No One is an Island ~
August 8 through August 21, 2000
$1 U.S. = 365 Greek Drachmas
to click on the thumbnails for enlargements of the photos)
Island of Santorini, Greece
August 8 through August 13, 2000
(ccl) When we got up for the ferry at
5:00 A.M., it barely felt like we had been to bed. I never sleep well when
I have something to "catch" in the morning. I spend the night
tossing and turning, dreaming that I've missed the boat or plane or train or
whatever. I usually wake up eight or nine times to check my watch, finally
getting to sleep about an hour before I have to get up. This morning was
The town was incredibly quiet and
peaceful in the pre-dawn hours. A few backpackers waited for the ferry to
begin boarding. It was the "Small Cyclades Line" ferry, and it
was by far the smallest boat we traveled on in the Greek Isles. The trip
to Naxos was peaceful and calm, but when we took the boat to Myconos later the
next week, the seas were rough and choppy, and the little boat pitched and
tossed like a toy.
Our travel for this day had become
slightly complicated. We would have to first take this small ferry to the
island of Naxos, and then get another ferry on to Santorini, or else wait
another two days on Amorgos to get the next direct ferry to Santorini. We
loved Amorgos and could have stayed another few days, but we wanted to get to
Santorini a couple of days before Paula, so that we could find a place to stay
and check out the town. Our stop on Naxos was short, but it seemed like a
nice place, and we made a mental note to potentially come back there later with
Paula. We bought some of the local specialty, a liquor called
"citron". It's made from the leaves of the citron tree, an
incredibly rare type of fruit tree which grows well on Naxos and yields something that looks like a
large, lumpy lemon. Citron is made by distilling the leaves with grape
skins. It's quite a unique taste, something akin to Cointreau or triple
We opted for the fast catamaran to
Santorini. I just had to ride in one of those jet boats once,
despite the fact that you'll pay about three times as much as for a simple ferry
ticket. The inside of our boat was slick like a luxury aircraft, and
multiple TV monitors droned images from the Fashion Channel. At one point
we felt the boat slow to a crawl, and when we looked out the windows we saw that
we had entered a huge, dense cloud bank. Because the boat goes so fast,
the captain had to slow up, since it was impossible to see what we might be
hitting before we hit it. I was reminded of that Steven King short story
about the town that's enveloped by a dense fog, and its citizens keep
disappearing into the fog, never to be seen again. I was glad to get out
of the boat and into the sunshine of Santorini.
Santorini is breathtakingly beautiful
when approached from the water. Formed by a volcano that's still active
(it caused an earthquake that measured 7.8 on the Richter scale in 1956), the
island's black cliffs rise steeply out of the deep blue waters of the
Aegean. From the water, the white-washed houses and churches of the town
of Fira are visible, and it makes for quite a dramatic arrival.
Santorini was also the most expensive
island we'd been to so far. The first two nights we were there we paid
12,000 drachmas for a tiny room with twin beds and a shared bathroom. And
that was pretty much all that was available in the town. The main town of
Fira (also known as Thira, for some reason, possibly just to confuse the
tourists) reminded us of New Orleans. There were tons of
bars, restaurants, and shops. Everyone seemed young and beautiful, and
drinks and food were expensive. Just when we thought we were going to have
to wire home for more money, we discovered the haunt of the budget crowd: the
town square. Ringed by eateries selling delicious freshly made crepes,
pasta, and pizzas to go, the square was packed with folks enjoying the cool
night air, sipping on go-beers and watching the crowds go by. Finally, we
find our people...
Our sleep cycles were altered
dramatically during our time on the Greek Isles, especially while Paula
visited. We were up bright and early each day usually by 10:00 or 11:00,
and we'd hit the beach around 1:00 or 2:00 after a leisurely breakfast.
Nap time usually rolled around at about 6:00, and then we'd go out for the
evening no earlier than 10:00. We'd fall into bed at 4:00 or 5:00, and
then get up the next morning/afternoon, set to do it all again. Not the
kind of long-term lifestyle Wiley will recommend in his practice, but fun for a
We spent most of our first day on
Santorini looking for a place for all of us to stay once Paula arrived. We
wanted somewhere nice as this was to be her vacation, and we didn't figure she'd
want to "rough it" in any way. Plus, we were ready for a little
luxury ourselves. After several hours of climbing up and down the steps
built into the steep hillsides of the island, we settled on the only place that
even had a room available. 40,000 drachmas per night got us a great place
with kitchen, bedroom, and couch/bed, plus a private patio looking directly down
into the caldera of the volcano.
