I decided I wanted to visit Greece three years ago — right before all those dumb movies set in Greece flooded the marketplace and inspired my friends & family to assume I’d picked my destination because of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2. But no, that wasn’t it at all. For one thing, I’d never traveled abroad EVER, thanks to a foiled trip to France in high school (thanks, war! just kidding, you ruined everything) and, more importantly, Greece’s appeal to me is far deeper than the movie industry’s pigeonholed presentation of it as a one-dimensional country of scenic white-washed coastlines and neurotic – yet warmhearted – people.
Furthermore, it’s more than the island of Santorini, Mykonos and Crete, which have come to embody an entire country and, if I’m being completely honest; is what initially drew me there. Obviously, Hollywood’s job is overgeneralizing and exaggerating, so I get it. My job is to tell you the true story of a Girl-in-Greece: More Than That Stupid Movie 09′; (Still Love You, Meryl).
I thought the best way for me to experience Greece was to go it alone, really soak up the sights without the pressures of someone else’s itinerary. But apparently, some people regard a mid-twenties female traveling alone as ‘dangerous’. I saw their point, but I wasn’t happy about singing up for a tour.
However, I’m SO GLAD I DID. Tours are the way to go. Don’t listen to anyone who says they’re watered down versions of a trip. They’re just jealous of the organization and excursions and heaps of never-would-have-known-that information that’s going on. The tour I chose was split into two trips: Classical Greece (Athens, Olympia and Delphi) and an Island-Hopping cruise between the Mykonos, Rhoades, Patmos and a small area of Turkey.
Athens: Like a Carnival!!
Upon arriving in Athens on my first day, I felt overwhelmingly excited … and completely disoriented.
The first thing I noticed once I stepped out of the train station and into the market square was the Acropolis atop a hill in the distance. The rest was a bit hard to take in all at once — the streets meet at a million different points on a million different levels, the vendors relentless persuasion attempts, the people on scooters flying by on anything road or street-esque, the smells of fried & sugary foods — it was like a carnival!
I knew the street address to my hotel, so thought I would try to find it on my own because I only knew ‘hello’ in Greek and I didn’t want to be That American. I walked along the cobblestone streets with my wheely luggage, told myself if I kept walking I would eventually hit it, and after about 30 seconds of standing in the same spot, I decided to go back in the train station.
See, I’d heard so many horror stories about interactions between Americans and non-English speakers in Europe, like my friend getting his watch stolen right off his wrist in Naples, or another friend who was “befriended” by a group in Barcelona and eventually mugged. My parents — the sweetest humans alive — were completely ignored while trying to order & pay or food in by more than one restaurant in Italy.
Not in Greece! The entire office stopped what they were doing, invited me behind their desk and helped me look up my street. They even walked the first part with me! I felt lazy for so many reasons, but also excited, and encouraged, to end up at my hotel with all my belongings and sanity intact. I was ready to explore.
I had six hours before I was supposed to meet up with my tour group, so despite the sleep deprivation I was determined to skip about that town like Audrey Fucking Hepburn. Athens breeds this type of sentiment — it’s got those rustic buildings and quaint corner bistros and streetside shops and laid-back residents. (Almost like the movies … ) It’s like you’ve stepped back in time to a place where things are exactly how they’re supposed to be, and all this time you’ve just been doing it wrong.
Since none of the streets follow a real pattern, I found myself walking along a mixture of sidestreets, alleyways and cobblestone roads, between long stretches of market shopping and streets that looked practically deserted.
I had my Greek phrases ready on my phone so I could dazzle at a moments notice, but I never got to use them because everyone there was so goddamn accommodating and friendly! Anytime I approached a shop ready to say, ‘Yia sou. Ti kanis?’, some cute little smiling man or woman would pop out of nowhere and say, ‘Hello! Can I help you? We have some beautiful things here, just in the back.’ How did they always know?
What Dreams May Come
Something I liked to do while walking around that day was to imagine it was thousands of years ago when Athens was the cultural center of the world. Mostly because I’m basically a 9-year-old child and it’s fun to play pretend and because wherever you walk there will be something reminding you of the history: the view of the Acropolis (always in eyesight), the parks full of ruins, the roads themselves. It was impossible not to wonder who walked these streets all those thousands of years ago, who carried all those stones to the top of that hill, and how differently people lived their lives then, compared to now.
I was getting pretty sleepy from being up almost 24 hours, but it was only 4pm local time. Excuse me — 16 o’clock.
My roommate hadn’t arrived yet so I decided the only way I was going to manage being social for dinner/drinks was to nap. The only problem? The “separate beds” provided were actually just two small doubles pushed together, barely composing a full. So I took the risk of having my roommate (who I’d never met) arrive and see a strange girl sleeping in half of her bed, laid down and set my alarm.
