Ahhh......The power of cheese.
I wake up early again, a product of going to bed early and sleeping very soundly in the most comfortable bed on the planet. The moon is still visible in the sky and the world around me is quiet. I love this time of day.
I have been eating a lot of cheese for about 9 days and, not to be indelicate, but all that cheese is starting to wreak havoc on my digestive system. This is creating a situation that is both uncomfortable and not bikini-friendly. I am normally a one-cup-of-coffee a day person, but this morning, I drink the whole pot. You know. To get things moving.
It does nothing except crank me up with a lot of random energy.
This leads to an awkward visit to a local market to find some digestive aids. The pharmaceutical items are not in English and I would sooner die from an intestinal rupture than ask someone for help finding the particular item I need. I find something that looks right and practically throw the money at the cashier as I run out the door.
Obviously, I can't read the dosage instructions. I guess at it and hope for the best.
Matt and I decide that we are emotionally ready to tackle the tourist-heavy Oia today. We have a car, but I suggest walking there.
I have a bad tendency to think that I can walk to any destination that looks close on a map. I have done this more times than I can count and more often than not, Matt has blindly followed me. This is how many of our vacation days have become filled with sweat, tears, blisters, and swearing.
Walking might not be such a bad idea if 1) I actually looked in advance to see how far it is, 2) I had any concept of elevation gain, 3) I could read a map, and 4) I didn’t have a tendency to wear stupid shoes.
As it stands, I am wearing flip flops….not just flip flops but BRAND NEW LEATHER FLIP FLOPS, I have no directions and no map, and I have no idea how far it is. I have poor Matt all gussied up in a thick, black shirt, flip flops, and a fedora. Not the best hiking wear. We are expecting a leisurely stroll, not a hike.
It is, in fact, 6 miles each way and requires that we ascend and descend two hills mountains en route on very rugged terrain…..but we don’t know this yet.
We just start walking.
When embarking on this type of hike, it’s a good idea to be in good shape, have good shoes, and a positive attitude. Unfortunately for me, I am 9 days in on a steady diet of pastries and breakfast cake, I am wearing impractical shoes, and I am, you know, bound up.
The walk from Firostefani to Imerovigli is pleasant. We find ourselves on a cobblestone path that follows the coastline, high above the sea. It winds through small towns, past churches, around shops and cafes. We see tourists snapping photos and even see a couple dressed in their wedding attire walking down the street.
See? This is easy. Piece of cake. Walk in the park.
As we pass out of the town of Imerovigli, we find ourselves on a wide, but fairly level, gravel path. It meanders around the edge of the caldera. The views are outstanding.
I see a white village perched on the very end of the island. Is that Oia? Surely not. It’s so far. And there are so many mountains between here and there.
I decide that is a village on a neighboring island and it’s just a trick of space and distance that makes it look attached. Where we are walking to is much closer than that. I am sure of it.
We keep walking.
After about an hour, we figure it out. The neat roadways and village paths are about to give way to a hiking trail that peels away from civilization and climbs and endless mountain. If we keep going, there is no turning back. We can see Oia waaaaaay off in the distance and we see exactly what we have to walk over to get there. The walk is supposed to take about 3 hours, which means we have about 2 hard hours to go.
Where the hiking trail starts up the first mountain, there is one last roadside café. It’s basically a shack with a few tables, but they have cold water and it’s a place to stop and decide whether to keep going or admit defeat and skulk back to our hotel.
Sure, it’s hot. Sure, we are not properly dressed and we don’t have any water or supplies. Sure, it’s a long way. But I have slept on the freezing ground in wet socks. I have hiked 7 miles out of the Montana backcountry with flip flops duct taped to my feet because of severe blisters. I have shoved a golf cart out of a sand pit with my bare hands.
I can do this.
We go for it.
I chug a bottle of water and strategically apply some band-aids.
We head up the mountain.
