My photo
I'm a 21-year-old journalism student. I spent last semester living in Florence, Italy. These are my adventures.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

One more day in paradise

Friday (March 23) was our last day in Santorini. I'd call it bittersweet, but I can't think of a reason anyone would ever leave this place.
I woke up early to see the sunrise with Bethany after failing to do so every other morning of the week. We sat on the ledge of our balcony huddled in blankets and watched the day begin in silence. It was so peaceful.

Once the sun was well above the clouds and I was sufficiently cold, I hopped down from the wall and slipped inside. Bethany crawled back into bed, but I had plans. Or rather, I had a mission: find the red beach. We had failed miserably at this task earlier in the week, and I just couldn't leave without getting to see it! Erika planned to meet me a little after 7 a.m. so we could explore. My preparations for the day woke up Amy about 5 minutes before I was supposed to leave. She stirred awake and asked how much time she'd have if she wanted to join. She threw her stuff together and followed me out to the ATVs.
Just as we were walking out, Erika came around the bend with Kelsey on the back of her four-wheeler. So two became four and we set out to find the beach.

It was a chilly morning to begin with, so once we started zipping along the island I was practically shivering.
As a navigator who left the map in the hotel, I was left with gut instincts to get us to the southern end of the island. I think we took a couple of extra roads and detours, but I got us there relatively promptly.
Once we reached the area of Akrotiri, I followed signs to the Red Beach. I was a little nervous since that was exactly how we tried to find it last time, but I had since found out the place where we gave up our hunt last time was right around the corner from the beach. We weaved back and forth along a narrow road and this time took the right path at the fork. We were in the right spot in less than two minutes. I couldn’t believe we were so close yet so far last time.
We parked our ATVs and began to climb a narrow path at the end of the parking lot. Just around the bend the red beach beamed at us. Although I’ve never opened a treasure chest of gold, I imagine the feeling would be equally as victorious and satisfying as seeing this:

I led us down a gravel path, sliding more than actually walking. Kelsey was only wearing flip flops, so about halfway down she decided to turn around. Amy, Erika and I kept going. We climbed up again, this time over large boulders, and back down again. We were finally standing on the red beach!

I looked back and yelled to Kelsey, point out a different path she could take. Erika, Amy and I sat down and threw rocks into the sea as we chatted about our trip.

After a while, we realized Kelsey wasn't coming to meet us. We walked farther along the beach. A tall cliff towered above us to the left. There were several out-of-place doors along the base. They made me anxious for some reason.

Amy ran over to peek inside the tiny dwellings. She backed up and gasped.
"Oh God. What's in there?!?"
She paused before uttering in complete shock, "a kitchen!" I looked in the next one and the one after that, and sure enough they looked like fairly modern quarters that had been abandoned for a few months. Most had construction equipment inside.

Photo by Amy
Erika and I sat on the beach as Amy ran farther down and climbed around on some rocks and a little building. Just the usual.

We didn't have a whole lot of time there. The idea was more to just see it than actually spend a day there. We had bigger plans for the rest of the afternoon. We summoned Amy and headed back to the ATVs, where Kelsey was waiting patiently. With the sun much higher in the sky, the beach was showing its true colors. The red was glorious.

We rode back to Fira to Erika, Yelena and Kelsey's place. They had to pack up, so Amy and I walked up the street to get a crepe. I don't know why I haven't been eating them all semester. We split a nutella strawberry one. Yum Yum Yum!

We waited by the ATV place until the other four girls arrived. We couldn't return them without all of us there. I started to get anxious as it neared 10:30 a.m. We had to be down by the Old Port by 11 a.m. to catch our boat. We saw Erika, Kelsey and Yelena across the street getting breakfast. Amy talked to them while I paced back and forth waiting for Caitlin, Bethany, Jess and Kate. They showed up eventually. It turned out Squirt ran out of gas and they had to push our little yellow ATV to a gas station.
We ran/walked all the way down the donkey path to the Old Port, where an old wooden boat was waiting for us. We clambered on, claimed our seats and turned around to see where we were headed: the volcano!

The ride was short, but beautiful. We looked back to see the Caldera from afar. We could see the donkey path zigzag down the steep incline. It looks even more intense from this viewpoint..

Soon the water beneath us turned from a blue to a startling green. We pulled up and docked next two other boats. The crew led us over and though the other two ships and onto land. We had an hour and a half to explore, so up we went!

