Lazy Adventures In Athens, Greece

If my summer in Europe were a novel, then Athens certainly was the epilogue. Cassandra and I added this ancient city on the tail end of our itinerary simply because it was fairly affordable and we thought, well why the heck not. Far from action-packed, our time was spent lazy adventuring. In a state of travel fatigue, our mornings were occupied with ruins and markets, the afternoons we dawdled away in the air conditioned Starbucks, and nighttimes we stationed ourselves at a newfound favorite gyros joint.

We made a mad dash away from the ruckus of the Santorini airport, bid adieu to our time on the beautiful island, and beelined it for the ATMs in the Athens airport in the middle of a financial crisis. A stint on the subway and a short walk later, we emerged at our cozy Airbnb, where we were met with this unbelievable view:
And our gracious host, Kakao:
"Where should we go for a bite to eat?" We asked Kakao and his human, the epitome of cool It-girlness, Andromeca. She pointed us towards the end of her street at a little sidewalk fast food restaurant called Best Pitta.

With a name like that, we couldn't be more skeptical. Sure. The BEST pitta. *eyeroll*

But then.
Sure enough, it was actually the best gyros of all.

We tried gyros for every meal in Santorini. We made the effort to branch out and try some of the more famous gyro places in Athens. None could compare to this tiny fast food joint on a random street corner in a nondescript Athens neighborhood.

Cassandra and I often recount our best meals in Europe. It goes a little something like this: pizza in Naples. Grilled octopus, tuna steaks, and black risotto at Restaurant Eden in Dubrovnik. Gyros at Best Pitta in Athens. In no particular order. Simply put, the gyros here were out of this world – the fluffiest pita stuffed with crispy french fries, the most fragrant of grilled chicken, and a dollop of tzatziki sauce, I'm drooling on my keyboard even thinking about it.

The next morning, we set out for a blast into the past.
Word of advice: wear good walking shoes. I had Rainbow flip flops on and it took me like forty minutes to make it safely down these slippery steps. Cassandra stood at the bottom, doubled over in laughter and was NO HELP whatsoever.
Walking around the Acropolis was a bit surreal. First of all, it was hot as heck (notice the theme of this trip?) and it involves quite the trek. So at this moment in time, we were already dehydrated and delusional.

Second of all, WHAT the WHAT. Once you wrap your mind around just how old and historical these pillars and stones are, you're thrown for a loop.

You contemplate time, history, a whole different world.

...and then you're thisclose to suffering from heatstroke, so you start taking photos of the information plaques to read later and seek out some shade under which to catch a breath.
And play a monumental game of Jenga while you're at it.
The actual activities we committed to in Athens were 1) the Acropolis (because is that even a choice), and 2) walking.

We sauntered through the Monastiraki market, marveling over gimmicky magnets of gods and cooler relics of the present-day Athenians. 
We walked through the streets of Plaka, popping our heads into shops for a dose of air-conditioning and to check out sidewalk cafes.

We walked through Thissio, seeking more delectable bites to eat and postcards to write.

We walked many a time to Best Pitta for more gyros.
(So much so that at one point, our host Andromeca spotted us on her way home from work and exclaimed, you two are here again?! No. You need to expand your horizons.

And so that night, she fetched us and Kakao and led us through maze-like avenues to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant where the waiters spoke not a word of English. She ordered us pork knuckle and vegetables and Athenian classics and we spoke of her travels and the Greek economic crisis and we agreed that the food was amazing...

...aaaaaaand then for our next meal, Cassandra and I were right back at Best Pitta.)

My one request for Athens (I had told Cassandra that the Athens itinerary was up to her to plan because she had been so excited to visit after taking a Greek mythology class. Santorini is mine to plan, Athens is yours, I said.) was to visit the Poet Sandalmaker.
Stavros Melissinos is exactly that – partly a poet, partly a legendary sandalmaker who has handmade leather sandals for Jackie O, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sophia Loren, and anyone who is anyone. 

