My First Love: Greece

A lot of things happened before, during, and after this trip. My world was turned upside down due to my decisions and I now say it was my quarter life crisis.

Before Greece

I was 22 years old, about to graduate college. I spent the summer living with my then boyfriend working an internship down the shore where he lived. We were together for 4 years by the time Greece came around. I loved him, and in many ways, still do. The first time I saw him I instantly knew I wanted to be with him. I’ve never had that feeling with anyone else still to this day.

Looking back on my senior year of college, I now see how undeveloped my thoughts were. I crumbled when making decisions not just for myself, but for us. I didn’t know who I was or who I wanted to be. I lived a structured life with school, sports, work, and our relationship. By senior year, I gave up volleyball, I was sailing through my last few classes, and I was looking for my future career. Many changes were happening, and I found myself questioning who I was without the structure built around me. Who am I when you take away nouns such as athlete, student, and girlfriend. Who am I when I strip down to my unembellished self…

My thoughts of individualism grew as the school year went by. The more I thought about it, the more I hated the idea of being in a relationship at 22. I hated that every decision I made, I had to think about how it would affect our relationship. At that age, you should only be worried about how your decisions will affect you and only you.

I’ll give you a visual, my visual. You’re young and live in a huge city, where there are endless opportunities for your career. Your family and friends all live within 10 to 20 minutes from you. For the sake of love, you decide to give it all up to move to a rural area where the population is less than 100k, where the demographics are mostly retirees looking to get away, an area where you know no one but your boyfriend who mind you, works 12 hour shifts, 5 days a week. What would my quality of life be? I’d be content with it after my 20s, but please don’t age me at 22 and take away my opportunity to find my true self. To be fair, we talked about him leaving his job and coming to Philadelphia but he loved his job. He didn’t want to leave and I didn’t think it was fair to push it.

I understand compromise, and when you’re 22, about to step into the “real world”, you want to make decisions for yourself, not someone else. I have one life, limited time on this earth, it’s not going to be spent by settling for a life that is someone else’s. I always saw myself by mountains, a body of water, a city full of people. Hell, I was looking into master programs in Denver and San Diego. But I was about to move down to the jersey shore… didn’t make sense. People ask me why it ended and my response is,“I was in love with him but not in love with the life he wanted”. 

These are raw feelings, but raw is real and I believe sharing your experiences can open eyes for others.

Right before graduation, I was losing it. Family and friends kept hinting to us to get engaged after my graduation. It was expected of me to move down there so the process of marriage could happen quicker.. WHAT!

I had an interview with the county planning department right before leaving for Greece. There was a chance because I interned there the summer before and really hit it off with the entire office. Before going to Greece for 18 days, I was expecting a phone call letting me know about the job offer. I told myself that if I received it, then I would give it a chance. If I didn’t, then it wasn’t meant to be and I needed to go another direction… away from the shore.

I hope the scene is set for you. I was looking to get away, FAR, FAR AWAY.

One day, I saw a Facebook post from my old high school classmate Eleni saying she was going to Greece, where her family lived. I barely knew Eleni, we had mutual friends and hung out a handful of times. I messaged her and asked if I could tag along. She didn’t think I was serious. Afterwards, I messaged my best friend at the time Hanna and told her the idea, she thought I was crazy, and said yes. Not long after, we booked our tickets to Athens and planned to arrive June 2nd a week after my graduation…

1

Spent our first day in Athens

Oh, the flight was LONG. It was around 10 hours from Philadelphia to Athens. Once we landed in Athens, we met up with Eleni’s friends Putch and Jess. Putch is some genius Irish man who you can’t understand a word out of his mouth. He will tell a story and you just have to pretend you understand and laugh. Jess is Eleni’s friend from previous travels and they planned the Greece trip together. Hanna and I didn’t plan anything. We packed our bags and followed Eleni’s lead from start to end. We had no idea what to expect and were a little afraid because we never traveled so far away from home before.

We all met in the Athen’s airport with the plan to come back later that day and take a flight from Athens to Santorini. Surprisingly, the airport had a section where you could leave your luggage and pick it up later on. We all dropped our backpacks off and then made our way to the Acropolis. The Parthenon was breath taking, I thought it was so cool I was walking around ancient buildings that people walked around late 400 BC. It was amazing, and the view of Athens from the Acropolis was stunning.

