My Greek Odyssey

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Photo by: PG.

From Dublin, I have now made it to Greece. Greece has always been on top of my bucket list and I cannot believe its finally happening.  Most of my fantasies and assumptions about Greece were from watching films like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, My Life in Ruins, and the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants as a young girl.  The Hellenic Republic, commonly known as Greece is located in Southeastern Europe consisting of thousands of islands throughout the Aegean and Ionian seas. Greece is not only beautiful with its ocean landscape but it holds a distinct architectural importance as well; with it’s 18 UNESCO World Heritage sites, among the most in Europe and the world, dating back to 400 BC. It’s the cradle of Western civilization; being the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy, and the Olympic Games, among many other unprecedented events.

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I started my trip from the capital city, Athína or Athens; the largest city in Greece. After what felt like a long never-ending flight, first thing on our mind was to get a taste of some authentic Greek food. From the airport, we headed straight for the Syntagma Square, city center, where we had the perfect al fresco meal while people-watching. Seated beside us were a couple of lovely ladies, who were so interesting that we ended up spending almost 2 hours at lunch in their company. It was the perfect start to our trip. For the next few days, we explored all that Athens has to offer. Athens is relatively a small city, but it is packed with places to see. Some of my favorites were the Plaka district, Monastiraki Square, and the University of Athens Street. Though my absolute beloved was the Acropolis; it is magnificent and dreamy. It is set on an extremely rocky outcrop so high that it is visible from almost anywhere from central Athens. The Acropolis contains the remains of several ancient buildings of great architectural and historic significance, the most famous being the Parthenon. My fond memory is of overlooking the Acropolis all lit up under the night sky while dining at a Michelin Star restaurant; it was the best of the old and the new world all in one gulp. Talking about food… Greek food is simply delicious and irresistible. Fresh pita bread, yummy tzatziki, stuffed tomatoes with rice, street side falafels/gyros, mouthwatering Greek salads, homemade Greek yogurt and baklava to just name a few, were all so enticing and fresh to the palate. From my encounters, Athens is a very safe city and the people here are among the sweetest. Most everyone speaks English.

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From Athens, next on Greek adventures was Santorini. It’s a quick 30 mins flight if all goes well. That being said, none of it went well. We boarded a 7:00 am flight hoping on capitalizing the day roaming around in Santorini, but fate had it that we made it all the way to Santorini but right as we got ready to descend to land our captain got orders from the air traffic controller to return back to Athens. It was like; we saw it, felt it, and right as we were about to taste it, it dropped! Upon returning back to Athens with a plane full of angry passengers, we found out the flight that landed ahead of us, broke its wing and since there is only one runway on the entire airport, all flights to and from Santorini have been delayed/canceled. Santorini is a very famous tourist spot and Athens airport is one of the primary airports in Greece, so you can just imagine the chaos at the airport. The lines to see an airline representative were 4 hrs long. After a missed day in Santorini and a hustle day at the airport, we managed to get ourselves on an overnight red-eye flight that got us to Santorini at 3 AM. All’s well that ends well, upon waking up in Santorini that morning the view out of the hotel room was surreal, it’s Paradise! Electric blue ocean as far as the eye can see and the caldera right in the middle. Good Morning Indeed!

Santorini is striking. The whitewashed cubiform houses with blue doors and blue domes are very charming and one of its kind in the entire world. Santorini is clung to cliffs above an underwater caldera (crater). The towns overlook the magnificent blue sea, below the cliffs are beaches made up of red, white, and black lava pebbles. Most of the towns are within a walking distance from one another. Each tiny town, however, varies from the others with its unique characteristics and vibe. Santorini is known for its awestruck sunsets and it’s 100% surreal, hard to put in words but something that should just be experienced first hand. Recommended by a lot of locals, on one of the days, we went to the castle to view the sunset, the crowds are unbelievable, especially at these ‘hot-spots’ (to find a good spot be sure to arrive at least an hour prior to the sunset time). The other days, we settled for a more of a private show right from the balcony of our room; where a hot tube, a chill glass of wine and speakers playing Sam Smith made it all the more remarkable and memorable. On a side note, stray skinny black cats meow and scuttle in and out of every corner. There is a serious cat issue in Greece, believe it or not, you can rent a cat here all day for 5 euros!

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Next, an early morning ferry ride from Santorini got us to Mykonos in about 4 hours. Mykonos island is a famous for its white buildings and colorful shutters, block print cobblestoned pathways, 16th-century windmills, bright colored flowers on sills, turquoise skies, sandy beaches, boutique shopping, small cafes, churches and high-end dining. However, this tiny island is most popular for its summer parties; massive dance clubs and beach parties attract world-renowned DJs and crowds from across the globe, these parties typically stay open well past dawn. Unlike Ibiza, this party town attracts an upscale crowd that thrives on its stylish nightlife. With mostly tourist crowds inhabiting the island, not much is Greek about this island, but it is well worth a visit to witness the vibe and mojo of this place. Mykonos has also made its mark among the Gay community, with tons of bars, clubs, hotel, and parties serving them with pride. For the few days that we are here, we did a self-tour of the island, went to the Super Paradise Beach, and checked out a couple of parties.  There’s a number of great restaurants here, especially Italian. Some of the best pasta, pizzas, and risotto I have had outside of Italy. My last day in Mykonos was spent by the harbor, capturing the last sunset here while drinking “slightly” too much and laughing a little too heartily as this Greek adventure is unfolding to its end. 12 days of pure bliss and new cultural encounters, was everything I wanted. I am already sensing heavy withdrawals of all the fun under the sun while in Greece.

