After 2013 ended on an extremely low note, I decided that 2014 had to be all about change. So I made the rather rash decision to book a one-way ticket to Greece — my ultimate dream destination — and to spend the first six months of the year travelling.
When I look back on it now, it seems absurd that all this happened. Bizarre. INSANE. Little ‘ol me, totin’ off to Europe with this massively oversized backpack on my shoulders.
My first stop was New York City, where I spent a week with one of my best friends, Adam. At the time, he lived in Manhattan and was working for a fancy-schmancy software company (he still is, but remotely). We had a blast wandering all over Manhattan, and I learned how to play shuffleboard. I also saw my first Jackson Pollock painting at the MOMA, and then I went to a cabaret show in a speakeasy.
I also sent home half of my backpack contents. True story. Read here for other mishaps.
It was a long trip to Athens, but I made it. My very first morning, I set out on a city tour with Athens Insiders, a private tour group. I splurged on this tour, but it was well worth it — I became friends with Anthia and Daphne, and they showed me THEIR Athens. For someone who’s terrified of her own shadow, it was a great introduction to the city.
I stayed in Athens longer than expected, in part due to the amazing people I met at AthenStyle. I spent pretty much every night at this rooftop bar overlooking the Acropolis, and I came back time and time again. I even followed Anna and Steve to Croatia. I miss them terribly. (PS Canada kicked Finland’s ass at hockey again — just sayin’.)
Athens was merely a stopover to Santorini, where I spent a month living at Caveland. February is an odd time to be on the island, no lie. It was quiet. But I still found plenty to do, and that first glimpse of the caldera from Fira was like a beautiful affirmation. Yes, I made the right decisions.
About this time, my grandfather Kendell passed away. It was strange not being there with the family, but I know he wouldn’t have wanted me to cut my trip short. The holidays have not been the same without him.
I made a quick visit to Naxos island, where I spent a very lonely weekend wandering the waterfront and the crumbling streets of the main town. But then at sundown I came to the portara, thought to be Apollo’s temple entrance. There was nobody else around, save for a woman and her child picking wildflowers in the grass. The sun set, the island was silent, and there I was next to a piece of ancient marble that had stood guard over the island for thousands of years. Bliss.
I made my way to the Northern Aegean, where I worked on an olive farm with WWOOF on Lesbos island. The Tragakis family welcomed me with open arms, and I quickly made friends with the other WWOOFer, Lena. Our days were filled with pruning and weeding and taking care of the olive trees, and although it’s easy to romanticize the experience, the work was gruelling at times. I loved it, though.
Lena and I spent some time exploring the island on a road trip, but my favourite little town was the main one, Mytilini. There’s a large student population here, some lovely tavernas, and we Couchsurfed with two amazing ladies named Natasa and Daniella.
It’s also where I got my first travel tattoo! After spending weeks on the farm, we weren’t accustomed to English speakers. The lady at the tattoo parlour’s front desk greeted us with perfect English, and Lena and I commented on it. “I’m Australian,” she said, entirely unfazed.
Lesbos is only a quick ferry ride from Turkey, so upon leaving the farm I headed over to the Aegean Coast to meet up with my bloggy friend Michael. My goal was to reach Ephesus, some of the most incredible Greek ruins I have ever seen.
I returned to Greece via Chios island, a place I wouldn’t have thought much of it wasn’t for my wonderful Airbnb host, Maria. Throughout the weekend she showed me around her island, bought me lunches, and even took care of my laundry. I live for those kind of chance encounters with beautiful people.
One of my very best friends in the world, Matt, joined me not long after. We hit up Crete with our buddy Theo, and spent some time in Heraklion and Chania. Crete ended up being my favourite island thus far, because it’s busy as heck and the landscape is STUNNING. We also hiked the 16-kilometre Samaria Gorge, easily one of my best Greek experiences.
