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.
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.”