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Greece

My Big Fat Greek Vacation: Final Thoughts

Greece is the word.

You know how you feel when you wake up suddenly from a very vivid dream? It's like you are suspended somewhere between the dream and reality. You can feel your bed beneath you, the crisp sheets between your fingers, but the dream is still there, like a thin veil ...a whispy memory that lingers and you feel that if you just close your eyes, and the world remains quiet, you can be there again.

But it is fleeting and it slips from your waking mind like sand between your fingertips.

That's how Greece feels to me now. It was a moment of perfection. A blissful dream of blue and white, of sunsets and soft sand, of tangy feta on crusty bread with chilled wine, where days passed slowly and languorously. When I close my eyes, I can still taste it on my tongue, I can feel my hands running along the cool stone as I walk through a narrow alley, I can hear the tinkling of stones polished smooth and round as the waves roll them at the water's edge. Greece lies just below the surface, still there, beckoning me with its warm, lazy days and the incredible light that always seemed to dance on the water.

It was magic. It had a sweet, quiet beauty that made my heart ache. Matt and I both agree that it was our best travel experience to date. It wasn't just because it was beautiful. There was a quality that captured us somehow, drew us in, and immediately made us part of it. There was a comfort and a simplicity, an ease about the place and a kindness about its people that made it perfect even when it wasn't.

I will forever think of smooth white stones rolling in the waves, blue doorways leading to nowhere, a simple wooden table facing the sea with a small glass of chilled homemade wine, a fat yellow cat in a windowsill, a gifted bite of cake, smooth turquoise seaglass so round I can roll it between my palms, the blue dome of a church set against an orange sky, endless footpaths lined with olive trees - their leaves spinning to silver in the warm Santorini wind, a bright cherry tomato that bursts on my tongue with juicy flavor, a morning swim in the cool clear water, and smooth, whitewashed stairs leading up into the sky. The scent of eucalyptus blows at me on the salt wind from the sea and I can feel the warm sand beneath my feet.

The islands have been whisked away, lost in time and distance. All that is left is magic and wonder.

It's just a memory now, but, like that dream, it's just below the surface. I feel I can close my eyes and find it if I try.

Posted by vicki_h 06:16 Archived in Greece Tagged greece santorini milos cyclades folegandros Comments (2)

My Big Fat Greek Vacation: Day 9

It's not over until it's over.

Sunday:

The previous day had been fraught with missteps and this is our last day in Greece, so we decide to keep it low key. No hikes. No crowded towns. No steps. No death defying acts. We'd like to end the trip on a high note. Or at least a note that doesn't include shitting our pants, falling off a mountainside, or being treated for dehydration.

We start off the day with our last giant breakfast. I will miss the croissants the most.

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We have confirmed that Santorini just doesn’t have any beaches that we would call beautiful. They are, however, interesting. We decide to go see Red Beach on the far end of the island, as it is supposed to be one of the most visually striking.

Striking indeed.

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Deep red cliffs rise high above a turquoise sea. The beach itself is covered with a coarse sand, so course it’s really pebbles. The pebbles are red and black. It gives the beach a dramatic appearance.

We have no interest in lying on a towel on the hot pebbles, so we gawk and go.

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Our time on Santorini has shown us that we don’t enjoy the heavily touristed towns like Fira and Oia, but we truly loved the quiet village of Megalochori. For this reason, we decide to give Fira a wide berth and head instead to Pyrgos, another town that is supposed to represent the quieter side of Santorini.

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When we first arrive, I see sets of steps leading up into a hillside town. Several blue domes bob high above me in a sea of white. The few people I see soon disappear into the maze of stairways and alleyways studded by tiny chapels, gift shops and old houses.

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We immediately find ourselves on a small, quiet street with a few colorful shops. We pass a small café and we see Pyrgos’ version of a crowd: four people gathered around a small wooden table sipping cold frappes. We are light years from the noisy, crowded streets of Fira.