At least, I THOUGHT Crete was my favourite Greek island, before I came across Ios. I have not stopped talking about Ios since then. It’s just this wonderful little community of island folk and beaches and cheap beers, and Matt and I ended up staying a few days longer than we had planned. We’ll hit Milos next time.
Mine and Matt’s finally stop on our Greek island tour was Mykonos…of course. I was invited on a small media trip with San Giorgio Hotel, a crazy chic boutique hotel, and MY GOD the luxury was SO APPRECIATED. I love the above photo for the epic photobombing that occurs. So good.
We parted ways with our buddies Madison and Madison here, sadly. But they’re two girls who really made the trip complete.
It was serendipitous how I made it to Croatia for The Yacht Week. I had to leave Greece before my Schengen expired, and I had to make my way to Split, Croatia. BUT trying to find a route from Athens was like hiring a mule to take me across Canada. Expensive, and not worth it.
But then I won a tour with Med Experience from Bosnia & Herzegovina, and I asked for their advice on getting from Greece to Croatia. They told me about their Albania tour, and advised me to stick around Montenegro while waiting for my sailing trip to begin. So really, I owe the whole second half of my trip to Med Experience for being so awesome. The route took me through Greece’s interior first, to Meteora, with its old monasteries sitting atop limestone mountains.
Albania wasn’t on my mind much, but I’m so glad I visited. I wish I could have spent more time in Tirana, but Sarande (shown above) was worth it.
Montenegro was one of the most unexpectedly wonderful places I have ever visited. I knew it as soon as I showed up in Kotor Bay, got lost in the Old Town, and had a friendly waiter personally deliver me to the hostel I was seeking. Then I somehow ended up spending a week in a stunning guesthouse, despite only intending on being there for three nights. I actually preferred Montenegro’s Old Town over Dubrovnik by tenfold, although some travellers get angry whenever I say that.
It’s still worth the visit.
From Dubrovnik, I hopped on my Med Experience tour to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Other than Bosnia and Herzegovina being one of the most beautiful and friendliest countries I have ever visited, I somehow landed the Holy Grail of bus tour groups. There was six of us, including the guide, and we all clicked together like Lego pieces. It completely made my trip.
Did I mention Bosnia & Herzegovina is unbelievably beautiful? This photo is from Lukomir, a mountain village.
I mean, would you LOOK AT THIS PLACE?! This is Mostar.
AAAND the highlight to end my six-month trip: The Yacht Week! Seven days sailing around the Adriatic Sea with four of my friends and countless other yachts filled with young party people. BEST WEEK OF MY LIFE.
My Yacht Week crew and I met so many fantastic people while in Croatia, including while in Split. If you’re ever there, look for a pubcrawling group that hangs out around the Old Town. I’m still friends with several of those group leaders.
If you wanna see more, I put together this little video using my iPhone.
I had little time to develop post-travel depression after Europe, because I came home to Newfoundland with a bladder infection to end all bladder infections. Thankfully, I pulled myself together in time for my surprise birthday celebrations. I LOVE CELEBRATING BIRTHDAYS, even if it’s my 28th one. I am so grateful for the friends I have in Canada, seriously.
Much of the summer was spent recording my #SplitTheRock Newfoundland video series. My talented roommate/friend Michael Ciuffini captured the whole thing, and he and Cailin O’Neil ended up being my FIRST EVER visitors to my hometown in Bay d’Espoir. Seriously.
And then my best friend got married in Halifax. *tear
And I ate a ton of cod at the Roots Rants and Roars festival in Elliston.
My friends and I came up with the best Halloween costume ever.
Me, Mike and Mark (my roommates) hosted a lot of Couchsurfers, like Mike and Mark. Yes, really. Mike and Mark and Mike and Mark.
Cailin took me on my first ever CRUISE around the Caribbean! We hit up Miami, Bahamas, and Turks and Caicos.
And I spent the holidays with some of my very best girl friends in the whole wide world.