This is the first year as far back as I can remember that I did not go to grandma’s with Laur to color Easter eggs. It has always been one of my favorite traditions… along with getting dressed up in pretty, spring dresses for the Easter church service and eating far too many Reese’s eggs for a girl to count. Although I wish I was there today with my family to celebrate, I can’t say that I’m hating laying out by the pool in the 70 degree weather in Santorini, Greece.
The past few days have been nothing but amazing. Best. Spring break. EVER! And we still have two more days ahead of us. I flew to Greece with my friend Olivia and we were met at the airport by Nikos, the hotel manager. He drove us to the hotel, giving us many restaurant and day trip recommendations, and Greek 101 lessons along the way. After showing us around he informed us that he was going to upgrade us to a superior suite! Needless to say, we loved Nikos from day 1. After resting at the hotel for a bit, we got ready and went out for our first Greek dinner. We went to a restaurant called Naoussa, where I ordered dolmades, grapevine leaves stuffed with rice. They were… interesting. Not something I would ever order again, but I am glad I tried it. For dessert we stopped at a bakery where I got milopita, a Greek version of apple pie with cinnamon. Definitely made up for the grape leaves!
The next day we got the full Greek experience. First, we had breakfast by the pool. Greek yogurt with honey, a Greek cake with jam and orange juice! I now love Greek yogurt with honey and look forward to it every morning. We then made our way to the city center, only about a five minute walk from the hotel. Most of the houses and buildings are all white cave houses with pastel blue, pink or orange domes and doors. The colors and houses make me so happy; they are the cutest in the world. We then took a cable car down to the port, where we got on a sail boat for a boat cruise to the volcano. We got off at the volcano and had over an hour to hike to the top and enjoy the amazing view. I loved this volcano hike much more than Mt. Vesuvius, as it was so warm out and instead of snow on the volcano, there were gorgeous pink flowers and large straw umbrella awnings and benches to sit on along the way in case you got tired.
After the volcano we got back on the boat to go to the hot springs. Once there, people began to strip down and jump in. Now you would think that when I saw everyone’s faces turning pale white when they jumped in and heard their gasps, I would have known better than to get in the water… but it appears that I didn’t pick up on those clues. A lady at the front of the boat saw me hesitating and promised that if I didn’t do it, I would regret it forever. So with that, I stripped down to my bikini and plunged into the Aegean Sea. I can’t even describe the first few minutes in the water. I literally could not breathe. All air was sucked out of me and I was left coughing for air and laughing from shock at the same time. It was the coldest water I have ever felt in my entire life. I was then informed that I had to swim 15 meters to get to the hot springs. So, after urging Olivia to hurry into the water, I began to swim like a fish. Olivia had to turn around and get back on the boat because it was that intolerable, but I was so determined. If only I knew that when arriving at the “hot springs,” the water would be only about five degrees warmer. “Where is it hot?!” I gasped when I arrived near the other jumpers. “Nowhere!” they all replied through chattering teeth. So, ten seconds later they all began the swim back to the boat. Not wanting to get stuck in the arctic cold water waiting in line at the boat’s ladder, I waited for five minutes and tried to build my courage to start back. God was probably a bit confused as to why I was so worried about the small swim, considering how He’s carried me through this entire study abroad experience so far, but I prayed the entire way back that I would have enough breath to make it back to the boat. HOT springs?!?! Yea no. Worthwhile experience? Absolutely. (We were then informed that there were storms and heavy rains for the past three days before we arrived and that may be why the water was so cold. Thanks for the late notice buddies).
Instead of taking the cable car back up to the city center, we opted for donkey rides!!! It was a bit scary as the old, Greek men were a bit rough and pushy and the donkeys literally ran up all 600 some steep steps, but it was one of the coolest things I have ever done. We then did some souvenir shopping and then I ordered my first gyro for lunch! It was so good! I can’t believe I would never try them before at the fair. We then went back to the hotel and relaxed by the pool for the rest of the afternoon before getting ready for dinner. We ended up at the cutest little outside restaurant where we ordered waffles. Waffles are apparently a big deal in Greece! Who knew? I ordered a waffle with fresh fruit and honey. It was delicious! The entire day felt like it was straight out a movie. I had the perfect day in Greece.
The next day we went to the Red Beach, apparently the only Red Beach in the world. It was cool to see. Along the way we stopped at a little house where a lady was selling homemade wines, honey and other small products. She let us taste the wine and figs, which reminded me of fig newtons from home. That night we ended up at another waffle place for a late dinner/dessert. This time I ordered a waffle with caramel baked apples, cinnamon and honey… with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. SO good! When we got back, Nikos said “Why are you girls here?! Why are you not out? Have fun! I take you out!” So, we agreed to go out the next night for dinner.
Yesterday morning we hopped on a bus to Pyrgos, where we saw the cutest cave houses and got to go inside a Greek orthodox cathedral. It was so different than all of the Italian cathedrals I have seen and it was so cool to compare the two cultures. The wind however made it almost impossible to see anything. It was brutal and I had both eyes shut or was blind from the sand and dirt in my eye about 90% of the time.
That night we got all dressed up and went with Nikos, and his friend George, to Naoussa. He made reservations for 10 p.m. and told us it usually gets very crowded around then since Greeks eat dinner around 9:30 every night! And I thought 8:00 was late for dinner in Italy! He recommended that I try a traditional Greek dish called moussaka, a sort of casserole with ground meat, eggplant and potatoes. I never thought I liked eggplant and I am definitely not a fan of any meat besides chicken, but when will I ever get to come back to Greece? So, I ordered moussaka and loved it! It is my favorite dish I have had here. It reminded me of lasagna, but it was even better.
We sat and talked for over two hours and learned so much about Greek culture. We learned that without donkeys, Santorini would not be the same as it is today. When building cave houses, the Greeks would have to hang by harnesses. There was no way to put rocks on a truck or cart so high up, so the donkeys would carry the rocks up and down the narrow paths. Without them, the architecture would be completely different. Also, most of the buildings have arcs and domes because of an earthquake that previously shook Santorini. The construction of the arcs allowed for more stable buildings.
I asked Nikos if he plans on staying in Santorini for a while and he said he doesn’t make plans anymore. “When you make plans, the gods are laughing,” he said. After much insisting that we were way too full, Nikos and George still ordered two traditional Greek desserts for our table to share. When I tried to give Nikos money for our meal, he said it was an insult and that they covered the bill. George drove us back to the hotel and said goodnight, followed by “be my Facebook friend!”
Although I am sad I am missing Easter at home today, we are going to take a bus to Oia, to watch the “world’s most beautiful sunset” and I don’t think that’s such a bad substitute.