June 4 - June 11
Our journey to Greece began early Tuesday morning when we left The Yellow in Rome at 6 am to catch a bus to the airport. The first stop on our Greece portion of the trip was the island of Crete. We arrived at the airport and had some down time before we caught the two busses we needed to reach the city we were staying in called Rethymno. It was a fairly small, interesting little town with a main street for shopping. We wandered off the main street just a little bit to find our hostel and drop off our luggage. We were greeted with a painting of an exhausted backpacker, but that was about it. We wandered around the deserted hostel looking for someone who worked there and finally found an older guy. He said they were taking a break and that we could come back in a few hours to check in, so we dropped our bags and went to explore the weird little town we had landed in.
Since Rethymno was such a small town, there was only one real tourist attraction. It was an old military fortress overlooking the city, and we decided to tour it one morning. The three of us walked around the fortress wall and ended up splitting off for a bit on our own to explore the area more. Abi sat on the wall with a view of the ocean to read her book and who knows where Jessica went. I went into a really interesting building that turned out to be a mosque from what I can remember. I thought it was so beautiful, so I sat inside for a while until Abi wandered in and found me. We took a few photos and headed back out to see the rest of the area. It didn't take long, since it was a really small fortress. We took a little peak into the gift shop on our way out and headed for the beach.
The beaches on the island were not the greatest. I have actually been to so many better beaches in my life, but it was nice to just relax after all the hustle and bustle of the last few weeks of traveling. We had to PAY for sitting in the lounge chairs at the beach. I could not believe it. The girls stayed on the beach a while to tan and nap, so I took off back into the city to explore on my own. I tired myself out with all the walking, so I headed back to the hostel to take a nap. It seemed like all the Greek people were doing it, so I decided to do it too. After my nap, I met back up with the girls and we found a fancy little bar/restaurant right along the water to hang out at for happy hour. Sadly, non-alcolohic drinks don't count for happy hour and I paid just as much as they did. It was worth it though.
We headed back into town a bit to find a place to eat and came across a nice little place off the beaten path. It seemed more authentic, and our waiter was so friendly and accommodating. It was late when we finished dinner, so we headed back to the hostel. Jessica decided to go to sleep. She was miserable because of all her bed bug bites, so I don't blame her. Abi and I decided to stroll back down to the beach, listen to some music (Mamma Mia in particular), and have a nice talk, since it was her last night with us. When we got back to our hostel, the man who had checked us in was in the lobby. His name was Alexander and we sat with him for a long time hearing about his life stories, like how he used to work in the Turkish black market smuggling things over the border. I never expected to be able to relate to a 40-something year old man running a hostel after getting out of the black market business, but that's what travel does for you. It gets you out of your comfort zone and makes you let go of the ways you are stuck in. It is so freeing. Abi and I headed up stairs to go back to our room, but decided instead that we wanted to spend her last night sleeping out on the patio. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip. We had to climb out a window to get there, and there on this patio were about 10 bunk beds. We both picked the top bunk of separate beds, climbed up, and went to sleep.
We started our Thursday by walking up and away from the coast for once. We grabbed some crepes for breakfast and watched them cook the crepes right in front of us. They were so tasty. Jessica had heard that there were some mountain goats that hang out in a park, so we went to try to find them. Our hunt for goats turned up unsuccessful, but we did find a really cool open air market while we were searching. We browsed through the many many things they had in the market. They were selling things from food to shoes and clothes to underwear to toys. We stopped at a pastry shop on our way back into town and I got a spinach pastry that Corey had told me about. It was definitely a weird choice for breakfast, but it was tasty. Abi and Jessica got some gyros at a little shop and we got some fresh squeezed orange juice from a vendor on the street. Since they had spent so much on their lobster dinner, they were trying to save as much as possible on the rest of their meals.
We went back to the beach one last time so Abi could soak it all in before she left, and sat under the shade of a tree this time so we didn't have to pay for a silly chair. We kept having to move our towel so we were covered by the tree, otherwise it was so so hot. Taking Abi to get her luggage and saying goodbye to her was really hard for me. She had become like my sister in a matter of just a few months, and I felt so lucky to have met her and shared my experience with her. She is a really special person and I have never met anyone like her before. Jessica and I were feeling lazy, so we walked along the shops until we found a frozen yogurt place called Yum-mi. We got ourselves some fro yo and lounged on their really cool bean bag chairs while we ate it. It was nice to not have anything planned for once and not have places to be. We shopped around for souvenirs and looked for places to eat, but they were all a too intimidating when we tried to look at their menu. You couldn't even glance at a menu in passing without someone quickly approaching you and trying to herd you into their restaurant. We B-lined it back to our hotel during the hottest part of the day to avoid the heat and left again when it was dinner time.
