Folegandros, Greece…Ahhhhhhhh

Saturday, May 9th, 2015
Our pool at sunset

Our pool at sunset

Our approach to Folegandros via ferry in the late afternoon was mysterious because Nik and I happened to be sitting on the wrong side of the boat. We never even saw the 12 square mile island until we disembarked along the narrow bridge onto the tiniest port I have ever seen.

We dropped off our bags and immediately left on foot through the pedestrian streets of Chora towards Panagia, a tiny whitewashed church outside of town. The stone foot path zigzags back and forth up a hill, and after the second hairpin turn, I was in awe. At every turn I was greeted with a panoramic view of island and sea. It was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. Ever.

Nik and I were both drooling by the time we reached the top while we tried to figure out how we could stay forever. I could open a B&B, and he could help out. There. That’s our plan. It’s simple.

The rest of our time on the island was pure bliss. We strolled through the pedestrian streets of Chora while most establishments were still closed and preparing for the summer. I swung in the main square as Nik watched a sparrow feed her chicks, and locals and travelers wandered past. We drove our rented motorbike the length of the island at least four times while sharing one pair of sunglasses. We bought bread from a tiny bakery and groceries from a tiny market. We swam at the hotel pool and played cards while sitting in beanbags watching the sun set. We found the perfect private beach and swam in the Agean Sea. We ate Greek Salads and drank local wine while sitting at outdoor cafes watching life go on. Nik attempted to pat stray cats and eventually succeeded by luring 30+ to him with leftover meat. We talked about how we wished our families could be there with us. We schemed about how we would find a way to come back.

When we left, it was sad, but at least we know. We know about this island and we know how to get there. We know that the people we encountered were kind and passionate about what they did and where they live. We know the pace and beauty match us, and we know we will be back.

One of many aloof cats in town

One of many aloof cats in town

Sunset from the Church of  Panagia

Sunset from the Church of Panagia

Favorite restaurant - Chic

Favorite restaurant – Chic

Terraced

Terraced

The island landscape

The island landscape

Seen from the road

Seen from the road

A valley into the sea

A valley into the sea

Small church in Ano Meria

Ag Georgios in Ano Meria

The primary Folegandros road

The primary Folegandros road

Agkali Beach

Agkali Beach

Fisherman and his net

Fisherman and his net

An occasional statue

An occasional statue

Dining al fresco

Dining al fresco

The adult swing in the Dounavi Square

The adult swing in the Dounavi Square

Houses of the Kastro

Houses of the Kastro

Wheat crops

Wheat crops

It's amazing to swim in water this blue

It’s amazing to swim in water this blue

Small house

Small house

The not-quite-ripe figs being a tease

The not-quite-ripe figs being a tease

Goats climbing on Panaghia

Goats climbing on Panaghia

I climbed to the top of Panaghia too

I climbed to the top of Panaghia too

In our final hours on the island

In our final hours on the island

Nik’s Blog: Relaxing Days in Folegandros

Santorini, Greece: Expectations Exceeded

Monday, May 4th, 2015
Thira sloping to the Sea

Thira sloping to the Sea

I had expectations that the Greek Islands, and Santorini in particular, would be idilic and beautiful. I knew that people came here for their honeymoons, to bask in the Mediterranean sun, and to see blue and white everywhere, and for these reasons, I expected them to be too perfect. Luckily, Santorini isn’t quite perfect in every way. It still has a life that is local, flawed, and vibrant without the polished price tag.

Yes, if you want to come on your honeymoon and stay in the whitewashed resorts with infinity pools, breakfast al fresco, Greek wine on demand, and staff dressed head to toe in white linen, that Santorini exists and is thriving. In fact, I had several moments where I desired nothing more than a deck lounger on the stepped terraces of Thira and Oia with a glass of wine in hand. But that is only one dimension of this volcanic island.

During our week here, we sought out the other side and found it quite easily. First of all, we didn’t stay in town. For our first couple nights we stayed just south of Thira so that we could walk into town, but it was a long walk. For the rest of the week we rented one of three studio apartments in a small house on the northern coast. The property is on the sea side of the main loop road, and is set down so that the main living space is below the road. While the three apartments are compact and efficient, the outdoor space is generous and opens up to the sea. The place was so nice that we had two days where we didn’t even leave. Not once. It felt like a vacation from traveling which is something we didn’t even know that we needed or wanted, and it certainly isn’t something I expected from one of the most touristic Greek Islands.

