The Grand Finale – Santorini, Greece

I’m currently sitting in the Vienna, Austria airport for yet another layover. I’m on my tenth hour of layovers, actually, and that’s not counting the layovers I went through on the way to Greece. However, the twenty total hours of layovers to and from Greece are more than worth it. Greece was beautiful, shocking, inspiring, and just perfect in every way.

We landed in Santorini at 6am on Friday. We were absolutely exhausted after spending the night in the Athens airport. The owner of our hostel picked us up from the airport, and he was so very friendly from the start. As he drove through the winding roads and up and down the hills of the island, he pointed different places out to us that we may want to visit. We appreciated this gesture, but we were so tired we could barely keep track of anything he said. My exhaustion wasn’t the only thing distracting me, though. Santorini itself was quite a big distraction.

From the moment we landed I couldn’t believe my eyes. The Aegean Sea, the houses, the rolling hills and mountains were all so beautiful. When we got to our hostel Maya and I went straight to the black sand beach – which was only about a minute a away. We lied there and watched the beautiful sunrise. I’ve never seen a sunrise so beautiful. The water was sooo clear and blue. As the sun rose, we drifted in and out of sleep. I was so comfortable and sleepy listening to the waves crash and feeling the breeze. It was incredible to me that it was 7am and I wasn’t even a little bit cold. The sun felt so wonderful.

Considering our nap on the beach wasn’t exactly enough sleep to compensate for an entire night spent in a very uncomfortable airport, we took it easy the first day. We spent most of it on the amazing black sand beach. The sand was more like teeny tiny rocks, which was pretty great because it didn’t stick to everything like normal sand does. There were pretty little smooth rocks instead of seashells. The drawback was that black sand gets waaaaay hotter than normal sand.

Later that day, we spoiled ourselves and went to a beachside restaurant (and it wasn’t even really spoiling ourselves – we got Greek salad, an entree, and dessert for €12). It was so cool to enjoy a meal and be able to look out at the sea and feel the breeze. The Greek salad was AMAZING. It was so fresh and the feta cheese was pretty much the best part. I could live on that stuff.

Saturday was a much busier day. We traveled to Fira, the capital of Santorini, and we also traveled to Oia, home of the world’s most famous sunset. Being on a bus on those winding roads was kind of crazy. I felt like I was hanging off cliffs the entire time. It definitely put the island in perspective though. I had never been on an island before, and Santorini is so small that once you start climbing the mountains to get a good vantage point, you can see just how surrounded by water you are. It was really, really cool. It was also astonishingly beautiful.

Fira was a really cool place to explore. It was amazing to see how the houses and buildings almost stack on top of each other. We frequently had to walk up or down stairs to get to another “level” of the town. It’s really impressive that everything was built on such mountainous terrain. We could see many smaller islands in the distance, and we almost thought we saw snow on top of the mountains – then we realized we were actually seeing clusters of white buildings. It was amazing. Exploring Fira gave me even more opportunities to see so many incredible views of Santorini’s surroundings. We would walk ten feet, stop to take pictures, then walk ten more feet and stop to take more pictures. Everywhere we looked was a new beautiful view. Every time I took a picture, I kept thinking there was something wrong with my camera. Later on I figured out I was just realizing that pictures have no way of capturing just how shockingly beautiful everything was.

We ate with another magnificent view that day, and we were visited by a hungry kitty. Don’t worry, I resisted the temptation to give her my food πŸ™‚ There were animals everywhere! Cats and dogs (and donkeys) just roam around freely throughout roads, shops, and restaurants. There was a cat that visited our hostel’s pool frequently to get a drink. Most of the animals had collars, so they most likely had owners, but it was interesting to see that animals just got to chill wherever.

After Fira we traveled to Oia to watch the sunset, and I was most definitely not disappointed. It was a little cloudy, but it just made the sunset a little more colorful. It did get pretty chilly because it was VERY windy that day. We were very high up, so we were getting the brute force of the wind. It was all very worth it though. The sunset was absolutely breathtaking, and the view of Oia behind us was equally beautiful. Like I said, every time we changed places, there was a new gorgeous view.

