Overseas to Greece
For those of you who did not know, I recently embarked on my first journey outside of america! It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and an incredible first week to my summer. I’ve been having friends and family ask about it - so I figured why not condense it here as best as I can!
So, I was scheduled to leave May 15th, with a flight at 7:25. I left my house extremely early to play it safe, however, my dad and I hit about 3 hours of traffic. So, that brought us to the airport at 6:30… you can figure out what happens next. At this rate, I am literally jumping out of a moving car, running to the gate at JFK. I get to the aeroflot desk, and they tell me practically the worst news you could hear before a flight: “The gates have closed.” I figured, “Okay, this isn’t the worst that can happen. There’s gotta be another flight.” Well, the next flight wasn’t until the next day, and here’s the catch! It was $650 to CHANGE MY TICKET. (Essentially the same amount I had already paid for my initial ticket) Holding back my tears as best as I could, I called my dad who was circling around the airport to tell him the news. He comes in and speaks with the attendant, and after what seemed like an eternity, the news gets worse. Not only had I missed my flight, but the “insurance” I had bought, “didn’t cover traffic”. Keep in mind, when I bought the insurance, they didn’t specify anything about what the insurance entailed or what loopholes they could possibly get you for. So, simply put, this was turning into my day/night from hell. After about 3 hours of sobbing in the airport, my dad and I decided it was best to just buy a round-trip ticket (the first one would’ve had me with doing layovers in Russia, which definitely may have put me in a worse situation) for the next day. The downside: spending $2,000 instead of $700; the upside: no layovers and a flight from Philly. Needless to say, my first day of travels didn’t go too well.
DAY 1, TRY #2
After a night of sleep, I was able to think a little more positively. I can’t even explain how much that experience drained me. Fortunately, my new flight was in Philadelphia, which is a breeze compared to the essential PARKING LOT that we experienced getting to NYC. I was sure to leave my house 4 hours before my flight, and I got there about 2 hours or so early. So far, so good. My dad and I said our goodbyes, and so began my excursion to Greece!
After 10 hours of flying time, (and let me tell you, it felt more like 20) I landed in Athens. I was lucky enough to sit next the cutest greek old man, and we got along really well. He showed me a picture of his wife, and it was the sweetest gesture ever. As I mentioned, this was my first time leaving the U.S., so customs was a completely new concept to me. The signs were in English and Greek, thankfully, so I was able to navigate my way around the airport for the most part. Looking around, I realized immediately, that I was far from America. I instantly felt like an outsider, and I have to say, it was a really strange feeling. My friend Alexandra (the one I was meeting there) messaged me some instructions to get to the hotel she booked for us, which seemed simple enough. Suitcase in hand, wearing my backpack, I exited the airport in search of the bus to take into town. I found the x96 and asked the driver to take me to the stop she had sent me. This is where my wonderful luck hits again! (Complete sarcasm.) So, this driver hears me say the name of the stop and then tells me that i am on the wrong bus. This is where I really realized how much of a foreigner I was. He could hardly speak English, and the rest of the bus was clearly full of natives. He points to a bus, so I get off and run to that one. I get on the x97 and tell the driver the stop, and he hands me a ticket for 5 euros. This ride was only supposed to take 25-30 minutes, and at this rate it’s starting to take more than 40. And this is when I realized something went very wrong. So, I awkwardly go up and ask the driver (with the 0 greek words that I know at this point) if we missed my stop. Turns out, he had NO idea what stop I was talking about. Everyone gets off, and he and I are left to figure out what the heck I’m supposed to do now. We’re both trying to make sense of the directions on my iPhone. He then proceeds to drive me all around Athens. It was an experience, needless to say. He brought me to another bus stop, which actually ended up taking me EVEN FURTHER away. So please picture this: I am now an alone female, on foot, in the blazing hot sun, with absolutely no phone service, carrying all my luggage, and not in the best of areas. At this point, there are no signs in English, and what was even more difficult was Greek letters are not American letters. So, I couldn’t even spell out the places I was near. I finally find a café of some sort and ask the workers if they’ve heard of the stop. They point me in the direction of the Metro, which I naturally was unable to find. After about ten more minutes of walking, I finally found a cab and desperately asked the driver to PLEASE just take me to the hotel. I finally made it, and Alexandra and I were united at last! I slept for about 7 hours - the jetlag began to kick in - and then we went out for our first greek meal! We shared a Greek salad (American feta will never compare) and the lamb chops were out of this world. I was also able to order wine, because in Greece the drinking age is 18. That was very cool. We headed back to the hotel and got ready for our 5 am flight to the island, Kefalonia (There are more than 2 different spellings, FYI.)
