I adore Dublin, but as Bono once said it’s nice to “climb over the wall” and escape from the ordinary every once in a while. And the least ordinary place I’ve ever been is the Greek island of Santorini.
Santorini is essentially what remains after one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history, which occurred some 3,600 years ago at the height of the Minoan civilization. One theory holds that the Thera eruption, (Thera being the original name of the island before the Italians renamed it Santorini), is the source of the legend of the lost Atlantis. And Oia, pronounced Eea, is the gorgeous village at the very top of the island where my friend and I stayed. Surrounded by 980 feet high steep cliffs, our one and only burnt orange cave house overlooked the Aegean and faced the volcano. The dark clouds, the cobalt of the sea, the blackness of the volcano, and the blue and white church domes on either side, make this the most beautiful spot I have ever been in my life. Sitting, sipping, and staring could make up a large part of an afternoon. And since the island believes in siestas, napping could be thrown in the mix as well.
If and when one is ready to face the rest of the world, head out for a walk. Oia is very small, with only one main street. Go up and down the winding, marbled path a few times and then branch off to the more remote back streets. In the morning, have a cappuccino freddo with a watermelon and feta salad at Floga, a restaurant built into the cliff two levels down from the street. The cappuccino freddo is the best coffee drink in the world and the Greeks have mastered it to perfection. It’s basically sweetened, cold espresso with a milkshake on top. For lunch, walk down the 250 steps that lead to the sea and to Dimitri’s Taverna. Have the fresh grilled catch of the day with tomato fritters and tzatziki and warm bread with honey drizzled on top. Drink fresh squeezed lemonade. Talk to the waitress who might tell you the story of how she came to Santorini from Canada twenty-six years ago and met Dimitri and never left. And then you might think to yourself, “Why walk up 250 steps when there is a barren of dedicated donkeys just waiting to take me for a ride.” I know I did. The ride is very steep and very bumpy and bouncy, but so much fun. I white-knuckled the metal grip attached to the saddle the second half of the way up, but I really had nothing to fear. The herdsman proudly directed my Molly, (or was it John?), the whole climb.
One of the most special moments of the day in Oia is the sunset. Travelers from all over the world scrabble to a jutting rock for the perfect vantage point. On the fourth day of our stay, the Arctic Monkeys surreptitiously beckoned us toward the Sun Spirit Cocktail Bar where we discovered that one of the world’s most spectacular split seconds can only be made better with a pineapple, strawberry, orange, and peach smoothie.
The light of the island during the “blue hour” immediately after the sun has gone down is just as romantic as the sunset itself, and it’s the perfect time for shopping or dinner. Try Roka Taverna or Lotza or Kyprida or Skala to linger over roasted carrots, potatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and onions. Have a Greek salad with slabs of feta and the most delicious tomatoes in the world with Cretan rusk to soak up the dressing. For an after dinner cocktail, go to Meteor Cafe where Kostas and his wife will serve you Vinsanto, delicious sweet wine made on Santorini.(The vines on Santorini were planted 3,500 years ago and have never been uprooted!) If you’re craving something sweet, Lolita’s has the best gelato in town, and of course all of the Greek pastries are amazing, but my favorite is galaktoboureko which is semolina custard with honey in filo dough.
One absolute must-see is the ancient ruins of Akrotiri located at the southern tip of the island. Akrotiri is an indoor complex that houses the ruins of a developed city, including the world’s first toilet, which was wiped out with the volcanic eruption of 1700 B.C. (Unlike Pompeii, the inhabitants were able to evacuate the town before the volcano hit.) Hire a guide for the whole story, or as the taxi driver advised us, do it the Greek way and just listen in on another group’s guide!
And no location is complete without a quaint book store and Atlantis Books is the epitome of the quaint book store. Get the Atlantis Books Guide to Santorini and you’ll be set for life, or at least five or six days. Chat up the nice people who work there, including expats from Vancouver and Dublin. When I was last there, the proprietor was taking a nap. Wow, taking a nap…in a book store…on Santorini. I’ll have to come back for that.
And so it goes in Santorini. The food is the best I’ve ever had, the weather at the end of September is 80 and sunny and in the evening very windy and wild, and the Greek people we met were soft spoken, kind, and hospitable. On our taxi ride back to the airport, our driver Thanos asked us, “Who is meeting you at the airport in Athens?” When we told him we were just planning on getting a taxi back to our place there, he didn’t like the idea. He was concerned that we wouldn’t find a taxi easily because we would be getting back after midnight. So he offered to call his friend in Athens and arranged for him to meet us at the airport. And Constantine was indeed there waiting for us with a sign with my name on it. He even brought his wife along because he said it was more respectful due to the late hour. And so even though the locales and the climates are so very different, and Oia has only two bars!?, because of the charm, the natural beauty, and the enduring kindness of strangers, Dublin and Santorini really are second cousins once removed.