Terminal.

What would you do when the one you love most has a terminal illness?

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While going through my drafts today, I came across this piece I wrote as a third year medical student. I don’t share stories as often as I would like, but since starting residency, I’m grateful I recorded this down. I’m once again, reminded that all my patients have unique stories. They are more than their disease; they are daughters and wives, husbands and sons. And it is my responsibility, as a physician, to care for them to the best of my ability.

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“They says it’s suicide.” 

“You think? Well, I heard she was found down on the floor with empty pill bottles around her…”

“Oh her poor soul!”

My ears perked as I slowly made my way around the nursing station that, this morning, was filled with commotion and whispers about the patient I was about to see. I knew the basics: a woman in her mid fifties had been found unconscious in her home, brought into the ER by a concerned husband (not unusual)… and was now sitting behind the door of the room across from me. I was to screen for depression and the possibility of a suicide attempt.

I took a deep breath. If the first week of psychiatry had taught me anything – it was this: anything was possible.

And true to form, what I discovered was so different than what I was expecting.

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“Why does everyone keep asking me about the car crash?? Like I said, the other car ran into me!” She howled, as she pulled her hands close to her eyes, covering her face.

“I’m sorry, ma’am but I have to ask…” I trailed off. We had heard from the husband that she had been in a car accident a week prior, and had told him that there was another driver who ran into her car on the highway. A few days later, he received a police report that detailed an entirely different story. She had ran her own car into a tree, and flipped it over.

I tried an alternate approach.

“Tell me about your family.”

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I soon learned about her family: her grown children and their different personalities and careers, their own families, and her increasing grandchildren. Through her words, I could sense her dedication to her loved ones.

But we too quickly reached the present, to the current change in events.

Suffering from poorly controlled diabetes, she had a complicated leg amputation earlier this year. She lost her job soon after, and had been slowly losing her sight. Now, she was practically blind. On top of that, during this hospital admission, we discovered she had suffered a stroke as well.

And then, there was… her husband.

“My first marriage, oh – it was so young and stupid. We stayed together ten years before I was able to leave him. I was 17 when I got married, you know? Too young, too naive to know anything. But Jorge, this marriage… it was for all the right reasons. We married for love…” her voice cracked, “but it’s been too short! Only two years…”

“What do you mean?” I whispered, captured by her story.

“He… he was just diagnosed with terminal cancer. They found it too late. He has… about a month. I don’t know. Maybe shorter?” She broke down sobbing. “I don’t know what I’m going to do without him. I can’t be without him. I’d have nothing.”

“Would you hurt yourself if he were gone?” It almost felt cruel to ask. (But in psychiatry, you see, this is the number one question we had to ask to rule out suicide.)

“No.” she shook her head vehemently, “I have my family, and I have to be there for them.”

//

After her interview concluded, we diagnosed her with natural bereavement, which is to say – it is normal to grieve. Sadness is part of the human condition – if we try to treat it, and make it go away; what is there left of us?

Too often, in medicine, we over diagnose. We ask questions and we speak, but we forget to listen. Sure, we hear the words, but we don’t understand. Instead, we respond by placing our own judgement and interpretation onto the patient, forgetting to look and listen.

Today, I don’t know what became of that patient, or of her husband. But I am thankful for these special hours I was able to spend listening to her.

If I were to write a book on dating…

It would go something like this.

For sh*ts and giggles; a satire. 

Chapter one: Why Looking for Mr. Right is like Looking for the Right Bra. (Or Jeans.)

Does he boost your assets and make you look good? Or does he diminish your worth? Is he too tight, too controlling? Or is he just not the right fit? Is he going to last or is he just there for eye candy? So many questions, not enough VS personnel.

Chapter two: Size matters.

Who your potentials are depends on the size of your pool. Even in the smallest fish tank, a guppy may seem appealing. But put him in an ocean – does he still stand the test? If not satisfied, then expand your pool. (Why else is online dating so popular… make the world your oyster.)

Chapter three: It all comes down to go-fish.

Forget poker, this game is all about fishing. When a guy isn’t serious, he’ll catch a shiny pretty fish to show around and then toss back. But when he is – then he’s looking for a trophy fish. Be that trophy fish.

