Sunrise Over the Aegean? Let’s discuss that.


The Objective

As many of you know, we went to Greece to watch the sun rise over the Aegean. So when we landed, we started asking locals where to go:

-Do you know a good place to watch the sun rise over the water?
-No, sunrise.
-You mean watch the sun at night?
-No, watch the sun in the morning.
-I don’t understand.
– Do you know where we should go to see the sun come up over the water?
-No. Here is for the sunset. Everyone come. Sunset is beautiful.
-I know, but we need to see the sunrise too.
-Why? Why you want to do that?

That last question was repeated with such confusion from so many sources, that I began to wonder myself. Why the sunrise, exactly? No reason really. It sounded cool, so I put it on the life list, and then later, I started to take the list very, very seriously. So we asked again.

Sunrise? People laughed. Sunrise? They shook their heads with confusion, even irritation.

The Obstacles

Sunset was the big event.


In fact, watching people gather in the evenings was one of the loveliest parts of the trip.


Sunset in Greece was social, celebratory, and… not what I was there to do.


I know some of you are already thinking, “So watch the sun set already, who cares?” And that is a very sane thought indeed. But I’m just not wired that way. With sanity, I mean.

And so the conundrum deepened. In addition to the cultural mismatch of our task, geography was also against us. The maps we consulted indicated that Santorini, where we spent the bulk of our trip, is actually located in the Sea of Crete.


Ahem. I haven’t spent a lot of time with maps, perhaps because I have been busy making lists of geographically implausible and culturally insignificant tasks to complete.

After much consideration, we decided to watch the sun rise in Mykonos as a celebration of our last full night together in Greece. We’d stuff our faces with gyros, dance until dawn, and pass around a bottle of terrible Greek champagne as the sun came up.



Then our ferry to Mykonos was canceled, so our last night there would be our only night there. Also, the only way to watch the sun rise over the water was to drive to the other side of the island. We arrived exhausted, ate dinner, stared at each other blankly. No one felt the least bit like dancing.

The Abject Failure

New plan. We’d wake at 4 a.m. (sigh), and go on a little drive. All of us feigned enthusiasm. “Yeah!” we said. “This will be amazing,” we said. Our eyes watered with stifled yawns.

We rented a car. Aubrey hopped in to drive it to our hotel for the night, and a few minutes later the car started to cough and jerk. The engine finally stopped on a very steep road. People were honking and careening around us. We sat for a moment and whimpered with fatigue. In sandals and a mild stupor, Laura and I got out to push the car into a nearby parking lot.

“Ready?” I asked Laura.
“OK, Aubs. Let the break out.”

Ladies and gentlemen, that is perhaps the stupidest phrase I have ever uttered.

Aubrey complied, and of course the car barreled backward. Our traction-free sandals skidded over the asphalt as the car shoved us down the hill. “STOP!” Laura and I screamed. “STOP! STAAAHHHHP!” Aubrey complied.

To shorten a rather long and traumatic story, we managed to restart the car, got it off the road, and stared at each other stunned for a few minutes. Then Aubrey and I shook violently while Laura walked to the rental place.

She returned on the back of a moped, and her escort did not believe any of us knew how to drive a stick. We bristled, because it wasn’t true, but also because saying that to an American woman is like telling her you think she’s untalented in bed. After many condescending glances, and an interminable inspection, he agreed the car was broken. Aubrey left with him and came back with a new car. At last! We were almost to our hotel when the gas light clicked on.

Yes, so. We returned to discuss our situation with the rental company owners, whose English skills seemed curiously diminished. They didn’t see the problem. OK. Did they have an alternate car? Or rather an alternate, alternate car? One with fuel? No, they did not. If we wanted gas we would have to get it ourselves. No gas would be more than enough gas for whatever we wanted to do. The island is small!

I looked at Laura and Aubrey. All of us drew our brows together and tried to make our brains work. Perhaps fatigue was affecting our comprehension.

