Thursday, June 02, 2011

Everybody's Gone

Everyone has left. Both families left obscenely early in the morning with the exception of Tim, who had a flight at 6pm or so and Eddie, who is staying until Friday, when he’ll take a flight to Rome to continue his vacation. Jordan checked out of the hotel we’d been staying in to move to a cheaper one down the street, so our hotel seems relatively empty.

Marina and I were determined to make it up to Ancient Thera, because it seems as though if there are really old things around you should probably see them. Ancient Thera was at the top of a mountain (Messavouno), probably out of some sort of strategic reason but more likely because the Hellenistic era residents liked making me climb up things. We’d previously stopped in to ask about the bus tour that visits the site, but evidently all they do is get you up the road safely and drop you at the gate for 10 € each, at which point you’re charged another 2 € to walk around the site without a guide. Which seemed a little much, especially as we’d entered the “attempting not to spend every penny we had in Europe” part of the trip.

Travis had mentioned that he’d rented an ATV for something like 16 € and had driven up the road to the gate (which was evidently built to accommodate Konrad Adenauer’s visit to Santorini), but that he’d stopped there and turned around to ride back down the mountain. That would be cheaper than Marina and I each paying for the bus and seemed more fun, so we decided on renting an ATV.

I probably should have mentioned to Marina that I hadn’t driven an ATV before. I may have, but if I did it was sometime in the mid 90’s and briefly around the hills of Western Pennsylvania, but I’m not sure if I’m imagining that. In any case, I’m not a regular ATV driver. ATVer. All Terrain Gentlemen.

We stopped in two shops before finding one that would rent us an ATV for 15 € and ran with that. They gave us helmets (which were apparently for infants or dolls or something, because mine just made me look ridiculous at the cost of being in any way able to keep me safe), showed me how to operate the thing and sent us on our way to get some gas.

I should note that they took down my driver’s license number and my hotel information, but they didn’t actually keep a credit card on hand or anything, nor did they demand any form of deposit. Just hand them 15 € cash and they’ll let you speed off down the road. I’ve got to presume they’ve got a way to make sure you don’t just keep it, but honestly, there didn’t seem to be a lot of controls.

Suddenly, I wished I had understood the traffic patterns of the island better.

I did a reasonable approximation of someone who knew what they were doing (which mostly consisted of speeding along and hoping no one would hit me) and managed to get to the gas station without dying, so we decided we were ready for the steepest, most windy cobblestone road that’s ever existed.

It was a ten-degree incline, roughly twenty or so hairpin turns and it was (generously) about 1.25 lanes. And, of course, it’s constantly climbing the roughly 1200 feet above sea level, so every turn is completely blind as you’re at least ten feet below the next bit of road until you’re actually turning. We only encountered one of the tour buses, and it was very much a “please don’t hit me because there’s nowhere for me to go” sort of situation. Marina seemed much more terrified by the whole thing than I was, which was probably due to two factors.

1. Difference in perspective.
As far as I was concerned, I was mostly just trying to get the thing up the mountain (the downside to renting the cheapest ATV we could find is that it was also the least powerful, though it got us where we were going well enough). If you stare at the road ahead of you and spend most of your time trying to figure out if a car is going to be barreling down the road at you, you don’t have much time to look over the side of the mountain, which I’m sure what scarier than I realized until I was at the top.

2. Having no idea if I could drive the thing.
It turns out, yes. I’m not sure if I’d have trusted me to not kill us both, though.

Once you’re at the top of the mountain, there’s a spot for you to haphazardly park your ATV, scooter or rental car and start the hike up to the actual archeological site. Well, actually, you start the hike up to the gate, which is up a very steep road (in, again, very hot weather), which is near the site only in a relative sense. There’s a very sizeable hike up from there (first up a set of stairs, then just up the road to the ancient site) until you’re actually able to walk around the ancient city, first passing a number of artifacts that are of varying ancienticity. There’s an early Christian church (which is one of the most recent additions to the site) then a kilometer long walk up toward the actual city center. Marina was too tired to carry the camera at this point, so I took a bunch of pictures of pretty much everything that had a sign in front of it, then a picture of the signs.

There’s not a lot that remains at the site, but it’s fascinating to walk through the streets and see the outlines of the foundations of houses and government buildings, some of which is around the age of the Parthenon, but some of which (the sanctuaries at the edge of the city) predate that by 300 years. We wound through the buildings to wind up at the gymnasium and garrison, where the Ptolemaic soldiers were housed and exercised. We walked past the Agora and the theater (which was set down the cliff side) and then realized that if we didn’t get water, we were going to collapse.

We wound back down through the streets toward the parking area, where an enterprising resident has a concessions stand. We bought water and started our decent on our ATV with our tiny helmets.

The drive down was somehow less terrifying, possibly because I was riding the brake the entire time to keep from speeding off the edge. After successfully figuring out which way the hotel was, we adjourned to the pool, another old thing having been conquered.

Coming up next: Getting to Fira and one more dinner in Oia.

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