Welcomed to Santorini By My New Friend Oia

First thought of the morning: why am I purposely waking up at 5:00AM on my vacation?  Then I remembered Barbara and I were catching an early morning flight to Santorini to spend the day in Oia and Imerovigli.  Suddenly I was eagerly jumping out of bed to start getting ready.

Barbara had arranged for a taxi driver to pick us up at 5:30AM.  As I learned more about the unreliability of taxi drivers, I was nervous to see if he’d show up.  To my delight, he was right on time and boogied us straight to the airport.

coffeeATHHaving checked in before-hand, all I had to do was drop off my luggage, which took all of 2 minutes.  By the way, I’ve forgotten to mention that I was required to check a bag this trip.  Last year I got away with only my backpack, but I was packing little tanks and leggings for a summer trip.  This year, I’ll be spending time in cooler climates and needed to bring along some heavier clothing… oh, and all my GoPro accessories.

aegeanathensHaving arrived at the airport plenty early, we made time for some coffee.  With few healthy options for breakfast, I caved and got a chocolate muffin.  (I have to feed this hill-walking, bags-toting, sleep deprived machine)!  With our boarding time quickly approaching, we breezed our way through security and soon boarded the Aegean Airlines plane to one of the most famous of the Cyclades Islands – Santorini.  Upon boarding the plane, we were greeted by a very classic looking flight crew: hair in tight little buns, cute little caps atop their pretty heads, and pencil skirts with scarves.

When we arrived to the Santorini Airport a quick 50 minutes later, we were greeted by our driver who zipped us up the island in his Jeep Liberty to Oia.  He asked me immediately if I speak Greek, and as soon as he realized I didn’t and Barbara did, I was the odd (wo)man out.  No worries – I had plenty of gorgeous scenery to keep me occupied.

Upon parking the Jeep, he informed us that cars are not allowed in the town, so we would have to walk to my accommodation for the night: Marcos Rooms.  At this point, it was still fairly early, so they had us take a seat on the front patio and served us each a breakfast of Melba toast, bread with butter and jam, a pastry, a boiled egg, coffee and orange juice.  Had I expected this, I’d probably have waited on the chocolate muffin… or not. 🙂

Our driver had informed us it was uncharacteristically windy on the island the last few days.  As Barbara and I sat on the patio trying to eat our food, we couldn’t help but laugh hysterically as things kept flying off our plates.  Once we were done eating, we were greeted by an elderly Greek couple who ran the hotel.  The man was frail and very sweet, enjoying conversation with Barbara as his English speaking ability was limited.  His wife, on the other hand, was a bit more boisterous and spoke English rather well.  We were shown to my room and taught how to use the key – a simple instruction quite appreciated given the Florence debacle from 2015.

We set our bags down and began exploring the town.  It reminded me of Venice – a labyrinth of alleyways before us.  Knowing where the ocean was, we just kept to our right.  We were fortunate to arrive so early.  Few tourists peppered the paths and we were able to snap some excellent photos without the distraction of people nearby or in the shot.  Without a plan, we continued walking and window shopping the many stores that were opening for the day.

Soon we emerged from the network of interconnecting paths to greet the Aegean Sea.  Not a cloud was  in the sky.  The water a crisp deep blue that contrasted beautifully against the white of the buildings.  Pictures you see in magazines are gorgeous, but of course, nothing compares to having it right before your eyes.  As it turns out, it’s nearly impossible to take a poor picture here.  For the record, there are no filters on any of these photos.

We climbed to the Byzantine Castle Ruins, one of 5 Byzantine era castles on Santorini.  The view was beautiful and unobstructed and upon meeting a couple from Washington D.C., we exchanged photo-taking offers.  Here Barbara and I are successfully fighting the wind, trying to keep fugitive hairs and a wild skirt under control.

We continued exploring, knowing we had a few hours to kill before we’d have to return to my hotel and start getting ready for our photo shoot.  We passed art museums, jewelry stores, souvenir stores, and restaurants.  We encountered several seemingly stray dogs, all comfortably napping in the shade.  Of course I wanted to pet all of them, but Barbara reminded me none of them are vaccinated.  I resisted the urge and refocused on the gorgeous scenery.  The whitewashed buildings against the cobalt blue sea are strikingly magnificent each and every time you look at them.

