Chania, on the island of Crete
We spent the week in a little town called Chania, on the island of Crete. Crete is one of the bigger Greek islands, but is also known to be the most accessible island. I can vouch that it is probably true. We were able to walk the entire city quite easily, minus a few minor hills and some cobblestone sidewalks. We had a lovely AirBNB with amazing hosts who gifted us small treats each day – homemade spinach pastries, fresh baby peaches, cherries, watermelon, olive oil with herbs. I could feel the pride that these hosts had and am proud of them for embracing their culture and making their business something so special and meaningful.
The quiet morning in the Old Town
Tony and I would spend our mornings having coffee on the balcony in our pajamas and the afternoons strolling around Old Town, where we quite commonly found ourselves eating Greek gyros. One of my most favorite parts of the Greek food culture is that each restaurant will bring out an unexpected dessert at the end of the meal. We would ask for our check and instead would get two tiny desserts. Sometimes it was ice cream, sometimes it was a pastry, and sometimes it was Greek yogurt with berries. But it was always something homemade and it felt to be from the heart. Again, the pride in each of these restaurants was exorbitant and I felt so lucky to be experiencing this.
On our last day, we were up at 4 am to catch a three-hour bus ride to the airport so we could get back to Athens. It was a long day already, so by the time Tony’s flight was getting close to departure, I was tired and emotional. I had a few hours left before my flight and walked with him to passport control, where we hugged and kissed and parted ways. I didn’t expect it, but as soon as he walked past the security gate, I knew I was about to breakdown. I rushed to the nearest bathroom, rudely pushing a man out of my way in the elevator, to have a moment alone. Tony wouldn’t believe it – I didn’t have an ‘emotional episode’ once when we were together – but I cried for a good five minutes after he left. Our time together was so important to me and I am going to miss having him with me for the next part of my journey.
The week itself was calming and really uneventful, from any sort of deep adventure or risk, but I did leave with a few thoughts and awakenings. I struggled internally when I transitioned from solo traveling to doing it with Tony. I was sad that my solo chapter had ended but also excited about the new one, with Tony. And I felt the same when I watched him walk through security and I was left all alone again. I realized that there are so many chapters in our lives – some very big, noticeable chapters, and some tiny, almost unrecognizable chapters. But with each of those chapters is a shift, a shift in our mindset, a shift in how we will move forward, and a period of transition. I am reminded that it is okay to be excited about the next chapter while still grieving the closed chapter. Of course this is not the end of my travels with Tony, but it was a special week for me and the tears were those of appreciation.
I also realized that planning a trip on behalf of someone puts you in control of, what I would consider, two of the most valuable things a person has – their time and their money. I am often the trip planner for the trips I am on. It’s my type A personality and I really do enjoy the process of planning, so taking the responsibility of someone else’s most valuable things adds a level of stress. Tony is one of the most chill people I know, so being with him is easy, but for me, there is always an underlying concern about making sure he (or whomever I’m traveling with) is having a nice time. Solo travel does not include this layer of emotion. If I plan an activity and it’s a waste of time or money, it’s no one’s issue but my own, and that removes the guilt of poor planning. Of course, you lose the experience of sharing the trip with someone when you are alone, so I’m not suggesting that solo is better. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.
After a few minutes of getting myself back together, and reminding myself that I can totally continue on my own, I left the bathroom and found a table at the airport where I waited for my flight to Sofia, Bulgaria. I wasn’t really nervous about visiting Sofia, after all it is an EU country and I didn’t think it would be much different than the rest of Europe.
After I landed and made my way through immigration, I headed towards the taxi line. And that’s when I discovered that very few people spoke English. There were about six taxi drivers all standing together chatting when I approached, and only one of them spoke a few words of English. The hotel I was staying out suggested not to pay more than 7.50 euro for a taxi, so I was adamant on only paying 7.5 euro. The taxi drivers felt differently and we ensued a heated conversation in two languages – they spoke Bulgarian and I spoke English. It was a pointless conversation, really, with no one understanding each other, but at the end of the day, we agreed on 10 euro, based mostly on hand signals. Of course, they only wanted their local currency, so I had to locate the one ATM in the airport to get them the funds they needed. My taxi driver was polite and considerate from there on out, and even helped me into the front door of my hotel, which had a rather large step.
It was about 10:30 pm at this point, and given my 4am wakeup call, I was exhausted. I had booked my hotel through booking.com and asked in two different messages for a room on the ground floor, knowing they didn’t have an elevator. I didn’t get a response and knew this when I arrived, completely prepared to have to climb a flight of stairs. But the husband and wife owners, waiting for me in the lobby, felt differently. They immediately said that they would not allow me to climb the stairs – which happened to be six flights – and wanted to help me find a new hotel. To be clear, this wasn’t a legal issue or them not wanting me to climb the stairs out of safety, it was completely a comfort issue. They couldn’t bear to watch me go through that trouble.
I explained several times that I was on a budget and couldn’t afford to pay more. I was okay with spending one night there, despite the stairs, and to look for a new place the next morning. They also did not like this plan, and proceeded to both get on their cell phones and make several phone calls. I don’t totally know what transpired given the language barrier, but at the end of the 30-minute ordeal, I was told that there was a room in a hotel nearby on the ground floor and the owner was holding it for me. The woman explained to me that they would pay the difference of the room and that it was a nicer room, given the cost. I was a bit confused by everything happening and couldn’t get my arms around the entire situation but the two of them insisted on walking with me to the new hotel. They had a small dog with them that they put on a leash and the woman proceeded to push me, my 20-pound backpack, and a bag of snacks I had acquired from the airport. The sidewalks were not in great shape and she told me that she would push me like she pushed her baby’s strollers, slowly and safely.
The walk itself was about 30 minutes and 25 blocks, down some dark streets in neighborhoods I wouldn’t have been caught alone in at dark. They both made me feel so comfortable and safe, and I could feel the love they had for each other as they strolled along with me. I asked about their family and the woman explained that she had an 11-year-old daughter who had struggled with some hotels in the past. I didn’t probe further but wondered what the situation was, and realized that it was probably a deep part of why she wanted me to be in a comfortable room. She told me repeatedly that ‘they are just normal people, and they couldn’t leave me alone, a foreigner in their country with no place to stay.’ I’m not sure if she meant ‘normal people’ or ‘good people,’ and perhaps ‘normal’ in her culture means ‘good.’ How my mind can play tricks on me; I don’t know that I would equate normal to good.
The kindness of people
I ended up at a beautiful little guesthouse in a room that works wonderfully for me. The hostess is equally as great and I went to bed wondering why I am so skeptical of people. The couple literally handed me cash to pay the difference of the room, putting me ahead financially once the math all played out. They asked me over and over if the new hotel would be okay and left by telling me to call them if anything did not work out.
It’s a strange feeling to walk into a situation with your defenses completely up, ready to bear arms, and walk away knowing you were wrong, that everything that just happened was genuine and truly came from a place of caring. I still don’t completely understand why this couple would be so gracious to a cranky American, but I believe that the roughly $37 they paid for my ‘upgraded and accessible’ room must be so much more valuable to them and their family. I fully intend to stop by their hotel before I leave Sofia and return the difference. What this amazing couple taught me is so much more valuable than the $37 they gifted to me. I will remember them forever – the love they shared between the two of them, the kindness they offered me, and the lesson they taught me on being a ‘normal person.’ I have some room for growth.