On the Tuesday of my first week in Greece, I head over to one of the many travel agencies lining the route. The first one I pass by is open, but there is nobody sitting at the agent’s desk. There’s a blonde woman standing outside. I approach her.
“Do you know when the tourist agent will be back?” I ask her. She shrugs. i”She’ll be back by 5pm,” She tells me. It’s barely 4pm at the moment. Sighing, I keep walking. I wind up at the immediate next tourist agency. The lady greets me with a big smile.
“Do you have any weekend excursions?” I ask, and let her give me a rundown of all of the destinations that are available. I have Santorini in my mind from the beginning, but I want to make sure that it’s what I want. And surely enough, nothing sounds quite as tantalizing as the Santorini tours. There are 1-day and 2-day options. I opt for the 2-day option, which entails a tour of Oia, Fira, and Kamari beach the first day, an overnight stay and complimentary breakfast at a three-star hotel in Fira, and then a tour of the volcano on the second day. Altogether, it costs me 165 euros. Not a bad deal.
As I walk back, I pass the first tourist agency. Inside, the same blonde woman that I talked to earlier is sitting at the desk. I stare. Did she refer to herself in third person? Was she messing with me?
She gives me a wink as I look on, bemused.
In contrast to the large tour bus I was expecting, I am picked up by a small car at the bus stop outside of the Hotel Castro.
“Santorini?” He yells from across the street. When I get in the car, he then asks, “Dutch?”
“No, sir,” I reply, startled. He looks disappointed.
Much of our entourage is Dutch, as I come to find out. The driver picks up several more passengers and takes us to the Hotel Elena, where we are treated to a small buffet breakfast that resembles breakfast at the Hotel Handakas. Afterward, we are taken to the Heraklion port and given our tickets. I glance down at mine and see that my name is misspelled. Naturally, my confidence in this tourist agency rises.
“CTRS. These letters. Go to these letters when you arrive in Athinios port in Santorini,” The man who gave us our tickets instructs, “And come right back here tomorrow, okay? Or after tomorrow, if you are staying two days.” He sends us off.
We walk toward our ferry, the green Highspeed 4 boat. Beside me is a girl that I met in the car on the way here. Her name is Mila and she hails from China, but is currently completing her Master’s degree in Barcelona. She is travelling solo, just like I am. We delve into an amicable chat about everything from our personal lives to international affairs.
There is a mass exodus from the ferry as it docks at the Athinios Port of Santorini, the southernmost of the famed Cyclades islands. Mila and I reunite at our bus, which takes off rumbling up the steep, mountainous road that leads to Oia. I sit in an aisle seat, so I crane my neck and phone in an attempt to get pictures of the stunning view.
Our tour guide explains to us, alternately in English, Russian, and French (lucky for me, I had the information repeated to me in a language that I can understand thrice!), that we are overlooking the caldera. The caldera of Santorini was formed by the eruption of its volcano, which constitutes the largest eruption in history. The water in the caldera is warm, reaching up to 26 degrees celsius in the summer months.
We head toward Oia, which is a small town renowned for the beauty of its sunsets. I won’t get to see one on this trip, as we will be in Fira at that time, but Oia is gorgeous even in the daytime. We get 90 minutes to tour Oia and, while most of the tour bus stops for lunch with the driver and guide, Mila and I head off on our own.
As we learnt from our tour guide, building new churches every year is a tradition in Santorini. The colour blue is used as it is believed to ward away evil spirits. Many of the tourist shops sell blue eye medallions that purportedly perform the same function.
Oia is basically made up of one long, narrow road that winds through the town, with many fantastic views of the caldera.
“What do you think of the economic situation in Greece?” I ask, as we walk back along the road in the direction of our bus. Economics is one of her areas of study.
“Well, that’s one of the reasons that I’m here, actually. I wanted to see it for myself,” She begins. I smile. I can respect that kind of initiative in a person.
As our time in Oia approaches an end, Mila and I grab fresh roasted corn from a sidewalk vendor and cherries.
We sit on a ledge overlooking the caldera, talking. From our vantage point, we can see other members of our group begin to file back toward the bus. We brush off our hands, red and sticky with cherry juice, and get up. She turns to me.
“You know, if you plan on going to Barcelona in the next year or so, you can stay at my place,” She tells me.
“Sounds good to me,” I respond.
Having friends across the globe? Now, that’s cool.