Hello loves! It’s currently 3:22am and I’m wide awake from jet lag, so I thought it would be the perfect time to write about my trip!
The last two weeks I spent traveling in Greece and Switzerland and it was absolutely magical. Traveling is something so precious and important to me because it pushes me outside of every single one of my comfort zones and allows me to flourish as the person I truly am. Traveling teaches me so many lessons and allows me to see so many new things. I am so incredibly grateful for this experience, and every experience I have been blessed with.
I left Denver on July 15th on an 8pm overnight to Paris. My week in Greece would be spend on a Fears to Freedom getaway, a week with like minded girls, strangers, who love health and wellness as much as me, and want to travel with other young women with similar interests. Strangely enough, two of the other girls were from Colorado, Kenna and Zoe, so we all flew to Greece together.
We arrived in Paris at 1pm local time and had a 7 hour layover, which ended up going by way faster than we thought it would. One of the girls phones’ was malfunctioning which was a huge fiasco, since it was her first time internationally and she needed to be in contact with her parents. It took forever to get our baggage, and even longer to figure out where and how to store our luggage so that we could go into the city without hauling everything with us. I even weirdly enough ran into one of my old bosses, an adorable French man named Phillipe, from when I worked briefly at the St. Julien hotel last summer. Things were feeling strange, but with a positive mindset and rational thinking, we finally got everything figured out and hopped in a taxi to the Eiffel Tower.
Our taxi driver tried as hard as he could to over charge us, made even more difficult by the fact that his English was weak and our French was non-existent. Finally we realized that him and I both spoke weak Spanish and were able to communicate that way. It was so much fun using a skill that I’ve never considered to be strong in to connect with someone and problem solve in a new way. When we arrived at the Eiffel Tower, we quickly found a good spot to take some pictures and delighted in the fact that we really were in Paris at the Eiffel Tower, such a bucket list item!
After a few quick shots we moved on to try to find the Health Food Cafe we’d researched and had been dreaming about for weeks, Wild and the Moon. There were several locations decently near us, but we were running short on time, so we picked the closest one and started walking. Unfortunately when we arrived we were told that the location had shut down. It was in a darling little yoga studio that I would have loved to have taken class at, and would have been the perfect aesthetic for our much anticipated meal, but sometimes things just don’t work out the way you plan, and that’s okay.
We tracked down a taxi and headed back to the airport. Stomachs rumbling, we explored the airport, trying to find a decent option for dinner, but with little luck settled for airport snacks, extremely ready to fly to Athens and finish our long travel day.
Paris was an incredible reminder that when you’re traveling you relinquish a lot of your control over things. Sometimes you get lost. Sometimes you can’t find what you’re looking for. Sometimes you have to spend more money than you want to just to get where you’re going or have a meal. Even though spirits weren’t as high as they could’ve been among all of my traveling companions, I was feeling so thankful for all of the lessons I was learning in problem solving and letting go of expectations. At the end of the day I got my pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower, even if I was only there for an hour.
We finally made it to Greece late that night and got to our AirBnB. This taxi driver was even more manipulative, driving circles around the city to make our drive more expensive. At this point I honestly couldn’t have cared less, just excited to finally get some sleep.
The next morning we taxied to a cute health food restaurant in Athens called Peas and met the other girls on our trip, Allie who was leading the getaway, and Svetlana who was from Sydney, Australia. We were so excited to finally have a real meal and got to know each other over our giant tempeh buddha bowls. Right away we all connected over silly little health and wellness things, and I knew that it would be an incredible journey.
We checked into our hotel, the New Hotel in Athens, a stunning boutique hotel in the city center, perfect for exploring Athens. All of the staff were so nice and accommodating, and the rooms were beautiful. We soon realized that the street next to our hotel not only had a delicious vegetarian restaurant, Avocado, but also the best health food store, and a cute boutique and cafe with freshly squeezed watermelon juice. We were instantly obsessed with this street and spent lots of time here in our two days in Athens. We spent the rest of the day walking around the city and finding cute little shops. The night ended with dinner at Avocado, a stop at the health food store, and a nice evening walk. When we got back to the hotel we journaled and got to know each other more, and went to bed early— my kind of people.
Day 2 started with a breakfast buffet at the hotel with fresh local food: cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, watermelon and other fresh fruit, dried figs, tahini, grilled veggies, granola, and so many other tasty items. We sat and chatted at breakfast for a while, which would become a habit of ours, then spent the day exploring the city. My highlights from this day were walking around the Plaka area, finding this cute cafe run by Toms the shoe company, visiting the Botanical Gardens, going to the Acropolis, finding a quiet, secluded staircase to sit and chat with the girls, and best of all, our first authentic greek dinner.
