european adventures: santorini, greece

Santorini was the ideal place to end our month-long adventure. We were losing steam once we hit Venice, but regained some eventually (with the help of some amazing Italian food). However, after tackling Rome and Athens with full force, we were exhausted and ready to just relax. On the island, we soaked up the sun, the sea air, and the beautiful views spending two nights in Oia, and one night in Perissa.
Thus far, we had been fairly fortunate with our hostel situations. Most of the places we stayed in were much better than anticipated. When we got to our place in Oia, the two owners told us to choose a room. We thought this was a little strange, but Ted went upstairs to choose between two rooms and opted for the one that didn't have a weird smell in its bathroom. The room we settled into was small and had a domed roof, kind of like a hobbit hole. Although it was very modest, it felt very Greek and we were fine with it. Until we flushed the toilet. 

Let me tell you, traveling opens your eyes to the diversity of toilets and bathroom layout possibilities. At this point we were used to minuscule bathrooms with inconveniently-placed showers. Most of the time you have a shower buddy--the toilet. Nothing beats soggy toilet paper! The layout of our Oia bathroom was a small rectangle with the toilet on the right, facing a shower on the left, which was the kind that you had to pick up the shower head and spray yourself with water. The sink was in the middle, with the drain for the toilet and shower beneath it. When I flushed the toilet that fateful afternoon, the bathroom and room filled with the smell of sewage. It was so unbearable that after a night of toughing it out, we left the door shut for the rest of our stay and used the bathroom of a nearby room that they left the key in for us if we wanted to change rooms. We were hoping Santorini would be a relaxing, romantic place to stay, but our hostel had other ideas. Obviously we laughed about it a lot, but it was pretty obnoxious. For our third night on the island, we took a couple of buses to Perissa and stayed the night at a lovely place there. Although the bathroom situation was somewhat similar, the smell was much, much more manageable and there was a fan. We even had our own little porch where we had breakfast. It turned out quite fantastic. 
We made it to the beach both of the two full days we were in Santorini. The beaches have black sand and were pleasantly uncrowded since high season has barely just started (a lot of places haven't even opened up yet on the island because of this). 

The first day we spent some time with our friends from LC, one of which who was on our London program (who we had also met up with in Salzburg). We didn't have our suits on, so we lounged around and talked, and Ted took epic pictures of our friends jumping into the ocean off a cliff. Yep, I will never be THAT adventurous. I should also mention that Ted, Kushi, and Nate had tiny fish eat the dead skin off their feet a few hours before this while I watched rather amused (and unwilling to spend the money to do something so unnecessary and slightly disturbing...). 

Our first stop when we started exploring Oia, was Atlantis Books. I've got to tell you, just stepping into this bookstore made me feel instantly cooler. When I have my own craft store someday, I want people to feel the way Ted and I felt when we started browsing around this tiny bookshop run by a man from Tennessee, with shop employees from London. It was small, but chock full of a deep passion for literature. I stopped in the next evening when the four of us were looking for a place to get cocktails and Ted and I both ended up spending our cocktail budget on new books. And I am 100% okay with this.

Gyros, gyros, and more gyros. Enough said. 

We went to Lucky's Souvlaki (near the Thira bus stop) twice, which was definitely the most incredible gyros of our lives. I think we may have ruined our chance of ever finding true gyro love in the states. Oh well--it was definitely worth a lifetime of disappointment. 

Also, more delicious frozen Greek yogurt. All froyo should taste that good...

We also tried some really nice local specialties, like fava, fried tomato balls, and these doughy little cheesecake pastries. Our favorite starters we tried were served to us the first night we arrived in Oia.  The warm dolmas and red pepper feta dip with bread were so lovely. I would have had three more servings of the starters, but the meatballs and red wine-marinated octopus (Ted likes to try the weird specials) were okay too. 
Fruity cocktails were a must. We had a lovely strawberry daiquiri at a bar in Thira while overlooking the sea and idyllic white-washed buildings studded with blue.  The most perfect 90's alternative playlist played in the background. Blissful. We also went to an outside bar our last night in Perissa and discretely started watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding on Ted's iPhone. Another highlight of the night--the group of girls our age who told Ted they had a bet about how old he was. The lowest guess was 24, the highest, 28! Too funny. They thought I was 20-22. The same girl won both.  

Speaking of making friends, we ran into a guy we met while on our adventure on the shuttle/bus/train to Athens. We had already ran into a guy we talked to briefly on the ferry (who was kind of a bro... We heard him making fun of Doctor Who--not cool, man) at the Archeological museum in Athens and another fellow ferry/shuttle rider in a Blue Star Ferries-affiliated travel agency in the Athens main square. We were so happy to have Gerardo, our travel buddy to Athens, run over to us as we walked to our hostel in Perissa. We were just waiting to run into him at some point! Funny how small the world gets when you're traveling.

european adventures: athens, greece

For some reason I journaled about every city except for Athens.  Maybe it was as a test for the near-future me to see just how much I could remember?  Well, here goes nothing...