To give you a brief rundown, Alexandra has family on the island. This was her first time meeting them, so this was really the most exciting part of the trip. We landed around 6 AM, which means we got to see the sun rise from the plane! We were greeted by her (kind of) cousin, Spiro. He took us back to his apartment - where we were to stay - and it was the most beautiful thing I think I have ever seen. The apartment itself was small, but very chic. The view is what took my breath away.
Elena, his girlfriend (and potentially the most beautiful human being I have ever met), Alexandra, and I then spent the next hour or so talking about ourselves and getting to know one another. It was so interesting learning about their lifestyle in Greece. Elena wasn’t as fluent in English as Spiro was, so sometimes we had a hard time conveying exactly what we wanted to for each other, but that honestly made the experience even more interesting. Spiro and Elena work at a printer/ink shop in the square, and he brought us there on his motorcycle (sorry you had to find out this way, Dad). That was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life - literally putting my entire life in a stranger’s hands. Elena then took us to the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. It was comparable to the ones you set as your desktop background or buy for a poster, I swear. It was what was called an “organized beach”, which means there were beach chairs and staff who brought you drinks and food. I was probably the biggest tourist there, considering I spent at least 5 minutes just STARING at how blue the water was.
Then we came back to the town to meet Sophia, Spiro’s sister, and her family. She owns a restaurant in the more touristy part of the island - and we had the honor of eating there for free the entire week, which I am still endlessly thankful for. This was the waterfront view for the restaurant:
I definitely had not gotten over my jetlag at this point, and we slept until about 1 or so - much needed. Alexandra and I made ourselves breakfast and then Lani (Elena) picked us up and took us to the most breathtaking beach (refer to the opening picture on this post). We had the entire beach to ourselves, complete with mountains and flowers and just about any other beautiful thing you can think of. It was so peaceful. Lani picked us up after a few hours and then we ate more amazing food at Sophia’s. She spoke excellent English and entirely understood my gluten allergy (something I was really nervous about being abroad), so that really wasn’t a problem at all. I had garlic shrimp, more Greek salad, and the best french fries I’ve ever had.
Sophia was so great and really didn’t make me feel like I was missing out on all the cuisine Greece had to offer. After dinner, Elena, Alexandra and I went back to Spiro’s. The four of us decided to get ice cream and then went on a little walk. It was probably one of the most relaxing days I’ve ever had.
Oh, I should probably mention how in Kefalonia, or at least at Sophia’s, they make their ice cream with sheep’s milk. You’ll never be able to look at American ice cream the same after trying this AMAZINGNESS.
In Greece, they have something called a “Name Day”. This is a day that is celebrated for each saint. In other words, each Saint has a specific day, and if you share the same name of that Saint, it is your day. Name days are more important than birthdays, to the Greeks, which I thought was so interesting! Today was elena’s name day. Spiro was getting ready to go back to the U.S. for some business, so we went shopping to get out of their hair.
I got really cute palazzo pants for just 7 euro (8 dollars or so, give or take) whereas in America, they’re at least 30. I got a few other things and we got to know the square as well as the area. We came back for dinner and then watched the sunset, which was so stunning.
After, we went out to the bar (yay for more legal drinking!) and got mojitos in honor of Elena’s name day.
We woke up early for the cruise Sophia and her father had set up for us. First of all, the boat was unbelievable. It had music, a bar, food, wifi, and pretty much anything else you could need - as if having a boat view around an island wasn’t enough?! I felt spoiled rotten. The guide was from the Netherlands and spoke Dutch, which I’m sure was helpful for our fellow Dutch passengers. We cruised around for hours, with mountains surrounding us.
After a few hours, we docked the boat and had the option of either swimming or being taken to the shore near the caves in the mountains. Alexandra and I were brave and jumped off the boat (I have a huge fear of heights) and then swam to shore. The caves were so cool to go into, and there were so many times were I realized how truly tiny I am in this gigantic world.
