Saturday, 4 June 2016

europe 2016, day 11: santorini (may 8)

Too tired last night to finish writing (or rather, to actually start writing) about our first day in Santorini, so here we begin another catchup entry and we'll see if I make it through all of yesterday as well as today. It probably won't happen.

Yesterday we woke up in our little bed-and-breakfast in Ersi Villa, Santorini, and immediately headed downstairs for the breakfast half of the bed-and-breakfast. What a spread. There were, pleasingly laid out on the table before us, poached eggs, apple pie, lemon bundt cake, Greek salad, ham, cheese, Greek yoghurt and honey, cereal, bread rolls, tea, coffee, and orange juice. And all made right in the b&b by the little old lady who had greeted us last night at that ungodly hour. She put plates and trays in our hand and we made a delicious meal of it, sitting in a white-walled room with the characteristic rounded ceiling, looking out to the pool and other Santorini-esque buildings just beyond the door.

After breakfast we walked to the nearby town of Fira, one of two major towns on the island along with sunset-famous Oia. Oia is the one everyone knows about when you bring up Santorini; it's located right at the northwestern tip of the island (Santorini is shaped like a crescent moon facing left). Fira, which is about a five minutes' walk from our b&b in Firostefani, is smack dab in the center of the island, on the western coast.

We had no agenda for Santorini at all - while all the other days and cities on our trip had been meticulously planned out almost to the half-hour in an extensive google spreadsheet, the Santorini tab simply had a few lazy notes like "sunset in Oia every day" (Judy) and "CHILL SO HARD" (Tiff). The loose plan for the day that emerged came entirely out of that morning's conversation with Elias, the b&b host, who gave us some helpful recommendations, and was as follows: explore Fira, eat lunch, then hike up the coast from Fira to Oia, a trek that was supposed to take us about 2.5 hours.

Accordingly, we explored. Fira is a little town, geared solely toward tourists, which makes sense. Santorini's economy is built primarily on agriculture and tourism, and you can tell as soon as you reach the edge of Fira. There's one main road, lined on either side with restaurants, yoghurt places, shops, grocery shops, and other miscellaneous stores. Lots of foot traffic - the whole place was bustling in a little town kind of way. We wandered this central area for a bit, and then made our way up - whether by accident or intention I'm not quite sure, but somehow we ended up heading this way - to the coastal paths so we could slowly start making our way toward Oia.

The coast was where it got even more touristy, with an explosion of little shops and sea-view restaurants in a seemingly neverending series of twists and turns. And all beautiful white buildings, of course, such as you see on the postcards, with friendly owners standing outside and enticing in passersby for a visit.


Nothing too eventful, and I mean that in the best, most relaxing way. I guess the most notable event from this pleasantly aimless wandering was Judy ducking into a shop that sold only a million different styles of white linen tops and dresses, and all of us consequently spending about an hour in there while she browsed. One more thing to add to my list of things learned on this trip: Judy really really really likes white linen tops. The owner was a good salesperson, too, which didn't help matters for me and Tiff. She kept bringing Judy new tops to try, and unfortunately all of them looked great on her, making the decision process progressively harder, while Tiff and I became progressively hungrier. Judy finally decided on a shirt (which Tiff and I both approved and voted as our favourites), and we eventually went and ate our third lunch of gyros since arriving in Greece.

On our way out of the gyros place, Tiff popped into the bathroom and told us she'd catch up with us up the street, so Judy and I went window shopping in the area while we waited. Five minutes passed, then ten, then fifteen, and we were just beginning to wonder what kind of immense operation her digestive system was carrying out, when she finally caught up to us, with a relieved look on her face. It turned out she'd locked herself into the stall and couldn't unstick the lock and get out. So while Judy and I were examining handpainted canvases of Santorini houses, Tiff had been hanging out in a bathroom stall alternately googling "how to say 'help' in Greek" and yelling for help in her best approximation of Greek, before she was finally able to wrench the door open.

"Well good thing you got out; we were just about to come and look for you," I told her. This may have been a bit of a stretch claim, as it had taken us longer than it should have even to realize that she had been gone much longer than it takes the normal adult to pee.

"Oh, good, that makes me feel better," she exclaimed, sounding reassured that we had planned to turn back for her. I decided not to press the point in case something closer to the truth came out.

We explored the shops in the area some more, and eventually made our way out of the town part and onto the path up the coast, and the rest of our afternoon was pretty much the scenic coastal hike to Oia. Also the strenuous hike to Oia. We were all wearing flip flops, not having done any research on the terrain of this hike, and realized soon enough that this was not a "hike" but a hike, which actually, yes, involved steep hilly terrain and a lot of dirt paths and rocky roads. I was especially ill-suited for this trek in my $6 Old Navy flip flops that had no support for the sole whatsoever. But the views! The views made every painful step worth it.

It was all just coastline and water as far as you could see, a deep, rich, endless blue, blending into the sky like a giant chalk drawing by a giant chalk artist who had taken his thumb and neatly smeared the line between sea and sky. Every so often we would stop between huffs and puffs and 'ow my feet's for long enough for one of us to make an original remark about how beautiful it all was and for the other two to echo it.

We made good progress up the coast (although our sense of distance traveled was fantastically skewed and way overshot actual distance traveled), but about an hour and a half into the hike, Tiff announced that she was going to bus the rest of the way to Oia, since the hike was doing nothing to lessen her fear of heights (we had just scaled and climbed down a particularly high hill/mountain) and her back problems were unfortunately getting in the way. And also because she didn't like hiking. A minor factor which Judy and I had either been unaware of or forgotten.

