Fat Girl Travels
Chapter 2: Anxiety and Conversations
I couldn’t sleep. The first day I arrived in Greece, it was after midnight and I had slept almost the whole trip from the US. That was thanks in part to taking all of the advice from all of the people about how to do international travel having never set foot on a plane myself.
A few recurring themes were flight anxiety and difficulty or fear of using the restroom on the plane. So I decided to not drink any water the whole 20ish hours of travel time, and also to bring some marijuana laced chocolate on the flight to ensure I was relaxed and not needing to pee. Both of these turned out to be terrible ideas.
Despite being from Oregon, I don’t personally partake in pot, in fact the only other time I had it had ended poorly, with me puking profusely and then passing out and being completely unresponsive for almost 24 hours. Apparently I can’t handle my shit. I don’t know why things would be different with edibles but almost immediately upon eating the chocolate I passed out. I honestly don’t remember the whole 15 hour flight from Portland to Germany until they were pushing us out onto the tarmac in the late afternoon, confused, waiting for a bus to shuttle us to the airport.
I was able to gain enough clarity to find my next gate, grab something to eat, and promptly pass out in a seat waiting for my flight to start boarding. Luckily I set an alarm to wake me up fifteen minutes before they called for boarding and I didn’t miss my flight. When we did get on the plane, it happened to be delayed and we had to sit in the aircraft for almost two hours before we could take off. Not that I remember it, because I once again passed out.
When I landed in Greece it was after midnight and two days after I had left Portland. I had to find my way to the other side of the city and hope that I could find my airbnb. Luckily the owner of my apartment stayed up late and met me in person in front of the building, showing me up and how to use everything before departing.
I decided I was awake and hungry enough to venture out for food and came across a small pizza shop a few blocks away. I was able to order a small pizza and awkwardly wait in the lobby trying to eavesdrop on the workers despite not being able to understand Greek almost at all. I did pick out “Good Night!” and was exceedingly proud of myself.
I trudged the pizza back up the big hill I didn’t realize was a hill on the way to the pizza place, and sat alone in my living room with the windows open, basking in the cool, noisy night, eating the pizza. I had slept for almost a full day and was wide awake and THIRSTY.
I had already downed a lemonada fanta at the pizza shop and wished that I had thought to buy more. I went to the small kitchen and searched for cold water. All I found was lukewarm tap water. I proceeded to chug it until my stomach was bursting with water and pizza. I decided to try to fill something up with water to cool in the fridge so I would have water the next day. All I could find was an electric kettle. I filled it up and hoped that the fridge wouldn’t ruin it.
At this point I tried desperately to fall asleep. I ended up watching two or three movies on Netflix before I finally fell asleep in bed while reading. When I awoke the next day, I was incredibly disoriented. My head was pounding. My throat felt like a desert. I stumbled out of bed and into the kitchen. The cold water in the kettle was one of the most delicious things I’d ever tasted in my life. After drinking and refilling the kettle I went to the bathroom and peed the darkest pee I’ve ever had in my life. No wonder my head fucking hurt.
I stumbled back to the room and found my phone. It was 5PM! I wasted my whole first day in Greece sleeping. The impact of that hit me hard. I felt an overwhelming weight settle on my shoulders. I was in a dehydration fog, it felt like I was having to physically pull myself through a thick veil that clung like sticky fingers to my skin. It took me a couple minutes to realize that I needed food, pain medication, and more water.
I sat on my bed trying to will myself into action. “Just do it. Just do it. Just do it.” Eyes closed, breathing deeply, I repeated that to myself over and over. I opened my eyes and searched “grocery” on my phone. Luckily the spotty wifi in the apartment worked enough to show me a grocery store that was closer than the pizza place down the road. I sighed and grabbed an outfit from my unpacked bag, and decided that a shower was necessary before I tried to brave the outside world.
The water felt amazing on my hot dry skin. I let it run cool over my back and lifted my mouth to the flow, welcoming the water with my tongue. I was grateful for the sense of normality the shower lended to me. I didn’t even wash my hair or my body, I just replenished my soul with the water.
I wasn’t able to find any pain reliever at the grocery store, I did stock up on some bottles of water and redbulls hoping some hydration and caffeine would help, along with ingredients to make sandwiches, some Greek yogurt, fresh fruit, and chips. When I made it back to my apartment, I was able to make and eat a sandwich, drink a bottle of water, and promptly pass back out until 9AM the next day.
