Wednesday, 8 June 2016

europe 2016, day 13: santorini (may 10) - part 1

On our final day in Santorini and the last of our trip, we woke up to the best weather we'd had yet, and took it easy with a slow breakfast out on the balcony overlooking the sea. After we finished eating we spent a good while lying lazily on the sun chairs, deliberating whether to finally, actually have the "chill" day in Santorini we'd come for but somehow still not had, or go along with our original plan to rent ATVs - or quad bikes, as they call them here - and ride around the island.

Tiff, surprisingly, appeared to be the primary champion for Yes ATVs, despite her nervousness about, you know, crashing and dying, because, as she said, it was a bucket list item for her. Judy, surprisingly, had changed sides overnight to now emerge as chief supporter of No ATVs, in favour of having a lazy last day on the island instead. I was indecisive - torn between the appeal of the excitement and the apprehension of crashing and dying. While I was thus teetering Judy changed her vote back to Yes ATVs, clinching it for us, and sparing me the stress of having to make a decision.

This decided, we promptly got up to find Elias, who made a phone call from the reception to order the ATVs. Almost immediately after he hung up the phone - and I mean "immediately" as in within-three-seconds immediately, as in WHOA-where-did-he-how-did-he-do-that immediately - a man appeared from around the corner and beckoned us to come with him to look at the ATVs. The rapidity of the progression from Yes ATVs to Elias's phone call to the ATV guy's appearance astonished us, but we followed him docilely to the ATV garage (which it turned out was just next door), where we looked at the vehicles and looked at each other and thought oh dear are we actually doing this yes well yes yes it's too late to back out now okay yes. I also decided that right then would be a good time to recall that I'd only been licensed for about a month and a half and hadn't been on the road in any sort of vehicle since I passed my test, a fact which did not reassure Judy that much.

The ATV guy finished filling out the forms and then directed us outside to practice with another ATV guy, telling us to call his brother Louis when we returned at night with the bikes and that Louis would call him to pick them up. Judy and Tiff and I looked at each other blankly, none of us having any idea who this Louis person was. Something like comprehension dawned on Judy's face and was rapidly replaced by a comical look of dismay.

"Is Louis... Elias? Have I been saying his name wrong this whole time?!"

ATV Guy looked confused, until something like comprehension dawned on his face.

"Elias...? Yes, Elias. Louis. My brother." He nodded several times to confirm that Louis and Elias were indeed one and the same person.

"OH NO" Judy wailed. (There's no other verb for it; she actually wailed this.) "I've been saying 'hi Elias' this whole time!" She seemed disproportionately distraught about this very understandable error. I mean, the guy's name was spelled E-L-I-A-S, so how was she to know it wasn't pronounced like that.

"It's okay, both are okay, Louis, Elias," ATV Guy reassured her. Other ATV Guy led us outside then, smirk-smiling as he called after us, "Don't forget to call Louis-Elias when you come back!"

Practicing on the bikes on the road was terrifying enough to almost make me reconsider what now seemed like a hasty decision to cut my lifespan short by several decades - almost, but not quite. Other ATV Guy showed us how to turn it on, shift from forward to neutral to reverse, turn on lights, accelerate, signal, and lock the parking brake; tested us briefly on all this; and then sent us on our merry way. Tiff led the way to start, having been chiefly responsible for signing us all up for this, and we started on the coastal road to Oia, which we wanted to spend more time exploring at a nice slow pace on our last day.

It pretty much took us all of five minutes on the road to adopt a radically different attitude toward ATVing. Unanimous agreement that this was the best decision we'd made on the trip. Foolish grins all around, the panic of five minutes before utterly forgotten. Once we reached the end of the town roads and hit the coast, we became so giddy it was kind of disgusting. It's an indescribable feeling to be zooming along the Santorini coast at 40 km/h (it's really not that fast once you convert it to miles though; we checked, and 40 km/h definitely sounds much more impressive) with an endless blue ocean to your right and no one to hear you belting out Frozen songs at the top of your lungs as you keep your thumb on the accelerator and let the wind keep hitting you in the face. You feel as if you own the earth.

It took us only about twenty to twenty-five minutes to arrive in Oia. Once we got there, we found a paid parking lot that was charging two euros for five hours' ATV parking, which was decent, but we didn't necessarily plan to be in Oia for the next five hours straight, so it didn't seem worth it. Judy, ever the resourceful one in our group and always trying to see if exceptions can be made, asked the owner if we could park there for a few hours, leave, and come back and re-park for the remaining time of the five hours. It fascinates me how different we are - such an option literally would never even have occurred to me to ask for. It only took the man a few seconds to think it over and say yes, but on the condition that Judy give his friend/coworker a kiss on the cheek. Fortunately for her he was mostly joking, but more fortunately for him he didn't press it, or he would have presently felt the full force of Judy's wrathful indignation.