Two hours into the hike, the refreshing morning air has been replaced by the scorching Santorini sun and the pleasant town views we enjoyed on the first part of our walk have been replaced by rough edges and cacti. We hike up the exposed mountainside with not a scrap of shade to be found. The vegetation is inhospitable, all prickly and dry leaving us to dodge briars and cactus spikes along the way. I guess I would be equally inhospitable if I had to cling to this inferno of a mountainside with no water all day.
As we walk, Matt starts stripping off every unessential piece of clothing in an effort to cool his overheating body. I am practically dancing, trying to keep the hot volcanic gravel out of my shoes.
We pass almost no one as we walk. Well, of course we don’t. Everyone else on Santorini is sitting by a pool somewhere sipping an icy frappe, not trying to kill themselves by climbing up a red-hot mountain covered with cacti.
But the views. Oh, the views. We can see all of Santorini from here and the most magnificent caldera view is always on our left.
It is spectacular, and we do not regret a single, sweaty step.
The walk actually takes longer than three hours. Whoever wrote this little snippet of information on Wikitravel must have either just made it up for meanness or is a triathlete who obviously jogged the trail on a very cool, breezy day in proper athletic attire.
Wikitravel needs to put a disclaimer that the walk actually takes over four hours if you are a middle aged couch potato who has spent a week and a half eating a disproportionate amount of croissants and jam and is trying to make the trek in brand new flip flops on a 90 degree day.
When we arrive in Oia, Matt is naked and bathed in sweat and I am carrying my dusty shoes and am babbling about gelato.
As we stop on the hillside with the fairytale city of Oia stretched out below us, we forget the heat, the 30,000 footsteps we have just taken, and the 16 band-aids on my feet.
From a distance, Oia is beautiful.
We take a moment to just breathe and savor this beautiful moment in this beautiful place.
Oia, pronounced EE-ah, is supposed to be the most beautiful city on Santorini. I can’t wait to see it. Oia has been described as tranquil and serene, a place of artists and meditation. I am expecting a village that has no time, where one moves slowly and wonderfully along stone streets, past blue doors and white steps that climb toward the incredibly blue sky, where a lazy yellow cat sleeps on a white parapet and a gate is draped in a brilliant splash of bougainvillea. I expect Oia to have a magical charm, lost in a rhythm of salty blue shutters and white curtains fluttering in the ocean breeze.
After all, it is Oia, and it is supposed to be one of the most romantic cities in the world.
I am not at all prepared for tourist mobbed Oia. The vision I have of myself gliding through the simple streets in a white skirt fluttering in the Mediterranean breeze, the scent of olive oil heavy on the air fades quickly as I am shoved from all sides by a literal sea of people.
There is a wall of people on every side of me. I am surrounded by fanny packs, sun visors, plastic cruise ship tote bags, and white sneakers. The narrow alleys are so crowded with cruise ship tourists that I feel certain I am developing a case of rapid onset agoraphobia. Incredibly, tourists crowd every store, every street, and every inch of breathable space. Thousands of humans crawl over Oia and more are pouring in by the minute, brought in on buses carrying them from the cruise ship port.
Matt and I get separated and I simply try to find a street where loud, sweaty people aren’t shoving me from behind or stepping on my feet. Even the less crowded spots managed to feel claustrophobic.
It’s impossible to even step into a shop or stop at a café. There are simply too many bodies.
I have never seen anything like it and I am horrified.
I walked 4 hours in the blazing sun for THIS?
Matt and I keep heading away from what seems to be the central shopping area and find a blessed respite on some back streets. We use them to navigate our way back the way we had come in hopes of getting out of Oia before I curl up in a fetal position and start screaming.
I am disappointed. Oia does not live up to my expectations. I may as well be in Gatlinburg, surrounded by putt-putt golf, funnel cakes, and vendors selling coon-skin caps. On this particular day, Oia has all the charm of a cheap theme park where they line you up in a queue for hours like cattle, shuffling you off from one ride to the next.
