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.”
Delphi: It sounds straight out of a Disney Movie but I promise you it happened.
We started to hit our stride as a group in Delphi. Any shyness people felt at the beginning was lost and with no big excursions on the itinerary that day, we could really experience it.
We ate lunch at a beachside family-owned restaurant where every dish was caught daily and a four course meal only cost 14 euro. I tried to mix up who I sat/ate with each day and for that particular lunch I sat with the Puerto Rican girls; there were nine of them and they had all been close friends for many years. I don’t know if any of you are aware of the bond between Puerto Rican woman, but it’s something of an anomaly. During the meal they laughed, sang, danced, shimmied, asked me lots of questions, and made sure to direct all of their stories at me so I felt included. They were the perfect hosts!
When we got back from lunch we had time to walk around the small mountain town surrounding our hotel. It was about 3 blocks long, and looked a bit like New Orleans French Quarter. The streets were lined with Duplex-style buildings decorated with permanent lights and plants hung from every porch.
We walked through the entire town and only saw ONE person the whole time — an old woman on a porch above us who shook out her rug against the railing. She was smiling and singing “‘Yia sou, yia sou!” This is straight out of a Disney movie, but it happened.
Fun-Gay or Awkward Gay?
Later, we followed our usual dinner/drinks/dancing routine and by this point, it was becoming clearer and clearer that I was the only gay of the tour. (Judging from our numbers though and employing statistical facts about homosexuality, there should have been like 3 more, but WHO’S COUNTING.)
I bring this up because I haven’t talked about anything gay yet, and because it came into play that night. No no, unfortunately for me no one got drunk enough for play time–I had to burst a boy’s very publicized-unbeknownst-to-me bubble.
We were all having fun on the dance floor and one of the Australian guys–who had sort of become our tour’s ringleader and who up to this point hadn’t talked to me much–danced over and very casually said, “So I think I may be in love with you!” and continued to dance in rhythm with the music.
He had a very fun, jokey personality so I thought he was kidding and probably high-fived him, because that’s what mature adults do.
But as I kept dancing, I could feel every-one’s eyes in our general direction. You know, like when you are in middle school and everyone but one person is in on something and the shit hits the fan and that one person is like “REALLY YOU GUYS? YOU ALL KNEW?!”
There was obviously some liquid courage going on, and normally I have no problem telling people I’m gay– and usually I have to because the non-gay world has a pretty specific idea about what they think a gay lady looks like and it ain’t me — but something about the whole situation and how much he was putting himself out there made me feel like I needed to tell him in a respectful way. Like, not while we were dancing to Justin Timberlake?
As if all of this wasn’t awkward enough, his sister, who had a very Regina George air to her, danced over to me (again with the dancing!) and said, “He’s a good boy.”
I did some weird laugh noise and she said, “No really, I wouldn’t just say that about anyone. He’s a good guy.”
How she said it was all very ‘Oh my god I love your skirt, where did you get it?’ But anyway the next day he apologized he was so forward but that he meant everything he said and then very gentlemanly wondered if I would like to get a coffee.
It was on this walk to the cafe that I broke the news, and though I was fairly certain that had never happened/would never happen again to him, he couldn’t have been nicer about the whole thing.
This little hiccup didn’t stop this trip from becoming one of the best weeks of my life.
I could go on and on about what else I saw and experienced but I think I’ll just leave you with this scene, straight out of the movie of my actual life, which will play in my head forever, Hollywood be damned: Cruising the open seas of the Mediterranean at night, our multicultural group takes to the top of the ship where the temperature has cooled and deck has been lit — maybe the unlimited drinks are in play and maybe our bellies are full of cheese pies, greek salads, gyros and baklava.
This song (which will come to haunt my every silent moment) is playing at the speakers’ capacity and there is no such thing as self-awareness; there is only smiling and clapping and synchronized movement and the realization that this is the zenith of fun. We are our own little United Nations solving the world’s problems. And dancing, too.
Next: Incredible Photos from Erin’s Real Hollywood Greece Trip