Paula arrived from the airport
Thursday afternoon, already having made a friend and displaying no visible
signs of jet-lag, despite having left Atlanta early the previous
afternoon. By this time Wiley and I had set up housekeeping in our new
digs, so we had supplies for cocktail hour on the patio at sunset, overlooking
the volcano. Truly, one of the best hotel room views we have had on the
Paula is an old friend of ours from
Wiley's days in the insurance business. They worked in the same office for
a while, and whenever we'd go on trips with the company, Paula was always
there. There are people in this world that make good travel companions,
and you learn to recognize them after a while. They don't complain much,
they're easy-going, they appreciate the sights but they also appreciate a good
meal and some good wine. When you have two different agendas, they're
comfortable doing their own thing and letting you do yours. Not many
people fit this description, but Paula's one of them.
Several weeks before, when we got
confirmation from Paula that she would, indeed, be joining us on this trip, we
began taking steps to re-stock the shelves of the Long's Strange Trip storeroom. She
carried two bags: one contained her stuff, the other, ours. We'd gone
on-line and ordered an array of products, including:
new pants for me
a truckload of books from amazon.com
refills of Aveda skin products for me
shampoo for Wiley
homeopathic hay fever remedy, for the strange new weeds of the world
Our friend Andre Golubic put together
the music package for us, so that we could rebuild the music collection that we
lost when we misplaced our mini-discs in Morocco. The speakers were kind
of an after-thought, but have turned out to be quite handy. After all,
it's more fun to listen to music when you can share it with others (as opposed
to just using headphones).
The first night out on the town we introduced Paula to our favorite bartender
at our favorite bar, Kira/Thira, where they make a mean sangria by blending
five kinds of local wines. After wandering the town we ended up
back in the main square, where we met Donovan and Gordon, two ex-PR execs
from Microsoft who where finishing up some world travel which including
time on safari in Africa. Neither of them had much money left, so
they were sleeping on rooftops (very accessible in Santorini) until their
flight home in four days. Donovan ended up crashing on our floor.
By the way, if you're reading this Donovan, or you Scott, the other guy
we met on Santorini, we lost both of your email addresses when our hard
drive crashed, so write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Santorini's volcanic past left it
with an attribute that is unique to this island: black sand beaches. The
sand is like very small pebbles, so it doesn't stick to you, which is nice, but
man, does it get hot in the sun! The water is cool and crystal-clear, like
the rest of the Aegean, and incredibly salty. You can swim and play in it
for quite a while, as the high salt content makes you really buoyant.
One night we hit the town for some
dancing at the local hot spots. We wanted to go home at 4:30, because we
were pretty much
exhausted, but Paula was ready to keep going, and said she could find her way
home without us. I woke up at 9:30, looked out into the living room, and
realized that she wasn't home yet. About 30 minutes later, the phone rang
- Paula, saying that she had been walking for two hours and was lost.
After much discussion about what should be done about the situation, a nice
little man with a scooter, who had helped her find a phone and someone who could
speak English, agreed to give her a lift back to the hotel. Santorini may
be a really touristed place, but there are still plenty of friendly locals there
to help a Southern belle in distress. I'm sure if the man had spoken
English, Paula would have told him that she had always depended on the kindness
of strangers, a la Blanche Dubois.
One of the best places we went on
Santorini was a nightclub called Santorinia. Santorinia is built into a
cave, and specializes in
live Greek music, where a stringed instrument known as the bouzouki figures
prominently. Both times we went to the club, we were the only non-Greeks
there, and the patrons were enjoying the tunes, dancing Greek folk dances and
toasting each other. One really odd custom centered around a person,
usually a man, but sometimes a woman, commandeering the dance floor for a solo
act. The waiter would bring over a bottle of champagne, which was opened
with much fanfare,
and a glass was poured for the dancer. The dancer toasted the person who bought the champagne, drank a sip, and then continued dancing. The
champagne was whisked away by the waiter, never to be seen again! Seemed
like a waste of a lot of good champagne to me, as it happened over and over
again when we were there.
Paula brought gourmet dog biscuits
with her, baked
from scratch from all natural ingredients at Three Dog Bakery in Atlanta.
