Monday, May 31, 2010

Santorini Sublimity

I have succumbed utterly and entirely to the charms of Santorini on this, our third day of bliss. Initially I wasn't entirely convinced. Having just come from lush, verdant Maryland (all the more so because of abnormal winter snows and a long wet spring), it took my eye a couple of days to adjust to the stark, rugged beauty of this Cycladic island. Now I understand why people go slightly berserk after several days and give up their native land to settle here. We have met people from all over the world who have set up businesses or work in local shops and restaurants. Not surprisingly those from cold climates seem the most gobsmacked: the bronzed Czech girl who waited on us last night at Ginger Sushi Cafe (which, incidentally, lived up to its reputation) couldn't stop smiling. She's been here one month and still talks non-stop about the climate and laid-back ease of the island.

This morning we returned to Cafe Mylos, which has become our go to joint for breakfast. They serve absolutely the best Greek yoghurt topped with fresh fruit and drizzled with Cretan honey. That and a double Greek coffee sets me up for much of the day. We hiked down to Thira around noon and took the bus to Parissa, a black sand beach that is just spectacular. The beaches are all private, with each cafe or taverna claiming the patch fronting its business. The system actually works very well: one is welcome to stake out a chaise lounge, a little table, and umbrella in exchange for ordering something. Even a coffee will do, but most people end up ordering drinks or light snacks over the course of the afternoon. Hustled by an enterprising Greek businesswoman, we settled on her perfect bit of beach. We ordered cold Mythos beer and, later, some mezzes to nimble. The service was perfect. Never did one feel pressured to buy additional food, but the service was available if one wished.

Never having swum in the Aegean before, I didn't know what to expect, but the water was cool (not cold) and absolutely refreshing. It's clean and intensely salty, rather like the Caribbean, which makes for especially buoyant water. Unhindered by waves or undertow, I swam fairly far out in the calm seas, ecstatically happy by the combination of sun and water. For an erstwhile California girl who grew up on the beach, well, it just doesn't get any better than this.

Rod dragged me away in time to make the 6.30 bus back to Fira (I would have stayed until 9.00 p.m). We hiked back to our town, showered, and then had a light supper at a little traditional taverna recommended by our landlady here at Hotel Galini. We tried fava beans with fresh capers, a Santorini specialty; grilled eggplant with sun dried tomatoes; and a slice of spinach pie, all of them "small plates." The first two were just superb; the spinach pie was good, not brilliant. The climate and volcanic soil here lend themselves to several crops, which include fava beans, capers, cherry tomatoes, pistachios, black sesame seeds, and the clean, light white wine for which Santorini is known. All are very good indeed.

I am also feeling better disposed toward Hotel Galini. Yesterday we mentioned to our landlady that our room was a bit cramped, and she immediately offered us a much nicer accommodation, for which we are both grateful. She is a hard-working, kind woman who really does try in earnest, something I have found to be the case with most of the people on the island. We can now stow our clothes in drawers and move around more easily. The view from this balcony is prettier--one sees a wider expanse of the caldera and neighboring islands. Tonight we watched the sun set into the Aegean, a moment I have now witnessed three times but still find indescribably moving. It is not just the aching beauty of the sunset itself but the sense of history, sitting in my balcony and wondering if the early Thirans also paused in the course of their day to gaze upon this blaze of fire sinking into the vast sea, its light throwing into silhouette all of the islands, for as far as one can see.

Tomorrow morning we intend to rouse ourselves at a decent hour, hike down to Thira, jump the bus to Kamari, and then find the mini-bus that will drop us within a 20-minute hike of ancient Thira, the ruins I want to see. We have an hour-and-a-half to explore the site before meeting the van that will return us to Kamari. If the weather is nice again, I want to take the water taxi from Kamari back to Parissa Beach, where I fully intend to plant myself for another serious afternoon of sun and surf. Then back to the hotel, alas, to pack for Thessalonki, the next leg of our journey.

No comments: