The next morning I woke up bright and early in preparation for my fancy Greek breakfast and when the door knock came, I opened my door and they brought in my breakfast to the room. Just a few minutes later, another knock came and when I opened the door, one of the hotel staff was gesturing out over the southern half of the island and wanted me to step outside. He didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Greek so I decided to trust him. Not really the logic but I decided that he must have something to show me and there were other people milling around so it must be okay. So I stepped outside and looked in the direction of where he was pointing. It had been raining all morning and there was now a break in the clouds and a beautiful, bright rainbow in the horizon. It was probably one of the most vivid rainbows I have ever seen in my life and it was amazing. I thanked him for getting me out of my room to see it because it was washed away just a few seconds later by the rain. And by thanked, I mean, I attempted to thank him in English, he got the idea but I’m not sure he fully understood what I was trying to say to him. Regardless it was very sweet of him, and I think he knew that I was grateful he had pointed it out to me.
I went back into the warmth of my room and decided to move my breakfast to my bed and eat breakfast in bed because I could. I took a relatively slow and leisurely time getting ready, getting dressed and packing the remainder of my life into my bag until it was time to grab my shuttle to the airport. I have to admit that the ride to the airport was definitely a splurge but it was worth not trying to grab a taxi and I had the same shuttle driver as when I had arrived. We chatted about my time on the island, what I had done and chatted about his favorite things about Santorini. I actually learned quite a bit about the island such as the fact that there is only a 3-4 month window every year where they can fix up the buildings because the rest of the year is all tourism focused. He dropped me off at the airport and I promised him that I would see him next time I’m in Santorini because I already know that I need to go back, and I walked into the airport.
I waited for my flight at one of the three gates of the entire airport. We were actually the only flight out at that time and eventually made my way onto the bus and then the airplane. We took off from Santorini and I was officially on my way to Belgrade. One thing about getting from Santorini to anywhere is that during this time of year, I had to fly through Athens regardless of where I was going. I actually sat on a regular size single aisle aircraft (Boeing 737 on the way there and Airbus 319 on the way out) so I think they could technically fly to other locations outside of Athens. But the airline I took as a local to Greece airline and I’m not sure they have as many destinations outside of Greece. I stopped in Athens for my four hour layover where I made full use of my priority pass and got myself into a lounge for the layover. I enjoyed some snacks and then made my way to the gate.
The Athens airport is super easy to navigate get through. I would say that it is one of the easier airports to get around and hang out in. Even though I had a four hour layover there, it wasn’t a terrible place to hang out while I waited for my flight to Serbia.
With about an hour before my flight, I decided that it was time for me to be productive and go get Serbian currency before I landed in Serbia. Funny story, I had actually tried to get Serbian currency in Seattle but my bank didn’t sell it. Then I tried in the Seattle airport and they didn’t carry it. So I tried in Amsterdam during my layover on the way to Athens and they didn’t carry it. So when I decided that I needed to try and get it before I landed in Serbia so I went to one teller and they sold it but had run out. So I went on a hunt for another foreign currency exchange desk and they had also run out. I decided that this was a sign I wasn’t going to get any Serbian currency before I got to Belgrade, but I had to make sure I got it from my hotel as soon as I landed.
I got to my gate, only to realize that the flight to Istanbul before mine hadn’t boarded yet and I was supposed to board in about 10 minutes. So I sat there and waited for something to update to tell me if my flight was delayed or what gate I should be heading to. Eventually about 20 minutes after we were supposed to board, they made an announcement and told us that we had been moved to another gate. So I booked it over to the other gate, which was a funny experience because I had about 100 other people following me and it was unnerving because it felt like people thought I knew what I was doing when I didn’t. But I made it to my gate, we boarded and took off, an hour later, but I was officially on my way to Serbia. I was officially on my way to my 30th country.
On my drive from Los Angeles to Seattle, I decided that I wanted to do some Audible books on my drive up. So I settled for The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. To be honest, my little Corolla isn’t in tip top condition and I’ve blown out at least one speaker, if not two so it was a little hard to hear the book on the trip up. Plus, my car is a bit older so the road noises were definitely louder than what you would hear in some of the newer cars. And, my car doesn’t actually have a hook up for my phone so I’m using an FM transmitter to play my phone when I drive. I may or may not have actually listened to only about 50% of the book on the drive to Seattle. I recently started listening to the book again at work as a to better myself instead of listening to music but I find that I keep getting distracted by other things so it’s hard to stay focused on a book.
That being said, I’ve noticed that ever since I started listening to the book over the two attempts, I have slowly started to notice a change in my habits. Of course, I can’t say that this is due to the book but I can say that I have started to care less and less. Granted, I have to admit that I think a large portion of this is attributed to the fact that over the last three years, my jobs have challenged me in such a way that the only true way to survive the ridiculousness is to learn how to stop caring too much about it. By finding a way to let it go after I exit the door every day and finding a way to focus strictly on my statement of work rather than on the people that can affect me.
Regardless, I have begun to notice that my ability to care about what people think of me has decreased more and more over time. I do think it comes with growing up and I think it does come with the territory of moving from place to place. But I’ve noticed that my actions and the way I am in public has drastically become more carefree and I am actually pretty okay with that.
As I type this, I am sitting in a coffee shop in Seattle moving to the music I’m listening to and constantly staring off into space. I didn’t realize I was doing this until I realized that the table is constantly shaking since I can’t seem to sit still and I keep making awkward eye contact with people at my table. I’m sitting at a coffee shop that has communal tables so I’m not necessarily making friends, but I am definitely sitting with a bunch of strangers as I bob along to my music. Come to think of it, hopefully they don’t mind….Oops.
But I have noticed that my ability to care about how I come off to others has drastically decreased. I stare a lot more (rude, I know, working on it) but I’ve developed a love of people watching and observing who is around me and my surroundings. I’ll try not to stare as much but I won’t make any promises there. I have been caught multiple times dancing at my desk because I love my music. I have purple/blue/blonde/gray/white/pink hair right now because I got a little colored conditioner happy over the last few weeks and I am excessively loud. Also, I’m more comfortable sitting with my legs on my chair than I am sitting like a proper lady. Come to this realization has made me wonder what drives this new lack of self awareness or rather this lack of awareness around public opinion.
I think what sparked this was that I was at a conference recently where we had an end party that was amazing. There was a DJ and a huge dance floor and I got dancing like there was legitimately no tomorrow. We danced for four hours there then made our way to the club where I danced for another two hours. Let’s set something straight first though, my dancing is not sexy. My dancing is not coordinated. My body does not body roll, my arms do not look wavy but rather like sticks shooting out in different directions and my body is not fluid. I trip over my own feet often when I dance, and sometimes it reminds people of the Elaine dance from Seinfeld. I usually have one signature move that I am obsessed with for a few months and right now it’s a full body shimmy. Not in a sexy way but almost in a compulsive full body shake. And to be honest, I probably should have been more aware of myself and my surroundings especially at this party because it was a work party and I was surrounded by people who are supposed to take me seriously. The best part of all of this is that I was 100% sober because I am highly allergic to alcohol. But I love to dance so nothing will stop me.
And honestly, even though I probably looked like a fool during that party but it was one of my favorite things. Some of my favorite memories with friends is when we do dance parties and sometimes, my favorite thing to do is blast music in my apartment and jump around like no one is watching (cause no one is). But I think that this has been what started the lack of caring how I look. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life worrying about what others think of me and how I can be cool. I may not be cool, but I am happy. I am comfortable with who I am, how I look and I can focus my energy on other things like plotting how to travel more, how many books I can read in a 12 month period of time and all the delicious food there is in the entire world.
If I had to give one piece of advice for the rest of my life, it would be: Caring what others think is a lot easier than not caring about what others think. Spend the rest of your life not caring and that will be conquering the greatest challenge.
I started the hike back to the city center and on my way, found some cats that I tried to befriend from a distance. I’m very allergic to cats but I love them and would love to be best friends with all cute animals. Of course, the allergies play a major role in my ability to actually be their friends so I just talk to them like a crazy person from a distance. One thing that I noticed was that there are a lot more cats roaming around Fira than dogs but I saw more dogs around Oia than cats. I’m not sure why the difference in stray animals considering how close the cities are to each other but definitely an interesting observation. The cats, obviously ignored me (as did the dogs in Oia) which made me wonder if animals would respond better to me if I spoke them in Greek. Obviously I don’t know Greek, but it was funny to think about. I had a friend in high school who had a dog who only understand Spanish. It was amazing, but obviously made me feel bad about myself because I can’t communicate in simple terms in other languages but these animals can. I guess I need to step up my game when it comes to other languages.
I finally found myself in city center and given that it wasn’t the tourist season, most of the restaurants were closed so I went looking for a grocery store. If you didn’t know this already, I use grocery stores as a key source of food when I travel alone. If I’m feeling excessively lazy or don’t really wanna deal with human interaction, I will go buy my dinner and snacks from a grocery store and eat somewhere else. Usually somewhere with a view, but sometimes my room if I’m tired. I do this because it’s significantly cheaper to purchase food from a grocery store, you don’t have to deal with as many people and you have the ability to go somewhere that has a better view/atmosphere. So I was on a hunt for a grocery store since I wasn’t really in the mood to do a sit down restaurant. I found one, but it didn’t really have any good take away foods that I could use for my room and so the dinner hunt continued.
Luckily I found a restaurant that a street food vendor that was selling gyros and so I thought it was the perfect place for me to go for dinner. I was about to leave Greece so I might as well eat some authentic Greek food, authentic Greek street food to be exact. So I purchased a lamb gyro to go with all the fixings and made my way back to my room.
I tried to take in as many fo the store fronts and wander down streets I’ve never walked before on the way to the hotel, which was actually much harder to do since the town is relatively small. Plus, since the sun had set and I was walking around by myself, it was a little unnerving to walk down streets with a bunch of closed stores and no one around. I know that it must have been safe and that there wouldn’t have been any issues, especially given how nice people were but I just can’t change my habits. I will always be super cautious regardless of where I go because don’t want the one time that you let your guard down to be the day something terrible happens. When I knew I was alone, I would speed walk back to the main roads to make sure I was safe and eventually I found myself at my hotel.
I settled down on my balcony with my Kindle and just stared out into the night trying to take in the rest of Santorini before I got back to reality. I have to admit that it was probably the most peaceful portion of my trip and this may have been my second favorite moment thus far, definitely one of my top 10 favorite moments of all time. That balcony, that view, the quiet around me, and the smell of the water was literally the perfect combination and best way to end my time in Greece. Finally, the temperatures dropped low enough that I made my way back into my hotel room and got ready for the next leg of my journey.
Belgrade, Serbia – it was time.
While I sat on a wall by the Three Bells of Fira and blue domed church, I stared out over the coastline and the volcano. The beauty of the church against the Aegean Sea backdrop was unbelievable. To be honest, I think that I was sitting there because I was tired of walking and was over walking up and down stairs. The day of wandering had really taken it out of me which is embarrassing because it was still relatively early in my three week journey of adventuring but I was tired. Stairs can really force all the energy out of you at a significantly faster rate than expected.
As I sat there to truly catch my breath and cool down, I took some time to reflect. I was still within the first week of the solo portion of my trip and I had officially set foot in my 29th country. The next day I would be flying to my 30th country and I would be achieving my goal of 30 countries and I needed to take the time to really think about how that made me feel. Here’s what was running through my head while I sat there looking out over the coastline, on the verge of hitting my 30th country.
- Is this for real? Santorini cannot be a real place and I am just imaging it all. This place is absurdly beautiful and must be a dream. I mean… Look at it. It is unreal.
- What if I never go home? What if I just sit on this wall and miss my flight to Serbia? I’m sure the hotel would be okay if I jut continued renting out that room.
- Could I afford renting that room for even longer? Maybe they’ll give me a discount for living there permanently. What would I do for a job?
- How is it possible that I am about to set foot on my 30th country? How is it possible that I am currently chilling in my 29th country? Did I actually think that this was possible when I set up this goal? No. Flat no. When I decided to set this goal, deep down I was afraid that I wouldn’t achieve this and for a hot minute there, I didn’t think I would. I mean, with two job changes, two state moves, how have I accumulated enough time off to make this happen?
- Everything about this scenario is 100% unexpected. I set this goal for 30 countries in 2014 after getting out of the rut and had never traveled alone before. There was always someone waiting for me on the other side of the flight and here I am, sitting by myself on a wall in Santorini, Greece about to hit my goal. It’s weird to think that one event can be the catalyst for changing everything about yourself and forcing you take risks that you never thought you could take. Would I be sitting here if it hadn’t been for that loss? Would I have traveled at this rate if it hadn’t been for that loss? Would something else have happened that would have propelled me in this direction? Is this where my life was supposed to end up?
- Remember to work to live. Work isn’t everything and this is proof within itself. I have a job that allowed me to do this and now I’m seeing one of the most beautiful sunsets of my life. If it hadn’t been for this job, I would be sitting somewhere else contemplating other things.
- Be thankful. I am thankful (yes this came out as an inner monologue). More thankful than I think I can ever truly express and put into words.
