Mykonos
 

We booked our accommodation in Mykonos way back when we were first starting to plot out our Eurotrip because we knew we’d be there in August, which happens to be peak season in Greece. Since Mykonos was one of the few islands we’d actually heard of, and because we figured a party island would be fun, we jumped on it. It ended up not being what we expected at all, but we enjoyed ourselves despite some big challenges. 

Mykonos is without a doubt a ridiculously beautiful island, and it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. The ocean is the clearest, most pristine shade of turquoise and the traditional white-and-blue Cycladic buildings were every bit as perfect as they look on Instagram. We didn’t see a single cloud during our six day stay, and the weather was wonderfully consistent: hot, but not as oppressive as Athens, and the strong sea breeze kept us cool.

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Our ‘hostel’ was on Paraga Beach, which is an incredibly pretty and hugely popular beach. I say ‘hostel’ in quotes because in reality it was straight-up camping - it was only a hostel in that it was cheap and populated by young people. To be fair, it was literally on the beach - the ocean was in the backyard. But our ‘private room’ was actually just a perma-tent that looked like it came from Fyre Festival. I mean, it was fine - our door locked, we had a fan, and at the end of the day it was just a place to sleep - but it made me realize that I've come to rely on such luxurious creature comforts as actual buildings with walls, and I wasn’t prepared for full-on beach camping. 

Also, the staff at the hostel was batshit bananas crazy - 99% of the times my interactions with staff made me feel like they were either drunk, poorly trained, or just did not give a shit about anything. The bar/beach staff tried to rip us off every single day, and on Friday night at the hostel pool we saw a lifeguard *literally* slap a guest for going in the pool after hours. Yes, I said slap. We saw the same lifeguard working a couple days later so I have zero confidence he was reprimanded in any way. Still, we sucked it up because it was by FAR the cheapest option on an extremely expensive island, and we barely spent any time in our room anyway. Plus, being able to stroll out of our tent and straight onto the beach within five minutes of waking up made it almost worth it. 

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In order to get away from the hostel during the day, we rented an ATV. I would really recommend doing this if you ever visit Mykonos, even if you don't stay at an awful place. The local buses are very limited and there are only a handful of cabs (no Uber), so having our own transport allowed us to explore a little more easily. Mykonos, like all the Cycladic islands, is extremely hilly and the roads are teeny-tiny (FAR narrower than Ireland) with lots of blind curves and steep drops. The biggest issue by far, though, was other drivers. Greek drivers are basically insane to begin with (just try crossing a road in Athens if you don’t believe me), and on top of that there were tons of young and/or inexperienced tourists and a LOT of obviously drunk drivers. With people riding everything from tiny Vespas to massive coach buses, being exposed to the elements on a little four-wheeler was pretty unnerving especially after dark. We thankfully never got into trouble but we saw a couple accidents that made us very wary, and I was definitely out of my comfort zone. 

Speaking of comfort zones, the reason this blog post isn’t more upbeat is that Mykonos tested me greatly on a personal emotional level. I came in looking for a relaxing beach vacation, and while I knew this was a party island, I naively figured I'd still be able to chill out. That wasn’t really the case - I found the atmosphere to be overwhelming (drunk people, hot weather, lack of sleep, hostel staff) and it brought out my anxiety in a way that I was not anticipating. Once that happens, wherever I am in the world, it’s hard for me to shake it, even though I felt guilty for being miserable in such a beautiful place. On a positive note, situations like that present a tremendous opportunity for growth because I’m forced to deal with my anxiety instead of running away from my problems. I’ve definitely been getting better at it over the past couple months but as Mykonos taught me, there’s always room for improvement.

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I hate how negative this is sounding so far, so I’m sorry for that. The reality is that we - myself especially - had a rougher time than we anticipated. But looking back, those were just little blips on the radar. Just being near the ocean again was honestly enough to comfort me. As some of you know, I’m originally from Florida and so I grew up with the luxury of being able to drive to the beach whenever I wanted. For the last nine years I’ve lived in Chicago, and while we have a nice beach on Lake Michigan, it’s just not the same. So on our first full day in Mykonos, when I leapt off the edge of the pier and cannonballed into the clear blue of the Mediterranean, this overwhelming sense of tranquility washed over me. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed the ocean - or how much I needed it - until that moment. So after that, every morning on Mykonos I’d go to the beach, leap into the water, float for awhile and feel all my worries wash away with the waves. 

And even if we didn’t party 24/7, we were still able to redeem ourselves by the end of the week when our FOMO finally hit a breaking point. On our last night we went to a nightclub at neighboring Paradise Beach. Mykonos attracts a lot of big-name European DJs, which we hadn’t realized, and so we took the opportunity to go see Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike. We’re not at all familiar with them but apparently they’re a huge deal in Europe and headline Tomorrowland every year. The club itself was pretty much exactly like a Vegas club but with a view of the beach, and we grudgingly paid way too much money for drinks all night. Even so, we had a blast, and in the morning we had zero regrets about our hangovers because we were just happy that even as grumpy old farts we were able to round out our Mykonos experience with a little bit of nightlife. 

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At the end of the day, not every place we visit can be perfect. If we could do Mykonos over again, I think we’d do things a little differently to set ourselves up for success. But we came on this trip to challenge ourselves and step out of our comfort zones, and sometimes that can happen in the most unexpected places. It wasn’t the laid-back island life we were hoping for, but we made the best of it and by the end we were glad for the experience. There are always gonna be bumps in the road, and it’s important to learn from your struggles and come out a stronger person - and I genuinely think that was the case here.