Consequently, with some uncertainty and several misgivings, Judy and I parted ways with Tiff, with me wondering even as we waved bye to her how exactly we were to find one small Tiff in a decently sized town with 2/3 of the group lacking phone data. (We had arranged to meet at the bus stop where Tiff would get off, but who was to say how easy that would be for Judy and me to find?)

Down one member, Judy and I picked back up on the hiking trail, where we encountered a young couple saddling up on a pair of donkeys to go up the trail. We passed them, and somewhat bemusedly found ourselves keeping a steady pace ahead of the donkeys for a while. Wondered briefly should we have put Tiff on a donkey? Decided no, the bus was probably a better option. But at least if she was on a donkey we could have walked with her. Eventually we decided that the pressure of keeping pace ahead of the donkeys was too much so we let them pass in front of us, a decision we immediately regretted when we found ourselves walking directly behind three very large and smelly donkey posteriors for the next several minutes.

I would say more about this last hour of the hike with Judy to Oia, but it was largely uneventful, though consistently gorgeous. I think there was a lot of singing and faint humming. Vaguely remember Judy playing some kpop from her phone. Also met a nice middle aged couple from Canada or somewhere who had met when they were in high school. Admired us for doing the hike in flip flops; we told them we were just stupid and unprepared.

We got very excited once we emerged from around a turn and finally saw the welcome sight of the white roofs of Oia for the first time. Once they were in sight it was a short hike down to reach the edge of the town, a short hike that involved more singing - the Wicked musical songs this time, I believe - and some more spurts of kpop.

It was on this last stretch that we also consulted each other on the plan of action for once we arrived in town. We had three priorities upon arrival: 1) find a bathroom 2) find Tiff and 3) find Greek yoghurt, as I presented the case to Judy. Why can't 1) and 2) go together, she wanted to know. Good point, I agreed, and we continued to approach town, while I continued to wonder aloud whether we hadn't hugely underestimated how difficult it would be to find Tiff in this town with no means of communication.

Not five minutes after I'd uttered this pessimistic thought, we rounded another corner and there was Tiff standing about ten feet away from us, in the doorway of a - wouldn't you know it - Greek yoghurt shop, with a bathroom to boot.

Once the rapturous reunion was over, the three of us set off deeper into Oia to find a good spot for watching the sunset. As we walked, Judy dismissed every likely looking location, insisting that none of these places offered the view she was thinking of but then later admitting that she didn't actually know what she was looking for. Regardless, we soon found what it was that we had unknowingly been looking for: a huge old abandoned building (or was it just a part of the cliff/rock?) crowded over with a goodly mob of other sunset-watchers, which afforded a gorgeous view of Oia's famous white buildings hewn into the cliffside, with the sun just beyond floating down to touch the top of another little island in the distance.

We scrambled over a wall and onto a ledge that jutted out farther, where we sat and did what one does in Oia: watch the sun go down. Never a commonplace occurrence, but in Oia, Santorini, really something spectacular. The three of us sat in silence while everyone around us chattered. Judy listened to music. I wrote yesterday's journal entry. Tiff pondered complex existential questions and did math proofs in her head.

When the last bit of the sun disappeared, cheers and applause erupted, as if everyone had just finished watching a great movie or play. "Good job, nature!" someone beside me called out. It sounded more whimsical than idiotic.

Last stop of the day was dinner at a restaurant called Lotza, which gave us a nice opportunity to eat on an outdoor terrace with views of the water. Delicious mussels and shrimp saganaki, and more tzatziki, which I think we've eaten with every meal in Greece so far. Then a quick stop to pick up some baklava, and then we boarded a bus which was supposed to take us to Firostefani, where our b&b is, but which skipped it and let us off at Fira Center instead, about a ten minute walk away. Judy asked the driver if the bus usually stopped at Firostefani and why we had skipped it but the driver shooed her off with a surly "bye bye goodnight" which rudeness had her steaming for a while. There were a lot of loud 'urrrghhhh's and 'hella rude's coming in a steady stream from her general direction for the first half of the walk back, until she decided she was over it.

Got home and ready for bed by about midnight, with Judy and Tiff both dropping off about an hour before I was prepared to sleep. I was finally just about to lie down myself, when I felt a horribly familiar nausea come over me that I couldn't ignore. I knew what was coming - my dinner - and dashed to the bathroom. Here is the unglamorous part of traveling that you don't see on Instagram: kneeling on the bathroom floor at 2am with your head in the toilet for an hour and a half, trying to distract yourself in between heaves by going back and forth between reading "Anne of Green Gables" on your phone and googling "how do you know when you've finished vomiting?"

I was evidently the unlucky one, physically, on this trip, and I reflected that between my crippling cramps in Amsterdam; the nasty swollen pus-filled bug bites on my legs (oh yes! That happened) from Athens; the mysterious, also pus-filled heat blisters that appeared out of nowhere on my ankle; my painful sunburn which might have made a family of lobsters mistake me for one of their own; and now my food poisoning/indigestion/apparent newfound intolerance for seafood; it seemed I had been designated the sacrifice to the gods to take on all of the physical pains and discomforts possible on our trip. No blisters, bug bites, cramps, sunburn or puking for Tiff and Judy, for which I am convinced they can thank me, seeing as I clearly took their portion.

Two am with bits of undigested shrimp floating in the toilet and a mouth full of vomit taste was not exactly what I'd been expecting for Santorini, but I figured there had to be a price to pay for such a perfect vacation, and this somehow must be it. And with that thought in mind, and Emily's admonitions via Facebook Messenger not to sleep on my back lest I choke on my vomit in my sleep, I finally crawled into bed exhausted and thoroughly grossed out at 3:30am.

It was all worth it to live a day like this one, I reckon.

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