If you haven’t read my blog on “Learn to figure it out” I suggest reading that first.
Once I had started working in digital publishing instead of just being a musician, I discovered I could afford the luxury of travel, and I took it when I could. I had spent all of my twenties working on bands, playing dingy bars, booking bands, and many, many late nights with little to no sleep. I was ready for a change and part of that was a need to get on a plane and head towards the unknown. Solo and alone.
Yes, I made the decision to backpack across Europe alone and looking back now, it was the best decision I made. I cherish this trip and there will never be anything close to it. For nearly six weeks I criss crossed across a number of countries making it up as I went along. The musician in me was improvising with no holds barred.
I had done some research by getting what I deemed as essential reading:
- The Lonely Planet’s “Europe on a Shoestring” – basic info on everything you need to know everywhere in Europe.
- The Lonely Planet’s “Spain” – Everything you need to know in Spain (hotels, restaurants, bars, etc…)
- “Weird Europe” – a book on almost all of the crazy festivals at the time that take place across Europe
- The Lonely Planet’s – Greek Phrasebook
After pouring through my books I decided to just get a flight to London… with no plan after that….zero,nada,zip…. Even after all that reading I just had a few points of interest I would like to try to hit…Mainly festivals if possible – a passion of mine, I love experiencing local culture, especially festivals that are unique.
So off I was on a flight with no clue as to what to expect. The plane was fairly empty – next to me was an old lady that was an teacher. She told me about her daughter and how she travelled alone, strangely this gave me courage and reassurance. Not that I was nervous but we had great conversations during our flight.
I took this photo while on the flight – I had never seen colours like this before – it was one of the most beautiful things I have seen.
Upon landing into Gatwick, going through customs and pickup my luggage… it hit me. BAM!!! I was in another country, alone with no idea what’s next.
It was a little unsettling to hear over the intercom system, “do not leave any belongings unattended as it will be destroyed” – I learned this was due to bomb scares…. yeah no big deal, wait we don’t have that back home. And then a couple of security guards .. ok soldiers go by with heavy duty rifles walked by…. yeah we don’t have those back home either.
I took a seat and sat for around 20 – 30 min wondering what should I do next. Should I go to London and start and end my trip here (my return flight was from London) or do I go somewhere else. Now, by today’s standards you would just go online, surf and come up with an educated decision. This was before easy access to internet.
I decided to see if there’s a flight to Greece, anywhere, it didn’t matter.
The worker behind the counter was dressed in a multicolour vest which screamed ugly, he was very polite but with a hint of sarcasm. I asked “Do you have any flights to Greece?”
His response was that I should have been there the day before as today is “Not a Good Day For Greece”.
(FUNNY NOTE: Exactly 1 year later I was back and the exact same worker, wearing the exact same uniform was there and when asked if there are any flights to Greece, he replied “it’s Not a Good Day For Greece”)
I had to encourage him a little bit to dig into the information he had to find me a flight to Greece. What he came up with was Crete, the Southern most island.
I had to wait about an hour and then off I was on another flight to another unknown.
We landed in Heraklion at around 8:30 pm. This airport was not like any I had seen – there were only 2 luggage carousels. There were no signs saying which one ours would be on. So if one started moving everyone would rich to it… however, it would then stop and the other would start. This went on for some time – it became a joke.
Finally we received our luggage and went through customs only to see the tourist information booth I was eyeing up all along was now closed – yes it was getting late. I had no choice but to grab a cab. Remember I had no plan, which meant no place to stay, yet. No hotel booked, nothing. So looking towards the city in the distance and the bay off the ocean, I figured there had to be hotels along the water. I get a cab and point to where we were to go. The route seemed out of the way and long for what was needed – yup he was jacking the price, but it being my first day I didn’t hold it against my driver, I just wanted to find where I was going to stay.
So there I was now after travelling for basically a full day and still no idea what I was going to do. It was getting close to 11pm and this being my first night of travel, I sure didn’t want to be sleeping outside in an unknown country.
I figured I would walk along the waterfront thinking there must be a hotel.
I was walking and then all of a sudden, no more street lights. Pitch black. No hotel. Not looking good.
So I picked a side street heading away from the water that I thought looked hopeful. Just 2 block up, the second cross street, I look to my left down the street and there it was. A hostel.
They had a room in a 4 person “dorm”, I got in and there was another guy settling his things, I started to do the same. We introduced each other. I can;t remember his name. He asked me if I was hungry and would like to go out. He mentioned that he had lived there before and he spoke the language and knows where to go. He also gave me a beer, how bad can it be?
Now, this being my first time travelling, I was trusting no one. This sounded too good to be true. But I went with it.
We walked around a bit and found a place that lookedlike they were in the process of closing, it also seemed like our only option as other places were indeed closed. My new friend managed to convince the place to open again for us and cook some small tapas. How nice. We gave them good money for doing so.
While eating my companion told me a little bit of the in’s and out’s of travelling through Greece and what I needed to know. Pretty cool the first night out I meet someone that gives me beer, gets a place to re-open so we can have food, and free advice!
I spent the next day wandering around the city and visited the museum – I was blown away by how old everything was.
A day was enough as this city seemed more like a port town with not a lot of attractions. I planned to go to Santorini and the only ferry came later at night.
I did find an internet cafe. Remember internet was rare back then. I just wanted to log in to my hotmail, check and send a few email, but the speed was so slow in 30 minutes I was able to log in, look at my subject titles for my emails, then open maybe 1-2 and then that was it – times up. Crazy slow so didn’t pursue it further.
I showed up about 2 hours early for when the ferry was supposed to arrive. I purchased my ticket and tried asking a couple of questions to the worker who gave me my tickets , but english was not her language and we couldn’t understand each other.
There was a couple waiting, also backpacking. They too seems to be in the dark a little bit as we weren’t quite sure where the ferry was going to dock. I asked the lone worked that was out on the dock. I asked him if the ferry comes here. His response, “Yes…. sometimes here, sometimes there, sometimes not at all.” Great! Very helpful. This was my introduction to the Greek life.
The ferry was a couple of hours late, we had been waiting a long time, then all of a sudden tons of cars, vans, people come from out of nowhere. And sure enough the ferry was on the horizon. So there seems to be some inside knowledge that the locals have that we didn’t.
The ferry arrived and I got on as quickly as possible as it was general seating.
I got comfortable and then fell asleep. The long day did me in.
I woke around 12:30 at night, the ship was packed, where did all these people come from? I looked out the window and saw we were at a port – I asked the guy next to me which island we were at. His response…”Oh, we haven’t left yet”. Now ere were only about -4 hours behind in leaving. No one seemed to care, back home there would be such an uproar. The guy next to me said to relax, reached into his bag, and produced a beer for me.
He then proceeded to tell me stories about Santorini and Atlantis (which is rumoured to be int her waters offshore of Santorini).It helped make the journey through the night easier to take.
We arrived in the morning to Santorini and I was ready for Day #2!!
It actually was a GREAT DAY FOR GREECE!!!!!
Every step of the way I was learning to “Figure it Out”.
I didn’t know what I was going to do when I landed in London, I didn’t know where I was going to stay in Crete or how to find a place,Hell I didn’t know I was going to Crete, I didn’t have access to information and there was a language barrier. But throughout he process , I made friend quick, got free advice, and was able to enjoy myself with out worrying along the way. It’s good to enjoy the road you are on.
– I’ve take this to almost everything else that I do and I try to remember these life lessons when the road ahead is unclear.
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