Saturday, September 13, 2014

frunneymoon, part two - island time

after soaking up the history in athens, the second half of our trip was spent gallivanting around the islands. (man. just reading that sentence makes me want to pinch myself – i have had so many cool adventures, i sometimes can’t believe it’s real life.) we had organized a three-island route, starting in serifos, passing through paros, and ending in santorini. our plans started off perfectly – we got the ferry to serifos with no problems (except a little seasickness on my part) and made our way up to our first b&b, which entailed a fairly long up-hill evening hike with our bags. little did we know, our host was waiting for us at the dock in his truck… whoops. we found this out by taking a wrong turn at the very end of our hike, and ending up in a very dark, very isolated little courtyard of houses. no b&b in sight. after a few minutes of deliberation, we decided to knock on the door of the nearest house and ask for directions. slightly intimidating, and even worse because of the language gap – thank goodness for those few phrases we had learned! we eventually got our point across and the man called our host, michael, who came to find us. so.. all’s well that ends well, i guess. due to funky ferry schedules, we only had one night in serifos, so we took advantage of our nice b&b to relax, take a hot shower, and just decompress from the hustle and bustle of athens. it was a fabulous evening!

our ferry the following day wasn’t until after dinner, so we had the whole day to explore the little island. we packed our things and brought them down to michael’s little grocery shop on the bay, where he let us store them for the afternoon. after buying a few snacks, we headed to the beach, where we proceeded to plop down for at least an hour. since we were there at the end of april/beginning of may, the true summer season hadn’t yet begun, which meant we basically had the place to ourselves. it was pretty hot, but we were on the windy side of the island, so the breeze kept us cool... too cool, actually, because we didn’t realize how fried we got until way later… whoops. after having a small lunch at a restaurant on the beach, we decided to hike up to the ancient capital of the island, chora. it was only a mile and a half, but it was honestly all uphill. like, a mile of stairs. it was so amazing, though, because the path took us through the old village, past the classic little white houses with blue shutters and big red bougainvillea bushes, and once we reached the top, we had an unbelievable view. really windy, though!! we spent a few minutes taking photos and admiring the view and then started making our way back down to the harbor. we grabbed our bags, said goodbye to michael and his wife, and then stopped for a cup of tea on our way to the dock. that tea break ended up being one of our coolest memories from the islands, all because we met a 98-year-old woman named maria out on the terrace. the waiter translated for us for a few minutes, and we chatted about her experiences as a native of the island. eventually, though, the waiter had to go help other customers.. but that didn’t stop maria from talking to us! we sat there for nearly a half an hour, laughing along with her to jokes we only sort of understood. she had two cats with her, and i’m pretty sure she explained that one of them was the other one’s mother, and also that her husband had passed away a few years ago (she mimed a dead person to explain that one, hands crossed across the chest and eyes closed). but regardless of the fact that we hardly understood each other, it was awesome to sit and share a moment with someone like maria.

after our tea, we headed down to the dock to catch our ferry to paros. as we waited, a man who had talked to us for a few minutes in the cafĂ© came up to us and handed me a small gift bag, saying it was a “memory from serifos.” when he walked away, we looked in the bag to find two coffee mugs, painted with typical mediterranean villages. mine had a sailboat and liz’s had a donkey! very random and very kind. kind of like greece. the night got weird, however, when our ferry showed up an hour and a half late… which meant we got to paros very, very late. urgh. and due to the may 1st holiday, the ferry schedules were limited for the following days, so we had to reevaluate our timing a little bit. we ended up deciding to just spend the night in paros and take a 10am ferry the next morning, in order to have a more relaxing stay on santorini. we managed to walk around the main town on the island that morning, but it hardly counted as a visit to the island. oh well.. next time!

in retrospect, our decision was an excellent one. we got to santorini in the early afternoon (a day early) and found the shuttle for our hostel. it turned out that the place liz had found for us to stay was like… the greatest hostel that has ever existed. i cannot express how nice it was. the place was pretty new and beautifully maintained, in the classic white/peach mediterranean style with a huge pool and cabana bar. we had our own suite, with full beds, a huge (clean!) bathroom, a kitchenette, wifi… all for 13 euro per night. and they didn’t care that we were showing up a night early. it was unreal. plus, we met two sisters basically our age on the shuttle who were staying the same days as us, so we had friends for our visit! the extra day we had on the island meant that we could do a fun tour and have a day to just bum around on the beaches, plus we had three evenings to go into the villages. we literally could not have dreamed up a better situation.

