Monday, June 13, 2011

Driving at Night

After spending the day roasting in the sun on top of a mountain, we decided that we should have one more night in Oia to look around more slowly and deliberately than we were able to when we were rushing to find a way back to the southwest of the island. We got ready and were prepared to take the bus from Kamari to Fira, then from Fira to Oia because there’s not a direct bus from anywhere to anywhere else without a connection in Fira.

It’s like Atlanta.

Before heading out, I drove the ATV around a bit more, figuring that we wouldn’t get a chance to use it again and that 15€ seemed like a lot to take it on one trip up the side of a cliff (and yet, a better deal than having to walk up the damn thing, which would have meant we wouldn’t have seen the top as we would have died). I plotted a course that mostly involved only ever turning right, because I’m still not comfortable with this sort of traffic free-for-all that the island has going, so never crossing a lane seemed easier.

It hadn’t occurred to me that this just meant I’d be making left turns all the way home, but then this wasn’t a week for thinking ahead. This was a week for realizing that I’d forgotten something vital, then being in pain for a long time.

I turned right at All Day Coffee Time (which sounds excessive) and eventually found my way to the fence that encloses the runway of the island’s airport. And a military installation, which freaked me out and prompted me to start heading back. Still, it was a nice pleasant ride with zero traffic (either because there’s not much traffic on the island in general or because no one uses their rented ATV to go drive around the back of the airport), and it wasn’t until I got back to Kamari that I started to get a headache from wearing a helmet twenty sizes too small for my head. I also passed the hotel pretty egregiously, but managed to find my way back.

Getting back to the hotel, Marina agreed that we hadn’t used the ATV enough, so maybe we should drive it over to the bus stop.

Which eventually turned into “to hell with the bus, let’s just drive to Fira, at which point we will decide whether we need to drive to Oia”.

It’s really scary, it turns out, driving around a vehicle you’ve learned how to use that morning through what amount to city streets (to the degree that Santorini had city streets.) Our plan was to make it up to Oia for the sunset, which means the sun was pretty low in the sky and, for long stretches of road, directly in my eyes.

I really should have bought sunglasses.

We managed to make it to Fira without getting too lost (mostly because there’s one main road, so not getting off the road will eventually get you to Fira), and I managed to remember enough of the local geography to find a parking spot not too far away from the main square.

We parked the ATV after deciding that it was probably too far to drive to Oia in time for the sunset (as I was topping out at about 50 km/h). I was very paranoid about the parking, but that’s probably because I wasn’t accounting for the difference between traffic enforcement on a little tourism-driven island in the middle of the Aegean and Chicago. So we started walking through alleys to get to the bus station. Oddly, we succeeded, which I’m pretty proud of. Sure, it’s not a particularly big town, but to go from “hopelessly lost at midnight” to “capable of knowing where we are while in alleyways” in the span of two days is pretty good, I think.

The bus to Oia confirmed two things: It’s probably better for my mild acrophobia that I slept through the cab ride on the night of the welcome dinner and that I had no business trying to take an ATV to Oia. You’re on the side of a hill the whole time and while there’s nominally a guard rail, it’s not actually going to stop you from plummeting to your death (particularly if you’re a bus). The driver was going much faster than I’d have gone, but then I’m guessing he’s done this thousands of times.

Or has no regard for human life. Either one.

We ran around in a sort of panic (as it was 7:20 pm, and we’d gathered that sunset started at roughly 7:30), looking for a restaurant that had a sunset view and only realizing then that it probably would have been a good idea to have gotten a reservation. We eventually found a place called Petros, which had a fish tank out front and a little sign that advertised a sunset view.

The latter part was sort of half true. They did have a sunset view from the rooftop seating area, but they’d bizarrely walled up the wall that actually looked directly out to sea, so that only about half of the restaurant actually benefited from the sunset view. Luckily, we were able to get a table that looked out toward the sunset, as long as you sort of leaned and didn’t mind the little Japanese kids running around the table in front of you. We ordered the standard fried cheese and teramasalata and then I’m pretty sure the waiter decided we had enough, because he didn’t come back to actually ask for our orders.

Eventually, we were allowed to order dinner beyond, you know, appetizers. Marina got some manner of Greek pasta,and I got grilled mussels, because I wasn’t aware you could grill mussels and wanted to see what that was all about. I was actually pretty impressed with Petros, as far as quality from a “fish tavern” from a place we ducked into to see the sunset. Plus, they used a dumbwaiter, which is just added awesome.

After dinner, we went back to the business of “walking around Oia without frantically searching for a bus”, which it turns out is a much better way to walk around Oia. There are a lot of little souvenir shops, most with little ceramic versions of the blue domed churches that dot the island, at least one of which has a corner full of very family unfriendly items behind a post-card stand, which leads one to question whether the market for adult toys really overlaps with the market for calendars with cats on them. Which there are a lot of. Cat calendars. They’re everywhere.

One's called "Rebel Street Cats (of Greece)". Which is a bit much, isn't it?

There are also a bunch of little art galleries and artisan shops, which are fun to walk through. No pictures were allowed, but there was a small art gallery which had a degree of incomprehensibility.

Inside, there was a bull, wearing an American flag-tie with glass innards on a glass box containing a few euros that had facts about the Stock Market Crash of 1929 written around the sides. I wasn’t expecting political/economic satire next to a bunch of fish restaurants and souvenir shops, but there it was. It was next to a mural of a motorcycle with the words “Captain America” on the side, which leads me to believe that Grecian artists on the island might not be the biggest Marvel comics fans in existence.

Away from the formal art galleries, there were a number of little shops apparently run by the people who made the crafts inside. Marina bought two small bowls from a woman who was much more excited to talk about the bags she’d made (she displayed one to a woman who was in the store, demonstrating that you could wear it as a front pouch. “Like a marsupial”, she explained.). Next door, there was a woman who had made hundreds of little marionettes which were all finely crafted and (though this wasn’t advertised) would awake in the night to drink the blood of the innocent.

About the time we’d gotten to the bowl store, I’d realized that I had been shortchanged at a market. I’d gotten wrapped up in getting on with seeing Oia and hadn’t noticed that I’d been given too little back after purchasing some small souvenirs. We darted back and tried to explain the situation, but to no avail. Still, just a few euros, so after Marina calmed me down, we went back to walking.

After a short stop in Atlantis Books (staffed by some people talking about the Canucks/Bruins series and which proudly declared via a sign in front that Lonely Planet thought they were pretty nice), we were on a bus trip back to Fira to pick up our ATV and get back to our hotel.

Again, I’m glad there wasn’t much traffic and that there was only one main road, so we were able to actually get back to Kamari without too much trouble. We met Jordan for ice cream, went to the bar to use the internet and shortly thereafter went back to get some sleep before the ferry ride to Athens.

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