View Greece Photography
After 7 months of traveling around 3rd world countries with my backpack – I feel like I’ve changed. I used to have a closet full of clothes and shoes – more than I ever needed – hell – I could have clothed some small towns in Cambodia with my closet. Now – I have learned the fine art of how to wear the same outfit multiple days in a row (this all depends on the climate that you are traveling in). I seldom wear make-up anymore and normally am walking around in my tattered tennis shoes. Hair conditioner (or any styling products) and a washcloth is a luxury. I have definitely adjusted to not needing much – yet I still seem to overpack everywhere I go! However – with this change in hygiene, also comes that feeling that I’m completely frumpy. I used to use the construction workers on my commute to the subway as my gage for if I looked ok that day…if I got a look – then I must look ok – however I doubt they would even flinch these days! Hence – I think it’s been months since a guy has ever given me a second look! Gone are the days where I felt hip, now I’m just happy when I get to use a hair dryer. Since I was moving on to Europe for the next few months – I tried to pack nicer clothes and ship back home my fleece and hiking pants – in hopes of maybe cleaning up my act and feeling attractive again!
I arrived in Europe with a short layover in Dubai. I was exhausted since I haven’t really experienced jet lag since October! Arrival in Greece also exposed me to something I hadn’t experienced for a long time – there was no arrival card to fill out. Photo: Man playing acordian in Athens
At first I thought maybe I had too much wine on the plane and some how I missed the flight attendants passing them out, but as I looked around I noticed that no one else had one either. Strange – no visa, no arrival card – I felt cheated! I have spent the last 7 months memorizing every bit of data on my passport – I now consider it a special skill that I could put on my resume! It could go right next to the skills of shooting automatic weapons, eating rat, and can drive a manual transmission vehicle. With a resume like that I figure I can get a job patrolling the border of Afghanistan! Who knows maybe that can be my next career. Don’t worry mom – I’m just joking…
I lugged my bags through the airport to the train cursing my stupidity for having so much stuff. I was easily able to make it into the heart of Athens by train. As I followed my map to the hotel in the Plaka area I was led down little cobblestone streets and all of a sudden in my sweaty, luggage burdened state – I spotted him – Miles – my dear, dear friend from NY that I was meeting here for a week. We saw each other on the street and immediately I felt like I was in a sappy, romantic movie…like I should drop my bags and run to him with open arms for the big ‘embrace’ of 2 long lost friends. Seeing him felt so wonderful, familiar, and emotional. Miles has been one of my closest friends for the last 4 years. We have lived parallel lives – grew up in the Midwest, went to a state university, and worked at Gap in San Francisco during the same timeframe. However, we never met until we both moved to NYC and our common friend introduced us. He was the first friend I made in NYC and one of my very best. Thanks to him and his sense of adventure (a fellow Aquarian), I enjoyed NY. Hell, I could write a book about him alone – but I will try to stay on point. For all of my friends and family out there that don’t know Miles – I’m sure you are wondering – “So is there a romantic connection to Miles?”…No – he’s gay. So – now I’ve set the stage for all of you – we both fight over the same men…he normally wins. Back to our embrace – it was so wonderful to see him as it had been 7 months since I left him in NY – yet it seemed even longer to me. The fist night we spent catching up on each other’s lives and the goings on in NY. He brought me magazines and Twizzlers – my favorite treats from home!
That first night we arrived was the night before Easter Sunday. and I had a few Greek friends of mine that told me the real celebration was at midnight Easter Mass in Greece. Miles and I fought through our jet lag and somehow ended up at the big Cathedral in Athens around 11:30PM – it was as if a magnet pulled us Heathens there. Many people had started to gather outside the church. We came to find out that Easter Mass was held outside -surrounding the church. Everyone had candles and the Priests ‘sang’ the service with very little interaction from the crowd of people. Finally, at midnight , all of the candles were lit and the outdoor congregation chanted “He is risen” (in Greek – I took my best shot at interpreting it!), and then the kissing began. Once on each cheek – for everyone. Miles and I stayed up for the rising and the kiss-a-thon, but then both collapsed from our jet lag.