I have to say Jessica and I were a little excited to leave Crete at this point. It was nice to relax, but Jessica needed some distraction from her bug bites and I was so looking forward to our next destination. We took a bus to the ferry port in Heraklion in the morning and spent several hours on a ferry that took us to the island of Santorini. I have to say that I fell in love with this place while I was there. It is such a tiny island, but it has so much character. I wish it hadn't been so expensive, or else I would have stuffed my luggage with souvenirs and memories from here. We got on another very scary bus ride up some cliffs and through crowded streets until we came to Fira, the city we were staying in. It felt like a really long walk to our hostel with all of our luggage on our back. This island was full of hills and stairs that just made it seem impossible to get where we were going, and of course it was raining. It felt incredible to drop off our bags in our quaint little blue and white room. Our hostel had a really nice patio too. I have always wanted to life in a loft, and our room did have three beds upstairs, so I lugged my huge backpack up some very scary stairs so that I could claim my bed. Jessica stayed on the ground floor and snagged a spot on a bunk bed.
There were so many restaurants along the cliffs with the most beautiful views I have ever seen, so we picked one that wasn't too expensive and made our way up to the third floor of the patio just in time for sunset. I had a delicious plate of vegetables. We met a woman traveling alone at dinner and got to know her a bit. She was a lactation assistant or something like that, and we heard some interesting stories about her job and her exes. We finished off our day on the patio of our hostel, listening to all the cats on the island meowing loudly. There was another girl on the patio who turned out to be our roommate. Her name was Anne and she was Canadian. I convinced her to share the loft with me and we made plans to hang out with her the whole next day.
Our hostel advertised some really interesting travel packages for the island, and we picked the one we could afford. It turned out to be everything I could have hoped for for one day on the island. We started by taking a cable car down to a really old port where the tourist ships leave from. We waited for our boat to pick us up. It looked like a miniature pirate ship and we got to sit practically on the front of the ship. The boat first took us out to an active volcano, supposedly right over the lost island of Atlantis (Side story: the island of Santorini used to be a lot larger in the past until this volcano erupted and sunk a big part of the island). We got to hike the volcano with a tour guide and hear about its past and how it is still active today. It was a rough hike because it was so hot that day, and there was still steam seeping out of holes in the rocks. I got to climb on the highest point of the volcano, which was marked by a big cement pillar.
We got back on the boat and headed to our next stop; some natural hot springs. The boat had to stop out in the ocean because the hot springs were too shallow for it to sail into. To get to the hot springs, you had to jump off the boat and swim a pretty good distance to the warmer water. I really dislike being in open water like the ocean, but I knew this was an opportunity I would never get again, so I jumped off the boat (with Anna and her camera that we would soon realize I had broken when I hit the water with it) and tried to ignore hot absolutely terrified I was. I mean if I were to ever get eaten by a shark, I wouldn't be too disappointed if this was what I was doing when it happened. I swam and swam till I could feel the sharp volcanic rocks underneath my feet and the water getting warmer. We splashed around in the warm water for a few minutes until the tour guide called us back to the boat. It was actually a little scary having to tread water while people got back on the boat one by one, but eventually I was safely back on board.
After this little break, it was back on the boat once again to go to the place I had been looking forward to for months. Those of you who have seen Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants would know what I am talking about. We were going to Oia, the city of white buildings and blue roofs stacked in the cliffs of the island. The "most romantic honeymoon destination on earth". It was far too expensive for us to stay there, but at least I got to see it. The cliffs are so steep from the dock to the city waiting above, so we paid four euros and rode donkeys all the way up the 300 steps to the city. This was by far the scariest thing we experienced in all our travels. The steps were so steep and the donkeys were practically racing each other up the stairs, all the while running themselves and me into walls and rails. I was so thankful to reach the top and be back on my own two feet.