For five of our seven days, we had no transportation but our feet. This saved us some cash, but it also meant that we saw everything at a slower pace on the days when we did leave the apartment. It forced us to walk along donkey paths and through farmland that even the motorbikes and ATVs that tourists rent would not have been able to navigate and that the tour buses and rental cars could not have even come close to. Along the backroads, we saw that most of this island is occupied by farmers that bail their own hay, maintain their crops of grapes, cucumbers, tomatoes, and figs with makeshift irrigation techniques, keep livestock, and build structures by hand that can only be built out of necessity.

At the end of our countryside walks, we visited Thira and Oia which are the two main towns on the island. Both are filled with buildings stacked on top of one another where outdoor lounging trumps indoor living. The pedestrian stairs and terraces and pools and hot tubs and umbrellas and stone walls and resort-wear clad couples were all so beautiful. The towns oozed the Greek luxury lifestyle where everyone was young, sun kissed, and happy. It certainly made me wonder how deep the Santorini bubble runs. Were all of the non-locals here this week foreigners? Or were some Greek natives? Is this island boring to the Greeks? Can they even afford this given the current economic struggles? I know that I cannot answer these questions, but I ask them anyways.

For the two days that we did have wheels (a Fiat 500 because Nik has wanted to drive one of those little buggers ever since he saw one in San Francisco), we used the car to drive up and down nearly every single paved road there is on this island. We explored north, south, east, and west and drove slowly through every town on the way. We discovered half built houses and resorts at every turn, and found a few towns that I didn’t expect would exist here.

Pirgos surprised me because it is a town where local homes are actually adjacent to small inns. The town is at one of the highest points on the island giving the residents and guests  180˚-360˚ views of the island and the sea. It is pretty removed from the sea so maybe that’s why it isn’t as popular, but it is quite lovely.

The other surprises were Perisa and Kamari. These beach towns on the southeastern coast each have their own beachside “strip” for a lack of a better term. We drove south to north, so on our left were outdoor bars and occasional hotel pools, and on our right was the black sand beach lined with lounge chairs, beach umbrellas, and dining patios. Perisa seemed a little more casual and where I expect all of the college kids hang out and the focus is on the bar with grass skirts, while Kamari seemed a little more adult with dining patios outnumbering the beach loungers and espresso machines outnumbering tiki bars. But it is still low season, and there were very few people at any of the beach side establishments, so I might have my assumptions completely wrong. Regardless, if we weren’t staying at a place that had its own beach, I would definitely spend a day of my vacation in each of these towns people watching while sipping beer and eating Greek salads.

Our next stop on this adventure is Folegandros, which is a smaller island in the Agean Sea that we will reach by ferry boat this evening. I will be sad to leave our seaside haven on Santorini, and I really do hope to come back. Next time, we will convince two other couples to join us so that we have our ultimate vacation home to ourselves, I will rent a motorbike for at least one day, we will spend a day at a beachside bar, and we will hike up to Ancient Thira. Otherwise, I could only dream that my next vacation here is very much like this one. Amazing!

Tempting

Tempting

Pedestrian paths through whitewashed walls

Pedestrian paths through whitewashed walls

Church colonade

Church colonade

Donkey Paths

Donkey Paths

Quintessential

Quintessential

Oia

Oia

Resorts

Resorts

Honeymooners

Honeymooners

Daily Catch

Daily Catch

Daily Catchers

Daily Catchers

Our home for most of the week

Our home for most of the week

Ass

Ass

Modern lines

Modern lines

Unexpected undevelopment

Unexpected undevelopment

Crumbling

Crumbling

Santorini Akrotiri

Santorini Akrotiri

Southwestern Point of the Caldera

Southwestern Point of the Caldera

Plug pulled on completion

Plug pulled on completion

Soon to be beech-side bathing

Soon to be beech-side bathing

Volcanic black sand and stark white rocks

Volcanic black sand and stark white rocks

Dressed to blend in

Dressed to blend in

Farmland

Farmland

Oia in moonlight

Oia in moonlight

The northwest point of the caldera at dusk

The northwest point of the caldera at dusk