For spring break, I opted to swap the ancient ruins of the Roman Empire for the crumbling temples and picturesque beaches of Greece. From the moment my 10 day journey began, I was greeted with a culture shock – everything I knew about cultural customs and language was out the window. From the moment we boarded the ferry in Ancona, Italy, we were greeted with the blue and white stripes of the Greek flag and the illegible Greek alphabet sprawled across every sign.
After a 21 hour ferry across the Adriatic Sea, we arrived at the northern Greek island of Corfu. We were greeted by bright pink buses that lead us to the one and only Pink Palace, a beach-side hostel that is (you guessed it) pink. Every building that is part of the massive property is coated in a bright, bubble-gum pink.
Along with a place to stay that is within hearing distance of the waves, the Pink Palace also provides a series of activities – everything from “booze cruise”s to ATV tours of the island. But, if you’re anything like me, after the chaos that is midterms and research papers, calmly exploring the beach front and leisurely exploring the main city of Corfu sounded like heaven. Everywhere we went, we were greeted with ancient Greek temples and wonderfully loud and friendly Greek women whom we wanted to adopt as our Greek grandparents.
As an added bonus to the trip, I was randomly assigned to a room with two other girls, Genna and Megan. Walking through the door, donning my “Wisconsin” tank top, I saw a giant Bucky beach towel draped in the bathroom, drying. “Wait, you go to Madison!?”s were exchanged, and we instantly bonded over tales of Saturday Game Days, hikes up Bascom, and how we can’t wait to have a Greek reunion on the top balcony of State Street’s Parthenon Gyros this summer.
Being Spring Break, I didn’t hesitate to embrace the Greek culture and let loose at the Pink Palace’s world-renown Pink Toga Party. After dropping off a 15 euro deposit, the reception gives you your very own pink silk sheet that, after a series of YouTube videos, you manage to wrangle into a safety-pin-less toga. After a meal of lemon glazed chicken and potatoes (a popular meal in Greece), the lights dimmed down, light machines started up, and the Pink Palladium turned into a club (complete with a crowded bar, flaming chairs, plate smashing, toga-slips, and a whole lot of “opa!”s).
Leaving the picturesque quaintness of Corfu, we made the 8 hour trek across Greece to the bustling city of Athens. What struck me most about the famous city is just how industrial it has become. In Rome, we take pride in our well-preserved monuments – the ruins and museums are the center of everything, exiling industrial growth to the far edges of the city. In Athens, it felt to be the opposite. Everywhere you walked, it felt like an American city, scattered with shops, busy paved streets, and modernly designed buildings. It was only after a hike to the edge of the city that you stumbled across the scarce remnants of the Temple of Zeus, or climbed the Acropolis to view more scattered columns and crumbling temples.
Before heading to the Acropolis, we made a pit stop at the Panathenaic Stadium, the stadium that hosted the first modern Olympic games in 1896. It’s one of my goals to see an Olympic event in person – I even almost studied abroad in London last summer for that very reason – so being able to see the first modern Olympic stadium was surreal. Visitors could pay to enter the arena and walk along the track or climb the bleachers, but standing from the outside satisfied both my travel bug and stingy wallet.
Finally, we made our way to the Acropolis, a towering, mountain plateau on the edge of Athens. The loose gravel paths made it difficult to climb – especially in a dress and flip flops – but it was worth it when we finally reached the top.
Like I already said, the temples were a slight disappointment (especially the Parthenon, which was a series of cranes and slabs of marble as they attempt to restore it), but the view of Athens and the overall sense of history made up for it 100%.
Our time in Athens was a whirlwind, where we only had a mere 24 hours to soak in as much of the culture as possible. After that, we boarded another ferry to the postcard island of Santorini, most famous amongst the female-dominant group as being the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants island.
In Santorini, we did another whirlwind tour of all the island had to offer – starting with the various beaches. We hiked through Santorini’s famous red sand beach, which in reality can barely be called a beach. Climbing over boulders and trudging a landslide of red “sand” in the rain isn’t exactly ideal, but the experience was worth every second.
Along with the red sand, a series of doors lined the cliff face. I never looked into it enough to see if it’s for recreational or artistic purposes, but it was a peculiar sight none the less.
Afterwards, just as the skies were clearing up, we made our way toward one of the Black Sand beaches, complete with a delicious restaurant, friendly dogs, and breathtakingly blue water.
Finally, we made our way to the town of Oia just in time for the sunset – the town most famous for being the face of Santorini postcards and the filming location for Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. It is also a popular spot for tourists from all over the island to gather to watch the sun set, with hundreds of people climbing on railings and rooftops, bottles of wine in hand, to get a perfect view.
The one downside to Oia? The new trend seems to be re-painting the famous blue and white buildings red. I’m not completely positive, but that has to be a Santorini sin.
During our final day in Santorini, we decided to feel adventurous and climb the island’s (inactive) volcano. In order to do so, we had to climb down to Fira’s Old Port, which involved an estimated 20 minutes of zig-zagging down uneven stone steps. Realizing we were running late and were going to miss our Ferry, we made the trek in 10 minutes. For future Santorini travelers, make sure you allot plenty of time to climb down to the Santorini ports – your legs will thank you for it.
Not wanting to kill ourselves trying to climb back up to the town of Fira, we opted to take donkeys back up the cliffs – a quintessential Santorini experience.
After packing together our belongings, we witnessed one last Santorini sunset from the bus as we made our way to Santorini’s main Ferry port. As much as I loved the Greek atmosphere, I found myself getting Rome-sick again. I missed the patchwork of the Italian cobblestone, the homemade pasta, and the familiarity of an alphabet that I knew how to pronounce. While nothing may ever top a Santorini sunset, the familiar feeling of my bed in Gianicolo comes pretty darn close.