Solo and Stranded by The Mykonos Winds

The Mykonos Windmills

“Will the Mykonos winds ever die down so I can get off this island?”

That was a direct quote I kept asking myself over and over when I visited Athens and three of the Greek Islands, including Mykonos, in the summer of 2014.

But before I tell you why I was asking myself that, let me back up a bit.

Some Background Information

In early 2014, I got an email from my friend, Amy. She lived in the UK and she and a couple of friends were heading to Greece that July. She asked if I would like to go along. I knew instantly that the opportunity to travel to Greece with friends was too good to pass up. Therefore, it was a no brainer for me. I replied “Of course! I’d love to go.”

After some back and forth, I found out that they were going to fly directly from London to the island of Skiathos. They planned to spend all of their time in Greece on that island. I loved the idea of visiting Skiathos but since the flights from Chicago to Greece are not short or cheap, I wanted to see more than just one island while I was there.

I decided to fly in a couple of days before them and visit Athens and the Parthenon. Then I flew to Skiathos and spent a few days with Amy and her friends. Up next was Mykonos. I planned to end my trip by visiting Santorini and its famous sunsets.

Other than when I was with Amy and her friends, I was solo on this trip.

Traveling Solo in Mykonos

I arrived in Mykonos from Skiathos early in the morning, before the hotel lobby opened for the day. I spent my time waiting for the lobby to open on the front porch, where I enjoyed the sunny, but windy morning.

The Mykonos winds were something that instantly surprised me when I arrived on the island. They were strong. At night when I was in my hotel room, the wind reminded me of winters in the Midwest during a blizzard. I imagined the wind whipping snow around outside my window.

I really liked Mykonos. It was everything that I expected it to be. I spent my days wandering around the island. I loved the narrow pathways with the white houses and bright colored trim. The food was delicious. The ocean views from anywhere on the island couldn’t be beat!

One my favorite sites was the famous windmills, which were built in the 16th century to mill wheat. Their use gradually declined until they ceased production in the middle of the 20th century. There are currently 16 windmills on Mykonos, seven of which are positioned on the landmark hill in Chora.

The Mykonos Windmills

I also loved the Panagia Paraportiani church. Dating back to the 1400s, it faces the sea at the entrance to Chora. It’s considered a great example of Cycladic architecture and is classified as a national monument. What makes it so special though is its exterior. It is actually five tiny churches squeezed together, giving it a very unique shape.

The Mykonos Winds

On my last day in Mykonos, I got up and ate breakfast, checked out of my hotel with my large suitcase (I was not an efficient or logical packer back then) and headed out to do some last minute exploring before catching one of the afternoon ferries to Santorini. I decided to take the ferry instead of fly from Mykonos to Santorini for a different (and cheaper) experience.

I got to the dock and found out the ferry I was booked on was delayed because the Mykonos winds were really strong that day. At that point, I wasn’t concerned. There were several ferries that made the voyage to Santorini each day. I figured I would catch one of them.

Throughout the afternoon, the Mykonos winds caused ferry after ferry to be canceled or delayed. I would go from one dock to another, dragging my big suitcase with me as I went. By the end of the day, I had five or six ferry tickets in my hand but I was still in Mykonos.

The workers at the dock and ticket office assured us that the final ferry of the day would be arriving so I, along with many other passengers, waited for it. I was confident that it would be worth it and that I would make it to Santorini that evening.

The ferry did arrive as expected. Delayed, but it arrived. However, once it docked, we were informed that it was not leaving. There were no more ferries going to Santorini that evening.

I was officially stranded.

Ugh! Passengers all around me were scrambling, trying to decide what to do. Many of them resigned themselves to sleeping outside on the cafe patios around the dock. I was not comfortable with that as a solo female traveler and was convinced there had to be another option.

Hotel rooms were extremely hard to come by that evening since it was busy season and most rooms were booked weeks or months in advance. I stood outside of a restaurant I had eaten at earlier in the day (so I knew their Wifi password) and checked all of my favorite sites until I was finally able to find a room. I checked in, took a quick shower and went to bed. What a relief!

The Next Morning

I overslept. Yep, that is now the next morning started. I overslept and I missed the 5:30 a.m. ferry.