We really only needed a few hours in Athens. It’s beautiful but after seeing the Parthenon, there’s not much more to see. It’s also hard getting around in Athens because the population is mostly older, and not many residents speak English. Plus, their economic status makes it a fierce competition over tourists. We had restaurants and taxi drivers fighting over us. Eleni was great, she speaks Greek so she put everyone in their place when they attempted to take advantage of us or our money. The only word I learned in Athens was “Malaka”, which means asshole or friend depending how you use it. When the drivers were fighting over us, we heard it used rigorously.

Three nights in Santorini

We grabbed our bags and hopped on the plane to Santorini. The flight was less than an hour and very cheap. The first three nights we stayed in a hostel where there were 8 beds in one room. Each person had their own locker to put their belongings. There were five of us, so that meant we would have three randoms. This is when the trip became eventful. The first night we shared the room with a girl from Canada who kept to herself, a guy from Greece (should have known something was off), and Wouter from the Netherlands. I think the three non-Americans weren’t happy they had to share a room with us. I actually think our friend Wouter expected the worst from us.

Santorini made me high on life. It was absolutely amazing. We rented quads and drove the entire distance of the island. One night, Hanna and I drove to the opposite end of the island and had dinner right on the water. The owner sat with us, told us the history, gave us the scoop on the celebrities who visited, and had us drink lots of Ouzo. 

During our three days in Santorini, we went to the Red Beach in Akrotiri, saw black sand on Parissa Beach, had drinks at Zafora Restaurant in Ioa while overlooking all the beautiful white homes along to mountain slope. We ran down 588 stairs to the harbor in order to catch a boat so we could walk around a volcano and take a mud bath in the hot springs. 

The night life in Santorini was fun. Just imagine running around those beautiful white houses lit up at night with your friends. Bar hopping through these little cobble stone alleyways where all you hear is 90s hip hop music everywhere you go. Side note, the islands are very different from the main land. Everyone speaks English on the islands and they play all American music. Anyways, we met so many people in Santorini. Made friends with people from Seattle and Maryland. Our hostel mates ended up loving us and joined us for the rest of our trip.

Our last night we all got a little too wasted and passed out. By that time, Wouter left, and we had Rak from Australia staying with us who we met up with later on in Ios. The Greek guy was still there. None of us liked this Greek guy. He only talked to Eleni in Greek and never acknowledged anyone else. The next morning we woke up to Eleni missing a few hundred dollars from her purse that she fell asleep with. We were like -maybe you were just so wasted that you spent it or lost it, but it all added up to that Greek guy! We woke up and he was gone, didn’t tell anyone he was leaving, and just vanished with some extra cash.

Couldn’t leave Ios, spent 5 nights

This is where my love life comes back into play. While waiting for the Ios ferry, we grabbed something to eat at the harbor. We were all pretty hungover from the night before and still in disbelief that Eleni’s money was stolen. Eleni ran into some English guy that she met one of the nights out in Santorini and invited him to grab something to eat with us. James, my first impression of James was that he smoked too much. He asked if it was okay to smoke while sitting next to me, and I said sure because I’m nice. In reality, I wanted to die sitting next him smoking because I was so hung over and felt like I was going to be sick. I didn’t talk to James, but he friended my group. Later on James will play a big role in my quarter life crisis.

We finally arrived to Ios. I didn’t look around too much because I was so nauseous from the boat ride. I just wanted to get to the hostel and recover. The hostel we booked had a car pick us up from the harbor and drive us up to the top of the mountain. Another beautiful view. The hostel was named Francescos. It had a patio, a restaurant for breakfast, a mini bar, and private rooms. We had two rooms, Hanna, Putch, and I split a 3 bedroom and Eleni and Jess had their own room. Putch was the greatest roommate. We would fall asleep to him wearing our belongings and wake up to him in his undies and a cowboy hat.

The first day we took a nap and then headed down to the beach. This beach is my FAVORITE in the entire world. The beach is called Mylopotas. The sand is so soft and sparkles like glitter. I would just rub the sand on my arms and watch in awe as my skin shimmered. The water shimmered too. The beach had canopy beds, a volleyball net with bleachers aside it, an excursion desk, and a bar across the street with a pool. EVERYTHING I COULD EVER ASK FOR! The bar across the street was called the Far Out Beach Club and it had free wifi of course. We spent each day on this beach, playing volleyball, drinking espresso martinis, and playing charades.