On the flip side, if you want to catch him – you must always throw some bait. If he doesn’t bite, he’s not interested. (Fish ALWAYS bite something they like.) If so, move on. There are always more fish around.

Chapter four: Sometimes, you have to set sail.

Is he a sailor? And you only walk on land? Are you an introvert? He an extrovert? Do you love music, and he loves racing? Sometimes, you have lower your guard and try something new. You never know what you can discover when you decide to step foot on the boat; perhaps that treasure map was right – x really marks the spot.

Chapter five: To park well, park early.

My mother once told me, men are like parking spots. The best ones in the front? Well, they go fast, and they go first. There’s this thing about being too picky – in the end, you’re left in the back of the lot because no other spot was “good enough.” Tough luck.

Chapter six: The Golden Rule.

To be respected, you must first learn to respect yourself. Have confidence, be honest, and be straightforward. Don’t give excuses; sometimes when there is no chemistry – there is no chemistry. But when there is, don’t be afraid to go after it. Good luck. ;)

River Flows in You

I love this piece. Funnily enough, when I was younger and in the high school Yiruma craze – I never had the patience to fully learn a single song of his. I would always “practice” whichever songs were assigned to me, and leap off the chair the moment I hit the hour on the dot. And for the past 6 years, I quit playing myself when I started teaching piano to my siblings.

Yet, I couldn’t resist that itch when I noticed this song in my brother’s repertoire. A couple hours of practice later, here is my recording.** :) Not bad for 6 years away from the keyboard! And while it’s not perfect and no where near the composer’s sound… I’m satisfied. Here’s to achieving childhood dreams!

**Please forgive the creaking from my pedals! 

A New Chapter

The doctor is in.

IMG_0607Ahh, I still get the chills whenever someone calls me Doctor Mao. :)

It’s been such an unbelievable journey… but luckily, I’ve had the best friends and the best family who have surrounded and supported me every step of the way! THANK YOU!!

I wish I could post pictures and do a shout out to everyone here on my blog (you know who you are!) – but I’m sure it would be too embarrassing, so here is but a sampling (aka the ones who have no say. ;)

IMG_0693IMG_0641(Photos all credits to S.) 

It’s unbelievable to think that this dream that started in high school, has finally come true. Six long, but fruitful years later. So many things have changed in this time… yet the important things have remained.

I still remember struggling to decide between a certain Blue Devil University and Penn State… and am so glad I chose the latter! Little did I know, it would form some of the best years of my life. A place where I would meet lifelong friends, share late nights, and watch reunions morph from birthdays into marriages. (3 weddings in 2 weeks is currently my new record.)

At Jefferson, I learned about the art of medicine from talented professors, met and cared for patients, some who have changed my life, and fell in love with city life – especially the wining and dining aspects.

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So it’s with the utmost sadness to think that this chapter of my life is slowly coming to an end. But that just means another is about to begin

Here is what I’m looking forward to:

1. Work. So, what’s next? 

Well, I’m glad to say that I get to stay in PA for one more year! I’ll be working as a Resident-Physician in Reading, PA – starting next week! Ah! While nervous about beginning as a intern, I am also very excited to finally learn and do and take medical students under my wing. I do of course, plan to visit Philly often and welcome all visitors, with the promise to live this last year in PA to the fullest!

After that, I’ll spend three more years in ophthalmology training in Augusta, GA.

2. Personal Goals

I feel like I’m finally becoming an adult even though I’m years past 18! Haha. Along with gaining my first “real” job, I recently financed my first car, with plans to buy my first house next year. I guess this just marks the beginning of financial responsibility and saving and paying back loans and taxes and perhaps finally learning about a 401k? (Help?!)

3. Relationships

Can you believe it has been almost 2 years since my last real blog post in the love category? If you don’t believe me, just click the archives. It’s shocking to me even, considering how I first built this blog on giving (mainly unsolicited) love advice!

To be honest, 2 years ago was when I had dabbled in dating and realized that it wasn’t the right time for me yet – that I wanted to focus on growing as a person (spiritually, mentally, physically) and on relationships that were important to me: the friendships.

