The Sun Worshippers

Trip Start Jun 12, 2006
Trip End Nov 28, 2006

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Saturday, September 2, 2006

Jamie and Bill Said:

As evidenced by the crowds that flock to Santorini, it is a beautiful island. We decided to splurge on a hotel for this island and stay on the cliffs overlooking the water and were not disappointed (thanks, Sherry!!). The view from our room was breathtaking, and we spent hours just staring out at the volcano and other islands in the distance from our balcony and pool chairs, which had the same view. The hotel did have some drawbacks, though - namely the mildew-covered Jacuzzi tub that Bill spent an hour teaching hotel maintenance how to fix (comical considering they didn't speak English) and a not-so-comfortable bed (a theme throughout Greece, excluding the Marriott and Grand Bretagne). But we gladly accepted those as a tradeoff for the amazing views.

Santorini was definitely the most relaxing part of the trip. We spent mornings at the hotel, waking up leisurely, swimming, reading, and relaxing. And then in the afternoons we picked ChAlli up in our schmancy Peugeot to explore the island - checking out the red and black sand beaches and several of the vineyards (no not all of them). At night we ventured into Fira, also on the cliffs and known for its views and great shopping, (which we all determined was too crowded with tourists), and to Oia at the northern tip of Santorini, known for its sunsets, artsy studios, and blown glass.

We had some general observations about Greece that we all discussed at length in terms of "what's the deal with..." ala Jerry Seinfeld, including the following:

-No shower curtains / standup showers with no curtains or doors - Imagine how much flooding we caused in each bathroom
-Smoking everywhere - It was like they don't have the same information we do. Young, old, men, women, even mothers holding kids in one hand and a cigarette in the other
-Greek toilets - Throughout Greece there were signs that said please do not throw paper in the toilet. Could the plumbing be THAT bad?
-White paint - Never in your life have you seen so much white; they even paint the tree-trunks!
-Maniacal motor bikers - Unbelievable how they drive - with no helmets!!
-Greek coffee - Seriously sludge - UGH
-Lack of fresh seafood - Several places we went to had frozen fish or shrimp. Seriously, the ocean is two feet away??!!

As you can imagine, the entire trip was beautiful, relaxing, and a ton of fun. It was great to see Chad and Alli (who really are doing great and have become seasoned travelers with a very cute routine down-pat). Thank you ChAlli for letting us join your world for a couple of weeks! While we are happy to not have to schlep our stuff around any more, we are sad to return to real life and envious of your continuing vacation - enjoy it for all of us that are living vicariously!!!

She Said:

Many aspects of Greece seem to function on auto-pilot during peak season. Although we were there at the very end of it, arguably after it ended, many of the routines were still in place. For example, hotels trying to get your business as soon as you get off the ferry. It's the most amazing thing to witness men and women yell over each other, waving pictures of their hotels in your face in an effort to get you business. This is what we endured in Ios, and again in Santorini. But, in Santorini, it was like organized crime. No one was trustworthy, and in that back-stabbing sort of way, they were all working together.

Jamie and Bill had reservations already, so our plan was to go to their place with them and then try to find something close. We also had a recommendation from our Aussie friends from Ios for a place that they stayed. As the bloodhounds pounced, we decided to give up on the location (most things are accessible via bus anyway) and head to the place recommended to us. Amazingly enough, one of the women goading us was the daughter of the man who owned the hotel we were looking for. She made a call to her sister, got us a room, and had her brother come and pick us up. Whew, all in the span of about one hour!

Villa Ilios was an off-the-beaten-track one star hotel with a pool and A/C. They say they are in Fira ; however, they really mean that they are in a town next to Fira, 10 minutes walking distance from the center. We were given a big room with a kitchenette and a balcony with a slightly obstructed view of the water. It suited us well, and for 40 Euro per night in Santorini, we couldn't complain.

We went our separate ways for the night, as Chad and I were eager to give J&B some alone time on their vacation. We agreed to be in touch the following day, which Chad and I ended up using mostly for chores and internet work. Unfortunately, the internet connections in Greece were not good to us, so we wasted more time and money at cafes, getting less done than in previous cities. We heard from J&B right around the time our frustration with the computer was at its height and abandoned our "tasks" for dinner and wine. We heard all about their plush accommodations, and laughed about the home improvements performed by Bill and the maintenance man.