My next couple days were a blur of sleeping too much, jet lag, chugging water, wishing my head would stop pounding, and being too anxious to actually attempt to find a pharmacy to get some ibuprofen. I am generally not an anxious person. That’s a lie. I am usually anxious but I have trained myself to push the anxiety to the side and allow myself to live in the discomfort. For some reason being half way across the world from anyone I knew, in a country where I didn’t speak the language, got the best of me the first couple of days. I mostly slept, ate sandwiches, watched Netflix and walked around the neighborhood.
I didn’t feel confident using the bus system to get to the city center, and didn’t have a ton of money, so I didn’t think I could afford taxis everywhere. One day, my headache had dulled and I was angry at myself for not seeing Greece literally at all. I got dressed, pulled up Athens on google maps, and started walking toward Monastiraki and the Plaka.
I spent the afternoon getting lost. Google maps isn’t that great at telling you where you are if you don’t have cell phone service especially in a place with roads as confusing as Athens. Now that I know Athens a little better I know that I got SO CLOSE to Monastiraki but never actually made it that day.
After hours of walking and going in the exact opposite direction of my apartment, I started to panic about how I was going to get home. I figured I could try to read the Greek directions on a bus if I needed to, but I couldn’t find a bus stop.
I eventually came across a Hotel with a low cement wall around the outside that was the perfect height to sit and rest for a couple minutes. It wasn’t long before a pretty 30 something woman walked to the curb and stuck her pointer finger up in the air. A black and yellow cab swooped up to the sidewalk and she climbed in.
I knew from looking into Greece before my trip that waving open handed at someone was the approximation of flipping them off here, so seeing this woman hail a cab was an epiphany moment for me. I took a deep breath and pulled up my address on my cell phone. I tried to say the name several times in my head in hopes of being able to clearly tell the driver where I was going then stepped up to the curb with my finger pointing outward.
A few cabs passed before one finally stopped. I held my breath and tried to fit in the small back seat. The driver reached over and pulled the lever to make the front seat move forward so I could pull my legs into the car. He said something in Greek and I tried my best to say the address where I was going.
“138 Ippokratus Street?”
“Ti? *something else in Greek*”
“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Greek.” He gestured at my phone and I handed it forward so he could see the address himself.
“Ahhhh, Ippokratus!” (pronounced way differently than I had tried) he smiled and input the address into his phone and took off into the maze of traffic. We climbed a mountain I hadn’t realized was in between where I was and where I needed to be. That was the hill I hadn’t known my apartment was located right in the middle of.
In general Athens is quite flat except two large hills and five smaller ones. One big one is the Acropolis, and the other is the only hill bigger than the acropolis - Lycabettus - and my apartment was one of the last residential parts before it became a pretty nice hike up the side of a mountain. When I realized this, I decided I was going to go for a sunrise hike the next day to try to feel the sense of adventure that my trip had so far lacked. My cab driver dropped me off and asked for only a couple euro despite the seemingly big distance he had brought me.
When I fell asleep I told myself not to stress if I didn’t wake up on time to go. Four A.M. I found myself wide awake with no excuses not to go. I made myself some tea and got dressed in a comfortable yet sturdy outfit, and walked to the front of the building. Looking up the street, I could see where the road ended and the park around Lycabettus started. I began the ascent up the road, the block and a half I needed to go to get there.
After one block I realized what a terrible idea it was. I have pretty good stamina for a fat woman. Honestly, if you were to go on a hike with me you would be surprised at my ability to keep up and keep pushing. That was a crazy hill though. I don’t know if the actual hike was easier than walking up the street before it, but I was completely out of breath and could feel my heart in my chest before I even got to the barrier at the end of the street.
Once I got to the barrier I could see what the beginning of the hike looked like, and it was just stairs, up higher than I could see. I stayed at the bottom of the stairs a long time trying to push myself up. I had walked miles the day before, and my feet hurt. I hadn’t caught my breath after a full minute, and no amount of self motivation was going to get me to the top of the stairs.
Defeated, I slowly made my way back down the hill, hoping that the early morning was deserted enough that nobody saw my pathetic attempt to climb the mountain when I could barely even make it to the bottom. That’s when I decided to open Tinder and we all know how that story ended. Once again, I got to the bottom of the hill and couldn’t climb to the peak.
