Thursday, October 8, 2009

Rebuilding the Ruins

After our eventful day arriving in Athens, we were extremely thankful to be "home" on Santorini and have a full say to explore. Taking the bus, we traveled from our hotel in the beach town of Perissa to Fira, perched on the cliffs high above the caldera. The present day island of Santorini is the result of an ancient volcanic eruption, so violent that much of the former mountain collapsed into the sea, leaving behind the stunning crescent that is Santorini along with a few smaller islands, including the volcano itself in the center.

Fira is well known as tourist trap central, but the nice thing about being there in October is that the crowds have shrunk to a manageable level. Even as first-time visitors, we could tell that we had missed the usual crowds; while there were certainly many others out walking the winding streets and snapping photos of the fabulous view, street upon street of nearly deserted bars, restaurants, and hotels attested to the fact that this was a place geared for serious tourist traffic. We walked long and hard through the entire town, stopping for lunch at a place far from the town center for a sit down meal of delicious chicken souvlaki for only two euros apiece.

Our favorite town, however, was definitely the lovely Oia. While it, too, is a magnet for travelers, especially for the famous sunset view, Oia managed a charm that escaped the more commercialized Fira. Out on the ruins of a castle overlooking the tip of Santorini, we took in breathtaking views of Oia in the golden glow of the evening sun while the wind whipped around our heads.

By the time sunset was nearing, the entire western edge of town was lined with people hoping to catch a view of the famous sunset. Never have I seen so many professional-looking cameras in my life; many made my dear little Nikon D5000 SLR look like child's play. Tripods were set up upon the rocks, their owners desperately clinging to them to keep them from toppling in the violent gusts of wind. The people watching was just as entertaining as the sunset, if not more so.

Michael and I had other plans however, so we slipped out from the masses early, before the sun had finally sunk below the horizon. We headed straight for the restaurant 1800, a slow food place recommended in the Lonely Planet guidebook that sounded like just place for a romantic splurge out to celebrate our first "real" night in Greece.

The meal did not disappoint. Our beautiful servers and hostess graciously showed us to a table on the terrace, where we were soon greeted with an amuse bouche from the chef - a shot of Greek salad in a minuscule cup - pureed, creamy tomato topped with a dollop of smooth feta and olive oil. It was our first taste of the evening, and it boded well for the meal to come. An elegant take on the traditional Greek salad came next, with thin ribbons of cucumber mixed with sliced fennel, capers, cherry tomatoes, mild goat cheese, and a crisp pita for embellishment. Michael enjoyed tender pork with fig sauce, sweet pepper relish, and herbed canellini beans, while ordered the sea bass. It came with perfectly crispy skin topped with lemon "caviar": beads of light lemon aspic piled like caviar atop the fish, alongside tender cooked fennel and a puree of fava beans. Our wine, far from the Greek stereotype of sweet retsina, was an excellent accompaniment.

Tired and happy, we took the bus back to Perissa. The trip may have gotten off to a rough start, but things were definitely looking up.

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