So we all know there are tons of cliche' travel quotes, one being "We travel not to escape life but for life not to escape us." Cliche' travel quotes are so for a reason, and this one resonates with my recent trip abroad.
Almost exactly one year ago I graduated from the University of Glasgow. Due to ... well, adulthood and an expiring Visa, I traded long weekends in Europe and pub nights with my international friend group for occasional weekend trips back to Philly but mostly quiet nights in Central PA. I was never the type of person to think I'd move home, but my first real political job offer and a budding relationship became reason enough to stay. Fast forward, 2017 ended up being a hard year of transitioning with a lot of pitfalls. On top of that, Lebanon has a way of making the world seem small, and all of my friends living elsewhere brought on an isolation I have never experienced. This trip came at sort of the tipping point and lead me into a better space for 2018.... Tzatziki and Scotch were my remedies.
Where did I go? Greece & Glasgow!
I landed in Athens at 1am after a full day of travel. My beautiful grad school friends Sofia and Galina kindly retrieved me at the airport and I somehow managed to fight jet lag to have a glass of wine and catch up until 3am. The next few days were all sorts of magic.
Of all the places on my never ending bucket-list, Greece was not very high. But let me tell you how wrong I was.
Athens is literally the most rad city I've ever been to. Fishtown and Brooklyn have nothing on the genuinely anti-government, punk vibes of the Anarchist section of the city. With riot police waiting around to deploy at any moment, graffiti shouting Down With Capitalism, and hipsters drinking Almond Milk Lattes or British Craft Beer on every corner, it's hard to feel both on edge and like you want to sit down for a few sips. Those same streets lead right into Plaka, the ancient neighborhood of Athens that sits underneath the stunning Acropolis. The dichotomy of the turmoil of modern Greece and being able to look up at the cradle of human intellectual culture is hard to miss. We spent two fulls days exploring Athens, wandering the neighborhoods, and drinking Cappuccino Freddos (a must) and wine as the November sun allowed us to comfortably spend all of our time outside. You wouldn't guess that Greece is going through an economic crisis by the business of commerce and indulgence in Athens. You also wouldn't guess that nearby ports are enduring one of the greatest refugee crises of our time. I certainly stopped to reflect on my own privilege in coming here for vacation rather than to flea death and destruction.
One evening as Sofia was doing her volunteer work teaching English to Syrian Refugee Teenagers (which she typically does after a full day of being a refugee social worker), Galina and I found a spot on top of a closed bar and watched the sunset over Plaka. Afterwards we drove 2.5 hours to Sofia's cottage on the Island of Euboea (sunrise photo pictured above) where we built a fire (after several dramatic battles with massive centipedes and other critters) and cozied up for the night with a 2 liter water bottle full of wine that we purchased for two euros at the local bar. The next day Sofia gave us the full tour of this beautiful place - showing us both the Mediterranean and Aegean seas and taking us to an outdoor lunch by the water where we of course had to order extra Tzatziki. The best part about both coming with a local is that Euboea is very much a Greek residential island with very little international tourism as compared to Mykonos, and coming in November meant a lot less tourists in Athens. I'm so glad I've got friends to visit around the world, because having a local and a friend show you their home is one of the most valuable travel experiences. It allows you to reconnect with someone you love, save money, see things from their perspective, and inevitably eat the best food (I didn't order for myself the entire visit).
Greece is incredible. Go. In the off season.
Don't skip Athens to just go to the Islands.
Eat all of the food. Not just Tzatziki. Eat the meatballs, the fish, the Kebab, the falafel, the olives, literally everything is fantastic.
Make all of the cat friends (Athens has more stray cats than anywhere I've ever been. They're very taken care of and sometimes too friendly).
Cappuccino Freddo's are life (thanks for the tip, Onna) and I want one right now.
After a few days of healing sunshine, food and quality time with two wonderful humans, I flew back to my second home.
I'd been skeptical about the idea of traveling back to Glasgow for multiple reasons, including the idea that I should go somewhere new, and the fear that it wouldn't be the same to go back and not stay. However, I couldn't be happy that I went back. In just a few days, I went back to all of my favorite spots in Glasgow (biggest shout out to Paseano's Pizza and the Old School House Pub), saw so many people I love including my favorite Professor, embraced the cold rain, felt the warmth of the Glaswegian people) and took an overnight trip to Edinburgh (more specifically Leith), with one of my dearest friends Paige. Not only had it felt like I never left, but realizing so many of my friends would drop everything to make time for me while I was back and were just as excited to see me, relinquished the feelings of isolation and reminded me that I have so many wonderful friends that I could see five years from now, and we'd still have a smashing night out together.
I did get to have one new experience that I will not forget! Paige and I were staying with her new Fiance's (!!!!) family in Leith. I mentioned to Tom (Cammy's father) that I hadn't had a good whisky (Scotch drops the e) since I'd been back. His face lit up and he proclaimed "I know just the place!" Twenty minutes later we were sitting on leather couches in the Scottish Malt Whisky Society drawing room, sipping on glasses of incredibly rare whisky that will never be barreled in the same form again. As Tom said, "cheers to drinking history." (You may not be surprised to find out Tom is an established poet). If anything is medicine for both the body and soul, it's good Scotch and friendly Scottish people. On my last night, all of my friends left in Glasgow gathered at my favorite pub and ordered me rounds of my favorite beer (it's literally called Best). I felt at home again, and there is no better feeling than that.
The balance between combining new adventure and a familiar place in one trip was exactly what I needed.
I didn't feel so much that this trip was me escaping my life back home, but reminded me not allow myself to let life escape for so long again.
My life has done a 180 since arriving back home. I've gotten a new job in an International Student Department and have made more of an effort to reconnect with old and new friends, and get involved in the Harrisburg Community. I guess I just needed a nudge in the form of a plane ticket. Travel truly has healing powers and shakes up life when you need it most. Don't be afraid to indulge in it for this reason alone.