Pyrgos is an oasis of quiet.

Once again, it’s just us and the donkey.

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It is everything I expect a Santorini town to be. As we walk through the winding narrow lanes, tall white walls rise on either side of us with bright blue doors opening onto courtyards. Bougainvillea spill over, unable to be contained and bursting with color onto the streets. Stairs lead up into small alleys that hold the secrets of those who walked through these passages before us. We soon find ourselves lost in an ancient labyrinth of alleys, stairs, rooftops, and churches with the remains of a Venetian Castle towering above us.

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Time seems suspended here.

We eventually find our way out of the endless maze of quiet streets and decide that it is time for lunch.

Despite all the choices on Santorini – we return to Seaside on Perivolos Beach. Our previous lunch there was so amazing, we want to see if they can do it again.

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They can. And they do.

It’s our last day and we are already experiencing some anxiety over the certain lack of feta cheese and pastries in our immediate future, so we go all in.
We have the Greek salad, a tomato risotto, sautéed mussels, meat pastries, and their signature fish and chips.

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When we ask the waiter what type of fish it is, he replies, “Coad.”

“Coad?” we say, with puzzled looks.

“Yes. Coad,” he repeats, like we're slow. (Or American).

We still look confused so he says, “You know, Coad. C-O-D.”

“Oh, COD,” we say (drawing it out….kaaaahhhhhd).

He laughs and repeats it, “Kaaahhhhd. Yes.”

We have learned during our time in Greece that, while most menus are offered in English, much like the “coad,” they are just a little “off.”

Here are my favorite actual menu items that I saw on the trip:

Selfish with white wine (I have always liked a little wine with my selfish.)

Mushed Potatoes (similar to mashed potatoes, but one uses a musher instead of a masher to make them.)

Avacado from Hell (No idea what this is, but I wouldn't want to meet it in a dark alley.)

Anti-Seafood (in case you didn’t know, cows and chickens actually HATE seafood; they even have a bumper sticker campaign.)

Cheese balls cheese, eggs, milk, flour, nutmeg (Um. Okay. That’s not a menu item. That’s a recipe.)

Burger with fresh mince meat (Mmmm….mincemeat burgers, my favorite holiday treat.)

Rolls with mouse of feta (Mouse is a word that should never appear on a food menu. Ever.)

Appetizer Trilogy – fava beans, eggplant & traditional tzatziki (If it’s anything like Lord of the Rings Trilogy, you’ll get that third item in about 2 years.)

Sea bass fillet - In greaseproof paper (Following this line of thinking, I suppose they should also have french fries in deep fry basket and pasta in colander.)

Giant Beans (I wanted to know what they were, but I was afraid to order them. They need to be more careful. Didn’t they read Jack and the Beanstalk? You can’t just be selling these to anybody.)

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(I think THIS is what happens if you eat Giant Beans)

Cheery tomatoes (I do like my tomatoes to be happy.)

Scrabbled Eggs (These are similar to mushed potatoes, but you have to be a very good scrabbler to make them.)

Kid in flowerpot for 2 persons (Although, if it’s a big kid , he can possibly feed 3 or 4. I think the flowerpot is to make it less Hansel & Gretal-ish.)

Lamp liver with onions (Ummm.......)

Oven lamb without done (See….you take the lamb, you put it in the oven, but then you don’t actually turn the oven ON.)

Pork meat dainty (Pig with a doily and bonnet.)

Winy pork stake (Otherwise known as a crying pig stick.)

Chicken mouthfuls (I just want to know whose mouth they are using as a measure.... and I am pretty sure it's part of the metric system.)

Traditional risotto with cock of our production (I am just going to leave this one alone.)

Dark Gabbage with little secrets (Its secret is that it’s not really a gabbage at all.)

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We are stuffed, but it’s our last day. We have to finish strong.

