Welcome back after a long break. Without further ado, let me recap my trip for you:
First stop - Athens
First Impressions - Gross, slimy, noisy, SKETCHY
Flight went smoothly, Kelsey and I were excited about our adventure, landed, got through customs, and then incident #1 started - getting money out of the ATM. My card worked okay, but Kelsey's had some problems. Spent about 20 minutes (on a not inexpensive phone call) talking with people in Virgina trying to figure out the problem. What a way to enter a new country, by ourselves, at night, don't speak or understand Greek, trying to get money so that we can actually step outside the airport. We were both nervous wrecks, her heart was pounding, and it was hard for me not to chuck up my last meal. However, we remained as calm as we could, shaky and all, and it worked out. Her card worked again, and accessed money. Thank you Wachovia, thanks a bunch.
Taxi next step - first encounter with someone from Greece, a surprisingly good start. He spoke English, excited to meet us, asked all sorts of questions, found out that he grew up in Athens, loves this city, pointed out important spots, taught us basic Greece (profoundly helpful), and it was what we needed after the last hour of our freak out session. However, we rolled up to our two star Hotel Aristotles, and he locked the doors. Went on to say that it is not safe for young girls to be out alone at night. He locked the doors so that I could get my money out safely. A group of black men stood next to the hotel, and he informed us that "Black men will steal your wallets." Oh. Okay. Thank you. The points are just racking up for Athens here. He asked if we trusted him, well okay I suppose, he wanted to help us get inside, took our bags, and made sure we got checked in. Thank you Taxi driver, although you freaked us out with your cultural comments, you also made sure we got in safely, I appreciate that. I will remember him, good guy, and a rare find among taxi drivers as we later learned.
Hotel Aristotles - Oh my. What to say, what to say. This is some of what I wrote in my journal that night, "This place is gross. The elevator doors don't close all the way so that we can see the doors and floors as we went up to level three - that must be breaking some building code. We have a little balcony (with the bright Aristotles sign shining through) across from an empty parking lot, and the black men that the taxi driver told us about are still making lots of noise outside. Kelsey just got into the shower and squealed because the curtain has mold all over the bottom and it became attracted to her calves. So it is safe to say we are not impressed, and a bit scared, and fully sketched out. "Ew Alissa, where are we" Kelsey exclaims as she climbs into bed.
The only good thing about the hotel was free internet, also, a rare find. Made the decision to ask the rents for some help. Merry early christmas for me, they agreed (without real question after my initial email to them about the place) to help us out. David booked another hotel for us in Athens for the end of the week (we were originally going to come back to Aristotles, but we just couldn't handle it again). Kelsey and I cannot even begin to rely our appreciation and gratitude for their help. I could have sucked it up, dealt with it, but we are talking safety here. I didn't sleep at all that night, not exaggerating, and well, I had to put pride aside and be realistic. Kelsey and I didn't feel okay about this place, we tried, but decided that we didn't want to put ourselves in this situation again, and figured out another option.
Made it to the Ferry - out of the hotel, thank god. We were so happy to be on the ferry, Paros was our real destination, the real vacation we wanted lay ahead. Had some coffee, ate some breakfast, took some pictures, said goodbye to Athens as we sailed away (on this massive 7 story ship, crazy big, but because of our tickets we could only be in certain areas). We slept, read, oh and colored. Drew lots of attention towards us, an Australian woman on her honeymoon thought we were doing some important art project, no just coloring, filling in the lines, pretty simple, and an old Greek man commented on how beautiful mine was. Thank you. I try. It rained, wind blew really hard, and by the time we arrived to Paros the sun shun brightly, and Kelsey and I were happy girls.
"Hello my girls" - meet the man who ran Stratos Studios, an older gentleman, running the place since the 70's, used to be a police officer, started the place from the ground up. "How can I help you my girls? How are you my girls?" He tried to upgrade us, but we wanted our original room (it really was the better room of the two anyways). Very sweet, helpful and had an attractive son who was helping him do some work on the place. Amazing view from our balcony, very simple room, just what we wanted. Again, happy girls.
Finding the beach turned out to be an adventure all on its own. Shouldn't be that hard, but we went down all the wrong streets, finally asked the son, he told us it was 400m away. Okay. We packed our bags, and walked about 15 minutes on the very edge of the rode (my mother would not have been happy about this) and finally found the beach! Here is a little excerpt from that day, "WE FOUND THE BEACH!!!!! I am sitting on it right now! We are the only ones here and all the restaurants are closed for the season, but we are here! It is sandy, rocky, the water a bit chilly. The sky is cloudy, not much sun, and pretty windy. I do love the sound of waves crashing. There are cliffs to to my left and right, but in the middle I sit on the flat surface. Mountains in front of me with scattered houses, trees all around blowing to an fro. A big storm might hit, and that is okay. I am at peace, sitting, writing, a solid force in this air of continuous motion. My feet can sink as far as the sand will let and the white froth of the water keeps reaching for the edge, always trying, never fully succeeding. I want to be the water, rise and fall from deep blue to green to white. To be clear and beautiful. The water has no fault. I could stay here until the tide comes up too far. We found the beach. The reason for Greece. We are happy girls. I can rest easy now and fully relax into this place. My body is now ready to soak up this adventure and see what more this island has to offer."
