Okay. I know it's been over a week since my last post. It's been a whirlwind of twists and turns on this roller coaster adventure. I've also been recovering from extreme exhaustion from the past few days of feeling like I was catching something awful (good news, I avoided the worst of it. A little rest and TLC are exactly what the doctor ordered).
I left Milan, Italy the 17th of October and flew to Athens, Greece. I spent 10 days between Athens and the island of Santorini. Let me tell you, it was unlike any experience I've ever had before.
Athens is RICH in ancient charm and history, splattered with grungy, new age art painting just about every structure along the streets. It's packed with tourists from all over the world, but still maintains it's strong sense of history, and hasn't completely sold its soul to tourism. On the winding streets you'll find people littered throughout, enjoying the essence of the city eating their Gyros and Souvlakis. The Acropolis is easily visible from just about every single street, nestled comfortably on top of its hill, making it a perfect marker if you lose yourself in the big city.
I stayed at City Circus Hostel, which I highly recommend to anyone. The customer service and quality of the rooms are topnotch, which are no surprise considering the hostel's stellar ratings and reviews. If you'd like to book a room, visit the hostel's website and book directly, and you'll receive a delicious complimentary breakfast every morning of your stay (with a vegan option if you prefer). The dorm I stayed in even had it's own bathroom! (Something important to note: most hostels have mixed dorms, though you can choose private if you're not comfortable with sharing mixed space). There are also plenty of events/activities to choose from in hostel life, to add to the whole experience!
When I was in Athens, I had to of course walk down history lane, checking out the Temple of Zeus and Acropolis. I didn't get quite as much history in as I would have expected in the time I had, but everything was an easy walking distance (like 20 minutes tops) away from my hostel. If you see absolutely nothing else in Athens, make SURE you visit the Acropolis. For 20 euro, it's absolutely worth it. Plus, if you're like me and love heights and bird's eye views of cities and other places, Mars Hill is right next to it and completely free.
Hostel life is great partly because you can meet so many unique and incredible people from all parts of the world, and gain new perspectives you otherwise would never see or understand. It's an incredible way to burst your own bubble you've grown up in and broaden your horizons. I have met some fantastic people staying in hostels. One guy I met and shared a dorm with in Athens accompanied me on his last day in the hostel on an adventure getting "lost" on the streets of Athens.
As with any big city, there are good, safe areas to stick to, and other parts you should really avoid. Especially walking alone. He and I ended up finding our way to a not-so-great area, littered with trash and incredibly dirty streets. At one point wandering through, I was hit with an overwhelming stench and turned to look and see some incredibly filthy looking people flicking needles and immediately knew it was past time to go. I don't make a habit of straying from safe streets by ANY means (part of self-defense is staying OUT of unsafe areas), but I certainly wouldn't have entertained the idea of exploring at all if I had been alone. We didn't actually plan to end up there, but when we knew what was going on, we ditched.
I must say, to experience Athens is to take a walk through history. And I can happily now say I can navigate the streets relatively well (traveling greatly improves your sense of direction, even if you start out as a total n00b). I loved it, and I have a journal full of memories to cherish forever.
When it was time to leave, I was ready to rest. My next stop? The Greek island of Santorini. Now, I know it's a super touristy island. It's advertised as such, and the locals themselves have said the very same. You can actually tell where the newer buildings versus the old, original ones are by color. Everything white? That's new. It's tourist-centric. And I learned just how busy and poppin' everything on that island is. So my notion of "rest" wasn't exactly well-grounded. And rest, I did not really receive.
There is a great nightlife scene in Santorini. I never once paid a single cover charge for a single bar or club I visited, though drink prices tend to be exorbitant. But that's to be expected. You'll find no shortage of people who want to lose themselves dancing, drinking, or even smoking hookah. Be prepared for some all nighters if you're into that sort of scene. I went out a lot when I was there. I didn't slow down a whole lot. There's a LOT offered when you visit this island, in a very short amount of time.