But now that I’ve hit in my mid-twenties, have a career ahead of me, and know where I’m going – that I’m realizing that this now is the time. And I’d like to think I’m a little wiser now too about love and the like. :)

And the biggest changes are these: I’m learning to let go of pride and being okay with uncertainty, seeing potential before all else and setting standards… and realizing that sometimes, perhaps the good has been here all along…

Till next time! More wedding and travel blog posts ahead~

Eurotrip Part 5: Barcelona

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Barcelona is laid back and richly alluring, with endless streets for exploration and an ability to take on multiple identities. It is part city – part beach, part Spanish – part uniquely Catalan. While its avenues are lined with majestic, “Gaudi” buildings, its alleys are filled with street art and graffiti. Famous chains and smaller boutiques intermingle, and one can get easily get lost in the maze of windy roads.

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M, one of my good college friends, joined us for this last leg of our vacation. We rented the master bedroom of an apartment located near the city center (Placa Catalyuna) at Universistat through Airbnb. The bedroom was huge, with a queen sized bed and a twin sized sofa bed – perfect for the three of us, as well as a kitchen, laundry room, living room and bathroom that was shared with the other rentals. It felt amazing to finally have our own space and privacy to come back to, especially after weeks of hostels!

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Itinerary

Day 1

  • We explored La Boqueria, which is a large outdoor market (and puts Reading Terminal in Philadelphia to shame!) They have an enormous, dazzling selection of fresh produce and meats, as well as fresh juices, desserts, baked goods, and jamon! It is impossible to walk out empty handed. This was my favorite place to go, and I came here daily for fresh juice and a tasty meal! 
  • We also walked down Las Ramblas, one of the most crowded and famous streets of Barcelona that is filled with a variety of street performers/artists. At the port, we reached the Christopher Columbus statue, and also stocked up at Carrefour, my new favorite supermarket. 
  • We ended the evening with a flamenco show, at the Jazz Si Club. The venue was cozy and packed; the cost was 10 euros and included a free drink. 

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IMG_3613Day 2

  • We took a free tour through the Travelers Bar (highly recommended, but this one does require tipping).
  • We explored the barceloneta beach and walked to the less tourist/more residential district of Paral·lel to the street of carrer blai for true local tapas. It was delicious!! 
  • We partied at Razzmatazz, which is one of the largest clubs in Barcelona (at 5 floors, each with a distinct music genre), from 1 AM to 5 AM. What an experience, and a must-do! The club suddenly became packed around 2-3AM, and the majority of people there were foreign (from countries all over the world) and of college age (sad day, that I am in the “older” crowd!)

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food

Day 3

  • After taking the morning to sleep a couple of hours, we took an afternoon paella cooking class with Marta through Eatwith, and it was delicious! I will be definitely be sharing that recipe soon.
  • Because museums are free after 3PM on Sundays, we also checked out the Picasso Museum.

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Day 4

  • Today was dedicated to learning about Gaudi and modernisme. We visited Parc Guell, went on a Gaudi tour, and stopped by the Sagrada Familia (didn’t get the chance to go in this time; would do so next time), Palau GuellCasa Batillo, Placa Reial, and Casa Milia. 
  • The best way to get to know Barcelona is through wandering; we spent the afternoon wandering through Barri Gothic and El Born region. 

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  • We also met up with D, a friend of mine studying in Barcelona, and at THE most amazing tapas! The chef/owner designed our menu: olives, salmon/anchovies/ceviche with crackers, mild goat cheese with bean sprout salad, famous Spanish boiled potatoes with two types of sauce, and four types of cures meat (jamon, chorizo, Catalan salami, beef jerky) with sundried tomato bread, and wine on the house! :) 
  • We ended the evening by walking through Parc Citadella to Port Olympia

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Day 5

  • We tried the famous thick hot chocolate with churros… yummy! 

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  • We ended our last day with a hike up Montjuic to see the castle, the sunset, and the city of Barcelona, one last time. 