So we order the Chocolate Santorini, a blend of dark chocolate, raisins, hazelnuts, cookies, Gran Marnier, cream, and sweetened condensed milk melted together and frozen before being cut into thick slices and served with ice cream.

The chef delivers our dessert himself and says, “I had to see who ordered this much food. I am so proud of you.”

When you get recognized in a Greek restaurant for eating a lot, I am not sure it’s a compliment. It’s like being the fat kid that eats the most cake or the alcoholic who drinks the most beer.

I shrug and say, "We are American."

We spend the afternoon lounging on the beach. It is bliss.

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Our final sunset in Greece has arrived. I will miss the excitement that builds on these islands as the golden hour approaches, locals and tourists alike lining up along the edges of streets, terraces, and rooftops, trays of cocktails and wine being passed around, a hush falling over everything as everyone seems to hold their breath and wait. The excitement in the air is palpable as the light and colors change the whitewashed buildings around you. The water seems to cradle the sun and all eyes are trained on the same distant spot on the horizon as the sun slowly descends into the Aegean Sea and disappears.

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For that moment, happiness is not so elusive…something you have to chase every day and try to fit in between commitments, stress, and disappointments. It is a glass of wine with the golden light reflecting off the rim, a warm hand inside your own, and the quiet sound of your own breath as the world is bathed in the golden glow of the setting sun.

It is true that nothing can replicate a Santorini evening.

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After sunset, everyone heads to dinner. We make our way to Archipelagos, a restaurant housed in an 1860 Captain’s House perched on the caldera cliffs in Fira. It has been recommended to us by Georges because of its outstanding food and stellar views. So far, Georges hasn't steered us wrong.

We decide to dine indoors, because it is unbearably windy tonight. The hostess looks at us like we have lost our minds (or are American). It reminds me of our experience at Bariello on Milos. Apparently, NO ONE opts to dine indoors around here, even when there are gale force winds threatening to blow off your extremities.

There are only four tables inside the quaint restaurant and it would have been incredibly romantic had it not been for the table in the next room which held about 15 of the loudest Germans I have ever encountered. However, faced with the choice of hurricane force winds or loud Germans, I’ll take Germans for $400, please.

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We start off with Cretan mijithra cheese pies (a soft white cheese in a pastry with honey and sesame) and a salad.

That is followed by a pasta with tomato and garlic sauce and the beef filet souvlaki.

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We walk back to Firostefani, the lights of Fira shining in the distance.

Tomorrow, we fly home and this dream of Greece is over.

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Posted by vicki_h 07:39 Archived in Greece Tagged greece santorini milos folegandros Comments (6)

My Big Fat Greek Vacation: Day 8

Ahhh......The power of cheese.

Saturday:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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We make the short walk from Fira back to our hotel.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

ALMOST.

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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.”

Matt understands.

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.

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Posted by vicki_h 05:55 Archived in Greece Tagged greece santorini milos folegandros Comments (2)

My Big Fat Greek Vacation: Day 7

Go Greek or go home.

Friday:

The room is so dark and the bed is so comfortable that it is hard to wake up, but something inside my head tells me I have to see Santorini in the early morning light.

That something is right. Everything is quiet and still and the light casts a soft pastel glow over Firostefani.

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Our breakfast is brought to our terrace and we can’t help but notice that Tsitouras kicks it up a notch with silver servers, china, and small details like sugar cubes and fresh squeezed juice.

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It’s our first day on Santorini and we decide to spend the morning walking around Firostefani. Our hotel is located in a small part of town outside the bustling tourist center of Fira and far from the tourist-heavy town of Oia.

It is quiet on the streets. We pass an elderly man with a snaggle-toothed dog and a small table filled with his homemade wine, olives, and capers. We buy a bottle of unlabeled wine for 3 euro and a bag of fresh grapes.

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Not ready to face the cruise ship crowds in the more popular sections of Santorini, we drive to Megalochori, a small, traditional village in the center of Santorini.

