An adventure lives up to expectations—with sights of the caldera, a huge dose of culture and a moonlit night that changed one woman’s life.
Every January I create a “vision board” of things I want to see and do in the upcoming year. This year I noticed that Greece and elephants always seemed to show up on my board.
Greece and elephants? What kind of trip could that possibly be? This past spring I made one of those dreams come true.
To me, Greece always seemed so faraway and a place to go with someone you love. Swimming in between kisses in the blue-green water … candlelit dinners on the cliffs … probably the reason I never went before.
But now I finally had someone in my life, and it turns out he was as excited to explore Greece as me. Three flights and 15 hours later, we set our eyes on the intoxicating beauty of Santorini.
We were greeted at our hotel by a beautiful, young girl named Maria. Her thick, dark hair and olive skin made the Scandinavian in me immediately self-conscious. I would marvel at the natural beauty of both men and women for the entirety of our two-week vacation. Thank God I brought my self-tanner.
Santorini is special for many reasons. First, the weather: In June it was a breezy 75º.
Secondly, almost every building is painted a stark, clean white. With the backdrop of a cobalt blue sea, it’s nothing short of eye candy.
We stayed on the south side of the island in Imerovigli so we could experience the cliffs. Our first day we hiked up and down the narrow, cobblestoned stairs to Fira. We had the option of taking a donkey down the 250 steps to the harbor, but with my love for animals, I just decided to stop and smooch one instead.
Our first night in Santorini we dined on bricks of feta and black olives freshly plucked from the restaurant’s garden out back. The Greeks are very proud to show you the catch of the day—head and tail in all its glory. The wine is mostly white (weather conditions are ideal for those varietals) on the island, but even a red drinker could get used to the crisp, full-bodied blends.
From my first sip of Assyrtiko, I was in heaven. Could the evening get any better? Yes.
Before turning in, under an incredibly bright moon that pooled onto our private deck, my boyfriend got down on one knee. Wow! That was not on my vision board this year.
Still on a high from the previous night’s event, we headed out to explore the island via ATV. We chose one of the black rock beaches, pulled up lounge chairs and enjoyed a minty cocktail by Gino, a handsome guy in charge of manning the lounge deck.
He explained that because of the major volcano that erupted back in ancient times, there were red and white sandy beaches on the island too. He suggested taking the two-hour hike to the highest peak on the island, Oia, to enjoy the sunset and take in the views of the caldera, which turned out to be all that.
Sitting there, I felt was like I was in the clouds. Like someone built heaven on earth and I was allowed to visit. Magical.
Santorini was delightful, and quite frankly it was hard to leave. But after five days it was time to make our way to our next destination: the island of Milos.
The smaller, quieter island of Milos caught our eye because of the interesting, enormous rock formations and swimming caves. Sometimes I think I was a dolphin in my past life; I always strive to incorporate water activities into vacations. It works out well that my fiancé, Jake, loves the water too.
We stayed by the harbor where everything can be reached by foot. This came in handy on more than one occasion for late-night baklava cravings.
One day a small tourism office across from the ferry port hooked us up on a catamaran cruise, which sailed around the entire island offering views of tiny towns and lagoons only accessible by boat. We swam and chatted with the other travelers who were from all over the world and satiated ourselves with the perfectly prepared lunch of grilled grouper and fresh Greek salad.
With only a couple days left, despite the recent reports of political unrest, we decided to explore Athens. Our first stop was the Acropolis, which beckoned us from our hotel.
Walking through the streets we saw diversity: graffiti-lined alleys juxtaposed with well-kept neighborhoods oozing with hip, European culture. We dined on fresh dolmades and searched for the perfect ouzo to take home.
The trip to Greece lived up to my dreams. Sometimes after a stressful day, I close my eyes and try and put myself on Santorini. I imagine the slow pace of life, the stray kitties wanting a pat and the warm, sweet air.
Then, almost instinctively, I start thinking about planning my next getaway with my soon-to-be husband. Remember, I still have yet to meet that elephant.
Sicilian-born pizzaiolo Giuseppe “Joe” Vitale and business partner Rob Vinokur return to Sherman Oaks with Joe’s Pizza, where New York-style slices star.