 

beach

We were with a big group of people on the beach the first day. Most of them were staying at Francesco’s with us, including James. I remember not wanting to talk to anyone, hanging out on the beach keeping to myself when James came over and introduced himself. He began to ask me questions about my life back home, and my responses sounded so general. “I just graduated college, I have a boyfriend, I’m hoping to get a job offer by the time I get home.” I remember him asking me if that’s what I wanted, because I didn’t sound happy. It concerned me that I didn’t sound happy when discussing my life to a complete stranger.

The night life added to one of many reasons why I didn’t want to leave Ios. The first night, we pre gamed at our hostel, mingled with the neighbors and headed out for the night. The bars were all along a little alleyway and there was even a nightclub hidden in there. It was chill where you could sit outside and be served all night, or go to a bar and dance the night away. The problem was that the bars never closed. We were out all night and noticed it started to get light out. We looked at our clocks and realized it was 5AM! Instead of going to bed, we decided to climb a mountain. In order to climb the mountain, we had to walk on roof tops. Idiotically, we weren’t considerate of the people sleeping under those roofs, and we had an angry community of Greeks hunting us over the mountain.

During that night out, I got the impression that James liked me, I wasn’t sure why though. I talked to him twice with no make up on, hung over, and really had nothing interesting to say. That night I was obviously dressed up and I guess had him thinking more. He knew I had a boyfriend and I guess it bothered him. What bothered me was all these random people telling me how much he liked me and that I should hear what he has to say about me. His roommate at the hostel said “I wish someone talked about me the way he talks about you”. I was so confused. I couldn’t understand what he could possibly say about me when we barely knew each other. Drunkenly, I had to get to the bottom of it and confront him. We talked, and I really don’t remember the conversation but I remember wanting to give him a chance strangely enough. This is what I like to call self sabotage. I told you about before Greece, I was running away from a life I didn’t want. I always found myself to be trusting and loyal. But that went out the window when I met James. He was my way out… my subconscious was sabotaging my unwanted future.

The next day, Hanna, Eleni, Jess, Putch, Wouter, and I decided to do an excursion. This was the best day of the entire trip. We snorkeled around a sunken ship, got pushed around by the waves while swimming through a cave, went cliff jumping, and sat on a private beach with our boat driver Dino, who was cool enough to pop champagne with us.

Later that night, Hanna and I were almost beaten up by a few eastern tough ass Europeans but thankfully a Canadian broke up the fight. Mike the Canadian, who we then spent the  entire night hanging out with playing some game “If my private was a country is would be blank because blank” – actually a great game. Everyone was entertained by us. Before we went out and were pre gaming, I was walking to my room and some guy asked another guy where he was going and he said “I’m going to pre game in the American’s room”. I laughed, it sounded so funny that we were the American room with a drunken Irishman. That night Putch from Ireland and Wouter who was 18 at the time from the Netherlands had a whiskey drinking competition. They took shots back and forth and killed the entire handle. Wouter some how shockingly held his own better than Putch. But later on Wouter was no where to be found and we didn’t see him again after that night.

We were having so much fun every day but at the same time, there was a weird dynamic between James and I that was taking away from the trip. One minute I hated him and blamed him for all my problems and then another minute I would think he was a blessing who saved me. I became emotionally distraught thinking about my boyfriend and how I betrayed him. I knew it was over, and I wanted it to be over. It was just really hard knowing that when I got home my relationship would be over, and someone who I loved so much would no longer be apart of my life. All for a guy I didn’t even know.

One day, James and I rented a quad and drove around the island. We found a beach and it had a really cute restaurant along side it. That’s the first time I ever had mussels, and they were actually amazing! That was a perfect day until we fell off the quad down the mountain. I have scares on my shoulder to remember that eventful fall. Don’t let an English man drive.

Eleni, Jess, and Putch ended up going to another island called Paros for a few days. Hanna and I were having so much fun in Ios, we decided to stay. Hanna actually fell in love with some older guy who was a guitarist from L.A. I wanted to stay because I didn’t want to leave James. We eventually jumped on the ferry to head to Mykonos, and James came along with us.

The ferry stopped by Paros before Ios and we met up with the group on the ferry. I was sitting there listening to music looking around and spotted the Greek guy who stole Eleni’s money! I was like holy crap, what do we do? We have no proof he did it so we can’t get the police involved. Eleni confronted him about her money and just told him he was a jerk. But how funny we ran into him again.