The next day, they picked us up in their sporty green Peugeot and took us back to see their place. They weren't kidding; it was luxurious, and the view was amazing. It was too windy for swimming, so after hanging out some, we hopped in the car and headed for some black beaches. The water was clear and chilly, and the rocks sounded like a rain stick as the tide rolled in and out. The rocky beach wasn't uncomfortable like in Nice; the rocks were small enough to be able to settle in on a towel and relax without feeling something sticking into your back. We checked out some wineries and tasted many wines of the region. Bill was in his element and taught us novices about each different wine. We tried to make it to Oia for one of their famous sunsets, but missed it by minutes. We enjoyed dinner instead and tagged along for some souvenir shopping afterwards. That is, until the blackout...

As the town of Oia went black, my first thought was, "You gotta be kidding me, again!" Since we were in a glass store, my next thoughts and eventual words were, "Don't move, you break it you buy it." Being the wonderful salesman that he was, the store owner pulled his car up and shined his headlights to complete the sale. Chad went in search of Bill, who was at an ATM, and escorted him back via lighter. Funny enough, the ATM was on back-up generator so his mission was successful. The store owner informed us this was a common occurrence in the summer in Oia, and as we saw candles and glow sticks appear immediately (as if on cue and ready), we believed him. We pulled off the road and trespassed some more in someone's driveway to admire the stars in the complete darkness.

The next morning, Chad and I utilized our non-neighborhood. Chad got a haircut (Cristil, if you're still reading this, we miss you!), and we had breakfast at a local restaurant. We tried to complete our internet tasks with little success and ate gyros until Jamie and Bill picked us up to go to the red beach. Made of volcanic rocks, the red beach is something pretty cool to look at, but as far as functional, it's terrible. The sand can essentially be described as rocks covered with what appears to be a hay-like substance, and the water is filthy. We looked, took pictures, and then moved on to a beach where we could swim.

We were determined to make the sunset in Oia, so we showered and changed quickly. It wasn't easy finding a viewing spot, as we quickly realized that this was a nightly performance with people filling every nook and cranny trying to catch a glimpse. Apparently, Oia is the only part of the island unobstructed by other islands, and that's why their sunset is so amazing. After watching, I could see why. It was a beautiful and serene experience, followed by a round of applause from the crowd. We took a break from the Greek cuisine and enjoyed some fancy Thai food that evening, and we headed back to the area to where J&B switched hotels. We had one last drink before saying our goodbyes.

We stayed in Santorini one more day to get our plans for travel together and had one last sunset in Fira. There is no shortage of sunsets in Greece, and somehow, night after night, each one seems different. That night, I experienced my first wave of homesickness. It was so much fun sharing a piece of this amazing experience with Jamie and Bill, and I was truly sad to see them go.

He Said:

We dropped our stuff at Villa Ilios and headed into Fira to use the internet. I immediately knew that I was really going to have to be mindful to give Santorini a chance, otherwise I might leave with a bitter taste in my mouth. Fira is the main tourist hub of Santorini, and within minutes we were stopped in the middle of pedestrian intersections as mobs of sun-burnt tourists pirouetted on the staircases as they tried to figure our where they wanted to go. It was like following a heard of mad cows wearing fanny packs.

I also immediately began to pick up on the vibe and physical nature of the island. Santorini, a former volcano, is shaped like a backwards "C" and is really a massive amphitheater facing the west. The stage is comprised of a few small islands that are part of today's active volcano and a larger island a bit further to the west called Thirasia. The player on Santorini's stage is the sun, as we would discover.

The mainland "C" part of the island is divided by a ridge, and what I instinctively noticed upon arrival is that there are two ways to "do" Santorini - you get a resort-like hotel with a view and maybe leave once or twice for dinner, shopping, or excursions; or you "do" like EuroChAlli and get a room on the other side of the ridge without a view, wade through the masses to actually see anything, and probably leave frustrated for more authentic islands without the cheesy knick-knack stores like Folegandros. I'm not going to lie. After the first night, I was ready to go back there. Especially after I found out that the ancient Minoan city of Akrotiri, dubbed the Pompeii of Greece, had been closed indefinitely due to an accident.