We took a 17 hour ferry to Athens.  Yep, that happened.  And it went surprisingly well.  I have to admit, the ferry was quite nice.  However, being the broke travelers we were, we had reserved the lowest class of seats, fondly dubbed "the deck seats"... Well, that didn't sound promising at all, especially after walking through the absolutely bonkers wind from the ??? to the Blue Star building.  In my research, I read that we'd be able to set up camp in a lounge or reception area, so I held out hope for our poor souls.  Thankfully, the internet did not lie--we very comfortably slept on each other, on a long wrap-around couch, also holding a old Greek man with friends and prayer beads.  The only downside of being in the reception area was that there were TVs (I believe a bad American action movie was played before it was turned off) and we were near public bathrooms (where I saw within minutes, the product of someone's seasickness).  Ted and I were fortunate enough to not get seasick with the help of ferry-provided meds.  

I passed the time sleeping and catching up on blogs--it had been too long.  It was during this long ferry ride that I started to miss my more domestic side.  You know, the side of me who isn't off gallivanting in foreign lands, taking planes, trains, buses, ferries, and walking, walking, walking anywhere and everywhere my tiny feet can take me.  I started thinking fondly of baking, crafting, and just being at home.  Of course I never for a minute didn't want to be traveling, but there comes a point where home doesn't look so bad.  It actually looks pretty damn good.  When I woke up the next morning, I stumbled to the dining room and bought myself a yogurt (mmm, Greek yogurt!) and found a little honey to mix in.  I then proceeded to have the most satisfying breakfast of my life on the deck of the ferry, alone, the wind in my face, and the beautiful blue sea stretched out ahead of me, studded with islands.  That's what I call a blissful breakfast.  

However, the best part of the ferry ride might have been the old couple that befriended us in the last 20 minutes or so of the journey.  They sat down near our spot--littered with our backpacks, the grocery bag from Amsterdam that now carried the mustard from Austria, a bag of fun-sized Bountys, and who knows what other random stuff--and when the woman caught my eye and smiled, she started speaking to us in Greek.  Her husband tried to translate in Italian.  After some confusion, we realized they were trying to tell us their love story.  What a surreal moment.
To be honest, our first impression of Athens wasn't the shiniest.  The main train station is probably in the worst part of town.  We felt immediately discouraged when we saw the rows of towering, dilapidated buildings.  Fortunately, as we walked further toward our hostel, things looked up.  Yet despite the improvements, Athens is definitely a tough city.  It wasn't until we ventured towards the Acropolis that I started to see the Greece I envisioned, with the majestic Acropolis overlooking the sprawling city.  I've got to say, it was quite awe-inspiring. 

As you might have heard in the news, Greece isn't doing so hot right now.  Although I knew this going in, I didn't anticipate the extent.  Everywhere in Europe there are people on the streets trying to make money selling souvenirs, street performing, or begging for money.  Athens was definitely the worst though.  Even children as young as 6 or 7 (maybe even younger) were walking around trying their best to make money.  It pained me to see them, knowing there were adults out there using their youth as a ploy to get money.  It was very humbling, and at times disturbing, being surrounded by this.  Not to mention the droves of stray dogs wandering around.  They mostly hung out in the ruins.  My faith in humanity was restored when I started noticing big bowls of water left out for them.  

After popping into a Vodafone that I spotted--we had two places we always ended up in each country--Starbucks (everywhere except Italy of course) and phone stores--we found our hostel.  We got buzzed in, we took a sketchy elevator up to our hostel, and you know what?  It actually ended up being quite nice for how dirt-cheap it was.  I mean, 12 euros for a decent bed and breakfast?  What a steal!  It was also conveniently located not too far from the Acropolis.  The family who owned the place was super nice, and the shower was only a little inconvenient. 
Unlike Ancient Rome, we actually got to interact with some of the ruins!  I mean, I stepped on SOME REALLY OLD FLOORS.  I touched some REALLY OLD STONE.  REALLY OLD, MAN.  We're talking 2,000 years old.  I mean, I guess it was okay.  The great thing about these ruins--we could use our international student IDs to get in free everywhere.  As broke, traveling college students on our last stretch of funds, this was a god-send.  Or should I say, gods-send.  Yeah, I'm funny.

My favorite moment was sitting in the audience of the Theatre of Dionysus.  AKA, the birthplace of THEATRE.  That was pretty incredible, to say the least.  It felt quite surreal.  Being a theatre major, I couldn't help but geek out a bit.  When we made it up to the Acropolis, we were in awe of the beautiful white stone work. Those Greeks sure knew how to work those pillars.  It was quite something walking up those large steps. Once we walked through the entrance, we walked around to see the Parthenon.  Unfortunately they have been restoring it for quite some time, so there was scaffolding every angle.  I can't complain though--I feel very fortunate that there are people out there preserving our rich history.  

Let's just say that Greek food officially has a very, very, very special place in my heart after our visit to Athens.  Every single thing we put into our mouths was so delicious, right down to the multiple frozen Greek yogurts we tried (of course the winner was during our very last night when we were already stuffed with other delicious food).  We visited two restaurants twice because we were so smitten with their dishes.