As I was planning this trip, I asked Sangbyeong for places that he wanted to include on the itinerary…anything he wanted to see, do, experience. He had only one request for the entire 12-14 month trip…”that blue and white one.” Santorini. Back in the 90s, there was a commercial for a sports drink that was shot on the island, as it matched the product’s blue and white color scheme. While we were dating, we were looking at photos of a supermoon night across the world, and Santorini appeared, causing him to go into nostalgic reveries. It just so happened that, after I decided to extend the trip to the full 14 months, it would fall at exactly the halfway point of our adventure. And if that wasn’t enough, October 2nd is the anniversary of the day that we first started dating. So we flew into Santorini before sunrise.
As our bus trundled out from Fira, along the thin ridge of land called the “Eyebrow,” we saw the sun coming up on our right, but it lit the whole sky and calm sea in pastel hues, so that it appeared we were floating in a soap bubble, barely balanced on the road. We arrived in Oia, on the northern fringe of the island, just as the first cafe was starting its espresso machine. Reviving ourselves with caffeine and some excellent dark, olive-y bread, we set out to explore this, the most iconic of Santorini’s towns. At dawn, the promenades are deserted and we got to experience it as if it were all our own for an hour.
Eventually maids and joggers appeared, and by 9 the first tour buses rolled in. Still energized by the coffee and our morning of beauty, we continued to explore every alley and byway of Oia. I found Atlantis Books, purportedly the most beautiful bookshop in the world (or one of them), but it was not yet open. We found all the iconic church domes and plenty of typical Cycladic architecture and color scheme. When our energy finally started to flag, we went back to the bus terminal square and I introduced Sangbyeong to gyros and souvlaki.
We spent the next hour lost, looking for our apartment that we had rented in the nearby hamlet of Koloumpus. Eventually, we were rescued by the owner after our long walk through the cactus-strewn countryside in the less-frequented eastern side of the island. A long nap was in order! Once we felt refreshed, we headed back into Oia in time for the sunset. This time, I did get to go into the bookshop. Found out later that the owner’s brother is a friend of my brother-in-law…wish I could have made that connection then and there, but there is always next time. We staked out an abandoned patio an hour before the sunset and enjoyed the end of our romantic and looooooong day sipping beer and watching the show. People applaud the sunset here…a tradition I feel like we should spread everywhere.
After a long sleep, we were ready to explore the rest of the island the next day. As it is “anniversary week,” we treated ourselves to an ATV rental in order to really have the freedom to find our own way. First, we drove clear across the island so that we could work our way back towards the north. Far to the south is Akrotiri, a teeny town with several beaches. The most famous of which is the Red Beach, a short walk and vigorous scramble over a path of red pumice that opens onto the hidden beach, colored by the breakup of those blood-colored cliffs. We took a walk, enjoying the cool waters and the shocking color of the sand before heading back out, hunting for more adventures.
Barely on our way, we were diverted by a promising hand painted sign pointing towards a “Venetian Castle.” Whizzing through the narrow alleyways of white, we climbed the hill in the center of town to the ruins of an old citadel. The door is open and everyone is invited to come explore inside. Apparently, there is even a museum and gallery for Greek bagpipes tucked away inside, but they were closed for their very long lunch break and we didn’t want to hang around. We did take a moment, though, to inspect the nearby church and the knot of alleyways leading back to our ATV.
With that, we moved northeast, getting turned around and a bit lost in the tiny villages full of dry vineyards and rough little farms eking out their living in the harsh soil and climate of Santorini. This is the part where the real islanders live, I felt, far from the beaten path of the tourists…in the place where signs for boat tours, hostels, and restaurants disappeared. It took a few turnarounds, but we finally found ourselves in the tree-lined backpacker paradise of Perissa, where the accommodation is cheap, the sand is black, and the summer parties never ending.
As the sun started to descend toward the horizon, we stopped for some snacks and found a stone wall to watch the sunset from. The show was not quite so spectacular, as a cloud bank was hovering in the west. The prolonged twilight did help us to get home safely, though, as the island has minimal lights on the roads. In our headlong flight to race the diminishing light, we did stop a couple times to take photos of the spectacular view of the moon as it hovered over the peaks of the island’s crest. We cooked ourselves a delicious dinner and listened to the wild whipping of wind and crashing surf on our last night here.
The next morning, we returned our ATV, caught the noon bus to Fira, spent a couple hours milling around, and snagged seats on the bus headed to the Port. After claiming our tickets, we stopped for a cup of goodbye Santorini tea and then loaded ourselves into the ferry for a mad seat-scramble. Economy ticket holders just have to find spots where they can…but we came up lucky with cushy chairs and two tables. Having had a busy couple days, it was not at all bad to spend a day sitting…although we got up to peek out the windows as we picked up passengers at Paros and Naxos. We also happened to be seated next to a group of young Koreans and passed a few hours cheerfully chatting with them as the sun went down outside.
The evening wore on and we ate our simple dinner of apples and pretzels. Thirty minutes before midnight, we reached Piraeus…but that is the start of a whole new tale.