With only an hour left before we had to head back, we decided to grab a quick lunch.  We had passed several restaurants that had nice rooftop terraces with views of the caldera.  Choosing which one to stop at was a difficult task!  We finally settled on a cute little restaurant that didn’t offer wifi, but instead a sign that read: “We don’t have wifi.  Talk to each other.”  We did talk to each other, but we also enjoyed our wonderful view, taking it all in.  When you look out into the Aegean and see the other islands, everything looks so big!  Using a ferry boat for reference, you suddenly realize that “big” is an understatement.

Still full from my breakfasts (both of them), I decided on something light – Greek yogurt with fruit and nuts.  I was entertained by the menu, as you could order the Greek yogurt in several ways:

Greek yogurt with honey
Greek yogurt with fruit
Greek yogurt with fruit and honey
Greek yogurt with nuts
Greek yogurt with nuts and honey
Greek yogurt with fruit and nuts and honey

I felt like I was at math class, reading all the possible combinations of Greek yogurt, fruit, nuts and honey.  The solution was simple: I’ll take all of it.

Once we were done with our meals, we went back to Marcos Rooms where I promptly fell asleep while Barbara did her hair and makeup.  Finally, it was getting close to our photo shoot.  Barbara had been so kind to offer to do my makeup for me – she used to work at MAC.  She took me from weary traveler to photo-shoot ready in no time.  Knowing the wind was going to whip my hair around and make it impossible to keep nice, I simply stuck to long and straight, and thankfully had the foresight to bring my hairbrush with me.

Time snuck up on us and, in a frenzy, we had to gather everything and walk to the bus station.  Sidenote: we weren’t sure where the bus station was.  Barbara asked the elderly woman who kindly gave directions, but then wanted to make conversation about whether or not we had gone to places she had suggested earlier.  Barbara managed to cut the conversation short and this time we kept heading left.  After navigating through another maze of sidewalks, the structures opened up and the bus station was revealed.  We had found it and the 2:40PM bus was still there!  The buses run every 20 minutes, and we were due to meet the photographer in Imerovigli at 3:00PM.  As we approached the bus, we learned it was an Express bus that would skip Imerovigli, going straight to Fira.  (I just came to the realization I have really poor luck with buses: wrong way in Paris, pick-pocketing in Italy, wrong bus in Oia…).  Rather than get down about my bus luck, I’m going to focus on conquering it!

So we waited another 20 minutes, and I briefly hopped on my pocket wifi to let the photographer, Jane,  know we would be late.  She was very nice about it, and content to be able to have a cup of coffee before we arrived.

Photographer: Evgenia Volokitina

Shortly after 3:00PM, we arrived to Imerovigli and found her right away.  With Barbara having a 5:55PM flight to catch back to Athens, she went first.  Imerovigli is a beautiful town and the perfect place for this shoot.  The wind was still whipping around us, and I hoped it wasn’t strong enough to catch Barbara’s dress and knock her off her feet.  There were a few instances for both of us where we lost our balance, but ultimately it was a safe, fun, beautiful shoot!  I can’t wait to see the images.

Knowing how unreliable the buses were, Barbara made arrangements to have a taxi waiting for her so she could quickly leave when her allotted time was up.  It was a quick goodbye, and I was sad to see her go.  We’d had so much fun, and having her there with me was great for so many reasons.  She alleviated so much stress, was a fun companion and I’m thankful she took the time to introduce me to her native land.

Hugs were exchanged and it was my turn to shoot.  There are no dressing rooms available, but as I’m learning, when in Greece, it doesn’t matter.  The other day coming back from the beach in Varkiza, there was a man on the back of his car changing out of his swim trunks and his bits and pieces were hanging out for all to see.  While quite modest myself, I took comfort in reminding myself I would never see any of these people again.  I quickly disrobed and even more quickly put on that gorgeous fuchsia dress I’d chosen from the photographer’s Instagram account.  The wind and my hair were not cooperating, as expected, but I’m hoping we were able to catch at least 1 flawless, amazing image.  (And we did)!

