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Santorini truly is a gift from the Gods

“Ahhh Santorini, you truly are a gift from the Gods.”

We crowd around the bus as it pulls into the local bus stop, all eager to get a seat as it’s a decent drive back to Oia (where we’re staying) from Fira, one of the centres for food, shopping and nightlife on Santorini.

It turns out it’s not our bus. Masses pile onboard—that’s why they crowd around. The bus is full. Another bus pulls in and the bus driver takes no mercy on the waiting crowds. The driver “hits” a local customer infuriated by the driver’s actions. He starts yelling at the driver who ignores him. He knew he was nowhere near the guy but the guy continues to yell abuse at him. Twenty minutes later as he left in search of a taxi—and as the bus pulls out on another trip—he’s still yelling.

Our bus arrives and, after surveying how it’s done on the Greek Islands, we get pole position in front of the queue and politely wait for those to get off before we push our way in.

We depart with little time to spare driving up a steep hill. I was sure the sign said do not enter. Who cares, this is Santorini in the Greek Islands and this is a big bus.

A car was in our bus’s way and our driver yells at someone out his window, one of the words being “malaka” and my childhood memories of growing up with first-generation Greek kids in Melbourne came flooding back to me. Why is it always the swear words we pick up when we learn another language?

We stopped for a long time as the cars were coming head on towards us. I don’t think this is working. The bus driver lights up a cigarette, the conductor does the same.

The bus driver starts yelling out the window presumably for the cars to get the flock out of his way.

“Spiro,” he starts in lively Greek addressing the conductor. I’m assuming he’s telling Spiro he needs to get out of the bus and tell the cars up ahead to get out of his way and let him through based on his hand gestures and the situation in front of us.

He sits back, swears again and waits.

Spiro was not having a bar of it as he too sits back taking a drag of his cigarette.

The driver starts again at Spiro. With this Spiro assesses the situation, gets out of the bus and heads up the road to stop the traffic, cursing the fact that he’s subjected to this well after midnight.

We advance a couple of hundred metres and come to another dead stop. More lively Greek comes out of the bus driver’s mouth and Spiro chimes in.

The name Spiro also conjures up memories of my childhood in Melbourne–one of the highest Greek populations in the world outside Athens. The guy that owned the local bottle shop’s name was Spiro. I’m not sure what the name of the shop actually was but Dad and his mates always called it Spiro’s. Spiro looked after the alcohol for every single party my parents, and their friends, threw and every Saturday, like a trip to the butcher Mr Thomas, Dad would pop in to say hi to Spiro.  Long before Vintage Cellars or Dan Murphy.

The driver hops on the radio. More lively Greek. Is this the usual bus route? Spiro and the driver seem somewhat surprised by tonight’s traffic like it has never been like this before but this is Fira in the height of summer—it’s busy every night. Isn’t it? The driver and Spiro light up a cigarette contemplating the situation ahead of them. We wait another 10-15 minutes as we watch the driver and Spiro decide what to do next.

“Get on the radio,” I imagine the driver says to Spiro as he hands him the radio talking in more lively Greek. “I’ve already spoken to them they’ve done nothing to help.” I can’t imagine what the depot could do to help but I can’t imagine why they’re calling in on the radio either, perhaps to tell them they’re not moving and get them to share in their pain. I wish my old friends were here to translate. I’d love to know what they were saying.

Spiro gets off the radio and lights another cigarette standing at the front of the bus staring at the cars lined up head on like we’re playing chicken, albeit stationary.  This time nobody can move. The driver tells Spiro to get out of the bus and stop the cars once again and once again Spiro talks back but reluctantly get out of the bus some five minutes later stopping the traffic like he’s never had to do it before.

The traffic dutifully stops but clearly not a second before someone “asks nicely”. It was third time lucky and with that we’re on our way. And that was the last time Spiro had to get out of the bus to stop the traffic. On this trip anyway.

Such is the joy of travelling: sitting in the front of the bus watching the adventures of Spiro and the driver put me in good stead to enjoy the holiday.

“There’s a reason Santorini is continually voted one of the best island paradises in the world.”

We arrived in Santorini on July 18 (2015 for the archives) and the referendum resulting in an overwhelming “no” vote for Greece to stay in the EU; yet somehow Greece negotiated a further bail out and further austerity measures. There are no queues at the ATM in Santorini however, credit cards continue to be accepted and it’s business as usual in this glorious part of the world.

In Santorini the travel brochures aren’t having you on. It is exactly as it looks: white, serene, picturesque views and an endless vision of deep blue sea and matching blue rooftops coupled with breathtakingly spectacular cliffs and volcanic mountains.

It’s busy but not in a “I-can’t-be-bothered-leaving-my-pool” way; just in a way that makes you happy the negativity in the media hasn’t kept the tourists away.

Where we stayed

Filotera Suites

Family run boutique hotel built into the caldera. The hospitality is “Greek family”, in other words you are a welcome visitor but you don’t have to get up and offer to do the dishes or cook a meal while you’re there. Nothing is too much trouble and the attentiveness is genuine; it’s as good as it gets.

The attention to detail is tremendous—your tealight candles get lit before sunset every night and there is a turndown service.

Breakfast is served every morning on your private porch with a choice of Continental, Greek or Honeymoon style and extras like bacon, eggs or meats and cheeses. My favourite sound of the day was the clinking of the crockery and cutlery—our sign that breakfast was being set up and it was time to get ourselves up to start our strenuous day poolside.

And, because we spent so much time around our room—we had a private room—we got to see just how well our rooms are cleaned. Each day our room was cleaned as if we were new guests coming in, not just any old guests but Greek Gods.

With only eight rooms staying at Filotera Suites really knows how to spoil its guests.

Where we ate

Argos, Fira

A great restaurant in the heart of Fira’s action with an extensive menu and great food and ambience.

Petros, Oia

With a sunset deck it has a spectacular view of the famous Oia sunset. Our hotel booked us the best table in the house. Great food to match–and satisfied my fussy daughter’s tastes so got to be happy with that!

Ambrosia, Oia

Recommended by Australian Gourmet Traveller, and a friend, Ambrosia is a little bit more special than the other restaurants. It’s small and quaint, has a small yet enticing menu and the waiters are top notch. Ask for a table outside. While the inside tables have plenty of character we felt a little warm and claustrophobic.

Sunset Cruise with Santorini Yachting Company

While we were happy chilling by our pool and wandering the cobblestone streets of Oia we also decided a sunset cruise was in order. With a couple of different stops—including the hot springs and Red Beach—it was an afternoon well spent. The grand finale of the famous Santorini sunset would have been enough to satisfy us anyway—the only thing missing was a glass of Champagne.

Santorini frequently makes the top five island destinations to visit in the world. And there’s a reason. Not only is it breathtakingly beautiful but it’s mystical and magical. Best of all there are accommodation and restaurant offerings for all budgets—there’s no discrimination in Santorini.

And, at a time where Greece could use your money, there should be no putting off a visit to Santorini.

xx It Started in LA xx

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