Another one of the hidden gems of the island was a book store we found called Atlantis Books. It was so whimsical and eclectic. I wish I could have lived there. It is so hard to explain with words, so here are some photos I captured of it. I ended up buying a blank book with stamps randomly spread through the pages. I will have to find a very special use for it one day.
After we finished our shopping, we knew we needed to find a place to watch the sunset and get dinner. Since all the places with great views were so expensive, we snagged a table at a creperie and got little morsels. Slowly more and more people started to gather for a view of the sunset and by dusk, there were huge crowds of people lining the streets. We all sat and watched it set, and everyone clapped when it had fully disappeared. I have to say I may like the California sunsets just as much, so I'm glad I get to see them all the time. Once the sun had set, the three of us hurried to the bus stop along with every other person who had watched the sunset. We squeezed onto the bus back to Fira for some down time on the hostel patio. I sat just listening to the kitties meow and (although I admit it was not my best decision) played with a puppy that I had seen wandering around outside our hostel. The more I look back on this day, the more special it is to me. I knew that day that this was the experience of a lifetime, but it really is. Never in my life did I expect to do all the things I did that day, but I'm so glad I did them.
It's crazy how the day before in Oia had been the best day of my travels (if not my life), and today would turn out to be one of the worst, without a doubt. On travel days, we never really got to sleep in. Our day started at 5:30 am. We had to rush to catch the first bus out of town to make it to yet another port where yet another ferry was waiting, only this ferry was not like the last one we had been on. It was a really nice, spacious ferry BUT little did we know, our tickets did not get us a seat. We spent seven hours in the equivalent of a small burger king restaurant trying to sleep on the tables and chairs with the 100 other people who had also bought the cheap tickets for the ferry. It was literally sleeping in a fast food restaurant for seven hours. I have never been so uncomfortable before.Getting into Athens was quick and easy. We had some difficulty getting into contact with the man who ran our bed and breakfast, but we managed to contact him and he met us at the subway station and escorted us to our hotel. We had heard that you need to be careful when traveling in Athens, so we asked Miglen which parts of the city we should avoid and he basically suggested that we were staying in the dangerous part of town. Great. The one bright side of the day was that we arrived at our room and it was beautiful. We got all settled in, dropped our bags, and logged onto the wifi. We hadn't had access to wifi in a few days since it was so unreliable in Santorini. The first thing I do is check Facebook. Never in a million years did I expect to read what I read right then. The first thing on my news feed was a really long post from my cousin talking about how she could not believe that her brother had passed away. I still have not fully processed it today. I immediately started shaking and crying histerically. Poor Jessica didn't have a clue what had happened in the matter of five minutes that made me so upset, but she just hugged me and tried to be there for me. I used the few prepaid phone minutes I had left to call my mom and find out what was going on. She told me that they had tried to hold off on telling me until a few days later when I was home, and they they hoped I would not find out. I could barely function the rest of the day. I had lost all my interest in sight seeing and shopping, and was just struggling to understand how and why this had happened. Jessica understood. She took me to the most amazing bakery and let me eat my feelings in beautiful cakes and pastries for the rest of the night. She got some gyros from a shop around the corner and we spent the rest of the night watching bad Greek TV until bed.
Since we were at a bed and breakfast this time, Miglen had breakfast ready for us in a little dining room in the morning. It was just some bread and orange juice, but we were so excited to have a free meal that it didn't matter to us what it was. When walking the streets of Athens, the first thing that really caught my eye was the incredible street art.
My last day of traveling seemed to come out of nowhere. I was beyond exhausted and ready to come home, but it was weird ending this little chapter of my study abroad experience. We started our day with breakfast again at our hotel and our last bit of funny Greek television. Since Jessica was staying in Athens longer, we walked to her new hostel to drop off her luggage. We still had time for a few things before I left her, so we went to a huge national museum and walked to the first ever olympic stadium and took a little tour. We practiced running around the track and receiving our medals as well as took an audio tour of the arena. It was much smaller than I expected it to be, but I guess it's all they really needed back in the day.
From the stadium, we walked through a national park to a government building where we saw the changing of the guard. These military men with fluffy shoes and giant tassel hats stomped around in patterns for a while until one of them took the other's place. Jessica was not amused. We got to see some other ruins in the city on our way to Avocado. This time, we got to eat on their little second level where you just sit on the floor. We got the whole floor to ourselves and had some delicious small bites.
And to end on a fun note, Greece had so many cats!