Saturday, May 3, 2014

Greece, Part Three (Santorini)

This is a continuation of my previous post here.

Despite the late night, we were able to wake up successfully and head out for the bus on time. Unfortunately, the bus driver was less than helpful in notifying us of our stop and it was never obvious that we had passed the place we were looking for. So we wasted a good forty minutes riding the bus and then backtracking on foot. Somehow, we still made it to the metro and got to the port on time. When I say on time, I mean we got there according to the time we thought the boat was leaving. In fact, it had already left an hour before.

Needless to say, we were a bit upset. Susan may or may not have cracked for a minute. I tried to talk to the only employee in the entirety of the port of Piraeus that represented Sea Jet, the company that we were traveling with. She was on the phone for a while, so I just waited patiently at the window. At some point in her obnoxiously long phone call, she stopped and asked what I was waiting for, at which point I briefly described our mistake. She told me to wait one moment and then resumed her conversation. After a while, she hung up the phone and then very briefly told me that we had missed the boat. That was that. I asked if there was a way to get a partial refund or to change our tickets, even at a fee. Her reply was to smile and say, in the most arrogant manner, "No, of course not!" It took every bit of my being not to jump through the window and dismember her where she stood.

Apparently Sea Jet has a "no tolerance" policy and just hires vile-mannered representatives to work in their customer service locations. So I demanded our pre-purchased return tickets and then we went elsewhere to purchase tickets to Santorini. We had already invested so much in the tickets and hostel reservations that it would have been too much of a loss not to follow through with it. The new tickets were about half the price of Sea Jet's tickets too. The only problem was that the boat left at 6 in the evening and it was 8:30 or so in the morning.

We found a nice little coffee shop with Wi-Fi and emailed the hostel so that they would know we weren't going to be arriving that afternoon and would instead arrive at 1 a.m. We were hoping they'd still come pick us up at the port, as transportation to our part of the island at that hour would have been nonexistent or extremely expensive. They never emailed us back. We passed the day in various coffee shops, buying freddo cappuccinos to try and maintain some kind of consciousness.

I eventually decided to bust out the book I had bought earlier in the week, Zorba the Greek. As fate would have it, the book begins with, "I first met him in Piraeus." How strange that I wouldn't open a book I bought several days before until I arrived at the geographical location in which the book happens to begin. I read a few pages but was having difficulty staying focused, as I was lacking sleep and the coffee shops were loud.

Sometime around 2 or 3 in the afternoon, we decided to just walk the length of the port to find our boat. There were buses that would take you to the different gates, but we had several hours yet still to kill. We ended up boarding the boat ridiculously early, but we had our pick of seats. The seats were actually just long, plastic benches at a table, much like a long diner table setup. Once the ship started moving, I switched between reading Zorba and looking for dolphins and islands in the water. I didn't find any dolphins, but the book described a similar journey by boat towards the southern island of Crete (in which there were two dolphins jumping alongside the boat). The book itself is thought-provoking enough, but reading it while exploring the same landscape that it describes really brought it to life for me. I would like to continue finding books that evoke the landscape and the people of the place that I'm adventuring in.

We made a couple new friends on the boat. There were two girls and a little dog that they had brought along who sat across from us at the table. I'm pretty sure they were reading Goethe, albeit in Greek. They knew at least some English, but were very timid. Most of our communication was in the form of expressing our mutual appreciation for the cuteness of the dog. We tried asking them about transportation to Perissa Beach on Santorini and they seemed quite doubtful that we'd be able to find a way there so late in the evening unless we found a taxi (which would be expensive).

After the sun set, we realized that we had actually picked a pretty bad spot. I'm pretty sure any of the economy class tickets were less than ideal for being warm at night on the sea. Susan made the rounds at all of the little bars and restaurants to get hot water for her tea bags that she had brought. It helped a bit, but by 1 a.m. we were feeling the wind in our bones. Once the ship came into port, we went below deck and got warmed up a bit in the much fancier area. I was a bit nervous as to how we were going to get to our hostel, but lo and behold there was a nice old man who didn't speak any English holding up a sign for our hostel. He had come just for us and despite our later arrival. Bless his soul.

Our hostel was magnificent. Though it wasn't a fancy hotel room, it felt that way compared to how we'd been traveling. There was even a little hot plate setup and a refrigerator! We were able to clean up and get some much-needed rest.

When we woke up, we went out and walked along the black sand beach of Perissa. The weather was really nice, although not quite warm enough for a dip in the sea.

