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From Santorini to the Sky

Our last day on Santorini left us with many hours before our flight. So I stayed back to pack, while my traveling companions decided to try the famed trail to Oia (not a boot-friendly experience).  They knew they didn’t have time for the whole thing, but it was good for them to get out for a bit.

 

 

 

Afterwards, it was time for a last Santorini stroll — and a little souvenir shopping.    Built on a hillside, the town is a warren of tiny, twisty, stair-ridden streets. Both of my travel companions were looking for some clothing — especially the flowy white cotton garments seen everywhere.  While we meandered, we plotted — at least, the girl and I did.  We plied HWSNBN with another donkey beer (the only way we would support the donkey trade here.  Was not about to make one of those poor creatures carry me up the hillside).  Then, through much pleading, teasing and cajoling, we got him where we never thought he’d go: to a fish pedicure.

I have always wanted to try one, and Singer Girl was all in.  You may remember us discussing it in Dubrovnik, where HWSNBN declared the whole thing was a figment of our imagination.  Nope!  He cringed and giggled through the whole thing, but he did it. In the picture below, you will notice all the fishies on the left side of my left foot: that’s where the break was.  It was like they KNEW!

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We had a last lunch at Argo, our fave restaurant in town (http://www.argo-restaurant-santorini.com/menu), then it was time to jet.  I had previously remarked how seamless the trip had been so far.  Everything I had arranged had not only lived up to expectations, but surpassed them.  Stupid woman.  Should’ve known that I would curse things by saying that.

A shuttle van was supposed to pick us up — and it was late.  We were a little panicky, and when we got to the airport the lines were forever long, and we couldn’t figure out where to go.  After consulting with many different people, we finally were told to get our butts to the front of the line (as at this point we were pushing it timewise).  We rushed frantically — only to realize: no planes were leaving.  Don’t know why.  But no  planes were going anywhere.  We stood in the increasingly crowded, unairconditioned airport.  It was awful: I actually started worrying about some of the elderly people as the breathing room lessened.

 

 

Suddenly they announced our flight — so joined a long line, up and down a staircase, to get there.  Then it was another line to get onto the little shuttle buses, all the while not sure if we were on the right one going to the correct plane.  Finally boarded for the short, 40 minute flight to Athens.  All this delay was worrying me especially, as we had surprise dinner reservations late that evening for which we could not be late!

Safely in Athens, we found our prearranged taxi and headed to our cool but crazy rental. This was our first stop in a true city, so the high rises, graffiti and traffic were not a pleasant shock. I think when you travel to large cities you instinctively are a bit more wary than when in smaller towns.  There is a faster pace, and more issues with getting places and concerns of rough neighborhoods.  The first time I visited Europe, it was to Rome. It took awhile getting used to the trash and graffiti, but I have since realized that neither are necessarily an indication of a crime-ridden ghetto; it’s just different than what I am used to.

So while in the back of my mind I was nervous pulling into our rather industrial looking neighborhood, I was keeping an open mind. I am relentless in my research, and the reviews for our apartment were beyond reproach, but you never really know until you turn that doorknob.  We were not disappointed.  I had informed Singer Girl of the special highlight of our place, but not HWSNBN, so he was a bit amazed when we entered.

The apartment had a retractable roof.

No, really.

There were trees in the living room, and so much room we could’ve slept a dozen or more people in the two bedroom, 2 bath place.  But it was just us three, and we had places to go.  Check out the listing at https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/16935208

Our dinner was walking distance away. We were staying in a newly hip neighborhood known as Ghazi, were an old gas works had been turned into an entertainment complex.  Dinner was there — above it.  165 feet above it.

We were dining at Dinner in the Sky, Athens. We had time for a pre-dinner ouzo, a first for me and Singer Girl.

IMG_2063Both agreed we liked it very much! Then it was a mandatory potty break before getting strapped into our seats.

Yes, strapped in — like going on a roller coaster.  Then a crane hoisted us up up up — the view of Athens and the Acropolis and the biggest moon ever was amazing.  We had a prearranged dinner menu, and the many courses were prepared in the middle of our “table.” We had two servers supplying us with cocktails the whole time, with rock music blaring and so many different languages laughing around us.

 

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Learn more at https://dinnerinthesky.gr/en/.  I will totally be looking for more locations on future travels!

The next morning we were getting ready to go explore when the travel curse reared its ugly head again.  Singer Girl realized she had lost her passport.  While my travel companions searched frantically, I called our taxi.  No dice.  Then I called the airport.  Somehow, amazingly, I reached the right person, and he told me they had found it in the airplane seat pocket (always check that before deplaning, folks). So we all ventured to the train station (which was conveniently just a couple of blocks away). But there we split up. They went to the airport while I went and did something I alone wanted to do: watch the changing of the guard at the Presidential mansion.