Luckily, though, we were only a few minutes from Jamie and Bill. And despite Jamie's proclamation to a waiter that Alli and I were "staying in the hood" as if that is an international term, their enthusiasm to see the island and their generosity to front for a car really made the stay in Santorini enjoyable. I had heard from many sources that Santorini is not just the most beautiful place in Greece but the most beautiful place in the world, and after I dropped my first-night preconceptions, I could see why.

After enjoying some towel time on the small, beanbag-like stones of the black beaches, we headed inland to visit a few of Santorini's wineries. It's great to visit a winery with someone who knows something about wine, and after we sampled wines at three different places, I began to form a vocabulary for tasting. I discovered that everyone probably knows good wine from bad wine, but the hard part is actually finding the words to describe the tasting experience that each wine provides. We sampled the Vinsanto, Santorini's famous sweet wine made by sun-drying the grapes before they are processed (which was happening when we were there), and it reminded me of a more complex sherry. We also tried another sweet wine called Mezzo, which I like to say "walks you around the corner." It begins very sweet, is followed by oak from the barrel, and ends with a tartness that leaves you wanting more. It was by far my favorite.

We proceeded to Oia (pronounced EE-ah) for dinner, and shortly after finally having baklava, the best I've ever had, we endured yet another blackout. I personally have a great track record for enjoying blackouts, and this was no different. It was so dark that you could see every star in the sky, especially after we drove atop a nearby ridge where everyone but oblivious me nearly jumped over the ledge after being scared by a few dogs. Apparently the yard on which we were trespassing was their home.

On our final day with Jamie and Bill, we decided to visit the famous red beach caused by crimson, volcanic rock. It was stunning from afar, but due to its heavy commercialization with rentable beach chairs, most of the beach wasn't even visible. Add a southwesterly wind griming up the water with something resembling soggy shredded wheat, and it made for the most overrated beach I have ever seen.

That night we actually made it to Oia in time for the sunset and were rewarded for our punctuality. We drank Mythos, and Jamie and I both killed the batteries in our cameras taking photos. An Asian-inspired dinner took place on quaint couches in a leafy courtyard with a world music soundtrack and tiki torch illumination. It sort of felt like we were eating as the ancient Romans did, and Alli enjoyed her first sushi roll in over two months. After a few drinks at the beach, we said our goodbyes to Jamie and Bill. The ten days went way too quick.

By the grace of god, we finally found an internet connection that worked after Alli and I decided to spend one more night in Santorini. We had no idea where or when we were going next, so we decided to head back to Athens for its better transportation options. It was kind of stressful, and I think Alli was still a bit sad from leaving her sister, so I decided to spend a few hours alone and head to Murphy's, supposedly the first Irish pub in Greece. When I walked in and looked up at the TV in back, I saw big number 41 on the mound and sat down to watch the last two innings of the Yankee game. I ordered a stout (my first since Nice for those playing at home), and for a few minutes, I felt like I was in the Village at Josie Woods - that is until I got the bill.

Hey! Just To Let You Know:
A pint of beer should never cost more than five dollars, let alone eight-fifty. I don't care if you're the first Irish pub on Mars. You might be the first one in Greece, but with those kinds of prices, you'll also be the first to close. And I hope you do.

Alli eventually dropped by to stop the bleeding, and since the skies were beginning to glow orange, we headed to a table in Fira to continue our new-found tradition of sun worship. The evocative Mediterranean trance music we've heard all through the Greek isles was playing on the restaurant speakers. It's a type of music that I will never forget, and it is the perfect soundtrack for a Santorini sunset. As much as I enjoyed the sunset in Oia, it was even better from Fira. Fira has the box seats in the Santorini stadium, and as we watched the sun disappear behind the curtain of Thirasia, the islands of Greece went from mystical to metaphysical.

They Said:

Happy Birthday Allie G. Sorry we missed it. Hope you had a great day! We love you!
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