This island feels thirsty. Or maybe that’s just me. It’s hot here, and I’m staring at the sea from the top of a cliff. The water is so close, but so far.
I envisioned having easier water access on Santorini. Yes, I knew that I was booking a rental on top of the caldera, but the Aegean Sea is right there. Just a mere 1,000-foot drop away. We’re frustrated that we can see the water but can’t reach it. It’s hot on top of the mountain, and the sea is so nice and cold.
Where Corfu was lush and green, Santorini is dry and brown. Brown and red and black, peppered with palm trees and prickly pear cacti and bougainvillea. And then there are the buildings, stark white, the perfect contrast. The sun bounces off of them in the daytime and makes everything so bright that you have to squint, even when you’re wearing sunglasses.
The architecture really is stunning. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s so pristine. We wonder: do the buildings simply stay this white, or do they have to be constantly repainted? I’ve been wearing a white tank top for an hour and it already has a stain.
We’re staying in a cave house, a studio apartment on the top floor in the town of Firostefani. We’re smack in the middle of the island; the capital, Fira, is a 10-minute walk to the south, Imerovigli a 10-minute walk to the north. Fira houses the island’s bus station, which I’m proud to say we’re making good use of. Historically, we haven’t been great at mastering public transportation when we travel. But now that we’re on a set budget, there are only 40 taxis on Santorini and it costs at least €25 to take one, paying €1.80 for a one-way bus ticket is much more appealing.
We took the bus to Oia on our first full day here. Our plan was to walk around town, get a meal, and hike back to Firostefani in the evening. But Oia was too crowded; horribly so. Garrett especially couldn’t take it. So we turned right back around and, in the afternoon sun, hiked 6 miles back to our studio. We were in good spirits for the first two hours but started to get tired on the third. I think we made it back right before one of us would have broken down. Upon getting home we Googled the trail to see how long it was and laughed to find out it was the number one thing to do in Santorini. We felt pretty good about ourselves, if not spent. I’m glad we did it. But if I were to do it again, I’d go the other direction, from Firostefani to Oia, because it seemed to be more downhill. And I would go early in the morning (I’d be too worried about competing for space on the bus back in the evening with the sunset-watchers).
After that, it took us a couple of days to find our groove in Santorini. We were tired from the hike and two long days of traveling, so spent two days counteracting our exhaustion by relaxing on our deck in the sun. The sun is strong here but there’s usually a breeze. There isn’t air conditioning in our studio, and it’s usually more comfortable to sit outside in the shade during the daytime.
I started to feel a little stir-crazy. Nine more days in Santorini felt daunting. That sounds spoiled, I know. Garrett and I staved off boredom by exercising, reading, writing, and ending our days with sundowners—rum for Garrett, wine for me. And then I remembered my travel rule: have one organized activity scheduled per day.
Since then, we’ve done a sunset catamaran cruise, which involved snorkeling at the white beach and swimming in the orange, warm sulfur-and-iron volcanic hot springs. We’ve gone south to Perissa to the Black Sand Beach and booked a horseback riding excursion in Megalochori through Airbnb. We ventured back to Oia on a less-crowded day and found ourselves in Ammoudi Bay, our favorite place in Santorini. We “attended” a Greek wedding during a night of immersive theater. We’ve gotten to know the streets of Fira, Firostefani, and Oia. With one activity a day, I felt able to enjoy Santorini and relish in our downtime more.
Of course, all of these activities cost money. It’s expensive here; we hit our daily budget easily. I’ve become friendly with the souvlaki place around the corner from us because they sell €3 gyros. We’re in there at least daily. It’s our saving grace at the end of a spend-heavy day. Garrett has recently taken to buying extra kebabs from there for the stray cat we’ve started feeding.
There are a lot of strays on the island, though I’ve noticed more dogs than cats. They seem to be looked after in some sense by the locals; I’ve seen water bowls out on the streets and a big self-serve dog food container in Oia. But the dogs still look mangy, and some are matted and worse for wear. I’ve been communicating with the Santorini Animal Welfare Association and know they’re doing what they can to mitigate the situation. Unfortunately, it’s a cultural thing here to not sterilize pets because many people believe that they should have the right to reproduce. It’s also common for people to let their dogs roam the streets while they’re at work, and, from what I’ve noticed, all of these dogs are intact. This just perpetuates the stray issue.
We know we shouldn’t be feeding the stray cat that Garrett has now named Betty, but she’s pregnant, and I want to offer whatever kindness we can to her while we’re here. She seems young and is skinny; soon, she’ll have kittens that will drain even more energy out of her. So if we can fatten her up with lamb and ham and turkey while we’re here, well, that’s what we’re going to do.
We leave on Friday, and while I feel ready to move on, I’m sad that our time in Greece is coming to a close. This month flew by! I’ll always look back at our stay in Corfu, Athens, and Santorini with happiness. It’s been really good for our relationship, and for our individual selves. We now know that we can spend every waking and sleeping minute with each other for 30 days straight and still like each other. If that’s not a win, I don’t know what is.
Santorini was a little different from what I expected; so many of the buildings that you see in these pictures are hotels and rentals, instead of homes occupied by the locals. If they do own properties on the caldera, it’s more likely than not that they will rent them out. “It’s too crowded,” our driver told us on the way to the airport, “I can’t move in Oia.” He did say that the island was best in October and November, when the weather is still good and the crowds are gone. I tucked that knowledge into my back pocket for later reference. Garrett and I also didn’t realize that we would be so far from the water (again, I don’t know why we didn’t grasp that we were staying on top of a mountain before we arrived), but found ways to access it by spending days at the black sand beach in Perissa, sailing, and eating fresh fish in Ammoudi Bay.
It’s okay, though, and perhaps good to have travel destinations not align with your pre-determined expectations. It’s good to visit places and see what they’re like for yourself. And don’t get me wrong: I really enjoyed our time in Santorini. I liked how easy it was to walk everywhere, how we had quick access to markets and restaurants and bars, how we got to swim in the hot springs and pass by donkeys coming down the mountain. Santorini is unique and beautiful; perhaps one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been.
London is next on the docket, and to not test the strength of our relationship any further, Garrett and I are going to spend a day apart. He’ll hop over to Ireland for a night to celebrate my cousin’s stag party and I’m going to stay back and soak up some quality time with me, myself, and I in one of my favorite places in the world. I’m really looking forward to it. It’ll be nice, then, to meet back up with Garrett, my cousin Brian, and Brian’s fiancée, Claire. Greece has felt a little foreign, which is a good thing, but I’m excited to go to London, a place that feels a little more familiar.