I was really hoping to look through some shops, find the quaint book store I have read so much about, and locate Lolita’s gelateria for some of Santorini’s best gelato, but Matt and I are both ready to go. The best gelato in the universe isn’t worth enduring this horde.
We wisely make the decision to take a taxi back, because I am out of band-aids and our sweat glands have gone on strike due to excessive overuse. As we round a corner headed toward the taxi area, I see the only thing in Oia that has made me happy: Lolita’s! We have gelato!
Yay for gelato!
And it is GOOD. Maybe not walking-in-flip-flops-and-insane-heat-for-four-hours good, but it’s good.
So….the hike was a bit rougher than expected and Oia was a total bust, but the day isn’t over yet. I have a chance at redemption with a 2:00 reservation for lunch at a restaurant on the beach. Our hike took longer than we planned and it’s already 1:45. I hope we can make it. Only.....I forgot where it is. I have this idea that it’s on a beach near Fira. So, we tell the taxi driver that we need to go to the beach at Fira.
I should have known that wasn’t right when he looks puzzled. “Beach at Fira?” he asks. “No beach at Fira. There is port. By water. You mean port?”
Yes. No. Yes. I don’t know. I nod, “Yes. The port.” I’m sure that’s right. Right?
“Can no drive to port. Will drop you at square. You walk down to port.”
This doesn’t sound right, but I am tired and hungry, so I simply nod and slide limply onto the vinyl seat. He’s playing traditional Greek radio and the cab smells like souvlaki, but it sure beats walking.
He drops us off in the middle of hell.
The main square in Fira makes Oia look like a ghost town. There are at least twice as many tourists here. Every square inch of space is filled with a cheap souvenir shop, a 4-wheeler rental stand, or a giant throng of fanny-pack wearing tourists snatching up church shaped snow globes and stuffed donkeys like they are the best thing going. Restaurateurs stand outside smelly food stands holding laminated pictures of their food and trying to wave us inside.
“Are you sure this is right?” Matt asks.
“No,” I admit as we head down toward the port area that the taxi driver described.
I look down. There are exactly 587 steps leading down to the port. These steps are covered with donkeys (and mules), a stream of people, and donkey poop.
The thing about Matt is....he would follow me down those 587 steps if I asked him to. On every vacation, I come armed with a PLAN. Matt knows this and he patiently tolerates THE PLAN even when it makes him weary, gets him lost, and generally puts him into situations that range from mildly uncomfortable to life threatening and that could be avoided with a simple change of direction. He knows that deviating from THE PLAN is hard for me and he loves me enough to follow me if it's important to me.
I look down the steps, knowing that they could lead to the greatest lunch in the history of mankind or that they could just as easily lead to nothing more than a long, hot, sweaty walk through donkey shit.
I look back at Matt, realizing that, while he will follow me down those steps, there is also a 99.9999% likelihood that he will bludgeon me to death in the middle of the street with a Santorini snowglobe if we get down there and find nothing.
I don’t care what is at the bottom of those steps. It's not worth risking hoof and mouth disease and a better than average chance that I'll be beaten with an I "heart" Santorini stuffed donkey souvenir when my fears are confirmed and we find nothing at the base of the steps.
“Abort mission!” I scream.
It’s time for Plan B. I see a sign for Franco’s Bar and I vaguely remember reading something about it. Something good. We slip under the sign and descend a narrow staircase into the peaceful oasis of Franco’s.
Once we are relaxing serenely on chairs looking over the caldera, classical music pouring out of the speakers, cold drinks in our hands, food on the table, it’s hard to believe that the madness of Fira is literally steps away. Franco’s is a world apart.
We make the short walk from Fira back to our hotel.
After fighting the Fira crowds for a hot 30 minutes to get back to Firostefani, we want nothing more than to spend the afternoon staring into the caldera from the infinity pool at Tsitouras as the madness of the day melts away.
Georges has made us reservations for a sunset dinner on Ammoudi Bay. Ammoudi Bay is a small fishing port on the ocean below Oia.