The next day was Easter Sunday in Athens – which was similar to my stay in Malaysia during Chinese New Year – the town shut down. There was nothing open and the street were deserted. The one exception to this was a small stretch of street in the Plaka area that was still serving tourists. It was kind of like Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco – if you are a local – you wouldn’t be caught dead there! So we spent our day doing a little walking tour of the ancient city led by our guidebook. As soon as we took off to see the changing of the guards at the Parliament building, I was reminded of how fast Miles walks. Honestly, he walks fast even for a New Yorker. I used to play this little game with him and I would slowly fall behind him as we would walk down the streets of NY and I would see how long it would take him to notice that he had lost me…I normally had to give up and run back to him. Since I’ve been in my laid back travel mode now – this fast walking really took me by surprise, I was always about 5 steps behind him no matter how hard I tried! We saw the National Gardens, the old bath house ruins, Zeus’s temple, and walked all around the Acropolis (which was also closed on Easter Sunday). Athens reminded me of Rome, little narrow streets and ancient ruins peppered all over. One thing that did stick out to me was condition of some of the buildings. There would be lovely little cottages and churches and then right next door there would be a run down building with graffiti all over it – the contrast was strange. I saw more vandalism there than I did in all of Asia. We also accidentally ran into an Easter procession including that Arch Bishop of Athens (at least that’s what someone on the street told us). I figured he must be the Arch Bishop as he had the biggest, shiniest hat. They had a small procession from the cathedral to the Arch Bishop’s home a few blocks away. He was followed by many other priests – his cabinet of sorts I guess. They stopped outside his house and gave a small sermon. Masses of people crowded around and before we knew it Miles and I were trapped amongst many locals trying to get a glimpse of the holy group. This is more Easter services than I’ve attended in the last 5 years!
We both happened to check out email that day and found out that our flight the next day had been cancelled and they had moved us to a later flight. I was furious with Orbitz for not contacting us about this until the last minute, so we spent the next hour on a public pay phone with them trying to get it all straightened out – the reality of travel…it’s not always fun when you are on a pay phone in the middle of Athens trying to reach the US, bitching to some agent who was probably in India. After way too much time on the phone, we did finally get it worked out and was put on an earlier flight the next day. However that meant that we would have to be at the gate when the Acropolis opened the next morning and power through it quickly in order to catch our flight! Thanks goodness I was with Miles as ‘powering through’ things is the only way he knows how to do them.
That night we decided to go out and try to find some nightlife in Athens – even though it was Easter Sunday. We figured that it had to exist somewhere and what better place than to check out the Gay area – surely there would be gay boys out dancing and drinking. We searched all around the area where Lonely Planet identified as Gay and Lesbian – and all we found was dark alleys, closed bars, and car rental places. For some strange reason – the only thing open in the whole city was car rental places…and I have no idea why…even the airline offices shut down. Unfortunately Miles and I dancing around in a Budget rent a car office wasn’t our idea of fun… yet we did consider it for a few minutes. We instead had our Easter dinner at a tourist restaurant and called it a night.
The next morning we got our coffee and went straight to the Acropolis gate and waited with all of the senior groups until they opened the gates. It was a beautiful site – the ruins were the oldest that I’ve ever seen from 580BC. They had a great deal of restoration work going on, in addition to the thousands of visitors that flooded through the gates – it made it quite difficult to get any nice pictures. Yet I find it kind of a game to see if you can get a shot that makes it look like I am the only person there…sometimes I win, and sometimes I lose. We walked all through the Acropolis and the surrounding buildings and museums in record time – but we had definitely seen enough by then. We hopped on our plane and took off for the Island of Santorini. However – first I was stopped at the airport security because I had more than 3 oz. of a liquid in my carry on bag. I was furious as I had gotten used to the lax security in the rest of the world. Not once on my travels has anyone cared about liquid – hell, in some airports there wasn’t even really security. Mainly I was mad at myself for not remembering the strict rules in the rest of the world…but it also saddened me to know that I had left my little quirky part of the world that wasn’t so locked down.
Santorini was perched high on rocky cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean and the volcano island of Nea Kameni. The waters surrounding Nea Kameni and Santorini were referred to as the Caldera. What really makes Santorini unique is the fact that this area is the youngest volcanic landform in the eastern Mediterranean. It is an active volcanic center, with the most recent eruption being a mere 50 years ago. We quickly got settled into our new hotel and went to explore the small town built on the cliff. It was a stunning vision of white buildings, blue shutters against a bright blue sky – just exactly what you would expect from the Mediterranean! The streets were narrow, too narrow for cars, therefore they were filled with tourists and donkeys. That night we settled in to watch the sunset at a bar called Francos – perched perfectly for the sunset. We sat on the further most edge overlooking the cliffs and the water, ordered wine and watched the show. Now I’ve seen many spectacular sunsets during my travels, but this one was different. Sure – the sun went down…yadda, yadda, yadda…but it all seemed to be choreographed to classical music – Andre Botticelli. As Miles and I sat there sipping our wine enjoying the view, I became aware that there was classical music playing loudly at the bar…it echoed up into the town. All of the sudden I got the feeling that I was watching the fountain show at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. The sun seems to dip in and out of the clouds as it reached the horizon, and it all seemed to match the music. Ok – maybe it was the wine and the giddiness of friends reuniting – but I swear – it seemed like it was timed perfectly!