Cassandra and I weren't about to pass such an opportunity up, so we tucked ourselves into Melissino's shop, picked out a style each, and waited to be custom fitted for our new leather sandals. Sturdy and comfy, I highly recommend visiting if you're ever in town.
Finally, after one last European sunset, we retreated to bed, preparing ourselves to face the inevitable the next day: returning home, to a time of doubt and uncertainty, after the most wonderful summer escape.

This was the view from our bedroom–I can't explain how crazy it was to fall asleep to a lit-up Parthenon, or to be stirred awake at 5am by the rising sun and be faced with the stone pillars against a rosy sky.
Alas, all good things must come to an end, and this trip was no exception.

We waved goodbye to an Athens that was as gritty and as authentically no-frills as Santorini was pristine, flew to Frankfurt (where we thought we'd miss our flight and then I ended up being upgraded to first class HOLLA #sorrycassandra #yesIabandonedher #soooooooosorry #storyforanotherday), then to Toronto, and then to Los Angeles.
Athens hooked me. Such an unbelievable city built on a incomprehensible past, so without pretenses. I do admit that we should've given more to Greece: we should've tried to see more of it, understand more of it, given it more time and effort and energy. But truth be told, the adventures that preceded it had us exhausted and overwhelmed, and we were drained more than anything. The good news is that this begs a return trip to Athens, Santorini, and more of Greece... to give it all that it truly deserves.

Try as I might, I still don't have the words to describe just exactly what summer 2015 in Europe meant to be. I don't think I'll ever in my life be so carefree, so at peace with life and existence, so content and bewildered and anxious all at once.

It was that precious, tender time between a life so well known, so comfortable and a life so unknown and so very uncomfortably unsettling. I'll cherish this trip for the rest of my life.


Nostalgic AF

As of late, I've been nostalgic AF.

Much of it has to do with the fact that a year ago last week, I was handed what some people call a "diploma" and what I think of as an eviction notice. For the past month, I've been marking off "this time last year" anniversaries...

The two weeks we fondly refer to as "the best two weeks of our lives," last hurrahs where throwing caution to the wind and having a grand time seemed like the only option. Exams, projects, final papers, last lectures full of sage advice from professors. Bidding farewell to a time in our lives that was at once formative and transformative. Sobbing at the New Girl season finale, wailing but everything is going to change!!! The stress of moving boxes into storage, stuffing the car until it was bursting at the seams, four years of our lives right there. Leaving for Europe before we could truly process what was happening. We existed in an exhilarating state of chaos where every moment seemed profound and every day seemed monumental. 
(For more Wacky Walk costume photos, check this out.)
Last weekend, I appeared at Stanford graduation once again, this time not as a graduate but as a friend and alumni. I listened to poignant speeches, watched as proud parents beamed, felt goosebumps as each graduate crossed the stage, remembered the nerves and anticipation and the bit of sadness, too. The last two weeks this year has been calm–albeit busy–days at work, spontaneous weekend getaways, making grocery lists and trip-planning while SVU plays in the background.

As I clapped for and celebrated my friends, I also felt myself to be emerging triumphant on the other side. See, the thing about post-grad life... is that, for me at least, it hasn't been so exciting in the same way college was. The stress doesn't spike right when midterms come around, the weekends and evenings aren't so raucous, the lessons aren't so hard-hitting, and the victories don't come with the cheers from a built-in audience of 60 housemates.

And yet, the days since we moved out once and for all have runneth over with workplace lessons, personal growth, routine, restlessness, spectacular weekending, epiphanies across the world, satisfaction at a meal unburnt, and constant self-questioning. 
There is no hoopla when you mark off the one-year anniversary of graduating, just a heckuva overdose of Nostalgia and quite a few existential questions. You don't get a diploma for surviving relatively unscathed, no accolade or certificate. 

But maybe we all deserve one. (And some champagne, too!)