My first four days in Greece had been anticlimactic, isolating, anxiety ridden, and kind of depressing. It was beautiful. I already was in love with the city, but I felt like I would never fit in and that made me even more sad. The night before I was heading to Paros, I couldn’t sleep. Part of it was my fucked up sleep schedule since I had arrived in Athens, another part was sadness about wasting my entire trip so far, and then it was also excitement about going to a Mediterranean island.
I woke up much earlier than I needed to and packed my bags. I put them by the front door and googled where I would need to go to get a SIM card to have actual service on my phone. There was a Vodafone location across the street from where I got pizza on my first night. I left my bags and set off to get a card. The sales people were very friendly and got me my card super fast. I left and walked back up the hill to the apartment.
When I got there, I shared the elevator with a very pretty young woman, we ended up getting off on the same level and she walked up to the front door of my apartment. I pulled out my keys to show that I was going to that apartment and she looked nervous.
“Is this your airbnb? You’re still here?”
“Yeah, I haven’t left yet, I’m packed but had to go get a phone card and just need to grab my things then I can go.”
“I am the cleaner, you can stay, I’m sorry I came a little early.”
“No, it's okay, I’m really all packed, you stay, I just need to grab my bags. No problem at all!”
She opened the door with her key and I placed my key on the desk by the front door. I ran into the room and grabbed my suitcase.
“All done, I’m sorry about the confusion, the apartment is all yours now!” I smiled broadly to show the girl that I wasn’t upset at all and moved toward the door.
“Thank you so much. I am sorry again. Have a great day!” I walked out the door and into the hall. I realized that I hadn’t called a cab and that I also hadn’t gotten my phone working yet. I took the elevator down to the main floor and opened the package holding my new SIM card.
The instructions were completely in Greek. Of course. I hoped that if I got the card into my phone that it would just make sense from there. I searched my purse for something small to insert into the hole on my iPhone to open the SIM card door. I knew there was nothing to find. I don’t typically have one in my purse. I figured there was probably one in the desk upstairs, and kicked myself for not getting my phone set up before leaving the apartment.
I looked around the lobby and noticed a door open to a little room with a man inside. Behind him was a banner for the Athens chapter of ELKS brotherhood. I blinked a couple times, not realizing that it was an international group. He smiled when I looked at him.
“Hi, do you speak English?” I greeted him with a smile.
“Yes baby. I speak English. I was in America in 1985 in San Francisco! Where are you from?”
“Oh cool. I’m from Oregon, so the state above California! I have a question.”
“Anything baby. Tell me how I can help you. I miss American women! How can I help you?” I tried not to visibly cringe when the older gentleman, probably double my age or more, stood up and moved toward me.
“Do you have a paperclip? I am trying to get my phone working and I need a paperclip.”
“You need a paperclip baby? I have a paperclip. Let me get you what you need.” He riffled through the papers in front of him until he found a little manila folder. Inside was a stack of papers with several paper clips holding them in order. He plucked one from the middle and I reached my hand out to grab it.
“Thank you so much! This will help so much!” I turned away from him and started to really focus on opening the side of my iPhone. As soon as it popped open I tried to hand the paperclip back.
“Thank you again. I got it! I have to go now, to catch my taxi!”
“Oh baby don’t go. I just found you. Stay with me, let me show you Athens baby.”
“Thank you, sorry I can’t. I have a boat to catch! Bye!” I shoved the SIM card and the little part it goes in, into my pocket and walked toward the doors, ignoring his words.
I didn’t stop until I got around the street from the apartment. Then I slumped against the wall and pulled the SIM card out of my pocket. I grabbed the old one and put it in a safe place to retrieve when I set foot in the US again, and put the Greek card in. A little box popped up on the screen and said something in Greek. I pushed the button below it and my phone shut down.
It quickly rebooted and another box popped up, I scrolled to the bottom of it and checked a little box and hit the button again. This time my phone stayed on. I tested it by scrolling through Facebook. It popped up faster than it had on the spotty Wi-Fi from the apartment. I sighed in relief.
I opened my Uber app and called for a car. The cab brought me to Monastiraki Square and I made my way to the train going to Piraeus. It wasn’t a super long trip. The train stopped in a huge old train building with a tall arched roof, old dirty windows dotted the roof, and a significant amount of graffiti covered the walls. It was breathtaking.
After my rapid exit from my apartment, I found that I had arrived in the port several hours before my ferry was set to depart. I hadn’t eaten, and in fact, other than the pizza on my first night, I hadn’t gotten the courage to eat at a restaurant at all since arriving in Athens and I decided it was time to get over that fear.
I walked out of the train station and to the first little shop I saw. They had an assortment of pastries, sweet and savory, in the glass shelves in front of the workers. Blessedly, the names of the pastries were written in Greek and English. I asked for a feta hand pie and a lemonada. They quickly bagged up my order and handed it to me. The hand pie was basically a super flaky croissant type pastry filled with gooey soft feta cheese. It was basically heaven.
I slowly ate through my lunch trying to decide how I could waste time before my ferry left the dock. When I was done I walked over to a small coffee shop and attempted to order a coffee. I got something iced and very very sweet. When they asked me if I wanted it sweet and I said yes, they took it very seriously. I couldn’t quite make my way through the drink before I put it in a trash can.
I walked over to the docks and found a little seating area where people could wait for the boat. I tried to read but kept stopping to people watch. I eventually decided that the little watercolor set in my backpack would offer enough interest to help me get through the next two hours, but still allow me to pay attention to everyone around me.
A person holding fifty chargers, as many power banks, countless sunglasses and hats walked up to me and attempted to sell me his wares.
“All set here. I have everything I need!”
“Sunglasses? A pretty lady like you need these!” he held up an ugly pair of sunglasses, encouraging me to take them from his hand.
“No I have some, thanks.”
“You always need more, what if yours go missing? You need more than one, yes?”
“Nope, I’m good, thanks.” He continued to try to convince me to purchase something from him until I gave up trying to be nice and decided to just outright ignore him to go back to my painting of the giant boat in the harbor before me.
He moved on to the next tourist looking person and left me alone with my thoughts. The young mother beside me was trying to keep her baby calm and juggle all of their stuff in her hands. I offered her a little smile while she bounced the baby happily on her knee. She smiled back and cooed at her little one. At one point a father and his son walked past and admired my painting over my shoulder.
“Wow, that’s good!” The boy had a thick accent but his English was perfect.
“Thank you so much! I’m just trying to pass the time while I wait for the ferry.”
“That’s better than just passing time.” His dad agreed with him.
“You should keep painting, it's very good.” I thanked them for their kind words and they moved on.
Eventually the ferry started loading. I walked toward the open door the size of a bus, elephant, and semi truck put together. It felt like it was looming in front of me. The closer I got, the larger the ferry became. I followed the flow of the crowd to the foot traffic entrance and pulled out the tickets I had printed at a kiosk at the train station. I showed the door guard and he motioned me in. I moved to go up the escalator and was stopped by someone.
They were asking me to do something but I wasn’t sure what. They pointed to my suitcase and shook their head.
“I can’t have my luggage?” I asked confused.
“No. No.” They shook their head and pointed to someone behind me. I started walking toward the person, still confused what I needed to do. The other person pointed me through a small metal hole in the wall that led to the giant compartment where the cars were held. I saw another door on the side of the room with another guard in front of it. I walked to them and they pointed to a small room filled with luggage carts where other people were storing their luggage.
I sighed, understanding finally that I needed to store my luggage. I placed it on the bottom shelf and walked back to the escalators. This time the guard let me through with no issues. I went to the top of the escalator and decided to explore the giant ship.
The trip was much longer than expected. I spent most of the trip trying to find somewhere to sit because most of the seating had arms and my fat ass did NOT fit. That was a little embarrassing. Wandering around the ship trying to find a seat with no arms so I could relax for a minute. I started outside and stayed there until it had gotten too cold for me to stand. Since all of my clothes were down below, I was only wearing some short shorts and a tank top.
When I went inside I decided to try something from the little café. I ordered and while waiting, saw that one of the little booths next to it seemed to be free for the time being. So I grabbed my snack and scooted over to the booth, grateful to finally find a seat that my butt fit into. I sat there eating my food and enjoying the relief of no longer wandering.
Before long I decided to try my hand at painting again. I was pretty ingrained when I heard a conversation beside me that I was pretty sure was about me. It was in heavily accented english, I thought maybe it was a german accent. I glanced at who was talking. A young, maybe 30 something, attractive man was glancing at me. Beside him was several older women also looking at me.
I smiled to let them know that I had heard them talking about me and was okay with it.
“Sorry, we were talking. What is that you are using?” The younger man smiled huge when he asked his question.
“Oh, it's a little compact watercolor set, my brush has water in it, so I don’t have to worry about a cup of water while traveling, it's pretty neat.”
