I’ve done my fair share of traveling since graduating from college in 2007, from researching around the U.S. for one year with Ambassador Ahmed, to my own personal adventures throughout Europe and eastern Asia. I’ve been to some amazing places, from the Château de Padiès in Southern France, to the hills of Honolulu, to the famous bazzar in Kadıköy, Turkey, to the homes of ancestors of Muslim American slaves on Sapelo Island, Georgia. Several times after practically all of these journeys, I’ve said to myself “That is the best trip I’ve ever had”. This particular piece is a collection of stories, thoughts and pictures from my week long trip throughout Greece. My next project will be my short documentary concerning it, though it probably won’t be finished for a few weeks.
All pictures below © Craig Considine
* * *
I arrived to Athens on a Saturday evening and headed straight for Syntagma Square, right in the heart of the city and the place of many recent protests over bailouts and austerity measures. People from all around Europe were there having meetings and gatherings to discuss their potential activities in the run-up to the elections the next day. There was a significant Anarchy presence amongst the people, most of whom were young, though I also read pamphlets about Communist and other Socialist movements.
I roamed around Syntagma Square for about twenty minutes before heading up the stairs and towards the Greek parliament building. There I watched several Greek soldiers perform what appeared to be the equivalent of the ‘changing of the guard’. These soldiers would march around in a very slow and methodical fashion, almost like a rusty robot, whilst raising their legs extremely straight and high, and sometimes swiping the soul of their shoes off the ground. Occasionally they would do a little trick with their long guns. I found their uniform particularly interesting. These soldiers also wouldn’t move an inch even if you tickled them with a feather.
From Syntagma Square I made the journey to my hotel, which wasn’t exactly close to the city centre. The cab ride there was wild. The cab driver was just a grumpy person, though he did have a good sense of humour. We ended up getting stuck behind a dump truck on these narrow little side streets and we couldn’t get around the thing for the life of us. The cab driver was swearing in Greek non-step and yelling obscenities at other cab drivers. When we had daylight, he would step on the gas and we would fly down the avenues of Athens. I wasn’t scared because I could tell he had a good handle on his whip. I dropped my stuff off at Pergamos Hotel. It was a decent spot though in not in the greatest of areas.
My first evening in Athens was spent at the Vintage Shopping Bar. It was a chill little spot and I spent most of my time speaking to a 50-year-old female filmmaker who had live most of her life in Brussels, but was originally from the Rhodes (she pronounced it Road-as). We had a good few laughs over some drinks. She was drinking straight whiskey and would cut the filter off her cigarettes. I asked her for some advice for my travels and she told me not to go to Santorini because it was too touristy. At first I believed her, but I still didn’t really care to listen, as the pictures I Googled were still so beautiful and vivid in my mind.
The first thing I did when I woke up on my first morning in Athens was head to the Acropolis. On my way there, I spotted this beautiful and old-looking Greek Orthodox Church, so I decided to take a stroll over to it. When I approached it, I noticed that a service had just ended. Women were totally covered and the men dressed conservatively. I walked through the doors to find a very small church with only one room. What stuck out to me were the relics and images of prophets everywhere. It was my first time in a Greek Orthodox Church. Whilst I was standing in amazement at its beauty, a church chaperon approached me and told me that there were no sandals allowed in the Church. I was also wearing shorts and he told me those weren’t allowed either. I felt pretty bad for not even thinking about these rules. I should know better considering my research and profession.
Unfortunately, the Acropolis happened to be closed because of ‘election Sunday’, so I wasn’t able to actually get to the top. That didn’t stop me, however, from getting some great sights and walking the ancients streets of Plaka (Πλάκα). I was able to view an ancient amphitheater of Dionysius at the bottom of the massive Acropolis rock and climb around some ruins on the edge of some hills. As you could imagine, the terrain was very rock and dry, though there were definitely trees here and there. Obviously, it was amazing to view the ruins, which couldn’t escape the eye even if you wanted them to. They are literally everywhere.
Plaka happened to be one of my favourite areas in Athens. Though it’s a bit touristy, it has a strong buzz and atmosphere to it, which makes it a must see even if you’re trying to escape the tourist madness. The streets are narrow and filled with shops and places to eat. The streets themselves are lined with cobblestones and ruins every few blocks. I had a great few lunches there and even managed to buy some pretty sweet articles of Greek linen clothing (more on this later).
On the way back to Syntagma Square from Plaka, I managed, unsurprisingly, to find a few more set of ruins. One happened to be out in the open, in what appears to be the main Athens valley, whilst the other was an underground excavation of an ancient worshipping spot.
