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Greece

Ahh, paradise…

Took a fast boat from Crete to Santorini, only 2 hours north (on a fast boat, that is). I don’t have a Thesaurus with me, which is troublesome because all of the adjectives I know are not fit to describe this place. To say that it is ‘breathtaking’ wouldn’t quite explain it. Santorini is paradise. I can honestly say that those pictures that everyone sees of Santorini are not touched up. The sky is really that blue and the white-washed, cliffside dwellings that overlook the azure waters of the Aegean are really that picturesque and vibrant. To say any more about the beauty of this place would fail to do it justice.

I can, however, describe Santorini using facts. Santorini is a volcanic island. Thousands of years ago, it was a much larger volcanic land mass, but when it erupted in 1450 B.C., it blew a hole through the middle of the island (and subsequently caused a tsunami that devastated Minoan Crete). The result is a crescent-shaped island with a few smaller islands in the middle of the crater, or caldera. These smaller islands are volcanoes, one of which is active. I am staying in Firostefani, which is just north of Fira, Santorini’s ‘capital.’ Firostefani is probably Santorini’s most photographed area—this is where you feel like you are walking through a Greek calendar. The cliffs that overlook the caldera are populated with white-washed villas, tavernas, churches, and even a little footpath that meanders through all of it and leads to the town of Imerovigli, which is north of Firostefani. Of course, this footpath isn’t the only way to access Imerovigli, it’s just the only way you should. To get there by car would be to deprive yourself of the spectacular view of the caldera and miss out on all of the quaint cliffside buildings.

As for how I am spending my time in paradise, on my first day I hopped a bus to the town of Kamari, which is most known for its black volcanic sand beaches. Just south of Kamari on Mesa Vuono is Ancient Thira, which is comprised of ruins that date back to the 3rd and 4th centuries (‘Thira’ is Santorini’s original name). Among the ruins is an ancient basilica, ancient houses, and a sanctuary to Artemidoros that has carvings of animals in the stone. All of this can be found after a grueling walk up the side of the mesa, which is approximately 1210 feet up (the ancient site, however, is a bit higher than the mesa itself). Didn’t I say that the ancient Greeks liked high places? There are three ways to get up the mesa: by vehicle, by donkey, and by foot. Since I’m a confirmed masochist, I chose the latter. Although, I have to say, I was skeptical of my ability to do it. Maybe 1210 feet doesn’t sound like much, but when it’s straight up the side of a hill and the only way up is a road that zigzags up its steep face (so is actually three or four times the actual height of the mesa), you get a little skeptical. Throw in the heat and it’s enough to make you ask anyone that happens by: ‘hey, is this even possible on foot?’ Which I did. Several times. By the time I got to the top, the wind was so fierce that I was almost sent right back to the bottom. But the view was extraordinary—you could see miles of black-sand beaches on both sides. It was almost like being on top of the world.

Despite my glowing praises of this island, I’m sad to report that paradise is not everything it’s cracked up to be. Today I headed to Akrotiri (a town known for ‘the most compelling archaeological site on Santorini’) only to discover that it was closed for the summer. Peeved that the guy at the bus station neglected to mention this little tidbit (but determined not to waste my time in Akrotiri), I started walking over to one of the volcanic red-sand beaches on the island. As I caught sight of a church in front of a large, red volcanic outcropping, I reached into my backpack to grab my camera. It was gone. Frantic, I retraced my steps since getting off the bus. I knew I had the camera at breakfast that morning, so if I had lost it, it could have only happened in a few places. I waited for the next bus to arrive (which was the same bus that brought me there), and it wasn’t there, either. I returned to my hotel to check there, and still nothing. I was just sick over it.

Knowing I would have to file a police report, I headed for the police department in a nearby town only to discover that I had left my passport at the hotel and had to get back on the bus to go back to the hotel. Mind you, the bus doesn’t go directly to my hotel (shock) and my hotel is about a mile from the depot…uphill, of course. And did I mention that it’s hotter than Hades here in the middle of the day?!

So, I got my passport and returned to the police department, where I was studiously ignored by the highest-ranking officer who only had to spare two seconds to sign and stamp my form, but decided instead to help every Greek in the station—whether they were there before me or not. I tried not to feel slighted by this, but it was hard when the officer who was helping me clearly approached his boss to get my paperwork signed only to have his boss grab a different batch—that of a Greek woman whose paperwork was presented after mine and which required a much longer review.

To make a long story shorter, I spent two hours on my second trip to that police station just to have that higher-ranking officer take one second to glance at my form, sign it, and stamp it. Clearly, multi-tasking is not this man’s strong suit. And now I am sans camera. So much for paradise.

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About colleen finn

Colleen Finn is a globe trotting, sight seeing, day tripping, frequent flying traveler with a penchant for voluntourism.

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