A couple of benches and two straw umbrellas sat at the first fork in the path. People seemed pretty evenly split on which way they took. We settled on left.

The black lava rock crunched beneath my sandals. Red and green lined the sides of the narrow paths. I never expected a volcano to be bursting with this much color.

The higher we got, the more we started to see of the sea. It only added to the vividness. Every time I thought to myself, “It doesn’t get better than this,” it did. Just a few more minutes. It always did.

Kate, Bethany and Caitlin disappeared ahead of us around one of the very first twists in the path. This didn’t surprise me with Kate the explorer leading the pack. Jess, Amy and I took our time and reached the top in about 40 minutes.

Of course I made someone take the usual picture:

There were all kinds of rocks people had stacked on top of one another. It reminded me of Ruby Beach, Wash., where I went with my family a couple of summers ago.

We wandered around the edge of the crater. It's hard to believe the power the earth holds right beneath my feet. 

From the far side of the crater we could see the hot springs tucked between where we were and a smaller island of volcanic rock. We were headed to that teal strip of water next!

A little further around the edge I saw a round, squat cement cylinder post. I had seen this a couple of other places but didn't know what it was. When we were out by the lighthouse Wednesday there was one on top of one of the tall cliffs. I didn't have the guts to climb on top of it there, or really I was smart enough not to, but I couldn't resist sitting on this one.

It was windy, but beautiful. Jess passed my camera to me so I could take a picture of my view. I rotated around to get a full 360, but this is one of my favorites. You can see the crater, the colors, the lava rock, the sea and Fira along the edge of Santorini in the distance.

We finished our loop around the crater and took a few more pictures before walking back down.

I hadn't really paid attention to how dusty the walk was, but I started to feel how grimy I was as I watched small clouds puff up under Jessica's feet in front of me.

We got back to the boat almost exactly on time, followed closely by the last people left on the volcano. We pulled out and rounded the island to the hot springs!
Caitlin wanted nothing more than to swim in them. The woman who sold us the tickets the day before warned us that we'd have to swim through cold water to get to them. Now it was nice out, but certainly not swimming weather. We all knew we were pretending it was warmer than it actually was, but no one spoke this truth.
Caitlin and I were committed to the swim. "If not now, when?" Besides, it was only about 20 meters in cold water to get to the springs. Jess and Bethany seemed ready, but nervous for the cold. Amy didn't have a swimsuit and was therefore the designated guard of our belongings. Kate was terrified she'd just jump in, freeze/panic and sink to the bottom. We did our best to get her excited.
An older couple sitting across from us was going to do it. If they can do it, we certainly can! The boat anchored about 20 meters from the entrance to the hot springs as promised. The man of the aforementioned couple started to get ready, disrobing to his swimming trunks. His wife apparently hadn't known about the 20-meter swim and started to get cold feet. He talked her into it as we continued to do the same for Kate.
A couple of other tourists had already jumped in, but about 75 percent of the boat sat in their warm clothes without any sign of moving.
Well, this is it, I thought. "Guys. Now. Let's do it."
I took off my shirt, took several determined steps toward the edge and jumped right in without another thought. I approached it with the same attitude as I did when hurling myself into a canyon in Switzerland. If I did that in below zero temperatures, I certainly shouldn't have any issues with the Aegean Sea.
I had just thrown myself into an icebox. This is not Greece. I am in Antartica. I am a penguin.
My entire body went tense. Crap. Kate's not going to be the one to panic and sink like a pathetic rock. I am! Focus Lydia. Focus. Move your arms. Swim. Your legs too.
I started to paddle with a stroke that can only be described as a cross between a dog and a frog.
Out of nowhere, Kate came up next to me. She propelled herself past me with flawless form. I hadn't even heard her jump in behind me. She looked like she had been swimming all her life.
Excuse me, but what? 
I pulled it together and started to swim. As I scooped water behind me, I could feel small hard things brushing against my arms, hands and shoulders. We still don't know what it was, and I think I'd prefer to keep it that way. Jess swears something bit her. I swallowed more water than I pushed behind me, but eventually I made it to the springs. I was kicking when I thrust my foot hard against a rock on the bottom. I tried to stand and walk the rest of the way, but the air started to feel colder than the water and the rocks were slippery.
I practically crawled the rest of the way through the water to meet Kate.
"Kate! What the hell was that?"
"I don't know! I panicked, and I didn't want to look dumb to all the tourists on the boat so I got to warmth as fast as I could."
I just shook my head and laughed.

