Never be afraid to do what makes you happy.
March 25 was a national holiday in Greece celebrating the beginning of the revolution against the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire occupied Greece from 1453 until a peace treaty was signed war in 1829. (Since this is my blog and not a research paper, I’m not going to cite my sources. If you’d like to read more, I highly recommend Google.)
I was grateful for the opportunity to experience Greek Independence Day. Children dressed up in costumes for classes on Thursday; when I looked out from my sixth floor balcony, I could see billowing blue and white flags on almost every other balcony.
Since I had a three-day weekend, I decided that I wanted to explore one of the beautiful areas around Thessaloniki. However, no one else in my study abroad program wanted to travel with me.
So I decided to travel alone.
I was a little worried, but not a lot. I was already familiar with the bus station in Thessaloniki as well as the culture and environment of northern Greece. So I booked myself an AirBnB (which I’d never stayed in before), woke up at 7 a.m. on Friday morning and bought myself a one-way ticket to Kavala!
Kavala is a port city in northern Greece. When you Google pictures of Greece, it’s not a city that shows up in the first 4 pages (yes, I checked,) which is a shame because Kavala was incredibly beautiful.
Every time I thought I found the best view, I turned a corner and there was an even better picture waiting a few steps away.
My weekend in Kavala consisted of:
Kavala was amazing and I hope to go back before the end of the semester, hopefully when it’s a bit warmer.
Find Your Happy Place
Before I end this post and shamelessly direct you to the page where I’ve posted some of the pictures of my trip, I’d like to take a moment to encourage more people to travel alone.
Traveling alone is peaceful in a way that is difficult to describe. I didn't have to worry about getting to do or see everything I wanted. I also didn't have to struggle to please everyone else while traveling. I didn't have to meet anyone else's expectations of what vacation or a trip should be.
This isn't to say I'll never travel with other people again, because I definitely will. But my trip helped me understand that I can also be content on my own.
I was able to set my own expectations and didn't feel stressed if I didn't fulfill them. I was able to move at my own pace, to stop when I wanted, to keep going when I didn't want to stop.
I loved traveling alone, which wasn't what I expected to feel. I was content to be alone when, normally, I prefer to be surrounded by other people.
Granted, I still can't go very long without messaging friends and family or making new friends as I visit new places.
But after my trip to Kavala, I realized I’m going to be just fine traveling alone again.
Of all of the places around the world I have visited, Delphi is the first of which I would return.
Athens to Delphi
Sunday morning, bright and early, our bus drove away from Athens and toward Delphi. Delphi is situated between sharp curving roads and steep mountain ridges; our wonderful driver conquered both and we arrived safely in Delphi just before lunch.
Ivory and Gold
One of the coolest things about Delphi is the museum, which was, by far, my favorite museum in all of Greece. I loved all of the sculptures and artifacts preserved within the museum.
According to our tour guide, the only ivory and gold statues known to have survived from Ancient Greece are in the museum at Delphi. After a fire, the statues were buried (rather than being thrown out) so as not to offend the gods. Thousands of years later the three statues were discovered under the stones of the pathway up the mountain.
The three statues were a testament to the extraordinary craftsmanship of ancient artists as well as the immense wealth that was contained within Delphi during the prime years of the site.
The ivory statue of Artemis, twin sister of Apollo, was blackened during a fire.
Apollo and Dionysus
Delphi was magically beautiful and words can barely describe how remarkable it felt to walk in the footsteps of the gathering place of travelers from around the ancient world.
Our tour guide was also so amazing! The way she described ancient Delphi and the people who lived and visited the site was astounding. She discussed how the god of the mind (Apollo) and the god of heart (Dionysus) were worshiped in the same temple and how ancient people believed that knowledge and curiosity were divine.
Thoughts to Live By
Several of the things she said really hit home with me:
‘The more you want to know, the better human you become.’
'No idea is original; we keep repeating the same mistakes.’
‘History is there for us to learn from it. But of course we don’t.'
‘Remember that you’re human and respect yourself.’
Your Adventure is Your Own
Standing where people from around the ancient world gathered to hear the advice of the oracle of Delphi was one of the most remarkable experiences of my entire life. History isn't what you see in the movies. Photographs show only a fraction of the view.
Like the people who worshiped Apollo and Dionysus at Delphi, you have to think and feel when you're traveling; when you're experiencing new places; when you're standing in a place that you will likely never stand again. Don't rush through. Don't simply pause long enough to take the photo. And don't think you have to smell every rose unless you truly want to.
Your life, your adventure, is what you make it. The oracle offered advice to guide you toward your own decision. Learn from history and know thyself.
The more places I go the more I appreciate the beauty and the simplicity of the city in which I currently reside: Thessaloniki.
Bus Rides are Fun!
Last Friday morning a group of twenty-nine study abroad students, including myself, drove off in a passenger bus headed to Athens. The trip seemed to take forever, mostly because it’s a Greek law that the bus driver must stop ever two hours. However, the views along the way were beautiful.
First Impressions of Athens
When we arrived in Athens, we drove around the city a bit before locating our hotel. From there a group of us wandered around and found a strip restaurants and souvenir shops.