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Tips

  • I highly recommend using Airbnb to book a place to stay if you are with a group of friends. You can usually get a place (i.e. a large room to an entire apartment) at a cheaper cost than a hotel and/or hostel room, with much more privacy and space. Our Barcelona apartment cost less than $25 per person per night! To save $25 off your first rental, please register and rent with my link here.
  • If you are going to go clubbing – go big or go home. It is pricey, but Razzmatazz is one of the most famous and worth it’s value! I highly recommend pre-ordering tickets because the online tickets include a free drink! Additionally, subways only open at 7 AM, so have a plan ahead of time for how to get home. We had to the learn the hard way…
  • I would also recommend watching the Magic Fountain light show and visiting the Olympic stadiums.

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Eurotrip Part 4: Rome

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Rome is simply put – beautiful. It stands proudly, overflowing with magnificence, and is yet, welcoming. It is grand, statuesque, yet approachable. The piazzas are numerous and expansive, the fountains and its statues elegant, yet practical, with churches dotting each street corner. The streets are filled with laughter and families, sweet nothings and couples, from the early morning markets, late into the night. Every corner is filled with activity and oh! so perfect for the romantic stroll and people watching. I fell in love with this city (it was my favorite) and hope to come back someday…

PIazza Navona

PIazza Navona

Rome is also known as the city of water, with fresh, clean water available from the majority of its fountains! This stems from the Roman empire, and their famous aqueduct system that started in 300 BC. Each faucet has a hole at the top, so that when the end is blocked, the visitor can have an easily accessible spout of water to drink from. IMG_2819

When in Rome, do as Romans do.

Thus, aside from exploring, my days were happily filled with daily doses of gelato, pasta, and pizza. IMG_3074IMG_3484IMG_3487 We arrived in Rome after a flight from Santorini, with an overnight layover in Athens, and were exhausted by the time we arrived. (Airport sleeping, not recommended.) Luckily, Legends hostel, where we stayed, was located right next to Termini Station (and conveniently close to a supermarket!) and was easy to get to. We stayed in the co-ed 6 bed dorm room with our own bathroom.  IMG_3488

Itinerary

Day 1

  • We first walked down Nationale and Via Del Corso (one of the main shopping streets), to reach Piazza Del Popolo. There was plenty of unique brands and great quality, street level, store front shopping at affordable prices.
  • We then walked down Del Babuino to the Spanish steps for a free walking tour, which was completely free (no tipping needed) and very informative! The sites we visited included: the Fountain de Trevi, the Pantheon (stunning!), Piazza Colonna/Parlimento, and the Galleria (which was the first non-Catholic shopping center). We then continued to walk around to eat at the oldest gelato place, and ended the evening with a stroll through Via Del Tritone and the Quattro Fontane, past Piazza Barberini.

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Spanish steps

Spanish steps

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Inside the Pantheon

Piazza IMG_3541 Day 2

  • Today was dedicated to visiting “Old Rome,” and seeing the Colosseum. We first explored the Palatine Hill (some fence jumping may or may not have occurred), through the Farnese gardens, into the Roman Forum, and past the Arch de Constantine, before entering the Colosseum. We skipped all the lines! (Please see the tip section on how to do so).  
  • It was interesting to contrast how this city integrated its ruins into its city, compared to Athens.
Entering Old Rome

Entering Old Rome

Arch de Constantine

Arch de Constantine

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Palatine Hill

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  • I also visited a few famous piazzas including: the Piazza Campo do Fiori, famous for its early morning market and food stands, Piazza Navona, famous for its art vendors and artists, and Piazza Cavour, which was so beautiful, I couldn’t help but tear up!

IMG_3096 Day 3

  • This was probably THE most memorable day of my trip. I had planned to go to Vatican city and visit St. Peters Basilica early in the morning – but little did I know that because it was a Wednesday, the Pope was present and was going to give a message! There was a huge line at the entrance, but luckily because I was among the wave of very early arrivals I was able to sit in the front section without being checked for a ticket! Later on, they began to check tickets for entering and/or going to the restroom which led to some agony on my end because I was not going to let go of my seat no matter how much I needed to go, haha. 
  • It was an amazing, unparalleled experience… I can’t even estimate how many thousands of people were present, and how excited the onlookers were! People traveled from all over the world for this pilgrimage, after all, this was the center of Catholicism, and yet – I was there! The Vatican itself is stunning… I was in awe the whole time.