We piled back in, the light popped on again, and we drove in circles searching for the gas station our proprietor had indicated with a vague sweep of her chin. Eventually a police officer asked what we were doing, as our frantic ambling had begun to affect traffic. He informed us that all the gas stations were closed by now. We wept softly, and returned to the rental office.

I requested a refund, and the owner’s English skills dissipated entirely. I dare say she was a bit aggressive toward me. And wouldn’t you know, I was feeling rather aggressive myself. I set my jaw and repeated myself through my teeth. She shrugged and went back to what she was doing when we arrived — sitting with friends in a circle of lawn chairs out front, passing a newspaper back and forth. I stood in the office with lava flowing out my ears.

After a few minutes of this, the American in me got very Ugly indeed. “ANGRY,” I said, in all capital letters. “MONEY,” I said, holding out my hand. This technique proved effective. Apparently she spoke Hulk.

By this time, not only were the gas stations closed, so were all the other rental car companies. There was a lot of silence among our little crew.

Aubrey put her hand on my back.
“What do you want to do?” Laura asked.
“I want to have a glass of wine,” I said. “Several times.”

So we did.

The Aftermath

These are some fakey photos Laura Mayes took. It’s us not watching the sun rise over the Agean.



They amuse me, and I hope they will lend you some hollow comfort if you’re a fellow perfectionist. Even after everything that happened, I still feel like a celestial hand is going to reach down and write a red F at the top of this post.

But the truth is, when Intel offered to sponsor this trip, I didn’t go to see the sun rise. I just wanted to see Greece.


My Mighty Life List is full of things I want to do because I think I’ll enjoy them, and on this trip I realized that I can’t tackle it like a to-do list. Things don’t always turn out how you expect, and I have to start seeing my list as set of guidelines. It’s a living document, and it’s there to help me make a richer life for myself — rigidity is exactly the wrong approach. It can make you feel you’ve failed while you’re drinking a glass of wine with girlfriends and watching the sunset in Greece. And feeling like a failure in that situation? It kind of makes you a dick.

The Moral

Especially when I’m traveling, I have a better time if I stop trying to control things. It’s so much more fun to let everything unfold, take the experiences that cross my path and tuck them away. So I’ve decided to put aside the stress over the one thing I didn’t do, and to focus on the things I did do.


I climbed the stairs to the Acropolis.


I saw an enormous pelican in Mykonos.


I tried my first Ouzo with new friends.



I made the kind of friendships you only make when you travel together.


I tried Greek yogurt in its natural habitat.


I danced on a rooftop in Oia.

And I also changed my list.

Have an exceptional time in Greece?



This epiphany brought to you courtesy of the team at Intel. They’re sponsoring my Mighty Life List as part of their Sponsors of Tomorrow Campaign. Because of them, I’ve learned a lot in the last few months, and I’m grateful for their support.

41 thoughts on “Sunrise Over the Aegean? Let’s discuss that.

  1. I loved this post for so many reasons. The written images were as vivid as the photographed ones. But mostly because it centers on a universal truth about human nature, about how easy it can be to let our attachment to how-I-thought-it-was-going-to-be blind us to the amazing moments happening right in front of our faces.


  2. I’m laughing (empathetically) at your near obsessive need need to complete your list down to the literal detail, and appluading your realization that Greece was beautiful and perfect and that was more than enough. Way to Greece it up, lady!


  3. Yes. We just went to cross off “take a scotch tour in Scotland.” Turns out touring distillerys is complicated, and remote, and and and… Well, it turns out what we really wanted to do is drink Scotch in Scotland. Or WHISKY, as the bartenders quite clearly reminded us.

    So drink whisky in Scotland it was. CHECK!


  4. We stayed in Kamari for 4 nights while on Santorini, and saw the sun rise there – it was amazing, and better than the sunset in Oia (perhaps because there was a low cloud bank obscuring the view).


  5. What a wonderful post. It brings tears to my eyes. That might be because I’m in a little bit of a misty mood, but thanks anyway. I will try to remember your moral, and I definitely, definitely need to go to Greece.