*Photo credit of the second to last photo goes to Condeleezza Rice's security team. Sorry I took you away from constant vigilance to take ever-so-important friendship photos for us from multiple angles.

Words I've Said While I Was "On A Diet"

... and a few that I've said when I wasn't.

As of this past Monday, my friends and I "went on a diet," novel words to our vocabulary. Summer's approaching aka knocking at our front door, I have a couple of upcoming trips (squee!), and other general BS that ultimately made this decision for us.

But you have to understand. My friends and I... aren't the types to diet. Usually, we order pizza way too often, have multiple bags of hot Cheetos stashed in the pantry, and our ONE rule is to never, never, never be out of Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie. For a long time, this lifestyle was sustainable because my friends were all Division I collegiate athletes and burned more calories than they ate, and I kind of just chugged along pretending that my arteries are not being clogged AT ALL, so this reset button is long overdue. Like, two years overdue.
So, as you can imagine, this has been a pretty tough week.

We don't know how to diet. Our fridge has nary a vegetable or healthy protein because dinners tend to be ordered from the Mexican place downstairs or from whatever looks tasty on UberEats. I've seethed as nice coworkers kept on bringing in cakes and goodies from overseas travels, and I almost threw something when I realized that Hanna and I probably shouldn't go to the all-mac-and-cheese-restaurant on the second day of the diet.

Lots of hilarious / serious / desperate things have been uttered, and what kind of blogger would I be if I didn't share with you. 
When I noticed the hot Cheetos missing and told Hanna we needed to order more, and she said that she ordered us healthy snacks instead:
Screw you.

Text from Cassandra:
I forgot I'm on a diet so I had a bagel.

Text from Leah: 
I forgot I'm on a diet so I had a cookie.

Another text from Leah: 
I'm rewarding myself with Chipotle. 

At lunchtime when I don't have a hamburger like I really want: 
I hate this and I'm going to be miserable until September.

When Hanna and I were trying to figure out what to eat for dinner on Monday night:
Hanna: so what about Annie's mac and cheese because it's organic.
Me: well, maybe if we share a box and put some spinach in it.
Hanna: what if we order something healthy.
Me: I'm not paying for salad.
Hanna: if we walk to the mac and cheese restaurant, it's healthy.
*looks up the menu, realizes it's impossible*
Me: okay so what if today's our cheat day?
Hanna: our whole weekend is going to be a cheat weekend. 
*during this process, we finish off a bag of carrots and want to cry*
I could do this all day, but it's making me sad and hungry, so let's reflect on happier times.

Back in May, I went to LA and spent the day at Harry Potter as a birthday present to myself (more to come on that next week), and Cassandra, Joan, and Kelly kindly accompanied me. After a long and exhausting day of fighting Voldemort and playing Quidditch, Cassandra took us to a restaurant she's been talking about for ages: Catcher In The Rye.

A moody vibe, amazing drinks menu with cocktails that go by names like 'Huckleberry Finn,' 'The Secret Garden,' 'Tequila Mockingbird,' the most devastatingly glorious grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, wonderful appetizers to share like brussels sprouts (their favorite!), and a hummus (my favorite!!) that converted Kelly, our resident hummus hater, plus stacks and stacks of board games, the only words we were able to say were:

unghahsjjhfheeeeeeeee. Heaven.
TAKE ME BACK TO THAT.

PLEASE.

Santorini, Greece :: Sunsets, Wine-Tasting, and a Dream Come True

You have Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants to thank for this post. 

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants convinced (very easily) a bucket-list-obsessed middle-schooler Caroline to scribble and underline "see sunset in Santorini" at the tippy top of a list containing meaningful, ambitious goals such as eat french fries with Kate Middleton and own a private jet and do my laundry and oh wait, it looks like I'm mixing up my lists.

All of that is to say, as sad as it was to bid doviÄ‘enja to Dubrovnik and our new friends, the prospect of finallllllly, finally, finally getting to see the land of blue rooftops and famous sunsets was just as exciting. 