I can’t believe we are headed back to Oia after the experience we had earlier in the day, but Georges assures us that it is much better in the evening when most of the cruise ship crowds dissipate.
And this time we drive.
Ammoudi Bay is absolutely delightful. The small waterfront is backed by striking red cliffs and cozy seafood tavernas with tables facing the sunset line the water’s edge.
Dimitris is on the very end and we are shown to a table facing the setting sun.
We stuff ourselves with salad, dolmades (tender, stuffed grape leaves), olives, and lobster pasta as the sun literally melts into the sea.
It’s an almost perfect evening.
Remember those pills I took earlier in the day? I had forgotten all about them, but my body had not.
Weird Foreign Laxatives + Strange Food + Crowded Strange Tourist City = Bad Situation.
We are enjoying the quiet evening and finally getting to browse some shops when I feel the first twinge. I ignore it. We have just purchased several bowls and the shop owner is slowly and laboriously wrapping each one in paper. Then plastic. Then bubble wrap. Then bags.
He’s been wrapping for a solid 10 minutes and he’s only on the 3rd bowl. We have six.
The twinge is followed by a wave. I feel as though a squirrel has been let loose in my abdomen.
A rabid squirrel.
With a severe case of ADHD.
I have no idea where a restroom is and I am starting to feel a sense of panic when I suddenly remember seeing a public restroom somewhere down the street. It caught my eye earlier in the day because I saw people lined up to have their photos taken under the most enormous and magnificent bougainvillea I had ever seen. As I stopped to look, I couldn’t help but notice the bougainvillea stood over a public restroom. I thought it was funny that we were on the beautiful island of Santorini and people were lining up to have their photo taken beside a toilet.
I ask Matt to wait with the bowls while I go find a restroom. He nods distractedly, not realizing there is a SITUATION.
Oh. There is a situation, all right. I feel like I am going into labor. I feel a sickening cramp, then I start sweating, then panting. I stop and close my eyes. I pray. “Oh, Jesus. Oh, Jesus. Oh Jesus.” Then it passes and I can walk again. Then another cramp hits.
I am never going to make it.
After what seems like an ETERNITY….(time passes so much more slowly when you are about to crap in your pants)….I see the giant bougainvillea. I am certain there will be a line, since this seems to be the only public restroom in all of Oia. I am surprised and delighted when the restroom is empty.
Until I figure out why.
Oh dear sweet Jesus, there is no toilet paper.
This is a tragedy. I look around for anything…..a paper towel, a newspaper, someone’s discarded gelato napkin for God’s sake….something. I am empty handed.
I think about using the 50 euro note I have in my tiny wallet but realize it will be woefully inadequate.
I walk quickly back to the shop. It’s been another 10 minutes, so I know those bowls have to be wrapped. I will find Matt waiting outside and I will tell him we have to go. We have to go now. Once I’m sitting in the car I will be fine. It’s only a 15 minute ride to the hotel. As long as I am sitting down, I’ll make it.
I realize that this is an irrational train of thought. There is a higher probability that I'll find myself hiding behind a shrub somewhere en route to Firostefani with a crumpled handful of receipts that I managed to dig out of the glove box than there is that I will make it back to the hotel.
When I make it back, the proprietor is painstakingly wrapping the last bowl. Piece of tape here. Wrap some more bubble wrap. Another piece of tape there.
I whisper fiercely in Matt’s ear: “We have a SITUATION. I have got to GO. NOW. I need a bathroom. Leave the bowl. Get me to the CAR.”
We run out the door with the shop owner chasing us with a final piece of bubble wrap and some tape.
“I’m not going to make it,” I say.
That’s when we pass Lolita’s gelateria and Matt remembers they had a restroom behind the patio.
As I push open the door to the sparkling clean, empty bathroom with several rolls of fluffy toilet paper, heaven opens up and I hear angels signing.
I am so happy to have a toilet that, as I sit down I think, “I am never leaving.” Sigh.
When life hands you poop, find a bathroom in a gelateria.