We find Megalochori nearly deserted. The streets are quiet. It’s just us and the donkey.

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Megalochori is in vineyard country and we see fields of grapes surrounding the town. The volcanic eruption that took place around 1650 AD covered the island with ash, lava, and stone and created the perfect growing conditions for the unique variety of grapes found on the island. The grapes are grown low on the ground to protect them from the strong winds.

We even see grapes being dried in the sun to create “Vinsanto,” the sweet wine we were given upon our arrival. Basically, Vinsanto is raisin wine, created from sun dried grapes that must be barrel aged for at least 2 years.

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We wander down the streets of the quiet town. Megalochori dates back to the 17th century and is filled with historic mansions, old traditional houses, and a central square where we see tables placed under the sprawling bougainvillea where men play cards and backgammon. The town is a maze of winding cobblestone streets and smooth pathways. There are hidden doors and passages just waiting for us to find them.

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As we turn a quiet corner, the street filled with the bright pink petals of a bougainvillea, I see a sign for Gavalas Traditional Family Winery. I was hoping for a chance to try some of the famous Santorini wines, so we follow the arrows and find ourselves in the most charming winery.

The family has been producing wines on Santorini since the late 1800s and it turns out that we have stumbled into one of the oldest wine houses, or “canavas,” in Santorini.

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The sun is growing higher, we are getting hotter, and our breakfast is starting to wear off, so we drive to Perivolos Beach for lunch at Seaside, at the recommendation of Georges.

When we get to the beach, we are amazed at the sheer number of beach bars/restaurants/cafes that line the entire length of the beach. I will be honest, Santorini beaches are not beautiful, but what they lack in aesthetics, they make up for in amenities. If you’ve got an ugly beach, give people enough good food and drink and cushy lounging areas and they probably won’t notice.

Seaside is GORGEOUS.

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Situated at the far end of Perivolos Beach, it is far from the crowds and seems to afford a little peace and quiet. We have a choice of dining inside the beautiful beach-chic restaurant, grabbing some sunbeds underneath a palm umbrella and ordering our lunch Oceanside, or hitting it in the middle with these cute beach tables.

I practically run to a beach table.

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Matt eyes the short little cushion suspiciously.

“Am I supposed to sit on that?” he says, warily. “My legs are too long. I’m going to look like a giant at a tea party.”

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I am not dissuaded. I plop down on one as though to declare, “I HAVE CHOSEN,” and look up at him expectantly.

He grunts. He groans. He huffs and puffs. He thinks it’s making some impression on me. It’s not.

I sit patiently during his entire show and he eventually settles.

“I kind of like this,” he finally admits, when he realizes how much more fabulous it is to be on the beach than to be up in the restaurant.

We have been told that the food is incredible so we order some variety: shrimp with mango, chili, and lime; tomato salad; a trio of dips with bread; and fava with caramelized mushrooms.

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We are stuffed, but I have already spotted something on the dessert menu that simply can’t be ignored: Banoffee Pie. A pie made from bananas, cream, caramel, and pastry. Just reading the description makes my teeth hurt.

Wrap me in phyllo dough and dip me in honey! This pie should be called DANGER PIE. Why? Because with it you can increase your waist size in about 9 seconds.

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Oh, Banoffee, where have you been all my life?

After lunch, we waddle out to the beach chairs. I have read that you can burn about 50 calories an hour while sleeping. I just need to lay on this sunbed for 10 hours and it will be like I never ate that pie at all.

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Eventually, we rouse ourselves from our food coma and make it back to Tsitouras in time for another beautiful sunset.

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For dinner, Georges has made us a reservation at Metaxi Mas, rumored to be the best restaurant in the history of Santorini. He says it is a perfect night to eat there because the moon is still very full and we can see the moon rise from their outdoor patio.