Photo: Woman walking on the crater
The next day we decided to be touristy and took a day boat trip around the Caldera, out to the volcano and some other islands. The boat docked at the volcano and we followed our tour leader up, up, up to the active volcano crater. It was really rather interesting to hear her stories of the most recent eruption in the 50’s and her parents and grandparent’s memories of that day. Next we were off to the hot spring where you could take a dip in the warm water. As we neared the hot springs the guide told us that in order to get to the hot springs, you had to jump into the water where the boat anchored and then swim over to the springs. Meaning – you had to jump in the freezing cold water first and then gather yourself enough to swim over to the springs. I opted out of the hot spring dip choosing instead to photograph Miles in the freezing water! Needless to say – he was able to form friendships with some of the other crazies from our boat that also did the chilly swim – so it all worked out in the end…and I stayed dry! We stopped for lunch on another island and hung out with the new friends that Miles made. A little side note – Miles is constantly aware of his surroundings and the people in it. He can see someone once and then come across them again in a day or a week later on the street and have their whole story figured out in his head (I really don’t know how accurate his is – but I have no better ideas – so I believe him). He is constantly telling me:
“Those are the girls that were on our plane”
“That couple is from California and were at the restaurant we had wine at in Athens”
“That man was on the train to the airport with us”
My response…”huh? What man, what couple?? I don’t remember the restaurant let alone the couple – and how the hell do you know they were from California?!”
So of course Miles recognized Marty from our brief hotel hallway sighting and now he’s on our boat – I of course was oblivious. Miles invited him to join us for lunch and after many glasses of wine things got sloppy – but fun! When we docked back in the Santorini port it was a long, long walk up to the town on a little paved path full of switch backs in the hot sun. Miles and some of the other people from the boat decided to take a donkey up the path to the top. I decided that instead of sitting on an ass and riding to the top, I would work on my ass since it would take about 30 minutes to walk up – which meant that I would get my cardio exercise for the day…errr…week. I was to meet Miles back at the hotel – and I started the long walk up. After many stops, I finally made it to the top. A man working at a jewelry store, stopped me and asked me about my Cambodia shirt I was wearing. We started talking about travel, etc and before I knew it he was inviting me back to his apartment that night! Wow – I’m definitely not used to being hit on anymore as this came as a complete shock to me. In Asia – I don’t think one man even chatted me up – and now I have a Greek Rico Suave hitting on me…to top it off I was sweaty and gross after climbing the trail. I quickly said goodbye and found Miles to tell him the story. Miles laughed at the whole thing and said – well – at least you can enjoy the compliment that he was interested in you – it’s a good ego boost. Everyone needs a good ego boost periodically!
We had planned on meeting up with Marty from our hotel that night for sunset drinks, and dinner – he was a cool guy from New Zealand. He was a mechanic working in Libya. Every few months he would get 4 weeks off and then would travel off to some great destination and see the world. We met that night for sunset, had dinner and ended the night dancing our asses off at a little Irish bar filled with college students! I hadn’t done a night out like this for a long, long time. When Stayin’ Alive came over the speakers, Miles grabbed me and started to lead me in swing dancing. It took me a bit to get the hang of it again – but it all came back to me and it was like we were back in NY being goofy on the Lower East Side! Soon the bar patrons had formed a circle around us and we were entertaining the whole bar…like Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey…we were on display (however – there were no lifts!). Miles spun me faster and somehow in my ‘booze haze’ I managed to keep my footing and I didn’t end up on the sticky, beer-drenched floor (you laugh – but this did happen in NY once!) . After the song ended – the whole bar clapped for us – I’m not joking. College kids were giving us high-fives. Someone said once – “If you didn’t know your age, how old would you be?…my answer to that is 28…I still feel 28…and that night – I felt about 21 again! Especially when Marty bought me a rose from the young girl selling them in the bar!
