• Journal

Blue, White, and Jaded: Greece with Collecting Rocks Travel

Nicole returns to Greece – home to some of her favorite childhood memories – to discover now-overcrowded tourist destinations that she quickly escapes for less popular islands and more genuine experiences.

Photo: Collecting Rocks Travel

Nicole returns to Greece – home to some of her favorite childhood memories – to discover now-overcrowded tourist destinations that she quickly escapes for less popular islands and more genuine experiences.

My love of Greece started young. I was nine the first time I visited, on the tail end of a three-month-long vacation through India, Egypt and Europe. While it was just a brief stopover on a much longer holiday my time spent on the Cycladic Islands left a lasting impression. I did not have the opportunity to return until I was twenty-one but in the last fourteen years I have been pulled back four more times. There is a piece of me that is enlivened every time I am there; the rich culinary traditions, the deluge of blue and white, the people’s generosity and the islands’ hospitality all combine to paint magnificent memories.

I can recall being a little girl on the island of Naxos, the ferry ride from the port of Pireaus was where I learned I suffer from seasickness. Docking in Chora I could see the doorway to the ancient temple of Apollo looming above, it felt like the beginning of my own mythic adventure. My family spent our days walking around the small pedestrian villages splashed in white, blue and bougainvillea pink or sometimes laying on the shores of the Aegean, soaking in the Grecian sun. Meals were usually just-caught fish from a beachfront taverna served with juicy tomatoes in a puddle of olive oil and xinomyzithra, a soft, local goat cheese. These feasts were always followed by the ritual of me and my dad walking in search of rizagalo, the Greek’s rich and thick rice pudding dusted with cinnamon. Our arrival on this floating paradise would initiate my first feelings of energetic and complete love for a place.

The next time I will have stepped foot on the shores of a Greek Island would be eleven years later, my return to Naxos and then the iconic Santorini. Still a relatively sleepy island in 2003, Santorini was beautiful and charismatic in different ways than Naxos. The crescent-shaped archipelago wraps around the Kemeni Islands which were formed by the now dormant volcano lying just below the surface of the sea. The view from the inner curve, or caldera, is arresting, no doubt contributing to its popularity. That first visit is a bit of a blur but I remembered enough to know I would return someday.

“Meals were usually just-caught fish from a beachfront taverna served with juicy tomatoes in a puddle of olive oil and xinomyzithra, a soft, local goat cheese.”

On my second visit to Santorini in 2012 I stayed in Imerovigli, the town in middle of the island that overlooks the caldera. It is perfectly situated to view both the northern and southern tips of the island as well as Skaros, the remains of a Venetian castle that dates back to 1207. Away from Fira, the village just up the mountain from where the cruise ships dock, and Oia, the most photographic Greek village in the country, I felt as if we were nestled in an overlooked and underrated town which I had hoped would remain this way… it did not. I have returned to Santorini twice since that 2012 trip and I wish I could say it still held the same charm and allure it once did but unfortunately it has become an overcrowded, over-instagrammed, tourists’ beacon that doesn’t resemble the place I used to dream about.

With more people traveling every year, 2018 is shaping up to be the busiest season in the island’s history. Being there felt like I what I imagine being aboard a cruise ship is like, packed with sunburned, selfie-shooting, culture-phobic passengers who require vacation curation. As big tour buses barreled past me through the once quiet, quaint towns I chose to look for peaceful corners in restaurants and hiking paths that weren’t packed with brides and their photographers or riddled with litter. I was becoming aware that this would be my farewell tour in one of my favorite places in the world. This once idyllic place had been sacrificed to a thankless tourism industry.

“I was becoming aware that this would be my farewell tour in one of my favorite places in the world. This once idyllic place had been sacrificed to a thankless tourism industry.”

Anxious and sad that this could be the future of travel I set out to discover lesser known places that I could go where I wouldn’t be a burden on the infrastructure and where I could still have the connection with the locals and the authentic culture that I’d once had years ago. After doing some digging two small islands within ferrying distance of Santorini popped up on my radar. Milos and Folegandros would be where my faith in traveling was renewed.

Folegandros is a small, bean-shaped island that is a stopover from one bigger island to the next. Our host, Yiannis said that it is not uncommon for many people to not get off the ferry at Folegandros but just continue on to Santorini or Crete. That would be their loss. Folegandros may be small but I could have easily stayed there for a month. Tiny churches resting on hilltops lead to hiking paths through waves of undulating hills and valleys and create a serene escape from the other more crowded islands I could see in the distance. There are abandoned farming terraces with grazing sheep and donkeys that cascade down to isolated coves to sunbathe on. Instead of the Chora being at the main port it is hidden away from pirates in a dip between two mountains; from my bed on the opposite hill I could see the sunrise behind it and the night lights start to twinkle on when the sun set. How I ever overlooked this utopia is beyond comprehending.

“Tiny churches resting on hilltops lead to hiking paths through waves of undulating hills and valleys and create a serene escape from the other more crowded islands I could see in the distance. There are abandoned farming terraces with grazing sheep and donkeys that cascade down to isolated coves to sunbathe on.”

Milos on the other hand is definitely having its moment in the sun after being in a few travel magazines this year. It is still chocked full of character but with much fewer visitors than some of its more popular neighbors. There are incredible limestone cliffs that plunge into the sea, creating caves and bridges to swim between. The traditional Cycladic architecture exists in all of the towns but it is also home to colorful boathouses called syrmatas which dot the shores of the fishing villages. I stayed 5 nights in one of these small fishing communities which had one incredible seafood shack, seven other “houses,” a few syrmatas and about 37 cats. It was my heaven. Every morning I would walk a mile up the hill for Greek coffee at the local bakery, each day becoming more friendly with the baker, testing my Greek language skills and being introduced to one delicious, new pastry after another. I found myself touring the seaside roads, pulling over at the goat farm to pick up a chunk of cheese and some rizagalo or stopping to peak inside a tiny church hanging off the edge of the island, appearing as if it will fall off into the ocean at any moment. I didn’t feel like an interloper here, I felt more like a member of the community, a part-time resident. These moments are why I travel.

Of course seeing new landscapes and beautiful scenery is a huge part of going somewhere new but more than anything I want to make connections with people. I want to know more about the way people live, what they eat, how they pass time in the places they call home. I am becoming more conscious with each trip I take of how I impact an area and the community that lives there, in positive and negative ways. I hope that fifteen years from now these new islands I’ve come to cherish are still recognizable for not only their beauty but their culture as well.

  • Appendix


   
   
  • Next Article

interview 10.24.2018

Talking Punk and Pottery with Osa Atoe

From DC to Portland to Louisiana, her journey's been riddled with punk and pottery...
Read More