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Day 21,22,23 Life on the biggest broken rock


I admit it. I am writing this entry on a plane. Technically, yes, with no sites or museums to see, we should have had more time on our hands to complete our blog posts. But the laziness is strong in Santorini. It likely has to do with the temperatures in the mid-30s bouncing off all that white paint (and our white skin).

We spent a lot of time on our deck, just moving chairs and umbrellas around to stay more or less shaded. The view is too mesmerizing to get boring. The volcanic rock, the striated cliffs with layers of grey and black, clay red and dark speckles, ash and pumice. Underneath, sea waters slip between shades of blue and green, and the wind draws shapes on the deepest sections where everything from kayaks to cruise ships regularly carve white designs. We lost count of the number of extravagant, enormous yachts that moored under us, and the number of boats (the ones we termed ‘pirate ships,’ old fashioned tall ships under motor, with no sails flying) that would come from Thira and disgorge tourists at the bottom of the switchback steps. We would know these boats were close to docking even if we weren’t watching because we would hear the bells of the donkeys as they were ‘encouraged’ to rush down those stairs to fetch the tourists up. Those poor beasts sometimes made four or five trips down and back up in an hour.

We came to learn the rhythm of the town, in small things like those bells. The mornings are lovely, cool, and quiet. There is a confused rooster living nearby who crows every night around 5. The busiest time is 6 to 8pm, when the visitor population of Oia easily doubles. Maybe triples. They come for the sunset in such numbers that they form a huge crush on the west end of the island. We foolishly got caught in that throng on the second night and avoided it as best we could for the remaining two nights; it is a lovely sunset, and it lasts a long time, but it is just a sunset and you can glimpse it almost anywhere in town. We were a little surprised when the hoards clapped for sun once it had set.

There are other rush hours too, ones that were harder for us to predict but are well-known to the locals; these are based on cruise ship tour buses. Huge swells of humanity, sweaty and snapping shots of everything invade the streets. We tried to imagine the unfathomable number of photos that must be taken in Oia on any one day. And who could blame all those shutter-bugs? We were certainly guilty of just suddenly coming to a full stop for no clear reason because we saw something so quintessentially, gorgeously ‘Greek Island’ that we just had to snap it. One of our cheeky guidebooks said that if you can’t take a postcard quality picture in Oia, you should just retire your camera. Very true. Although most people were just using their phones.

So, besides sitting around and taking pictures, what did we actually do? Well, we climbed up an down a lot of stairs, tread on a lot of marble, and ate a lot of breakfasts and lunches (and one candlelight dessert of baclava) on our deck. Deck meals usually involved a quick visit to the corner store and, more importantly, the bakery right above our cave. That bakery seems to supply the whole town. Its ovens were right next door to us, right between us and the baker’s own house. (Imagine the smell!) Mr. and Mrs. Baker — who hung their aprons against the wall outside our door at night — would sit with their exuberant grandkids from about 6 to 8pm every evening, and the kids would play on the stairs with the kittens. Not only does the baker family feed the mommy cat and the four kittens who spend most of the day on our deck, but they also feed another cat mommy (or two) and brood. If the ocean ever got dull, there were always wrestling kittens to watch.

We also learned the true definition of ‘caving.’ Whenever the heat got the better of us, we’d duck inside. Even 10 minutes inside was enough to reset the internal thermometer. And it is so much nicer than an air-conditioned cool: more natural, quieter, and doesn’t make the nose feel funny.

Athena and I got a good sense of air conditioning, however, when we went out on our shopping trips. The shops here are one of two kinds: cheap and trashy (full of tourist t shirts and hats) or pricey and posh. There are SO many lovely jewelry, art, and clothing shops filled with gorgeous, expensive things. And a look around at the visitors, especially those strolling the strand after dark, makes it clear how those stores survive; there are a lot of very wealthy people vacationing in Oia. And oddly, many of them are quite young. Just for fun, I searched Trip Advisor’s list of 5 star stays here and selected for the highest price per night. Result: $2730. And a number of other hotels that were not far behind. I guess that fits with the enormous yachts. But this surprised us. When David and I were here in 1997, it was quaint not posh. I guess it must have since been ‘discovered’ since then. (Thankfully, Athena and I were eventually able to find what we were looking for and could afford.)

We didn’t spend all our time up top of the cliff though. During one of those girly shopping trips, the boys walked down the donkey steps (dodging the poo) where they swam off the pier. Then, another day, we all walked down the other donkey steps (at the busy-at-sunset end of town). The boys went swimming again, while Athena and I just sat on the rocks and dipped out legs in. After that, we lingered there for a drink and had a chat with the taverna owner about his photos of him serving Oprah and Michael Jordan (not together). We also watched the staff descale and clean a huge (100 pound?) grouper fish. Then we headed to the donkeys, which we rode up 180 stairs. Athena had a lot of animal-rights-based ethical issues with doing that; we basically peer-pressured her into it, and she didn’t feel any better about the whole thing afterwards. For my part, I thought the ride was a total blast!

The only tricky thing about Oia was finding a place for dinner each night. We seem to have a solid case of Greek Restaurant Fatigue: while it was novel and fun to share four veggie appetizer dishes as a main course for the first couple weeks, the limited options eventually became tiresome. There at a lot of restaurants in Oia, but they all serve the same things …. as every other taverna in the country. Our hunting payed off one night though: we found Karma, a restaurant with some new interpretations on the traditional dishes and a couple very cute, sassy waiters for Athena to coo over.

Last night, our final night in Greece, we all got dressed up in our nicest things, gave up on finding anything interesting to eat, and planted ourselves on the terrace with the most gorgeous view of the town and the curve of the cauldera (we could even see our cave, if we squinted). The food was average, the service was awful, but the warm air and peachy pink sky that darkened and introduced a cliff of twinkling lights, made us not mind at all.

Throughout most of this trip, we have found that the days can be exciting but hot and busy and logistically challenging. However, inevitably, once we are settled in for dinner, we find so much joy in just being together. This trip, this family time, has been such a gift to me. The kids are turning into such lovely, clever, funny beautiful people, and they are fantastic dinner companions. Our daily recollections and decompressions, our off-colour observations, our debates and jokes and teasing (about everything from the state of the EU to the shape of statues pubic hair) might well be my favourite Greek memory. It has been so precious to be a family here. It truly was the perfect way to ‘graduate’ our Athena.