On a personal note, on this father’s day, I think back to why I travel? I travel because I can, because I enjoy it and because my parents didn’t get a chance too. Between raising two kids, running a business, my parents, especially my mom never got the opportunity to leave her nest. Though they both would always encourage my brother and me to go on every field trip and to see as many new places we can. It makes them so excited and proud that I have seen so much of what the world has to offer. My favorite is to call my parents from abroad and to just listen to their voice, it almost sounds like we have transcended a few decades, my mom start’s raising her pitch and talks so fast as if that call is charging me a bank. I take tons of pictures like all travelers, but mine are mostly for my parents to live vicariously through them. I am proud to say my mom and dad have traveled virtually everywhere with me! So all you folks out there, get out there and see what life is like outside your town/state/country… try that new dish that sounds weird, be bold, learn a new language, go make your parents proud. As Aesop said it,” Adventure, is worthwhile!”

OPA!

Photo Courtesy: Prashant Gandhi and Google Images

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Living it up!!!

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These past two days have been incredible. On day two I woke up super early at around 6 and decided to go for a run. Running in Rome is heavenly, though I must admit majority of the people don’t work out here; everyone kept looking at me cause I was the only one sweating it out.  In the afternoon, I decided to cook something and it turned out to be a feast so I invited Luca over for lunch. Later in the afternoon, I decided to go check out the Colosseum, based on Luca’s direction I was to walk 45 degrees right for 10 minutes lol, though it was a bit complicated than that but to my surprise I found it and I was blown away by its beauty. It truly is breathtaking and I literally spent 20 minutes just staring at it. From there I noticed the top of Capitoline so I decided to go check it out as well. It turns out all the major attractions are pretty much lined up close by, so I ended up spending three hours just walking around and finding all these awesome places. My last stop was Trevi Fountain and it was my favorite. I beyond doubt missed my mom at Trevi, we would always talk about going there.

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Around 7:30ish I started heading home because Sarah was also on her way to the apartment from the airport. OMG, the walk back home was painful, my legs were beyond sore. When I got home, Luca and his girlfriend invited us over for an authentic Italian dinner.  Dinner was fantastic we had fried squash flowers as appetizers, homemade pasta with home grown tomato and basil paste, we also had some mozzarella balls though I cant wrap my head around just eating a ball of mozzarella so I just had a tiny piece, and lastly we had fresh fruit from Luca’s garden. We really had an amazing time eating dinner and talking for hours, mostly on politics. Luca is an Italian Diplomat and his girlfriend Christen works for the UN and of course there’s Sarah and I who work for the US State Dept so the conversation heats up in moments, but it’s also interesting to talking to people who are in the same field as you.

After Dinner Sarah and I decided that tomorrow we will go to the Sperlonga (beach area) to relax. Next day morning after getting ready we headed to Termini Station (one of the biggest metro train station in Rome) to get on the train. To get to Sperlonga we first took the Trenitalia (tain) to Fondi which took about 1:15 min and from Fondi a 20 min bus ride to Sperlonga. Sperlonga is one of the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. We had some gelato and spent rest of the afternoon swimming in the Mediterranean water and soaking in the sun. The water was crystal clear and insanely salty. In the evening we went to Sperlonga Alta  for dinner which is on the mountain top and about a 15 min walk from the beach. The view from the top was spectacular and I had my first real Italian Pizza.

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On our way back we did the whole routine again walk, bus, train….and we finally reached Termini at about 9:30 pm. The walk from Termini to our apartment is about 5 to 7 minutes but all hell broke lose and we got lost. It took us about an hour to get home.  Even with the help of three maps, Siri, and the locals we were just too lost. The whole situation was so wired and we were so tired that we just kept laughing the whole time. It was about 12 am till we finally made it to bed. But looking back, it was the best day so far. We had so much fun, we laughed a lot, we ate all sorts of local stuff, and to top it all off the beach was beyond stunning. It also was a great way to connect with Sarah over traveling and now we are BFF’s . It’s nice to have someone around that you can share all your excitement with and can go handout with. We both are very much alike so its always crazy.

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Today is my fourth day here; we have decided to take it easy today. I went and got a local SIM card in the morning and later went grocery shopping. The plan for this evening is to go handout at city center. Miraculously, Sarah and I found his awesome farmers market that sells fresh vegetables, fruit, cheese, and bread.  Every passing day I feel more like a local and less of a tourist, and that feeling is amazing. The big plan for tomorrow is to try and make it to the Vatican.

Some of the wired things that I have noticed here are: Italians eat dinner really late like around 9 and it usually lasts till 11. One of the reasons for this is they eat a lot of courses and big portions. Most Italians are skinny; this could be because they walk everywhere, its absolutely common to not own a car here. Coffee here is straight up drugs, it is sure to give u a high for a full day…way to strong and is served as a shot, no sugar or milk and you drink it in one go.

Until later, Ciao.

Photo’s taken by Dhara Shah