Recently I participated in a media tour throughout the picturesque Greek countryside, traversing mountain roads, reaching summits and sipping coffee along turquoise colored streams. A true wanderer, I jumped at the opportunity to join the caravan hosted by Tripology Adventures as part of a group of eleven writers & three spouses.
The first evening sent our group through the streets of Athens, meandering down a sunlit plaza on our way to a Acropolis view taverna. While walking, I stuck up a conversation with the organizations founder, Izhar Gamlieli a native of Israel. A tall, regal man with wise eyes, we chatted about our journies, the wanderlust that fills our hearts & the things we crave to date.
“I used to desire travel constantly,” he told me. “But then, I had two children. Beautiful children, who have completely captured my heart. Now, all I want is more time with them.”
“No children yet” I told him. “But they seem like a beautiful gift indeed.”
Continuing our conversation, I started listing off some of the palces & had traveled. My lack of a hometown and the laundry list of states I’ve lived. “Sleeping on airport floors, accepting obscure invitations to unique experiences, opening my heart to the world around me, letting the world take a piece of me with it – this is how I try to live.”
With a serious expression, but the faintest hint of a mischievious smile, he turned to me and asked, “Are you a Gypsy?”
Cocking my head in contemplation, I could feel the corners of my mouth curl upwards and my eyebrows rise.
“Of sorts” was my response. A chuckle escaping with my words. “A heart of a bird I possess within this chest.”
“So where to next?” he questioned.
“Wherever the winds may lead me.”
Interesting observations from a woman who travels solo.
Being an only child makes you inherently comfortable with spending time alone. It simply comes with the territory. Still, many only children are extremely social by nature. The level of comfort we take in solidarity doesn’t necessarily mean that is our preference.
Now thirty, my passion for travel is raging more than ever. Independent, I often find myself with the time & finances to travel and very few friends who are interested or able to accompany me.
Now, I simply dive in on my own, not thinking too much of it anymore.
Interestingly enough, it’s others reactions to knowing I am alone that still tend to surprise me. For instance, yesterday I flew from Athens to Crete and in the airport, sparked a conversation with a man in an Oregon State University sweatshirt.
Turns out, he’s not from Oregon or even the US but rather South Africa; traveling with his parents to visit is Brother in Law (the OSU alum) who is an American now stationed at the Naval Base on Crete.
He mentioned to his parents that I was traveling alone & his father got a very worried look on his face.
Later, in baggage claim, the kind man introduced himself to me and suggested they pick me up to go tour the island together.
Politely, I declined the invitation, telling him that I was staying an hour away in a small village.
He asked me how I was getting there and when I told him my host from AirBnB was picking me up, his ebony face nearly turned white.
“It’s okay,” I told him. “I feel very safe & always use good judgement.”
Sure enough, outside of the airport was my host Basilis, the absolutely picture of a handsome Greek man.
Again, the kind man asked me if I was certain and I smiled, shaking his hand and told him everything would be alright.
Fast forward an hour and Basilis & I arrived at his home. A beautiful traditional stone house, the quiet village welcomes you in with an immediate air of tranquility. His mother Popi was there to great us and asked quickly if I would like a Greek Coffee.
Together the three dined alfresco, farm fresh eggs over-easy with bright runny yolks, pan fried potatoes, crispy bread & traditional “Docas” like large bruschetta topped with fresh cheese, tomatoes & oregano. All of this was paired perfectly with locally produced Raki, a clear drink high in alcohol but smooth in flavor and back dropped by a stunning sunset. The evening could not have been any more delightful.
Conversation followed and Basilis asked me to tell him about my life. Interested in my travels he looked at me perplexed and ask “how do you feel traveling alone?”
“Fine,” I told him as I went through my normal response. It was his next question that really threw me for a loop though.
“What do you do when you want to talk to someone?” he asked.
“I just talk to someone.” was my immediate response.
“But how?” he replied. “Do you simply go up to a stranger & say ‘hey you! come talk to me.'”
“Kind of” I told him. ” People are always curious to learn about someone new and different and I guess I’m just far from shy.”
Perplexed, he simply smiled & shook his head at me.
We sat together swapping stories & sipping Raki until the sun fully set & I retired to my apartment after a very long day of travel.
“From halfway around the world” he says.
Indeed. Making long journies and talking to strangers who quickly become friends.
Sometimes, the best way to get to know a city is to simply meander your way through its Metro system.
With a seven hour layover in Athens, I did just that. Purchasing a full day pass, I jumped onto the Blue Line at it’s end stop, the Athens International Airport ans began a 45 minute journey into the heart of oldtown.
On a mission, I had read about a self-guided walking tour, 3.5 km long along the base of the acropolis, past parliament, the temple of Zeus as well as Olympic Stadium, all before ending in the Monastraki Plaza which is home to a bustling market.
A perfect way to reawaken my senses after a ten hour transatlantic flight, the short adventure also helped to heighten my senses and better prepare me for the rest of the day that laid ahead.
Droves of school children gathered outside the Acroplis. Their energy infections as they giggle & play; free from the confines of traditiional school for the day.
Lovers embrace one another in romantic landscapes, accented by ancient Greek ruins.
The plethora of sights, sounds, smells all set within an alien environment can do wonders for your soul.
Plus, regardless of whether you speak the language or not, it’s never too hard to find your way on a linear metro rail system.
Next time you find yourself mometarily stuck in a fantastic metroploitan area, pay the few extra euros, dollars or yin, to store your luggage at the airport and take a micro adventure into the heart of the city.
Who knows what wonders the metro may provide.
There is something slightly electric in the air when a plane is loaded & ready for takeoff; More so when you are heading to a known tourist destination.
Friends traveling together add exclamations of laughter as more people pile in. Hoards of tourists embark; each individual looking more eager & a bit out of place than the last.
Large groups may even complete with nametags. Lanyard laden “flags” that serve as a tagging system. A surefire indicator that the individual is probably thinking, “I’m not sure what’s going on here…”
Happy to be seperate from the heard, there’s a comfort that comes with traveling alone. The sensation of being a quiet observer rather than one of the bustling, chattering masses.
A smuttering of languages surrounds me, all combining into a hum of energy staccatoed by friendly laughter. Passengers are joyous, filled with excitement.
Nothing quiet comes close to the flood of excitement you experience just before a trip.
So may unknowns.
So many questions.
Often, you never really travel to get away from it all but instead, to get closer to yourself.
Next stop, Greece. The city of Athena.