How to Enjoy Greece and Manage Your Life Time Dreams
The Year is 1987. I loved coming home and watching Days of Our Lives each afternoon after school if I had no extra-curricular sports or practices to attend. Enter a new character, Justin Kiriakis. He’s a handsome Greek fellow that has come to Salem to reunite with his uncle Victor Kiriakis. Oh, he was so handsome and I had a little star crush. If I were telling the truth, I think if I had a son his name would have been Justin. Eventually this character would find the love of his life, Adrienne, and they marry. The ever-dreamy Justin whisks her away for a honeymoon in his home country Greece. The scenery and romance of the Greece episodes got me longing for one day that I might be lucky enough to visit these beautiful locations.
Well, God (and my husband) is so good to me! Twenty-Eight years into marriage and we have the opportunity to take this trip of a lifetime!! We regularly take a chartered, luxury sailboat cruise with the organization WinShape Marriage. We have a group of 4-5 other couples that do this with us all the time. I cannot sing the praises of the Star Clippers Line and Winshape for chartering and organizing amazing sailing trips. You cannot even imagine my excitement when I found out that the 2016 cruise would be to the Aegean Seas and the Greek Isles!
In this story I want to weave travel tips around Greece while also giving some tips on how to manage expectations. This is where my motto of Living Perfectly Unperfect will make itself clear.
Our journey would technically begin in Barcelona Spain, as we decided that since we would be in Europe, we might as well enjoy it to the fullest. I'll do a separate Blog Story on Spain later. But I'd like to set up this story with the vision of Bryan and I in Barcelona, just the two of us, going with the flow which is our vacation style. Five days of pure bliss working together to navigate an unknown place, enjoying our days eating, drinking, exploring museums and all the sights. This portion of the trip was an add-on bonus. Nothing I was too terribly determined had to go a certain way. And I just should have known that it was too good to be true. Rarely does anything in my life go smoothly or perfect. At least not for too long anyway. I was about to fall flat on my butt and didn't even know it was coming!
As our time in Barcelona ended, we were excited to meet all our friends in Athens so that we could board the wonderful Star Clipper ship to begin our journey across the Aegean Sea to all the places I had dreamed of for so long. We arrived in Athens and checked into our hotel. I have always booked hotels, even in Europe, though Expedia. I base my selection of hotel based on the area of where we need or want to be, the reviews and my gut instinct. I've always had great success doing this. Okay, so this time my selection, The Athens Gate Hotel, is okay. Nothing spectacular to be sure. But I tell myself that we are only here overnight before we get on the ship later the next day. We were able to connect up quickly with our friends who had arranged reservations on a rooftop restaurant overlooking the Acropolis and Parthenon. Just pinch me! I can't believe this is happening.
The best of friends traveling the world together!
At this dinner, it was so fun to catch up with our friends that are from all over the US. They had all been in Athens at least a full day or two ahead of us. They (or the men at least) seemed to be the Athens experts. They advised Bryan that it was very hot going up to the Acropolis and that the Acropolis Museum was a waste of time. After dinner they were all eager to walk us through the Plaka. The Plaka is a beautiful, festive road full of shops, restaurants, bars and just all kinds of fun. It was such a great night.
As we arrived back to our hotel, Bryan and I decided that our game plan for the morning would be to get up early to try to get to the the Acropolis as soon as it opened and before it got terribly hot. We also needed to go early as we needed to get to the port to embark on the ship in the early afternoon. With our time limitations, Bryan informed me that he thought we should skip the Acropolis Museum and he reiterates that the guys all thought it was a waste of time anyway. I was secretly a little bummed because I am a history buff and I LOVE that type of stuff. But marriage is a give and take and I had drug him around to art and history museums all over Barcelona. I tried to be flexible and I thought in the grand scheme of things this wasn't the worst thing that could happen on this bucket list trip.