After another hour or so, we went to another island and were given the opportunity to explore. There was an abandoned ship, and this endless field of flowers. It looked like something taken directly from the filming of the Sound of Music. We had a barbeque on the island, and I felt like I was on survivor or something - it just seemed so surreal. We ordered drinks, and I should say Greece does not play it around when it comes to alcohol. Those 'Sex on the Beach' drinks were STRONG, and that’s an understatement. I had a ridiculous amount of Souvlaki, which was pretty much pork shish kebabs (my go-to because they were generally always gluten-free). In other words, I was pretty much living the life. Our guide told us that the island had natural clay, so naturally (no pun intended), we put it all over ourselves. It made our skin baby soft, and it was crazy to think that big companies pay big money for the stuff we were holding in our hands for free.
Full to the brim, we lounged on the upper deck and got some final rays of sun and headed back to where we began.
Another sleeping-in day. Andréas, Sophia’s husband, came to Spiro’s and picked Alexandra and I up. He treated us to amazing coffee and more Soulvaki! Sophia had asked him to bring us to the Melissani underground cave, which I was looking forward to the entire trip! It was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen, and I know I keep saying that, but this was really the best saved for last.
The water was literally an ombré of green to blue, and we were able to boat around in an underground lake. I just really don’t know how to convey the feeling I had when i saw all this. beforehand, we went to another cave, which was so enormous. They actually hold concerts in there, because the sound projects so well! After the underground lake, Andréas took us to yet another beautiful beach where we swam in a crystal ocean, again surrounded by mountains.
We ordered drinks - fresh-squeezed orange juice is their Tropicana. I couldn’t have asked for a better time. He was so fun to be with, and encouraged us to relax as much as we could. He drove us around the mountainous roads and offered to stop whenever I wanted to take a picture.
He was such a genuine soul and really went out of his way to make this the best experience possible. This is him and his youngest son:
I should mention that their kids were so adorable. They definitely knew more english than they led on, but insisted on speaking to us only in Geek. It must’ve been so funny to watch us yelling in English and them yelling in Greek - both of us excitedly trying to get our points across. This is the other two and their grandfather:
After the best last day we could ask for, it was time to say our goodbyes to Sophia and Andréas. Spiro had left a few days beforehand, so we said goodbye to him then. This was very sad, I have to say! We became so close with them so fast, and their hospitality was so incredibly touching.
Another day, early flight. Elena brought us to the airport in Kefalonia, where we were to catch our flight back to Athens. We said more sad goodbyes, and were on our way. After arriving in Athens, we actually met some Americans in the airport. We all decided to visit the Acropolis, which was definitely something I’m glad we did.
(My only regret: wearing dark pants on such a hot day.) Seeing Athens from such a high point of view seemed illusory! It seemed insane to think that the people we’ve learned about in our textbooks built these buildings with their very own hands. After some debate, Alexandra and I decided to get a hostel and stay there for the night. I was originally supposed to leave the hostel, because they only technically had a room for 1 (which i was going to give to Alexandra, because her flight was much later than mine), but I ended up being able to stay the night. We made two friends, two guys - 1 from Wisconsin (small world, right?) and 1 from Brazil. It was really fun getting to know them and spending our last night exploring Athens.
DAY 9: BACK HOME
Ah, my last early flight. Actually, my flight wasn’t until 11, but we wanted to be on the safe side and get to the airport early. We had the metro system nailed down pretty well at this point, so getting to the airport was pretty easy. I said my goodbyes to Alexandra and got on my flight back to America! 10 hours felt a lot longer this time, and that could be due in part to the broken headphone jack, so I wasn’t able to watch anything. Again, I was lucky to be next to really nice passengers, so I had no complaints about that at least. Coming back, I actually ended up gaining a day because of the time change, so I landed at around 4 PM, eastern time. My dad and dog welcomed me in Philly, and I made my way back home!
If you have made it this far, I thank and applaud you. This trip was really a one-of-a-kind experience, and these miniature novel still doesn’t do it justice. I am so grateful for the people I met, the knowledge I gained, and the experience I had. This trip taught me many things: to appreciate how hard it must be for foreigners in the U.S. (given that I was able to have a very small glimpse of what it’s like to not be native speaker in a different country), to remain calm in unfamiliar situations, and to appreciate the beauty in the small things. I now understand why people who travel never really stop, because the wanderlust in me has truly been awakened.