Except for the Greek national holiday celebration we stumbled upon, Paros was a ghost island. Off season, no one travels there right now, Kelsey and I were the only one in the hotel, many of the restaurants had closed for the season along with some shops. No one else was ever on the beach, I felt like we were ticking people off because we were there in the off season. In my mind it seemed that we supported their economy even after the rush, but I couldn't really see the reason for their off vibe. Sure, we met a few friendly people, the man at the Gyro shop for lunch everyday, he was sweet, knew our order by the end of the week, sad to see us go. The young woman at the bakery who didn't speak any English could expect to see us every night for dessert, sweet girl, about our age probably. We just smiled a lot, and tried to not freak her out. Oh we also met a waitress who grew up in Poland and came to Greece by accident 5 years ago, she seemed bored, but nice all the same, and her English was superb. On our last full day we found all the shops, thank goodness! We both did major damage in gifts, for ourselves and others. Families....get excited. I'll leave it at that.
Returned back to Athens to a much better hotel, thank you parentals. Free internet, the most amazing continental breakfast ever! The ferry ride was long and cold, and rainy, we were wiped, so we stumbled upon a pizza place right next door and took it back to our room and watched TV. Comfortable beds, ah, hadn't slept in one that good in well I guess since I have been home, like California home. Nice little treat. Breakfast had eggs, omelets, potatoes of different varieties, bread, pastries, yogurt, honey, fruit, sweet pumpkin pastry treats, peach juice, good coffee, and I could eat as much as I wanted! Oh my!!
Ventured into Athens, well hardly, we walked across the street to the Olympean of Zeus, and then headed up to the Acropolis. Wow. Amazing, I mean this is history, right there. Had we not been right next door, I don't think Kelsey and I would have gone to check it out. That would have been a mistake. We saw original Greek theatres, huge pillars, and the entire view of Athens. It doesn't look so grimy and dirty from so high up, many white block like buildings packed together among the hills. Climbed back down, had lunch, and walked around all the trinket stores. Good way to spend a couple of hours in Athens, headed back to the hotel and then went to the airport. Waited a good while, and then finally boarded, late, got the very last row of the plane, and made the train back to London.
Overall impressions - Glad I went, learned a lot in the planning process, like check and make sure I have all the confirmations, read hotel reviews a bit more carefully, make sure my travel partner also has all the information so I am not the sole holder of the plans. I felt a lot of responsibility of making sure we got to one place to another, looking at the maps, and figuring out the next step. Kelsey and I traveled really well together. We were tired though by the end, you know, sleeping for 16 straight hours, lounging on the beach, eating delicious gyros and baked goods wears ya out. But by the time we got in the taxi who had a radio station with a heavy metal version of "livin la vida loca" by Enrique, we were done. People who like heavy metal out there, does it lift your spirit? Does it make you feel better and good inside? Please enlighten me. Oh, and we had a cab driver who wanted us to solve the world's problems in that ride, no joke, he couldn't understand why we didn't have answers to his political questions, he also helped himself to a hefty tip when giving me change (also learned no matter how flustered, check the change before you walk away, lesson learned). Didn't even care at that point, just wanted to check into the hotel.
I think Greece is built up to be more amazing than it actually is. Beautiful, yes, no question. Hospitality, not so great. Food, delicious, ridiculously overpriced. Beaches, all right, not many, and not large (doesn't matter though when you are the only ones that occupy the sand). Glad to be back, have heard some pretty crazy stories from other flat mates. Walter had a great time, I'm really happy for him, went by himself to Germany and Switzerland, met cool people, seemed like he had 'the trip' you know, that trip that he will be telling stories about for years to come. I'm a bit jealous of that, but am actually really glad he had that experience. I believe we had the experiences we were meant to have. I love Kelsey, and am so glad that we did this together. I will post pictures either today, or this week.
My friend, Grace, from home is in London today and tomorrow!!! I am REALLY excited to hang out with her tonight. I start my internship tomorrow. Doing a training in the evening about group work and generally working with others. And then joining one of my bosses on a two day training about medical health and first aid. Looking forward to starting this next phase.
I hope everyone had a good week, I'll update about my first few days after they happen. Oh! Clea comes so soon!!!!
okay, be well dear ones.