Though you have to trade a dinner at George’s and night clubbing for planes and new languages, a birthday away from Miami can be just as incredible
Turning 21 in America is a big deal, I don’t even have to emphasize that. I was excited to finally sip my first legal drink at a restaurant in Miami with all my friends, but my idea of a perfect 21st birthday quickly changed when I realized I would be studying abroad. As soon as I was accepted into the UPrague program, I told all of my friends I wanted to spend my birthday in Greece. It’s probably because of my infatuation with Mamma Mia but, nonetheless, it was my dream.
After spending a few nights of planning, my dream became a reality. Tickets, hostels and tours were booked — I was officially going to be in Greece for my birthday. So, with a hodge-podge group of new friends and old — all 13 of us — I started the trip in Santorini (that is after an overnight stay in the Athens airport). We stayed in a cute little hostel, Fira’s Backpackers, that donned the typical blue and white style building and was situated close to the coast of the island. Once we settled in, we started the famous 10.5 kilometer hike from Fira to Oia along the caldera — the volcanic edge of the island. As I hiked through the white-washed houses and blue domed buildings, the rocky cinders and random chapels, I truly saw Santorini at its most stunning.
After we got to Oia, we took a private boat cruise along the Aegean Sea. The boat took us to a couple of different beaches and we got to jump off and swim in the sea for a while. We made it to Red Beach, then White Beach, and then a Hot Springs (which ironically ended up being cold). We were all so tired after the cruise (since we had traveled the whole night before) that half of us fell asleep on our bus ride back to the hostel. The night ended simply, we just ate and slept. I didn’t spend the eve of my 21st pregaming and counting the minutes until 12 a.m., BUT, I did get to eat amazing (probably the best) falafel I’ve ever had at a small chain on the island (it’s called Lucky’s if you’re ever there you have to try it).
The next day, October 6th, was my birthday and I was lucky enough to get to spend it in both Santorini and Athens. It began with a walk up and down 250 steps to Amoudi Bay (the site of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants). We spent the whole morning cliff diving in the bright blue water, and honestly, every calf muscle ache on the way up was worth it. I was so happy to be in the warmth for once since it was already starting to get chilly in Prague. We spent hours at the bay, hanging out, swimming and taking pictures. We lost track of time and ended up rushing to catch the bus back to the airport so we could make it to Athens.
The close call though, ended up not being a problem — at all. Once we got to the airport we slowly got the news that our flight had been delayed. It started off as a 30 minute delay, then an hour delay, and eventually it got to a good four hour delay. So, unfortunately, I spent a good chunk of my birthday in the Santorini airport. At first, I was disappointed. I had high hopes for that day and I couldn’t imagine spending it in a tiny airport, but I couldn’t even complain because we still made the most of it. We sat outdoors in the airport lounge overlooking the water and hung out until we got on our flight. My friends even got the whole airport lounge to sing me happy birthday! By the time we got to our Athens Airbnb it was almost 1 a.m., and even though everyone was so tired we still went out to celebrate.
The next morning we went sightseeing all around Athens. There is definitely a stark difference between Santorini and Athens but both were beautiful in their own way. In Athens we saw a lot of the famous ruins, such as the Parthenon and the Acropolis. Overall, Greece was beyond amazing (even with all of the traveling mishaps) and I had a fantastic birthday weekend.
One of the toughest realities of living 5000 miles away from Miami was realizing I’d be spending my birthday apart from my friends and family. Having spent every other birthday with them, it was hard to not think about them and miss them but I had to remember to keep things in perspective. Realizing that I would be away from my family and friends from home did make me sad, however the opportunity to spend the weekend in Greece overtook that feeling and made my 21st special in so many other ways. The only thing better than the sights we saw on the island were the special friends I got to spend time doing it with.
words_nandita srivatsa. photos_marissa vonesh. video_shivani pandya.