the Long's Strange Trip

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~  No One is an Island ~
August 8 through August 21, 2000
$1 U.S. = 365 Greek Drachmas
(Remember 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 no exception.

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 sec.

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 few weeks.

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 trip.

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
CD player
portable speakers
blank mini-discs
a truckload of books from
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).

Hey, we clean up purty good!  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

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, Greece
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 calm waters.  

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 for granted.

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, Greece
August 15 through August 18, 2000

Waves crashing on the shores of Naxos  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 Horror".  

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 nights there.

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 town.

Paula poses in the narrow streets of the Kastro  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.  Don't cry over spilt beer

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. 

Greek Culture  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.  When will SuperGlue make a styling gel?

Island of Myconos, Greece
August 18 through August 19, 2000

Typical Greek Isles scene  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.

Seaside dining  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.

Athens, Greece
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.

Hey, they've got one of these in Nashville!  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.  Athens, as seen from the Acropolis

Philosophizing at the Ancient Agora  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 Asia.

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