“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
-Neale Donlad Walsh
The final country on our Eurotrip was Greece!
We landed in Athens, Greece, and took a train from the airport into the city centre, Syntagma Square, which is directly outside The House of Parliament. At the time, Greece was in the middle of the anti-austerity movement and Syntagma Square, which is typically notable for it’s mature orange and cypress trees and the ornate marble fountain in the middle, had been converted into a ‘tent city’ full of angry protesters and plastered with signs all written in Greek. Needless to say, Athens did not make a good first impression on us, but as always, we remained positive.
We made our way to Hotel Dioskouros, our home in Athens. The hotel is located in an area of Athens called Plaka, which is known for it’s beauty and charm. We dropped our bags and ventured from our hotel to the Acropolis Museum, which is an obvious starting point prior to visiting the Acropolis itself. Upon learning about the history, and seeing many artifacts from the ancient civilization who once inhabited the Acropolis, we had a much clearer appreciation for the Parthenon and the ancient city as a whole. The sun was sweltering and the view, breathtaking, from the rocky hill on which the Acropolis was built. We spent hours exploring the many ruins and were astounded by the determination of the ancient Greeks to build something of such magnitude with only their hands and manpower. Of course the highlight, for me, was the Theatre of Dionysus. As we sat in the crumbling seats of the historic amphitheater I could only begin to imagine the drama and intrigue which took place on that very stage so many years ago. We continued to journey through Greek history by visiting the Temple of Olympian Zeus another ancient Athenian site.
The following day we decided to veer away from history and spend the morning in the beautiful National Gardens of Athens to enjoy nature within the city. That afternoon we decided to explore the borough of Plaka. The narrow, pedestrian-only streets were alive with bustling shops, talkative locals and the aroma of Greek cuisine coming from surrounding restaurants. We tried all the authentic food, from moussaka to gyros, and of course sticky and sweet baklava. We finished our day in Plaka with one of the most unique and memorable experiences of our trip; we saw a movie at Cine Paris, an open-air, rooftop theater with a view of the Acropolis directly to our left. We spent most of the time, during the hour and a half movie, being torn between looking at the screen and the stunning Acropolis all lit up in the night sky.
Two full days in Athens and we had seen and done it all…for the most part. Blue Star Ferries took us from Athens to the island of Santorini. The seven and a half hour ferry ride through the Aegean Sea left us seasick and sun-stroked but elated to have finally arrived at Athinios Port, Santorini. Poppy and Vangelis, the owners and operators of our hotel in Santorini, were waiting at the port to pick us up. This quality service was the first sign that our stay at Villa Manos was going to be a memorable one. The family-run business far surpassed any of our other European accommodations when it came to service, quality, cleanliness and value. But we were completely blown away by Poppy and Vangelis’ dedication to their guests, when they put us up in their own home, when we were stuck on the island an extra two days because of a strike within the ferry companies. When we were not found lounging around the sparkling pool of Villa Manos, we were on our ATV rental whizzing around the island. We enjoyed mornings shopping in Fira, while afternoons were spent on one of the many beaches of the island. Our day of adventure in Santorini took us to the Nea Kameni Volcano and hot springs located directly off the western coast of the island, in the horseshoe. It was our first experience stepping foot on an active volcano, which looked more like walking on Mars. The panoramic view of the Cyclades from the top of the volcano was well worth the hike in the sweltering heat. Our final night in Santorini we had to see, what the locals call, “the best sunset in the world”. So we took our ATV from Fira to Oia, and parked it cliff-side. Together, with no one else around, we watched as the sea swallowed the sun and we said goodbye to our final day in Europe. It’s safe to say this was a bittersweet moment for both of us. Bitter because this adventure was over, bitter because we had to bid farewell to the freedom of travel and bitter because we would soon be back to work and normalcy. But sweet to be witnessing the beauty that was before us together, sweet to reminisce on our past six unforgettable weeks together and sweet to know we would soon be welcomed home by friends and family. Although our homecoming was fantastic and exciting, the trip hangover lasted a long time. That being said, we both took comfort in knowing that travel is a give-and-take relationship; we left a little piece of ourselves in each place we visited and, in turn, we brought home a little piece of those places as well.