  6. I’ve had trips exactly like this one (well, not EXACTLY, but with things not quite going the way I wanted and me trying to force them) and come to the same realization, that as long as I’m enjoying myself, it’s okay if I don’t hit all the landmarks I thought I would.

    Beautifully written, as always.


  7. intention counts for something and i definitely don’t think you failed this assignment.
    also, i apologize for the fact that i cannot see nor hear mention of the (mighty?) pelican without offering up this little limerick.

    A wonderful bird is the pelican.
    His bill will hold more than his belican.
    He can take in his beak,
    Food enough for a week.
    But I’m damned if I see how the helican.
    -by someone famous a long time ago

    also, you just exude fun.


  8. Your travails remind me of a trip I took with a then-boyfriend to Lisbon many years ago. We were walking through the old town, goggling at Old! Buildings! when I saw the–what do they call it, gondola-type thing. This led to our first fight-on-a-trip. I wanted to ride it. “But we don’t have time, we’ll be late!” he kept saying. “For *what*?” I kept asking.

    It was a short trip.


  9. I want everyone who loves me, but most especially, my daughter, to see me as happy as you are in these pictures. My daughter needs to know that you love life like THIS! And that she can feel it too, and that I will get her there if she needs me. On my life list I’ve just added “See Emma this happy.”


  10. Experiences like this are exactly the reason we’re living in New Zealand..for now. It’s the adventure and unknown that’s exciting.
    And, seriously, looks like the best girl-trip ever.


  11. Ah yes – number 101 on the life list perhaps – learn to be flexible!

    Seriously – no way can that trip be considered a failure, esp. if it teaches you that life lesson!


  12. When our flight to Cuzco was delayed five hours and it looked like our plans to get to Machu Picchu we going to be completely dashed, all I wished for was for us to have a good time anyway. Even if it meant spending a night in a completely different town with no hotel reservations. Thankfully, our cab driver was a maniac/genius and we made our train but it could have been very different. Attitude is certainly a deciding factor in these things, so I am happy to see you had a great time in a (clearly) beautiful regardless.


  13. That is so awesome! I love us American Gals!

    Just think that you were watching the sunrise in reverse…as you were getting younger…in Greece. Oh this beautiful life!


  14. And what if you never made it to Greece? Never saw the sun set? It’s all about perception. To find your happiness and excitement in the here and now, not in the what might have been.


  15. This is SO timely. I recently crossed an item off my list, taking the clipper to Victoria, and was absolutely miserable doing it. I’ve been debating either changing the item or just acknowledging that all of the things on my list can’t always turn out how I expect given the whole point is I’ve never experienced them before.


  16. Love, I cried because I missed the fireworks at The Magic Kingdom in Disney World. I can’t imagine what kind of melt down I might have if I went all the way to Greece and not gotten my way. Great story though, I’m sure those memories will last a longer than the memories of the sunrise… PLUS you now have a reason to go back to Greece.


  17. I think that the reason things like “watch the sun rise over the Aegean” end up on our lists is more because of the circumstances surrounding the item than because of the item itself. Does that make any sense? i.e. you imagine that you’d be watching the sunrise in Greece if you had spent an amazing night with fascinating strangers or a terribly romantic tryst. . .having such a good time that you happen to still be awake when the sun comes up. So these things are on our list because we want that kind of experience–the kind of night in Greece that would make you never want to go to bed. Right? The sunrise part without the other stuff just isn’t the same.


  18. Thank you so much for sharing this! It is awesome and inspiring. Thank you for reminding me to let go of the nitty gritty details and enjoy the wonder that is around me. I am also inspired to start my own list.


  19. So how exactly does this sell anything for INTEL?

    As an engineer, this pisses me off.

    People (not only at INTEL) work very hard and actually produce something for society, while you do nothing and ride the coat tail of others.

    Besides taking pictures of yourself and your friends, you don’t actually do anything. Sorry I forgot you tell us what cool things we should buy.

    Some would say I’m jealous, others (like INTEL share holders) would say this a pure waste of money.

    Credit to you for convincing some marketing know-it-all to pick up your expenses.


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