Unfortunately, I got there too late for the official big ceremony, but just getting to see them in their traditional garb, stylistically marching back and forth in a manner reminiscent of giant horses, was cool enough.

 

I wandered around a bit more while waiting for them to return.

 

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We reconnected and headed to our original detaination, the Monastiraki flea market.  Yes, there were plenty of touristy trinkets, but if we had lived there I would have bought so much.  So many quirky, funky things, from cannons to charm bracelets.

 

HWSNBN wanted to cook dinner in the apartment, so we looked for food stores. Unfortunately, food markets are not open on Sundays, so we really struggled to find what we wanted.  But a little pasta, some cheese, olive and wine, and we were just fine.  We chilled on the couch watching a World Cup match before heading out for the main event(in our eyes): Croatia v Denmark. Next it was off to the apartment to shower and change for our last World Cup game.  I had found a sports bar (aptly named the Athens Sports Bar, http://www.athenssportsbar.com/) and we headed towards the train in our Croatia garb!

 

I love these bars where there are so many different cultures and languages.  The Denmark fans sat on one side, we sat on the other, and a gaggle of Canadians (it was Canada day sat in the middle.  Singer Girl is fascinated with the idea of Canada, so she loved chatting with them.  We had a great conversation with a couple Englishmen who now live in Athens about soccer in Europe vs the US.  And, of course: Croatia won! One last nightcap, and we headed back home to get rest up for a day of sight seeing — and our last full day in Europe.

 

Staying Awhile on a Greek Isle

On our second full day in Santorini, we had a boat to catch.

I’d booked a day cruise through Sunset Oia (https://sailing-santorini.com/), and they picked up us and all the other passengers then dropped us off at the harbor.  The group in the boat came from all over — the US, Germany, China, Australia and France. One of my favorite things about Europe is how many different voices you hear!

The winds were better than the day before, but they were still bad enough that they needed to come up with an alternate itinerary: no anchoring at the famed red and white beaches.  Disappointed for sure, but we withheld judgement.  Hard to complain on a catamaran, wine in hand, sailing around the Greek Isles.

Our first stop was the volcanic mud baths.  I was thrilled to be able to get into  the water! Jumped off the boat and did a three limbed swim (actually my broken foot tried to help.  But it really flailed more than floated).  When we reached the shallow area, I bobbed about on a pool noodle, while HWSNBN slathered my foot in the volcanic mud.  Like the salt lake in Croatia, they were said to have healing properties.  I was not turning down that opportunity!

Our little swim time was short lived: it was time to head to another destination. Once we dropped anchor, it was time to swim, or sun, or drink.  Meanwhile, the crew grilled us up a beautiful lunch, which we enjoyed almost as much as the scenery.

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Our last stop of the day was a chance for those who were brave — and not broken — to go cliff diving.  HWSNBN and Singer Girl were all in.  I was jealous! All I could do was take pictures.

After the van dropped us back at our hotel, we napped for a few then it was time for our last night in Santorini.  Singer Girl needed some phone time with Drummer Boy, so HWSNBN and I went to dinner, just the two of us. We had a wonderful time watching the sunset while gorging at Metropolis (http://metropolisstr.restaurant/)

Singer Girl joined us near the end of the meal (just in time for dessert!), and then we looked for some of that famed Santorini nightlife.  I had heard of a bar that was supposed to be fun and had a great drink menu, but I swear we wandered around and around and couldn’t find it.  GPS kept telling is we were RIGHT THERE (the next day, in broad daylight we realized it was above us, on the second story.  So we felt stupid.).  But we managed to find a really loud place that Singer Girl liked but HWSNBN hated it.  One cocktail ad we moved on to a cute, quiet place that was showing the world cup highlights from past years, so we were happy. We also saw this dog:

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The next day it would be goodbye to Santorini, and hello to Athens.  A day filled with hungry fish and dinner 165 feet in the air…

Santorini: a postcard or reality?

We’ve all seen the pictures and posters and instagram shots: white buildings, skies, seas and roofs of bright blue.  Touches of red and pink from doors and Bougainvillea.  Santorini.

I’ve wanted to visit since my high school best friend Kelly went there during a summer abroad in college.  Now, I may have been more enthralled at the time with tales of a sexy night life, but no matter.  When Singer Girl said she wanted to go to Athens, I knew this detour would be on the agenda.

Visually this place does not disappoint.

This was the only time on our European Adventure that we stayed in a hotel.  There simply were no VRBOs/AirbnBs that met my criteria: namely, a view and I had to feel like I was living in one of those postcards, walking distance to nightlife (even if this married 50-year-old with her 18-year-old daughter in tow didn’t harbor the same ambitions as her 20-year-old single, non role model self).