Mykonos for three nights

By the time Mykonos came around, I was emotionally and physically exhausted. I also think I had island fever. We stayed at Paradise Beach which was beautiful but we never left the area. I think one night we left the area for a little bit but ended up watching the world cup which I never heard of until meeting people from outside the U.S. There was a lot to see in Mykonos that I didn’t get to see. I wish I could do Mykonos over again.

Back to the mainland – Thessaloniki for three nights

After the craziness in Mykonos, we took a flight to Athens and then headed to Thessaloniki. For some reason, it was just Hanna and I. I think Eleni spent the night in Athens and we some how went straight to her hometown without her. She gave us the address to her place, we jumped in a cab with a driver who didn’t speak English, showed him the address and he took us there. He dropped us off on the street, and we had no idea which house was hers. It was scary! We some how were lucky enough to knock on her cousin’s door who lived right next door to her. They opened the door for us and we were safe and sound. Thessaloniki was a good way to detox from our island fever. It was Hanna, Eleni, Josh (Eleni’s friend from Rhode Island), Rak, and myself. We cooked home made dinners, hung out with Eleni’s greek cousins, and explored her hometown which was very beautiful.

Halkidiki for two nights

Eleni’s cousin and his friend drove us to a beach area called Halkidiki. Side note, driving in Greece is dangerous. We were flying down the highway and everyone drives 80 mph like it’s our 60 mph. The sad part is that there are dead dogs on the side of the highways. They have so many stray dogs in Greece, they don’t believe in pets like we do. I saw a rottweiler on the side of the road and my heart sank. It’s not pleasant.

Halkidiki was beautiful though! We camped out not too far from the beach for two nights. The beach had a restaurant along side of it, I just had a float and chilled in the water all day taking in my last beach day.

Spent our last night in Athens

We flew back from Thessaloniki to Athens so that the next morning we could jump on the plane to go home to the states. We went out in Athens that night and I remember the Parthenon being lit up. It was a really cool view from down below. We had dinner, had our last sip of Ouzo, and headed back home.

After Greece

Before Greece, I was in my own little bubble. I only knew people who had the same values and beliefs as myself. After Greece, my eyes were wide open and I realized my bubble was just an excuse for my own ignorance. We aren’t put on this earth to sit in one place, to know only a handful of people, and to believe in just one belief.  As humans, we have always been known to migrate and explore. We always look over the hill and wonder what’s on the other side. Our curiosity is a natural instinct that we should always attempt to find.

During those 18 days of traveling, I learned more about myself than I did in my 22 years of living. Many travelers who I met appeared to be escaping their everyday lives. At first I thought it was a shame they felt they had to run away. But as time went on, I realized I was running away too. I then felt defeated as if I wasn’t strong enough to face my own problems, and instead decided to erase them completely. Little did I know, I wasn’t erasing them. I was following the journey laid out for me. My failures made me work harder to find myself. Failing pushed me to question my surroundings and what really made me happy.

To reach your true self, you must believe in your journey and that you’re being guided. Trust in a higher power when you feel as if your whole world is crashing down. Believe what is meant to be will be… believe in good karma… believe that the best is yet to come. It’s all true. Even when we lose the things we love most, we’re challenged to overcome and to rebuild ourselves. Every climax has a fall, and many times, that fall is unexpected. It’s up to us to surround ourselves by good instead of evil so when we fall, we can be lifted back up from all the love we built around ourselves.

After Greece, I went home and ended my relationship more solely due to guilt than just not wanting to be with him. I didn’t get the job where he lived, and I couldn’t have been happier about it. It was a sign that I was going in the right direction. There were hard times following that summer and it took awareness, reflection, and time to become the person I aspired to be.

Final Thoughts

Follow your six sense, because it’s real. Always go with your gut instinct and don’t second guess your decisions. When it comes to your life, you are always right, even when you’re wrong. It’s your journey to overcome failure, rejection, defeat, and all odds.

Also, break out of your shell. The world is full of amazing people and places. If someone invites you somewhere that you’ve never been, say YES! If you want to go somewhere, make connections to get there! Stop making excuses to why you can’t go. Don’t be a flake, don’t be inconsistent, don’t be lame. Take advantage of every second of this life, because your time is unrepeatable.

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