I stayed at Fira Backpacker's Hostel. This place is a total social hotspot. If you want to meet tons of people, this is the place to stay. It's definitely more of a party hostel, but it's just far enough from the busy streets to also provide some quiet sleeps. Plus, you get free coffee, and laundry services are only 1 euro. They also have a pool if you want a swim that's NOT at one of the many beautiful beaches the island offers.
And oh, the beaches. I actually think I have found my new favorite beach (currently) at Perissa Black Sand Beach. The "sand" is not like sand that gets stuck to you everywhere, and is impossible to get rid of (kind of like glitter), this sand is little, smooth rocks that can easily be wiped off your body, and actually feels pretty great to walk in. The beach itself is absolutely STUNNING, as it's got great views of some tall cliffs right next to it. The water is clear and while quite cold at first, WONDERFUL to swim in.
It was about a 20 minute ride from the hostel, so the girls and I chose ATV's as our choice of transportation. OH. MY. GOD. I think if I had to describe my favorite experience in Santorini, it would be driving a quad. Not to mention, doing so in traffic, and then out on open roads (and backroads), it is the best and most freeing experience! Of course, I am a self-professed dare devil and adrenaline junkie, so it's right up my alley. Needless to say, I made my time on it count. (stay tuned for videos to be uploaded)
We finished off the day and enjoyed sunset in a gorgeous off-the-beaten-path location with a bottle of wine and a spliff (for whoever wanted it), and took some group shots (and solo shots) with the most incredible backdrop, then took off again into the night, back to the hostel.
For one of my final notable experiences, I took a Boat Tour that spanned across some beautiful treasures of Santorini, including a volcano (which is really a crater, but you'll definitely have to learn more on that tour ;)), a visit to a Hot Springs you could jump off the boat to swim in (of course I did), and a visit to a secluded island of Thirasia, where the locals expect visitors and offer a range of restaurants and a tourist shop to remember your visit. I am a total foodie, so of course I had to try "the fish of the day" and officially experienced tasting my first fish eyes (yeah, not my favorite, but I did it!).
I should probably mention that getting to this boat tour requires you making your way down to the Old Port. You have two options of doing so: paying a few euro for a cable car down on the right, or taking a flight of 588 steep steps around other tourists and more challenging, donkeys and their own waste and urine covering most of the path.
Now, I say two options for a very real and serious reason. Yes, the idea of taking a donkey up and down all those steps might be easier and a lot more fun than hiking up and down the whole thing, but it absolutely is not a humane, safe, or enjoyable experience for the donkeys. There have been numerous reports (you can easily find them if you google it) of animal abuse regarding these creatures. They are not well-cared for, and some cruise lines and other tourist sites even advise against it. My hostel actually had the option crossed off the list of options, because it is honestly horrendous. And I witnessed the conditions these poor animals live and work in in person. Despite the guides pushing and pressuring visitors to pay a measly 5 euro to take a ride, I firmly opted out. They are forced to carry sometimes 2-3 times their own weight, all day everyday, with limited to no troughs of water (I didn't even see ANY points where they were able to eat at ALL), walking through their own waste that is poorly cleaned. It's disgusting and appalling.
I didn't do an amazing job of documenting all of the conditions I saw them in, but my heart definitely broke witnessing the whole debacle. I had an incredibly difficult time making my way back up those steps (drenched with sweat and ready for a shower, food, and bed), so I can't even begin to imagine what it must be like for them.
I can say with pride and accomplishment that I made it up all 588 steps and went for a well-deserved beer promptly after. (I mean, duh) Overall, the experience was worth remembering.
There were definitely other experiences that I had, but those are the ones that really made their mark. Honestly, I was mentally and physically tested more than I imagined I would be. I couldn't see myself living in Greece for a period of time, but it will always hold a soft place in my heart for some adventures I'll never forget. And I only visited two destinations. The next time I visit? Crete.
I'm loving my journey and my adventures. They keep my life incredibly interesting. I've navigated my way around foreign places using only my senses (and common sense), without the use of cell service (only wifi hotspots), and truly been learning just how incredibly capable I am of making shit happen. Current location? Brasov, Romania. I can't wait to share more. I definitely keep things interesting.
Happy Halloween, and thanks for following me on this wild ride!