Sunset in Santorini

The views in Santorini were spectacular.

Watching the sunset in Santorini, Greece was surreal. The pink and orange shades reflected on the water, illuminating the horizon where the island’s mountainous hills met the sky. It was the perfect place for contemplation.

There’s something about a sunset that’s calming. But to feel peace in looking out at the sky half way across the globe made the world feel so much smaller. In a sunset you can reflect and look forward all at the same time. As I sat on the bench watching the sun creep down, I thought about how lucky I was and also of all the people who I hoped would also get to experience such an opportunity some day.

The trip was a milestone for me — my first time out of the country. My sister lives in Germany on a small Army base where my brother-in-law is stationed. I’d never had an interest in going abroad for one reason or another. There are so many places in the U.S. to explore and I never felt I was missing out staying in the country. When they moved to Germany, I knew I’d have to travel abroad one way or another so I could see my sister.

Having never traveled abroad, especially getting there by myself, I was frightened. The idea of spending hours flying over an ocean to land in a foreign airport I didn’t know how to navigate was anxiety producing. There were so many factors out of my control, which is not my forte as someone who likes to plan everything. As with most things I get nervous about, it really wasn’t that bad.

I’d heard people say going abroad gives you a sense of appreciation and changes your perspective on the world. While traveling, I noticed all the little differences like very few public restrooms that didn’t require pay. And the big differences like the openness in which the Europeans interacted with each other. It confirmed my belief that humans are far more similar than they are different, regardless of culture. Kindness knows no borders.

We visited the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. After climbing the wrong mountain first that is.

I had made a commitment to myself before going that I was going to experience everything — and I mean really experience everything, not just doing what would make for good photos. I turned off my notifications on all but a few apps. With limited access to Wi-Fi, I got to unplug. I had no idea what the news happenings were in Marshalltown or anywhere for that matter. It was amazing to have a week without responsibility and to have nothing more than what food I’d eat next to worry about.

During the trip, my sister and I walked more than 50 miles, which gave me blisters believe you me. We rode a boat in Frankfurt, Germany and we saw the ancient ruins in Athens, Greece. I walked past speaker podiums in the grass where the fundamentals of free speech took root. We had gelato every chance we could.

It was the experience of a lifetime. It made me crave for more travel, new experiences and learning. Yet it also cemented my love for home.

Watching the sunset in Santorini, one of the most beautiful sights I’d laid eyes on, I couldn’t help but think Iowa is just as great. No matter where you are in the world, there is no replacement for home. Even in experiencing a different culture and seeing the magnificent sights, the best part of the trip was laughing with my sister and playing with her dog. There is no replacement for being surrounded by the people and places you love.

And yet no matter where you are in the world, you always carry a little home with you in your spirit. We are rooted in where we are from but shaped by experiences that give us new perspective.

My sister, Elizabeth McLain (left), and I on a walk just before sunset in Santorini.

All this reflection sparked from taking in the reflection of a Santorini sunset on the water.


Emily Barske is the Editor of the Times-Republican and can be reached at