May 2016: Gorgeous Greece

One of the beautiful things about traveling to far away places with a group of people is the level of bonding that occurs from the planning stages to the actual duration of the trip. I traveled to Greece the day after returning from Cuba since it was the most convenient time of the year for my best friend Keri to go on vacation. She and I try to go on a trip together once a year (so far, we’ve gone to Jamaica, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Spain, and Italy). This year, I was traveling with her and three of her sisters. Planning the trip was chaotic, to say the least. We initially booked a trip to Costa Rica but the Zika virus outbreak in Central and South America made a few of us nervous. We ended up canceling the Costa Rica trip and booking a trip to Greece instead, which turned out to be a great experience. The trip was the right balance of fun and relaxing, and growing closer to Keri and her sisters was by far the best experience of all. Here are the details!

May 29 – 30: Athens

I flew to Athens from Miami after a long flight, a late arrival to my layover in Istanbul, and the subsequent cancellation of my connection flight, finally landing in Greece hours after I’d expected. I met the girls at our hotel (the Divani Caravel, which was a pleasant stay) and relaxed with them on our first night in Greece. The next day was a complete freestyle that ended up being an awesome experience. Instead of booking an official tour, I used a guidebook I’d purchased in Florida that took us on a walking tour of Athens’s most popular spots.

Our first stop was a visit to the Acropolis, an ancient citadel atop rocky terrain, known for its damaged historic buildings. Acropolis means “peak of the city” in Greek, and it was a bit of a climb to the top to see the ruins. It was a journey full of beautiful views of the city, but the heat in Athens that day was intense. By the time we made it to the top, we were thirsty and tired, but the view from the top was worth the trouble! We saw many ancient buildings, including the Temple of Athena Nike and the famous Parthenon, a former temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. The Parthenon is currently undergoing restoration but it was still amazing to see.


In front of the Parthenon with Shannon, Traci, Keri, and Reese

After clumsily making our way back down to the bottom of the hill, we checked out the Acropolis Museum to see relics and learn more about the history of the area. We then strolled around the nearby area, shopping for souvenirs and taking in the sights. Everyone we met in Athens was nice, but there was this one little boy who tried to hustle us in a clever way. We were all walking down a street when we saw him sitting on the side by himself. While focused on him, we didn’t notice the cup of coins right in the middle of the street, which one of us accidentally knocked over. Apologetic, we scrambled to pick up the coins when Keri noticed that the boy had a sly smirk on his face: he apparently had placed the cup there on purpose to get an emotional response out of us, one that would ideally lead to us giving him some money. One of Keri’s sister’s caught on and expressed disapproval of the whole scene when the boy shouted, “Fock you, beeches!” (I’ll leave it to the reader to figure out the expletives!) as we walked away. I personally found it hilarious that he tried to pull off that little stunt; a few others were pretty annoyed. It was an interesting moment. I give him props for trying to hustle us! :)

Standing in the rubble

A little birdie I spotted on my tour

Making friends with Greek cops :)

At the Acropolis Museum

My name in Greek on a handmade necklace

While on the way to the next stop on our meandering walking tour, we got lost on a side street somewhere (mostly because of my poor navigation skills, haha) and ended up in an alley that had some of the most beautiful graffiti I’ve ever seen. I don’t know who the artists were or why the graffiti was in this random alley, but it was incredible to unexpectedly cross paths with this stunning art. Bright, bold colors of faces that seemed to represent love, intelligence, and independent thought plastered the walls. There were also a lot of random cats creeping around corners. Greece seems to have a lot of stray cats for some reason.
It started drizzling long enough for us to turn back around when I saw a cab across the street. He asked us if we were lost and if he could help us get somewhere. Wanting to avoid the rain, we all jumped into the car. It turns out he was a professional tour driver, working for a family business that drives tourists around town for a very affordable price. He ended up being our tour guide for the rest of the day for only roughly $10 a person. He drove us to the old port to get some food, and afterward we drove by the Temple of Olympia Zeus. We saw views of Athens from high up on some hill that I don’t remember the name of, and then our guide took us to the Presidential Palace to see the changing of the guards ceremony. None of us expected the ceremony to be so interesting! Greek soldiers wear unique uniforms characterized by the fustanella, a kilt-like garment with many pleats. At a certain time, the guards trade places by taking a dramatic march down the street, lifting their legs in a deliberately slow pace and extending an arm and a leg in the air before forcefully slamming the leg back into the ground. It was amazing to watch.

