Gyro to Hero: Tales from the Grecian Isles

One 7-hour ferry ride later, we arrived on Santorini. After our first two days in Santorini, I was going to write a 5,000 word rave about its fairytaleness. Luckily for you all, I waited until my memory had done its thang and filtered through all the uninteresting (what!? never!) details and now I can’t come up with 5,000 words on it for you. Unless a picture is worth a thousand. LOOK AT THIS!

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Sorry, didn’t mean to go all capital-letters on you, but it is just as dreamy as it looks. That’s really all you need to know. But I’ll tell you more anyway.

Dana and I followed the recommendation of a friend of ours and stayed in Oìa, one of Santorini’s two major towns (the other one being Fira). Like true budget travelers, we found ourselves in a house-converted-into-hostel, run by a charming old Greek woman and her husband. She gave us the lowdown on what to do and see and how to find the rooms in broken English, which she had taught herself (“You can look the windmill here” “Coffee and tea is for every time”).

Oìa’s laid-back, whitewashed island atmosphere inspired us to take a true vacation. We saw some sights, but at a leisurely pace. Lots of rooftop wine bars were involved in our 4 days on the island. We made some new friends  — we happened to be on a rooftop with some American girls. They offered to take our photo, and we got to talking and discovered that all of us lived near Lille, and they were assistants too! We had mutual friends and everything. We spent some time eating and drinking with them until they left, a day before us. We also met a couple from Napa on their honeymoon (they screamed SoCal)  and a group of moms who were taking a consolation vacay to commiserate about having to send their sons off to college. They were the sweetest, funnest ladies, and we want to be them when we grow up.

We went on two little excursions which both involved volcanic beaches and swimming. The first was to the bottom of our cliff, in Ia, where there was a small port (as seen in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants). The water was clear blue and cold.

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Another excursion was to the active crater on the volcanic island in the middle of Santorini’s caldera, and some hot springs. We had to take a boat from the capital city, Fira, for this one. We encountered yet another aspect of Greek culture: reluctance to reveal all the information about an excursion before embarking. We were on the boat when they informed us that there would be a 2-euro entrance fee for the attraction we had already paid to see! Nice one, tour company, nice one. The view from the top may have been worth the price, though.

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The hot springs weren’t hot, but they were warm. But they also neglected to mention the nice little 50-meter swim through the ocean to get to them. We braved the cold anyhow, craving a swim after the long, hot hike and boat ride.

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After Santorini, we moved on to Crete. It had been my dream to go to Crete ever since I’d learned about it, in 4th grade, as the birthplace of Greek civilization and where Theses slew the minotaur! We didn’t make it to the Palace of Knossos, but we were close enough. Crete was very different from Santorini. It’s HUGE. We stayed in Rethymno, a small town between the two big cities, and it took over an hour on the bus to get there. The beaches were much more familiar looking, and we decided that it was more representative of real Grecian island life.

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The water was warmer, too. That guy had the right idea.

It was also cool because it has some of everything: sun, beach, fortress, and snow! Here’s the view from the old Venetian fortress:

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In short, it was a beautiful, much-needed vacation. Dana was the best travel buddy, all the people we met were fantastic, and I’ll never forget the views! We made it home from Athens after an overnight boat, one more day of touring, and a flight which we caught at 6:15 AM (so we woke up at 2:30 AM…). Needless to say, I slept most of yesterday.

Next up? Toulouse! TBC

Gyro to Hero: Tales from the Grecian Isles

The City of Brighton & Hove

Most of my anglophone best friends from this year happen to be British. I was surprised, upon arrival, to find that they nearly outnumbered the Americans, as I’d been unaware that they had a similar program to TAPIF in Britain (and they can even do it as their year abroad, during their studies). Although we technically all speak English, having British friends was a linguistic adventure. Especially in the beginning, there were lessons to be learned about common words and phrases that either don’t exist or don’t have the same meaning in American English. For instance, “put the trash in the trash can,” becomes “put the rubbish in the bin.” Trucks are lorries, “pissed” refers to drunkenness rather than anger, and I am routinely asked to “come round for tea” instead of to come hang out over dinner. My best friend Laura, from Scotland, gave out tea towels with some fun Scottish words, like “numpty,” and “crabbit,” as a going away present. Even though language lumps us together, the similarities only go so far…and the UK and the US do have very different cultures.

Dana and I finally got to experience some UK culture during our Spring Break kickoff weekend by the sea, in Brighton, England. Officially, it’s, “the City of Brighton and Hove,” and it was originally designed as a “healthy” getaway for British socialites and aristocrats. It has since become a student city, with a lively nighttime scene and an arcade-and-amusement-park pier for families wanting a day or a weekend away from London (it’s only about an hour from there by train). There were freshly made churros and donuts (really, they made them before our very eyes), candy floss (cotton candy in British), crêpes, ice cream, burgers, and fish and chips aplenty!

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After a really long bus ride, Dana and I made our first stop the pier, for a game of DDR (Dance Dance Revolution, for those of you who weren’t 90s babes). I am sorely out of practice, so while Dana beasted “Difficult” I tripped over my feet next to her. We walked down by the ocean, the cries of seagulls and the smell of frying dough contributing to the vacationy ambiance.

This was, quite sadly, our last hurrah with our English friends. They were chaperoning a U of Valenciennes trip to England, so with students in tow we went out for a drink on the first night. It was a Saturday, and the streets were crazy! The bar we ended up in had a DJ but no dance floor…so we danced in our chairs. I discovered my new favorite cider, which is Swedish and comes in many fruity flavors.

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The next day, our only full day in the city, Dana and I wandered the “Lanes,” Brighton’s hipstery shopping streets. It was a European Portland — every road had at least one cute independent coffee shop advertising cold brew, stores full of vintage treasures and colorful Asian-inspired garment shops leaking incense into the street. I touched pretty much every beautiful leather handbag that crossed my path. It was an afternoon of longing gazes and angry exclamations about the pound to dollar conversion rate. And of course we had to stop at Starbucks for our midday beverage, as we’ve been deprived of it in France for so long.

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When in the UK, eat Indian food! So we heard, and so we did. Our curry dinner at the Curry Leaf Café was “quite spicy” and super delicious (with a little serving of yogurt for us spice wimps, that is). We later went with our friends to another Indian restaurant, The Chilli Pickle, where I got some honey-drizzled naan for an after dinner treat.

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And of course, our final meal had to be fish and chips — true English cuisine. We ate it on the beach, taking extra care to protect it from the doggedly nose-diving seagulls. It was battered to perfection, golden brown and crispy and best when drizzled in ketchup and vinegar, a perfect last meal of the weekend.

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The saddest part was saying au revoir to my dear lecteur friends, who I’ll only see one more time before I leave for my next adventure in Toulouse. It was a lovely last hurrah. I’m writing this post from the plane on the way to Athens, Greece, where we’ll be when I post my next post! Stay tuned for more Spring Break adventures.

The City of Brighton & Hove