Athens, Greece. I’m actually here. In GREECE!!!!! Maybe not everyone gets this, but for those of us who love to travel, we can think back to the time and place that we chose our bucket list travel destinations.
As the 2016 Summer Olympics have just come to a close, I’m reminded of the time my dad took my sister and me to the 1996 Centennial Olympic games. When you’re young, you don’t really understand the significance of things like this. I knew I loved the Winter Olympics for ice skating and the Summer Olympics for gymnastics. My sister and I watched every Olympic Games religiously. To go to the Centennial Games was really “cool”. My sister and I were die-hard NBA fans, and showed our support by sporting our basketball jerseys. My sister loved Shaq and I was down for Reggie Miller, as you can clearly see. (Yes, we have always been this cute).
My dad took us to several track sessions, and to the Georgia Dome to watch the Dream Team play. As you can imagine, gymnastics tickets were nearly impossible to get for an affordable price. This was the year the Magnificent Seven won the hearts of the world, particularly when Kerri Strug stuck that landing and broke her ankle. I’m certain these experience solidified my love for the Games and as I grew older it became more than watching routines and blinged-out leotards. I learned to truly respect the athletic talent of the competitors and appreciate positive stories surrounding many of the athletes. In a world of political unrest, watching the world come together in friendly competition fills my heart every 2 years, and if I’m honest, makes me a sappy little baby for a few weeks.
To one day come to Greece where it all started became a dream of mine.
Fast forward a few years to the time I heard about a Santorini sunset. This actually became my number one bucket list item, even before Italy, although I assumed it would be with my husband on our honeymoon. As the idea of a honeymoon became more unrealistic, my ideas of how to get to Santorini and see a sunset by myself did not.
So here I am all these years later! The ancient Olympic Games were actually held in Olympia, Greece in 776BC. I realized as I was conducting research for my trip that I’d be unable to get there. In fact, Greece offers many beautiful locations that are inconvenient to reach, requiring hours of travel. Given the lack of a car and the little amount of time I have here, I’m going to have to save much of that for another time.
When I arrived to the airport, I grabbed a taxi and gave the driver the address of where I was meeting my friend, Barbara. He was very confused and after multiple Google map attempts and finally a call to Barbara, he was finally able to get me to my destination. Evidently, it’s a known fact the taxi drivers have no idea where anything is. Comforting. I also learned Barbara speaks fluent Greek. Comforting!
Barbara is a fitness competitor who I watched on my Fitness Atlantic 2013 DVD a million times when I decided I was going to compete and was trying to figure out what in the heck I’d signed up for. She was striking and her stage presence was on point, so I watched her over and over to try to figure out what I needed to do in my upcoming April 2014 show. Coincidentally, in the months following I saw a comment she made on Facebook and realized who she was. I sent her a private message to let her know what an inspiration she was to me during that time, and we became fast friends. I remember shopping in NYC with her one Christmas and learning her family was from Greece. We talked about how one day maybe I could travel there when she was there for an annual summer trip. I dismissed it as one of those conversations you have that never really happens…
I (finally) arrived at Barbara’s brother’s condo in Varkiza, and after negotiating a taxi fare with the driver, met up with Barbara and we headed off to the beach! At this point, it was about 10:30AM in Greece – but 2:00AM back home. My sleep on the plane was poor, and consisted of short and infrequent naps. I was exhausted, so lying at the beach sounded amazing. The skies were a clear blue, and the ocean a clear aqua green. The beach wasn’t too crowded, and I laid on the chair under an umbrella sipping iced coffee. Even the caffeine wasn’t enough to fight my exhaustion and the warm sun and I drifted off into a much needed nap.
After several hours at the beach, we walked back to Barbara’s brother’s condo and showered for our evening in Athens. It had cooled down to a comfortable temperature and we ascended the Acropolis just as the sun was setting.
The Acropolis dates back to the 400s BC, and is an archaeological site rich in history and architectural wonder.
The tourists were few and the beauty of the city from the top of the Acropolis was vast. Surprisingly, entrance to the site was a whopping 20 euro. A little high, in my opinion, but quite enjoyable, and to look down on Athens as the sun set was an experience I won’t soon forget.
Afterward, we grabbed some nuts, (an old favorite from when Barbara was younger), and some coffee. We then went to Montastiraki at the recommendation of my friend back home, and walked around perusing stores and taking in the sights before settling at Ελαία for dinner on the rooftop terrace. At this point it was dark and the Acropolis was all lit up. A sight to see!
Barbara and I enjoyed pita bread and tzatziki, a delicious Greek salad with killer kalamata olives (my fave), and some Moussaka, which according to Barbara, was prepared in the traditional fashion. We enjoyed some Loukoumades, which I would describe as the Greek equivalent to sopapillas – delicious little dough balls covered in honey.
At this point I was falling asleep mid-conversation, so we called it a night and headed back home to prepare for our early morning flight to Santorini! What a wonderful first day in Greece with a great friend who doubles as an excellent tour guide!