Date: June 8, 2015
Current location: Greece, specifically en route to Ios from the Santorini
Current tunes: Sam Hunt, “Take Your Time”
Sweet, sweet Santorini.
FUN FACT: Tourists from all over the globe flock to this romantic and picturesque island with about six to seven couples exchanging wedding vows here a day. Yes, a DAY. That’s a lot of love. Santorini really is just breathtaking and claims to have the world’s most beautiful sunset. It also is considered a volcanic island (well small group of volcanic islands as there are several smaller land groups surrounding the underwater volcanic caldera) but the volcano is considered dormant and hasn’t erupted since 1950 or something. And it is here that I officially started my island hopping.
Well, actually I met up with my tour group in Athens. This particular company specializes in Mediterranean tours for young adults (similar to Contiki, Intrepid, or Busabout if you’re familiar with any of these). While I love the autonomy of non-group travel, sometimes it’s nice to not have to worry about planning, about how you’re going to get to your next destination, about where you’re going to lay your head that night, and so on. So when Greece was in the books, I decided to grab this tour for Jasmine and me. It’s eleven days of island hopping between four Greek Islands and includes a guide, housing (mixture of hostels and small hotels), as well as transfers and ferry ride expenses. The tour holds as much as 30 travelers but our group was one of the first to head out for the season so we were lucky to have a small group of 10- four Americans, four Aussies, and two Irish. I am kinda the grandma of the pack because I am the oldest (other than our tour guide who’s just a tad older than me). While everyone is incredibly nice and friendly, I guess I failed to realize the type of tour I chose. Apparently I accidentally booked my little sister and me on a hardy party tour…oh dear and yikes bikes. This is going to be interesting.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love love to let out my inner MJ and get that nasty sweaty hair from hitting the dance floor, to share a spread of wines with my ladies over too much chocolate, to catch a happy hour with coworkers to relax after a long shift, or to hit a few dive bars with my amigos. And I do plan to have some nights of committing to that dance floor in a flashy club, to drink fruity cocktails that will put me over my travel budget, and throw back some ouzo with the locals.
…..But the idea of ten straight nights of knocking back shots and nursing hangovers is not exactly my idea of a good time or what I had in mind for a sister trip with my baby sister (okay she’s 20 and definitely not a baby, but she’ll still always be the baby to me). People can do whatever they want on their holiday, I am not here to judge. In fact I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some skeletons in my closet from when I first started my world travel days a few years back. But I just prefer to not have to try and sleep in the cramped quarters with those who have been going hard till 4am and be around for the aftermath.
Unfortunately, for our first night in Santorini we were given a hostel in which we were put in a mixed gender dorm. *Side note: I feel like I should put a in a quick note on hostels since they already have a bad rep with the American public because of the stupid horror film “Hostel.” Listen to me when I say not all hostels are terrible. I have stayed in hostels in Asia, Europe, and North America and have found that many can be high quality, great for meeting new friends (especially whilst traveling solo), and can be a good option for those with a tight budget. They have many different room options from large 10+ beds/mixed gender dorms to doubles and private rooms. Although the more people per room can ensure a cheaper price, I have traveled enough to know that a mixed gender dorm can sometimes mean you’re yelling at people to get their own room or to pipe down. And cleanliness varies as well but future travelers, please please don’t let this one post put hostels off for you. Budget accommodation = more money for food and fun! For me, my travel philosophy is to remember that it’s not always about where you stay but who you meet and what ya eat.
However, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t agree with Jasmine when she joked, “I kinda feel like I’m lying in a concentration camp.” I think there was a general consensus that the rooms here were pretty disappointing (I am glad to report that since then the hotels have been good). It was very cramped with five bunk beds, no blankets, and one nasty tiny bathroom (or communal bathrooms a short walk away). That first night for me and lil’ sis were spent not sleeping and eventually going outside in the wee hours of the morning to escape some of the chaos until everything settled down.
The next day, everyone was so exhausted that while our bus day excursion of the island was quite good, we were all walking around like zombies from lack of sleep. Jaz and I literally passed out on the sand during the beach stop portion of the tour and woke up to my phone alarm as I wiped drool from my beach chair. At this point I knew we had to find somewhere more private to ensure that we would get some serious shuteye before we dropped like flies (to be completely honest, in our tiredness, we were on the verge of a mini meltdown and started to think we may not be able to keep up and even considered just backing out). Luckily, I found a last minute hotel near our hostel and after a much needed night of deep sleep we decided that we could not only continue with the tour, but enjoy it. And to be honest I am glad that we didn’t jump ship after one challenging night. Our tour guide, Sarah, also promised that all the other accommodations would be double or triple rooms and reminded us that this is our holiday and that everything on the tour is optional. So that’s that. All is well now and we are actually having a great time with our new international buddies but are also getting a lot of Mahfoud mingling time as well.
Okay so where was I? Oh yes, Santorini. Think Greek Disneyland. As I walked through the windy cobblestone trails I fell in love with contrast of the stark white walls and bright blue shutters and doors on all the buildings. Tons of shops with the most delicate jewelry and quaint cafes are found on every corner. Again, my first impression is comparable to the same thoughts some one might have at Disneyland….
“Is this real life? It’s so cute! Is it really that expensive? There are too many people here. This line is slow. Look at all the foreigners and selfie sticks! Spotted- socks and sandals. I want to eat everything! etc.”
I met up with Jasmine and her classmates for dinner at the most lovely restaurant perched right on the sand. It was their last night as a class on the island so their tour manager pulled out all the stops for their last grand night together. The place looked like a wedding reception with pillow cushions, strips of white fabric hanging from poles, and twinkly lights. One of my professors from college, Dr. Honora Chapman, was partly leading the group and it was such a joy to reconnect with her and update her on my life since graduating two and half years ago. The dinner was incredible, complete with several courses, ouzo shots, live music, and Greek dancing.
The second day was the all day bus tour of Santorini that I previously mentioned. We started with the monastery of St. Elias at the highest point on the island. This place was literally covered in lady bugs. It was like this beautiful but a little annoying magical surprise and I when we got back on the bus I was picking out lady bugs from my hair and clothes. Next we headed to Akrotiri, a newly discovered civilization in the 1960s that was demolished by a volcanic eruption. Only 3% has been excavated and it was actually found on a by a greek archaeologist. Unfortunately, Greece is in a state of economic crisis and funding for excavation has been halted at this time. Still pretty cool all and all. The weirdest part about it is that they have yet to find a human bone. Weeeeeird. But apparently there were able to tell in advance when an eruption was expected so maybe they evacuated in time?
After this we stopped at Perissa, a little coastal community with a beautiful black sand beach and as previously stated we spent this entire stop napping. From here we did some wine tasting at Santo winery and Santorini is known for wine production so I’m kicking myself for not buying a bottle. One main difference I noted between the vineyards here and at home is that the grapes grow like bushes on the dirt with no stakes for the vines to climb. We ended the night with a sunset viewing in Oia. This northern city is known for being THE sunset spot on the island. We grabbed some beers, followed the crowds, and fought and scrambled over finding a spot to camp out. While it was pretty cloudy, it was still a relaxing experience nonetheless.
Next stop, iOS! Gosh dang it, it’s actually Ios. I swear I am done fighting the autocorrect on my MacBook over this. Freakin annoying. Time for some fun in the sun!
Cheers and keep on wishin’,