Parking situation resolved, we took off on a leisurely stroll through the town, first and foremost in search of gyros (again) for lunch. As it turns out though, dirty, cheap gyros stands are apparently too plebeian for the more pristine and classy Oia, so it took us a while and some hunting through streets more removed from the pretty tourist part before we could find any options. We did find a gyros shop eventually, and ate our fifth (count 'em) consecutive gyros meal outside happily. While eating Judy and I also noticed that there were free ATV parking spots aplenty, but signaled to each other with our eyebrows that we wouldn't mention this to Tiff, as she would likely take the discovery that we had just collectively spent six euros for nothing much harder than Judy and I, neither of us caring too much. As I mentioned, we have gotten to know each other very well over the past two weeks.

After our satisfyingly cheap gyros lunch, we headed back into the main part of town. We had made our way maybe five minutes in and that's about when I fell in love. Head over heels. Goner from the start, never stood a chance. A bookshop. Name of Atlantis Books, with a handpainted sign by the door that said "RENT-A-CAT: 5 EUROS." Handpainted everything, actually. There were wooden blue steps descending into the little shop from the main street, which I promptly hurried down, Judy and Tiff following behind me.

The inside was just as perfect as the exterior would cause one to expect. One of those wonderful little bookshops with hidden nooks and crannies everywhere. Whimsical, funny, pithy, and most importantly, personal notes sticking out of many of the books on display. A gasp-inducing collection of first editions ranging from Hemingway to A.A. Milne to Beatrix Potter to the Beats. I turned and asked the guy behind the counter where they got all of them from.

"The founder goes around the world in the winter collecting them. They come from literally all over the world," he informed me, and a happy thrill ran through me. The sheer delight of finding something so unexpected and beautiful as this bookshop right in the middle of Oia - I'm surprised I didn't pee my pants then and there.

They had their founding story and notable milestones of the shop painted on the high rounded white ceiling - it was started in 2004, after a group of friends from the UK, US, and Cyprus came to Santorini, found that there were no bookshops in Oia, and decided to build one. There were several cats and dogs and marriages and babies involved along the way, as befitting any respectable founding story. Twelve years! I was captivated. Judy and I had so many questions for the guy working there, the unfortunate soul, and initiated an interrogation the likes of which he'd probably never had to undergo from a customer before.

"How did you start working here?"

"I won a bet." (Knowing smile.)

"What was the bet?"

"That I would beat the founder at a chess match. He was a chess master - so, I challenged him: if I beat you, I get to work here. And I won." (Small triumphant smile.)

"So you are the Edwin painted on the timeline on the ceiling?"


It would seem I just can't get away from Edwins. We'd already met another Edwin in Brussels just the week before.

"Where are you from originally?"


Judy and I - okay, so it was mostly me - kept quizzing him like this for a while, as if we were about to take an end-of-term exam on the history of Atlantis Books, and then after I'd killed him with my curiosity, I spent my energy on exploring every bit of the little shop. Tucked away in the children's corner, I found a beautiful little illustrated book, titled simply "Eric," by a one Shaun Tan, whom I had never heard of. Sat on the floor to read and loved it instantly, but it was the last few pages that locked it in for me permanently. I asked Edwin if they had any more by this Shaun Tan, and he said "yes, in the children's section, which I'm not sure I agree with" - and I could understand the sentiment. Like putting "The Little Prince" in the children's section and only the children's section, I would think.

What I kept coming back to were the old books. The ones that I had not a prayer of being able to afford, the ones with price tags that were double, triple, a month's rent. They had a copy of "Pride and Prejudice" from the 19th century, which had the very book cover that I have a t-shirt and a journal printed of, by the company Out of Print, and which I lusted after.

"How much? Just out of curiosity."

"That one is I think fifteen hundred euros."

"...I'll come back in ten years."

"If you want to come back in ten years," and here he started typing numbers into a calculator on the computer, "you only need to save 12.50 euros a month. That's like, nothing. That's like two pizzas."

It took us - me - forever to get up the will to leave, but I finally narrowed down my book choices as did Judy and Tiff and we paid and left. We weren't gone for long though as Judy decided she wanted to change her rolled up poster for a folded one, so back in we went, I only too glad of an excuse to look around again. Poster successfully changed, we all decided the next important step for this agenda-less afternoon was to hunt down some frozen Greek yoghurt, but not finding any hope of it in Oia, we decided to ATV back to Fira to get some. In other words, we decided to drive halfway down the island because we wanted to get some yoghurt.

[will be continued in a Part 2 post, because Hollywood has taught me that the last installment of a series, if too long, must be split into two]

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