Looking up, boom, there was the Acropolis! It wasn’t what I’d pictured in my head, staring up at a very high hill with a flat top.
The Acropolis Museum makes the list of Tripadvisors top ten things to do in Athens, and I’d agree. It was really cool to look down between my feet and see the excavation site of ancient ruins.
My favorite part of the museum was the caryatid statues. The five remaining statues are intricately carved and gloriously beautiful. I spent quite some time gazing up at the hair on the statues wishing that I could recreate the style.
A Day in Athens
Saturday we spent the entire day in Athens. Our adventure included visiting the Acropolis and seeing the Parthenon, a trip to the Greek and Roman Angoras and an afternoon to ourselves in the city during which a few frineds and myself walked to the ruins of the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
All around, Athens was wonderful.
Live and Learn
Something I didn’t enjoy in Athens was the pushiness of the restaurant people. One man stood in front of us, trying to block our path, with his arms outstretched.
I suppose I’ve gotten spoiled in Thessaloniki by the general lack of tourism. But when we were immediately identified as tourists in Athens, not only were the locals trying to persuade us inside, they also only spoke in English.
Dissimilarly, when I was grocery shopping in Thessaloniki last night the woman at the cash register spoke in Greek. I gave her a blank look before asking “Αγγλικά?”
She laughed and said, “I thought you were Greek!”
This moment struck me as when I realized that I’m not just studying abroad. I’m living abroad. I’m a member of the community in which I live. I visit the bakery and am greeted by friendly faces; I smile at the gyros man when I walk past; and I feel comfortable wandering around my neighborhood without Google maps in my hand.
I might be a tourist in a lot of ways. But when I’m in Thessaloniki I don’t feel like a tourist. And that, in and of itself, is worth living abroad.
Part Two Will Be Uploaded in a Few Days: A Day in Delphi
Never let fear stop you from trying something new.
This past weekend I visited Istanbul. It was incredible! The city was beautiful, the food was amazing and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Alec, Michael and myself flew to Istanbul Friday morning. After landing, our hostel picked us up for a flat fee. I would definitely recommend trying to find a hostel that offers this service.
The three of us walked around the city, found a place for a late lunch and then climbed Galata Tower. We could see for miles!
It was also astonishing to be surrounded by tourists once more. In Thessaloniki, as far as I can tell, the majority of the other tourists are actually other Greeks, and mostly high-schoolers. When I visited Crete, it was off-season and only the locals were around. Therefore, it was a new level of culture shock to be back in an environment where tourists are abundant.
Sights, Foods and the Bazaar
By Saturday, the last member of our group, Meredith, had arrived and the four of us made our way to the Old City of Istanbul.
Before we could even make it to the sights, we were dragged into a Turkish carpet store. While I knew I didn’t want to buy anything, it was really fun to watch the men try to sell a group of backpacking college student giant Turkish rugs. It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience.
After escaping the salesmen, we visited the Hagia Sophia, the Basicila Cistern and the Blue Mosque.
The Blue Mosque was easily my favorite.
Next we grabbed a bite to eat at a Kurdish restaurant. One of the men at the restaurant was a terrible flirt and informed Meredith and I that the colors of our headscarves suited us very well. At the end of our meal, he also made two napkin flowers and gave them to Michael and Alec to pass onto ‘their girlfriends.’
From there we walked to the bazaar and were sold on a few items. I ended up with a beautiful ‘silver/amethyst/ruby’ ring. My favorite part was bargaining with the man who kept calling me angel and telling me I was breaking his heart when I offered him a lower price. (I talked him down from 125 LT to 80 LT, so I felt pretty good about the transaction.)
From there we watched the sunset on the water as we looked across the Bosphorous Strait before grabbing supper in Taksim square and seeing a bit of the nightlight in Istanbul.
On Sunday, we hopped on the ferry to Asia!! I know it sounds cheesy, but visiting Asia was something I did not expect to do during my semester abroad. So I was ridiculously excited to go. I also love boats and the ferry was a fun experience and great for taking pictures!
Don't Let Fear Hold You Back
Looking back on how wonderful Istanbul was, I keep remember that I almost didn’t go.
When a couple of my guy friends said they were going, I thought to myself, “I have no desire to visit Istanbul.”
Then, a group of five people from our program visited and I saw the pictures. Add to that, another group of five people was going the next weekend. So, after a lot of thought, I decided that I would also like to visit Istanbul.
I’ll admit, I was actually pretty nervous. Istanbul seems scary because Turkey borders along Syria and there has been more than one story in the news recently about attacks in the city. However, I decided that fear wasn’t going to be a deciding factor in whether or not I was going to visit Istanbul.
I’d say I made the right decision
Remember the People
My weekend in Istanbul was amazing. The sights and views were breathtaking. However, my trip wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun as it was with the group of people I went with.
Thank you Alec, Michael and Meredith for making our adventure through Istanbul a trip of a lifetime!
Left to right: Alec, Meredith, Michael and me.
My name is Hunter and this the blog of my worldwide adventures. The purpose of this blog is to show that you can be a traveler, not just a tourist.