At this point, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. I just wanted to get off the island. Why was it so hard to do that?!

I knew the one thing I had to do was get up and figure out a plan. I decided to head down to the docks to see when the next ferry was set to depart. The Mykonos winds had died down a lot over night so I figured the ferries would be running that morning.

Before leaving the hotel, I made one decision though. I decided that if I wasn’t on a ferry heading to Santorini by noon, I was heading to the airport and booking a flight back to Athens instead. I would spend the rest of my trip in Athens. Since my flight back to Chicago departed from there, I figured it would be the easiest way to make sure I didn’t miss that flight.

Upon arriving at the port where the ferries departed, I found out the next ferry to Santorini departed mid-morning. “Okay, good,” I thought. That will work. It was around 8 a.m. and that wasn’t a bad wait considering all of the waiting I did the day before.

But just my luck, it was sold out. It turns out, there weren’t tickets available on ferries heading to Santorini until that evening. Ugh! At this point, my frustration became palpable.

I passed on buying a ticket because I was not going to wait all day again. I was going to the airport before that happened. Since I didn’t have anywhere to be at that moment, I decided to stick around the area and see if anyone canceled. Maybe they would let me buy a last minute ticket for the mid-morning. ferry if someone did.

The mid-morning ferry arrived on time and as it docked, I realized instantly that the boarding situation was one where you got on the boat and showed your tickets later. It presented an opportunity for me and I took it. I joined the crowd and got on the boat. They wouldn’t throw me into the sea for not having a ticket, right? I found a place to sit, tried to be invisible and started figuring out in my head what I would tell the ticket checkers.

When the ticket checker got to me, he was not pleased that I did not have a ticket for that particular ferry. I started pleading my case, showing him all of the tickets I had from the day before. This was not a case of freeloading. I had bought a ticket – just not for that particular ferry.

Eventually, he relented. He told me to find an empty seat and walked away. Honestly, I think he just wanted me to stop talking. Either way, it worked. I was able to finally relax,enjoy the views and enjoy the ferry ride to Santorini.

My Takeaway

This trip was the first time I had traveled to Europe on my own. The experience of being stranded on Mykonos was a great learning opportunity for me. I was able to think on my feet and come up with a plan quickly. I was flexible and patient. The confidence I gained from this experience gave me the boost I needed to know I can go almost anywhere on my own and have the trip be successful.

It was the start of many fun adventures!

Want to keep reading? Read all about my time exploring in Athens here.

Save this post to Pinterest!

Traveling Solo in Mykonos

Why I Won’t Go Back to Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

I try to stay positive on this blog. Most of my posts are about travel and travel is my happy place. So let’s face it, it isn’t hard to be positive. But, I feel it is necessary to state my true feelings about Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia. Don’t get me wrong, it is one of the most beautiful parks I have been to.

There are sixteen beautiful lakes and waterfalls everywhere you look.

There is also a definite downside.

Let me explain…

Plitvice Lakes National Park Croatia Background

Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the oldest and largest national parks in Croatia. It was founded in 1949 and added to the UNESCO World Heritage register in 1979. The park is located in the karst area of central Croatia, at the border to Bosnia and Herzegovina. It extends over 73,000 acres and takes between three and four hours to hike through. Each year, more than one million visitors visit the park. It is located in a remote and poor part of Croatia that is still recovering from the war. Due to its remoteness, it is best to stay in the area for one night when visiting.

On Easter Sunday in 1991, the first shots of Croatia’s war with Yugoslavia were fired in the park. The first casualty of the war was a park policeman. Until 1995, the Serbs controlled the park. Virtually no tourists were allowed to visit which allowed the ecosystem to recover from the impact of so many visitors prior to 1991.

Arriving at the Park

We arrived to Plitvice Lakes National Park in the early afternoon after riding in the coach for a couple of hours. By the time we arrived, the lines at the entrance were already long and the park was really crowded.

We had to choose between two options when visiting the park.

  • We could skip the lower part of the park and walk along the rim with our tour director and look down at the views. This was the less strenuous option and would take a couple of hours to complete.
  • We could do a longer 3.5 hours hike with a park guide. This option would take us down by the waterfalls and lakes. It was much more strenuous.