Photo by Amy. She said tourists were laughing at us and taking pictures as we froze. I'm sure they thought we were idiots. I don't blame them. I'm in the front and Kate's jumping in behind me.

Jess, Caitlin and Bethany trickled in behind us, shivering. We moved farther into the "hot springs." I wasn't a huge fan of them. The bottom was about 6 inches of mushy goop. There were weird mud clumps and clear jelly-like floaties circling us. I twisted my arms around me wildly the whole time to keep them away from me. I don't like not knowing what's all over me.
It was significantly warmer than the sea. I'll give the springs that much, but it's not a lot. It was more like patches of luke warm water. I'm sure it would be better in the summer.
We didn't have a whole lot of time, so after about 10 minutes we headed back. Even though I was going from warm to cold, I was more prepared for the swim this time. It didn't feel like it took quite as long. We climbed up and huddled in towels.

I warmed up surprisingly fast and ended up giving my towel to Jess and Kate, who were shivering wildly.

…. Our boat dropped us back off at the Old Port. We were immediately swarmed by people offering donkey rides back up to Fira. We declined. No one wanted to do it again, and I certainly wasn’t getting on a donkey again after the previous day’s allergy nightmare.
We all decided we'd rather just take the cable car up. It was only €4. Kate was going to walk, but I just bought her ticket. There was no point in any of us hiking up that disgusting path. We had about half an hour before the next one went up the lift, so we just sat in the sun drying out and wiping salt from our eyelids and elbows. Yes, in the short swim salt had collected in the creases of our eyelids and all other places. The entire half hour we waited there, one very persistant donkey man continued to pester us.
"Donkey? Donkey? Donkey? Up! Donkey! Donkey!"
"No grazie"
"Ohh... donkey?......... donkey?"
He reminded me of the seagulls in Finding Nemo. "Mine? Mine?"
He didn't give up until we were walking into the cable car ticket office. I applaud your persistance.
The view on the way up was really pretty — although I doubt you could find a bad view if you tried in Santorini. Even what's blocking what you want to see is probably worth looking at.

At the top we wandered through shops buying our final souvenirs. I still can't believe how many I bought here. We made our way back to the center of town. We all got gyros for a late lunch. I'm getting hungry for one now just typing it. It was absolutely delicious. Bethany and I walked up the street in search of gelato, but returned with frozen Greek yogurt instead. I certainly wasn't upset about it.
I got one with walnuts and chocolate syrup. It was delicious!
We went across the street to an internet cafe so we could check in online and print off boarding passes for our flight the next day. It took several trips downstairs to buy more internet time, and a lot of frustration, but after about 45 minutes we were successful. 

We split up a little bit to walk around and shop more. Jess and Kate went off on their own, and the rest of us hung out together.
While Caitlin, Bethany and Amy were still in a shop, I wandered out and along the edge of the city. I looked out over the water at the volcano we climbed earlier. Behind it to the left I could see the tip of the island where Kate, Jess and I had climbed down the rocks and cliffs. To the right (a little out of the picture) was Oia where we had seen the sunset the night before.

I absolutely love this island.

I found Amy, Caitlin and Bethany and we kept shopping. I had two more things I really wanted to get: 
1. Something with my name written in Greek
2. Necklace with lava stones and the blue and white charm used to ward off evil.
I never did get my name in Greek, and I almost thought I wouldn't get the necklace either. Just before we went back to meet with Jess and Kate, or as they should be called Jate, I found a jewelry shop. I asked the shopkeeper if she had anything with the charm I was looking for. She started showing me €100+ necklaces.
"I'm looking in the less than €20 range," I told her.
"Ahhh. OK."
She showed me a glass case of simple pendants — just what I was looking for. I found one I liked for €8. I was hoping she'd give me some sort of chain with it, but she did one better. She handed me a small box of beads and told me to make my own pattern.
Bethany helped me find some lava beads and set out my perfect necklace! She made it for me really fast. Total: €15. Perfection.

We found Jate and headed home. On the walk, we realized we had never tried baklava! This was unacceptable, so when we got back I went and asked Poppy if we could order it for delivery. It wasn't a problem. She helped me call, and I threw in some stuffed vine leaves just for the fun of it. Bethany and I had been eyeing them earlier in the week and said we'd try them at some point. 
In about ten minutes, a man knocked on our door with our food. Surprisingly fast, especially in Greece.