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Metaxi Mas is not easy to find. It is in a small village of Exo Gonia in the central part of the island, far from the tourist trail. We find the restaurant housed in a stone cottage overflowing with potted plants and flowering vines with an expansive terrace that seems to have a view of the entire island from its elevation.

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Unlike the tourist-centered restaurants in Fira and Oia, Metaxi Mas is simple, genuine, good food. As we are seated, the moon begins to rise.

Wow.

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Before we even order, the waitress sets down cheese and olives and a small carafe of clear liquid and two tiny glasses, about the size of a shot glass. We assume it is to be downed like a shot.

As I begin choking, Matt breathes fire.

“What is this,” he manages to say in between bursts of flame.

“Raki,” she tells us.

A cousin of ouzo, Raki is a ridiculously strong alcohol that is commonly, and appropriately, referred to as “firewater,” and is intended to be sipped very slowly.

I stuff down a few cubes of cheese to put the fire out.

As the moon rises higher in the sky, we order several dishes to share: crusted pan fried feta with sesame and honey, a Cretan salad (much like a Greek salad but with potatoes), sausages, and spicy pork with peppers and feta.

After dinner, the waitress brings us another glass of liquid. This time I am careful and sip tentatively.

“Rakimelo,” she tells us as she also sets down 2 pieces of complimentary cheesecake. “It is Raki with honey, cinnamon, and cloves.”

Much better.

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Posted by vicki_h 04:22 Archived in Greece Tagged greece santorini milos folegandros Comments (0)

My Big Fat Greek Vacation: Day 6

I left my heart on Santorini.

Thursday:

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We head to Santorini today. Santorini is the island that sparked my interest in Greece in the first place. I saw a photo once of a hillside covered with white houses and blue domes, the sea stretching in the distance as the sun set gently on the horizon.

Santorini, with its hillside towns spilling blue domed churches into the sea and its massive caldera where the world’s most beautiful sunsets can be found.

Just the name is like music…Santorini.

I know that it will be much more heavily visited and touristy than either Milos or Folegandros, but on my first trip to Greece, I have to see Santorini. It checks off a box in my travel dream folder. I must see it.

Folegandros bids us farewell with beautiful blaze of sunrise.

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We have breakfast and take one last walk around Chora before heading for the ferry dock.

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Our ferry is an hour late, but that’s better than being cancelled.

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While nice, this boat is much more “ferry like” than the cruise-ship-love-boat-yacht that brought us to Folegandros. It is crowded, hurried, and the boarding process is frantic.

Matt is pointed in one direction and I am pointed in another. Luggage is being thrown in a pile near the door, but I am rushed off so quickly that I don’t have time to put my bag down. I find myself being shoved between ferry seats, pathetically dragging my rolling suitcase and desperately trying to figure out where Matt went.

We both manage to make a huge circle and end back up at the luggage dump. I drop my bag, grab his hand, and we are shoved upstairs where we are shown to our seats. Once we are seated, I have a moment to realize it’s a very nice ferry, even if the boarding process is something akin to being shoved onto a Vietnamese refugee boat.

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The ride is about an hour, and soon enough, we see Santorini beckoning on the horizon.

The disembarking process is no better than the boarding process, but somehow, we make it off the boat without being dismembered and with all of our luggage.

Many will tell you not to pre-book hotels on Santorini. They say to just show up at the port and find a hotel owner, who apparently meet every ferry and attempt to sell their hotel rooms. They say it’s a good way to save money.

I say it’s a good way to find yourself sitting on a cot at a boarding house next to a sweet old lady trying to explain why you can’t marry her grandson as you politely try to deflect the baklava that she has just pulled from the safety of her brassiere and offered to you.

The hotel owners descend upon us. “Rooms?” “Rooms??” They bombard us, trying to out bargain each other, showing us photo albums with images of their lodging options, despite the fact that we are shaking our heads “no” and motioning them away with our hands. I feel positively molested.

As I look around at the madness and mayhem of shouting hoteliers with signs reading, “Big Pool. Soft Beds,” or “Cheap Rooms, Sunset View,” I have visions of bunk rooms filled with backpackers sharing a six pack of cheap beer while trying to peer around the construction site outside their window to catch a glimpse of the famed Santorini sunset. I feel sorry for anyone who shows up here without already having a reservation.

Several of them shout at me at once, “You need room? We have room!” I shake my head no.

Athinios port does not give one a stellar first impression of Santorini. Having visitors arrive in this port is akin to having your drunk, toothless uncle pick up your house guest at the airport in his bathrobe and boxer shorts.

It is incredibly hot and crowded. People are shouting. There are 24 hour food stands and billboard signs for cheap baubles everywhere I look. Every time I stop moving, I get shoved by someone passing by. I feel like I’m in the middle of an open air market in Bangladesh.

My eyes fall on a well-dressed gentleman holding a sign bearing my name and the name of my hotel and I know I have made a wise decision. We head for the blessed sanctuary of the Tsitouras Collection van.

Unlike Folegandros and Milos where the accommodation choices are limited, the hotel choices on Santorini are overwhelming. First, you must decide what part of the island: Beach? Town? Caldera View? Then, you must decide what city: Oia, Imerovigli, Fira? Then you must choose a hotel….and there are SO MANY.

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I have chosen the Tsitouras Collection, a small hotel with only 5 suites, an amazing caldera view, a location in the quieter town of Firostefani that would keep us away from the cruise ship crowds, and an infinity pool to die for.

When we arrive, we are greeted by Eleni Tsitoura and her husband Georges, owners of the hotel. Both of them are beautiful and look like they have just stepped off the cover of a fashion magazine.

As our bags are taken to our room, we are given a small glass of vinsanto, locally produced sweet wine, and a tour of the hotel. The mansion was built in 1780 and was purchased in 1985 by Dimitris Tsitouras, an art collector, who renovated it with the intention of using it to host friends and family on Santorini. The mansion was divided into 5 separate “houses,” each house having a distinct personality and housing a collection of the family’s artwork that flows naturally with the theme of the house.

Part hotel, part museum, it is all beautiful.

We are shown to the House of Sea, a multi-room “cave house” with a private verandah.

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It is perfect.

Georges recommends Vanilia, a nearby restaurant where we can have a late lunch.

It is late for lunch and Vanilia is almost deserted. The interior is gorgeous, filled with white tablecloths, climbing bougainvillea, and golden sunlight.

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We are given a complimentary cup of zucchini soup while we wait for our order. I love these Greeks and their free food.

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For lunch, we share an arugula salad with oranges and feta cheese, fried saganaki cheese with jellied tomatoes, peppers stuffed with risotto, and mussels in garlic broth.

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We are tired, so we spend the afternoon at the hotel pool which looks out over the caldera.

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Santorini is said to have the most beautiful sunsets in the world, and it is our first Santorini sunset. We are given two of the complimentary house “sunset cocktails” to enjoy as we watch the sun dip into the sea.

I don't mean to be a cliche, but it is so romantic that it makes me weak at the knees.

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Tonight is a full moon, so we choose dinner at Saltsa. It is close enough to walk to, yet it is located on the side of the island with a view of the moonrise.

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We start off with a Santorini salad because I have heard about the famous “Santorini Cherry Tomato,” rumored to be the most intensely delicious tomato in the universe.

Matt and I agree that they are.

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For dinner, we have roast pork with mushrooms and sun dried tomato pesto and pasta with seafood.

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For dessert, we share the “loukoumi” ice cream with sugared rose petals. It is divine.

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So far, Santorini has delivered. Sure, there seem to be more people here and I have seen a few pockets of touristy hell, but it is also exquisitely beautiful and our hotel is an island of perfection.

We sleep….. the full moon shining in on the House of Sea.

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Posted by vicki_h 05:42 Archived in Greece Tagged greece santorini milos folegandros Comments (0)

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