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  • There were interpreters in every major language, including French, English, German (but no Chinese!). His Holiness focused on one of the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit, on the importance of wisdom. We also received His Holiness’ blessing upon ourselves, children, family, especially with the upcoming Holy Week. 
  • I went to Vatican museum using a pre-booked ticket at 12 pm, and took two hours (this is without any guides) to the Sistine chapel. I then took the “secret” exit on the right to enter the Basilica, and climb its dome. (See tips section how to do so!) 
  • I then met up with L, and we winded down the evening in the residential Travastere.
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Vatican Gardens

IMG_3333 IMG_3418 IMG_3366IMG_3426 Day 4

  • I think 3 full days in Rome are enough to see all the sites. We were originally going to go to Tivoli, an idyllic city nearby, on our fourth day, but were unfortunately unable to make the trip due to unforeseen circumstances. Instead, we hung out with our newfound friends/hostel-mates and revisited my favorite piazzas.
  • The most touching scene was when I came across was a sweet old man carrying bags of cat food, and tenderly feeding all the city cats.

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Tips

  • Overnight layover in Athens airport: very common. We saw quite a few other travelers sleeping in the airport. There is a chapel area/prayer room that is good for sleeping outside the gates, as well as a few arm-rest-less benches inside the gate area. (A few latecomers slept on the floor.) You are only allowed to enter the gates for an early morning flight after 11 pm.
  • There are several transportation options from the FCO airport (in Rome) to the city’s central station (Termini Station). The cheapest option, and one I highly recommend, is the Terravision bus that costs 8 euros round trip. This can be bought in the airport, and has a variety of early morning buses departing from Termini as well. The alternate is the high speed rail, or Leonardo Express, which costs 15 euros ONE way, or 30 euros round trip (equiv to 40 usd.)
  • Take a free guided tour.
  • If you happen to come on a Sunday or Wednesday, you can also hear the pope speak by checking his schedule online and pre-ordering tickets.

Do not fall for any “skip-the-line” guided tours, when it is entirely possible to SKIP the line without paying extra!

  • To get to Colosseum without the wait, buy the ticket at the entrance to Palatine Hill/Roman Forum, which is nearby. The ticket will include access to all three sites! 
  • To get to St. Peters Basilica (and climb the steps) by bypassing the lines, enter through the Sistine Chapel which is the last stop in the Vatican Museums. Take the exit on the RIGHT when exiting the Sistine Chapel (it is supposed to be for tour groups but they rarely check) to enter Basilica! (The left is the individual exit and will lead you to the front entrance in which you came in from.) From there, you can immediately go up on the roof, before going inside. If you want to do the Vatican Museum and the Basilica separately, note that the entrances are on completely opposite sides of the Vatican and will take a 10-15 minute walk. Also, if you get an audio guide for the museum, note that you will have to return to the entrance to return the headset.
  • The only site I recommend online pre-booking for is the Vatican Museums, if you are planning to go on a weekend day or a Wednesday. (Most tourists will flock there after seeing the pope.) There is an online 4 euro surcharge. If not, a Monday, Tuesday, or Thursday afternoon visit should have a minimum wait time.

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Eurotrip Part 3: Santorini

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Ahhh, Santorini… the place the true vacation part of our journey began – a place we couldn’t help but slow down and catch the smell of roadside flowers, indulge in the taste of freshly caught seafood, take in the sights of gorgeous whitewashed villas and blue domed churches, and explore our way through the mountaintops.

IMG_2582We arrived here via ferry from Athens, Greece and stayed a total of 3 days. Despite the small island and town size, there was always something for us to do. This is the ultimate honeymoon destination spot, with its laid back atmosphere, beautiful views, and above all – world famous sunsets. (Mykonos, on the other hand, is another popular Greek land that is smaller – and more famous for its party atmosphere.) IMG_2347

I also have nothing but the best things to say about where we stayed in Santorini as well. It was seriously the bomb; people go out of their way to help and are incredibly nice.

For our first night, we stayed at San Gorgio Villas in our own room(!) with 2(!) beds (yep, slowly upgrading), located in Fira. Fira is where I would recommend most visitors to stay, especially if coming during low tourist season like us. (The other popular location, Oia, was almost empty during this time because most areas were still undergoing preparation/renovation.)

