When in Greece: Island Hopping, a Run-In with Nia Vardalos, & Lots of Gyros

(Photo: Melissa Smith)

(Photo: Melissa Smith)

As long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to visit Greece. When I finally got the chance to go earlier this year, it was more than a dream come true. From the extraordinary culture to the wonderful people I met, from the gorgeous views to the amazing food that I had a chance to cook myself, it was as if I’d stepped onto the set of every Greek movie I’d ever seen. The fact that I restrained myself from belting out the words to “Dancing Queen” for an entire week is actually astonishing.

Of all the places I visited in Europe over the summer and fall, there truly was no place I was more anxious to travel to than Greece. Knowing the country’s reputation as a romantic getaway, I was a little uneasy heading there on my own — but I wasn’t going to shy away from my dream destination just because I wasn’t bringing a significant other of my own.

My first stop in Greece, the island of Santorini, was spectacular for many reasons but the biggest one was probably the gyros. If you ever find yourself there, the place to go is Lucky’s Souvlakis. To quote one recent TripAdvisor review: “The place is small, both frequented by locals and happy tourists. Cheap, quick, efficient (and) welcoming.”

Setting food aside for just a second, I’ve got to say that the sunrises and sunsets in Santorini were some of the most breathtaking I have seen and probably will ever see in my life. It really didn’t seem to matter where you were on the island either, but if you ask a local they’d most likely tell you Oía is the place to be at sunset.

Melissa (right) and Nia Vardalos in Fira (Photo: Melissa Smith)

Melissa (right) and Nia Vardalos in Fira (Photo: Melissa Smith)

While shopping for the perfect Greek dress on my second night in Santorini, I stumbled into a little boutique I had been eyeing the day before. To my surprise, I wound up finding much more than an article of clothing as I bumped into the one and only Nia Vardalos, the star and writer of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

This was amazing not only for the obvious reason — the fact that I was on a Greek island and I happened to walk into the same shop as a famous actress, writer, and producer — but also because Nia was the star of a movie that brought my mom laughter when she needed it the most.

Now, don’t worry, I’m not going to get all sappy on you. I’ll save most of the details for my novel, but let me just say that Nia is a beautiful person inside and out, and sharing my story with her while walking through the streets of Fira was just the kind of healing experience I needed.

After Santorini, I traveled to Athens. There, my first day was a pretty full one, beginning with a baking class in the morning and a cooking class in the evening. Whenever I travel, I like to not only make a point of sampling the local cuisine but also of diving into it. I’d highly recommend taking a cooking class in a foreign country. In addition to being a great learning experience, classes — of any kind really — are a great way to meet people as a solo traveler, too.

The cooking class I took allowed me to meet a new friend who was studying in Athens for the summer. She became the best tour guide and island hopping partner a girl could ask for, and her photography skills sure came in handy during our three-day trip to the Greek islands.

Stay tuned for the novel on my various travels, but in the meantime, if you need any help planning your trip to Greece or want to know more about mine (or if you need a travel partner!), I am your girl. Just give me a shout on Instagram.