“Yes! That is amazing! May we see the picture you are painting?” I held up the little cottage and forest scene I was doodling. I didn’t feel like trying to paint something real since I had spent the whole afternoon trying to paint the ferry and being pretty unhappy with the depth. They oooh’d and awwww’d like a good audience and continued to hold a conversation with me. Really it was mostly me and cutey mcCutepants, but once in a while one of his older companions would cut in.
We ended up getting stuck at the island before Paros for four hours. We spent the entire time talking about the differences between the US and Austria, which I found out was where they were all from, not Germany like I had assumed. They were all strangers basically, on holiday. Austria requires its residence to take four weeks of paid vacation a year and they have a lot of groups like that to take Austrians on holiday somewhere and guide them through the whole trip. It just so happened that Mr. Cutepants was the only guy and the only person under 60 on their trip, not that he seemed to mind, they had become fast friends.
I let them know about American time off procedures and that “paid time off” was usually used up by sickness or holidays and that if you tried to take time off and you didn’t have it built up, that you got in trouble, even if it was an illness or emergency. They were all properly upset for us Americans that we had to deal with that.
He told me about how he couldn’t narrow what he wanted to do down to one thing so he had become a teacher so he could do all of them.
“That’s so interesting! Can you explain it more?”
“I teach younger kids and the teacher gets to do Math and Writing and also art, sports, music. All of the things I love doing I get to do with the children.”
“That is such a beautiful way to look at it. I really wanted to be a teacher but I didn’t have enough money to finish my degree”
“Oh I feel so bad saying that in Austria we have free college.” He looked at me sheepishly across the table, truly saddened that he was able to follow whatever dream he had without fear of not being able to pay.
“Oh well that must be really nice. I bet that the country is a lot more intelligent since the people don’t have to rely on money for a decent education.” He smiled and nodded his agreement. It really was an interesting thing to think of. Having the freedom to choose what you wanted and then attend college like it was high school or something. Not becoming in-debt for the rest of your life just to hopefully make enough money to hopefully pay for housing. Maybe. America can feel pretty fucked up when seen through the eyes of others.
To make up for the delay, the café started giving away free goodies. Our little group chose the cheesecake and we started talking about the difference between English Language classes when the women were younger compared to now. British English used to be the standard but about thirty years ago they switched to American English. Mr. Cutepants confirmed that he was taught American English instead of British English. They claimed that’s why he was doing all of the talking with me instead of them. Although we didn’t have any issues understanding each other whenever they spoke with their British tinged accents.
We stayed together as a little group for the rest of the trip. They were going to the island after Paros sadly, so our friendship had to end on the boat. The fact that our boat was going to get in four hours later than it was supposed to worried me a little. The owner of the little Airbnb inn I was staying at was going to pick me up from the dock. I wasn’t sure he still would since I was now getting in at about 1AM. Hopefully I could catch a cab or an uber?
Luckily the owner was there, because I found out pretty quickly that there were no cabs or ubers on Paros. Not even a bus system. I was very surprised when we pulled up to the doc and an older gentleman was standing with the other people waiting for passengers with a sign of the inn I was staying at. As I approached he smiled and asked if I was Candice.
I nodded and he grabbed my suitcase from me and ushered me toward the car park.
“I’m so glad you made it. I was worried when the boat didn’t come at eight that you wouldn’t make it. I tried messaging you but assumed you couldn’t get them on the boat.”
“Yeah I didn’t have cell service. We got stuck with the door down at one of the stops”
“Yes that happens all the time. The ferries are notoriously bad at arriving on time. So I looked it up and saw that you would be here four hours late! I am so sorry about the late time.” He placed my bag into the truck of the car and opened the door for me. “We have breakfast in the morning, you are here late though, so you will show up late to breakfast. It's alright we will still serve you. What time do you think you will be down?”
“Oh it’s okay, I don’t need breakfast”
“Don’t be silly. Is 11 okay?”
“Yeah, 11 is great.”
“Perfect, we will have breakfast at 11 for you.”
The inn was right outside the small town that we had docked. It took about five minutes to get there, and the owner had kept up a constant dialogue for the whole trip. When we got there he helped me get my bag to the room and showed me around a little bit. When he left I collapsed into the bed, exhausted and high off of the interaction I had on the ferry.
It was just what I needed to break me out of my anxiety box. Actually meeting and having an in-depth conversation with another human being was something I didn’t realize I needed so much. As much as I love traveling alone, the isolation really does take its toll after a while. When I travel with other people though, I am much less likely to get out of my shell and meet new people than when I am attention starved and alone.