My friend Blue is hosting a travel giveaway on her blog– simply submit your best/worst/most memorable travel story by midnight and you’ll be eligible to win a round-trip standby ticket to anywhere Jet Blue can take you. Blue is the wonderful kind of friend who will whip up a batch of English Toffee just because you told her you like it and her blog is worth reading every day(be sure to check out her best-of entries).
Lucky me, I have lots of crazy travel stories. But just last week I won a charity auction for a fresh batch of baklava made by an honest-to-goodness authentic Greek mama(who quickly became one of my new best friends) so clearly the internet fates have declared this story must be told.
I married Mr. Beautiful in January 1991. The darkest days of winter aren’t exactly a popular time to wed and we were in fact the only couple getting married at the Salt Lake Temple that day (in contrast to June when there are 100+ weddings a day– sorry, just had to take a moment there to shock my non-Mormon friends). We were married on a Thursday and went back to school on Monday. We were too cheap to even go to a hotel– and that combined with Erik’s severe pneumonia made for a not-too-exciting honeymoon.
A few weeks later and Erik, always the opportunist, spotted $299 fares to Europe (possibly the only happy by-product of the Persian Gulf War) and booked round trip flights to the old country.
Thank goodness he did. I’d heard of the honeymoon stage but no one had warned me that adjustment to married life is HARD. I was finishing my last semester at BYU and commuting on the bus every day. Erik was working, going to school at the U and adjusting to life with a crazy, hormonal woman– no easy task. The cold dark winter progressed into a snowy messy spring and we were truly just hanging on, waiting for the sun to break through.
I didn’t even bother walking with my cap and gown. On graduation day we were on a plane, headed for the homeland with two Eurail passes, 1000 bucks and three weeks just for each other.
We landed in Hamburg with a list of people to visit: Erik’s family in Denmark, cousins in Germany, mission friends in Finland… we slept in train stations, on friend’s couches, on the futon of total strangers(now that’s a good story!*). Bless Scandinavia and the lovely people, I love them all, but the temps were freezing and I simply wanted to be alone with my new, lovely husband.
So we scoured the Eurail maps and found a sleeper train to Italy. Lovely, but not warm enough. South, south, further south. We found a boat out of Brindisi headed to Greece. The journey took 25 hours– all day and all night. Joining the throngs of college backpackers sleeping on the deck of the ship we realized we hadn’t had a single night alone on the trip.
The ship docked at Santorini (an island off the coast of Greece) long after dark. Stumbling off the ramp we saw row after row of vans waiting to take patrons to various hotels. Hotel prices were far beyond our reach in Italy so we walked past the vans determined to find the nearest youth hostel(um, most of my crazy travel stories revolve around me being incredibly cheap at the wrong moment– this may surprise my friends because I’m a spendthrift in so many other ways).
As we began ascending the hill out of the port the very last van pulled up beside us. “Get in, get in! I take you to hotel.”
“We don’t have enough money.”
“Hmmph. I give you ride.. You pay nothing!”
Hesitantly, we threw our backpacks in the van and jumped in. We rode for miles, and miles straight UPHILL. Erik and I looked at each other and laughed. We would have been walking all night. Thumbing through our cash we made a quick decision to stay at the hotel for just one night and find a hostel in the morning.
I thought I’d misunderstood when the concierge quoted a price for the night: 50 drachmas, roughly $7. And a discount if you stay more than one night! He led us into a spacious white room with a massive bed, piles of white comforters, a private bathroom, a deck with an ocean view.
Clearly we’d walked straight into heaven.
Late the next morning, late late late the next morning, we emerged from our cocoon of luxury looking for breakfast. A few steps took us to an ancient bakery filled with sweet confections. “Ooh, baklava!” I cried. “Let’s get some true Greek baklava!”
“What?” Erik had never heard of it(the shame!).
“Trust me.” We bought giant diamonds of the stuff and sat right down on the curb to eat it– layer after layer of crisp phyllo, ground walnuts, butter and honey literally dripping down our elbows. And then we went back in and bought more.
Finally sated, we rented a moped(only $4 a day!) and explored the magical island of Santorini (here’s a link— go torture yourself with it’s beauty). We rode past the whitewashed, blue roof homes, through vast fields of grazing sheep, visited ancient churches and finally landed on a black sand beach where we played in the waves for hours. Santorini was out of the realm of my history major knowledge so Erik was spared the nonstop tourguide spiel that he’d endured on the Continent.
Riding back to the hotel I asked Erik, “What do you want for dinner?”
“More of that bark-a-lava stuff.” And so we did. And took the heavy, drippy box back to our room.
We took advantage of the discount and stayed a week– wandering picturesque streets, playing in the ocean, sleeping in and eating lots and lots of baklava. I’m sure we ate something else. I have vague recollections of greek yogurt and heavenly pita, but mostly it was sweet sweet baklava.
Leaving Greece, we hitchhiked through war-torn Yugoslavia, visited Vienna(the city of my dreams) and landed in Paris for three crazy days before flying home. As we traveled Erik was amazed that baklava was in every bakery, every country. Here was this sweet wonderful thing that had been all around him yet he’d never tasted it before.
Home, we both went on to grown-up jobs, bought a house and brought beautiful Benjamin into the world exactly 9 months later.
Baklava became for me a symbol of our marriage– layers and layers of goodness, the sweetness of honey with the bitter taste of walnuts, butter literally dripping down our elbows.
We keep going back for more.
* We arrived in Turku, Finland at about 2 a.m Walking down the main street, we saw throngs of night clubbers headed home. One very drunk girl asked Erik, “What time is it?” and in his perfect Finnish he replied, “Time to go home. Can we come with you?” They invited us to their apartment, fed us, and set us up with one of the softest beds of our trip.