As the wheels of our Royal Jordanian Airways jet left the tarmac, we realized it had been nine months since either of us had been on a plane. For a pair who travels a collective 200,000 miles a year, it felt too sedentary, and we we anxious to get away. While the weekend getaway was all too brief, it was more refreshing than we could have imagined.
We touched down in Athens at 3:00 on a Wednesday afternoon. With a quick stop at the Olympic Airways transfer desk to pick up our tickets to Santorini Island, we found a coffee shop and settled in, drank a Heineken, and people-watched European tourists. After a 30-minute flight populated with aging Danes in safari-wear we touched down in Santorini, a volcanic island south-east of Athens. We grabbed a 15-Euro cab to Fira, the capital city that is perched on the rim of the crescent-shaped island. We walked down a meandering narrow lane and found the Nomikos Villas, our home for two nights. Fira and the Villas were everything we expected: lots of white and blue houses, perched on the steep hillside, with a breathtaking view of the Caldera, or volcanic basin which now merges with the sea. We settled into our suite and sipped our welcome glass of wine while watching the sunset. Later we walked five minutes along the lane until we found a recommended restaurant. After dinner, contented by fresh fish (Mari), perfect pasta (me), and a liter of local wine, we made it back to our room before falling into a coma-like sleep.
The Santorini sunrise was as spectacular as the sunset the night before. Three minutes after we called the front desk, our breakfast appeared and we sipped coffee while lounging on our balcony in our hotel robes. The receptionist helped us book a day-tour on a boat around the Caldera. We set out on a bus that took us to our two-masted boat at the main harbor. The boat set sail for the black rocks of the Mea Kameni volcano island where we hiked to the top. While the volcano is technically dormant, we did see steam rising from several hot spots. From there the boat took us to Palea Kameni island where hot springs meet the sea. Some people braved the freezing sea temperatures to swim into the hot springs. Some people, but not us. From the hot springs it was a quick boat ride to Ammoydi Thirassia island for lunch. Mari raved about the seafood skewers with pieces of squid as big as your palm. After all those hours in the sun, I raved about the ice-cold local beer. We climbed the 150 steps to the top of the island for an after-lunch coffee, and then hustled down to the boat to make our 2:40 getaway. The boat dropped off some people at Oia, the northernmost village on the main island. We said goodbye to our boat crew at the Fira old port. We rode the cable car up to Fira proper, and by luck alone found our way back to the hotel. After a shower and another spectacular sunset cocktail hour, we strolled to yet another (yawn) perfect dinner with a view of the Caldera as sunset became night, highlighting the twinkling lights of the cruise ships in the harbor. Friday morning we gave over to exploring Fira and shopping. After lunch we cabbed to the airport and made the half-hour back to Athens.
The trip from the airport to downtown Athens reminded me perhaps most of Rome. One moment you're traveling 120 kph on the express way. Then, three minutes off the exit ramp and you travel back a thousand years in architecture and mood. From our room at the Hilton we could see the Acropolis in the sunset, then lit from within after dark. We walked to a neighborhood restaurant. In its dining hours, Greece is closest to Spain: at 9:00 we were the only ones in the restaurant. By 10:30 when we left, the place was mostly full, and getting more so by the minute. On Saturday morning we walked the half-hour to the Acropolis. While Jerash in Jordan had prepared me for massive ruins, it had not prepared me for the crowds. Being a weekend, we literally elbowed our way past enormous throngs of locals, with some foreign tourists like us thrown in for good measure. But the crowded conditions couldn't detract from seeing in person what I'd seen in history books for so long: the Parthenon, the Agora, Hadrian's Arch, and a lot more. When we'd had our fill of history we crossed a small bridge and dropped into a seat at a sidewalk cafe for rest and refreshment. We followed our rest with a stroll through the Plaka, the historic neighborhood which borders the Acropolis grounds. Tiny streets meandered this way and that as we passed shops of all kinds, cafes, bars, and restaurants. We became hopelessly lost, but I finally figured out that didn't matter and we had fun discovering what might be around the next turn: another small park with thousands-year-old columns, or a shop blasting techno music and selling faux-military hipster wear, and everything in between. Eventually, not even another bowl of pistachio gelato could keep us going, so we walked back to the hotel, more slowly than the outbound trip.
On Sunday we spent most of the morning in the National Garden, which is like Athens's Central Park. We topped off the visit with one more cup of Greek coffee in a cafe under a canopy of trees, and headed back to the Hilton to pack.
While we hadn't set out consciously to go somewhere completely different from Jordan, we certainly did so. And while we love our home in Amman, being somewhere so green, with so many sea views, was a welcome change and left us ready for the work week ahead.
There are more photos at the flickr site, here.