At nightime on my first full day in Athens, I decided to journey back to Plaka, where I had an amazing 4 cheese pasta dinner at an outdoor restaurant called Kapyatis (English spelling). From there, because it was ‘election Sunday’, I was having trouble finding a spot to catch a drink, and I ended up walking a good distance to visit the James Joyce Pub. I had a few beers there and chatted to a few American girls now living in Athens. On my walk home, I took the picture you see below.
One thing that you can’t help but notice when visiting Athens is the graffiti. It’s literally everywhere. It has even made its way to monuments. There is clearly a young rebellious streak in Athens. The youth and perhaps even the older generations are unhappy with the current political, economic, and social climate. Some young Athenians have even lost their lives in protest to the general state of things.
My third day in Athens was an early one. I had a 7:30 am ferry ride through the Aegean Sea to Santorini, which was about eight hours away. I was thoroughly impressed with the ferry, which behaved more like a ship, as I was expecting the ride to be on a little and not-so-serious boat.
There were so many beautiful islands everywhere as we cruised through the Aegean Sea. You couldn’t go one minute without seeing one in the distance. I sat in the sun the entire time, just listening to music and gathering my thoughts as I looked out at the amazing scenery. Though it was an eight-hour ride, I didn’t mind it one bit. I’ve never seen anything so gorgeous in my entire life. Seriously.
Arriving in the Port of Santorini was really something else. As the door from the ferry lowers, all you can see are these massive rocky orange looking cliffs. There were loads of men trying to convince people to get in their cabs to go to one of the villages on the island. I was prey and just hooked on with a guy, who I told to bring me to the centre, Fira. The ride was incredible. The roads hug the side of the cliff and zig-zag nearly the entire way to Fira.
I told the cab driver to bring me to a hostel. I was so lucky to end up where I did – at Kykladonisia Hostel. It had an awesome ‘roof deck’ of sorts that overlooked the ocean and some of the island.
Once I got my bags down, I decided to take a stroll through old Fira. The small and narrow streets bring you back in time to an era that must have been too cool. I had a few quiet beers here and there and took some pretty amazing shots on one of the highest points on the island. It was an unforgettable experience.
Have you heard about the sunset on the tip of Santorini in the village of Oia? (pronounced E-ya). Once you get to the village square, which is about the size of a driveway, you see signs that bring you through the old village and towards some spots where you can watch the sunset. Like Fira, the streets are old and narrow and lined with beautiful homes everywhere. I’ll never forget watching the sunset and hearing people applaud as it vanished. That’s when you know a sunset is legit.
My first morning in Santorini started with chilling with Paul, who ran the place. Paul and I became friends and had a few laughs together. He encouraged me to either rent a four-wheel dirt bike or a car. Because I nearly died on one of those bikes in Honolulu, I decided to be safe and stick with the car, though that nearly killed me too!
I rented a car that was nearly half the size of the Volvo I drive back home. It was so little I felt like I could pick it up with my hands. It was a ‘smart car’ and was, of course, really easy to use. I scooped it for ten euros and then pumped another fifteen euros in worth of gas. When I got in the car, I had no plan or destination in mind. I just wanted to ride freely throughout the island. I was looking forward to investigating.
My first stop was the famous Red Beach. When there, I did a bit of climbing and made it to a very high peak on what was basically a mountain. I opened my backpack and took out Plato’s ‘Four Dialogues’ because, after all, I was in Greece and Socrates is one of my first favourite thinkers. I chilled for a solid hour there, just contemplating life.
From that spot I walked down what looked like the Grand Canyon. It wasn’t an easy walk and you had to do a bit of climbing/crawling. Red beach isn’t very big and it’s pretty rocky, but the water is perfect and crystal clear. The ocean floor didn’t have sand. Instead, it had rocks of various colours. The water was also warm and had no seaweed. I had a great swim.
After Red Beach, I of course decided to explore some more. I stumbled across a sign for Kambia Beach, one of the three beaches on the island. The sign was pretty budget and the road even more so. When I looked down it, I absolutely hesitated because the place I rented my car from told me ‘no off-roading’. Problem was, I couldn’t tell if this is what they would considering ‘off-roading’. I figured, what the hell, I’m on vacation and only on Santorini once (though I plan on going back!). So, I was off, down what seemed like a treacherous road on the side of a massive cliff. I also came across what seemed like ancient caves.