The vine leaves were so good. Caitlin said the restaurant where she works makes some pretty good ones and she'll have to take me there. I'm going to hold her to that.
The Baklava was huge. and very very sweet.

We relaxed and packed for the rest of the night. At some point in the evening, I stepped outside for a little bit to walk around and take pictures. I sat out by the pool for a while in complete bliss.

I absolutely love Greece.

Saturday we had an 8:25 a.m. flight. The same guy who drove us from the airport would give us a ride back to it. He assured us that leaving by 7:30 a.m. would be plenty of time, but I was pretty anxious. We all were. We ended up outside with our bags ready around 7:15 a.m. He came out soon after. "Now? OK!" He lifted our bags into the back as we piled into the van.
After a short ride to the airport, we thanked him and said our goodbyes.
Our flight to Athens seemed to be the only one leaving from the tiny airport. We waited in line for a while to check in. I felt like things were moving oddly slow. Caitlin, Amy, Bethany and Kate checked in before Jess and I. They went over to scan their bags and then headed to security. Jess and I dragged ours over to the belt for checked bags and waited for someone to scan our bags. And waited. And waited. A line began to form behind us. Soon a security man came running from the other end of the airport, which was really probably as long as our swim to the hotsprings. He silently began the machine and our bags disappeared under black rubber flaps. We shrugged and headed over to security to get into the terminal, where we waited again. Then it dawned on me. This airport has one security officer. One.
"Jess. How much do you want to bet that guy who checked our bags runs over here in 5 minutes to do gate security?"
He did. Now that is the definition of a small airport. We waited for a few minutes at what seemed to be the only terminal (I believe there were two), before lining up to go outside onto a bus. We shuffled forward and look who was there taking our tickets! The same woman who checked us in around front.
Two employees to run the airport. Plus two to stand around in the snack stand. I could hardly contain my laughter.

The flight was quick and uneventful, other than the sighting of this island that looks like a goat:

Less than half an hour later, we were landing in Athens.

Airplane-window photography. Athens.
We had to pick up our bags here. Since we didn't book our flights together, we couldn't check our luggage all the way through to our final destination. So we grabbed our bags and headed upstairs to check in again. Our next flight wasn't for another five hours. Kate and Caitlin's layover was worse: nine hours. It was a little too early to check in, so we headed outside to wait.
We spent the next hour or two playing Charades, Simon Says and a little bit of Karaoke. Jate showed us the secret handshake they had apparently spent the week perfecting. Everyone walking past either laughed at or with us. It was fantastic. 
After a while we headed inside and checked our bags. Kate and Caitlin still had to hang on to theirs. We looked at the shops in the airport mall for a while, and I ended up buying a slice of Dominos Pizza. I am ashamed. I didn't want to be buying American fast food while I was here, but it was honestly the cheapest thing I could find. What can I say? It happens to the best of us.
As does illness, apparently. Friday night I started feeling a little bit of a tickle in my throat after jumping into the sea. It was sore in the morning, but the copious amount of water and a smoothie I had downed wasn't doing anything. I bought a couple boxes of halls and popped them for the rest of the day.
It was getting close to our boarding time, so Amy, Jess, Bethany and I headed to our gate. Bethany felt so guilty leaving Caitlin and Kate there. They were flying into Rome and taking the train to Florence Sunday morning. I'm not sure why she was so torn up about leaving them for less than 24 hours. I suppose we had spent all day every day together for the past week.
We said our goodbyes, went through security and boarded our Swiss Air flight to Zurich. I want to fly with them again just so I can get more complementary Swiss chocolate. 

We had a layover in Zurich, and the final leg of the flight was also Swiss air. Two free chocolate bars!
While in Greece, I had decided I wanted to get a flag from each country I visited. Not a little souvenir flag, but a giant one I could hang on my wall at home. In total I would be seeing four countries this semester: Italy, Switzerland, Greece and the UK.
I was pretty disappointed that I had decided this after I went to Switzerland, so when I realized that's where our layover was, I made it my mission to find a flag. I figured I wouldn't be able to, but Amy helped me find one!

Even though it was sad to leave Greece, I'd say charades, free chocolate, a Swiss flag and this view from the plane add up to an all around good day. 
Plus it was nice to get home.

But just as I said after Switzerland..... until next time, Greece. I refuse to say goodbye.
This does not count as our next meeting, Switzerland)

I swear I'll be back to both.

No comments:

Post a Comment