May 31 – June 1: Mykonos

Our time in Athens had come to an end, and the next part of the adventure took us to Mykonos, one of the many islands off Greece’s coast. Nicknamed “the island of the winds”, it is a tiny, peaceful island with perfect weather and gorgeous views. Although there is a well-known party scene on the island, we spent most of our time there relaxing and sightseeing, only going out to a few lounges and bars one night to get a taste of the nightlife. Our hotel was okay; the service was very good but the rooms weren’t the best (cramped bathrooms and very uncomfortable beds). The hotel has a beautiful infinity pool and has the classic whitewashed walls and smooth, curved corners that are so well known in Greece.

I’ve always wondered why so many buildings in Greece are such a pristine white color. The walls are covered with whitewash, which is created by mixing slaked lime (calcium hydroxide in the form of a white powder), salt, and water. Whitewash is cost-effective, resistant to oxidation, harmful to bugs yet harmless to goats and other animals that are common to the country. Homes are traditionally re-whitewashed every year before Easter. I love the cleanliness and simplicity of the style. Walking around Mykonos in particular almost felt like I was in an isolated paradise, with bright blue skies boldly vibrating against the stark whitewashed buildings, with purple and red flowers sprinkling their liveliness across many a window and lawn. The entire island—all roughly 30 square miles of it—felt tranquil and safe.

The girls and I went to a few bars located in Mykonos Town, which is a long, winding strip lined with buzzing shops during the day and crowded bars at night. Each bar played the same top 40 hits that you’d hear in the States. At one bar, Arkos, the bartender accidentally swapped my credit card with another card that was identical to mine. I didn’t notice it until the next day when the card got declined at a store. Luckily no fraudulent charges occurred. That was the one hiccup of the trip.

In addition to barhopping, we enjoyed dinner at an excellent little restaurant, Nikos Gallop, located a few blocks away from our hotel. The food was so delicious that we went there both of our nights on the island. In fact, most of the food I tasted while in Greece was amazing. Greek salads are simple, with no “fluff” like lettuce to take up space and decrease flavor. Tomatoes, olives, onions, peppers, and feta cheese garnished with a little olive oil make an easy-to-prepare yet scrumptious salad. Everything I ate in Greece felt so fresh and simple. The only thing that I don’t care for are gyros; I’ve never liked them and trying one in Greece didn’t change that sentiment. One thing that I really enjoyed at Nikos Gallop was a liqueur called Mastika that was served after our meal to aid digestion. It is flavored with a resin that comes from the mastic tree, an evergreen tree native to the Mediterranean. I got a strong hint of pine when swallowing the liqueur, followed by an enjoyable sweetness that lingered long after the last drop. It was served in a shot glass, and it was so tasty that I had two of them. Yummmm!

On our last day on Mykonos, we went sightseeing and souvenir shopping. We saw the island’s famous windmills and its mascot, a pelican. I ran into a stand that was selling Cuban cigars, which was cool to see since I was in Cuba the week before. In the evening before sunset, I walked 15 minutes to a popular restaurant called Nammos located right on the beach. It was the only time I had a chance to be on the beach while on Mykonos, and I sneaked down there while the ladies were getting dressed for dinner. The water was so calm and pretty.

June 2 – 4: Santorini

Santorini was our last stop, which we got to by ferry from Mykonos. Santorini is also a beautiful island, known for its different colored sand beaches and spectacular views of the sunset. On our first night there, we saw a play about a Greek wedding. It was so entertaining and we got to break plates at the end in an “Opa!”-screaming frenzy. Much fun! :)

img_7511The next day, Keri and I explored Oia, a town known for its views of the sunset and blue-domed churches. It took a while to figure out where to go to see the blue domes, but it was fun wandering around the town. Later that day, all of us went on a sailing tour around the island. We stopped at red and white sand beaches and got stunning views of the sunset later in the day. At night, we walked around different shops and bars and got souvenirs. I got a mask of Dionysus, the god of grapes, wine, ritual madness, and fertility in Greek mythology. I started collecting masks from my travels around the world earlier this year.

Overall, I really enjoyed Greece. I can’t say it was my favorite place to visit, but it’s not my least favorite either. It is beautiful and peaceful and every person we met (except for one) greeted us with that well known warm Greek hospitality. The trip went smoothly and the weather was perfect the whole time (except for the few minutes of rain in Athens). I love how full of history and culture the country is, and the food was surprisingly delicious. I have a newfound love for Greek food. If I had the chance to go back, I would probably explore some of the other historic cities and learn more about the country’s history. I’m so happy that I had the chance to bond with Keri and her sisters on this relaxing trip.


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