Yamas, to Independent Traveling!

At this point in my travels, I was headed to Greece by myself for a week. My biggest concern was that it would be hard to meet other people to hang out and explore the country with, and that I would get bored of doing so on my own. Much to my surprise, traveling on my own and leaving my expectations (and plans) open were some of the best decisions I could have made!

Athens: The Capital of Greece, its Culture, and Tourism

The Alps surged through the country, which could be seen in the distance around most boundaries of Athens; the rest of the city was surrounded by the turquoise-blue Mediterranean. I was enthralled by the natural and historic beauty of the city (from the current and ancient relics), as well as by the kindness of locals who were always glad to help and were so proud of their country. I was also fortunate to be surrounded by many English-speakers (even though English isn’t spoken as widely or as strongly in Greece as it is elsewhere in Europe).

As soon as I arrived downtown from the airport, I explored the Panthetic Stadium (where many Ancient and Modern Greek Olympics were held), the Zoological Park, a convention center that was hosting a free wine-tasting event (I found this completely by accident, of course), and some other cultural markers of the city.

After I checked into my hostel and flopped into my bunk ready for a nap, my Dutch next-bunk-neighbor, Hojio, introduced himself, and asked if I wanted to join him for dinner after my nap. “Absolutely!” I sleepily exclaimed.

Later, we weakly attempting to haggle over dinner prices and trying some of the local cuisine. Following that, Hojio and I went to our hostel’s rooftop bar to cash in on our complimentary Ouzo (sweet Greek liquor). There, we met four other independent travelers – from France, New Zealand, and Romania – and the six of us hopped to a sports bar nearby. (The two French travelers, Hojio and I would band together to take on the Syntagma area of Athens the next day!) Here, we met about 10 travelers from the UK who were enthusiastically watching a rugby game, and then a few American cousins who were visiting the country for one of their birthdays.

Aegina: The Pistachio Island

About one hour from Athens’s Piraeus Port by ferry (about 8-10 euros), Aegina is known for its historical relics paying tribute to some of the Ancient Greek Gods. Incredibly random, but it’s also known for its pistachios and pistachio products. Nothing too exciting happened in the three hours I was here on my own, but I rented a bicycle to help me explore the beautiful landscape. Definitely save biking it for a leg day if you go, as it’s incredibly hilly here. I could seriously feel the burn when I didn’t have to get off the bike and walk up almost-vertical slopes.

Side note: the pistachio ice cream and nut butter are to-die-for – I would even dare to say that their pistachio butter is better than Nutella!

Mykonos: The Party Island

Once I checked into a hostel near the New Port, I set out to meet up with the cousins I had met in Athens at a resort on the other side of the island: Super Paradise Beach. I quickly learned that this resort, even off-season in October, starts its daily parties sometime in the early afternoon. I was being strongly summoned by the Americans to hurry up and join them since the festivities had already begun, but I had one small obstacle: how to get there.

There were many options for transportation, but I decided to rent an ATV and had to learn how to drive it minutes before departing. Unfortunately, that was the easier part; sharing the road with aggressive drivers on hilly roads was a little less comfortable (but I could still appreciate the island’s beauty, and I made it out unscathed). Eventually, I made it to the resort and met up with the Americans, where we celebrated our adventures Super Paradise Beach style.

Fun Fact: Don’t let the disposition of a country’s people fool you – a kind attitude stereotype most definitely DOES NOT CORRELATE to a relaxed or generous driver on the road!!!!

Santorini: (I don’t have a cute moniker for this, but words can’t describe it!)

Definitely my favorite island so far, Santorini is much larger than Aegina and Mykonos. It has many towns, villages and small cities filled with beautiful white-stone buildings, many of which overlook the Mediterranean. I ended up renting another ATV here and meeting one of my American-Greek friends from school, Nikos, his brother, Dmitri, and their Greek cousin, also Nikos, in a village called Finikia. That night, there was a celebration for Saint (Mnason?), and we drank free local wine, ate a free local pasta dish, listened to local Greek festival music and danced local Greek dances together.

The next day my friend from school, Nikos, his brother and I went to a red beach and swam together for all of 30 minutes before I rushed to take the ferry back to Athens.

In the end

I learned so much about how to open my mind up to “going with the flow.” Even though I was happily prepared to spend my entire trip by myself, I was hardly ever alone for more than a few hours at a time. While I did have to plan some parts of my trip, like waking up early on certain days to take a ferry or train somewhere, I couldn’t have planned for most of what happened. For example, I couldn’t have expected to meet so many adventurous and worldly individuals throughout the week, let alone explore a city or island with any of them and stay in touch afterwards!