Shortly before my 55th birthday I decided to grow up and learn to get around on my own. With my sense of direction this was going to be a challenge. Not giving myself much time to worry about it, I called European Destinations, a travel company that helped me build an 11-day starter package to Athens and three Greek islands. Then, for the rest of my month-long holiday, I would have to make my own plans for destinations, mode of travel, and lodging.
Savvy friends coached me on basics I'd never had to think of before, like: look up and read signs in airports and stations, and don't be afraid to ask questions. Would my 20 words of Greek be any use, I wondered ?
I don't mind admitting I was nervous, but things went smoothly right from the beginning. I got lost two or three times but found my way again within a few minutes. I even braved the clean, efficient Athens Metro with the help of a kind person who wrote the stops I needed in Greek and English, and then she pointed me in the right direction.
I arranged for a taxi to take me to Piraeus where I caught a ferry to Mykonos my first solo ferry trip. The nice driver was informative and only charged me four euros. A deal! But before I could start claiming bragging rights for my bargaining skills, I suffered a come-uppance on my next ride.
I had been told it would cost six euros to get from the port to my hotel, but all the taxis were filled except for one fellow in a tiny flat-bed scooter truck who said he'd take me for 20 euros. I balked at that but he said, "Lady, it is far, but you walk and drag your luggage if you like." He wouldn't budge, and I didn't care for the alternative.
I took the ride grudgingly, which probably added to the initial disappointment I felt that the hotel wasn't close to town. But that annoyance quickly passed. I fell in love with the Anemos Apartments. The proprietors, Poppie and her daughter Irene, made me feel so at home in their spotless blue and white hotel. Irene's omelets and salads were tasty and affordable, and the local bus to Mykonos Town departed hourly from the village square near Oronos Beach. Those four days on the quieter side of Mykonos helped me build confidence as I rode the bus, went shopping, and strolling all on my own.
On to lovely laid-back Paros. Debarking in Parikia, I decided to walk to the Apollon Hotel, having faith that, as I'd been told, it wouldn't be too far to haul my luggage. I made it but only just before my arms gave out. The moral: travel solo, travel light.
The nice owner gave me a choice between two rooms; then, since I was starving, I walked down the street to a restaurant called Katerinas and feasted upon a delicious moussaka lunch for under 10 euros. After lunch I got lost wandering the winding pathways around the town square. I put my few Greek words to use to ask where I was and thus learned that wise ancients had devised the street maze to confuse invading pirates. I was also learning that getting lost for awhile can often be interesting and fun.
On my last day in Paros I met a friendly Iranian lady. She, too, was traveling solo, and together we investigated the village of Aliki before my departure that afternoon.
Upon debarking on Santorini, I hopped on a bus to the beach resort of Kamari, situated on one side of an enormous rock called Mesa Vouno. After a bit, I easily found my way around and felt right at home.
One day, while hanging out laundry, my young neighbor came and introduced himself. Finding I was alone, he invited me to dine with him and his girlfriend that evening. I decided to take him up on it and met them at the designated taverna near the beach. There, I was warmly greeted by at least 20 study-abroad students and their professors. I had a most delightful time sharing dinner and conversation with these young people. They invited me to go to the disco, and I did, showing them that even old gals can boogie like youngsters. I confess I was just a bit fearful on the lonely, dark walk back to the Hotel Serigos Selini, but I made it without any problems.
Lo and behold, the next day, my Iranian friend from Paros showed up in Santorini as my new neighbor. Lila and I hung out the entire three days, taking the bus to ancient Thira, Fira and Oia, and hiking the hillsides to marvel at the stunning views.
We had the best time one evening at the Boathouse Taverna in Kamari dancing the night away with locals.
Alas! Too soon came the time to board the hydrofoil back to Piraeus. I spent the six-hour ride reading, writing in my journal, and taking note of the handsome man sitting next to me. He noticed me, too, so conversation seemed natural, although he spoke no English. With my minimal Greek infused with charades and drawing pictures, we discovered that we were both the same age, with grown children of the same ages.
These serendipitous encounters with strangers helped me pass the time happily and reinforced my idea that you don't have to be lonely just because you travel alone.
By now, feeling like a savvy solo traveler, I looked forward to finding my own way to new parts of Greece. During the month I was on my own, I must admit there were a few evenings I wished my friends were with me. But, because I made the effort to communicate by any means possible, I met plenty of nice people from Greece and other countries. Doing it on my own made this trip an experience like no other in my lifetime. Next visit I will eat more cheap gyros at the many sidewalk stands, so I can afford to stay at least two months. Opa!