We stayed at the Aigialos hotel (http://www.aigialos.gr/). Again: transportation was arranged, and again we were grateful.  Santorini was even harder for to navigate than anywhere we had been before.  Wacky little streets that led to nowhere and everywhere at the same time, none of which went in straight lines, are charming when strolling in a sundress with a white wine afterglow — but suck when travel tired, dragging suitcases in a boot.

The staff was charming  and gracious.  They made sure we were settled, then had us pre-order our breakfast, which we chose to eat pool side (I was eager to try the traditional Greek yogurt with honey: yum!). Our room was a charming suite: one long room with a bedroom for HWSNBN and myself, 2 bathrooms, and two couches for Singer Girl to pick from.  White washed, blue accents, heavy dark wood touches.  Love! Great combo of old charm and new comforts.  I highly recommend this place!

We woke up to a VERY windy day, which, when you are on the side of a massive hill overlooking the sea, is impressive.  But it couldn’t compete with the view!

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We had a few hours to explore before a winery tour in the afternoon, so off we went!

My only disappointment with Santorini was the crowds and the obvious catering to tourists (yes, I knew we were part of that crowd).  I also know that there are other islands to try, but we will do that on a later trip. I love a city built for wandering — like Venice, Paris, Dubrovnik, Rome. Places where you can’t always see what’s coming up, so you are often delightfully startled by the unexpected.  Throw in amazing architecture, wandering dogs, and brilliant color and I am all in!

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We found an amazing gallery, where artist Eduart Gjopalaj’s turned natural woods into “paintings,” baskets, shapes and fantasies (he had carved wood that looked like volcanic rock hanging from the ceiling.  Brilliant!).  He was so friendly and helpful.  He told us he stumbled into the field, that he had been working construction and slowly started realizing that he could create beautiful things from the wood.  I would not be opposed to finding something from him under my Christmas tree (HWSNBN? Are you listening?).

You can see more about Eduart at this link: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g658914-d8116501-Reviews-Eduart_Gjopalaj-Kamari_Santorini_Cyclades_South_Aegean.html

After an amazing lunch, we went home to get ready for wine! I had insisted we have a solid meal in our bellies, as my experience with wine tastings is that food is not optional if you want to make it through.  However: this wine tasting tour was unlike anything I had ever been on before.

Our wine tour was with Iliana of Santorini Wine Trails (www.santoriniwinetrails.gr). She picked us up and we headed out with a honeymooning young couple who, originally from Chicago, had relocated to Arkansas.  A dry county in Arkansas, unbeknownst to them.  They were especially excited about the tour!

There were many reasons I wanted to do a wine tour.  Yes, I love wine.  But HWSNBN and I know little about wines outside the US, so we like to be educated.  And I wanted Singer Girl to learn about wine from us, not from some crappy cheap bottle of fortified fruity crap snuck into a dorm room.  Plus: wine.  In Greece.  ‘Nuff said (but you know me: I gotta say more).

Our first stop was an actual vineyard. Santorini does it differently than most places in the world,  Since the ground is arid and volcanic, and irrigation so expensive the vines aren’t staked up like I am used to seeing. Instead, they have this intricate method called “kouloura” (learn more about it here:  http://www.newwinesofgreece.com/the_santorini_akoulouraa/en_the_santorini_akoulouraa.html).  The vines are shaped into baskets, year after year, and vines can grow that way for a hundred years or more.  We tried to take pictures, but they weren’t great:

The field looks like this:

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Someone attempting to sneak a grape might look like this:

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Then we were off to our first of three wineries, Gaia (http://www.gaiawines.gr/visits-santorini-eng/) . The first winery was my favorite in terms of setting. I mean, hard to not love a winery set basically on the beach.

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I am used to bread, and maybe a little cheese, when wine tasting. This put that to shame.  We were served a phenomenal platter of olives, cheese, meat, bread and more.  In fact, all three wineries fed us so much I almost wish we had skipped lunch!

Next up was a much more modern place, Estate Argyros (http://estateargyros.com/home.html).  The winery was lovely — it has been around for more than 100 years but they have recently renovated the tasting rooms.  It’s stunning –   all steel and glass and polished concrete — but not my personal taste.  I prefer something that feels old.  But the wine (and food!) were great!

Iliana piled us all into her van, and we headed back north towards Ios.  We would be at this winery close to sunset, which is always my favorite time of day.  Here, at Domaine Sigalas (https://www.sigalaswinetasting.com/), we were given course after course of food, glorious food! We sat under a grape arbor, in the glowing late afternoon sun, laughing with the vintner, Iliana and our newlywed friends.  Delicious wine, knowledgable hosts, fun companions. What more could a girl want?

