Part 5: Santorini to Madrid
Santorini, one of the most iconic of the Grecian islands, is a very unique location; and that's saying something as there are thousands of islands. The reasons for this beautiful escape are rooted in devastation. In the 16th century BC, the island was ground zero to a massive volcanic eruption, which has since left an underwater caldera (crater) lurking at the bottom of Santorini's steep cliff sides. Red, white and black volcanic pebbles make up the beaches here, and while you will do best to avoid walking barefoot on them in the midday Sun, they are definitely a rare sight you must see.
The upside to this otherworldly heat seems to be that everyone and their mother has a pool. The beauty of this island does attract the crowds, so for a bit of peace and quiet, grab some drinks, your Kuma shades, your favourite tunes, and let your stresses of tomorrow be tomorrow's problem. Be a kid again, work on your canon balls, your swan dives, your cork screws and belly flops. While the busy streets of Santorini are a reminder of just how fast life moves, a simple afternoon poolside slows things to a glacial pace.
Once in the town of Fira, you'll find that finding an affordable place to eat is almost as difficult as finding your way through the tightly packed cubiform houses that are so iconic of Greece. However, it soon became apparent as to why the prices were so astronomical. From street level, you'll be approached by restaurant hosts at every turn, promising spectacular views, amazing cocktails and mouth watering food. Well, we decided to take one man up on his offer, despite the store front view from the road being less than promising. After climbing a few flights of stairs, we emerged onto a rooftop patio overlooking the western side of the island, cliff sides and the volcano in the distance. It seems slightly unfair to judge a restaurant on its food with a view like that. We're both still convinced that they could have served us our flip flops and we still would have returned the next night.
With the streets so busy, bordering on a circus act, with buses, taxis, motorbikes and ATV's all jockeying for position, overtaking on blind corners and using the soft shoulder as a lane, we decided the best way around was to take a boat. Boarding in Santorini's new port, "Athinios", we spent the day island hopping of sorts. The first stop had us exploring the still active volcano, which provided panoramic views from the peak. We then headed to the hot springs, which, on first thought, were less than desirable in the searing heat. However, once we saw that they fed into the cool water of the sea, the result was more like the temperature of a bath when you finally decide it's time to get out. Our final destination was the town, or more like port, of Oia. It's quite the hike up to the town, but if you choose, you can ride a donkey up the steep switch backs. We didn't know if we were laughing from the fear of teetering on the edge, our lives in the hand (or hooves) of this animal, or it was just simply too much fun. But I do know that it was just as much of a
workout holding on, than if we had simply walked up ourselves.
By this time, you're exhausted from the day's events; so the best thing to do is grab a couple of beers, a gyros or two, and set up on the west side of the island near the castle in preparation for sunset. The castle itself is swarming with tourists as the Sun gets lower to the horizon. To avoid this, head down the hill toward the port a little ways, and you'll find your own little nook without having to squeeze between the forest of limbs positioned to take a selfie. Santorini is a beautiful place, and while it may be busy, and probably not the most "authentic" of your Greek experiences, it certainly is unlike anywhere else in this world. It's popular for a reason, you just have to come and find your own reason to love it.
After being on the road for a while, you become accustomed to the fake smiles, the empty promises, and the underwhelming realities of optimistic advertising that are there to draw the business of tourists. It's exhausting, it's frustrating, and many times denies any authenticity that you always search for in a new location. Then we landed in Madrid. We couldn't tell if everyone was excited and upbeat because they just started their shift, were close to clocking out, or they simply loved their job! People wanted you to come eat at their restaurant, not just for your money, but for your company. They really seemed as though they wanted to be the ones to introduce you to amazing tapas, to a night of salsa dancing, or even to an order of churros done right. The people are polite, outgoing, and carry themselves with an air that seems contagious, and will leave your jaw sore from smiling so often. This is a city of fun, and their stores reflect it. You'll find whimsical boutiques, full of odds and ends that seem to have been created from a child's dreams. Great food, non stop partying, and a unique shopping scene will ensure that Madrid is a city that will be committed to your memory.