THIS IS PART two OF A TWO-PART SERIES OF OUR TRIP TO THE GREEK ISLANDS. THE FOLLOWING ARE EXCERPTS OF KYLE’S TRAVEL JOURNAL. You can read part one here ENJOY!
As I’m writing, we are on the ferry leaving Santorini and bound for Rafina, a port outside of Athens. Our trip is essentially behind us and now it’s time to head home. We’ll catch a flight out of Athens at 6 a.m. and then fly direct from Amsterdam to Seattle arriving at 11 a.m. home time.
Santorini was beyond anything I can describe. Beautiful doesn’t explain how blue the sea was. Amazing doesn’t begin to summarize the view from the edge of the caldera looking out to the extinct volcano. Delicious doesn’t do justice to the Greek burger with yogurt and peppers or the fried tomato balls. Magical is an egregious understatement for the sunset we saw from the rooftop of an apartment on the outskirts of Oia.
The ferry to Santorini was not what I expected. It was pretty windy and the sea was rough. The vessel swayed back and forth with each wave. Andrea was feeling slightly seasick so I gave her some Dramamine I’d brought with. She was not alone. Shortly after departure from the port in Heraklion it seemed almost half the ship was looking a little pale, especially the children. She wandered outside for some air and people were tossing their cookies off the port side of the ship. We made it to the volcanic island before noon and disembarked to the busiest port I’ve ever seen. There were vendors and car rental agencies soliciting their goods and services like a an auctioneer at a vegas car show. They had scooters and ATVs to rent and we did plan to utilize one of the two for transportation around the island, but it felt like a huge tourist trap there at the port, so we found a bus for under 5 euros for both of us that took us to Fira, where our hotel was.
We stayed at the Hotel San Giorgio which was difficult to find without GPS. Everything in Fira was difficult to find unless you weren’t looking for it. The town is not very big, but several thousand people are crammed into about a square mile of shops, restaurants and clubs. Everything you could want is right there in the town square. So we ended up walking past our hotel 2-3 times before finally stopping to ask. The concierge met us a couple blocks away to show us to the hotel.
The first night in Fira we decided to get dressed up and have date night. Shortly after getting to the hotel we were exhausted from the heat and walking around with all our bags. I took a short nap and we cooled off in the room. Later we got ready and found a great tavern at the recommendation of the concierge who told us that restaurants in Fira set their prices based on the view of the sunset. He recommended Naoussa, which was fairly priced, but still had a great view and the food was fantastic. I had to try the tomato balls and was glad I did.
The next day was Independence Day. While everyone back home would be firing up the bbq’s and shooting off fireworks, we had different plans. First it was off to rent an ATV so we could get from one end of the island to the next. Apparently you need to have an international driver‘s license in order to rent a scooter or a motorcycle. But the quad had plenty of power and was still much more fun than a car. Once we were mobile, the beach was calling. There are several beaches around Santorini, each one suiting different tastes. We decided on Kamari, which was located on the eastern coast. Kamari is a black sand beach with pebbles from volcano rocks.
When we got to the beach we found some lounge chairs and an umbrella with a front and center view of the sea. There was a restaurant just behind us that brought drinks and food to our chairs. It was first class all the way. We spent about four hours sunbathing, reading, drinking, eating and occasionally swimming. Next to us there were two Greek women. Although it was not clearly a nude beach, one of them was topless (Andrea pointed this out to me). I suggested she follow suite in order to get a well rounded tan, but she declined. Behind us was a large gaggle of American tourists, mostly younger and presumably part of a fraternity, while the others were in their 40-50s and had apparently seen their glory days. At one point there was some commotion from the group when one of the 40-somethings with a beer belly and smug face yelled at our waiter, complained about his drink and then literally shooed him away, indignantly. This was the only ugly human behavior we saw the whole trip. Everyone, especially the Greeks, were very helpful and hospitable.
After baking in the sun for a sufficient amount of time, it was back to town to shower and prep for the sunset in Oia. Fira has a wonderful view of the sunset, but Oia is the place to be. It’s on the northern tip of the caldera with the famous white stucco dwellings along the edge. The ride out to Oia on the four wheeler was ridiculously fun. The road is well maintained and it curves like a sidewinder across the desert. Driving a quad on Santorini is a little bit like Mad Max. Everyone’s on a scooter, 4×4, or motorcycle, and anything goes. Also, I was told at the gas station to keep the gas cap locked as people have been known to steal gas.
It was packed in Oia and the main road was gridlocked. So we turned off and headed up to a water tower which ended up being an excellent parking spot. It was one of the highest points on the island and overlooked Oia with a clear view of the sunset. Nonetheless there was some debate as to the perfect spot to watch and take pictures. So we hiked to the center where all of the shops were and wandered around to find something better. After about 30 minutes Andrea was satisfied that the previous spot would work. We stopped for a bottle of wine and then jogged back up to the top, found a clear rooftop, and settled in. We made it with 10 minutes to spare, which gave Andrea plenty of time to set up her shot and me to drink half the bottle of wine (what can I say, it was delicious). While we did not see the famous “Green Flash” (I don’t think we were in the right place for those conditions) the sunset in Oia is the best I’ve ever seen, hands down, bar none. It was our grand finale on the Independence Day.
As every American should, I scarfed down a burger following the show. It was a Greek recipe with yogurt and peppers. The ground beef was juicy and delicious, cooked to a perfect medium.
We slept in the next morning and had to check out by 11 a.m. I returned the quad and then we grabbed breakfast at Mama’s (a wonderful breakfast cafe two blocks from our hotel). We decided to buy a few souvenirs while we waited for the shuttle to take us back to the port. The ride to the ferry was pretty interesting as our driver had a lot to say about the Greek economy. After we mentioned how beautiful the island was he opined that to live and work on the island is a different story.
Many Greeks have moved from larger cities like Athens because they can’t find jobs. They work 12 hours a day/ seven days a week, mostly in hospitality. Tourism is the country’s number one industry and according to him it brings 25 million people a year, just to Santorini. Not too long ago the port we entered and left from handled a couple hundred people a day. I know the Greek currency, and therefore economy, recently crashed but it’s hard to imagine the impact when it’s so foreign to us back home. I learned that the airport on Santorini was sold by their government to a German company. They’ve also sold a couple of ports, and while it was probably a stretch of the imagination, our driver theorized that the Acropolis would be sold and turned into a night club.
Economy aside, Greece was incredible, and we can’t return soon enough. This trip was everything I needed and more. I feel recharged and have gained some perspective about my own life, work, community, and country. I can’t remember the last time Andrea and I sat and watched the sunrise. I’ve never seen a more perfect sunset. I wouldn’t spend it with anyone else. Thank you Greg and Kelsey for inviting us to your intimate wedding. It was so sincere and perfect and I’m honored to have been a part.
As the Greeks say, Na zies ete (May you live)!