Our greek dinner started with olives as appetizers and only got better from there. We shared the eggplant roasted with tomato sauce- our personal favorite, a delicious quinoa salad, rice stuffed tomatoes and peppers, and giant beans with a savory sauce. Everything was so simple, so clean and so fresh. All of us have lots of stomach issues and dietary restrictions and enjoy eating healthy foods. It was so nice sharing meals with people who are also intolerant to things like gluten and dairy. Svetlana and I are both vegans, and Kenna is mostly plant based which made it easier to order than just having one person with extreme dietary preferences. We laughed at the looks we got trying to order and smiled at the language confusion, especially as one of the girls navigated her multiple allergies. Some things like soy, “soya”, were easy while other things, not so much.
Our time in Athens was short and sweet but we were all so excited to get to Santorini. Our morning started with a 4am wake-up call and Mamma Mia dance party. We were lucky enough to watch the sunrise on the 40 minute plane ride to Santorini which was beautiful beyond words.
We arrived in Santorini early and transferred to our hotel. Allie, the getaway lead, has been working with the hotel we were staying at Aressana for the past year and had told us endless amazing thing about the hotel. We could not wait to arrive, and we were maybe most excited for the breakfast buffet which started every morning at 8. We got to the hotel around 7 and marvelled at the beautiful pool; the white buildings contrasted by the radiant pink flowers, the bridge that crossed the pool, the serenity of the quiet morning. We took a morning stroll around the area to take up the time until breakfast, and watched all of the store owners preparing their shops for the busy tourist day ahead, taking note of all the places we wanted to return to, especially an acai bowl place with vegan soft serve and raw vegan brownies and energy balls.
Breakfast time finally arrived and Aressana did not disappoint. There were so many yummy options that would suit anybody’s likings including hot egg dishes, pastries, breads, but my go tos were the greek salad, the best cucumbers ever, picked veggies- especially the carrots, roasted potato wedges, lentil or chickpea salads, sun dried tomatoes, olives, spices: cumin, turmeric, and chili powder, dried fruits and nuts, tahini, and so much fresh fruit: peaches, watermelon, kiwis, pears, grapes, apricots, apples, bananas, cherries. We started every meal by getting hot water with lemon and sitting and chatting for a long time, long enough for the staff to wonder if we would ever get food. We loved the morning ritual of the walk in the crisp air, the hot beverage to awaken our digestion, then finally the incredible buffet. Allie started introducing us to the staff including our favorite breakfast boys, Bill and young Bill, the bartender Stergios, and her favorite “Uncle” Yonnis. Literally all of the staff were so nice and so accommodating from the drivers to the cleaning staff.
We spent the rest of the day by the pool, walking around trying to find the best acai bowls, visiting cute tourist shops, and finally we made our way to the town Oia, another big town about a 20 minute bus ride from Fira, the town we were staying in. We found a vegan greek restaurant and were all dying to try it. We were excited to find that it was about a 20 minute walk away from the touristy area, the caldera, and was waterfront above a beach, overlooking the ocean, the perfect place to watch our first Santorini sunrise. We started off by ordering the vegan feta which was a warm dip topped with slivered almonds and served with fresh, crisp cucumbers. It was literally so good we couldn’t believe it was vegan. We continued by ordering the eggplant caprese stack- white eggplant layered with tomatoes, spinach, pesto, and balsamic reduction, all craving more eggplant since our dinner the night before, along with balsamic grilled veggies, and roasted cauliflower. Everything was so tasty and we couldn’t have asked for a better location to spend the evening.
Our evenings concluded every night at the hotel bar, but unlike most young girls frolicking around Europe, we sipped hot tea rather than alcoholic beverages. Rather than going out to the bars and staying up all night, we chatted with Stergios and Yonnis, and learned life lessons over our steaming cups of chamomile, before returning to our rooms and calling it a night at 11:00pm. This was another thing I loved about traveling with these girls, we all embraced our weird health and wellness crazes, obsessions with getting the right lighting for pictures, and our grandmother tendencies to go to bed as soon as the sun set. After so many situations of feeling weird or wrong for not wanting to spend my evenings the way so many others my age do, it was so refreshing to be with people who just get it. Who know the importance of good food, good sleep, and good times.