When I woke up, I rolled over and saw a dead ringer for Freida Pinto laying literally inches from my face.
Obviously I had no idea where I was, and thought that possibly I was dead and in heaven where everyone is assigned a beautiful companion/make-out partner. It turned out I was still in Greece and she was just my roommate for the trip. Still awesome!
We met up with the rest of our group and had an amazing night of traditional Greek food, dance, and spirits. The tour group was really great, too with people from all over — Australia, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Argentina, the US, the Philippines, Canada, Ireland, England, Japan and India. We enjoyed the established ritual of comparing accents almost immediately.
We ended up going a lot harder than I think any of us expected to. We danced the night away in a club packed with Serbians and pumping with jams.
“You have a funny accent and say weird words!”
“No you have a funny accent and say weird words!”
And then we’d hug because really everyone’s accent and colloquialisms were equally as silly.
The people who were entertaining us for the night said ‘Opa!’ a lot, like a lot a lot, almost as if they knew we expected that (from the movies, obvs) and didn’t want to disappoint.
I wanted to tell them it’s okay, Just go with it Dimetri!
We ended up going a lot harder than I think any of us expected to. We danced the night away in a club packed with Serbians and pumping with jams. It’s kinda funny to go out dancing in a really loud club with a group of 40 people you’ve just met when you’re used to just going out with your friends and you don’t have to talk ’cause you’re all dancing with your purses which is totally fine.
But with strangers, that sort of comfort isn’t there yet, and it’s really too loud to small talk. So sometimes you just have to say Fuck it and see if anyone responds to your ironic “rave hands.”
In my case, everyone thought I was dead serious, so you know, there was that.
Sidenote: You’ll all be happy to know that, like the US, Greece’s go-to artist during a lull on the dance floor is Lady GaGa. ‘Poker Face’ had probably juuust come out over there so it was really exciting for everyone! No offense, Europe’s music trends.
Also, do you know who else they played? SOULJA BOY TELL ‘EM. He is what you ladies refer to as “Terrible/Awesome,” no? I think most of you will disagree with the Awesome part, but you’ll have to forgive me as I am from the south and we don’t know any better and also maybe I have some identity issues.
Olympia: A History Nerd’s Dream
Next up was Olympia. It was my favorite part of the entire trip and it made my history nerd heart swell. We visited the Olympic Village where the first Olympics were held in 776 B.C.
Everything was within a half-mile radius, and if you didn’t know any better, you might think you were just walking through a giant garden full of fallen pillars. We saw where the athletes trained and we stood where the first torch was lit; we saw the statues dedicated to all 16 cheaters and in turn where people spat as they walked into the stadium; we walked under the archway where the athletes de-robed and onto the field where the games themselves were played.
“Before I go any further, I need to make something clear. I DO NOT CRY. But standing on this field that held so much history yet remained so untouched by it, I felt like crying. It’s hard to explain why. I wanted to stay there forever and start from scratch. I wanted us to go back and live like these people did because it was just so much cooler.”
And it was here that I felt most disconnected from my body, not to mention any concept of space or time. The scene was nothing spectacular–a dirt field flanked by two grassy hills, a statue where the high priestess sat on one side, and an enclosed area for judges on the other. But this is where thousands of visitors would sit on the hill’s naturally tiered seating with consistently excellent views. The most impressive feature was the marble finish line. It still looked brand-new.
It looked exactly as I imagine it did 2,776 years ago — okay. Before I go any further, I need to make something clear. I DO NOT CRY. (except maybe a little bit during Marley & Me on the plane flight over) Every two years I shed only one tear, which is how unicorns are born.
But standing on this field that held so much history yet remained so untouched by it, I felt like crying. It’s hard to explain why, but it was the only thing that felt right at the time.
I wanted to stay there forever and start from scratch. I wanted us to go back and live like these people did because it was just so much cooler. When I looked around I felt like I could see everyone shifting and I realized it wasn’t that weird after all to have these thoughts from simply looking at a dirt field.
People got a little quieter, some slowly broke from their group to sit on the hill, and some people walked to the center of the field and just stood motionless. I think it also helped that a few hundred feet away stood Mount Olympus. You guys, History!!
Next: “By this point, it was becoming clearer and clearer that I was the only gay of the tour … I bring this up because I haven’t talked about anything gay yet, and because it came into play that night.”
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see, this is exactly the type of thing I would talk about doing but probs. not do haha.
“So sometimes you just have to say Fuck it and see if anyone responds to your ironic “rave hands.” ~ this made me laugh cause it is a situation I often find myself in
the pictures are so prettttyyyyy!
I went on a similar tour in early June. We went to Athens, Olympia, Argos, Delphi, Mykynos, Crete, Patmos, Rhodes, Santorini and Kusadasi (turkey) I loved it. It was amazing to see so many renown and historical sites.