On Sunday, Maya and I rented an ATV for the day. It was seriously the best decision ever. Santorini is a place full of a small, winding roads. There are no traffic lights and there are hardly any signs until you get to a busier area. Watching buses drive around on those tiny roads was both terrifying and impressive. That being said, ATVs, motorcycles, dirt bikes, etc, controlled the roads just as much as cars did. There were ATV rental places everywhere, and we knew it would be a great way to explore the island more. We discovered way more than we could have ever expected.

First of all, being on the ATV was just awesome. I really enjoy anything remotely similar to a roller coaster, and zooming around in the beautiful weather on those crazy roads was basically the same thing. I loved it. Our first stop was the red sand beach, which was – you guessed it – absolutely beautiful. Maya and I kept asking ourselves if a place like that could actually be real. It was absolute paradise, and I don’t think I fully understood what paradise was until I went to Santorini.

After more relaxation/tanning time on the beach, we hopped back on the ATV in search of the lighthouse. It was at the very tip of the island, so it was supposed to be yet another great view. As usual, we were completely caught off guard by what we found. I guess I was imagining a beach with a lighthouse standing there and more Aegean Sea. Nope. Wrong. I forgot that Santorini is basically a mountain on its own, and that we would most certainly be very elevated when we got to the lighthouse. It was my favorite view of the entire trip. I almost cried looking at it. There was endless, beautiful, sparkling sapphire water surrounding us. Looking down (hundreds of feet down) I could see the rocks at the bottom. That’s how clear the water was. We could see a couple smaller islands around us that were dusted with white buildings at the top. I can’t effectively describe how amazing it was. It was one of the many times during this semester that I got an idea of just how big this world is.

Then, out of nowhere, it was Monday. I woke up feeling really strange. Where did the weekend go? I did my best to try not to think about that and enjoy my last day in Santorini. We decided we just wanted to relax on the beach for the most part, so that’s what we did for the first half of the day. Monday was by far the hottest day of the trip. We were already pretty burnt from the previous three days, so the sun felt that much more brutal on our sensitive skin. We retired from the beach and found some shade. The rest of the day consisted of us being lazy by the pool or exploring. We looked through some of the souvenir shops, which were actually more like boutiques. The clothes and jewelry were so awesome and pretty! I got myself some new colorful “genie” pants πŸ™‚ We went back to a gyro place we had tried the day before for lunch. It was absolutely delicious. Greek food is amazing.

It seemed that most places in Santorini were family-owned, which makes sense. Like I said, it’s a teeny tiny island. It just made the place so much more adorable though. When the hostel owner first drove us to the hostel, he kept honking and waving at people on the street. When we’d walk around and explore we’d constantly see random exchanges between people who were just passing by each other on the street. Before long, everyone knew us, too! The owner of the place we rented an ATV from waved at us every time we passed, and the owner of the gyro shop greeted us like old friends when we came back. It was so adorable and we felt so welcome. Everyone was so friendly. Eating out wasn’t just a straightforward exchange like it usually has been. The servers/owners wanted to know where we were from, how long we were staying, they wanted to joke and have a conversation with us; it was so great. It also seemed like we were there riiiiight before peak season, so the island wasn’t crowded at all. Most restaurants were close to empty, we got to pick our favorite spot on the beach every day, and the winding roads were not even close to being packed with people.

When 9pm rolled around on Monday, the hostel owner drove us back to the airport. I couldn’t believe the trip was over. As we drove away from Perissa (the town we stayed in), the hostel owner said, “Bye bye, Perissa!” I about broke down right then and there. I was sad to leave such a wonderful place, but it was also finally hitting me that this was the end of my last trip. In about 6 hours I’ll be back in Leiden, and it will be the beginning of my last few days in my second home (I’ll hardly belong there anymore with this super dark skin I got in Santorini). I’m going to spend those days going to all of my favorite places and spending as much time outside gazing at Leiden as I can. I am so sad to leave, but I am so happy to be so close to seeing everyone at home. Santorini was the perfect end to a perfect semester full of exciting travels, and I am so very thankful for everything I’ve been able to experience.

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