Iliana dropped us back off and we climbed the whitewashed hills to our hotel room.  Singer Girl and HWSNBN decided to catch up on emails and stuff, and I went outside to grab a few photos as the day’s last light left us.

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When I got back, it was time for a little reality check: while HWSNBN snored, Singer Girl and I spent the a few hours setting up her college schedule.  It was a stark reminder that we needed to cherish these moments together, because every day she was closer to leaving us. We went to bed exhausted, determined to make the next day — and all the rest — count even more.

 

Last Dance with Dubrovnik

Fantasy Island was in our rear view: now it was time for futbol.

We limp-hustled to the apartment, switched out some last minute laundry (can I tell you how much fun it was to use that old school clothes line, watching our modern day duds flap in the breeze above that ancient wall?), and head to our recommended venue: an Irish Pub.  I knew we were late, as usual.  HWSNBN thought I was exagerating, as usual.  We arrived to a SRO venue, and I resigned myself to stand for the next few hours.  But the atmosphere was great: on the patio they were going to show the Argentina game, inside the main event (Croatia v Iceland).  Drinks were flowing, and food looked fanatastic. But HWSNBN did not want to stand, so left and found ANOTHER Irish pub around the corner. We managed to squeeze into a table when some non-soccer fans scurried out.  That was the good news.  Bad news? No food would be served any longer, and the bar would only sell beer.  Singer Girl was displeased.  During halftime they had to wander off in search of sustenance!

We were cozy with another table — a couple from Norway.  They were rooting for Iceland, but we liked them anyway.

Croatia won! It was fun, but not the same frenzied joy as when we were in the park in Split — but still awesome to be there.

The night was young, even if two-thirds of us weren’t.  We wandered around the electric city, finding areas we hadn’t yet explored.

 

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We found an odd little corner, nestled up against the southwestern edge of the wall. It was mostly residential, with so many cats it felt like a trap.  Like the cats were in charge, as they lured my companions into a small square…

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I stayed behind, just in case I needed to fetch help. but my surroundings were just as creepy:

Yes.  That is a guillotine.

We decided to wander elsewhere, and hopefully find a little liquid courage.

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We closed the place down, and headed back for our final Croatian sleep.  In the morning, we had to be out of the apartment by 11, but we were allowed to leave our luggage there.  Our wonderful hosts texted me in the morning and said that becasue it was raining, we could stay until we departed for the airport, which was more than generous.  The rain wasn’t enough to keep us inside — we had shopping to do.  So with the treachery of slippery steps in mind, we ventured forth.

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We finally got a good, uncrowded shot of the infamous “Steps of Shame” from GOT fame.  Did you know that was the single most expensive television scene ever shot, as they producers not only had to shut down several streets, they had to pay all the retailers on those streets.  Worth it, though.  The steps themselves? Go to the Jesuit high school one of our tour gides attended!

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Every time we went up this staircase, HWSNBN suggested I reenact it (you know, nekkid).  I politely declined, but if I had, I would’ve availed myself of the nearby bar’s tribute cocktails: IMG_9940

Another thing Dubrovnik is famous for is having the oldest working pharmacy in Europe.  Originally part of a Fransciscan monastery, it was founded in 1317.  They didn’t allow photos inside, but these are some shots of the surrounding grounds (with some more doors to feed my obsession):

I tried to google translate the Italian above the door, and it has something to do with beating an infernal enemy.  Dante’s Inferno was published a few years after this place opened shop, so maybe it was kind of the in thing. You know, hell and purgatory and all that.  Good times.

So. Shopping.

We were looking for a few different things.  I was smitten with the traditional Dubrovnik jewelry — fillagree metal balls were in stores all over the city, and we searched street by street until I found the one shop I had seen the day before that looked more traditional than all the rest.

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I wanted one for a Christmas ornament, but one of that size would’ve cost me a thousand dollars.  So I hemmed and hawed and pondered and finally settled on one as a pendant.  Singer Girl also found some fantastic keepsake jewelry.  If you are in the area, go see the father-daughter team at Beni, od puca 25 (that’s the address).  Singer Girl couldn’t decide what she wanted, so they created something on teh spot — took one bracelet, cut it down to her size, and made earrings out of the removed pieces.  Very cool, very special.

Our last stop was to get a necktie for Drummer Boy.  Why? Evidently the cravat was invented in Croatia.  Who knew?

Purchases in hand, it was time to retrieve our luggage and head to the airport. It was not easy saying goodbye to Croatia. What had started as an afterthought, the second fiddle to our trip to Greece, ended up being so much more. But now we turned our eyes southward, to the land of gods.  First stop: Santorini.  I’ll save the details for the next entry, but I’ll tease you with these snaps of our hotel upon arrival:

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