Every now and then Iâ€™ll revisit my travel journal from Greece and Iâ€™m amazed by how much happened, and how many tiny details I recorded but have forgotten about over the past few months. My writing always seems to take on a better quality in its purest form.
So here it is, vignettes from that beautiful and lonely three months in the world of ancients. At least, five pages of the 50+ I recorded.
1. In the air – I sprouted wings in Brussels and am now enroute to Athens. Iâ€™ve been in the air for hours. Left yesterday at 5 PM, and itâ€™s now 7 PM in Europe. I managed to sleep through most of the flights but this one is bumpy and thereâ€™s no TV to keep me preoccupied. People kept thinking I was Norwegian on my stopover in Oslo. Including the beautiful blonde next to me on my flight. A higher compliment could not be paid. Iâ€™ve never seen such a sexier plane.
2. Athens – I feel bad for assuming my cab driver was going to molest me. He seemed so gruff. Ambushed me on the sidewalk, said this car was cheaper. What was I supposed to do? Iâ€™d be perfect to star in a horror film. Instead I gave him the wrong address and he stopped at a hotel to find me the right one. Then he grabbed my luggage and led me down narrow alleyways until I safely got to my room.
My room has a balcony where I can reach out and touch the Acropolis, almost. I awake to a rooster. Yes, a rooster in the city centre, and those awful European â€œwoo-hooingâ€ pigeons. The crumbling building across the way looks like a fairytale. I quite literally threw open my shutters.
3. Athens – I didnâ€™t craw out of bed until 5 PM the next day. I don’tâ€™ know what I tried to do in the middle of the night, but there was a lot of butter everywhere when I woke up. An unreasonable amount. Earlier that day I went for food at the tiny corner shop. There was a woman behind the counter, cracking peanuts with her teeth. Her eyes never left the TV screen on the wall.
â€œBread?â€ I asked.
â€œAh?â€ She had no idea.
I scanned the shelves quickly and grabbed bread. Then I couldnâ€™t figure out what to pair with it â€“ I just wanted a damned sandwich. I was sweating. I grabbed butter â€“ thatâ€™s it. Butter, bread, bananas, and I had toast for dinner.
4. Athens – On Saturday, Daphne, my AS guide, invited me to dinner with some of her Greek friends at Kafenio. I loved the stroll there, between lamp-lit alleyways and past toppling ruins, in the warm winter air. Her friends were colleagues of her boyfriend. It was a perfect evening. Dish after dish rolled outâ€¦meatballs and tomatoes, eggplant spreads, feta cheese. Pork, salad, cheese. Bottles of Santorini beer, volcano filtered. Wine in giant beaker-like containers. A fire burning at the head of the room, the scent of wood smoke mingled with cigarettes around the table. Everyone interested in me, ideas exchanged, recommendations passed. Iâ€™m so happy I made all this happen. Alone, but not lonely. The most wonderful aloneness I have ever known.
5. Enroute to Santorini – Hangover start to the day. Checked out, grabbed a cab, driver didnâ€™t know what I was saying. Had to call his wife so she could translate. Sweet man helped me load up my pack. Bought my ticket, boarded the ferry. Found a seat and settled in. No English anywhere. Trio next to me, chatting. Handsome older man clacking blue kolomboi beads. Other men playing with theirs, swinging them. Another duo sitting across from me, observing me. I guess my backpack gives me away. Perfect little pot-belled Greek man in a cabby hat playing cards with his friend.
A boisterous elderly lady is next to me, dressed all in black, white hair pulled up and pinned to the top of her head. I passed out hard at some point, and bottles of water were passed around, but missed me. When I awoke, the lady turned to me and rattled off in Greek, gesturing to the bottles. I tried to say I didnâ€™t understand, but she didnâ€™t seem bothered by my English. I recognized one word: Santorini. For the rest of the trip she takes care of me like I’m a grandchild. Pats my leg affectionately, pulls over a chair to put my feet on. I donâ€™t know how to express gratitude. She talks loudly and with everyone.
The ride was miserable, exhausting. But nine hours later I am off the ferry and I find a cab to Caveland. The ride and the view isâ€¦unreal. Unreal. The road is carved Cliffside and we wind up into the sky, endlessly. Sharp corners. My driver is a maniac. Serrated cliffs and white houses.
6. Santorini – Caveland has been quiet. Iâ€™ve been spending time with Milly and Dan, the couple who work here. Theyâ€™re wonderful. And Inbal, an Israeli 25-year-old lawyer/jazz singer. I worked so hard last week, little time left for anything else. Went to the veggie market, and jaw dropped over the cheap food. Wine is 2 EUR. Beer is 1. Walked around Fira. The place is a ghost town, but I like it. Inbal and I went out for some beers one night with psychic who told us eating meat was like eating the suffering of animals. She wore a white clip in her hair, red pants, and a pink shirt.