P.s. I also went to Italy too. There highway is called the autostrade!
This sounds so amazing!! I’m such a history nerd too, I probably would have cried looking at all that ancient stuff.
lynne: gooooo! bite the bullet and make yourself–if even for the food alone. mmmm cheese pie.
msNJS: ummmm were you on my tour?! that was my tour exactly. jk, i would have known and we would have hung out but was your main tour guide a little bitty named joanne?
IN emily: it was really incredible. unbelievable at times. for example, i looked through the same hole where the oracle gave her predictions (and was on tons of acid!) in the temple at delhi.
My tour guide was Gabriella. She was a great guide from Italy. What cruise ship were you on? I was on the Aegean Pearl
I’m a first generation Greek American (foist is an anagram of my first name – Fotis) and I just want to say that I really enjoyed your post. That and I’m unbelievably jealous that I can’t visit this summer. I’m glad you enjoyed your trip to Greece and hope you consider going back someday. I’ve been 5 times for what has been a total of over a year of vacation and still have only skimmed the surface of what Greece has to offer. Next time I go (plans are currently in the works), I’ll be climbing (or hiking is probably more accurate) Mount Olympus. And not to be a downer but as a cultural FYI, someone who is gay is more often than not referred to as “anomalos” – it’s from the same Greek root we get the English word anomaly.
The trip sounded fantastic. :) You took such lovely photos!
I had an attack of the sentimental while standing in the British Museum once … all of that history has a certain amount of emotional weight.
@foist The Ancient Greek term for a female homosexual was “hetairistriai,” according to my copy of Plato’s Symposium … but it would probably sound a bit pretentious to use it in a contemporary setting. (That, and way too many people are traumatized by philosophy classes to even consider Plato an interesting read …) Compared to the various Ancient Greek words, the feminine of “anomalos” seems so boring. :(
Don’t hold me to the transliteration but in modern Greek, “omofilofilos” means homosexual but you seldom hear that when speaking. “Anomalos,” which I don’t take as being politically correct, is more akin the the word queer. It’s considered slang and often used in reference to men even though it can apply to both sexes. Then there’s “lesbia” for lesbians. There’s your usual derogatory terms as well, which I won’t go into detail here. As far as Ancient Greek, I’m pretty sure there was no real word for homosexual. Dr. Bonnie Zimmerman’s “The Encyclopedia of Lesbian and Gay Histories and Cultures” has a pretty good take on it, Plato, and Classical literature in general if you’re into that kind of stuff. Thanks for the reply – it’s not everyday you come across someone who’s read Plato.
foist: thanks so much! and what a fun name you have. do you go by a variation of it? ’cause i know a ‘panagiota’ and she goes by ‘penny’, ha. where abouts is your family from?
kaye: i’m learning so much from you two! also, w/r/t the museum/history femotions thing: right?!
I meant to continue the thread and reply to your comment – see below.
Eeek I’m jealous. I’d love to visit all those places, but my next trip has already been set to Toronto in August. Maybe next time… I’d kill to visit the Theatre of Dionysus, go back in time and do the City Dionysia (festival.) I’m such a sucker for ancient Greek plays. Looks like fun! Thanks for sharing. (:
Erin: Frank is the American equivalent for Fotis. Everyone calls me Fotis though and frankly, Frank sounds like the name for an old, senile grandpa. It never appealed to me as a nickname. Anyway, my family is from Agia Paraskevi – a small village (population less than 500) approximately 100 miles NW of Athens: http://maps.google.com/maps?q=agia+paraskevi&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-a&ie=UTF8&hl=en&ll=38.582727,22.742987&spn=0.016539,0.038581&t=h&z=15. Also, the tidbit about accents was funny but you never mentioned where you’re from.
foist: ohhh your town looks amazing. and i’m sure we passed that general area–in which case, i probably told people i wanted to buy a house in your town.
i’m from georgia but have absolutely no accent; something i’ve worked very hard at. but you know how americans are when they get around brits/aussies. at this point we know they say things like ‘loo’ and ‘tosser’ and ‘pissed’, but we still can’t help ourselves.
Looks like we’re neighbors – I live and work in Birmingham, AL. Ha, but yeah, I know what you mean about their own words and phrases that they use. Random fact I came across recently: only after rereading Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince did I look this up and realize that “er,” “erm,” and “eh” aren’t pronounced like they’re spelled, at least in American English. In American, it’s the same as “uh,” “um,” and “aye.” They’re transcribed different in British English but both ways make the same sounds. Anyhoo…
Very resourceful and informative post!!! Elda Hotel is a family hotel and one can come here with the entire family to spend some quality time with them. The warm hospitality and friendly nature of the Pelion hotel staff let one unwind in an unknown environment with a feeling of security and being pampered at the same time.