before and decided Saturday was a new day. The night had ended with a beautiful sunset in Ia which made it hard to complain, and I adopted a new view of my missing charger, believing that perhaps it was good to unplug and have a true vacation with genuine rest.
By morning I knew I only had two days left and with little time to waste I set out to understand the buses and finish everything on my itinerary, even if that meant walking for hours.
I rented a scooter, which was extremely cheap in the offseason and motored up the cliffs dodging aggressive local drivers, exhilarated and terrified. Perissa Beach, the first stop of my day was made of black sand from volcanic rocks and ash. The sun was warm, water not too bad, and I made a friend, a stray dog, who followed me as I jogged the coastline of the pebbly beach.
Next up wine tasting, with the bus schedule, I was an hour and a half early for the tour so I took to exploring. There weren’t many shops in the town since it was the countryside with vineyards, there weren’t many houses either. But in the distance, I heard a goat and found myself walking towards a cliff with a secret path all the way down to the ocean. I imagine if I made it to the bottom the hike would have been about an hour, so I only went halfway but my goodness! This was the moment, I couldn’t remember my frustrations from the day before, I had no idea how anyone could feel unhappiness here, simply, it was the most beautiful place in the world. The cliff overlooked a volcano and clear blue skies and oceans with goats on top and small church carved in the side of the path.
Santorini was so naturally beautiful and flawless, even it’s consistent architecture of white and blue houses, it felt like nothing could go wrong. But one of my favorite parts of the island was their churches. The Santorini locals believe that the natural beauty they’re surrounded by is a sacred creation meant to be celebrated. So, rather than constructing huge cathedrals they build tiny chapels in hidden places all over the landscape so while travelers are lost wandering through cliffs and oceans they find themselves in a place of worship to remember the creator of the earth.
Sunday, my final day, I wanted to be on the ocean, so I found a boat that circled the island and stopped at places only reachable by water and met other globetrotters. I saw beaches with red, white and black sand, hiked a volcano, swam in hot springs, made new friends and ate more Greek food, which so far is the best in Europe. Italy has good pasta but there’s nothing like feta.
Maybe this post has been calmer, mellow, more pensive or sappy than most, but Greece was the most relaxing and fulfilling trip yet. It’s hard to joke when I’m still awed by her beauty. I laughed and smiled, smelt fresh ocean air and finally got to meet non-Americans. The vacation was perfect; dancing, people, food, music, mopeds, nature, shopping, more food, and finally after my draining-everyday schedule a true feeling of rest.
Barcelona was my favorite at first, but by the end, I was tired and sick and ready for my bed, Greece was different. I wanted to stay, I felt that I had so much more to see and one day I will be back to explore every corner of the dream that didn’t disappoint.
Relaxed and Rested,
Bri the barefoot traveler