Falling Back Together in Crete

“Dreams limit you sometimes.”

“Notice that when your dreams come true, you don’t always recognize them at first. That’s because your dreams are always limited by your experiences, by your reality. You couldn’t dream bigger because you had never had bigger before. How could you picture yourself feeling things you had never felt? Or meeting the love you had never known? How could you imagine living in a city you had never been to? You didn’t know the sights, the sounds, the smells…You always dream within the limits of your life.”

I wrote that in my notebook, sitting in an out of the way cafe in Madrid, after convincing myself to get real and just book that flight to Greece. The next day, I was flying into a Greek island.

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***

In my dreams, (and in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movies) all of Greece looks like steep cliffs and white-washed buildings with blue domed roofs. I’m aware that is only in Santorini, but that meant when I decided upon going to Crete, I had no idea what to actually expect.

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I had to fly from Madrid to Athens, and then catch a 30 minute flight from Athens to Crete a couple hours later. As soon as we landed in Athens I ran outside and wandered around the airport so I could soak up as much of Athens as I possibly could. (I would also like to take this time to point out that McDonald’s in Greece has Greek Big Macs so there is a new thing that you didn’t know a minute ago. You are welcome.)

Life Lesson #94: Create adventures however you can. 

I nearly convulsed with joy when we flew into Heraklion airport (which may as well have just been a giant tent in a parking lot). Holy shit, I have somehow managed to leave all of the sadness and turmoils of life and have brought myself to a Greek freaking island. WHO AM I.

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My favorite door in all of the world

The journey from the giant tent airport to the hostel was almost three hours long and ended in the middle of the night. It also involved lots of buses, long, scary, dark roads and more than a few leery Greek men hanging out at a bus station at 12 am but I am a survivor.

I hadn’t thought at all about the time I would be arriving in Crete, so I just got super lucky that I was able to still buy a bus ticket to my hostel so late at night.

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***

I ended up booking a great hostel in Rethymno, and the bus dropped everyone off at — of course — a closed, dusty little bus station seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The bus pulled away and I was left standing there with my bags like that scene in so many movies where the scared girl is standing with all her luggage at her feet while the bus pulls away and blows dust at her and she looks forlorn and yells “Wait!”, totally unsure of the life choice she just made. #LivedIt

Thankfully I found a man sitting on a bench and while I don’t always talk to strange men on benches in the middle of the night, when I do, it’s always to ask for directions. The guy ended up living down the road from me in London (no joke) and he also happened to be staying at the same hostel as me and offered to take me there.

“Okay. This is really weird, so are you a murderer or anything?”

“No, I just go to lots of music festivals.”

“Uhhh….Okay.”

*instant friends*

The hostel was fantastic and the only thing that struck me as odd was that I had to pay 1€ extra for a bed sheet which was pretty much 25% of the nightly room rate. The guy working there asked me if I actually wanted to use a sheet and since I couldn’t understand why a person wouldn’t want a sheet for their bed, I took one. Then I got into the room and it was 35°C (95°F) at 2 am and I realized I would indeed never use that sheet, except to fold it up and put it at the foot of the bed like a pillow for my feet.

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View from MY BED at the hostel and life is perfect and I am so happy

***

It needs to be said, that I definitely did not see more than 1% of Greece. In fact, I have probably seen more of Greece in my own head from reading so many ‘too old for me’ romance novels as a teenager that were set in Greece, than I actually did being in Greece. (Also, Mamma Mia.) But I LOVED IT.

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Rethymno itself has an old town, as it seems every city in Europe does and it was cool to walk around and explore, but it was also really geared towards tourists. The buildings were so old and falling apart in that beautiful way, but in all of them there were little North American style restaurants that served french fries with everything.

In fact, if you took all of those restaurants and kitschy shops out of Rethymno, I don’t know what would be left. There is history of course, but it would be a totally different kind of place. I imagined it like a small city of nothingness, and then all these Americanized pizza places sprung up like a bunch of annoying dandelions. They were meeting demand, I suppose, but I really wish tourists required a lot less of ‘home’ when traveling (myself included!). I blame us, not them.

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Old meets new

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I had to constantly remind myself to slow down and not to worry about having the kind of trip other people would think was worthy. Old habits die hard, and all that. Rethymno was one small area (that I had never heard of before arriving) on an island in the sea, but it ended up being the perfect place for me to settle down for a few days after causing myself having so much stress in Spain.

All of my days started with me waking up with the sun (and the heat), throwing my hair in a bun because humidity, not applying an ounce of make up and making my way to the closest place that had iced coffee. From there, I’d wander in and out of all the shops filled with olive oil and sea sponges and kick myself for not leaving enough room in my bag to buy unnecessary treasures. I’d then walk down the boardwalk and make my way to the beach, day after day.

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Looking back, I do sort of I wish I had left Rethymno and traveled around the island a bit more, but I was only there for a few days and was really trying to pay attention to what I needed more than what I thought I should do.

I met two people at my hostel who were going to spend a day hiking and they invited me along. They wanted to get to a cave which I later realized belonged to Zeus. (Yes, that Zeus.) I was all in for a long hike until they mentioned that at one point we would have to swim for a bit to get to the other side. Okay, no problem! Then there was mention of how okay I am when dealing with sea snakes and that was the end of that almost-adventure.

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***

The island at night had a totally different vibe from the sleepy afternoons and I found myself wishing for the first time that I was there with friends. All along the boardwalk, there were henna artists set up doing their art, kids sitting outside of frozen yogurt shops on bean bag chairs, and the restaurants all seemed to turn into raves. On the other side of you, there was the Mediterranean sea. It was magical and I sort of wanted to do it all and yet sit perfectly still at the same time.

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I bet watching a drunk person try to order a glass of “Agiorgitiko” would be extremely fun.

***

My last night in Crete, I put on a pretty dress and treated myself to a delicious meal at Alana. My whole meal, including drinks, bread, tzatziki, a main and dessert came to just over 20€ , which is like one lunch in London. Greece is affordable and lovely and I will go back a million more times.

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An entire PLATE of tzatziki. Of course.

***

I arrived back in London with the dirtiest feet, a mild case of self induced mental exhaustion and the feeling that I was capable of a million new things I hadn’t previously even known possible. My days alone in Spain and Greece taught me things about myself that I now see had always been there. It just wasn’t until I was firmly outside my comfort zone that I finally had the time and space to acknowledge all the ways I had been holding myself back.

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The more life you live, the bigger and wilder your dreams get to be. You wrote a long time ago, during a different hardship, one that seems insignificant now, that every single thing your do for yourself matters. It all counts. And so now, sitting here in this little cafe, before heading to Greece, you are doing so many things for yourself. Sometimes you’re scared. Sometimes you’re sad. Lots of times you are lonely, but all of it adds up to your life, to your big picture. All of these things allow you to dream bigger. You’re finally getting to dream outside of your own limits.”

***

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