- Okay, I’m cold.
- I should get some dinner before I head into the room and repack. Oh crap, I need to repack for the flight. Hopefully I can compress everything down so that I can squeeze my bag into the tiny overhead bins. Wait? Am I taking a prop plane back to Athens tomorrow? Set reminder on my phone so that I can check when I get back to wifi.
And with that, I began to make my way back down to the real world and off the city center to go find some food.
After finally making it to the top of the staircases and successfully avoiding all of the donkey poop landmines because, yes, they are a real thing, I started my way around the rest of Fira. It was getting close to sunset and I wanted to make sure I saw the city with enough time to wander around before I settled in for the night and repacked to make my way to the next destination.
Around Fira, you’ll find little signs on the sides of buildings that will give you directions to major landmarks within the city. I wish that Oia had these, especially for the blue domed church but that’s okay, since I still had the chance to wander around and really get to know that city. The only destination that I found within Fira that I hadn’t really had a chance to see was the Three Bells of Fira which is their major blue domed church. Taking a quick wander around the entire city, I had seen the three bells without realizing it because as you take the major walkways along the coastline, you’ll see the bells but you have to be above the church or at least the same level in order to even get a peek at the blue dome of the church. From the coastline walk way, you will not notice the dome. To be honest, I didn’t even realize that the blue dome existed until I kept seeing the little maps that were posted along the walls of some of the buildings. They are these small squares that show where you are in relation to the landmarks. I decided that I needed to the see the top of the church so I followed the map.
Along my journey, I actually started to run into people or rather people that I’m assuming were influencers or trying to be. I saw so many people dressed up in nicer outfits posing with the volcano and the coastline as it’s background and I was so impressed because honest, they all looked good. At this point, I had hiked up multiple rounds of stairs, run around two separate cities and was lugging around multiple layers around in my backpack. I was less than in great condition and had over dressed for the day of wandering, the excessive sun and the weather so I was sweating and looking incredibly disheveled. I wish that I could have been brave enough to walk up to these groups of people and actually been able to ask them how they were dressed in such fashions and how they were able to travel with all the great clothes because honestly, I was running on just the perfect amount of practical outfits for my entire three week journey. I was already pushing the limit of my trust Cotopaxi backpack for everything I needed within that time and there was no way I could have added anything additional into that bag. Plus, having to pull a roller suitcase around Santorini would have been absolutely terrible to say the least. I felt bad having someone help me carry my bag down the stairs, and it was a backpack. I can only imagine how terrible it would be to carry suitcases down those stairs.
Back to the story, I took a picture of the map and started following the path that it laid out. What’s funny is that one of the restaurants was the landmark on the maps that I found and I am assuming that the turnover of restaurants and businesses in Fira is minimal if they are able to do that. As I followed the map, I saw that the restaurant that was a landmark had been there since the early 80s, so I’m assuming that the restaurant will probably be able to stand the test of time.
I eventually found myself at the top of the hill after some more stairs and was standing above the blue domed church and the Three Bells of Fira. With the volcano and the water as the back drop it was absolutely amazing and wonderful to see. I was alone up there for the most part, outside of one couple that magically appeared and left after taking the obligatory fancy photos. I sat on the edge of a wall and just stared out over the entire water and the landscape of the island as the sun began to set. It was by far one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.
I boarded the bus back to Fira from Oia and it was a much quicker drive because we had less people on our way back to the main city. I was armed with some great pictures, a full stomach and ready to see what was left for me to explore in Fira. I got off the bus and decided that I would head back to the coastline and just start walking in hope that I would find a couple of interesting things to see. I made my way back to the same walking paths I had explored just a few hours earlier and just started walking north again. I’m not sure why I decided I wanted to head north but it was the direction that I went. Come to think of it, I’m not sure why I never really explored south of my hotel, maybe it was because the city center was north of the island so I felt like that’s where all the happenings should have been.
As I made my way to the walking path, I saw these stairs that went from the city center all the way down to a port at the bottom of the cliff and I wanted to know what was at the base of the stairs. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into and so I decided it was adventure time so I started walking down the stairs. At the top of the stairs, there was a collection of donkeys just hanging out and the owner offered to give me a donkey ride down the stairs for 5 Euros and I declined it. I gingerly made my way around the donkeys because I was terrified that they would kick me if I startled them since some of them weren’t paying attention to me. I, officially, started on my path down the stairs and the further down I went, the more I started to wonder where I was going and whether it was going to be worth it. I passed a few people huffing and puffing up the stairs while I was heading down and I swear that each one gave me a look of “you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into lady” as they walked by. But I continued trekking and trying to avoid all of the various donkey poop landmines that were littered all over the stairs. At one point, there was a group of five riding donkeys back up the stairs and the owner offered me a ride for another 5 Euros. I almost took it but decided that I wanted to continue down the path on my own and finish what I had started.
