The Guest Post Series on “My Favourite Things” has contributions by those sharing my interests in travel, books, music, and on issues that I am passionate about. These posts are not always by fellow bloggers, and the guest authors are always those who have interesting experiences to share.
Today’s guest post is by Aditi, who writes about a trip she made to Greece last summer. At that time, she was on a year-long stay in Belgium as a Rotary exchange student from India, and the Greece trip was one of the many organised by the Rotary Club for exchange students in Belgium. These days, Aditi is eagerly waiting to turn 18 and travel to see the Taj Mahal. These days she also prefers not to think about her 12th Std. results which will be declared in a month or so.
Flashback to April 2011. Tenth of April 2011 to be precise.
My bags were packed, my passport and Identity Card were safely put away in my purse. I hadn’t slept the previous night, and yet wasn’t the least bit tired as I was so excited. I was waiting in the living room, impatiently shaking my legs for my host mother to get ready. Why? Because she was going to drive me to Trois-Ponts railway station from where I would take the train to Liège station. And why was I going to Leige station? Because that’s where I was meeting all the Rotary exchange students. Why? Because we were all going on a trip to GREECE !
Did you think that we flew to Greece from Belgium? Actually, we didn’t. We took a bus. Yes, a double-decker bus and then a ship. The road part sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it? And actually it was to begin with. But in hindsight it was worth it because all the Rotary exchange students got to bond with one other. And by the end of the trip, we had become the best of friends with each other. I was always happy to be with the other exchange students as I saw myself in all of them. I never thought of myself as just “Indian”. I was Indian, American, Canadian, Australian, Mexican, Venezuelan, Taiwanese, Japanese—all at the same time. And of course, Belgian. Even today, I have a bit of all these countries in me.
After over 16 hours of traveling by bus, we reached Ancone, a small town in Italy from where we were to board the ship that would take us to Greece. None of us had slept well the previous night and we were all very grumpy. After lunch, where I got the chance to have delicious Italian food in Italy, we headed to the port.
While I was prepared to see all the exchange students to travel by the cruise ship, I wasn’t expecting my bus to do the same ! I have seen cars and cycles go into boats but NEVER a BUS!
It was my first time on a cruise ship and I was so excited. And scared as well for I don’t like deep waters. I had my friends assure me that they would jump in after me if I fell off the boat or something. It sounded really silly, but I felt safe knowing that people loved me enough that they would bother to save me.
Once on board, we were allocated our rooms. My roomies were three American friends and as soon as we entered our room, I ran into the shower—it had been 24 hours since I had showered and I was feeling so sticky and unclean. After that it was time for dinner and the usual difficulty in finding vegetarian food. But I managed, as I was used to it after nearly 7 months in Europe.
We all slept early, excited that we would be in Greece in the morning. The four of us woke up in time to view the sunrise. That’s when we realised that we were already in Greece! It was the most amazing feeling ever! We had heard so much about this country and my host parents had told me that Greek boys were the best looking people on earth. That got me all the more excited!
We docked at Igoumentisa in Greece at around 10 in the morning. And then, to our disbelief and horror, we had to travel for another 6 hours to get to our hotel in Kalambaka. We had thought our travel troubles were over after 20 uncomfortable hours of travel by bus! But we were so wrong.
It was late afternoon when we checked into our hotel, which was pretty amazing, better than what I expected and considering how expensive Europe is. We spent the evening shopping for souvenirs and then it was dinner time. Our dinner was typical Greek food, which was absolutely delicious. It is very close to Indian food with a lot of spices and my mouth and stomach were more than happy—they had missed spicy food for more than 6 months !
Our Greece trip started early next morning. We headed to the village of Kalambaka to visit the Meteora, one of the largest and most important complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Greece. Built on natural sandstone rock pillars, the Meteora used to be a refuge for hermits seeking solitude in the 11th century. By the 14th century, these had transformed into a complex of 6 monasteries. Until the last century, access to most of the monasteries was only through nets and ladders.
For the next 8 days, we followed a similar routine: change hotels every night, do some sightseeing during the day, party all night and wake up extremely tired the next morning for that day’s excursion. In this way, we visited Delphi, Athens, Porto Heli, Mycenae, Epidarus and Olympia.
There was one day when all the students requested the Rotarians for a break as we were in desperate need of sleep. But they said that it would not be possible as on that particular day something special had been planned for us—a day, we were assured, that would be the best day of our lives. Though we weren’t convinced, we had no option but to listen to them. We got into a boat that morning and within no time, most of us fell asleep. That was the best sleep I had during the trip to Greece. We awoke an hour later when we reached our destination—the Island of Hydra. And that is when we were told that we had the day to ourselves.
We were all so very happy with that announcement. My friends and I wandered around the island and met this man who could speak six languages—English, Arabic, Russian, French, Italian and Greek. For me it was no big deal as I speak five-and-a-half languages myself, but for my American, Australian and Canadian friends it was a novelty as they had not met people who could speak more than 2 languages. It was really funny to see their reactions. We wandered, shopped and we even climbed a hill which had no proper path. It was amazing to see the Island from the top. The sky was a perfect blue, there were boats pulling in etc. etc. It was one of the beautiful sights I have ever seen. It was one of those moments when you feel you have nothing to worry about and that life is perfect. And it certainly it was, it certainly was.
I just loved Greece. It had such beautiful monuments and I was so happy that I was finally getting to see things that I had only studied in my History classes. Never in my dreams did I think that one day I would be in Greece with such wonderful people. And what I loved the most was that Greece is so much like India. The traffic is unruly (though maybe not as much as in India), people drive like crazy, roads are narrow, the diversity, the food, EVERYTHING!
And like all good things, this trip had to come to an end. Once again, we spent 20 hours on the boat and another 16 hours on the bus. But that meant more time to chit-chat with everyone. When the bus dropped us off in Liège, it suddenly hit me hard that I only had 2 months left in Europe and before I returned home to India. In two months all of us would be back home in different continents, not knowing when we would see each other again. But I brushed that thought off, relieved that I had enough time to be with them and travel!It’s been nearly a year since that trip to Greece, and I still think of it every single day and wait for the day to go there once again. But for now, I am enjoying my life here.