Well... it was exciting until we realized that getting to that mystical land involved 10 hours in the Belgrade airport, a 3am layover in Athens airport where we ravenously succumbed to the powers of a McDonald's breakfast, and a 6:45am touchdown in Santorini, where at least we were welcomed by a peaceful sunrise.
Please excuse the haggardness.

Not only had we spent close to 20 hours on the road, BUT ALSO our room in the quiet little village of Imerovigli was not available for another 7 hours.

Derp.

So we did what all delirious folks might do, which was to hop on a very overwhelming, very confusing bus (where do we wait? how do we pay? is this the right bus? where do we sit? is this our stop? It's all Greek to me, sir!!) to Thira, find a cafe with free WiFi and some spanakopita, book our return flight to Athens, and then slip into a fish spa.
Again with the haggardness. Please forgive.

Afterwards, we sauntered through the streets, checking out souvenir shops and darting through whichever street looked the least crowded and most shady. Even as exhausted as we were, I had this dopey grin on my face as I breathed in the Mediterranean air, jolly folk music all around us. "You must really like it here," Cassandra said, a blink away from passing out right on the cobblestone.
Our first of a trillion gyros in Greece! Hardly exaggerating at all.

At long last, it came time for sweet, sweet relief and we settled into our lovely Airbnb for a snappy rest. Real snappy because 10 seconds after dropping off our luggage, we convinced ourselves that hey, sleep can wait. Let's go see ourselves some Imerovigli.
Seeing those white houses perched on the hills brought about butterflies in my belly–the kind that inevitably shows up when dreams come true. I couldn't stand how beautiful Santorini is, how it's exactly like I imagined. Zig-zagging paths, an expanse of sea so wide and so blue and so still, mountainous volcanoes stretching in all directions.

But it was also everything I didn't expect. Bigger. More dispersed. Less pristine. Wonderful beyond imagination.
As we noticed the sun beginning to inch lower, Cassandra and I quickly chose a bar with a view of the Caldera. Accepting that it would probably be overpriced and underwhelming, we nevertheless beelined it for the last 'front-row seats,' ordered a Vinsanto and a fruity cocktail and some peanuts, and waited patiently.
Cassandra pulled out her trusty notebook and started flipping through it, reading beloved memories from our past weeks and months aloud.

We laughed at our travel mishaps.

Wondered about what our friends were up to.

Discussed all that we'd learned in Croatia, in Bosnia.

Shared how much we already missed our Stanford, dearly.

Philosophized about fortune and privilege. Pure luck. It's what we felt in that moment. Pure, stinkin' luck, because how else could it be that right here, right now, we were the ones who had the opportunity to sit at this cliffside bar, sipping expensive drinks, taking in a sunset that I had longed for years and years to witness?
... ever so faithfully, the bright orb settled into the horizon.

All of us in that bar quietened, absorbing the still-pink, still-yellow hues of the warm sky and the placid sea – like the thin film atop freshly heated milk. Then, the clapping bursted and the young boy laughed in glee and we were stirred from being absolutely spellbound.
On our way back to our Airbnb, we stopped for dinner at Avocado, which came highly recommended by our host. And I mean, with a name like that, who could refuse?

They started us off with ricotta cheese and shots of rakija on the house.
Then a rich, hearty moussaka and a delicious Greek burger with a half-liter of red wine to share.

I mean, we had to. The "half-liter" thing we could only get away with in Europe, and so we had to take advantage!
With a side of glittering views of Oia off into the distance!

If you ever find yourself in quiet Imerovigli, rest assured that Avocado is the way to go for a scrumptious dinner.
The next morning, we woke ourselves bright and early for the wine-tasting tour we had booked.

Our tour guide fetched us from Imerovigli and drove us to the highest point of the island where the vineyards are. He pointed out the low, bush-like vines that hugged the ground due to the salty winds. And, then! It was off to taste some wine! 
Our crew of two couples and two pairs of best friends.