Eventually I made it about 3/4s of the way down, I was sweating and I was tired. I stopped, stared down remainder of the staircase and decided that this was the turning point. I needed to either continue and finish off the adventure or just turn back up and start the trek to the stop of the stairs, the very slow trek. From what I could see down the stairs, there wasn’t much at the base so I made the official decision to turn back and I started up the stairs, working again to avoid all the donkey poop landmines. It took me twice as long to get up the stairs, but I made it and eventually found myself at the donkey base again and this time there were three times the amount of donkeys just chilling, some were eating and not a single one looked at me. On a staircase full of donkeys where you have to walk behind them and they’re not paying any attention to you, it is terrifying. I didn’t want to make a lot of noise for fear of spooking them but at the same time, I wanted them to all be aware of my presence so none of them would kick me as I walked behind them. The owners assured me that the donkeys were friendly and they wouldn’t pay attention to me so I took the chance and started walking carefully past them.
When I finally made it to the top of the staircases, I stared out over the island, while trying to catch my breath as I got ready to finish off the rest of my Fira exploring adventure.
As someone who prides themselves on their love of food and puts a focus on food during almost every hour of the day, food poisoning is the worst. To be honest, I used to think that I had an iron stomach. I am proud to say that I have only ever really gotten sick once while traveling and that was in Guatemala and my own fault. Note, never travel four hours in 80 degree weather in an non-air conditioned van with creme filled pastries and then decide to eat them after a meal filled with a milk based savory cream. It can really mess up your system… But that’s what I get for not giving up my pastries when I should have.
That being said, I recently got food poisoning. The only other time I have gotten anything close to food poisoning was the stomach flu in high school that left me bed ridden for a week and dropped me down to 90lbs. It was rough. So getting food poisoning this time really just threw me for a frenzy. I was not prepared for this and I became just how unprepared I am for being sick in general.
I ate some pasta and it was the only thing that I ate that week that was a bit out of the ordinary in terms of where I ate from and it left me ill for three days. That being said, here’s what I learned about myself and what I learned about how to get over food poisoning.
- Those that said carbs make you gain weight, it’s not 100% true. When you’ve got major stomach issues, you should stick to the BRAT diet which is bananas, rice, apple sauce and toast. That’s what I lived on for three days straight. There was one day I decided to try plain noodles with some vegetables and it ended up being a terrible idea. Stick to the basic carbs and easy to digest fruits. I, unfortunately, lost weight which was due to the lack of other food coming into my system.
- I hate being trapped in my apartment for so long. I left once to go to the grocery store to get apple sauce and bananas. Otherwise, I just stayed inside, weak and unhappy. I get stir crazy way too easily.
- You can get tired of apple sauce…. and bananas.
- Plain rice is not exciting. That being said, brown rice is a bit harder for your system to digest when you’re suffering so keep that in mind if you are dealing with stomach issues.
- Hydration is key. I was told to drink gatorade but half diluted. I forgot to buy Gatorade so I just chugged water. But less of a chug and more of small sips because chugging hurt my stomach.
- I realized that I may have a caffeine dependency. I had a permanent headache for the days that I couldn’t drink caffeine. I need to do something about this.
- It sucks to feel so lackluster. I hated not having any energy to really do anything or feel like I could really move around too much because I was so weak. I was so tired and had a hard time really focusing on anything.
- I have never craved cheese so much in my life. I legitimately dreamed about eating cheese while I was sick. Never raved something so much in my life.
- I was and am terrified to eat food again. As much as I want to eat all the food again, I am terrified of a repeat experience.
- I’m really good at throwing a pity party for myself. Oops.
- It’s surprising how many dishes one can accumulate when you’re sick and trying to continually live off the same food over and over again.
- I’ve never gotten so much sleep in my life and still felt so tired.
Let’s just say that I am so happy that the food poisoning is over. And we shall see when I’m going to eat pasta from that place again.
I hope that as an adult, I will be better equipped with how to take care of myself when I’m sick going forward. Wish me luck.