We even decided to drop some cash on a nice lunch:


Vegetable omelet

We learned from the young man at the hostel that it was fairly cheap to take buses to any part of the small island. The catch was that they stopped running sometime before sunset. The only way to get back to Perissa would be by taxi, which would cost about 20 euros. So instead, we decided to just rent a car. It was only 30 euros (plus gas) and we got the freedom to go wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted. That also meant we were free to get lost too, but we didn't screw up anything too bad. 

Vacation stubble

Driving the car allowed us to stop at some pretty beautiful spots...

We made a stop in Thira, the capital of Santorini. It was a slightly bigger, though still very small town than the others we passed through. Thira was much more commercialized and tourist-oriented, though the entire island was more or less that way. We walked up the main drag and found a nice little shop with trinkets and products of Greece. We ended up talking to the owner for a while about his pipe collection. The pipes were made of a root from one of the islands in Greece. After taking a coffee break to mull it over, I decided to return and buy one of the pipes as a souvenir. The protagonist in Zorba was constantly smoking a pipe, and that coupled with the fact that it was a product that evoked Greece's natural landscape made it an irresistible memento. This time around, the owner's daughter was there and she talked to us at length about Greek history and language. Her dad ended up giving Susan a free necklace as a gift. I think they liked us.

The precariously perched buildings and the bleach white facades were absolutely incredible. Everything was so different compared to Athens that it didn't even feel like we were in the same country. In fact, the shop owner's daughter talked about the southern islands having an entirely different dialect and way of speaking than the north. She admitted that she still didn't fully understand it. She described the dialect of the island in terms of trying to describe a person, whereas instead of using direct adjectives, they would paint a portrait of a person by making comparisons to animals and nature (i.e. He is the man who walks around like a lion and has the nose of a bird, etc.). I thought it sounded like a fun way to talk.

We headed back to the car, stopping by a grocery store to get some things on the way. We had depleted most of our tuna and seed stock from Spain, so we needed to restock. Plus, we ended up with a few things to cook at the hostel.

Our next stop was Ia, which is kind of the poster child city of Santorini. It didn't take long for us to figure out why, either. The streets are narrow and a bunch of the buildings are impressively white, some with brilliantly blue rooftops. It was smaller still than Thira, but infinitely more mesmerizing. Walking through the place was surreal. I don't know how else to describe it. I expected that, at any moment, someone would pop out and reveal that it was all an elaborate movie set.

We ended up at the famous lookout point where everyone goes to watch the sunset. We got there kind of early, so we snagged a good little spot on the ledge. We passed a couple of hours eating sunflower seeds and taking pictures. The spot filled up with all kinds of tourists by the time the sun was getting lower. I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like during the summer when tourist season is at its highest. Anyway, the sunset over Ia was absolutely incredible:

We tried to head out before the crowd started leaving, which was good, but we still had to drive back in the dark. We got a little confused and ended up on a questionable back road before figuring out where we were. Thankfully, Santorini was so small and had so few roads that it wasn't too difficult.

The next day, we decided to take it easy. I prepared a little breakfast for us and then we went for a walk on the beach in Perissa again. The day wasn't nearly as pretty and warm as the day before. It actually rained a little bit. We decided to make a big lunch with our groceries and then read and relax in the hostel.

When the rain cleared up, we had a coffee in a nearby café. The people in Santorini, in general, were so hospitable and chill. Even when they didn't speak English, they were obviously trying to make everything comfortable and welcoming for us. Maybe one day I'll be able to speak Greek well enough to return and let them know how appreciative I was.

Susan and I used up the last of our groceries and made dinner. I had to make it look fancy.

We arranged for an expensive taxi ride to the port in the morning because we weren't about to miss another ferry ride. I think I carried my resentment for the Sea Jet representative with me onto the boat. I didn't even want to interact with the crew members in any fashion. The ride was much less enjoyable but we had more comfortable seats and everything was enclosed, so we stayed warm. It also took about two hours less than the bigger ferry, but that was actually to our disadvantage because we were just going to be walking around Athens with all our stuff all day.

Our day in Athens was spent eating some lunch and then getting to the airport. We ended up getting there at about 8 p.m. and we set up shop in the 24-hour McDonald's. Our flight left at 6:25 a.m., so again there was no point in getting a hotel (plus the metro doesn't start running until 5:30 a.m.). We had a pretty rough night, but it wasn't as bad as the Zurich airport. I read and walked around a lot. They had a nice mini-exhibit on some of the ancient relics and ruins found in the area when they built the airport, which I found interesting.

Coming back to Spain felt like coming home. Everything just felt warmer and I could understand what people were saying without expecting them to speak English. It was glorious, even though I was dead tired. All in all, though, Greece was an amazing adventure. It was physically and financially draining, but it was all worth it. I think now we are going to keep it more local for our next few adventures...

Oh, and another thing, Sea Jet sucks.

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