Santorini is an adjective-rich environment. Words like stupendous, splendiferous, astounding, monumental, breath-taking, and wonderous could all be used (sometimes several to a sentence) to describe what might be the most beautiful island that I have ever been to. It is simply… stunning. For the life of me I cannot understand how anyone would wish to approach this island by air, although it too might have a phenomenal approach, when arriving by sea is an option. As the ferry approaches the collection of islands referred to locally as Thira, people rush the catwalks, all jostling for a view and a prime camera position, and leaving me to worry that the boat might begin to list to one side. And the approach view is… miraculous! Vast 300 meter high cliffs rise from a central lagoon bordered by several islands which together make up the islands of Thira. The remnants of a huge volcanic eruption, that occurred sometime before lunch on August the 4th, 1589 BC, these islands are geologically remarkable (something that Ashley never ceases to geek out on), and home to some of the most extraordinary towns, well… anywhere. Small white houses with the traditional blue shutters and doors sit high atop the cliffs, looking down on the lagoon and all who arrive. The new arrivee can only think, “I want to be, I MUST BE, up there.” So, let’s add this up, volcanoes, huge lagoon, 300 meter cliffs, boats, blue ocean, black sand beaches, fresh seafood, spectacular views, picturesque towns and friendly locals. Sounds like the recipe for a pretty good time, eh! Oh, and did I mention it is the location almost universally recognized as having the most staggering, striking and magical sunsets on the planet?
Now that I have released all of that synonym research it is important to note that all of this beauty does come with a pretty steep price. It is, unfortunately, not yours to covet all on your own. At anytime you must digest this entire splendor with thousands of other like-minded people, each processing it in their own unique way. Tourists, almost always, disappoint me. But before pointing out that I am indeed one of the aforementioned visitors, please allow me to illustrate what I mean. It is my concerted effort while visiting another’s country to do my best to speak their language (even if I massacre it), eat their food, follow their cultural traditions and respect their habits. While in many places this is not a difficult thing to accomplish and witness in other visitors, in Santorini (because of its popularity) they commit the equivalent of opening an underage bar. They let everyone in, even the stupid pre-teens who can’t hold their booze and wind up throwing up all over the floor. Walking down a narrow crowded street it is easy to hear the following, “Edgar, look at that pearl necklace, only 2500 euro, are these real pearls like we have in England, or are they Greek pearls?”. Another if you please, “Terry, I’m so hung-over from last night mate, this Greek beer is shit, I wish we could get some fucking VB.” And to finish my point, “Earl, can’t we go to a restaurant with real food tonight? I’m sick of all this funny cheese, oil and fish.” So, having established my point, it would be fair to say that during our visit to Santorini, along with all the splendor, wonder and appropriate oohhhing and arrring, it was a fairly common occurrence to wish for the opportunity to relieve the world of a few people that should not have been allowed to live in the first place.
Sailing around the lagoon on our second day (in addition to being enormously helpful from a geologic point-of-view) also mitigated the influx of stupid people. We visited Nea Kameni, climbing the barren slopes to a sulfur spewing crater surrounded by igneous and metamorphic rocks that Ashley assures me are geologically significant. We leaped from the boat into the cool Aegean Sea and swam ashore to bathe in the warm, iron rich waters of hot springs on Palea Kamini (Lily – trooper that she is – came with us and made the journey on Daddy’s back). We visited the outlying island of Therasia, which, unexpectedly, was heaven-on-earth. Free of idiotic tourists asking for a “Coke with ice, not just a few ice cubes, but a respectable amount of ice,” Theresa is a oasis of calm, traditional Greek culture and great seafood. Partaking of the fresh squid skewered with local vegetables only left a small window of time to visit the village perched high atop a cliff. Free of vehicles of any kind, the locals still use mules to transport all commodities to and from the port. It was wonderful!
Finally we landed at Oia (pronounced EE-ya), reputedly the – previously mentioned – possessor of the greatest sunset in all of Christendom. Sitting amongst the hordes, looking out across the waters of the Aegean I felt unexpectedly joined to my solar-worshipping compatriots – numbskulls included. Whether we came via a slow ferry, airplane or multimillion dollar yacht we were all here to see the sun go to bed. As my daughter sang “Mr. Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun… Mr. Sun goes to beeeeddddd” I looked around me suddenly felt a sense of solidarity, and forgave the tourists their infractions. The sun went to bed and everyone clapped, celebrating the wonder of nature they had just witnessed. For once everyone was not watching TV, no one was surfing the internet and no one was buying porn at the news-agent that stood just a few yards from the outlook we now stood on. Everyone was breathless at a sight that should be routine to them, but was made anew because of the wonders of Santorini. So thanks Santorini, despite all else you gave me something that I will take to my grave. You allowed a cynic to show his daughter and wife the ‘greatest sunset in the world” and share it with thousands of other assholes.