our first full day, we were talked into taking an adventure boat tour by poppy, the amazing woman who runs the hostel. she signed us up the night before and told us when to catch the bus down to the harbor. amanda and brianna (the sisters we met) had decided to come as well, so, around 9am, the four of us found ourselves on a big boat full of tourists, heading out to sea. the boat looked kind of like a pirate ship – it was all wooden and had the rope rigging and big masts and everything… it was cool. our first stop on the tour was the volcano in the middle of the caldera. santorini is famously crescent-shaped – the island itself is actually the rim of the volcano crater, sticking up out of the water. we popped over to a volcanic island in the middle of the bay, where were were allowed to get off the boat and walk around. i may have snuck some volcanic rock for my amateur-geologist mom. as it turns out, volcanoes aren’t very interesting if there’s not like.. lava. it kind of just looked like a very arid, rocky, hilly island. but, anyway.. our second stop was to a hot springs near another island in the volcanic grouping. normally, the boat goes way closer to the spring, but there were other tours there already, so we had to drop anchor about 100 meters away from the spring. they had announced that anyone wanting to swim to the springs needed to go downstairs and change clothes as we approached… the four of us waffled for about 10 minutes, and then finally bri said she was going to do it, which propelled the rest of us into action. a quick minute later, i found myself jumping off the side of a (rather large) boat, into the very cold mediterranean ocean. brr. the swim wasn’t very long, but it was tough going with the waves. to make matters worse, when we got to the hot springs, we discovered that it was really more of a tepid spring. to call it warm would have been generous. plus, we had waited so long deciding that we were called back to the boat within like 2 minutes of getting to the spring. sigh. the swim back was even harder, going against the current, but we all made it back and quickly dried off. all in all, kind of a disappointment, but a worthwhile experience, just for the story. the rest of the day was much less exhausting. we stopped at a different island for lunch, and then made our way over to oia, one of the more famous villages on santorini. it’s where you see all those pictures of the homes clustered together on the cliffs, little blue domes of churches poking out here and there. as we hiked our way up some more nearly vertical steps, we stopped to admire the progressively more impressive view. we made it to the top and explored shops lining the single pathway through the village. after grabbing a quick dinner, we headed to the very end of the village’s main thoroughfare… along with a whole drove of fellow sunset spectators. oia is best known as the place to watch the sunset on santorini, because it has an unobstructed western-facing view. and boy, is the sunset worth seeing in oia. we admired the fading pastels (along with hundreds of others) until the last sliver of the glowing sun slid beneath the horizon… and then there was applause. literally. people applauded the sunset. as twilight fell, we made our way to the meeting place and got on the bus back to our hostel. such an adventurous, memorable day!

day two of santorini was perhaps equally adventurous, in a totally different way. along with amanda and brianna, we rented four-wheelers and took off for the beaches! i’d only driven a four-wheeler a couple times, but the guy at the rental place showed me the basics and i picked it up pretty quickly. once we were squared away, we picked up a picnic lunch at the grocery store, checked the map and hit the road. i distinctly remember the feeling of the wind on my face, as we zipped along a wide stretch of road overlooking the ocean. that was a glorious moment. even though we got slightly lost, the whole island is small, so we made it to the beach we had been looking for in good time. we chose a beach on the southern side of the island, known for its red and black sand. after hiking over the rocks to actually access the beach, we settled in for a few hours of blissful mediterranean beach lounging. we played in the water, ate our lunches, and laid around on the sand for a few hours, until we were all simply too hot. so, we packed up the bags, and headed to akrotiri, a cool archaeological site nearby. it had been destroyed pompeii-style by a volcanic eruption many centuries ago, but we got to see a little bit of how the city would have looked just by observing the way the foundations were structured. very historical, very interesting. we made our way back to the rental shop, returned the four-wheelers, and grabbed some take-out gyros to eat by the pool for dinner. we sat and talked for a long time, finally saying goodnight (and goodbye!) as we went to our separate rooms to pack.

we woke up bright and early to catch our flight off the island, heading back to istanbul. the teensy little airport was basically just big enough to manage one flight at a time, so there were only maybe 50 or 60 people there. although our flight plan was changed a little last minute, we eventually made it back to istanbul for a two day whirlwind visit. we stayed with my friend alex again (bless her, and her darling flatmate liz), so liz could have a quick taste of turkey (hah!) before we both flew away to our next destinations! it was incomprehensibly fun to have liz come traveling with me – i love seeing new places, but i love seeing them with friends even more. we had an amazing experience in greece - i would go back in a heartbeat! if you’d like to see some pictures from this trip, you can check out the album here, starting at photo #51. :)

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