We were poured glass after glass generously, and taught to sample olives and tomatoes and charcuterie and crusty breads with each. And each time we thought for sure this was the end of the wine, our sommelier came 'round the table and topped the glasses up once more.
Come, there's more! He beckoned, and we followed.

To another winery, this time under the beaming, full-force son.
And then to a brewery, where because we were running late, we all basically had to chug our beers.

Finally, to one last winery!

This one was the one that did us in.
While the couples on the tour opted for a cooking class that took place off in a corner at our last winery, the two pairs of best friends were left by our lonesome with a platter of small bites and copious bottles of wine.

Our tour guide stopped by intermittently to make sure that our glasses were full of Vinsanto (a candy-sweet wine produced only in Santorini) and our friends The Couples would drop by to sneak us some of their newly learned masterpieces, and the four of us chatted travels and Canada (where they're from) and the US (where we're from) and Greece (because, hello).
Before we knew it, the wine had gone straight to our heads and our limbs and our bellies, and the driver directed us into the van with a, "okay and now we'll take the scenic route to Oia!"

So, um. By "scenic" he also meant the curviest, windiest road which he'd SPEED through and while yes it was gorgeous and breathtaking and scenic, the drive did not rest well with Cassandra's motion sickness and just as we pulled into the parking lot of Oia, puke streamed down her dress, hands, and the van.

Apologies for the visual, but it made quite the story for us to tell.

Needless to say, we sheepishly headed back to our place in Imerovigli, freshened up, took a much needed snooze, and then dragged ourselves up and back to the bus to be in Oia in time for the sunset. Because I don't care how terribly hungover I am, there is no. freaking. way. I will miss seeing the Oia sunset. Just no.
And while I am beyond grateful that we managed to whip ourselves into shape in time to see this stunner, I will say that the one word to describe an Oia sunset is: crowded. As heck. Though the sunset was fiery and picturesque and still a dream come true, the magic of the experience gave away to the fanny packs and selfie sticks and sweaty bodies and tall dads blocking the view.

My recommendation: let the Santorini sunset take you away in a quieter village, like Imerovigli or perhaps even Thira although I'm sure that one's quite popular as well.
To avoid getting lost in a sea of people, Cassandra and I waited out the crowd by first, hiding away in the balcony of a little dessert shop in the middle of Oia where we shared cake and gazed out into the darkened sky, lit up by the stars and glowing swimming pools.

For sure another to remember.

Second, we followed our noses to another gyro shop and fulfilled our desires of midnight gyros stuffed with lots of french fries and tzatziki while we waited for the bus. For future reference, the best gyros in Santorini we think is the one we tried–Pitogyros–right in the alleyway across from the Oia bus station. You can't miss it. Another pro tip - we heard that the ice cream store Lolita's Gelato should not be passed up.
For our last morning on the island, Cassandra and I trekked back to Thira to revisit a few of the jewelry stores that had caught our eyes.

We spent quite some time picking out presents for people back home, as well as for ourselves. (The Bead Shop was by far our favorite stop – so many intricate, unique pieces of jewelry that is incredibly affordable, plus there's always the option of making your own. Bonus: this is right next to the fish spa that we went to!)
Of course, we managed to fit in one more round of gyros!

Before jetting off from the Santorini airport back to Athens. I've got to give it to Santorini – for a place renowned for its beauty and peace, its airport sure was the most "sardines in a can" kind of airport I've ever been to. Complete chaos, but it got the job done.
So there we have it! Santorini! Likely the most anticipated travel destination of mine. I will confess that I do think we didn't adequately give Santorini the chance it deserved: we booked our Airbnb super late in the game (although in hindsight, staying in Imerovigli was probably one of my favorite parts of our visit), were absolutely exhausted and travel-fatigued, didn't do our research, and should've explored more of Oia in particular (we didn't even see a donkey! or a beach!)...

But there's always next time, right?

New addition to the bucket list: see Santorini sunset. Again.


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