Coming straight from Paris, a new and unexpected experienced waited for me in Santorini. Back originally when this trip was starting to form, my friend Katie joked that I should meet her in Europe again this summer. “I’ve always wanted to go to Greece; we should go!”. Oh Katie, by this point you should know not to joke like that around me. I already was in talks about doing Paris with Mark, and made the suggestion to Katie that I would do it.
Three months later, I’m landing in Santorini and trying to navigate getting to our hostel without any internet. (Tip: Europe in the summer is unbelievably hot; you will sweat your body weight by just simply stepping off of an air-conditioned bus). Katie’s flight didn’t get in until late and the last bus was at midnight. After getting a semblance of wifi to communicate with Katie, I picked her up from the airport and I finally had a companion. Spending all of that alone time by myself in Paris was draining (I’m realizing as I’m writing that I’m an extrovert) with no one to talk to and experience the journey with. Katie and I spent our entire bus ride back to Fira (where we stayed) laughing and catching up and it felt so good.
Luckily I had some daylight before Katie arrived to get a feel of the island. I spent my first Santorini sunset in Oia, the city/lookout that you probably see in your head when you think of Santorini. I walked around trying to find the castle ruins that supposedly (and correctly) have the best view for sunset. If you decided to watch the sunset from this point, arrive early. I got there two hours early to get a good spot and people were already sitting and waiting. Especially in Oia, tourists come from all over the world to witness the sunset from that same vantage point.
However, getting lost in Oia isn’t exactly a bad thing. Every turn flashes the blues of the Mediterranean, the whites of the cliffside rooftops. Cats on every stairwell. My own personal heaven.
It took me about an hour, but I finally found the castle ruins (with no directions I might add). I set up camp and befriended some other tourists while we watched the sun say goodbye. A street performer sang “Wonderwall” to keep morale up. The sun’s glow felt warm and comforting. Another thing about Santorini: at least in Oia, everyone applauds the sunset, because it’s just that surreal. Have I seen better sunsets? Yeah, probably. But I found that the atmosphere, the experience, the camaraderie was the real draw.
For the best view: Head towards the Byzantine Castle Ruins, go into, up, down, and around the actual ruins for the best lookout. To get an unobstructed view, get there early and sit along the edge so no one can sit in front of you.
Cliff Jumping in Ammoudi Bay
While researching for this trip, I asked some old college friends who had studied abroad in Europe (and visited Santorini) for their best recommendations. Each and every one of them said without a doubt to go cliff jumping in Ammoudi Bay.
Me? Cliff Jump? Hell. No.
When Katie and I went over our top musts, she said she wanted to do it. Mhm, I guess I’ll go with her but I won’t jump. After showing her around Oia, we started the 300 step descent to Ammoudi Bay. I was already dreading the trek back up, but more on that later. We walked past seaside bars and restaurants and through the rocky hike to the cove. Once we actually arrived, I felt something similar to what would happen if peer pressure and FOMO had a baby. I knew I would beat myself up for it if I didn’t do this one crazy thing that would take maybe 5 minutes to do.
Katie and I swam to the big rock that hosted the “cliff”. Turns out, it was a concrete platform decorated in what looked like pearls and stones. You hoist yourself up on the rock by a DIY rope ladder and then walk up the steps to the platform. Mentally, I kept saying to myself “you have to just jump and get it over with”. I proclaimed to my group (Katie and a stranger we befriended on the swim over) that I would go first.
WTH? WHO AM I? And yep, I was the first to jump.
It didn’t look high from the top, but man, it felt high when I was falling. I legitimately had enough time to contemplate why I wasn’t hitting the water yet. Salt water rushed through my nose. Adrenaline, stinging pain, relief. If I ever go back, I would do it again, but for that day, once was enough for me.
The Best Decision I’ll Ever Make For 6€
Now about that trek back up to Oia. I climbed almost 300 steps to reach the top of the Eiffel Tower, but that was different. Those were small, metal stairs that spiraled with flat breaks in between in the form of gift shops or informational exhibits. These 300 steps back to the top were uneven dirt patches (covered in donkey poop) about a few feet long each, not to mention at a steep incline.
On our way down, we saw a group of donkeys herded along the bottom of the steps. A few tourists had passed us on donkeys as well, but we assumed it would cost an arm and a leg for something like that. So when we looked up at our impending journey, we were desperate.
“How much is a ride back up?” “Six euro.” *delirious laughter and disbelief* “Oh my gosh we are so doing this.”
Let me tell you, it was worth every cent and more. Katie and I laughed the entire ride up, my donkey sped ahead of the pack, we almost fell off ours at separate times. Every person we passed, we would yell (unsolicited) how worth it the ride would be. Days, weeks after I came home when people would ask about the best parts of my trip, I would respond immediately “riding a donkey for six euros” and burst out laughing.
The Best Ice Cream Of My Life
I’ve probably mentioned before that I’m dairy-free or at least milk-free. I still eat cheese (my kryptonite) but I tend to pass on anything that’s primarily milk, aka ice cream, cream cheese, yogurt, etc. But when in Europe, I’m a whole new person. Their dairy doesn’t contain the hormones and preservatives that ours does in America, so I let my dairy freak flag fly. Berthillon in Paris will always have a special place in my heart, but the absolute best ice cream in my entire life was from Lolita’s in Oia. I stumbled upon it during my first day and Katie and I visited multiple times over the course of the next few days. My go-to order: one scoop of lemon and orange sorbets each, one scoop of yogurt (imagine Pinkberry’s original tart flavor but better), and one scoop of drumroll… Greek viagra. Milk ice cream with honey swirl and candied hazelnuts. I still dream about Greek viagra, y’all it was that good.
Our Last Night in Fira
For our last night, we played it cool. A sunset, cliffside dinner in Fira with a glass of rosé and a variety of meats and pita. After the sunset you could hear the applause from Oia, miles away. Our waiter rolled his eyes: “Don’t tell me you guys clapped for a sunset! It’s just a sunset!”. Sir, you aren’t wrong. But your sunsets are different. I miss those Santorini sunsets.