In the middle of our fabulous European vacation, we stopped in Santorini, Greece. As a reminder, this port was the reason we chose this vacation and this particular cruise in the first place. My friend started planning this 40th birthday vacation-of-a-lifetime almost two years ago, solely based on this dream destination.

Before we embarked, he and I confirmed that we definitely wanted to be together in Santorini, but we thought we’d enjoy the freedom of being able to explore on our own more than we would appreciate a guided tour or excursion. So, we planned to leave the ship as soon as it docked and eventually make our way to Oia.

Quick Geography Lesson: Santorini is a small island in the Aegean Sea, off the coast of Greece. It is a remnant of a volcanic caldera – the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions ever recorded in history. What remains today is, essentially, a city atop a mountain.

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Fira, Santorini

Photo by Henryhartley – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3158185

Seeing as there are only a few main roads on the island, we thought it’d be fine to arrive at Athinios Port, take the cable car up to Fira and make our way to Oia on foot.

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It looks SO simple, doesn’t it?

In the spirit of full disclosure, I need to own up to a few mistakes I made in regard to Santorini, which ended up having an effect on the day’s events.

Mistake #1: I skipped breakfast because our dock time was ridiculously early – 7 a.m.! I was so excited to get out and see Santorini, I didn’t want to take the extra 20 minutes to get some food. Guess what? Nothing was open at 7am. Commence cranky…

Mistake #2: I researched and planned every single detail of every single port on our entire itinerary except Santorini. Looking back, I can’t believe I didn’t read or learn more about the logistics of the place before we left. This actually kind of boggles my mind,  considering this was the reason we were on this trip in the first place!

Mistake #3: So, I am a little embarrassed to say this out loud and put it out there for the world to see, but here it is anyway. Confession: I might be a bit of a perfectionist and/or control freak. And I have a tendency to possibly build things up in my imagination ahead of time and then, when things don’t go exactly as I expect them to go, I sort of have a history of meltdown.

OK, so what do you think when you think of Santorini? You didn’t know I’m a mind reader,  but I can see into your brain. The answer is: THIS PHOTO.

santorini

Oh yeah…all those beautiful blue-topped churches and buildings overlooking a gorgeous cliff and the sea beyond. Yes. That is iconic Santorini. That is what I had built up in my mind for two years. But guess what, guys? That is OIA. And the city we were dropped off in was FIRA. And they are not the same.

No problem, right? We can just walk to Oia! We have all day! 

NOPE. The road is incredibly steep and windy, with blind turns and the worst traffic you can imagine. It is completely unsafe to walk that road all the way to Oia.

Next plan: let’s take a bus. Yeah! It only costs 1 Euro and the bus comes every 30 minutes. Ok, perfect. 

WRONG. The traffic was so bad on the hairpin turn roads that it was nearly at a standstill. Buses blocked everything and no one even bothered to stay in their correct lane. It was mayhem. That means, the actual bus that was on its way to Oia was stuck in traffic further down the road. So the schedule for the bus was already shot. Then, when it FINALLY arrived (after we had wasted almost an hour of our time on the island), it was jam packed with people, to the point that not even one more person could squeeze in.

We really had no choice but to stay in Fira and enjoy the remaining time we had there. If you’ll remember, I was suffering from major hanger and it was also over 100 degrees in July. As much as I tried to keep my spirits up for the group, I honestly felt I had failed them. I’m supposed to be a travel agent and I didn’t plan for this?! (Granted, I was not one when we planned this trip. This was in the works waaaay before I learned one single thing about the travel industry.) But, still. I felt a little humiliated. However, instead of just apologizing or expressing my true emotions to my loved ones, I funneled all my frustrations into petty annoyance and anger.

I remember feeling deeply disappointed once we’d re-boarded the cruise ship. Here I had built this location up in my mind for over a year and it just wasn’t…what I had wanted it to be. Truth be told, it was a rough day. And, you know, we all have them. Even on our dream vacations.

But time has a way of healing heart wounds, and that is no less true for situations like this. When I sat down to write this blog about Santorini, I felt a sort of dread. I didn’t want to return to the feelings of that day. But, now that I look back upon the entire experience, I can see that my behavior was ridiculous. And the idea that I somehow missed out on the real Santorini because I only went to Fira is absurd. What was I wanting from Santorini in my dream scenario? Blue-topped churches, beautiful buildings, a delicious meal overlooking the caldera, authentic island experiences and unmatched memories of one of the most dreamy places in the world?

Here are the facts that I can finally see, now that I am past the initial grouchiness of the actual day…

I have realized…I was in the real Santorini! I docked at Athinios Port and I took the cable car up the mountain.

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Athinios Port
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Guys, I even saw donkeys on those tiny mountain trails!

I ate a delicious meal on an outdoor patio, looking right out onto the ocean below. Gyros in Greece! What more could a person ask for?

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I looked out over the caldera and I did, indeed, see the magnificent views from the top of the island. I witnessed some of the most gorgeous architecture in the world – something about the arches and the color of the walls makes the sky look so blue!

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I even saw a few blue-topped churches!

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In retrospect, yes…I could have planned better. But there was absolutely nothing wrong with our stop in Santorini…except my attitude. I realize now that there are people who might never have the chance to see the places I’ve seen or experience the things I have experienced. And, rather than be disappointed that things didn’t meet my unrealistic expectations, I should be thankful that I’ve been able to experience them at all.

This is actually a belief I’ve had for awhile. My husband and I sometimes like to joke with each other about cruise passengers who somehow find reasons to complain about every single little thing that is wrong (not gonna lie…usually Diamond Club Members). We always thought they were ridiculous. We always want to shake them and say, “For God’s sake, man! You’re on a CRUISE! In the Mediterranean! You could be at home! Working! In…Indiana! But, nooooo. Right now, you are in Europe! Be happy! It’s vacation!

I suppose I have a little bit of understanding for those people now. But just a little. Even though I failed to see the signs in myself at the time, I can easily look back now and see how my experience in Santorini was altered by my mood that day. It’s true, though, isn’t it? Travel is colored by our frame of mind and our attitude. Your vacation is what you make of it.

Today, I have memories from Santorini that are beautiful…and I will always cherish them.

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