Paula's mother had visited the Greek Isles earlier in the summer, and knowing
that Paula is a dog lover, advised Paula to bring along treats for the many
homeless pooches on the streets. Paula recently lost her beloved dog
Smuckers, her companion for the last sixteen years, so she had lots of love to
give to the local canines. It's funny - despite being a first world
country, despite being the newest member of the European Union, Greece has what
appears to be a big problem with stray and unwanted animals, especially dogs. I'm sure I'm speaking from a completely uneducated viewpoint, and
if someone knows more about this, please enlighten me. But I can't understand how such an "advanced" country can treat its animals so
poorly. We often found that the animals didn't want dog biscuits, or any
other food. Many of the local restaurants feed the strays leftovers and
scraps. What these dogs are yearning for is human attention. Perhaps
dogs need this more than any other animal man has domesticated. Often we
saw dogs curled up in a forlorn-looking ball, who responded to kind words or a
simple pat on the head. It made me think that we can judge the
civilization of a society by the way it treats its most helpless and dependent subjects.
Island of Ios,
August 13 through August 15, 2000
Our next stop was the island of Ios.
Once there, we had the most difficult time we've had yet on any of the islands
in finding a place to stay. I may have mentioned this before, but the
problem centers around the fact that all of Europe, it seems, takes the month of
August off, and many of them come to the Greek Isles. No wonder the Euro
is collapsing - the French just went to a 35-hour work week, and no one in
Europe does any work for an entire month out of the year. Ios was filled
with twenty-something Greeks, Italians, and French.
Ios has the reputation, somewhat
rightly deserved, of being the party headquarters of the Greek Isles. The
narrow streets of the old town are packed with bars and clubs, where youngsters
elbow each other for the chance to dance to techo-house music and pay $5 for a
beer, or even more for a cocktail that's most likely been watered down.
Ios' saving grace is its beach - one of the best in the islands. If you've
been to the Mediterranean or the Aegean, you know that what passes for a beach
there would never make it on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Many beaches are
just downright rocky, and those that have sand are typically that sticky, coral
sand. But Ios has a nice, long stretch of sandy beach, gently lapped by
August 15th marks the day of the
Festival of the Virgin Mary, an important holiday to the Greek Orthodox
religion, and the equivalent of Labor Day in the States. It signals the
end of summer and is a chance to celebrate at local festivals with food and
dancing. The second night we were on Ios the locals had set up a bandstand
on the town's basketball courts, and a bouzouki band played traditional music
while the locals, young and old alike, danced. Girls dressed in beautiful
local costumes passed out food and retsina, a popular Greek wine, usually
homemade with pine resin (sounds bad, but it's pretty good after you get used to
the smell, which closely resembles that of Pine-Sol. Makes me think my
sister, Nancy, might like it, since she enjoys cleaning so much. ). While
we were there, we
met a young guy from Croatia, who had escaped from that country during the war
and now lived in Paris. It seems that we continue to meet people on this
trip who have taken incredible risks to attain the type of freedom that we take
One of the best sports on Ios is
watching the people go by. Preening, prancing hordes shuffle by in the narrow streets of the old town. Many of them are drunk to the point of
stumbling, and the girls wear some really ridiculous outfits. But the men
there must like them, because they seem to follow closely behind, hoping, I
suppose, for a vacation "encounter". When I'm in a place like
Ios, I always have one thought that overrides all others during my time there,
and that is, "Man, I'm glad I'm not single!".
Island of Naxos,
August 15 through August 18, 2000
On our last night on Ios, we stopped into a travel agency to pick up ferry
tickets for our next destination: the island of Naxos, where Wiley and
I had stopped briefly the week before. Somehow, the travel agent
talked us into staying on the island another night, in order to see the
festivities at the Festival of the Virgin Mary the next day. According
to this guy, Ios has the best celebration around, and it's not to be missed.
That night when we came into our hotel, we left a note at the front desk,
explaining that we'd like to stay another night, and went on our way to
bed. We were awakened the next morning sharply at 9:00 by a loud
banging at the door. It was the hotel manager, informing us that
we had to check out of the hotel, that someone had called from Athens
at 6:30 that morning and wanted a room, and we had to get out (he hadn't
found the note we'd left the night before). Hard to believe that
the place was completely full - our room was about the size of a closet,
with three twin beds crammed inside, and anytime the doors to the balcony
were opened, a multitude of flies swarmed in, much like the house in "Amityville
Once we were on the ferry to Naxos
and on our way, I was glad that we were leaving. Ios wasn't really my kind
of place - too many shallow people, most of them looking to impress someone for
a night or a few days. I suppose I shouldn't be so judgmental - I just
prefer a more laid-back environment with people who seem more genuine.
