Santorini: A Bust at the Beach

Word of advice to those looking to visit Santorini: never go in February-unless, of course, you like relaxing vacations where you do literally nothing all day (and nothing in this sense does not include lying on the beach).

After two days exploring the ancient ruins of Athens and enjoying enough feta cheese to keep me satisfied for the next few weeks, I looked forward to the four days I would be spending on the beautiful Grecian island of Santorini. Santorini is located on the southeast of the mainland in the Aegean Sea and is one of the most possible destinations for tourists visiting the Greece. Since it was my spring break, I was excited by the opportunity to be someplace warm and to be able to walk along the red and black beaches, listen to the waves crashing on the sand, and mingle with other tourists who were eager to do the same.

Unfortunately, however, my fantasies about my days on the volcanic island did not live up to the hype. Everything from the weather to the atmosphere was not what I anticipated. After a short half-hour plan ride from Athens, my travel group arrived in Santorini around midday Sunday. We should have immediately known something was amidst when after notifying our cab driver about our hotel address, he questioned whether or not the hotel was actually open during this time of year. We reassured him that we had a reservation, and so ten minutes later we were standing in front of the Blue Suites Hotel in the island section of Fira. As we arrived, a very loud and friendly Greek woman greeted us at the entrance and welcomed us the facilities. Her English was not very good, but her kindness and overall personality reminded me of the mother in My Big Fat Greek Wedding; I would not have been surprised if she had invited the five of us over to her house for dinner of lamb and bunt cake!

Once we were shown our spacious, and relatively inexpensive rooms (perhaps another foreboding sign), we set forth into town with appetites for food and exploration. Two of the girls in my group carried guidebooks with recommendations for the various locations in our ten-day break, so they had a detailed plan of what we should do and see while on vacation. Based on a suggestion from one of the books, we stopped in a local tourist/travel office in hopes of arranging some excursions, such as a visit to the nearby volcano and boat trips around the island. In the first office we visited, we received a rude awakening: nothing was available because nothing was open. Unlike Hawaii or Orlando, there is a dead season in Santorini in which shops and restaurants close up shop for the winter months and the tourists offices offer little else but airplane tickets departing from the island. Who would want to go to a beach destination in February when the air temperature is not above 55 degrees? Apparently the five of us. Disappointed and desperate to hear a second opinion, we visited another office, and then another. The same spiel: the island was dead.

Never could I have imagined being in a beautiful place such as Santorini while simultaneously feeling as if I was in ghost town. As we walked along the streets and up the hills of the island in hopes of finding some signs of life, we marveled at the tremendous beauty of the coastline. The vibrant whites and splendid blues of the buildings made for such a picturesque scene; it was as if every angle I turned could have been a postcard image. And yet there seemed to be no one who felt the same. The narrows streets were crowded with signs for restaurants and little shops anxious to lure tourists inside, but all of their doors and windows were closed. Besides the few Greeks and a minor number of Asian tourists in the main square, there was no one around.

Although it was disappointing to know that we could not see the volcano or dine on a dock overlooking splashing dolphins, the upside to our days in Santorini was the fact that it was a relatively cheap trip to one of the more expensive Grecian islands. Because we could do so little, we went the natural, inexpensive route and spent our time watching the sunset from the hills within Oia and taking a hike up one of the “mountains” in Pyrgos. We spent all of Monday afternoon climbing to the peak of mountain in the small town in order to visit an old monastery. Based on the rule of gravity, what comes up must come down, so we also climbed down the other side. While less physically less grueling than the initial ascent, the descent was much more of a mental challenge as it required a lot of focus and courage to forge ahead without reminding oneself about the intimating height above the ground. The remind once back on the ground: a walk on one of the island’s black beaches (sweatshirts and all). 

As we contemplated Monday evening about our plans for the following day in Santorini, one of the girls in the group received an unexpected phone call from Olympic Air. According to the representative on the phone, the workers for the airline planned to strike on Wednesday, the same day we were planning to leave the island. (What is it with Europeans and striking transportation workers?) Like we were in episode of Lost, our immediate reaction was: How are we ever going to get off this island? Fortunately, after being on hold for nearly forty minutes and constantly checking airline reservation codes, we successfully changed our tickets to leave the island the following day. Thus, instead of worrying about what we would be doing for our last full day in Santorini, we quickly began planning what we would see during our extra full day in Paris.

So while Santorini was an astoundingly site, the Grecian island did not live up to my expectations. Of course, I cannot fault the island for my disappointment when the blame lied with me and my travel companions and our failure to do enough research about the best times to visit the southeast spot.  Regardless, my short taste of Santorini simply means that I will have to return some day to really experience all the island has to offer, including the splashing dolphins.

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