(Church in Oia, Thira overlooking Aegean and Fira in background)
I’m now months behind on updates, which is pretty terrible considering all of the free time I have here. So quickly—-Christmas and New Years! I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to return to my favorite place in the world: the island of Santorini in Greece. Last time I was in Greece was with 15 fellow Americans at the height of the hot, crazy summer season. This time, I got to experience a different, tranquil, but nonetheless beautiful Greece for the holidays.
(More of Oia, Thira)
They say Greeks are renowned for their hospitality and now I know exactly why. From the moment I stepped onto Santorini soil, to the last goodbyes, I was treated like royalty! Everyday, the family I was staying with would drop by little gifts for me: chocolates, freshly picked roses…I still can’t believe how incredibly sweet everyone was to me. Experiencing Christmas away from home and family felt a bit strange, but not lonely. I was woken up early on Christmas Eve by village children on my doorstep singing kalanda—the equivalent of Christmas carols. Gifts are not exchanged on Christmas Day (instead small gifts are exchanged on St. Nikolas’ Day on Dec. 6th), and the day passes like any other until nighttime rolls around and all of the young people go out to the clubs. Nothing like celebrating Jesus’s birthday like your own! Also common during the holiday season is eating out, I was lucky enough to experience a wide range of Santorinian restaurants, as well as authentic, home-cooked meals. New Years Eve I went to the countryside (a vineyard where my friend’s family makes homemade wine!) for a rustic BBQ. A hole was dug in the ground, a fire-pit made, and slabs of pork and beef grilled to perfection. Greeks are very family-oriented and it seemed that the guests at the meal never stopped arriving. Afterward, I went on a speedboat and cruised around the eastern part of the island until crazy waves cautioned us from going any further. That night, we ate a cake special for NYE celebrations at midnight, exchanged gifts, and then went out to the clubs with lots of friends until the wee hours of the morning. I’m convinced nightlife in Greece is still amazing, even during the quiet winter months.
The rest of my time spent in Santorini consisted of daytrips to Oia, the picturesque city situated at the northern point of the island—famous for it’s breathtaking sunsets, also called “The Paris of the Aegean”, to Akrotiri, one site of the advanced Minoan civilization who occupied the island in 1640 B.C. yet had opulent structures and running water and baths! The rich history of Santorini is particularly intriguing to me (mindblowing really…the island has been inhabited since 2000 B.C.!) and I was able to learn more about it the second time around, including a trip to the Prehistoric Museum of Thira. For any history buffs out there, a few fun facts about my favorite Greek island:
-Santorini is the given Venetian name, shortened for Saint Irene who died in exile hereabouts. The Classical name of Thira is now reinstated and more popular among Greeks than the latter. Both refer to the same island.
-The island makes up the largest piece of a volcanic archipelago from the largest caldera on Earth, still active and quietly simmering with hot springs and sulphur.
-Santorini is thought to be the origin of the Atlantis legend.
-Santorini has a reputation as a place inhabited by Vampires. This could be tied to the Greek legend that Vampires don’t fare well in volcanic soil, or that vampires can’t cross water, hence being dumped on an island in the middle of the Aegean Sea.
All in all, a return trip to the country that stole my heart was the perfect remedy for holiday homesickness.