The road down was treacherous. There were a few instances where the car bottomed out and I feared for a flat tire or, worse, damage to the little car. I was weaving in-and-out of massive holes and rocks. It wasn’t easy. I took it slow and managed to make it down safely, though I already started to worry about making it back up. At the bottom of the hill, nonetheless, was Kambia Beach. What a sight that was! It was so quiet and peaceful down there. There was also a family run restaurant, though, of course, there was nobody there but the family. They welcomed me warmly and I sat down for some food. They only had one dish available, so I didn’t even look at the menu. The food happened to be amazing though.
When I got back in the car, I geared myself up for the journey back up. At a few points, I had to put my foot on the pedal to make sure I didn’t get stuck. I had to sustain the momentum of the vehicle. It was hugely problematic considering if I lost control I could be veering of a massive cliff. No joke. I managed, however, and when I reached the top, I was greeted by an amazing view of the sea and the countryside.
After my adventure to Kambia Beach, I headed back to Kykladonisias to regroup, but soon I was off to Fira for a late lunch. After another amazing four cheese dinner dish, I took a few incredible pictures of Fira and visited the Catholic Church. As I walked in, I could hear on the speakers either some religious man chanting or a recording of it. Either way, it was tranquil and peaceful. I sat there for a good thirty minutes with my thoughts. I prayed for my family and good health for a while too. It’s probably the coolest Church I’ve ever prayed in.
All of the walking around must have made me hungry, because only a few hours later, I was off for another meal. The sun was doing damage to me so I wanted to catch food at a quiet and cool place. I picked the Taverna Elia, where I had a delicious spaghetti bolognese with ham. I’m pretty sure I was the only customer for nearly two hours. It too was peaceful. There I had a Fix beer, which is one of the three main Greek beers along with Mythos and Alfa. I probably drank the latter most often.
This trip wouldn’t have been as amazing as it was if it wasn’t for the two ‘squirrels’, Bri and Britt, from Houston and Boca Raton respectively. The three of us met at the legendary Highlander Bar, where I had many chill nights with bartenders Teo and Angel. The two girls and I spent the next few days having some serious laughs. I’m not only thankful for the company and now their friendship, but also for saving me when I had a wicked heat exhaustion attack at the volcano. It hit me like a tone of bricks. I was super dehydrated and felt like I seriously was going to pass out. Bri and Britt, who go by ‘PPB’, also happened to be nurses, so I couldn’t have been in better hands. When I knew things were getting bad, I thought I had to go back to the main island, and they had absolutely no problem with that. They literally had to guide me down the volcano and feed me water. I’m so fortunate they were there with me. When we got back up to the main island, I puked a few times and, sadly, missed the toilet. Feel bad for the cleaning ladies 😦
That event aside, Bri, Britt and I accumulated more inside jokes in three days than any three people have ever done in the history of inside jokes. We spent a few great nights at the Highlander and made some great memories. We shared our music tastes with each other and had a few good meals.
I took the ferry back to Athens at 3:30 in the afternoon on Friday and arrived in Athens at 12 pm. The next morning, I was exhausted, but I figured I’d go back to Plaka, my favourite part of Athens, where just a few days earlier I had an awesome lunch with some great local Greek people. One of my favourite parts of the trip was just sitting around in the sun with great food, drink, and company.
This one street in Plaka was jammed packed with people and there was a constant buzz around. I spent many many hours talking with the lovely ‘Helen of Troy’. Elizabeth, who owned the story that Helen worked in, could have been one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. She gave me a huge discount on some local Greek linen clothing, which I’m wearing below, and gave me a free t-shirt and some jewelry to bring back to my mother in Needham. I didn’t wanted to say goodbye to them.
Obviously, there are a few clear reasons why this trip was monumental, such as the weather and the beauty of the Greek islands. There were some more subliminal reasons, such as the food and the nightlife (and the Greek beer). I can’t forget the history of Greece itself, the ruins, and just the aura of walking along the streets of Plaka. I also can’t forget to mention that adventures – down with the car to Kambia Beach and of course the scary experience on the volcano. But hands down, the number one reason this was the best trip ever – THE PEOPLE. I can’t tell you how many great conversations I had with both people from Greece and around the world. Everyone seemed so incredibly family and it made me so happy. From Paul to Teo, to Angel to Jargon, to Elizabeth to Helen, and of course, to Bri and Britt, I couldn’t have asked for better company. That’s ultimately why I titled this piece “This time I mean it”. This really was the best trip ever.