The morning rolls around and I'm exhausted. I'm not a good early morning person anyway, but I also think the hustle and bustle was starting to take a toll on me. Bryan and I had a little interaction on how we should proceed with the morning. Of course I naturally take longer to get ready for anything and he decided he'd wait to take a shower until after we got back from the Acropolis. This is really because the guys had ingrained in him how terribly hot it's going to be! I started to feel under pressure that I should forgo a shower as well. But I've dreamed of this day forever. I have a perfect outfit picked out. I want the most beautiful photos and I'm kind of thinking if it's hotter than heck at 9:00 am, it's going to be even hotter later when we are running around town and going to the port. What's the difference? We are just going to be hot all day. He is relatively patient with me and I do hurry. But I'm secretly starved, thirsty and feeling rush, with a little bit of exhaustion mixed in. Our hotel includes breakfast, but I don't dare speak up because I can tell Bryan is on a mission. We get on the elevator which had a very weird and difficult door. Bryan accidentally hit the wrong floor and when it opens and we realize it, he was like "We'll just take the stairs". Don't get me wrong, I had walked miles upon miles for days and I'm no wuss about taking some stairs, but it was just his hurried attitude and his insistence to rush that was unnerving. He had not been this way on the entire trip to this point. I'm scrambling down this narrow, marble, winding staircase practically running down to keep up with my husband's 6'3 long legged walking when it happens... I took a step wrong and completely fell down the staircase! It happened so fast and I was basically shell-shocked and hurt so bad. Of course I pop up and gain my composure and all I can think is that I have thrown my back out and my trip will be ruined. I make a simple statement in frustration that I wish we wouldn't have taken the stairs and it sets Bryan and I into the mother-load of a fight in the middle of the hotel lobby, which continues out to the streets of Athens. It's a good thing I had sunglasses on because I do believe I cried the entire walk to the Acropolis. Bryan is silent and walks ahead of me. We finally get there and it's beautiful and I'm trying to hold back tears.Tears of pain, tears of frustration and tears of disappointment. At some point Bryan tries to make amends and tries to help me feel better. Pretty much the entire day was a little tainted for me though.
Me at the Acropolis trying to smile. My back and my bum are hurting so bad and I'm ticked at my husband. If you know me well, you know this is a fake smile
Trying to forgive and enjoy the day!
So you are getting the picture. I had too high of expectations. Too much emotions were riding on this day. This was definitely a Perfectly Unperfect Day. After finishing up seeing all the ruins, we walked down and had a very lovely breakfast at an outdoor cafe on the Plaka. We discussed the mishap, made up and all I could hope is that back pain would not be a hinderance to the rest of the trip. Luckily, I had brought a supply of medications that could help if this might be my fate.
Now on to the fun of our Sailing Adventures! I'll lay out each stop we made and some must see and do things while in Greece.
The Star Clipper! Our home for the next 7 days
At this port we got the wonderful pleasure of visiting the ruins of Ephesus. For anyone of the Christian faith, this is a very wonderful spiritual journey. I stood literally in the spot the Paul preached and in the place he baptized new believers. For anyone who is into archaeological or historical type things, it's equally impressive. As we walked through the ruins and streets, you could almost sense and feel the people that had walked these roads and their way of life seemed easy for me to visualize.
I'm literally standing where Paul baptized new believers!
The Streets of Ephesus! I cannot believe my life!
After thoroughly letting Ephesus sink in, we were able to go to The House of the Virgin Mary. This is a serene little brick house where it is said that Mary spent her last days. It was a very peaceful place.
The front of the Virgin Mary's House. I highly recommend a visit here if you go to Kusadasi and Ephesus
Patmos Greece is a small island. It is where the apostle John was exiled. While we were here for the day, we opted to go to the St. John's Monastery and to the cave where it is said that John had his vision that lead him to write Revelation.
On the roadside of Patmos!
Art Work at St. John's Monastery
Patmos was a great day overall. One travel tip for the monasteries; Ladies, you must wear dresses and they must be long to cover your legs! I'm so glad I had read this before going. Pack to be prepared.
The Star Clipper had just added a new excursion for this island, as an ancient monastery had decided to open for tours. There was a tad bit of confusion with some of our friends over if we would sign up for this tour or not. That morning, I thought we had NOT signed up and that we would just be exploring the island on our own. I woke up and leisurely took my time preparing for the day and decided on a spaghetti strapped, short sundress. Getting up on the deck and seeing some of our friends, it was a hectic, "Hey, I signed us all up for the Monastery Excursion and the tender boats to the port leave in 5-10 minutes". Oh my goodness, I've never scrambled so hard to go change into a long skirt and blouse with sleeves. I made it though and off we all went. After the tour buses got us to the foot of the mountain where the stairs and walkway to the monastery was, we looked upon a feat of walking that seemed too great a task for just about anyone. Evidently, Monasteries were built way up on cliffs and mountainsides to prevent pirates from having easy access for raids. Our tour guide informs us that we will most likely see a Monk and that we must not speak to them or take any photos. We finally make the journey up and we do indeed see a Monk doing his prayer rituals. Our friend, Pedro proceeds to take some photos. And the Monk proceed to chew him out in Greek! And Pedro decides to argue back in English with his Columbian accent. Now in Pedro's defense, he was taking photos out of the window and not of the inside of the church or the Monk, but still. The tour ends in a little room of the monastery with a small glass of the local Liquor which was a honey cinnamon drink. We all take basically what is a shot and someone put their glass down and says "Fireball". Now I'm wondering why a room full of people who probably should not know what Fireball is (aka a bunch of Christians), instantly knew this was a similar version. I cannot confirm or deny that I thought the exact some thing.
Entering the little door way of the Monastery
The Greek flag atop the Monastery
Santorini may have been my favorite stop. One thing I like about cruises is that you get to sample a different location everyday. The one thing I do not like about cruises is that you are on a time crunch each day and must get back to your ship on a time schedule. Santorini is definitely a place I would have wanted to spend more time and I would totally book a trip to stay on Santorini in one of the cliffside hotels or resorts in Oia. The only way to get from the port to the city is either by donkey up the mountain side, or a cable trolly. We opted for the trolly instead of the donkey. But I really think it could have been cool to try out the donkey ride! We did not do a structured tour or excursion, but opted to rent a small car and make a trek up from the city to Oia. Oia has to be the most amazing thing to see ever! This is a true vision of what you think of when you think of Greece. We had such a great time, that we almost missed the last tender boat back to the ship.
This is our last day and our last stop. Mykonos is known for their beaches and I was more than ready for a relaxing beach day. It is said that you can be married and go to Mykonos, but if you want to STAY married you go to Santorini! This is because Mykonos is very known for their night life and party atmosphere. I knew we had nothing to worry about. We had been married 28 years, we are on a marriage retreat trip, and we will be there in the middle of the day. The trick with Mykonos is that there are literally about 25 beaches. Most of them you will need to pay for a chair, umbrella or at least a bunch of drinks. And they don't mean a bottled water or diet coke. I wanted to try out several beaches instead of just hanging out at one all day. I wanted to explore a little. One of my brother's friends recommended Super Paradise Beach prior to us going on the trip. After the first beach being just ok, I desired to explore a bit. So we got a taxi with a few of our friends to head to Super Paradise. On the way, the driver tells us that it's the "gay" beach. as if he was warning us or something. Seriously I didn't even care, I was just told it was the BEST beach. It was a really pretty beach. The thing with Mykonos Beaches, is that they seem to be named after the restaurants that are on the beach. It was definitely a party beach and there were all kinds of couples, not just gay ones. And everyone was having a good time. We stayed for a while but it was loud and crowded. We ventured out and found a little bit of paradise at Paraga Beach. The guys snorkeled and the girls had a wonderful Greek lunch and got our sun!
Super Paradise Beach!
Finally found Paradise at Paraga
Last Day and Reflection
The ship docks at the port of Piraeus and its time to end our wonderful journey. I'm happy to report that I did not have back strain, muscular pain, or pinched nerves in my back from the fall. Just a huge and I mean huge, covering my whole right cheek, deep purple bruise on my butt. It's a good thing I didn't bring a thong bathing suit. Wait, who am I kidding? I was 46 years old at this time. A thong wouldn't have been a part of my wardrobe anyway. When we got to the airport our flight was cancelled and there was no way to rebook until late the next day. We essentially got two extra days in Athens. With all our friends gone on flights to their home towns, Bryan and I were back to being on our own and figuring out what we wanted to do with this bonus time. Guess what? He took me to the Acropolis Museum! Another little surprise nugget was going to the Cine Thiseion. This is an outdoor open air movie Theater at the base of the Acropolis. We sat under these stars in a beautiful courtyard garden watching The Godfather with Greek subtitles. I think sometimes I have such high expectations of certain things, that this is where there is room for disappointments, frustrations and anger. My best advice in travel, life and anything important to you is to try to stay flexible. Take it as it comes. Enjoy each moment. Sometimes even more amazing things than you thought possible will happen! This trip was beyond my dreams. Even with a bruised butt and the host of mishaps that always seem to follow me. I'm really living a charmed life, even if it's Perfectly Unperfect.