That's more of the scene on Naxos, as we found out after three really nice
I always relax when I know there's
plenty of places to stay, and when we got off the ferry in Naxos, lots of people
rushed up to us, eager to set us up with lodging at their establishments.
We went with a man who had studio apartments, and we settled on a really nice
place with a kitchen, bath, three beds, and a huge roof-top balcony, only 10
yards or so from the beach. After a brief nap to repair the damage done by
our early morning wake-up call, we got dressed and got ready to explore the
On the Greek Isles, the main port town is often known as the "Hora".
Some are actually named that, and this was the case on Naxos. Hora
contains an old neighborhood known as the Kastro, where the Venetians
used to live when they controlled the island. Its narrow, winding
streets, splashed with sunlight and immersed in quiet solitude, are lovely
to walk through on a lazy summer afternoon during siesta. Still
widely observed throughout the Greek Isles, "siesta time" can
be "frustrating time" if you're looking for a meal or some shopping.
I recommend that when in Rome, do as the Romans. While wandering
the Kastro, we came upon a really nice silver shop, and met the silversmith,
Angelo, who made beautiful silver rings and bracelets. We bought
Wiley a really cool silver ring, and chatted with Angelo and his friend
Conrad, a young guy from Colorado who was into snow boarding and finding
himself. We saw Conrad several times over the next few days, and
really enjoyed getting to know him. He seemed like a very spiritually
mature person to be only 24 years old. Before we left Angelo's shop
that night I managed to spill a beer on his floor, and he quickly showed
me where the mop and bucket were and let me clean up after myself.
Our second day on the island found us
taking the bus to the opposite side, where Conrad and several of his friends
were staying. This area of the island, known as Placa Beach, had become a Mecca
of sorts for the hippie crowd, some of whom had stayed long enough to erect
makeshift huts out of bamboo (growing everywhere and readily available), beach
mats and sarongs. After a few hours of sun and sand, the three of us
decided to take a walk together down the beach, which turned out to be a nude
beach. I don't really know how to describe it - I mean, I guess I've seen
a few people scattered around various beaches of the world, sans bathing attire
- but the overwhelming majority of people on this beach had no tan
lines. It got to the point where they were staring at us
because we had on clothes! It was impossible not to stare back - I would
compare it to coming upon the scene of a recent accident in your car - you know
that what you see isn't going to be pretty, yet you can't look away.
You may have noticed a trend in my writings about the Greek Isles.
If you've been thinking, "Hey, they've done very little sightseeing
these past few weeks. All they ever talk about are bars, restaurants,
and their tans.", you're right. We'd hardly done anything cultural,
unless you count observing the mating rituals of the vacationing European.
While on Naxos, we did get out to see the one attraction that the island
is famous for, the Temple of Apollo. Visible from the port, the
ruins of the temple occupy the high ground just north of Hora. What's
left of the temple consists of a huge doorway - only the frame, not the
door. Legend has it that when Istanbul is returned to the Greeks,
the door will magically re-appear. Based on my observations while
in Istanbul, I don't believe that the Turks are ready to give it back
any time soon...
On our last night on Naxos, Paula treated
us to dinner at a Tex-Mex restaurant. I guess that's not something
we'd normally do on a regular vacation - eat Mexican food in Greece -
but man, fajitas and margaritas taste especially good after seven months
away from home. This was just one of many benefits of Paula's visit.
She also brought two outfits for every day she was there, which left plenty
of extra stuff for me to wear. Paula used to sell clothes to stores,
and she has great taste and beautiful clothes. It was really great
getting to wear some new things, especially after all this time with the
same old boring travel clothes. In addition, she lent her expertise
with hair styling to Wiley's ever-lengthening mane. Many of you
have written to ask if he ever cut his hair. Thanks for your concern,
and no, it's still growing. Manageability is a real issue, although
we did make a stop at the Body Shop while in the islands for some extra
strong styling gel.
Island of Myconos,
August 18 through August 19, 2000
Myconos - our last stop on our four-week, eight island odyssey.
It's too bad we didn't have more time here, because it seemed like a really
beautiful place, with the right combination of nightlife and culture.
