Kalimera from Greece
This morning I woke up in a pension off the main road in Fira, on the island of Santorini in Greece. I didn’t realize I’d booked a hostel until after we’d arrived, and aside from paper-thin towels and a parade of tiny bugs that march up the shower wall, it is actually not a bad place to lay for the night. The bed is firm but forgiving, and there’s a rooftop patio with umbrellas that provide adequate shade from the blazing June sun. In the mornings, between the hours of 08:00 and 10:00, they lay out a meager breakfast spread of weak tea and strong coffee, sliced bread and a buffet of bland, disc-shaped cereals. Greeks are not very big on breakfast–they go heavy for lunch and dinner- but they try to accommodate the people from places where they are. We are from New York City, where Sundays are built around where you go for brunch, so we do that down the street, in an outdoor garden cafe surrounded by huge terracotta planters filled with mint, basil and fragrant thyme.
I’m traveling back home today after our 11-day vacation in Greece, and this was the third place we stayed in, which has made it feel like three separate vacations in one. We spent our first three and a half days in Athens, in a rented flat in the center of hectic, touristy Plaka, where we took selfies in the shadow of the Parthenon and ate baklava in the pouring rain while crouched on flat green cushions on the famous Plaka steps, where locals drink Nescafe in tall, skinny glasses and smoke cigarettes one after another. We walked around and sat for hours in tiny cafes, eating grilled meats and pita and feta until our stomachs bulged, then walked around a few hours more. A seven-hour time difference resulted in restless, fitful sleep so we watched the Before Sunrise series, part one two and three, because they’re my very favorite, but also because there’s no better time or place to watch them than when traveling through Europe with the person you love walking around with.
Up next was a quick flight to the dreamy Santorini, where’d we’d booked our first three nights in Oia with its famous blue-domed churches and labrynth of winding cave dwellings built into a steep hill, the village they smartly photograph for all their postcards. On my 40th birthday, I woke up in a cave with cool gray walls, then stepped onto our bone-white patio to face the Aegean Sea. I shared the footpath with donkeys carrying crates of onions and bright red tomatoes on their backs, and drank icy frappes (medium sweet) on balconies that peeked over the spectacular caldera. I crawled down a narrow set of stairs into a little pipsqueak of a bookstore so magical I felt like a child discovering books for the very first time. For dinner, we hiked down 300 wide stone steps to the edge of the sea, where we watched tiny fishing boats and large charters pull up front to catch the famous Oia sunset while we ate a kilo of flounder pulled straight out of the water, flecked with salt before laid to rest on an outdoor grill. As the waiter cleared our plates, a colorful burst of fireworks arm-wrestled the stars and just as a plate of freshly fried loukamades dripping with honey and cream was placed before us, a group of handsome waiters from Athens walked through the winding decks singing Happy Birthday, until they finally reached our table and magically walked right past it, gathering around the girl sitting just behind me. I turned around and wished her a happy day too.
And now we’re here in bustling but beautiful Fira, where there are more scooters than cars and tourists than locals. It’s so hot I ran out of clothes, so a few days ago I pretended I was a local girl and washed a few dresses and underthings in my bathroom sink with a bar of soap and hung them to dry. Yesterday we ate gyros for $2.50 and swam in our strangely-shaped pool, which was mostly occupied by 23-year-olds staying from Ohio and Canada, who sleep here in a shared dorm with rickety bunk beds, just the way I did when I first traveled to New York. They are too young to care about sun hats and I don’t even envy their undimpled thighs and unlined foreheads, because I know our food budget for this trip has been much higher than theirs, and at this point in my life, that’s what really matters.