7. Santorini – Last night we got drunk, here. Inbal, Dan, Milly, and a Spanish girl, Andrea. Went to a club. Some guys were there wearing clown face paint, and I thought I should befriend them in case they tried to shoot up the place. Iâ€™m so western. They actually were dressed for carnival. Walked home with Andrea and Inbal, Andrea swinging a rose in her hand, all of us declaring to change the world.
8. Santorini – Paid 20EUR to hike the volcano that blew Santorini apart a few thousand years ago and wiped out a whole civilization. The boat was quick; Inbal and I made friends with a British girl, Ami. Sweet lady, massage therapist, soft-spoken. Pretty fingernails. We stuck together, being the only singles on the trip. Three groups of Indian couples doing a photo shoot on the bow. Thanks for ruining our lovely volcano view.
The hike reminded me of Iceland, a weird lunar landscape compared to the rest of the island. Piles of black rubble rocks, and a trail leading to the crater. Smell of sulfur. The boat took us to the hot spring which flowed out into the sea. Everyone jumped in, no problem. But I couldnâ€™t remove my three layers of clothes. Greece is damned cold.
9. Santorini – In Pygros the houses are built like pats of butter. Painted doors and wine nests wrapped around windows. A dog tied to a doorknob. Yapping. Church towers and bells. Flower pots, broken, an ancient toilet. Steps. Kostas visiting a bearded priest about the baptism of his son. The sun setting. Anyone inside these walls?
10. Naxos – I am in Naxos, in a tiny room in the basement of a hostel where the main door opens freely onto the road (oh me nerves). I just heard what I thought was a snow plow go by (scooter) and felt a silly twinge of homesickness. The perks (pitfalls?) of travelling solo in the off-season.
The sun set on my time in Santorini, and I was sad to go. Adorable driver who picked me up at the ferry spoke Russian, Armenian, and Greek. Doesnâ€™t speak English, much. Upon me saying Iâ€™m a writer: â€œIâ€™ve maybe only read three books in my life!â€ But that face.
11. Naxos – I didnâ€™t do a damned thing today. I wanted to hike Mount Zeus, or go to Chalkia, or see the Kouri lying in the garden. Instead Iâ€™m at a beach, waves lapping at my feet, and flies buzzing around my head. I should work. I spent yesterday exploring, but I am convinced I am the only tourist here. Am certain.
12. Naxos – I went to the portara, the ancient door that goes nowhere. The hillside dotted in marigold, red and yellow. Then: the sunset. How was the whole island not there to see it? Just me. I was also the only person in the archaeology museum, with rooms filled with Mycenaean pieces I could reach out and touch. I wonder if our belongings will be on display someday. Hairbruses and bowls and jugs.
13. Naxos – I didnâ€™t get to tell you about the little lady in Soula Hotel who kept coming into the lobby. The first time I saw her, she blessed herself when entering the room. She came into the lobby, a radio tucked into her pocket, blaring Greek music. She kept saying â€œsorryâ€ as she shuffled over to me and placed a vase of flowers on the desk. It was wrapped in tinfoil, and decorated with pink ribbon tied into a bow. She pointed at the different pieces and said their Greek names, then offered me some Turkish delight. I figured the candy was either laced with poison, or she was genuinely a good person. I went with the latter. She bustled in again later with a plate of dessert, like gelatin with cinnamon.
14. Lesvos – Itâ€™s my third day in Lesvos. Getting here feels like it never happened. I spent most of the journey high on Ativan because my nerves were shot. The Naxos airport looked like something out of a third-world country and the plane jostled my brains around like tomatoes in a tin can. I took the bus into town, got lost looking for Sappho Square, than sat on my bus stop being thoroughly confused by everything. The â€œferryâ€ was a tiny boat across Geras Bay, 10 minutes. I mean like someoneâ€™s personal vessel, with posters on the wall of scantily clad women and a painting that looked like the Canadian Rockies.
15. Lesvos – Lena and Dimitrios met me at the dock, and there was a welcome dinner waiting for me at the farm. The food here is wonderful. Lena and I made handmade ravioli filled with pumpkin. We pick blood oranges for fresh-squeezed juice. Weâ€™ve been clearing out the olive branches, and I have to get over my fear of bugs and spiders. Michaelis is our boss, a rugged man who calls to us like we are cats. The work is hard and rewarding, and my muscles ache. I even caught Michaelis smiling one day. And that was enough.
16. Lesvos – Today we are pruning the vines in the vineyard, snapping clenched tendrils from vines, watching them unfurl like little fingers. Everyone around here seems to be able to fashion everything out of NOTHING. Today Lena made fried squid, and pasta with tomatoes and veggies. â€œMaybe she can boil an egg,â€ Dimitrios said about my poor cooking. Maybe I can. Kiki stuck a rose into my shirt. My back is sunburned.
17. Lesvos – I am sad to be leaving the farm. I do not want to forget the sound of tinkling sheep bells, the smell of lemon and rosemary, and the sight of mountain morning mist creeping across from Turkey. Kiki kissed me goodbye. Will I ever see them again? No, probably not.