The next day, after another fantastic Aressana breakfast, we embarked on the famous “hike” from Fira to Oia. This hike entails walking along the caldera, the view, from one city to the other, walking a large portion of the crescent shaped island and seeing amazing views of the ocean and nearby islands. We made a stop at “the rock” a destination Allie always loves to go to which I really enjoyed. It’s a little off trail excursion to terrain I commonly associate with hikes, i.e. more nature, dirt trails, and an incline. It was so fun making it all the way to the top, including the last little section which was some very minor bouldering. It was interesting to watch how scared people were of this little section and so cool to watch people face their fears and just do the thing.
The 8 mile hike took us around 4 hours, about 3.75 of which we all had to go to the bathroom, since we never ended up finding one. It was a hot day, but we loved being out in the fresh air, watching our skin darken from the greek sun rays. Eventually we made it to Oia, and surprise, surprise, found a place for acai bowls (actually my only one of the trip, which was so refreshing after the long, toasty walk).
That evening we had a special dinner at the hotel where they made us a 4-course meal, and did their best to accomodate all of our dietary preferences.
Course 1: GF bread with olive oil + olives
Course 2: Sauteed mushrooms + greek salad
Course 3: Grilled Veggies + GF pasta (plus octopus and shrimp dishes for those who ate it, the girls had lots of fun trying the octopus)
Course 4: A HUGE fresh fruit platter.
The staff rolled their eyes at all our our dietary restrictions and strange requests, but they were also extremely kind to create a menu specifically for us. As part of their culture, they expected us to eat everything or considered rude and meant we didn’t like it. We loved the meal and did our best, leaving filled to the brim.
The next day we had a relaxing low-key morning. I was able to get out on a quick run and have a dip in the private pool outside of our room before breakfast, then journaled, napped, and went on a walk before meeting back up with the rest of the girls for our boat tour.
This was probably my favorite part of the trip. We took a sunset dinner cruise around the island and it was absolutely magical. We boarded the boat in the middle of a super hot afternoon, excited to be on the water. We loved sitting on the nets at the front of the boat, swaying back and forth, and enduring the occasional salty spray. Soon we reached our first anchor point. No frills— no ladder, no lifejackets, just the option to jump off the back of the boat straight into the ocean. The moment I hit the water I felt invigorated. The water was cool but not freezing. Salty beyond words and so incredibly refreshing. We played around for a few minutes, embracing our best doggie paddles, then made our way back onto the boat. We were so happy we ended up jumping in at this point, because by the time our other opportunity to jump in arrived, the wind had picked up and we were all comfortable in our dry clothes. Once we arrived at our final destination, we anchored for dinner. As we were sailing the chef had been hard at work creating a delicious greek meal. We feasted on greek salad, a garden salad, roasted veggies, hummus, stuffed grapes leaves!!! (I had been craving these the whole trip thus far), and olive tapenade (which became our new favorite find).
The boat ride back included deep talks, dance parties, impromptu karaoke, taking wayyyy too many pictures, and watching the sun set over the horizon as love songs filled the air. We laughed that everyone else on the boat with us was a couple, but we could not have been more content with each others company.
The next day was our last of the retreat. After breakfast we got to spend an hour in the hotel’s relaxation room, which featured a sauna, hot tub, and hot beds. After such an action filled trip, it felt so nice to take an hour just to slow down, and we actually all ended up falling asleep 🙂
In the afternoon we had a driving tour around the island where one of the Aressana drivers drove us to all of Allie’s favorite parts of the island, as well as some special spots that are favorites of his. We walked around a cute beach which I would have loved to spend more time at. We loved looking at all of the pieces from local jewelry artisans and seeing all of the cute restaurants. We found another juice/smoothie bar and of course had to stop. Then we explored Pygros, the lighthouse, the black sand beach, the highest point on the island, and ended at the most beautiful secret viewpoint. You could see the whole island and so far into the ocean without seeing any of the tourist points. It reminded me of Maui, staring into the natural beauty.
Our trip ended with dinner at a restaurant that featured all of our favorites: grilled eggplant, roasted veggies, greek salad, and grape leaves. We were given free sangria just for coming in, and had a great view of our last Santorini sunset. It was the perfect ending to the perfect getaway, sharing incredible food, laughing with the strangers that became sisters.
Thank you Greece for welcoming me with open arms. For showing me your beauty, your history, your spirit. Thank you ladies for all the love, all the laughs, and the constant excitement for the next meal or exploring the next vegan cafe.