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Like most villas, San Gorgio Villas offered an airport and/or ferry drop off service; the owner, George, actually picked us up a little after midnight and let us first sleep until morning! Unfortunately, due to the ferry strike, we lost our reservation for the rest of the nights – however, George was an absolute lifesaver! 

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Pool at San Gorgio Villas

Even though we had cancelled our room on our end, George:

  1. helped us find an affordable villa right behind his place for the next two nights (with free breakfast!)
  2. invited us to come every morning to his hostel for free coffee & cake (how could I say no!)
  3. lowered our room price because of the inconvenience (even though we didn’t even ask him to)
  4. still drove us to the airport for free because our other villa didn’t provide that service. We even forgot our souvenir donkey photographs in his office, and after he dropped us off – he went back, noticed, came back INTO the airport, and handed us our pictures. Can you believe that? I was so moved.

So if you need a place to stay in Santorini that is very affordable, close to the main road, and clean – I highly recommend George with San Gorgio Villas! He made our visit.

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Itinerary

Day 1

  • We went on a half day excursion that included: climbing an “active” volcano and going into a hot spring. It was really fun, and I would recommend this tour. However, looks are deceiving and we found out the hard way that the water is still freezing in early April, and picks up during the summer.
  • To get to the boat departure area, you have to climb down a long set of stairs to the old port and watch out for donkey dung. (Alternatively there are cable cars and donkeys for 5 euros each.)

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  • We treated ourselves to an amazing mixed seafood meal right off the port! The usual cost is ~37-40 euros, but because they didn’t have all the fish as advertised, we got a steal at 25 euros! (And bread was free! Take that, Athens, haha.)

IMG_2482Day 2

  • In the morning, we hiked from Fira (in the middle of the island) to Oia (at the tip) in the morning. The hike is extremely scenic and usually takes the average hiker 3 hrs, but we took a whopping 4.5 hours because of our many detours on climbing everything, and of course, roof hopping, all in the name of pictures!
  • We ate a late lunch at Thalami in Oia, and I finally got to try moussaka (a famous Greek dish) and stuffed tomato peppers.
  • At night time, we went to check out the bar scene, which was their opening weekend (props to the planner right here, haha.) The way they get attendees is quite clever – they have really good looking guys and gals stand by the doorways and essentially flirt with the passerby, enticing them to come in. (Body shots may or may not have been suggested.) Don’t say you weren’t warned! The drinks are pricey even with the happy hour deals that run from 9PM-12AM (they are “buy one get one free” drinks at 8/9 euros apiece.)

IMG_2379IMG_2380IMG_2697 IMG_2699Day 3

  • We attempted a hike up to the Monastery of Profitis Ilias, but got lost along the way. I would recommend bundling up for this hike because it goes to the highest point of Santorini and is very windy.
  • We decided to make one last run through of the town and down old port, and rode the donkeys up! I highly recommend this donkey ride… well worth the 5 euros. (Pictures are an additional 4 euros.)
  • Free healthcare is amazing. Throughout the day my piercing (from Athens) had begun getting more painful, swollen, and red, and we started getting worried about potential cellulitis. With thirty minutes to spare before we had to head to the airport, we ran to the pharmacy who told us to go to local clinic. They saw me in 5 minutes, and I had a prescription filled in 10! I couldn’t be more thankful, and can’t imagine what a different scenario it would have been had it happened in the US.

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Tips:

  • When selecting a hostel, look for one that provides free transportation from the port/airport.
  • The villas and restaurants facing the sea will be a lot more expensive than those facing the town because you are essentially “paying for the view.”
  • To get around Santorini, take the local buses. The schedules are posted at the bus stations and are easily accessible. They also only cost 1.6 euros per trip.

If you decide to go in early April like we did, note that it is still considered “winter” in Santorini and is off season:

  • There will be a lot of construction in Oia with closed restaurants/stores, with most of the action in Fira.
  • The sunset will be aligned above the volcano when seen in Fira and has not yet moved to Oia.
  • The buses have a shorter, more infrequent running schedules.
  • Most of the beaches are closed due to the cold, except for Kamari. We didn’t expect this one, which is why most of our stay involved hiking, which we still enjoyed!