I chose the second option.

The First Half of the Hike

To be honest, the hiking part wasn’t too bad until the end, when it was straight up a hill for a bit to get to our hotel. Were were warned that was the worst part.

The guides were wrong. That was not the worst part.

We got down to the bottom of the valley on our way to the big waterfalls and the path was a wooden platform two people wide. There were no railings and tons of people going both ways, with some visitors trying to push their way in front of other people. This part of the hike was terrifying for me and it lasted for about an hour and a half.

I could not pay attention to or enjoy the views around me because I wouldn’t let my eyes leave the platform. I am a klutz so I was afraid I would trip and fall if I looked up. If that wasn’t enough, I was always braced, ready to protect myself in case I was pushed, determined that I was not going into the water and if I was going in, I wasn’t going in alone. And in case you’re wondering, yes, people get pushed in. It happens a lot and happened to our guide a few weeks before we were there.

I had my DSLR camera and my phone with me. Right away, I wished I had left my good camera with my luggage on the bus (and would recommend you do it if you visit Plitvice Lakes National Park). I’m a good swimmer so I wasn’t worried about drowning if I fell into the lakes themselves because they were calm with no marine animals that would want to eat me. However, parts of the walk were directly over gushing waterfalls. There is no way I could survive a fall down those rushing waterfalls unscathed. My anxiety was off the charts.

We did make it down to the water falls without. We also made it back out. No one from our group fell in, hallelujah! A lot of patience was required along the way but we did it. The waterfalls were beautiful. The color of the lakes along the way was also amazing,. The color reminded me a lot of the color of the water in the Bahamas – a beautiful bright aqua blue.

The Second Half of the Hike

After an hour and a half or so of hiking and waterfall admiring, we reached the end of the wooden platform path. From there on, we were on real ground. Even though the path was still the same width, it made a huge difference to be on real ground. There were no lakes or waterfalls beneath us, only beside us. The path was gravel but smooth so I wasn’t so worried about tripping. The crowd was still thick but since there was only water on one side and rocks and walls on the other, we could all move over a bit.

I could relax and enjoy the experience a bit. It was much appreciated. The beautiful views continued. We saw some fish in the water along the way. There are a few ferries on one of the upper lakes but they are electric so they don’t pollute the water. As a result, the water was very clear, making it pretty easy to see fish.

The Hotel

I wish I could tell you we stayed in a plush hotel that I loved.

But I can’t.

The biggest problem? I was in a room at the end of the top floor with a sloped roof above me. I knew there might be a problem when I went to change my shirt before dinner and hit my hands on the ceiling when I lifted my arms up.

And then it was time to take a shower. The shower head was way too short for me since the tub bottom added several inches to the floor. So, I took a shower on my knees. I could handle that but then on top of it, there was no shower curtain. No matter how hard I tried to keep the water in the tub, it refused to obey and water went everywhere. At one point, I just stopped and started laughing. The whole situation was so ridiculous. It still makes me laugh today.

Luckily, we only stayed one night in this hotel. My mantra is that I can handle almost anything for one night. I did the best I could to get clean, got dressed and then dried up the bathroom as best I could before heading to bed.

I considered it a funny travel story that makes that hotel unforgettable.

My Conclusion about Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

Looking back, I guess I am glad the park was part of our tour and that I was able to visit it. But I wish I had done tour option 1 – the hike around the top. According to those who did it, it was much less stressful.

I can say with certainty that I will not visit the valley area of Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia again unless they add railings and crowd control measures. We were there in September, which is a shoulder season for tourism in Croatia so it wasn’t as crowded as it is in July and August. I cannot imagine being there when it was more crowded and really hot on top of that. Where do all of the people go? There is no way anyone enjoys it.

My advice to you if you are going to visit the park is to go first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon after the crowds have dissipated a bit. And definitely try to go in April/ May or September/October when it “isn’t as crowded.” It is beautiful. I cannot dispute that. However, the crowds make it worth consider skipping.

Are you interested in reading more about my trip to Croatia and Slovenia? Check out two of my previous posts here and here.

Save this post to Pinterest!

Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

Big Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia
If you look to the middle left of this photo, you can see people walking on the boardwalk along the cliff. It is two people wide with no railings and they’re about to walk over the rushing waterfalls. So scary!
Big Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National Park
The big waterfalls from the very bottom of the valley shown in the previous photo
Plitvice Lakes National Park waterfalls
Me…delirious from the walk to the bottom of the valley and a lack of sleep.
Plitvice Lakes
Scary but so beautiful. This is under the boardwalk. If I trip and fall or am pushed, I am going to end up at the bottom in that pool of water.
Beautiful colored water at Plitvice Lakes National Park
The water was so clear and bright blue.
Pretty water flowing in Plitvice Lakes National Park
So pretty
Pretty colored water and water falls. The perfect combination.
Pretty views and lots of people reflected in my sunglasses
I look like a giant in this shower!

Packing for Europe in the Fall

Travel without Checking a Bag

Twas the night before I leave for a trip to Croatia and Slovenia and here I am; sitting on the couch, relaxing and writing a blog post after packing for Europe in the fall. Who am I?

This never happens. Usually at this point before a trip, I am scrambling to finish laundry and packing. It is common for me to be putting stuff into my suitcase as I am walking out the door en route to the airport.

So what is different this time? A few things. The main thing is I did my laundry last weekend and made myself wear what was left in my closet for work this week. This allowed me to pack last night without having to account for unfinished laundry. Also, in general, I am very relaxed about this trip. While I am going solo, I booked it through a tour so they do all of the planning. All I have to do is show up, which means no second guessing myself tonight about whether I booked hotels and day trips correctly.

Speaking of packing, I am turning over a new leaf there.  I am packing for Europe in the fall with only my backpack and a carry on suitcase. You read that right – no checked bag for me on this trip!  I am so proud of myself!

I am a big fan of Sarah Murdoch. Sarah works with Rick Steves and also plans and guides her own tours. She always stresses packing light in all of her blog and social media posts. I know how practical and correct she is so I am taking it to heart! While I’m not at her level of light packing yet (she travels with just a backpack), I have definitely downsized and am looking forward to how much easier I know it will make this trip.

So how did I do it? Here is a complete list of what I packed. (Note: Some of the Amazon links below are affiliate links which means that if you purchase anything through the use of my links, I receive a small commission).

In my suitcase…

  • 5 tops
  • 2 jeans
  • 3 dresses
  • 2 pajamas
  • Lots of socks and underwear
  • 2 bras
  • A rain/trench coat
  • 2 cardigans
  • A pair of athletic shorts and a T-shirt for lounging around
  • A swimsuit
  • My Cubs sweatshirt in case of cold hotel rooms
  • 4 pairs of shoes (my sneakers, a pair of ballet flats, a pair of nicer flat sandals and my flip flops for moving about hotels)
  • 3 pairs of fun earrings
  • Makeup
  • Zuca bag with my toiletries
  • A ziplock bag with my shower supplies
  • Outlet converters
  • A guidebook
  • Money belt (not sure if I will use it but I bring it just in case)

I *think* I included enough clothes so I will not have to do laundry while I’m traveling if I don’t want to. I wear clothes multiple times between washings at home so why not do the same when traveling? The list above includes key pieces I need to dress up for a nicer dinner or dress casually for every day activities.

There is a key to getting all of that in my suitcase and keeping it organized: packing cubes. These are the ones I have and they make a big difference for me. I love them and don’t like to travel without them anymore.

Away suitcase
My empty Away suitcase

My Away suitcase
All packed and so organized!

In my backpack…

  • My DSLR camera
  • Medicine (mostly allergy meds and some Advil)
  • A light fleece jacket for the plane
  • Noise canceling headphones
  • My Trtl pillow (the best travel pillow! I highly recommend it!)
  • A small crossbody purse with my phone, currency, passport, mints and chapstick
  • A book
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste, contact solution and case
  • My iPad
  • Compression socks for the plane
  • A folder containing our itinerary and Flat Stanley (courtesy of my 9 year old niece)

And that is it! I am happy with this list. It is minimal but complete. I cannot wait to take off tomorrow and explore Croatia and Slovenia over the next week and a half!

Want to read more? Check out my posts detailing my solo trip to Greece here and here!

Pin it!