We took it easy the next day and called it a lounging/reading day as we were to leave the next day on the ferry to Mykonos. However, when the next day rolled around, we found out that our ferry was cancelled due to bad weather! We looked into any other options to get to Mykonos, but realized that none of them made sense. We would have to stick it out in Santorini one more day unless we wanted to end up like the recent cruise boat that sunk in Santorini just a day before we arrived there. We sat around and played backgammon and cards most of the day while watching yet another choreographed sunset. We were both amused when a guy watching the sunset next to us recognized us from Saturday Night Fever dancing the night before in the bar. Actually – maybe I should have been embarrassed!
Luckily the next day the wind broke and the ferry’s were operating once again…yeah! We wanted to get to Mykonos because we heard that it had a great nightlife and Miles only had one last night before he had to leave for home…we had some partying to do! We arrived on the fast ferry and found our way through the cobblestone streets to our little hotel. The town of Mykonos is darling – especially if you have a lot of money burning a hole in your pocket and you like to shop. There are tons of high end clothing, and jewelry stores – but I forced myself to simply window shop and gaze at the good looking Greek men. We grabbed a cheap gyro and made out plan for the evening. Sunset cocktails, a few games of cards, and then dinner around 10PM and out for socializing afterwards. I loved the hours that they kept here – it reminded me of when I visited southern Turkey. People go out to dinner around 10PM, then go out partying until about 4AM, sleep until 11AM the next day and go to work (basically they open their shop then). They close the shop from 2:30 to 5:30 and often go nap. Reopen and start the whole cycle again. The strange thing is that this is not just the schedule for crazy, young partiers – but it seems to be the schedule that 70% of the population keeps. The shops are open well past midnight as everyone is out on the streets – it’s kind of like a small-scale Las Vegas.
After dinner Miles had picked out some bars to check out – a mix of gay bars and straight bars (a little for him, a little for me…perfect). I was downing espresso in order to stay awake after our cheese laden dinner – and eventually the caffeine kicked in and I was ready to go. We met some great people as we bar hopped around and ended up hanging out with a group of guys that basically bought us drinks all night. I could swear that one of them must be the son of a rich Greek shipping tycoon…he probably even dated Paris Hilton…oh wait a minute…he was gay…scratch the Paris Hilton thought. Regardless we drank glass after glass of champagne and had a fun time with our new friends until the wee hours of the morning.
The next day we recovered by taking a trip to the beach and laying out/napping. Miles took off for NY that afternoon and I was left on the corner wiping the tears from my eyes as I watched my good friend depart. I am always so sad when my travel companions leave me. Yet at the same time, I love being on my own and have a wonderful time traveling solo. I think it’s just the feeling of starting over again every time someone leaves. Yet not once have I wanted to go back with one of them, I would instead simply like them to stay with me!
Since I was on my own again I focused on photography and catching up on my sleep. The next day I changed hotels to the cheaper out of the city center hotel that is more in my travel budget. I went into town in the afternoon and had a salad and a glass of wine and worked on writing. Let me just tell you – Greek salads are wonderful – I honestly can’t get enough of them. I’ve had one every day I’ve been here. They’d be really healthy for you if it wasn’t for the hunk of feta on top…but it’s oh sooo good! As I was enjoying my lunch all of a sudden the little café waiter brought me a 2nd glass of wine – I was surprised and then he told me that the table behind me bought it for me. I turned around and there was a table of 3 Greek middle aged men – they toasted me…”Yamas!” I said thank you in Greek (of course I murdered the pronunciation – but I tried and that’s what counts!) After a little bit they invited me over to their table and I decided – what the hell…it’s the middle of the afternoon and I might as well meet some locals. Three glasses of wine later…I still sat with them as we tried our best to converse…their English was ok and my Greek was non-existent beyond Cheers and Thank you! I thoroughly enjoyed myself as I learned about them and Mykonos from a local’s perspective – it made me so happy to interact with people other than shop salespeople or tourists. Maybe I could find culture in Europe after all! Of course by the end of the afternoon I had to reject their offers of more wine as well as their offer of going out with them that night as they were more interested in a romantic relationship – and I wasn’t. So I wobbled off saying goodbye to my new friends, once again enjoying the ego boost of someone being interested in me…even if they were 15 years older than me and didn’t speak English…I’ll take what I can get!
As I walked through the town, I met various people that I had met the night before when we were out. It was fun to talk to them again and feel like I was part of the town and not just someone here to buy jewelry. Greece has been a way for me to get back to some of my old socializing and partying ways – and it was fun change for a while! However it was mainly a good time due to being able to hang out with Miles, eat tons of tomatoes and feta, meet some of the locals, and get a much needed ego boost.