Our plans had been to arrive in Myconos Friday afternoon early, then take
the midnight ferry on Saturday night to Athens, and arrive there Sunday
morning at 6:00. That way, we could sleep on the ferry, and spend
the whole day Sunday sightseeing before we had to fly out Monday night.
But when we got to the travel agency on Friday night, the midnight ferry
was sold out, so we had to leave Myconos on Saturday afternoon.
Once again, demonstrating that flexibility is an essential component of
any Greek Island hopping vacation.
We spent the day Saturday exploring the town. Myconos is typical
Greek Isles - whitewashed houses and churches with ocean-blue shutters
and doors, windmills, and narrow streets. We had our last meal on
the islands at a little cafe perched by the seawall. We drank champagne
and toasted a marvelous time in the islands.
August 19 through August 20, 2000
Athens - I had been prepared to
loathe and despise this city, because of what I had heard from other travelers,
and the nasty way the Athenians behaved after Atlanta won the 1996
Olympics. But it turns out that the old saying - don't believe everything
you hear - is true. Athens isn't such a bad place after all. We
arrived on the ferry at 9:00 P.M., and after negotiating a six-lane, no
crosswalk street-crossing, easily took the subway to the heart of town and the
neighborhood of Plaka, which lies at the base of the Acropolis. We got our
first glimpse of this world-famous landmark as we strolled the streets looking
for our hotel. It's beautiful at night, when the flood-lights are on.
The Plaka area contains lots of restaurants with outdoor dining, and street
performers, as well as beggars, work the crowds for handouts.
On Sunday morning we got up bright
and early for a full day of sightseeing. Our first stop was, of course,
the Acropolis. Although we believed that we had a head start on the rest
of the tourists, we were only fooling ourselves. We waited in line for at
least 20 minutes to buy tickets, and then joined the snaking horde of people
slowly mounting the steps to the top. As we waited to get our bags
searched at the entrance (a feature I was glad to see, in the country with the
second-highest rate of anti-American terrorism in the world), a little boy no
more than four years old came running by me, screaming, "Mommy!
Mommy!", at top of his lungs and crying. I ran up to try to help him,
but he ran away from me, terrified of this stranger who was trying to grab him,
no doubt. I enlisted the help of one of the security guards, who also went
after him. About that time an older man, probably his grandfather, spotted
the boy, grabbed him, and gave him a sound spanking, and yelled at him, "I
told you, you have to stay with me!", which all served only to make the
child cry harder. Just another episode on the trip to add to my continual
evaluation of parenthood as a lifestyle.
As with the Sphinx, the Acropolis couldn't live up to my expectations.
It seemed smaller than all the pictures of it I had seen, perhaps because
it was so jam-packed with tourists. The sides of it are being shored
up with metal supports, in preparation for the masses that will descend
during the 2004 Olympics. Of course, the main draw on the Acropolis
is the Parthenon, an ancient temple built to honor Athena, goddess of
wisdom. It, too, was undergoing some type of restoration work.
I successfully repressed a strong urge to play the Ugly American Tourist
and shout something like, "You know, this is just a copy of the original
one in Nashville". On the day that we visited, none of Athen's
infamous smog was in sight, and the views from the top were spectacular.
After trudging down the hill we visited the Ancient Agora, where Socrates
apparently did much of his philosophizing while the rest of the ancient
Athenians traded goods and services. We stopped for a quick gyro
for lunch at a lunch counter in the middle of one of Athens main shopping
areas, where we learned first-hand how far Athens has to go to match the
Southern hospitality the world raved about when it came to Atlanta for
the 1996 Olympics.
The rest of our time in Athens was
devoted to exploring the ancient streets and buying stuff to fill up the extra
bag Paula had brought our fresh supplies in. I liked Athens, and hope we
get to go back again someday, maybe during the Olympics. We didn't get to
the National Archeological Museum, which is supposed to be quite good.
I really enjoyed our time in Greece,
and as the weeks went on, I began to look at it as a divider in our trip, both
chronologically and in terms of the types of countries we'll visit. To
this point, we've visited Western countries (even though Turkey lies mostly in
Asia, it feels pretty Westernized). After Greece, we have India, Nepal,
Thailand, and Indonesia, cultures that are drastically different from anything
we've seen. It seems like a stroke of genius in the planning of the trip,
positioning Greece at this point. It's easy, it's beautiful, and it's
pretty much like the U.S., so it's not hard to feel comfortable. It gave
us a month of recharging time before heading into the Great Unknown of Southeast
here to continue in India with "Red Dots All Over"