As the photo shoot concluded, Jane was kind to offer me a ride back to the bus stop on her scooter.  I stifled all my trauma nursing instincts and hopped on the back of her scooter – helmetless.  Fortunately, it was a quick and relatively slow ride to the bus stop.  The bus was already there, and upon boarding, took off back to Oia.  I sat down next to a nice Australian girl, and she and I made conversation for the 25 minute ride back to Oia.  During the conversation, a girl on my other side started talking to us.  She’s from Connecticut and is studying abroad in Madrid.  One thing I love about solo travel is meeting people from all over the world and bonding over shared experiences.

The girls on the bus were antsy to get to Oia.  I couldn’t understand why until I remembered it was almost time for the sunset.  HOW COULD I FORGET?!  This was the primary reason I wanted to come to Santorini, and yet I’d gotten carried away with all of the other amazing things this tiny little island has to offer!  As we arrived in Oia, I booked it to the place where I knew the sunset would be best viewed.  It was already extremely crowded, but I found a decent spot atop a step, which gave me a great place to take photos.  I felt a little goofy carrying my brush around, but as it turned out, I still needed it.  I had forgotten to bring a pony tail holder to the shoot, so my hair was out of control.

I enjoyed 15 minutes of watching the sunset.  People actually clapped when it disappeared over the horizon.  While the sunset was definitely beautiful, with vibrant colors, I’d be lying if I said it was any better than a Kansas sunset.  Now, the ambiance?  No comparison.  I vote Santorini, hands down.  I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed by any means, but I’m hoping one of my two nights in Imerovigli will offer me better photo opportunities.

As soon as the sun had set, I was ready to eat.  My stomach had been growling for a couple hours and I was excited to find a restaurant.  When I travel, finding good food is part of the adventure for me!  To my dismay, there was a major traffic jam in Oia.  There were so many people in the narrow walkways, and you simply couldn’t move past anyone.  People were at a standstill.  Once I finally made progress and sped past a bunch of people, I realized I had gone the wrong way and had to turn around, getting stuck in the opposite flow of traffic.

When I finally made it back to Marcos Rooms, I put on a long sleeved shirt and vest.  The temperature was nice, but the wind coming off the ocean made it a little cooler than I like.  I walked much easier through the still busy sidewalks of Oia, and came upon a restaurant just off the beaten path.  The menu was displayed on the main walkway and it listed traditional Greek fare, so I descended the stairway to find Floga to be a very busy restaurant.  There were no tables, so I was initially sat at the bar.

I had Facetimed with my dad earlier, and he’d asked me if I’d tried Ouzo yet.  I told him I hadn’t, and when I opened the menu, I saw it was available.  Not clearly understanding what I was getting myself into, I ordered it.  The server asked if I’d ever had it before, and I replied I hadn’t.  He informed me it was very strong.  I stated that’s what I had been told, and ordered it anyway.  The bartender brought a glass with ouzo in it, and dropped 3 ice cubes inside.  I took a drink and WOW!  I had no idea it would be that strong!  I later learned ouzo is 40% alcohol.  One glass of ouzo was sufficient, and I moved on to a more tame glass of white wine with dinner.

My meal was delicious and I enjoyed a chocolate dessert afterward at the recommendation of Anesti, with whom I became friends over the course of the evening.  He was kind to take my picture and offer me a glass of Brandy on the house.  Here they have provided with my dessert a glass of warm ouzo and water for dramatic affect.  The ouzo is not to be drank, but to steam and look pretty.  Once I finished the dessert, I ended up having a conversation with a woman from NYC.  She came to my table and chatted with me briefly, and then we all went our separate ways to retire for the evening.

What a long day!  I think I’m starting to get used to the time change, or at least caught up on some of my sleep!  Tomorrow I leave for Kamari on the east side of Santorini.

2018-08-26T23:46:26+00:00By |Greece, Journal|0 Comments

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